Sunday, September 28, 2008

Here I Sit. I Can Do No Other.

After leading the Liturgy of the Word at Sunday Eucharist, teaching the first of a series of classes about Christian responses to conflict, and spending two hours with my Field Ed Lay Committee, I'm whupped.

I have to organize my various and sundry packing for the class down in the Capital of the Confederacy this coming week, but for some reason I can't get up from the couch.

As I was driving out to Saint Middle's School's Saturday night service last night - lots of time to think on a 45 mile drive - I calculated how many hours a week I'm working, between school and Field Ed. Drum roll,'s 68 hours. I think the class down south this week will actually be a break for me, unless I decide I want to do some writing on the thesis in the evening, and finishing next week's sermon, and wrapping up the prep for next week's conflict class.

No wonder I can't get up off the couch.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

World MDG Blogging Day

As I write this, my father-in-law is back in the Congo. He served there as a missionary and surgeon for three decades, retiring in 1997. He goes back periodically under the auspices of the denominational mission society to help assess the needs of the mission station hospitals and the Congolese doctors and nurses he helped to train.

I would suspect that things in that northwest corner of the Congo, the Ubangi province, are in some ways better than they were when he first went there. There are local medical providers and there has been much more education than when he began there with his wife and children, when my husband was just eight years old. Prenatal education and care is better than it was. But in other ways, some things have not changed. Civil war has meant that some of those hospitals were stripped of supplies and equipment. Roads to get patients to medical care are in even worse condition in places than forty years ago. Poverty is still the norm.

This is why serious commitment to the Millenium Development Goals is so critical. In this place, eradication of poverty and hunger and maternal and child health care are primary: the challenges of living in this place are many, and it is the weakest of the populace who suffer most greatly.

As powerful as the witness of people like my husband's family are, as deeply important as their work has been, it is only when there is a global push to meet these goals that long-term sustainable progress will happen.

What to do? Pray. Advocate. Support. Do not be silent. We can make this happen.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Still Here

I've been swamped with work, and have been a bad blogger. I'm starting to wrap my arms around the work of this semester - finally - and am feeling much less overwhelmed by it all.

Still no resolution of the Field Ed situation. It will sort itself out. Soon, I hope.

Suddenly it is dawning on me that I am actually going to graduate this year. I just finished my resume. We will be doing our Church Deployment Office profiles soon (sort of a national database of who we are, what we're interested in, what our strengths are). General Ordination Exams are (gulp!) three months and one week away. I will have sufficient credits to graduate by the end of December, although I do have one required Christian Ed class that I will need in the spring. I will be doing my thesis, though, so I will end up taking a full load in the spring, and graduating with something like 94 credit hours.

It is exciting, frightening, confusing to be in this place which is kairos and not chronos. So I turn to a prayer that was a meditation at our class retreat this past weekend. It says much to me:

Pack nothing.
Bring only
your determination
to serve and
your willingness
to be free.

Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready
to move at a moment’s notice.

Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind –
fear, silence, submission.

Only surrender to the need
of the time – to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.

Do not take time
to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted
friends and family members.

Then begin quickly,
before you have time
to sink back into
the old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire
to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire
and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely home to that
you have not yet seen.

The stories you tell
one another around your fires
in the dark will make you
strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you,
and some who follow you,
and at times you will weary
and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing
for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the
to make a way and learn my ways
more deeply.

Those who fight you will teach you.
Those who fear you will strengthen
Those who follow you may forget
Only be faithful.
This alone matters.

Some of you will die in the desert,
for the way is longer than anyone
Some of you will give birth.

Some will join other tribes
along the way, and some
will simply stop and create
new families in a welcoming oasis.

Some of you will be so changed
by weather and wanderings
that even your closest friends
will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.
Some of you will not change at all.

Some will be abandoned
by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth
and feel abandoned by you.

Some will find new friendship
in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true
as the pillar of God’s flame.

Wear protection.
Your flesh will be torn
as you make a path
with your bodies
through sharp tangles.
Wear protection.

Others who follow may deride
or forget the fools who first bled
where thorns once were, carrying
away in their own flesh.

Such urgency as you now bear
may embarrass you children
who will know little of these times.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow
confused and lose your way.

Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given to you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.

Touch each other and keep telling
the stories
of old bondage and of how
I delivered you.

Tell your children lest they forget
and fall into danger – remind them
even they were not born in
but under a bondage which they no
longer remember, which is still
with the, if unseen.

