Saturday, November 22, 2014

without fear or shame....

It was nearly fifteen degrees warmer in the river valley along Cherry Creek. It can always go the other way, but those were the conditions as we gathered around the open grave, ankle deep in snow. I had momentarily thought about leaving my outer coat in the car... somehow I briefly thought that the fifteen degrees warmer meant I would be okay in the three layers I had on --thermals (top and bottom), clergy shirt, very heavy fleece-lined Carhartt hoody. But, it is always easier to unbutton or unzip rather than leave the scene... so I put the knee-length coat on and trudged through the cemetery.

Joel had cleaned out the car, too. Which meant he had taken in to the house the prayerbook I always have stashed in the back of the car. So, as I was picking my way through the old graves, none of them in a line, some outlined with boards, some still with a mound, some collapsed, others decorated with lights, flowers, keepsakes, some graves large, some very small --infant-sized, I was piecing together in my head the parts of the prayers I might know by memory.

Gee, I thought to myself. With as many as funerals as I've done, I should have the whole thing memorized.... Half of me was panicking. What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out... what will I do?

The pall-bearers heaved the casket out of the back of the hearse, and with that lilting stumble and out-stretched arms, they navigated the uneven ground, the waiting pile of dirt, the hole, the 4x4's that rested over the open mouth of the grave to receive the coffin.

And after they pinned their ribbons to the star quilt that rested over the coffin, I began... 'the One who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, will give new life to our mortal bodies through his indwelling Spirit; my heart therefor is glad, my spirit rejoices and my body shall rest in hope... So, in sure and certain hope to the resurrection of eternal life...'

I knew it wasn't all of it... the whole prayer, word for word exactly as it is written... but it was from my heart... word for word... the parts I didn't have to try to remember, the parts that had cleaved to my soul, the parts I held close. The words came from my mouth in little puffs of air that I could see, little clouds of condensation that hovered momentarily in front of my face and then disappeared in to the air... the imagery of God speaking the Word and that Word going forth, to become all, to hold all things in being, even this, here, now....

I was surprised at the depth of the responses... usually no one responds at the graveside, occupied with swallowing grief.... And I completed the prayers with the brief explanation of why we say the Easter proclamation just before the grave is closed... and that is when I heard Joel, standing behind me. His voice. 'Alleluia.'

Joel doesn't often come to the funerals, much less the graveside services... it would be too exhausting for him. He doesn't have that stamina --robbed by that auto-immune disease.... So, it was good to retreat to stand with him. This is always the hard part, watching the coffin be lowered with heavy straps by friends and relatives in to the grave, straining, slipping, maneuvering the mid-air drop slowly and carefully in to the waiting plywood box --the Reservation norm for a vault. Someone has to get in the hole, readjust the star quilt over the coffin, tucking it in. Then the plywood top, lowered by three or four of the pall bearers. The shovels are used as levers to push the sides of the box to conform to the edges of top. The hammer and nails, resounding from the hole --the sound always reminds me of the part of the story where they nail Jesus to the cross. Father, forgive them....

And then the hard work begins. The forty minutes or more to fill the grave, shovel-full by shovel-full. Friends. Nephews. Grandsons. Uncles. The first few shovels of dirt hit the plywood and play it like a drum. The shock of the noise sets some crying. I am always filled with gratitude that the singers at the drum usually begin to sing at this point, farewell songs, honor songs, see you again songs. After about fifteen minutes of earnest work, the men slow down. No matter how cold it is, the sweat always pours.

This time, at about the time the men slow down, there were very few folks remaining at the graveside. It was too cold. Most had slipped away to wait in the cars and trucks. I poked Joel, 'Frost bite only takes 15 minutes, love.' He nodded, but didn't move. His naked ears, naked fingers, naked neck --he wasn't dress to be out here. I poked him again. 'G'wan.' He nodded, and then began to make his way back to the warmth of the car.

The wooden cross, painted with the Four Direction colors, was set at the head. The earth was tamped down around the base shoved deep in to the dirt. More dirt... more dirt. Until, at last, the hole was filled nearly level with the surrounding ground. I moved to mark the corners of the grave with small upright sticks so that there would be reference points to build the mound. More dirt. More dirt. The pall bearers, tired, have to work even harder at this point because the easy and close dirt has already filled the grave. (This is when the joking begins....) The mound is usually formed to a height of about two or three feet... shaped carefully by the grandfather or the person most experienced in grave tending.... then the women come with the flowers, the keepsakes....

I am beginning to really feel the chill --pinpoints of cold stabbing my legs and feet. I turn to the brother, and shake his hand. We talk for a minute --I have buried his father, mother, sister --and now brother.... 'Please tell your husband how grateful I am that he was my brother's friend,' he said. 'Come on by any time,' I said. 'All the guys come by. They don't come to see me. My jokes aren't as funny.' And we laugh. I shake hands with all the pallbearers. Wave goodbye to the funeral director. Make my way back through the graves.

I stop at the place where they had tried to dig a grave for him --but the other graves there, now long without markers, got in the way. So they had to close that hole and begin again. I apologize to the earth for the unnecessary scar; I pray to those whose mortal remains were disturbed --please forgive us. I pray to God that rest may again be theirs. I remember those I have recently buried --here, and there, and there--

I dust off at the car, stripping the heavy outer coat off and shaking it. I brush the dirt off my jeans. I try to imagine that all the prayers we entered in to are still floating in the air, couching, clouding --doing the work that prayers do, known and unknown. In my mind's eye, I tend to the fragile potted plant of my doubt, replanting the words I tripped over today. I tend to it because when it blooms, it is always so fragrant and seemingly bizarre, and leads to new and undiscovered places. In my mind's eye, I dust off my soul, my heart... I can't carry it all... I shouldn't even try....

I turn and look at the two large oak trees that stand guard in the middle of the cemetery, their massive arms cover nearly a third of the cemetery. 'His name always reminded me of the Angel Gabriel,' I say inwardly. I had to tell someone. And from in the car, Joel is talking.... saying, 'You should always do it without a book, love.'

At prayer this morning (Psalm 107:35-43

God changed deserts into pools of water *
and dry land into water-springs.
God settled the hungry there, *
and they founded a city to dwell in.
They sowed fields, and planted vineyards, *
and brought in a fruitful harvest.
God blessed them, so that they increased greatly; *
God did not let their herds decrease.

Yet when they were diminished and brought low, *
through stress of adversity and sorrow,
(God pours contempt on nobles *
and makes them wander in trackless wastes)
God lifted up the poor out of misery *
and multiplied their families like flocks of sheep.
The upright will see this and rejoice, *
but all wickedness will shut its mouth.
Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the LORD.

And this (Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Creator, your days are without end, your mercies unnumbered; make us deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; lead us by the power of your Holy Spirit in right-living all our days, so that when we shall have served you in our generation, we shall be gathered to our ancestors, having a good conscience, in charity and love with you and our neighbor, and without fear or shame; in Christ's name.

Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you

We had been talking about the work here. I was showing the visiting priest the recent records of services, Eucharists, baptisms, burials. I remember the priest backing away from the open book where I record burials (which includes cause of death), eyes filling with tears, and my immediate shame --how could I have been so insensitive.... And I mentally checked my "I don't want to become immune" pulse.... No, I was still feeling it, every bit of it. No, I was not sensationalizing it. And I resisted the urge to embrace the priest --the human touch almost always a first response for me.

