discern this

We are an Easter People, and even at the grave, Alleluia is our song.

30th Sunday, Year C (October 27, 2013) October 27, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:24 pm

Maybe it’s my other life as a therapist, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy, what it means to be depressed, what it means to be sad, or lonely, or anxious, or excited. Feelings are a funny thing. They’re not something we can easily control, and as I say very, very often, there are no wrong feelings. You can’t help how you feel.

We can, however, use those feels to do something. If it’s a good feeling, we can use it to encourage us, we can dwell in the happy. We can sing a little louder in the shower and smile a little more readily.

If it’s a “bad” feeling, a sad one or an angry one or an anxious one, we can use it to motivate us. If all we had were utopian feelings, we could get stuck into some pretty unhealthy patterns. I don’t have to think about the scary horrors happening in other parts of the world…or the city. I can tune it out, avoid paying attention to the news, and just be happy and settled and content in my happy, newly-wedded bliss of a life. But when I do listen to the news on my way to work, or read up on what’s happening outside my little circle of life, it’s harder to ignore the bad stuff. I feel anger and outrage at how a people are being treated, and I do something about it. I can’t fix it myself—I know that—but I can be a part of something trying to make a difference. I can contact my congressional representatives. I can participate—or even organize (yeah, right) a rally or demonstration. I can canvass a neighborhood, write a blog post, update my Facebook status, say a prayer. We can turn those uncomfortable feelings we have within us into something useful. We can do our part, whatever that may be, to make a difference.

I get a daily quote and reflection in my email from an organization called Peace on the Inside. It was this one that probably set the tone for today’s sermon; it was still ringing in my head long after I read it:

To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of life. –Jill Bolte Taylor

If we expect the outside world to be our consistent source of comfort, peace, and joy, we will be chronically disappointed. Life is richer and more complicated than that. Today I nurture an inner wellspring and develop the capacity to touch joy.

It came a few minutes after I read a post on Facebook from Storypeople, which posts quirky drawings accompanying a quote. That one was:

Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life.

We get settled into our routines, our comfortable lives, and we forget a little bit what it can be like elsewhere. I’m not saying we don’t need that sometimes, but I do think that we need to constantly be aware of what’s going around us and remember that it can be the harder things in life, the things that make us actually weaker or just feel weaker, that enable us to grow. It’s the things that test us that help us to recognize that there is more to us than we realized or remembered. It’s the things that challenge us that make us better prepared to handle the next obstacle we come across.

Sometimes, we need to be a little uncomfortable in order to change things around us. I find I don’t really get the urge to clean until I feel like my house is training for the pigsty competition, but when I get that urge, man, does my house look good. Sometimes it takes something hitting a little too close to home to make us want to change. When we are vulnerable, we open ourselves up to receiving new information, or at least reexamining what we already knew or thought we knew. I have a print that I bought years ago at a festival after it stopped me in my tracks. I stared at it for several minutes, pondering it, reflecting on what it meant. It came home with me, where it reminds me to pause, sit with my feelings, and then look for what might come of it.

Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.

A tragedy occurs: something that destroys life as we’ve known it. God knows about it. God sees it. God knew it was going to happen and maybe just let it occur, knowing that something needed to happen in order to shake things up enough in our lives that we’d be able to face that next thing to come our way. When we play the what if game, we figure out how a thing could have been avoided, how that thing that causes all the painful feelings could have maybe not happened. What if we played the What If? game but with a different spin? What if the dog hadn’t woken me up when she did this morning? What if that horrible sequence of things that led to me leaving the RCC hadn’t happened? Would I have found St. Sebastian? Would I be preaching here today? What if I hadn’t had car trouble last week and waited a couple of hours for AAA to show up? What if I hadn’t curled up on the couch this afternoon with my cat Sheetrock? What if I had gone to the University of North Carolina instead of the University of Maryland for social work? What if Kevin hadn’t been out of work for a few weeks because of the shutdown? What if? What if the next thing that happens in my life changes the course of everything? What if it just makes me appreciate what I have right here, right now?

Amen.

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27th Sunday, Year C (October 6, 2013)

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:12 pm
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I remember in college my best friend and I, along with several others at our campus ministry group, would often talk about, and joke about, “God’s Time.”All in God’s time, we’d say. Usually, it’d be followed by something along the lines of, “God’s time sucks.”  And then we’d laugh and move on.

I am a pretty frequent user of St. Anthony’s gift in finding things. Can’t find the car keys? St. Anthony, St. Anthony, Please come around. St. Anthony, St. Anthony, there’s something to be found. Please help me find my car keys.

