It’s All Chicken But the Gravy

That includes chicken wings at Hooters on Mother’s Day. That was my treat to myself again this year; I looked forward to it eagerly. 2016 marks the fourth anniversary of this tradition for me–two of my closest friends included me in this family tradition of their own, inviting me the first year of seminary together in 2013. This married couple–Leroy and Lacey (not their real names; my friend chose his pseudonym)–have been celebrating Mother’s Day at Hooters for the last fifteen or so years, the happenstance of all the other restaurants in their Alabama hometown having been packed for the holiday one particular year. Needless to say, my friends have taken a lot of flack for frequenting “that restaurant, which degrades women,” especially on a day (a Sabbath, no less) set aside to honor mothers.

I’ve written in an earlier post (“Theo-proprioception“) about my perception of transcendence at a friend’s ordination to the priesthood. Leroy’s ordination took place few days after the one about which I’ve already written. That tangible sense of grace–where would it manifest this time?

Leroy’s wife, Lacey, and I are close friends–she’s one of my few close friends who is a woman. Both of us are what she calls “guy girls;” given our druthers, we’d choose to hang with the guys rather than with a group made up solely of women. We’re not “girly” or ultra-feminine. That’s just who we are. We also are not militant feminists, though we do support women’s rights. But we support men’s rights, LGBTQ rights, in short, a moderately liberal understanding of “love one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

I must admit, though, when Leroy invited me to join them the first time, I was taken aback a little. Hooters does have that reputation; I’d never set foot in one before, on principal, because of that reputation. Plus, I was unsure how I comfortable I’d feel around svelte, large-breasted women in skimpy outfits. When you’re a short, dumpy, nearly fifty-year-old woman coming to terms with her own sexuality, well, not necessarily where you envision a Mother’s Day meal.

However, the kindness of the offer, combined with the fact that this would be my first Mother’s Day without any of my own children, and that I loved being a part of my friends’ rambunctious family, prompted me to accept. Despite my reservations, I opened myself to the adventure.

Due to travel mishaps, my arrival time to Leroy’s ordination cut it close–I got there after the rehearsal had begun, and I was one of the readers (had the honor and pleasure of reading  Isaiah’s call story). Hot and grumpy, I felt unsettled and unready, though happy to be there, in a old Southern church that smelled old, musty, and loved. After helping myself to a drink of water from the kitchen, I found the sanctuary, where the sacramental party gathered–Leroy, Lacey, their three children, Lacey’s brother, some family, a couple of diaconate and priestly seminary classmates, assorted bishops, priests, church members. Not as large a party as that sounds. A hushed urgency filled the space.

Once seated (at one of those high tables Hooters has), Leroy proceeded to strike up conversations, first with our hostess–a blonde, if memory serves–and then with our waitress, a petite brunette. Without much preamble, my friend asked these young women how they felt about working at Hooter’s–did they feel objectified, did they feel less than human? How self-possessed and unashamed  these women appeared as they responded–both were university students doing this to support themselves. They were doing as they chose; they were aware of why men frequented the space, but they weren’t letting that define their lives. Leroy told the story of how he and Lacey came to have this tradition and he shared why he was interested in their stories–the agitation of friends who disapproved of the restaurant chain. His own agitation at being lumped in and objectified himself as a misogynist (well, at least that’s been shared with me). A matrix of human connections appeared amid the wings and the family chaos.

I joined the rehearsal; stepping up to the lectern to make sure the mic was set right, to make sure I was set right. And then out into the jumble of folks to line up and process and sit and read Isaiah and wait for the moment of the Holy Spirit. Leroy prostrated himself for the prayers as had my other friend had just an eon ago, just a few days before. No sparklies then did I see; no overwhelming presence, no desire to fall to my knees. Had I missed something?  Not when the bishop laid hands on him nor when Leroy was vested–beautiful moments in themselves, but. . .

“Peace be with you,” Leroy, as newest priest in the Episcopal Church, said to the congregation as strongly as Isaiah’s, “Here I am, Lord.” And there was the Spirit, the transcendent moment, as he reached out, a beatific look on his face, making the connections he so loves to make, and even better, encouraging others to make those connections.