I realized it was not my "immune pulse" that was out of whack. It was that I had forgotten that most Episcopal clergy don't bury ten children/infants every year... most Episcopal clergy don't bury thirty or more folks under the age of forty-five. Most Episcopalians and the clergy that serve them have an inkling of the suffering, and they do care, but place it in some far away place like Haiti or Africa...

--and then send money or go on trips there to build a school or a well or a clinic, and come home changed and deeply moved. And it is all well and good.

But, few are changed enough to alter their life-style, to downsize their needs, to turn their furnace down or get rid of the second or third car --even just minimize their expendable extras... much less work to change the systemic ills that franchise the whole kit and caboodle. And then read books like "Toxic Charity" that are so blatantly true, but potentially stem the monetary giving to the real needs of impoverished areas. Few do the challenging work of looking honestly at our own approaches to money and how we use it --as cataloged and explored by social scientists and described in such accessible terms in the book "What Every Church Member Should Know about Poverty."

There is such a term as 'poverty porn' --folks pulling on heart strings to elicit a response to get folks to open their pocketbooks. A story ran just the other day on CNN about St. Joseph's Indian School south of us --about the so-called fake stories and their money raising efforts. CNN exposes the fact that the stories told to raise money maybe compilations of stories and the names of the children are not real.

And, there is a one line admission in the story that the names of real children and their real stories could not be used, for the sake of the children. And the local leader has doubts about the school....

The story highlights the fact that St. Joseph's Indian School raises $50 million a year with so-called "fiction." So, CNN concludes, is this a con?

I wonder why the question was asked... why was it asked about an Indian School...? I am quite confident that there are church schools which raise way more money than that in just about every State of this Nation. Waaaaaaaaay more money... just take a look at any Episcopal prep school. Seriously.

And, I am quite confident that you would find members of the nearby communities in any of those prep school places that would question the whole scenario... the amount of money....

But nobody questions the ways and means of raising money for well-off white kids to go to privileged prep schools, do they? Sure, why shouldn't they have boat houses and the very best of every thing....

Switching gears, a little bit, there is also a horrific story about a girl who was killed by a pack of dogs on Pine Ridge... it is awful.... And the article makes the connection to the "cultural connection to dogs" among the Lakota.

--sigh--

Yes. The Lakota do have a cultural connection to all life that is very different from main-stream America. Thanks be to God.

But, doesn't such thought imply that the whole thing happened because of Lakota culture??? Do you see my drift? Don't give money to a school that raises $50 million (when in reality, that dollar amount for any school, especially one that offers so many scholarships, is, flat out, nothing). And a girl gets killed by dogs because that is Lakota culture... ignoring all the other fatal attacks in the US.... scroll down on that link... it shows pictures of all those killed by dogs or packs of dogs in 2013.... If there are any ethnic or cultural trends in folks owning lethal dogs, it isn't among the Lakota.

Oh, beloved Lakota... address the issues, but don't blame your soul, your heart, your very selves....

So... I am filled with questions this morning... I am filled with wanting to press in to the media observations and calculations. I am checking my 'reality' pulse and 'immune' pulse to discern, think, pray....

I am filled with skepticism regarding media coverage....

And I must get over to the church for a funeral. Please pray for the family. Please pray for the community as they bury a Veteran, a Marine, a homeless man who froze to death.... And I will strive to negate the blame game... and turn the focus to a loving God.... Somehow.

At prayer this morning (James 4:13 – 5:6)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

Botta-bing....

Unless, of course, you wanna get apocalyptic... then there is the gospel... but I have no time to mess with that in my head...

Off I go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

a crucified place. wait. and hope.

'What is gorilla tape? What would you use that for?' she asked, looking at me in the hardware store. The peanut shells dropped on the floor cracked under my boots. The gorilla peered at us from the rolls of tape on the shelf by the counter.

We laughed at her wonderment... and then I said, 'Well, you can use it to hold the latch back on a door when the door handle breaks; or, you can fix a leaky down spout with it; or, hold together the cover of the security light over the garage, because it was shot out and is ready to fall apart... at least, that's how you could use it at our place!' And she had laughed harder at every example. And still laughing, we ventured deeper in to the back of the store.

When we were first married, we would go in to the hardware stores together. It would take hours to buy the three nails we had first set about to purchase because we stopped and picked up everything, looked at it, turned it over, and wondered how we could use it in ways other than what it was made for.

It still takes us a very long time... but, perhaps because we know how each other's brain works or we have so many solutions already worked out, he goes down one aisle and I go down another. Every now and then we call out to each other like ships in the night --looky, here-- and then with some grumpiness because our own train of thought has been interrupted, we go and find what has inspired the other, contributing our own set of ahhhs, nahs, or maybes.

After our purchase of a new exterior door handle set, some tung oil and small brads without heads, we dragged the bits of peanut shell waste out through the salt on the icy pavement. Before running our own errand, we had gone through town, giving away the hand and toe warmers sent to us from St. Martin's in Charlotte, NC. First to the hallway of the Tribal offices, then the corner by the mortuary, then the gas station, and then the market. We still had some left over, so we resolved to give them away at the hot lunch on the next day.

The faces. More laughter. I wish I could share that properly.

And late in to the evening, after the split peas and lentils were served, after the biscuits melted the butter, after the hot herbal tea, and then the apple cake Sister K brought with her, we talked through the cell phone on speaker mode with V from the National Catholic Reporter. 'I am doing a series on the inequality of poverty,' V said. 'What's it like there, what do you do?' And we all laughed, the three of us gathered around the footstool in front of the fire where we had sat the phone.

We spoke. About living in the aftermath of genocide and prison camps. Destruction of families. Forced removal of children and placement in boarding schools. Forbidden religious and cultural traditions. The difficulties we saw. The intergenerational grief. Handed down. The uninterrupted grief in the present day, with so many funerals, so many tragedies, so much hopelessness. The symptoms expressed in all of that through suicide, substance abuse, food. The inappropriate cultural tourism. People coming, staying for a week, and leaving, thinking they know something. Yes, they are changed.... But, what of here?

We spoke, too, about the present hope, the tenacious revival of the culture, the healing that is happening. The children.

And so much unspoken. Because the words either crush each other out, or have not yet been invented.

This morning, I went out early with the dogs. No hint of dawn. The wind picked up Paeha and left him on his side in a snow bank, in the dark, bewildered. Mr. Witty stood, nostrils flared, head facing in to the wind. 'Like a buffalo, you silly little dog,' I thought. 'How in the world did I end up with two silly little dogs?' I ask myself, remembering the guys that walk the path by our fence, who look at my two silly little dogs and laugh and say 'Soup!' to me, expecting me to be horrified. 'Not enough meat--too bony,' I say back. And we laugh.

I look up towards heaven. It was trying to snow. There were no stars, no moon. In the close and crowded snowy dark, I try to remember the stories the prophets left us --about the ancient peoples in exile and devastation, and yes, even there, sing the songs and make babies. Make babies because you will be restored. There will be a homecoming. With rejoicing. Your enemies will be destroyed. I let the prayer go in to the skies.

The response, from heaven, from the earth. Here, the people are not in exile --they are home. And are denied their home at the same time, with persistent toxic policies and interactions according to the rules of subjugation by the victors.