And then, I have to repeat it. Even in this simple rhyme, I have built superstition. If I don’t say it right, then I can’t expect to find what I’m looking for. Also, sometimes St. Anthony goes on vacation or takes a break and that’s why it might take longer to find my stuff.

I kind of wish I was kidding with this, but I’m not. When I think about it when I’m not searching for my wallet, which I know I put back into my purse earlier,  or my phone, which fell down between the seats in my car again, I know that these are silly requirements I’ve put on a prayer. But why?

It helps me understand it. It helps me to accept why God—through St. Anthony—isn’t helping me at this moment when I’m asking for it. It’s easier for me to tell myself that I’m not doing it right than to accept that God isn’t listening.

Really though, maybe I just need to leave the house thirty seconds or three minutes later.

Paulo Coehlo is one of my favorite authors; I’ve mentioned him before in at least one sermon, I’m sure. When I catch myself getting frustrated because I’m late and I need to find something or someone else is holding me up and we have got to get moving NOW!, I sometimes remember a passage from The Valkyries, where the character is preparing to enter the dessert for a journey and his companion leaves something in the car and goes back for it. They weren’t far from the car, but the companion took far longer than necessary to retrieve whatever it was. When he finally returned, he explained: I always let a little extra time pass when I forget something. I figure it could be God holding me back a couple minutes to reset my course.

Maybe that brief pause before St. Anthony helps me find my keys is just the amount of time it takes for that distracted driver to get wherever he’s going. Maybe it’s enough time so that when I walk into work, I see the person I need to see—even if we don’t even greet each other…maybe catching sight of him reminds me of something I need to do, or reminds him that I’m a therapist and a resource for that kid in his class who really could use some extra support. Maybe the traffic frees up so that instead of spending all that time stuck on 695 I’ll be able to cruise right through. Maybe it’s just a reminder that I need to slow down, breathe, and thank God for the moment.

We have all these platitudes…God works in mysterious ways. God’s time isn’t the same as our time…it happens for a reason…God answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, and wait…with God, all things are possible…God has plans for you…

Habakkuk talks about this, begs God—why aren’t you listening?! Why aren’t you intervening? Why aren’t you fixing things? And God tells Habakkuk—and us—to be be patient. There is still time; I have a plan for you, for your neighbor, for the world. Things will improve, but first, you must wait.

Our faith…if we have faith the size of mustard seeds, we can move a mulberry tree to the ocean to take root and it would, giant root system and all. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we’d move the mountains. So do we not have faith? Is that what Jesus is telling us? Or is it that we need reminding that it is through God alone that the impossible happens.

There is a story in Mark where a father brings to Jesus his son, who was possessed by a demon who made the boy mute, and caused seizures which often nearly killed the boy. He had gone first to the disciples who were unable to cast out the demon. The man says, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” And the father says, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”  And Jesus cast out the demon and healed the boy.

The disciples couldn’t understand it, couldn’t figure out why they were incapable of casting the demon out. Jesus responded, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Faith is believing in what cannot possibly be true. Faith is not knowing how something is going to turn out but putting our everything into it anyway.

I cannot move a mulberry tree alone; I can’t even get rid of that overgrown weed tree by the back porch. But with God, all things really are possible. We put our faith in God, and we make that faith active through prayer and our actions. And that is where miracles happen.

Amen.

 

19th Sunday, Year C (August 11, 2013) August 11, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:26 pm

My dog Monster is terrified of storms. We can tell when one is coming because she takes to her refuge behind a chair in a corner of the living room. She won’t come out unless we drag her out to put on her ThunderShirt.

I suppose with her little bat-like ears, she can hear the thunder and the wind much better than we can. She’s a rescue pup, so she probably spent much of the first year of her life outside, stuck in storms, exposed to the cold rain and the noise of the storm.

But Louisa May Alcott said, “I am not afraid of storms of life, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

As humans, we are arguably smarter than dogs. If nothing else, we have the ability to think in metaphor and comprehend series of events.

In preparing for this afternoon, I came across a comparison to Christ as the wind, with us as sails. I decided to flow with it. So here goes:

The wind never stops. There is always some ruffle in the atmosphere. Sometimes the wind is mild, a gentle breeze refreshing us on a warm afternoon. Sometimes it’s a cold wind, causing us to pull up our coats as we hurry to work. Sometimes it’s fierce, powerful, moving objects big and small, causing damage to buildings and uprooting trees.

The wind is going to move us somehow, but it’s up to us to determine how we respond to it. Do we fight the wind or do we embrace it? Do we pull out a windbreaker or do we dig in the closet for the kite we bought at Ocean City a few years ago and find an open space to fly it? Do we shutter ourselves inside or do we erect windmills?