Or they were born
in the open desert
where no signposts are.

Make maps as you go,
remembering the way back
from before you were born.

SO long ago you fell
into slavery, slipped
into it unaware,
out of hunger and need.

You left your famished country
for freedom and food in a new
but you fell unconscious and
and slavery overtook you as you fell
asleep in the east of your life.

You no longer told stories
of home to remember
who you were.

Do not let your children sleep
through the journey’s hardship.
Keep them awake and walking
on their own feet so that you both
remain strong and on course.

So you will be only
the first of many waves
of deliverance on these
desert seas.

It is the first of many
beginnings – your Paschaltide.

Remain true to this mystery.

Pass on the whole story.
I spared you all
by calling you forth
from your chains.

Do not go back.

I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.

--"Passover Remembered" by The Rev. Alla Renee Bozarth from Women's Uncommon Prayers

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I mentioned some changes rather obliquely in prior post. I can give you a bit more detail now, which some of you may have already sussed out. My supervisor in Field Ed, the vicar of saint Middle School, is leaving the diocese and Saint Middle School because her husband, also an Episcopal priest, is accepting a call to a church some three hours away. While I am delighted for her husband, it leaves me without a supervisor, a requirement for Field Ed. I will have completed three semesters of Field Ed (exclusive of my summer internship, which is different) when she leaves, which will fulfill Big Old Seminary's requirement, but my diocese, which refers to itself as The Diocese, requires four.

Now, the folks at Saint Middle School, especially the vestry, would like me to stay through the year, since having a familiar semi-clergy face while they search for a new vicar would be helpful, and since they know me and trust me. And I would like to stay there despite the lack of supervisor, since I feel a calling toward intentional interim ministry, have had the initial training, am going for the in-depth training next week (planned before the changes at SMS came to pass), and staying there would provide the opportunity both for observation of a parish going through this kind of change and the opportunity for me to complete a supervised project in interim ministry during that semester, which would complete my accreditation for interim ministry. That project would be supervised by an interim minister.

It would be non-standard for this diocese, though, and it would require the blessing of the diocesan coordinator for the ordination process, and most likely the bishop. So please keep my supervisor and her family, the good folks at Saint Middle School, and me in your prayers as we wait for the decision of the diocesan folks as to whether they would be comfortable with this.

On another note, I just got back from my senior class retreat out on the eastern shore. Elements of it were lovely, particularly a guided meditation led by two class members. Other elements were not so lovely - the retreat master was not my cup of tea, although some liked him. I like retreats to be about prayer and reflection, not about lectures that I fear I will be tested on. Ah, well. It was good to be away from urban/suburban angst for a little while and to stand at the edge of a bonfire at night with a thousand stars overhead. It was good to be with dear friends who will scatter to the four corners of the earth in eight months. It was good to have several hours in solitude in the car and with relatively light traffic, so the drive was a pleasure. Proof that reality is often different from expectations, and that's not necessarily bad.

And playing scrabble with my girlfriends until the wee hours, and laughing so hard that I nearly fell off my chair as the tears streamed down my face- that was a blessing, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Thanks for putting up with the whingy-ness yesterday and offering words of support. It was a stressful day and was probably not a good time to meet with that particular mentor, whose behavior was utterly consistent with the way said person has always been. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was feeling rather vulnerable and anxious.

The short version of what had me upset was a change in plans re Field Ed (not my change but my supervisor's) that causes me to have to deal with the ramifications of the change with both the seminary and my diocese. It makes life complicated but may also present some interesting learning opportunities if it plays out as I hope. But it will take a while to sort, and I don't like sitting in the middle of other people's decision-making processes. It also affects others whom I care about. In the end, all will be well, but the in-between time is a bear.

The good news is that I had spiritual direction today for the first time this fall, and as always it was wonderful. My spiritual director is such a gift to me.

Tomorrow is my spiritual direction class, where I learn about how to do this wonderful discipline. That class just feeds my soul.It's worth it, even though it runs to 9 at night and is 40 minutes from home. I'll be doing a guided imagery prayer on my St Gabriel icon.

And Friday, I get to go away for a brief (Friday night through Saturday early afternoon) retreat with my classmates. All of this is a reminder of how necessary the practices of one's own spiritual life are, even or perhaps especially when one is in ministry.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beyond words

How is it possible that someone who is supposed to have a mentoring relationship with someone can spend an entire hour talking about themselves and never once ask "How are you doing?"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Random Dots of Monday

  • Today was the semiannual visit of the largest supplier of vestments and such. I am the student rep on our seminary campus. I get a small commission on what is sold, and apparently we got a lot of orders today. This means I'll have a credit with the company to buy essential stuff like clergy shirts when I get ordained. This is definitely a good thing.