It’s all chicken but the gravy.

Claustrophobia II

She’s not fool enough to actually stick her head all the way out the window, riding in the backseat of a friend’s SUV at the finish of a sacramental night, instead settling for an inward chuckle. For a brief space, she wears a dog’s mien as she gazes in rapt attention at the midnight Texas sky, unbounded by city lights.

The temptation to lean out into the night air is almost overpowering–just to feel more fully the cool autumn air rushing past; just to more fully take in all the stars, the Milky Way, to look for familiar constellations–long-lost friends kept at a distance by orange-sodium urban incandescence.

Head rush, soul rush–tranquility and tumult exist in the liminal space between one heartbeat and the next; the dog collar, invisible, yet felt, always binding her heart, just like the stars newly binding her wrist.

 

Holy Monday Sermon, Post-Brainstorm and Given

Holy Monday Sermon, Post-Brainstorm and Given audio

For some reason, the image from today’s Gospel reading—Mary wiping Jesus’ feet with the nard using her abundant hair—kept evoking the memory of a night when I was on duty as a volunteer night chaplain at a hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, about a year or so before I started seminary. Latent anger and helplessness still lingers whenever I recall that night, and I know it colors how I feel about my gay friends and it colors how I feel about violence. That particular night I’d done my usual rounds and returned to the chaplains’ room. At some point, my pager went off—a call to the ED for a trauma patient. Arriving in the suite reserved for trauma victims (this was my second time there, but my baptism by fire is a story for another time), I discovered that the victim was a young black man, nineteen years old, comatose, his head bloody because he’d been beaten with a baseball bat. This young man was beaten by members of his own community because he was gay.

His brain was swollen and pressure had built up (I forget the exact medical terminology, but that’s the gist of it); his mother and siblings were in the suite, awaiting the medical transport helicopter that would take him to Iowa City. The university hospital was much better suited to perform the pressure-relieving surgery; the doctors told us that they were confident the surgery would be successful. The helicopter arrived, and as we stood around the young man on the gurney before the medics came in to get him, his mother asked me to pray. She was trying to be strong and looked for hope, for assurance. What could I pray when I felt a very strong sense—I knew, don’t ask me how, but I knew—that the young man would not survive the violence done to him? How to pray out of an angry place—because besides the reality of this young man and his family, the what-ifs of my son, just a few years older, came into being; the what-ifs of my gay friends came into being; the realities of those who suffered violence because of who they were and who they loved angered and frightened me.

Was Mary at all angry as Jesus spoke to his disciples of what must befall him? John doesn’t say that she was weeping (I tend to cry when mad) while she anoints Jesus’ feet with the nard. Did she carry some residual grief because of Lazarus? He was alive again, but certainly not out of danger.

I know my experience in the ED is being brought forward by the questions I’m asking of the text; surely, if I’m angry about the beating of this young man, who until that moment was unknown to me, how can Mary not be at least a little so on behalf of her beloved “Rabbouni?” Perhaps anointing his feet with fragrant oil, using her hair, is Mary’s spontaneous prayer for a man she knew was going to suffer violence at the hands of others, even though it was of his own volition. Maybe Jesus needed hope; hope given profusely in Mary’s actions as she was present in those moments of care.

In the everlasting seconds that quickly passed as I stood there, the question I asked of God—how to pray out of a place of anger—was answered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, grace that transformed my abundance of anger into an abundance of love, enabling me to be a calm presence for the young man’s family as we prayed for his safe arrival to the hospital, we prayed for the doctors and nurses who would care for him, and we prayed for God to give strength and solace to his family at that time.

At his funeral a little over a week later, his mother and I embraced and a sense of understanding and love passed between us, as we both shed tears, an anointment of sorts.