If we think of Christ as the wind, we can think of ourselves as sails. What do we do with that wind? Do we fight it or embrace it? Do we use as much as possible, or do we use only a little of it? Do we try to ignore it and continue on under our own power?

I’m not a sailor, so if you are, just pretend I’m giving a proper analogy here. If the wind is coming from the east and we want to head east, we turn the sail a certain way to capture that wind and use it to its full advantage. But if the wind is coming from a different direction than we want to go, we have to compensate. We have to turn the sail another way or pull it down altogether and power on through other means, means that are artificial or less efficient.

Christ is our guide. Our readings today have a very clear theme of being faithful, of trusting in that which we cannot see, perhaps cannot understand. At the Passover supper, the Israelites trusted God would pass over their houses. Abraham trusts that God will lead him and his family to a better place, will provide him a son and descendants. A servant trusts that his master will be home at some point and knows he is better off staying prepared for that moment than attempting to scramble when word comes that he’s on the way.

If I’m fighting a headwind that seems to be making it impossible to get where I need to go, perhaps it’s time for me to consider that I am not meant to be going in that direction at that time. You all know I was supposed to go to India last year. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t meant to be—I was facing obstacle after obstacle every time I turned around. The ‘wind’ was throwing the trash can around, sending the rain sideways, practically prying the roof off of the house I was trying to rent. It didn’t work. Finally (through the guidance and support of some amazing people), I stopped fighting the wind. I recognized that it was going to be a nearly impossible feat to get to India just then. Instead of trying to conquer the wind—the reality that God had more imminent plans for me right here in Baltimore, I accepted it. I cut the onboard motor, adjusted my sail, and took off in the wind, making far better time and enjoying the journey. And then I met Kevin, so yeah, definitely the right move.

I am not going to pretend that the wind always blows in a clear direction. Sometimes we have hurricanes or tornados in our lives. These events are incomprehensible. We don’t know which way is up, and we can’t figure out what kind of plan God might have in mind. Still, there is always the calm after the storm. Communities come together and have cookouts to cook up everything in their freezers before it goes to waste because the power is out and BGE says it’s going to be out for days, maybe weeks. A neighborhood that was full of strangers becomes a neighborhood full of friends, a thing that wouldn’t have happened without that storm.

It isn’t a perfect analogy; I don’t believe God causes devastation and pain just for kicks and giggles or out of vengeance. But I do believe that there is constantly a presence in our lives—the presence of Christ—and when we embrace that presence, we find the going a little bit easier.

Amen.

 

15th Sunday, Year C (July 14, 2013) July 14, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 9:29 pm

We talk a lot about social justice, about getting moving, about doing more, doing something. We talk about, getting involved, about making a difference, about not standing still.

Here, we have a critical message from Jesus. Slow down. Listen. If we get too caught up in focusing on whatever our current goal is, we may miss out on something happening right here, right now. We need to be aware of our surroundings. Something may have changed. There may be something right there in front of us that we need to recognize to help us on—or even change the direction of—our journey. Or it may just be an amazing thing we don’t want to miss.

For Mary and Martha, having Jesus there with them was an honor, a treat. He was a friend, but he was a guest. Martha knew her role that evening was to serve their guest and make sure he had everything he needed. I always feel like Martha is tattling on her sister when she talks to Jesus here, asking him to tell her sister to get up off her duff and help out. Instead, in this moment, Jesus reminds Martha—and, through the retelling of this story, us—of the importance of pausing and taking in what is happening around us.

In leadership trainings, one common theme is taking time to simply thing and reflect. Sometimes they suggest actually blocking out an hour each day where there is nothing at all going on. Instead, just sit, think about how things are going. Think about how you want things to go. Think about how something could have been better, how something else could have been worse. Think about whether you’re on the right track or not.

A busy leader? A manager, who has to put out fires every other minute, decide on this thing or that, calm down this person, reassure that one? No way that person has time to just sit for an hour. Think of all the emails that can be answered, the paperwork that can be caught up on.

And yet, in practice, it’s really helpful. When I’m able to do it, I’m more productive the entire day. I may not be able to take an hour (I’m still not convinced that’s feasible), but ten minutes, maybe fifteen? Hugely helpful in my work, and it even helps reduce burnout.

The same thing happens to me when I take time to journal. I’ve always loved to journal. Part of it is I simply like writing, but more so, it’s that when I sit down and journal, things start to make more sense. Something I’ve struggled with for days, weeks, more, starts to come clear. Simply the act of writing helps the pieces to rearrange in my head so I can understand better, separate my feelings from my thoughts. It gives me perspective that I desperately need.