  • I did a study session for our basic musicianship class today. We are trying to turn non-musicians into people who can read a hymn tune (for purposes of worship planning) in six class sessions. Not. Gonna. Happen.

  • I am managing to keep up with the reading for the classes, but feel like I'm already behind the curve for the thesis. Gotta fix that. One class is easy, one is pass-fail, one is audit. I shouldn't be having this problem. Prioritize, Mibi, prioritize. On the other hand, I've found some really useful books to support my work. Now I've just got to read them.

  • Stuff is happening at St Middle School that I can't blog about right now. Not bad, just changing/ challenging, and it affects my work there. I thought I was cool with it, but the anxiety hit me this morning. Thank goodness for the noon Eucharist. Remarkable how attending this service calms me right down again.

  • I was doing battle with the weak wireless signal in my library study carrel, and whined about it to our tech support guru. An ethernet cable magically appeared on the handle of the carrel door, so I can attach to the network the "old-fashioned way." Sweet! Thanks, BB!

  • StrongOpinions, who was having an absolutely miserable day today, is much sunnier today. As a mom, her mood affects me, too. So having her feel better makes me more chipper.

  • I'll be bringing one of my icons to Spiritual Direction class on Thursday night, to lead a guided imagery prayer with it. I've done guided imagery before, but not with a visual image. I'm not quite sure how I will do it, but I guess I'll find a way. Any ideas, RevGals?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saturday Tired With Sunday on the Way

The week just bumfuzzled me. Extra TA hours, chapel team every morning, kicking off the GOE prep sessions, helping with Lay committee training program, getting my writing schedule for the thesis worked out. PH is off in Windy City, which should be renamed Rainy City, and his flight home tomorrow night might be cancelled. I got in an hour nap before going to St Middle School for groovy praise eucharist. Long conversation with the vicar and senior warden afterwards about what the coming year looks like, then a 45 minute drive back home.

So after supper I entertained myself with "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." Before Hugh Laurie became famous as "House", he and the brilliant Stephen Fry (who famously played Oscar Wilde in the eponymous movie about a decade ago, did Jeeves and Wooster, and has published some very interesting and funny books) did short-sketch comedy for the Beeb. For a sample, see here. Nothing like a bit of ridiculousness just two steps more sophisticated than Monty Python to set the world back in order. Worth putting in your Netflix queue.

I'll be starting to teach Sunday School for the adults in two weeks. "Say What?!? Conflict, Community and Christianity." Of course it will solve the problems of all three in...what?....four sessions. Or not.

To bed....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sermon for Today: I Cor 8: 1-13

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 8:1 -13 to be preached at VTS Chapel September 11, 2008

Preach to the time.

Preach to the time, and the place, and the people.

They tell me that seven years ago today, on September 11th, 2001, students and faculty climbed the tower of Aspinwall to watch the greasy, impenetrable black smoke ascending from the burning Pentagon, wondering what it meant. I was working downtown, two blocks from the White House, and saw the same smoke, and wondered what it meant. On that incongruously sunny afternoon, many people of faith went to their churches, to hear words of comfort, to try and understand what had happened and why.

And in those churches, many pastors took the lectionary texts for the day and preached. On the face of it, those texts may not have spoken directly to the situation, but those preachers took the text, and the place and time and situation and people they faced, and they preached powerfully, comfortingly.

Preach to the time, and the place, and the people.

God’s Word is big enough, you see, to wrap itself lovingly around any situation. We hear God’s Word in our time, in our location, in our situation. It speaks to us uniquely.

The Apostle Paul, in today’s reading from I Corinthians, is preaching to the time, and the place and the people. He’s gotten a question from the church in Corinth.

Now one of the facts of being a priest is that you have parishioners who ask you questions. “Well, Father Fred, don’t YOU think we should always have the American flag right up alongside the altar? After all, this is a Christian nation!” “Pastor Mary, everybody knows that women are supposed to be subservient to their husbands.”