If this were the fifth Sunday in Lent, I might have ended my sermon there, at the anointing. However, we are given more verses of John’s Gospel on this Monday in Holy Week, on every Monday in Holy Week, than we hear at the end of Lent. These ominous verses about the Pharisees’ intentions for Lazarus give us an intimation that we must endure more, with Mary, with Judas even, and of course with Jesus, as we are drawn forward to Maundy Thursday’s bittersweet agape meal and to the heart-wrenching betrayals and violence of Good Friday.
As we enter into the aletheia—the not-forgetting, the remembering—of Holy Week, are you frightened? Are you angry? Do you feel helpless as these events unroll, immediate and real? Do what-ifs spring to mind? What if Judas had waited three more days? What if it were my child on the cross? What if? We can’t change the events of Holy Week, though, no matter how many what-ifs.

So, then, how do you pray for and with Jesus, with Christ, in his suffering and death this week? How do you pray this week, and every week, for a world full of turmoil—terrorism unfolding around us, politicians you may not agree with; how do you pray for those in prison; for those in the injustice system, for those who are homeless,
for . . .? If we feel sad, helpless, or angry over what befalls Jesus—someone we love—this week, surely we feel the same about what’s happening in the world? How do we pray, as a church, and as individuals?

The good news is that while we know that Jesus dies on the cross, we also know that the tomb is empty on Easter morning. Perhaps we can pray from that place of hope, assurance, and love. Amen.

Brainstorming a Sermon

I’m working on a sermon for Holy Monday, my first sermon (as opposed to a few short meditations given during Evensong or Evening Prayer) at All Saints’ Episcopal. I’ve been re-reading all of the Gospel of John; I finished reading Christopher Moore’s excellent novel, Lamb, a story of Jesus’ life prior to, yet including, the Gospels; and I’ve listened to BBC 4 Radio’s show In Our Time, the recent episode on Mary Magdalene–I highly recommend it. All this time, I’m trying to intuit where the Spirit is talking to me, to where the energy is, as I wonder about the scripture readings for the day–the Gospel reading is John 12: 1-11. Many springs bubble up in my heart and my mind, feelings try to creep in, too.

Feelings–I pick apart all the little nuggets of information I’ve gleaned (yes, I’m mixing images–one gleans ears of wheat rather than stones) and that helps keep the feelings tamped down. Excited and nervous, of course, only natural. But last year’s Holy Monday sermon given at All Saints’ is still in my heart; it’s one of my favorites and I can still feel the Spirit in it, trying to call me out of myself. And I confess, I have to remind myself about non-competitive transcendence. I don’t want a better sermon, I just want to write my sermon. A thoughtful, feeling sermon. A sermon that calls  to others.

And what I’m feeling is a memory of a night when I was on duty as a volunteer night chaplain at a hospital in Waterloo, Iowa, that surfaced today while I was picturing Mary wiping Jesus’ feet with her long hair and the nard. Latent anger still lingers whenever I recall that night and I know it colors how I feel about my gay friends and it colors how I feel about violence. That particular night I’d done my rounds and returned to the chaplains’ room. At some point, my pager went off—a call to the ED for a trauma patient. Arriving in the suite reserved for trauma victims (this was my second time there, but my baptism by fire is a story for another time), I discovered that the victim was a young black man, nineteen years old, comatose, his fucking head bloody because he’d been beaten with a fucking baseball bat. This young man was beaten by members of his own community because he was gay.

His brain was swollen and pressure had built up (I forget the exact medical terminology, but that’s the gist of it); his mother and siblings were in the suite, awaiting the medical transport helicopter that would take him to Iowa City. The university hospital was much better suited to perform the pressure-relieving surgery; the doctors told us that they were confident the surgery would be successful. The helicopter arrived, and as we stood around the young man on the gurney before the medics came in to get him, his mother asked me to pray. She was trying to be strong and looked for hope, for assurance. What could I pray when I felt a very strong sense that the young man would not survive the violence done to him? How to pray out of an angry place—because besides the reality of this young man and his family, what-ifs of my son, just a few years older, came into being; what-ifs of my gay friends came into being; the realities of those who suffered violence because of who they were angered and frightened me.