And, I am the enemy. The descendent of the enemy. And there really hasn't been much at all that was won... we have lost so much. So. Much.

And we don't listen to the prophets, even in our own day; or, we kill them, too.

I skuff the icy snow with my boot, taking the frozen crust off the top, exposing the moisture-rich fresh snow below. I note the weird pattern of the seed pods of the locust tree, emerging from the snow like strange flowers. Unspent. Potential. Life. They spell out for me the reality to which I bear witness: Pilate still washes his hands; Peter is still in denial; I no longer stand along the side of the road with the other weeping women; and I carry this cross only for a time. There is nothing really, that I can do, that I can find in hardware stores or any other place, in the number of times I tell the story... in order to fix, to heal --except to wipe the present sweat and blood, witness the agony and the passion, weep at the forgiveness, rejoice at the invitation of the crucified one to know the Mother of us all --to enter the gates of the Kingdom... and wait for the discarded seeds strewn about to be buried. To work their way through this winter. To wait for the ground to thaw.

Wait. And hope. Breathing in the dark air above the frozen ground.

A crucified place.

At prayer this morning (Malachi 1:1, 6-14)

An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.

You say, “How have we despised your name?”

By offering polluted food on my altar.

And you say, “How have we polluted it?”

By thinking that the LORD’s table may be despised.
When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong?
And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong?

Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.

And now implore the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. The fault is yours. Will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. Oh, that someone among you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hands.

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised. “What a weariness this is,” you say, and you sniff at me, says the LORD of hosts.

You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD.

Cursed be the cheat who has a male in the flock and vows to give it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.

Or... in other words... don't be such a half-ass and cheat and Scrooge in your relationship with me... As if.

Tonight we begin the funeral services for KG who froze to death last weekend. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War; he never recovered from the injuries to his soul.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession. (BCP 491)

Rest in peace. May the angels greet you; may your guardians who come to show you the way help you put down all those things you do not need to carry with you; may you be given a place of honor at that feast which knows no end; and, may God be with you 'till we meet again.

Amen.








And in Lakota:
Alleluia, Christ kini ce. [Alleluia, Kreest keenee chay)
Alleluia, Itancan kin awicakehan kini. Alleluia! (Alleluia, Eetacha keen aweechakeha keeni. Allelui!)

Off I go.

Sorry --I forgot to include this:

seed pods in the snow

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

stuffily

Third time... in ten weeks. Massive head congestion and sinus headaches that lead to greater sickness. Something is just not right.... I've had two rounds of antibiotics.

So, I went to the doctor --they took x-rays of my head... yes, it looks like I've got a brain and good blood vessels to feed it... I've also got a constriction --a narrowing of my sinuses and an infection there.

--sigh--

So, I have to keep fighting the infection as best I can --doctor didn't want to start me on a third round of antibiotics. And, I have an appointment at a specialist next week. She also said I might have gotten something up there --bacteria, mold, MRSA -- and it may require more extreme treatment to get rid of it.

Why am I not surprised.... there are many I have visited in their homes, held hands with, laid my hands on them in prayer, and then when I go visit them in the hospital, I have to fully suit up before I enter their room because of an antibiotic-resistent somethingorother.

And folks are so scared of ebola... when there are equally devastating things all around us. All the time. "Each year, 90,000 Americans suffer from invasive MRSA infection. About 20,000 die. Many are children."

Why isn't that headlines?

--sigh--

I suppose you have heard about the Trouble with Antibiotics... ? Do watch it. And remember when you vote --remember that the big lobby firms, the corporations and those politicians they possess really aren't interested in the health and well-being of the people.

I thank God and the Church for my health insurance --and for my doctor who persists on my behalf.

Talking with my doctor --she said she would love the opportunity to go on a medical mission... 'it would be an answer to my dream,' she said. I had to remind her that she was on a medical mission, already --serving here in an area declared medically underserved --a region where the government has already agreed to forgiving tuition debt and pay you a stipend if you come here to serve upon graduation.

'Besides,' I said. 'Then we would have to punish you with isolation when you got back...' And we laughed that sad, ironic and yet ridiculously funny laugh together.

Yeppa.

Please pray for those here who suffer in body, mind and spirit --with disease that seems identifiable and treatable in so many other parts of the Nation, but persist here, resulting in high infant mortality, low life expectancy, and despair. Please pray for those doctors and nurses and other health practitioners that serve here. Please pray for a change of heart for those who wish to punish the poor for being poor by cutting or eliminating food and health access and services....

At prayer this morning (from Habakkuk 3)

I hear, and I tremble within; my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation.

So... even then... yes.

Off I go. Stuffily.

Monday, November 17, 2014

indictment

The door handle broke off in my hand. The condensation had frozen the door shut; it wouldn't budge. The ice and the strength of my arm were stronger than the metal in the handle. I looked at it --the inside of the handle was that cheap pot-metal, pulled to a point where it had finally twisted and broken off. All I could do was stand there and laugh, my arms and shoulders loaded with the boxes and bags of my portable sacristy, and the bags of cake and whatnot for coffee hour next door. And now a door handle. A useless door handle.

Thunder Butte church had called early --it was so cold and windy the furnace wasn't working. 'And, we don't want you out on the road,' she said. 'Okay,' I said, disappointed. The Bear Creek church, St. James's, had called before the sun was up. 'We need your prayers. EB was taken out last night with a heart attack,' T said. He almost always calls before the sun is up. 'I will pray. Where did they take him?' I asked. T said, 'Rapid? Maybe--I don't know.' We talked more, and mutually decided I probably shouldn't try to get there --the church has no power at all, and it would be hours to get it warm, especially since one of the windows had been shot out. Again.

So, two of the churches on my circuit had called before I had finished my coffee.... It was humbling. Frustrating. I knew if they were headed off to work, they would have braved the road and blowing snow. But, they didn't want me to do the same. But now with the broken door handle in my hand, I was wondering if this were a sign.

I yelled for Joel. We looked for pliers. We got the door open. I put gorilla tape over the latch--we would use only the dead bolt for the time being.... I mutter thanks to Anyone Listening that we possess the skills and resources to fix the door. All too often, it is something like this that would mean a blanket over the door for some of the families I serve --or plywood, if there is another door.... somewhere between having the tools, finding someone who can/would fix it properly, and being able to afford a new door handle --any of the above in any combination are sometimes insurmountable obstacles.

I pick the door handle up off the floor... 'Happy Birthday love,' I said, and put the shredded metal in his hand. It was his good luck at the moment, or his wisdom, that he didn't recall or say something about the time I pulled a whole door frame out of the wall.... Instead, he muttered, 'Please be careful out there.'

I was only going about two miles --just the other side of town to the new retirement home. When I opened the storm door, the blast of air was a shock, and it threw me against the door jamb. I managed the stairs with a little more grace and finessed my way in to the garage. I elaborated in my mind's eye the lines of ice in the drive that would be created by driving over the unshoveled snow, creating hazards that last way too long. But, I didn't have the time, nor would it make much differences in this wind to try to shovel the drive --more would blow in. The ice hazards would just have to be.

