For Jackie

[Image description: sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. Curved wooden pews, sunlight streaming through the windows, with the altar in the background.]

Note: I wrote this in 2013 after meeting with Jackie, the priest who is the rector at St. Patrick’s in Lebanon. For those who may not know this part of my story: I was raised in the evangelical church and in 2012, after a time of personal and spiritual unraveling, I stopped attending church altogether. I wasn’t sure what I believed and if I’d ever go back to church once I figured it out. In March 2013 I got up one Sunday morning, googled “Episcopal church near me,” made my way to St. Patrick’s for their late service, and have been part of that community ever since. Today is Jackie’s final Sunday before her retirement and it feels right to me to share this little glimpse into one of my first conversations with her. She has had a profound impact on my life and I’m so grateful I am able to be part of the wonderful community she has helped create over the past few decades. I wish her every blessing as she moves on to her next adventure. (Also, for several years I participated in the #OneWordChallenge and the word I chose at the beginning of 2013 was ‘weave’)

April 19, 2013

Yesterday, when I sat in the old, worn pew in the back of the sanctuary and we chatted, I have to admit I began a bit guarded.  When I’d called the church office to ask about newcomer classes, she suggested that rather than waiting for them to arrange another session, I come in and meet with her, the parish priest.  I know I’d readily agreed to it, but I was still a little nervous.

The rectory office was in the midst of a re-organization effort and the common area was busily being rearranged for an upcoming activity, so the sanctuary was the only free space when I arrived at our agreed time.  It was mostly quiet, save for the kids from the free preschool they run listening to a lesson up on the stage.  It’s not an enormous church, but the last pew is far enough back that we couldn’t hear them. 

She asked about my church background and what brought me to St. Patrick’s.  In a few quick minutes I explained growing up in church and then trying to find the right place after the boys were born and then becoming a church drop-out to study my faith and try to figure out where I belonged.  I tried very hard not to ramble.  I think I did okay.

We talked about what I’ve been reading — Richard Beck, Rachael Held Evans, Thomas Keating, Barbara Brown Taylor, Miroslav Volf.  She is a good listener.  Sunlight was streaming in through the windows and it felt like a holy moment, even though I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing.

Looking me in the eyes, she said, “You are so young and that is quite a journey.  You are brave to keep trying.  A lot of people give up.”  I detected no hint of condescension or insincerity or flattery in her voice.  I kept my composure and asked about her journey, but my heart was breaking open in the most excruciating and beautiful of ways.   

When she considered her words and said that she knew there were some things she may be wrong about, but that she kept praying and seeking understanding and grace, I felt hopeful. 

When she said that I would find people in the congregation who held opposing political and social views, she stretched her arms out wide to demonstrate the full reach of those differences.  But when she assured me that the congregation strongly believes we are one in Christ and are called to share the table even with those differences, I felt like I was hearing the church I’ve been listening for. 

When she said that they aren’t always perfect at it, that they are a place comprised of people which means they will never be perfect, I laughed and told her that if she’d tried to convince me her church was perfect I would have known it was not the place for me.  I told her that her congregation was the most welcoming I’d ever experienced and that each Sunday at least two people I hadn’t met yet made a point of chatting with me, and she said she was very glad to hear I’d been made welcome.

She didn’t try to pressure me to continue attending or for any kind of commitment, she simply said that based on our conversation, she thinks the Episcopal church seems like a good fit for me.  She encouraged me to call her if I have any questions and agreed to come up with some books for me to read to learn more about their traditions and beliefs.  And then she gave me a big hug and said she enjoyed talking with me. 

I waited till I got to my car to let the tears fall.

At the beginning of this year I didn’t know if I would ever feel at home in a church again.  Four months later — after only six Sunday mornings there — and I can’t imagine finding anywhere else that feels more like home.

They are having a dinner/fund-raiser Saturday night to benefit the local interfaith homeless ministry.  She’d seen that I signed up to attend and as we discussed it, she mentioned that she is going to speak for a few minutes beforehand.  The topic? Weaving the Fabric of Life.

Maybe there is the slightest possibility I do believe in holy moments after all.

Other Paths

[Image Description: Dirt path along the side of a meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park, mountains in the distance.}

What will people think?
Always bear that question.

They will know we are Christian by our
christian values,
christian t-shirts,
and prayers around flagpoles at public schools
we don’t even attend
because we are separate,
not of them.

Listen to us, your elders,
we will show you the way you should go,
to mold you into the perfect christian image.

You will not lie.
You will not mock.
You will not disrespect.
You will not forget your manners.
You will not lust.
You will not cheat,
or you deserve just what you get.

If you disobey
you deserve the blistered bottom,
the lost meals,
the harsh words,
the shaming,
the threat of being shunned.
And you will call your friend
and tell her you can’t attend her birthday
because you broke the rules.

These are the consequences
I learned.