You know you’re in trouble when the words “always” or “everybody knows” come into the conversation. You strongly suspect that they THINK they already know the answer…the one right, true answer to their question. They’re looking to you to validate their opinion. The same thing is happening here – Paul knows that the key phrase amongst the Corinthians is “We all have the knowledge.” He knows they think they know what the answer is. “Everybody knows that there is no such thing as idols, there’s only one true God, so the meat is just meat, and we can eat it, right?” You can picture them sitting back, having made their very Hellenistic argument, with their hands over their bellies – the same bellies that probably had some of that meat in them.

Paul is a smart pastor, and quite experienced in the art of Greek rhetoric, so he answers the question in a very Greek way. He starts out by agreeing with them. Yes, the Corinthians have knowledge. But perhaps that knowledge is not the be-all and end-all. Perhaps they’re missing the point. Perhaps they’re so involved with their own pride in their knowledge, that they can’t see the other problem their argument creates. Paul preaches not to the question which they asked, but to the place, the situation, the people. He preaches to the context, and how God works among the people in that context.

What does Paul say?

He moves the analysis from an intellectual exercise to a spiritual one. Not everyone is as deeply knowledgeable as this small group of Corinthians. Perhaps there are some who are new to the faith, or just weaker. Paul challenges his correspondents: what is the impact of what you are doing to these weak ones? He makes them face the pastoral issue, one that is driven by where they live, with whom they live, how they live. He challenges them: can you measure what you’re doing not by the single-right-answer yardstick of knowledge, but by the more amorphous measure of agape, of love?

Context matters. In the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, pious rabbis gave permission for observant Jews to eat pork, because it was the only meat available and it was more important to try to preserve their lives in that awful time than to adhere to the dietary laws. Paul says that meat is just meat, until the fact that it was part of pagan worship makes it a distraction or a confusion to those whose knowledge is weak. Meat is just meat until eating it makes someone think that hanging around the pagan temple may not be so bad. Meat is just meat until the familiarity of those pagan idols to whom it was offered seems oh so comfortable…and those who are fledgling Christians, who are weak, are led astray. And that is the sin, a sin against those who are led astray, and a sin against Christ, who died to redeem them and us.

Preach to the time, and the place, and the people. See how God gives us the words to take his holy scripture and use it to speak to a Luo in western Kenya, or an Inuit in Alaska, or a Lutheran Swede in Smoland, or even an Episcopalian who is struggling with her seminary studies in Alexandria.

Preach to the time, and the place and the people. God’s words are big enough.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Need of the Organization Fairy

I will readily admit that I'm not the most organized person on the planet, but I usually manage to stay on top of stuff.

PH gave me a Palm Zire organizer a while ago, and that actually has helped tremendously, since so many things on my schedule are repetitive, like classes.

And now that I have my nifty study carrel in the library at Big Old Seminary, I have a place for my study stuff. I've even outfitted it with a file box with hanging files and all that. I'm still not feeling in great control of it all, though, and that's left me feeling vaguely achy and feverish.

Or maybe it's just the beginnings of the leaf mold allergy season.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Put on your crash helmet

Annie Dillard: "It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."

Senior year is feeling rather like that. Too much stuff happening, not enough time, no way to process it. Change is occurring in multiple layers. On the best days it feels like acupuncture: you can feel the needles go in and it isn't exactly pleasant, but you can sense the positive results of the treatment. On the worst days it feels like debridement of burnt flesh, and the silent scream is small release.

So what is the crash helmet? Where are the life preservers? Are there any seat belts on this ride?

Only prayer and God's Word. They will be enough.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hanna in the House

Tropical Storm Hanna is here. The rain is coming down pretty hard now, and the wind has picked up a bit. Certainly not a full-blown hurricane, but rather unpleasant.

PH and I made our Saturday morning pilgrimage to the Farmer's Market early today, while the rain was still not too bad. Normally there are dozens of vendors. Today Tony and his wife were the only veggie farmers selling, there was one little fruit guy, and the dairy and cheese guy. PH, who had been hankering for one of the Hollis Farms raspberry and chocolate croissants, had to settle for an apple turnover from the one bakery vendor.

By the time we got home, it was raining hard and blowing a bit. Predictions are for several inches of rain and gusting winds up to 40-50 mph. I doubt this will be a truly bad storm, but the jury is still out whether I will drive the 40+ miles out west to the Saint Middle School Saturday evening contemporary worship service. I'll wait until four and touch base with the vicar and see.

My only real concern with this (things like losing power are annoyances but no true emergencies) is flooding in the basement, where we have many bookshelves full of books plus a couple of file boxes. The boxes are up off the floor, and the bookshelves have a couple of inches of bottom before the bottom shelf of books, but still, it would be a royal the litter box is down there. Ah well, there are worse problems.