As I drove through town, the slick roads, high winds and blowing snow reminded me to always be humble and aware. I had driven this same road Saturday afternoon --someone had called. 'Have you heard?' she asked. 'They found G frozen this morning. Has the hospital called or anything?' I assured her I would find out. I called the hospital. They would give me no information over the phone. 'Is his family there?' I asked. 'No, no family,' they said. I got in the car drove to the hospital, but they wouldn't let me in to the back or near the morgue to pray. 'I was asked to come to pray,' I said. But they shook their heads. No.

G was a street guy here. They were probably still trying to figure out next of kin. Or, it was just one of those rumors that saturates the air here every now and then. So, I went back out to the car, said some prayers --'keep watch, dear Lord...' and drove home.

I remembered this as I drove this road again. The visibility was lousy. I could hardly see fifty feet ahead because of the blowing snow. Said some prayers as I saw L forcing his way through the wind to church. He has been on the street for years and years. Comes to church regularly. SK had just found a way to get him in to the new retirement home. His first week there. He probably doesn't know yet that church happens every week there... but he probably doesn't know, yet, what to do with himself if he isn't forcing his way somewhere through the wind....

I looked up at the sky. Something told me to look up. And it was the strangest thing.

It was clear overhead. A soft blue sky mottled up with a few clouds, but clear. And winter blue.

It was then that I realized that there was not some terrible blizzard system going on --that the high winds, blowing snow... it was all surface level.  The horrific life-defying circumstances of this Sunday morning were all at eye-level....

--and the poetry of that realization....

At prayer this morning (James 2:14-26)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?

Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Ssssssmack....

And this: (Luke 16:19-31)

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Yes....

--and the storm rages on, here and every where... in the climate where angst, disgust and fury are vented when a homeless congregation is invited in to the National Cathedral to pray... where folks striving to do good are beheaded by the raging, militant dispossessed... where a homeless man freezes to death... where a church that owns Wall Street has sister congregations with no power or heat... where banks and corporations and whole cities are forgiven their debts but the common citizens lose all they have....

What was that line from the Gospel yesterday... For to every person who has something, even more will be given, and he will have more than enough; but the person who has nothing, even the little that he has will be taken away from him. (Matthew 25:29 or thereabouts)

Right out of the mouth of Jesus... surely that's not the Good News... but a glaring observation and indictment of the world as it is... indictment of the surface storm that blows all around us while the blue skies of the Kingdom are so close at hand....

Just sayin'. That whole gospel was about not playing the game of the greedy masters who reap profit where they have not labored.

Yes. It. Was.

Off I go.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

anybody else hear it that way

Bake the Cake time.
I've got an awful headache, and head congestion. Again.
But, I won't let that deter me...

White Cake Recipe called "Joel Loves It." I wrote it on a piece of paper marked "Ascension Rectory, 129 Kent Street, Brooklyn, New York" with the zip and phone number. We moved from there in 1982, so this poor piece of paper, which is splattered with batter and yellow with age is at least that old. I think it is a combination between my mom's recipe and one from a cookbook....

Heat oven 350
2-1/4 cups flour
1-2/3 cups sugar (I now use a splenda type sweetener)
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups milk
2/3 cups butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat flour, sugar, powder, salt, milk, butter and vanilla in large bowl, slowly at first and then quickly for about 2 and 1/2 minutes.

5 egg whites beaten, fold in to batter

bake 35 to 40 minutes with round cake pans
bake 40 to 45 minutes with large rectangular pan

Today, I will double it, but use only eight eggs and closer to just two cups of milk. And I will cream the butter and sugar first, then add the flour/salt/powder alternately with milk to the creamed butter. Just a little finesse I have learned with time.

I will bake it in two large 15x10x1 inch pans for a large layered cake. I will put fruit jam between the layers and frost with a butter-cream frosting.... (sugar free, of course)

Or something like that... God willing. Then, take it over to church tomorrow morning, 'cuz that will be the birthday boy's birthday. And he will party and eat cake while I go out yonder. Such is life.

At prayer this morning (Luke 16:10-17)

Jesus said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.

So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

“The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.”

Can't help it... that last paragraph... given all else in the Gospel... I do not think it is a proclamation to keep the law; I think it is full of irony, and I hear Jesus saying the truth in that it seems to be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than it is for some to let go of the law... because the law is prized by human beings... why enter the kingdom of God by force when it is freely given?!

Anybody else hear it that way?

--sigh--

Well, I think the ingredients are probably all room temperature now... so, off I go. A baking I will go!

Friday, November 14, 2014

what wouldn't you juggle and grasp and shove to make it as right as possible....

It is one of those mornings...




--when I am reminded that no one can survive on their own. It's not humanly possible...

--when I am reminded of the stark and dangerous beauty of the prairie...

--when I marvel and wonder at the thought that there is not one snowflake that is like another...

--when the wind howls and batters the house, the windows glaze over with frozen condensation in strange sworls and fractures...




--when the fence and every twig and every branch capture the wind like a net, and become frozen lace...

--when I desire to love what sin exposes, but would rather curl up and drink something warm and self-satisfying, averting my eyes...

--when I am grateful that there are so many that remember us in their prayers, and send tangible gifts, and money for propane... thank you.

--when the sky meets the ground in low-slung clouds, no horizon, no vanishing points, no points of reference...

--when I pray the phone doesn't ring from the hospital...

--when my prayers for the particular and immediate can get drawn out...

At prayer this morning (Luke 16:1-9)

Then Jesus said to the disciples,

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’

So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’

And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

--when stories such as this... make me think that what Jesus was saying is --at least be as shrewd about things of God as you are your own debts --because when it looks like you might lose it all, what wouldn't you juggle and grasp and shove to make it as right as possible... So, at least be that active and shrewd and capable when it comes to things of the Spirit --to things of God...

That's all....

--now, for some hot vitamin C something or other....

Thursday, November 13, 2014

scattered diamonds

I found two more of those yellow blooms --they look so poetic in the snow... but, they are the nastiest kind of weed. They hurt and stick and pierce and draw blood with their thorny seeds. They would make a perfect crown on Good Friday.

But, it's not Good Friday....

So, I picked them. I yanked them all out. And threw them away in the garbage inside. They were frozen and nearly brittle --I couldn't get the roots out as the ground has frozen. As I write, it is -8F --below zero.... (-22 C.)

It is so cold that when I went out with the dogs this morning, Mr. Witty started limping and wouldn't do anything... I picked him up, warmed up his feet, and coaxed him in to relief. Paeha went charging out, as he is want to do, barking and running.... and poor little thing, as he tried to do his business, he also tried to lift one paw and then the other as the snow and sub-zero temperatures must have hurt.... he ended up with his back legs in mid-air while trying to squat. It didn't really work out well.

But, the sunrise was beautiful. Making the snow look like scattered stars --diamonds --precious jewels in a color the same as the sky. Last night, S and two of her grandsons brought over a box that had been mailed to the church post office box. We opened it. "It's full of sticks!" she said. I looked and was overwhelmed with joy --a whole box full of cottonwood sticks, each with a small star in its center.

Joel told the grandsons the story... Their faces lit up. "Oh, I get it!" said the older one as he looked at the star. They got to choose their cottonwood stick. Put it in their pocket. I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for MH who had so carefully sanded and mailed these precious sticks.

