One of my earliest memories is sitting in the old sanctuary at The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Houston, next to my dad. On the Gospel side, about halfway back. I must have been fidgeting because he leaned over, pulling the pen out of his shirt pocket, and handed me his service bulletin, saying, "Draw me a picture."
On Sunday, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu as I leaned over to a 6 year old acolyte and asked, during the sermon, "Would you like to draw me a picture?" She nodded with a quick smile, and these are two of the results. The upper picture is "a whale and her baby" and the lower one is "the life cycle of a seed." (see the bee coming to the flower at the end?) (6, she is 6, six.)
I love this so much. And I love that this parish encourages inter-generational ministry, so that I get to know some kids that I really wouldn't, otherwise. It's balm to my soul.
I haven't had much to say on social media in the past week and a half. It's been brutal for several reasons. The election; the conversations/hatefulness following it; Ken was very sick & in the hospital (but is now fine) and on and on. I just felt smushed.
Yesterday I sat with a friend at our weekly coffee date and we said, "What are we going to DO!?" All I can think of is, each of us needs to do one thing. Of course, "ALL THE THINGS!" would be better and faster.
But I think that if everyone picks one thing to add, one change-for-the-better thing, and does it really well, we can get somewhere. And we can always do one more.
I know this works, because for many years my "get out of yourself" solution has been going to the grocery store and putting away carts. But I'm not sure that's what's required here.
One thing options:
Donations to a variety of causes
Securing links to the best and most trustworthy media
Finding like minded people who are doing something and joining in with them
Today was a BIG CELEBRATION at church. We celebrated the Feast of All Saints (transferred from Nov. 2) and also our pledge ingathering.
I acolyted at both services.
Fr. Scot dressed as Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and taught the history of the church and the Book of Common Prayer from that persona.
(if you don't behave he might clock you with that big ole thing)
At the early service, it was a regular sermon/history lesson that reminded me that a lot of people really behaved very badly around all of that. Sheesh. And we have a denomination built on it.
At the 10:30 family service, it was a lesson/skit with audience participation. Uproarious.
The processional included 2 vergers, a thurifer, a banner, a brass band of sorts (we processed to Oh When the Saints Go Marching In), a parade of little ones dressed up like saints, 2 priests, a deacon, and a cherry on top! Wow. I was crucifer, third in line, so I really didn't get the full effect. I'm looking forward to seeing the photos.
As usual on first Sunday, the kids gathered around for the Eucharistic Prayer and put their elbows on the altar. We used Rite I, as it's closer to Cranmer's language. I loved it so much. I wanted to lie down and roll around in it. Fortunately for everyone I managed to refrain.
At communion one of the littles dropped her host on the ground. I collected and ate it. I was reminded of the last time when I took home communion to someone and dropped ALL the hosts on the floor. Oh my. I'm grateful at least that I am not in the days of Mary Queen of Scots when we would probably all have been beheaded or something.
Did I mention that it was pledge ingathering? yes, and there was a potluck after the second service to celebrate. I didn't stay because I needed to get home for some phonebanking.
Looking forward to Election Day when all this hoohah can be over. Grateful that Trinity Episcopal in Fort Worth is hosting a day-long prayer vigil and Noonday Prayer. It's what's keeping me from flying off the planet right now.
The first time I voted was in a local election in Houston. I went with my mom and dad to Rummel Creek Elementary school.
I had my brand-new voter registration card which I'd received after my 18th birthday in April of 1983.
We walked up to the school and the signs showed that the Republican primary was held to the right, and the Democratic primary to the left.
My parents headed right, and I headed left. My dad looked back and said, "No, sweetie, over here..." and I said, "No, Dad, I'm voting Democratic." He shook his head and smiled and we all went about our business.
Later, talking about this, my mom predicted that once I was making some money and the government was taking it from me, my politics would change. I was rather insulted by that at the time. Fortunately, I have gotten over the insult; it wasn't meant as one. And fortunately, my politics have not changed. I'm grateful to be the same me I always was.
I feel passionate about voting. I ALWAYS vote. Mrs. Whatley, my high school Government teacher, made us promise we would always vote every time we had the chance. I've voted in some fairly obscure local elections I had no idea about, and had to do the research ahead of time because of it.
Every time I vote, I say, "Mrs. Whatley, that was for you."
This weekend I took my parents to vote. My mom is in a rehab facility and getting out is hard for her. After we got inside, we learned that curbside voting is available...they'd have brought the ballots out for my parents. Oh, well! we managed it.
Here are my folks, getting ready to vote on Sunday in Tom Green County:
I would like to note that they are both prepared to cancel my vote (cast on Tuesday in Denton County). That's part of how voting works.
It's been one of those days when I felt covered up by a thick blanket of ick. I've had depression long enough to know that this kind is situational, and that the election jabber and social media negativity have won again: but only for a short time.
But it's the only October 11 of this year, or any other, and I regret the hours I lost.
So, I'm marking it. I'm saying that it happened. I'm glad I was here for part of it, and grateful I could be left alone as I needed to be.