The potted herbs that were on the stairs out back are safely tucked away, the bird feeders are off their chains, and the flag is inside. Nothing more to do at this point than to hope that it will be no big deal.

I think I'll get some reading done before the power goes out. Stay dry!

Update at 2:45 pm - the power has come and gone several times now, but is still on, thank goodness. We're starting to get water in the basement, through one of the window wells, and PH is outside, bailing out water. Just don't want that window to break in. Then we'd really have our hands full.

Update at 8 pm: the sky is clear, the rain is over, the wind has died, and the power is on. All in all, an easy storm to get through. Praise be!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

So I'm Imagining the Conversation...

Scary Dad: Boy, you got our daughter in trouble. Now you've got to pay the price.

"Fiance:" Yes, sir, I know that. I've already promised you that I'll marry her, even though I'm only 18 and don't have a job yet and we'll probably have to live with you.

Mom: Yes, yes, that's all well and good...but you have to do one more thing.

"Fiance" pales and gulps, thinking of their facility with large weapons: What, ma'am?

Mom: You have to go on stage with us when I give a big speech and smile a lot to show how what you're doing, the manly thing and all, is what you REALLY WANT to do. You do want to do the right thing, don't you?

"Fiance:" Yes, ma'am.

Scary Dad: And of course it's going to be on national television, so everyone can know your shame and humiliation. Yessir, you have to pay the price.

Mom: And maybe other young people won't make the same mistake you two made.

"Fiance" thinks maybe he got into more than he bargained for.

Sad and manipulative.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

School's In

A whole barrelfull of reading.
Ineffectual a/c on the side of the library where the study carrels are.
Textbooks that are even more expensive this year than last year.
Not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

Nevertheless, I'm so happy to be back at seminary.

The choir rocked today at noon Eucharist with the Mozambiquen "Nzamuranza" accompanied by drums. Since it was a big-deal service with all the faculty processing in academic robes, we had the treat of a beloved professor drumming in her Yale robes. A once-in-a-lifetime and priceless visual - she was awesome.

Tomorrow is my wonderful Conflict and Congregational Leadership class, and in the evening it's the equally wonderful Spiritual Direction class. The latter is one offered at another institution in our theological consortium in Your Nation's Capital. Sort of a challenge to get over to the other side of town at rush hour, but the class is worth it. Feeds the soul.

I'm looking forward to being on Chapel Team next week, officiating at Morning Prayer and being psalmist and acolyte for the Wednesday noon Community Eucharist. Plus I get to preach in chapel on Thursday, and the sermon's already done.

Life is good! Now if I could only figure out how to get ALL the reading done for the Anglican Thought class I'm auditing...

Monday, September 01, 2008


So now I know much more than I care to about the presumptive Republican VP nominee, with the news that the eldest daughter of Sarah Palin, who is 17, is pregnant.

Some will point fingers and say it is yet another indicator that Palin was a bad pick to be nominee.

For me, the issue of Palin's daughter's pregnancy is utterly irrelevant. Things happen with our children that we don't anticipate, that we didn't raise them to do, that are out of our control as parents (as much as we wish we could control them). It's a sadness that this 17 year old is in this situation, and frankly, I have doubts about the odds for success of the impending marriage. It has zippo to do with whether or not Palin should be VP.

As political animal, I understand the pick of Palin. She solidifies the evangelical/values-conservative wing of the party. She solidifies McCain's cred with the NRA and the anti-environmentalists. She is youthful and snappy with a comeback (although that may cause problems in the long run). Was she picked to try and draw away Hillary's female supporters? Even the most naive could not believe that - her views on social issues are too radically different from Hillary's. On the other hand, this completely takes the experience argument off the table, since both sides can bash each endlessly to no effect using the same club. Rs say Obama is inexperienced. Ds say Palin is inexperienced, and oh by the way McCain is older than dirt, so the likelihood of her succeeding him is rather high. Neutral political result.

So I just wish, for once, we could evaluate a female candidate on the merits. She will not be my candidate for a long list of reasons, not the least of which is how little we know about what she really thinks about a variety of issues. And on the issues where I do know her position, I disagree with her.

It's not about her hair, or her family, or her pregnant daugher, or the tiara.

It's about ability to know what this complicated world is about, and to lead in a measured and intelligent way in it.