"I seen you guys out there on the road, Mother," S said. I didn't speak of the heavy burden the day before that had sent us careening to the edge of town seeking beauty, seeking restoration. I did say I hadn't wanted the car to sit too long too cold, and we were trying to warm it up. I looked at my hands. Chapped. "It was so beautiful out there --is that where you run your cows?" And the conversation shifted to the cold and the animals, bringing dogs in from the cold.

Only two folks came to the bible study class --it was either too cold or too something. But, the talking was good, and intimate. And the soup I had made was hot, full of meat. And cabbage. We crowded the cold out. Our feet got warm. The children drew large pictures of Sponge Bob and robots. And laughed. Ran like squirrels around and around the house, chasing each other.

Today. This morning. The sunrise. Stars in the snow. The doorbell rings. The guy has condensation on his upper lip that is frozen. He wants the keys to the church. Going to set up for the hot lunch. It is as much a place to get warm today as anything else. It has already warmed up to -4 F. But, at those temperatures, serious frostbite can happen in minutes. Many of these guys are homeless.

When someone is buried in the Traditional Lakota way, the person's spirit is released to head south. Heaven --paradise is not up --it is south. It's warm that way. Paradise must be warm.... It is also the way to the door that leads back to the stars....

At prayer this morning (Joel 2:21-27)

Do not fear, O soil;
be glad and rejoice,
for the LORD has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field,
for the pastures of the wilderness are green;
the tree bears its fruit,
the fig tree and vine give their full yield.

O children of Zion, be glad
and rejoice in the LORD your God;
for he has given the early rain for your vindication,
he has poured down for you abundant rain,
the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will repay you for the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent against you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.











Thank you for the starry sticks MH. They are sacramental.

Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

it's not flat here

It's cold. It's really cold. (1 degrees F.  -17 C.) The air itself is snapping and cracking. The dogs rush outside, and then turn almost as quickly and rush back to the door. Even the spirits and ghosts are cold.

As I turn to follow the dog's path back to the door, I find myself still recovering from the griefs of last week --offered at the altar on Sunday... but no matter how I do it, how I dust off, how I surrender, I wonder... is the present grief and suffering greater than the grief and suffering of generations past? --have we, in dismissing history (because we have) also dismissed the means to carry and offer these burdens? --is this grief and suffering similar to --say, the confusion and fear in the aftermath of great plagues or the fall of kingdoms?

I push these thoughts out in to the open frigid air. The folly of them crack and splinter as they fall through the weak shafts of sunlight that are breaking open the dark. All my weaknesses, all my self-doubts create a great gauntlet along the snowy path. I greet them. My old friends. So early in the morning light.

It will be a long day.

I wish I were one of those who could see the stars during daylight hours, I find myself thinking. Greedy and conceit, another part of myself thinks... and I recall the comfort of Orion seen through the mist --and now, with gratitude, see the other constellation those same stars signify --the Hand, the sign of loving self-sacrifice.

The pot of water on the stove screams that it is done, it is ready. I turn on the fan that will circulate the hot air that gathers at the ceiling. The house groans in the high winds that are running free and unobstructed across the plains.

But it's not flat here, I think to myself. Everyone thinks it's flat, but it's not. Joel and I had turned off the main east-west road during a ride we took to warm the car up --can't let it sit too many days in a row with sub-zero temperatures like these... a gravel road that runs south over a ridge that drops suddenly toward the confluence of the Missouri and the Cheyenne rivers. The sun was at such an angle --so low in the sky-- that it glinted like lightening in the new lateral and jagged crack in the windshield. The view at the crest of the ridge, through the lightening of the windshield, was breath-taking. We were perched at the edge of heaven, surely.

The sound of the drum still coursed through our bodies. We had been invited to pray at the Veteran's Day gathering. The names of all the veterans who had died in the last two years were read. I was nearly overwhelmed --I had buried most of them. The burden I had thought I had cast off, covered me like a heavy winter coat --like a deep drift of snow.... As each name was read, an element of the funeral, of the families, was brought before my mind's eye.

The grief. The suffering. 'We were not like this fifty years ago,' the elder had said to the Bishop. 'We're different now. We can't get through one bit of grief before the next one hits us. It's changed us. We're not the same.'

Like a war zone... perhaps it is a war zone... And then I remember that same elder saying something to the effect --that they had a fighting chance of winning 100 years ago, but now, if they fought, they would be wiped out instantly....

--and my spirit goes to those places in the world --Africa, Iraq, the Sudan, Syria, Gaza --where whole villages, whole people--ethnicities are being slaughtered, now, right now --the cries, the agony.... And I force myself to remember that it was like that here not so long ago... pits with bodies in them, mass executions...  and the so-called solutions that don't work at all are being tried all over again with boundaries around pieces of land, walls and guns and barbed wire and satellites and electronic devices....

Living is survival.

So, I drink coffee, I pray for the children, I pray for those who care for the children, for those who know and see that there is only defeat, and for those who have come out on the other side filled with hope --a lived experience, not something unseen or untouchable... but in their own flesh and blood. Is St. Paul wrong, I think to myself... is hope only something that cannot be seen?

And I pray for myself --the bitter taste of the argument of priest and people still in my mouth... my self-doubt ever before me.... why am I this way...?

Winter is upon us.
I shall wrap in fleece, but it will find its way in.
Stand out of the wind.
Shovel it in piles.
My lips will crack and split.
So will my hands.
It will still find its way through the crevice.
Freeze the door shut.
It did this morning.
It is good in winter
to remember
that life belongs
to the one who made it.
And live that way.
Always.

At prayer this morning (from Joel 2)

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests,
the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

In response to his people the LORD said: I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations.
Hey God, it's margaret....

--with sighs and groans too deep for words....
yet ever filled with hope.
has the bridegroom left the room?
Spare your people.
Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

becoming who we really are

The Bishop's visit... I loved his take on the Gospel from Sunday --that it is about being prepared to wait.

Some days I think I'm good at waiting. The truth is, I'm not, really. Because even when I have all the outward and visible signs going for me, inside my head it's a race track. If it's not "what's next, what's next..." it's "what if, what if..." or "shoulda, shoulda," or "maybe, maybe...".

--sigh--

Which is one of the reasons I like going out with dogs --and looking at the stars, or watching snow fall --like it did last night. Just flurries. Like little stars sifting down. Hitting the face. Making a hushed noise at it kisses the earth. Like a small hiss of air escaping. It's one of the reasons I like shoveling snow. And --yes, one of you graciously offered a snow-blower. And I thought about it, looked at them.... And decided it just wouldn't be right here --the only snow-blower in town. Better to struggle like every one else. Better to give someone a job shoveling. Better not to have a snow-blower. Besides, using a snow-blower takes a different part of the brain than a shovel does. Here and now, better with a shovel.

Because the "what's next, what if, shoulda, maybe" is resolved with the shoulders and the knees. There is no racetrack.

I've become better at putting the racetrack aside when I pray... but, that's taken practice and resolve.

And this time, with the Bishop's visit, I decided not to organize a racetrack --trying to go to as many churches as possible. There would be only two this time. Only two. So, we had dinner together. Went to bed early. Church was right in town....

I got a phone call early Sunday. One family. Three different persons in the ER. Three unrelated events. A car accident. A horse kicked another. A sick baby for the third. I went and knocked on the Bishop's door --at the guest house. He went with me. We visited. We prayed. We made plans to see folks in the afternoon. We made it back to church in time.