Was Mary at all angry as Jesus spoke to his disciples of what must befall him? John doesn’t say that she was weeping (though I tend to cry when mad) while she anoints Jesus’ feet with the nard. I know my experience in the ED is being brought forward by the questions I’m asking of the text; surely, if I’m angry about the beating of this young man, who until that moment was unknown to me, how can Mary not be at least a little so on behalf of her beloved “Rabbouni?” Or perhaps this is the way she prayed for a man she knew was going to suffer violence at the hands of others, even though it was 0f his own volition. Maybe Jesus needed hope; hope given in abundance in Mary’s actions as she was present in those moments of care.

In the everlasting seconds that quickly passed as I stood there, those questions I asked of God were answered by the Holy Spirit’s presence, which transformed my abundance of anger into an abundance of love, enabling me to be a safe presence for the young man’s family as we prayed for his safe arrival to the hospital, for the doctors and nurses who would care for him, and for God to give strength and solace to his family at that time.

At his funeral, his mother and I embraced and a sense of understanding and love passed between us, as we both shed tears, an anointment of sorts.

The Goodness of Chocolate Shakes and Fries

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The goodness of fries and chocolate shakes. The phrase just resonates, try as I might to get it out of my head. Except that I prefer a strawberry shake with my fries.

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. I can’t escape the rhythm, but can’t quite shape a poem in my strawberry mind.

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The grace of God. A surety, a strength, a logos. Reasoning and pleasing; everyone’s first choice. Yet what of cigarettes and choc-o-late milk?

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. Tradition, simple. Warm and crispy. Coolness, brain freeze, sweet. Wrap the chocolate around the savory salted sticks—sharp cold melts into vague warmth.

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The goodness of chocolate and fries. Classic, clean lines, never out of style. Smiles and brown eyes. JT croons winter, spring, summer, and fall; but you know I know when strawberries dream.

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. The fries and goodness of chocolate shakes. The chocolate and fries of goodness shakes. Dark chocolate shakes, do they count as double good? What about strawberry chocolate shakes or chocolate strawberry shakes and fries? The goodness of fools.

The goodness of chocolate shakes and fries. Sophisticated orthodoxy. Diving deep into strawberry apostasy for the sake of unique. The goodness of grace, the goodness of love, the goodness of shakes and strawberries and chocolate and fries.

Evensong Homily, January 31,2016

During my first year or so of seminary, a good friend and I had a running “argument,” which simply went like this: he would say, out of the blue, “scripture,” and I always would respond with “theology.” A gentle ribbing argument grounded in my affection for the seminary’s theology professor and because I lived and breathed theology—“faith seeking understanding”—St. Anselm’s definition that summed up my life; grounded in my friend’s love and knowledge of scripture . . . and grounded in the both of us being smartasses.

As a Master of Arts in Religion student, I had the option to take a theology class before the MDivs did; I started backwards, by taking Theology II first, with permission. I also took the scripture class with the MDivs. And theology is grounded in scripture, as my friend took loving pains to remind me. But theology was always first for me.

This past Thursday was the feast day of another of my theology heroes, Thomas Aquinas, who came to mind as I was thinking about the word “caritas,” which is the theme of the lovely anthem our choir sang this evening, Ubi caritas. Often, caritas is translated as “charity,” which then gets construed as “benevolent giving.” But I love Thomas’ definition—“friendship of man for God.” I’m going to leave aside a deep discussion of the rest of Thomas’ argument for this evening—his Summa is one heck of a rabbit hole.

Instead, I’d like to reflect briefly on this evening’s readings, in which we have examples of faith seeking understanding—Paul, who is trying to help those in Galatia understand this new faith, this new way of life and relationship with God; and Mark’s parable of the blind man combined with the question that Jesus asks of the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” That question still resonates with us as we seek, with faith, and sometimes without, what our relationship is with God. I think of St. Jack’s—better known as C. S. Lewis (feast day is November 22)—lament that friendship is a lost art.

Mark, Paul, Thomas, and other theologians through the millennia have written volumes on scripture, trying to understand. But as one who loves words and wondering and considers herself a theologian, I just want to say that in this moment as we gather in friendship with God and with each other, I don’t wonder, I know, here God is.

FYI, near the mid-point of his first semester of theology, my friend confessed that maybe I was right, that theology almost trumped scripture, almost. Friendship, what  a gift. Just read scripture–David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi. . .