You taught them from
your sanctuaries,
your kitchen islands,
your youth group bible studies,
your conferences,
your words,
and I believed you

until I didn’t.

Until I saw the fear
I was painting on my own children’s faces,
the pain I caused,
the shame I inflicted,
when I doled out
the same manufactured consequences.

Love had to be another way.

Love is kind,
patient,
protects,
does not grow calloused to another’s pain.

But you said I was going astray,
ruining them.
They would never know
right from wrong.

Now I see
that was the ruse all along.

To excuse lying if it gets you the court seat
To excuse mocking if it only targets “them.”
To excuse disrespect if you think it’s deserved
To excuse lust if it might have been a joke
To excuse gaming the system if it gets you what you want.

To think the end justifies the means,
while keeping us all from seeing the means
are often everything you told me was wrong.

You would have been my elders
but now we’re just adults
on different paths
with different understandings of God.

I know this sounds like anger.
I have been angry.
I have argued and tried to convince.
I tried to go and never look back.

But I now I see another truth:
We’re still part of each other.
We were all caught up in the same
misguided tide.
And my rage,
my desperate attempts to convince you,
my wanting you to be ashamed for your complicity,
have roots in the same poisoned well.

More shame or pain or hurt
will never turn the tide.
Even if the ruse tells us it’s deserved.

This is the hard part,
it calls for courage, for unguardedness
I’m not sure that I possess.

I still have far to grow.

I know I can’t come back,
But I can be here,
arms unclenched,
in this loving, spacious wilderness,
holding this painful tension,
trying,
while love beckons you
with kindness,
with patience,
with your own new path.

Because the good news isn’t
politics and anger,
punishment and fear.

It’s letting go.
Breaking free.
And finding life anew.

False Duality

Ice Twin, taken November 15, 2018

It’s not natural to us,
not our nature,
to embrace duality,
not each other.
It’s manufactured
for their profit,
like their power,
like the system,
inflating as we buy in.

When we sanction
this detachment,
choosing Ideology,
Rhetoric,
Catastrophizing,
Shame,
the machinations
infiltrate,
trojan horse,
wreaking havoc
from within.

The chasm
between our hearts
expands unconstrained.
While we suffer
broken lives and
broken bonds,
the officialdom’s
interests served
by our misplaced
discontent.

This division,
lined with border walls
and severed ties,
mirrors back
our worst projections.
We get caught up,
lose ourselves,
lose each other
to the machinery
for whose gain?

We aren’t meant to cling
to separations,
grasping empty
metallic promises
churned out
from the engine
of the status quo.

We’re meant to live in seasons—
Sowing and growing
Renewing and letting go—
the living things we are.

Neither manufactured division nor
false unity will save us.
Only clear seeing
of complexity,
of the need to repair harm,
of the unsustainability of
this us vs. them,
all or nothing,
dichotomy.

We are too much, too many
to be flattened into two.

Post

I would not allow myself hope.
Not after before.
But I did think I would feel—
perhaps not joy—
but relief, reprieve
if it turned out this way.

But I don’t feel any of that.

All I can feel is grief.
An unrelenting ache.
Awash in grief.

I’d thought that after knowing,
after experiencing
the reality of the last four years,
more hearts would change

and they might not choose him.
So many people chose him.
Not the majority, but too many.

Even though
I haven’t believed
for a very long time that America
(at least the United States part)
was ever truly great,
I wanted to believe
the people saying it was
would at least make a
play for fairness
and upholding her institutions.

But too many turn blind eye
after blind eye,
ignoring harm and corruption,
lies and death.

Dismissing pain
and alarms
like a parent
when their child cried and
said she did not want to
“play” with her abuser,
only to be sent back
again and again

because listening,
validating her fears,
keeping her safe,
might have made them look bad.

Or not in control.

And there are people who fear loss of control
more than they love their daughters.
People who fear loss of power
more than they love their neighbors.

There are people
who will double-down on an idol they worship
while convincing themselves
they are worshiping the God of love.

And I do not know
how to bridge the chasm
between my heart and theirs.
I’m staying curious about possibilities,
but I do not yet know.

Overrule

Photo of a magnet based on artist and activist Hank Willis Thomas’ work ‘Love Over Rules’

By rule we
inherit rules
or acquire
as price of inclusion.

Learn to honor
and obey,
control and be controlled

We’re told the rules are always right,
must be enforced by might
and switches,
shame and fear,
violence and captivity.

We’re not to ask
if rules are fair,
applied equitably,
do more harm
than good.

Follow unquestioningly
follow incessantly
or chaos will rule the days.

Rules rule
every action
interaction
reaction

fracturing us from one another

until the blinders fall
and we can’t unsee
the poisoned roots
of rules instead of care.

Rules oppress, constrict,
limiting what could be.

Love is spacious,
bathed in possibility.

Rules are ends
justifying means.

Love is wholeness,
justice,
ends and means.