I had prepared for baptisms --the family arrived a little late, but before we started the service. We had waited just the right amount of time... the Bishop had the boy being baptized help out --he poured the water in to the font so slowly --so perfectly. He was so attentive. At the Eucharist, he stood at the altar with us. The Bishop gave him the bread to break --he stood by the Bishop at the sharing of the gifts...

It was good.

That afternoon, most of the family that had waited in the ER all morning arrived to witness the confirmation of two young people. We had church in town because of the snow. Because the rest of the family was still up at the ER.

But, again, here they were. To support. To pray. Young people becoming adults. Taking their first steps with the acknowledgment and affirmation of their family. "Voting members" I told them. Still growing, just as we all are.

Someone asked me afterwards about whether or not confirmation classes were being taught... 'Yes,' I said. 'By you. All the time.' And it was not a pleasing answer --they wanted memorization, instruction, answers given... the race track of faith.... which is so not right, given that the person who asked feeds the hungry twice a week, prays daily, lives a vibrant life of faith....

Becoming Who We Really Are, looking in the mirror and being willing to seek the face of Christ, takes time --takes waiting.... Eucharist is not a fast food. Confirmation is not an eight-week course. Baptism requires our participation. Always. All ways.

At prayer this morning (Luke 14:25-35, Good News Translation)
Once when large crowds of people were going along with Jesus, he turned and said to them:

“Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well.

Those who do not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples.

If one of you is planning to build a tower, you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don't, you will not be able to finish the tower after laying the foundation; and all who see what happened will make fun of you. ‘You began to build but can't finish the job!’ they will say.

If a king goes out with ten thousand men to fight another king who comes against him with twenty thousand men, he will sit down first and decide if he is strong enough to face that other king. If he isn't, he will send messengers to meet the other king to ask for terms of peace while he is still a long way off."

"In the same way,” concluded Jesus, “none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It is no good for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown away. Listen, then, if you have ears!”
Giving up everything.... takes time.

Eventually, it will even require our breath. And all we think we are. Faithfully.

In the meantime.... I will continue to learn how to be prepared to wait. Faithfully. Remembering to still the racetrack in my head... in my soul....

God willing.

Amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

none of you who were invited will taste my dinner

He didn't get it. "The Mass has to be of a unity to itself," he said... which means I wasn't even allowed  to sit up front with him, --the thought horrified him... I wasn't shown the slightest bit of hospitality, wasn't given a prayer, something to read --nothing.

"Listen," I said. "I don't want to get you in trouble or anything, but we need to figure out something for the sake of the people."

He didn't hear me when I suggested that I feed folks on one side of the room from the reserved sacrament of our altar, while he fed the select folks front and center. "That would confuse the people," he said.

He was unmoving. He thought and truly believed that the folks I serve would be happy to come forward and just receive a blessing from him --and that should be it.

"There is a deep truth to being able to say Amen to the completeness and fullness --and having two communion stations would show our disunity, and the Mass is about unity," he said.

"And there is a deeper truth," I said, looking right at him. "That we are one, we are One in Christ. We are and you know it. And it is sin, SIN, that keeps us from eating together --and to make us live in to that sin at a time like this when the people are needing our full pastoral presence is an even greater sin --an injustice."

He would not be moved. I couldn't feed my folks after he finished his distribution so that we could thank God together. He wanted me to disappear. 'They asked for a Roman Mass. I will give them a Roman Mass,' he said. Over. Out. Done.

"And what about those who asked me for communion?" I asked of him. "What about them?"

Being in the divine presence, the blessing he would offer was supposed to be enough.

I asked him at what point in the service he thought his completeness would be fulfilled. After they gave thanks after the distribution, he said. 'Fine,' I said. 'Then you will exit and I will give communion to the others.'

He was horrified. But I didn't flinch. He would not, could not prevent me from being present, and serving the people.

So. I set up a whole other altar off to the side of the room. I lit a whole other Paschal candle. I prepared the reserved Sacrament. I put on my stole, and participated fully in the service with every response. I laughed to myself as I saw him feed a UCC minister and others I knew were not Roman. And the minute he began to leave down the aisle, the lay reader and I stepped forward and offered the Body and Blood for all. And then we carried the sacrament to those I knew could not come forward, or would not come forward... all around the room.

After the give-away he told me he wouldn't be going to Cherry Creek for the graveside. That would be okay anyway --the burial was going to be in an Episcopal cemetery. The main reason he was asked to do the mass was Lakota hospitality. The father's side of the family were Roman, a different tribe from way up north. All the family here, all of them Episcopalians, were exemplifying that large graciousness, that humility that I have seen and known over and over again.

Perhaps I was not gracious or humble enough... perhaps I should have disappeared.... I have done that before --I have intuited it... the Spirit moved me that way. I have assisted at more than one funeral here --but have always been treated with respect, always been asked to participate, always been asked to speak.... I have never been dismissed, denied --asked to disappear. And I knew if I did now, in this first funeral together with the Romans, that would be the expectation in the future. And I would have none of that...

I let my fury vent when I got home.... Joel and I were hashing it out when the Bishop and his family drove up. The Bishop listened... .

And later that night, over the Subway sandwiches, my Bishop was so affirming....

This morning, the monstrous past of the Church in its relationship with First Peoples is front and center in my prayers. The mirror of that insistence, that arrogance, that myopic vision, the rigidity....

There is no legitimate way that Romans can call themselves 'catholic'....

At prayer this morning (from Luke 14)

Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’

But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’

So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.”

Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

And from Joel, just in case we didn't get it...

Lament like a virgin dressed in sackcloth for the husband of her youth. The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the LORD. The priests mourn, the ministers of the LORD. The fields are devastated, the ground mourns; for the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil fails.

Be dismayed, you farmers, wail, you vinedressers, over the wheat and the barley; for the crops of the field are ruined. The vine withers, the fig tree droops. Pomegranate, palm, and apple – all the trees of the field are dried up; surely, joy withers away among the people.

Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar. Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God! Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God.

There we are.

And, it's snowing... it's twenty degrees... we were in shirt sleeves on Saturday.... Guess it is time to move the furniture in to their winter habit of clustering in front of the fire place...

--and, I've had too many calls... guess it's time to go buy some folks some propane....

Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

hold it all lightly, and dream the dream of a manifesto of love

A friend of mine posted this recently. It struck home for me today as I participate in the third funeral in a week. In my horizon at the edge of another open grave this morning, Wendell Berry's poem below is dancing with this modified prayer from the BCP (p504):

O God, your days are without end, and your mercies cannot be numbered: help us be deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let your Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and right living all our days; so that, when we shall have served you in our generation, we may be gathered to our ancestors without fear or shame, in communion with the church, in holy hope, loving our neighbor, held in your grace, love and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoyias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion-- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts
As soon as the generals and politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trial, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
That is a perfect manifesto: Practice resurrection.
Amen.
Amen.
Amen.

I have struggled at this funeral in so many ways, but in one way in particular... the local family, all Episcopalians, showed hospitality to the other side of the family and invited them to ask in a Roman Catholic priest --who will say the "Mass" --which means the family I serve will have to go without receiving communion (because Romans will only feed Romans)....