It’s prayer time for me. My prayers, I’ve come to realize, aren’t the down on my knees beside my bed thanking God for the day and asking God to watch over my family type of prayers. First of all, my knees would be killing me, and I just don’t think God wants me to be in physical pain every time I start a conversation. Prayer time comes when I pull out my notebook and just start writing. Sometimes it’s stream of consciousness, sometimes what I write sounds more like a common expectation of a prayer—thank you for this, help with that, take care of this person.

I don’t think I’ve ever made a major decision without journaling about it. It’s my quiet time at Jesus’ feet. To sit at one’s feet, as Mary was doing, meant to be engaged in active learning. Students would sit in the synagogue gathered around the rabbi who would teach and explain the scripture.

One journaling experience is on my mind a lot over the last week or so. Last year, it was through journaling that I made my decision not to spend six months in India. I was so anxiety-riddled that I couldn’t think any more, much less be productive in doing the things that had to be done. I sat down, picked up my notebook, and let the words tumble. An hour and a half later, I knew what I had to do. I knew what was right for me. I had taken time to sit at the feet of the Lord, in the midst of everything I had going on, despite ‘not having time to do it’, despite knowing I ‘needed’ to be doing other things. In that time, I realized I needed to stay here, for some unknown reason, and I was okay with it.

And now I smile wryly and shake my head in amazement that if I hadn’t taken the better part, I wouldn’t be celebrating one year with my beloved today. Mysterious ways, eh?

From the moment I told my dear friend and pastor that Kevin and I were engaged, he has cautioned us to remember to slow down. There’s so much doing-doing-doing. We are running from this place to that, deciding what colors for this to what song for that. The To-Do list just keeps growing. We are planning a wedding in less than five months, and there is so much that needs to be done. But we’re only doing this once, and we want to remember it and not look back with regret or dread. So we have fun with it. We take time off from thinking about it. We try to catch ourselves when we realize we haven’t been doing something we really enjoy doing together because we’ve ben so caught up in wedding stuff. So far, it’s working, and I’m glad. It’s been fun and mostly without anxiety or upset.

This, I think, was Jesus’ point. Martha, you’re working so hard. I know it. We all know it. But you’re upset with Mary because you’re missing the bigger picture right now. I’m only here for a little while, and I don’t want you to miss out on this. There’s time for elaborate meals and such later. Right now, come and be with me. Come and learn. Come and recharge.

Amen.

 

What should be required reading for every single person in this country. May 10, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 11:09 am
So there’s this webcomic called Hyperbole and a Half. You will probably eventually want to read ALL THE THINGS in the archives, but first, please go read her most recent posts, Adventures in Depression and Depression Part Two.
 
These two essays are like the Rosetta Stone for depression. As a social worker and a deacon and a person who has experienced chronic and major depressive episodes herself, I just want to reach through computer world and hug this woman, who shares so much of herself in these posts and brings such clarity and insight–and even humor–into a thing which is much stigmatized and much misunderstood.
 

I said yes. May 2, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 11:19 pm

We're engaged!

As if there could be any doubt. An ice cream cake with As you wish written on it? He’s perfect for me, and I love him so.

 

“The good outnumber you, and we always will.” April 15, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — discernthis @ 11:05 pm

I heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon when I checked Facebook during our break in class. I kept checking back in on various news sources throughout the next 90 minutes, wanting to know more, hoping, praying that it wouldn’t be an act of terror, knowing the chances of that were slim.

I had to go to work immediately after, so I didn’t have a chance to keep updated until I got home at almost 10pm. The pit in my stomach didn’t dissipate. I started looking for updates online. I tried to figure out what I’m feeling, what there is that can be said.

There are millions of people mourning tonight, lost in the sadness, trapped in cycles of fear and grief. There are thousands of people tonight working to treat those who were injured, physically or emotionally, by the bombings. There are hundreds of people, maybe more, who were in the race or the crowd and are now beginning to recover from those injuries. There are three people, according to the Boston Police Department, who are dead. We do not yet know their names.

We can offer our support in any number of ways: We can pray for the victims and the survivors. We can donate blood; reports abound of runners who went to hospitals upon learning of the explosions. We can give of our time, if we have the flexibility and appropriate skills. We can donate money; I’m sure there will be relief funds set up soon. We can light candles. We can wear racing shirts or Boston Marathon colors of yellow and blue tomorrow. We can call our family members and friends and tell them we love them.  We can join together and hold on to hope. We can remember that there is good in the world and that good outweighs the bad.

A number of friends have shared Patton Oswalt’s reflection, and I shall do the same. What else is there to say?

 

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”