Theo-proprioception

“Why did you prostrate yourself during the prayers?” I ask my friend after his ordination into the priesthood a couple of Saturdays ago, as we’re walking to a pub for a celebratory beer (we are Episcopalians, after all). My voice is level (I think) as I ask.

“It’s an ancient practice,” he responds, “and besides, I could just lie there and listen to the prayers.”

“Oh. I know of prostration at other times, but haven’t seen anyone do it at an ordination before.” I can’t remember if I told him that it was my favorite part of the service and said that it had made me a bit teary-eyed, trying to be nonchalant, unwilling to show him exactly how much that moment meant, or if I did in fact tell him it was the most profound and intense moment of the service for me.

I’ve seen a number of friends ordained into the transitional and vocational diaconate, and prior to July 11, one ordination into the priesthood. At that particular ordination, I saw a visible transformation as the bishop laid hands on that other friend as he was clothed in priestly garb. An outward sign of inward grace, perhaps the Holy Spirit descending, the ontological change joked about at seminary—I don’t know, except that the sensation was wholly unexpected. That transition was transcendent in a sparkly, numinous way. And having experienced it once, I earnestly (and naively) awaited witnessing the same for this friend at that point during his ordination.

So the service begins after the procession, and my friend is in his alb, looking pretty much as he did when last I saw him at graduation in May. The Presentation goes quickly, and next is the Litany of Ordination–the prayers on behalf of the candidate. I fiddle with the Order of Service, crumpling the sheets slightly while looking for the right page, intending to follow along, all the while anticipating the big moment coming up later in the service. I could go on liturgical autopilot for a few minutes.

And then . . . as we stand and as the bishop begins, my friend is not standing, is not on his knees, but prostrate, his head resting on his crossed arms, and suddenly now is the transcendent moment, for me anyway, sans sparkles. I have no voice to join in with the rest of the body as they respond to the bishop’s petitions with “Lord, hear our prayer” or maybe it was “Lord, have mercy,” because tears have started down my cheeks. My heart was on its knees. . .

Frankly, for the longest time, I could not see how the posture of my body could affect my ability to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit or to discern God’s will for me. I knew my heart was pretty open as it was. On Maundy Thursday, after having been “banished” from my home parish during Lent (so that I could experience the wider Church as part of my discernment), and after having visited the Seminary of the Southwest’s campus, I stretched myself out before the cross, after the agape meal (a story in itself) at St. Luke’s in Cedar Falls. I tried to lay open my heart.

Those who know me know my weakness for the Fool, especially Nick Bottom, the ass-headed (figuratively and literally) rude mechanical of my favorite Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the literary character whom I most love and with whom I most identify. (My love of Puck, the Trickster, is another story). In Act 4, Scene 1, Bottom’s otherwordly, I mean otherworldly, vulnerability brings tears every time to my eyes. His fumbling, earnest, unashamed attempt to articulate his participation within the body of fairies as he seeks to describe his experience with Titania, Queen of the Fairies, has wound itself around my heart: “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was.”

In seminary, I could often be found stretched out in the breezeway, on the ledge of a brick wall, on the library floor, or even on the floor during class (I was roasted for my “planking” habit at Last Gathering the year I graduated). Reading assignments or research for my thesis, a notepad, pens, pencils, spread out around me when on the breezeway or in the library (scaled back slightly if in class). An arm served as a prop for my head, hand tucked under my chin—my favored learning posture. I eagerly read biblical scholarship, scripture, or best of all, theology.

Bottom mangles a quote from older scripture that Paul, that fool of fools, uses in his letter to the Corinthian house churches (1 Cor 2:9). Paul, who opened his heart again and again, to Christ and for Christ, writing of the body of Christ for the body of Christ. Did a part of him always remain prostrate on the road to Damascus?

. . . and so, there is my friend, lying prone, heart open, as he is prayed for by the rest of the body of Christ present that day in that place, in a human gesture of surrender and obedience as he becomes a priest. My own body stands, but my heart is aware of God’s presence, grateful for fools who are translated by, and who translate God’s love.