The way the grandma here slumped her shoulders and looked away, the abundant tears of the auntie and sister, made me know again how important the Sacrament is at this time... and the young man is being buried in the Episcopal cemetery in Cherry Creek... I have been feeling chopped off at the knees --unable to serve or function as a priest in this time of great need.

Which, in itself is not a bad thing to sit with uncomfortably every now and then... but not when the people are hurting and hungry.

--so, early this morning, as the dogs' internal alarms went off (still at 5am because of the day light savings switcheroo), a potential solution shifted in the dark air before me --take the Reserve Sacrament... offer that....

So... I will carry it with me. And if all the parties agree, that might be the middle way... the way through.

Or not. We'll see.

At prayer this morning (Luke 14:1-11)

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Serving the people is not about keeping the "rules".... God help forgive us in the lines we draw about who can feed whom from the altar.

Serving the people is not about the place of honor or center stage....

Serving the people means serving the people.

God help me hold it all lightly today. And dream the dream of a manifesto of love. Only love. Well --and joy. Yes joy.

Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

she will be there

My being 'white' spilled out on the floor before me. I can't help it. That just happens sometimes. It has to do with time. It has to do booklets filled with text. It has to do with all the stuff here that doesn't 'belong' to me, but that saturates every waking moment --ghosts, powers, spirits, things that happen.

We stood before and around the open coffin, saying our prayers, thanking the Creator for all that we had known, loved and received through her, asking God to bless her body, asking for the spirits and all those who had gone before her to come and lead her home to that unending feast, asking help for her --to put down those things she didn't need to carry with her, to forgive what needs forgiving, redeem what needs redeeming....

I had said my prayers. To the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the whole company of heaven. I had lit the candle dunked in the water, anointed with oil, readied to offer bread and wine. Food for our journey. Then they said theirs, to the Four Directions, to the heavens, to our grandmother earth --asking for pity/mercy and help. Traditional food --buffalo meat --dried and then powdered and mixed with fat and grains, choke cherry juice and fresh water were put in to her coffin. Food for her journey. Her other personal items.

The whole room full of people, two hundred or more, one by one, had come forward to her body to say good bye. Some weeping. None in denial. The singers at the drum.

I prayed. I wondered at her being a sun dancer. No food, no water for four days and nights, praying and walking in step to the beat of the drum--dancing... giving her self so that the people might live. And, yet, they have asked me to be present, to pray with them, to be with them as they give their mother back to grandmother earth, back to the Creator.

That is so humbling.

I wondered at her being a Christian. The reconciliation of past and present, of two tremendous Traditions meeting like two great oceans, in her own flesh and blood.

That is so humbling.

At times like these, I wonder at praying from a text... yes, I can pour my heart out in to it... yes, the familiarity of the cadence and ring of the words themselves which can and should push one in to the unfamiliar... yes, the equality of it--everyone from president to homeless prostitute receiving the same prayers before the altar of God...

--and I am so thankful to offer bread and wine --real and visible... Not text. So very not text.

Text, praying from text... is received and not received at the same time. Accepted and not accepted. Real and fake. It would be better if I memorized it all. Some days it feels as though I have, but when I test it, I know I have not, because although I work from the text the inside of me is always someplace else pushing, pulling, waxing, waning... a constant crescendo...

--and that is when the white part of me spills out on the floor --the part of me that wants it all to make sense. Spills out on the floor.

And I discover I am not an empty shell. Nor is what has spilled out to be discarded. It is just what has spilled out.

Like, my cup runneth over... a feast has been set before me, I lie down in green pastures, and eat. And the enemy can see me... haha.

How is it, I think, how is it that cake, sweet cake with the pictures of the dead embedded in the multi-color frosting --how is it that we eat such cake at every funeral. To remind us that life is sweet... always. Even now.

And the part of me that is left standing... sometimes I feel I hardly know her. She wears boots. And climbs in the stars. Has a soft, doleful halting voice. Inconsolable. But tenacious. She rips and tears and shreds where no one can see. Digs holes. Finds wells of fresh water and leaves them for someone else. She has eaten grasshoppers. I know she has. That part of her I know well. And made bread out of rich, yellow pine pollen collected off of silver lakes, cooked it slowly on a hot rock.

She's the one that buries the dead. Textless. She's the one that will wait and wait and wait --could care less what the clock says --could care less what is supposed to come next, because there are no supposed to's..... She is the one who dreams... asleep or wide awake....

She's the one that collects what has spilled out to make room for her, scoops me up in her wild and dirty hands that puts handfuls of earth on all the coffins, that touches all the dead bodies.

And we are not separate. We are not like oil and water.

I just don't know where she came from...

--but, then again, I do.

At prayer this morning (from Ecclesiasticus 50)

Then the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.
And the people of the Lord Most High offered
their prayers before the Merciful One,
until the order of worship of the Lord was ended,
and they completed his ritual.
...
And now bless the God of all,
who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth,
and deals with us according to his mercy.
May he give us gladness of heart,
and may there be peace in our days....

Another funeral tonight and tomorrow. It is going to be a difficult one. One of the young men from the car accident.

Pray for us. Pray for the families. Pray for all the relatives. Pray for his friends. Especially his friends. And his children.
Amen.

(the geese are honking. and it is supposed to snow on Monday...)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

it has grown, and we hope to make a nest in it

The house. Which we purchased so we could run away every now and then. And, because it was cheaper to own it than to spend money on two nights in a hotel in Rapid. And staying in Rapid happens a lot, because I drive to Rapid to see folks there in the ICU, last rites --all that. We buy supplies there. All the specialist doctors are there, too, for Joel's medical stuff.

I always find myself making excuses for owning a house. But, we do hope to retire there. Someday. (Not any time soon.) We are lucky.

It was about six hundred square feet. Had no foundation --except a few well placed rocks. And a nasty bathroom with a shower neither of us could fit in. Perfect, for us. So, we had the big idea to pick it up in the air, give it a foundation, and a new bathroom. No problem.


The way it was.
the bath was in the small addition to the back of the house.

Except that was more than a year ago --a year and three months, actually.

So, work began, September 2013.... We took down the dead and dangerous tree in the backyard. Glad we did. And took away the brick flower boxes.


September 2013


And found a guy to lift our little house in to the air and build a foundation under it....


October 2013

And then it sat there in the air. All. Winter. Long. The guy ran away with our money. What we didn't know is that he had done that to fourteen other people. There was nothing on-line about it. His company had been in Rapid for years. We got other bids, and they all pointed us back to him. We did do our research.

--sigh---

--ouch--

--damn him any way--

Finally, last spring, we thought we found someone to finish the job. And he began. Bright young man. Really good. Built the foundation. There were disasters in all that too --so, he decided he was in over his head and couldn't finish the job.... But we did get the house back down out of the air. After nine very, very long months. And, we did get a foundation --and more. We got a full basement.

Pouring the foundation, spring of 2014
Just after this picture was taken, the whole east end of the
foundation forms collapsed...

But, we persevered... the house sat forlorn most of the summer. We would climb in to it like a tree fort --because there were no walls on the back... and sit for a few hours... hoping and praying. Our neighbor built a house and moved in before we were able to get our house out of the air. He came over and gave us the name of a contractor.... and the work finally began in earnest.

The basement and supports were first.... a second bath and a utility room --and then a huge open room....

the stairs down, the bath and the utility room, all in the back of the house

the big basement room 
--and yes, that is standing water on the west wall... at first, we thought the foundation leaked, but when they put the roof on and etc, the water went away. I think D took these pictures...

Because I kept forgetting my camera... in the rush of things....

And, of course, things didn't go smoothly. One of the biggies was that we couldn't find a match to the pre-1950's stucco. The stucco was just slapped on the exterior lap siding --and the walls weren't insulated. So, more demolition... but now the walls are insulated. And you can't get the 1930 style lap siding without paying a premium... and we don't have that kind of money....

And, the young guy (the second contractor) took all the dirt and just spread it out over the yard pell-mell and changed all the run-off so that it floods our neighbors shed... not good. The heating contractor fell through the bedroom ceiling. Broken stuff.... Plaster dust every where.... And, the job seems unending --we had a promise that it would be done sometime between mid-October and mid-November... and, of course, it's not done.... We could have told you that, right?! But, we are keeping the pressure on.

This week, we have actually begun finishing detail decisions --light fixtures, kitchen floor --that kind of thing.

Next big things --get the gas, water and electricity on. We have actually thought we might be able to spend the night sometime soon.

So --here's how she is shaping up.

the new lap siding --which is similar but wider than what this 1930 cottage had to begin with

the view to the rear of the house --the new addition is the part without the rain gutter

the new addition interior from the kitchen point of view

the 1930 kitchen! yeppa, that's it! LOVE IT!

So.... that's the story of our little house. So far. We've doubled the square footage... bathroom upstairs and in the basement.... I think it will be perfect....

It will be done... one day... God willing....

At prayer this morning (Luke 13:18-30)

Jesus said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Our house was as small as a mustard seed sowed in the garden.... it has grown, and we hope to make a nest in it.

And, we will eat good and well leavened bread there, God willing.

And we are knocking at the door now... but we made all the doors wide enough... and all shall be welcome there, last and first --God willing.

Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

God forbid there might be anything that might benefit the people...

It is not Judgment Day. It is merely the day after the elections.

And I grieve.

I grieve because I hold the idea that an unpolluted environment and ecosystem are critical to our very survival. And I remain convinced, because of history, that Republicans don't view the EPA or any regulations as being helpful in preserving our environment. I remain convinced that things like the Keystone Pipeline will now be built, with continued debilitating effects and affects. I remain convinced that the continued science-denying idiocy regarding global warming will now prosper.

I grieve because I hold the idea that the government is and should be for the benefit of the people. I remain convinced that Republicans are hell-bent in supporting corporations and profit above the well-being of the people. I remain convinced that any progress we have made in making medical care coverage affordable will now be eliminated. I remain convinced that students will suffer with outrageous interest rates on loans. I remain convinced that Republicans will further destroy any benefits to the poor. I remain convinced that attacks on Social Security will happen, and may succeed.  I remain convinced that tax structures will further be manipulated to benefit the very rich and corporations. I remain convinced that laws and court systems will continue to oppress those who have no voice.

I grieve because public education will suffer. I remain convinced that history books will never tell the story of the people I serve. I remain convinced that the religious right will continue to demand "equal time" along science --as if there is any comparison.

I grieve because governmental gridlock will not stop. There will be new tactics, including lawsuits against the President --and impeachment proceedings. The gerrymandering will continue in order to perpetuate the power.

I grieve because people of color and women will not only continue to earn less, but they will continue to be less --in the eyes of the law and in social stature. Because the law and social stature will be owned by corporations and the rich.

I grieve because I hate politics...

Call it a thumping. Call it a shellacking. However you want to describe the 2014 midterm elections, the point remains the same. Democrats took it on the chin Tuesday night, losing the Senate, getting crushed in winnable governors' races, solidifying their minority status in the House for years to come, and stemming the party's ability to continue putting its stamp on the judiciary.

The question is whether it was all avoidable. Democratic strategists will say that the party was dealt a terrible hand, forced to defend too many vulnerable Democrats in red states against too much money. It was, to be sure, a lousy hand. But Democrats never tried to play it.

Candidates across the country shunned the president, with one famously refusing even to say whether she voted for him; they ran from the party's signature accomplishment, national health care reform; and they panicked when the White House considered doing broad-based immigration reform by executive action. Instead, a robust get out the vote operation was supposed to save the party, which rested its hopes in shifting demographic trends and fear of GOP extremists. But when you don't give your voters much to "get out" for, what's left?

"We gave Dems no reason to run," said an adviser to President Barack Obama. "We ran as Dems-lite."

The decision not to take action on immigration was, perhaps, the best example of a Democratic strategy that was too cute by half. The delay was intended to protect vulnerable red state Democrats, as if the only thing stopping anti-immigrant voters from backing Democrats was a potential executive action. Despite the delay, Democrats in Arkansas, North Carolina and Iowa lost, while Sen. Mary Landrieu was forced into a runoff in Louisiana she is expected to lose.

There was evidence that voters were willing to support progressive positions. Voters in Arkansas and Nebraska voted heavily in favor of a minimum wage increase, while those same voters in Arkansas defeated Democrat Mark Pryor, who had voted against a federal wage hike in line with the interests of the state's dominant company, Walmart. Candidates in both parties turned progressive in their rhetoric in the final weeks, on everything from renewable energy to reproductive freedom.

Making the bold move, meanwhile, was expected to boost enthusiasm among Latino voters to the benefit of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado, a purple state with a sizable Hispanic population. Instead, he lost to Republican Cory Gardner. The only tangible effect of the delay may have been the deportation of thousands of people who could have been helped by executive action.

---sigh---

If there is one silver lining for Democrats in a night filled with misery, it's that the Republican hold on the Senate is likely tenuous. The field was tilted heavily against Democrats in 2014, with Senate races held in red states where Obama was even more unpopular than he was nationally.

But in 2016, the GOP's tea party wave will be up, with Republicans defending 26 seats while Democrats are on the line in just 10 races. Republicans will be forced to defend seats in New Hampshire, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and several other states that are likely to go Democratic in the presidential election.

Between now and then, little governing involving Congress and the White House will take place. The president will implement some form of executive action that allows undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, while he explores other ways to implement an agenda absent congressional approval. The flow of judicial and executive confirmations will slow, the budget will run on autopilot absent another shutdown threat, and a series of standoffs will give way to the 2016 elections.

Beyond that, said one high-level Republican congressional aide, the American people should expect little. "The congressional agenda does not match up with normal people's lives," he observed.

So.... hunker down and try to survive two years? --as they sue the President and impeach him for every executive action? Haven't the Dem shell-movers figured out that they will attach every desirable thing, like a budget, to something

So, this election was really just a shell game --take it on the jaw, right off these midterm elections, don't worry about the people who will suffer --and prepare to win in 2016.

If that is so, please don't put up Clinton as the candidate. She is just a Republican in a nice, expensive blue suit. (As are too many Democrats.)

I grieve.

At prayer this morning (beginning at Luke 13:10)

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”

Right.

Darn that Jesus any way. Who does he think he is, healing, to begin with --much less on a Sabbath.

God forbid there might be anything that might benefit the people... especially a woman quite unable to stand up because it just doesn't fit in to some leader's principles....





Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
when from heaven the Judge descendeth,
on whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
through earth's sepulchers it ringeth;
all before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.

--not quite... but always... because what day is not Judgment Day.... ?