Once, in a long ago church group, we were asked our passion. One of the group members said, "cognitive dissonance." She was a teacher of Rhetorical Analysis who worked in a local community college, and she relished working with young people and challenging their life-long assumptions.
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.
As an Ennegram 9, I tend to be especially uncomfortable with dissonance, and try to resolve it. But, because the worst thing about my Enneagram number is also the best thing, I am absolutely always able to see both sides of an argument. (this just happened in my workplace BTW, and can be very frustrating to my colleagues who want me to join them on the Black and White Train to Absoluteville.)
So here's the thing that's making my mind explode:
I just completed my second week (of 13) of the Denton Citizens Police Academy. I've met quite a few of the members of the police force and staff so far. To a person, they are an exceptionally professional and well-trained group, with a reputation in the region for their excellent training (the Academy serves numerous cities and counties in the area). Their Community Oriented Policing program does a great job, in conjunction with CPA graduates who serve in the Police Auxiliary as volunteers.
One Thing: I need, I want, to support the police and to help them be better. The Denton group admit that they are not perfect, but they work awfully hard.
Another Thing: Terence Crutcher was unarmed, and was murdered by Tulsa police officers. I've seen the video. How those officers were not wrong, I cannot see it.
How do I hold these things in tension? I'm sure I have friends who will say that by befriending and supporting my local police, I'm working against the interests of my sisters and brothers of color.
I am a fervent supporter of the Movement for Black Lives. I'm committed to working to better understand my own learned racism and to try to make a difference in my community and the country.
The only action I can think of to take is to continue to listen to all the different voices as much as I can. To talk with people of every viewpoint. To refuse to end up mired in fear, exhaustion, and unwillingness to address the issues.
Most of you know I'm on the board of RevGalBlogPals, a non-profit that started as a blog-ring. The ring grew out of a group of bloggers who had gotten together on the internet in the early 2000's, and most of them were women in or headed for ordained ministry.
I'm not in or headed for that. But I love these folks and what they talk about, and I count some of them as my best friends...even if we have never met. You can read more about the diversity of the group here. I've spent a lot of time in the last several years supporting clergy, and also hearing about some of the things that make their calls difficult, painful, draining.
In discerning that I was NOT called to ordained ministry, I started saying, "I'm called to be a faithful and involved layperson, and to support my own clergy and other clergy as much as I can."
What does that really mean, to support clergy? Do they need special support?
Today there's a heartbreaking story online about a pastor who ended his life by suicide. I have no idea what happened with that person and his congregation. But, for whatever it's worth, I present here my promises to the clergy at my own parish:
1. If I have a question for or a problem with you, I will take it directly to you. I might run it by my spiritual director, but no one in my own congregation.
2. I won't hear or participate in gossip or complaining about you. If I am approached with that sort of thing, I will always say, "you know, we don't really know the whole story on that, and I don't think our talking about it will help."
3. If someone comes to me with a personal complaint about you, I'm going to tell them to talk with you directly.
4. I will not expect you to be perfect, nor to be the Beloved Former Pastor (or even to be like him/her).
5. I will not expect you to be my best friend, or to confide in me about anyone else at this church.
6. I will remember that you have a personal life and it's not all about this place. I will support your setting healthy boundaries.
7. I will always be praying for you, for your work in our parish and for things I know nothing about.
8. This is my church, and that of the others in the congregation. I am, we are, responsible for its growth, support, and success. You will leave us eventually, and that is right and proper. Even if I don't love everything about a particular clergyperson, I'm not huffing off mad. This is my church, my community, my spiritual home.
I hasten to add that I have taken several Safe Church trainings, and I know that there are some times to speak up...to a vestry member, diocesan official, etc. But those times are the exceptions.
We tend to think of clergy as larger than life, and we also often ascribe our own issues to them. In the Episcopal church, where clergy are often referred to as "Father X" and "Mother X," that is especially tricky. I found recently that when my rector requested something of me as an altar server, I was coming back crisply with, "Yes, sir!" Um, really? Just because the way he addresses me reminds me of my dad in those situations does not mean that I have to respond as if I am nine years old. (I'm working on that.) "Pastor" might be an easier honorific, but we don't use that term.
I personally address clergy by their first names unless I am speaking to or in front of youth, where I use those titles as a courtesy. I need to remember that my clergy are people...people who have joys and sorrows and foibles and who serve alongside me, with special obligations and responsibilities.
What do you think? How do you support your clergy?
Have you seen the recent article about the New Jersey man whose wife and girlfriend each published an obituary for him? They ran side by side in the local paper. You can read about it at this link.
It's clear that Leroy Black was greatly loved by a lot of people and that they had different truths and different stories they want (and need) to tell about that. I'm praying for those people, who lost a man just four years older than me to lung cancer.
The story particularly struck me because in my new retirement I've been spending time on Ancestry.com, and it's absolutely stunning how much is there now, compared to about five years ago, especially in terms of records and photos. I found a picture of my maternal great-grandfather. This is Charles Culbreath, 1871 - 1943. He has a very look of my grandmother in his eyes and mouth.
I also found a Word document uploaded by someone (perhaps a relative of mine) that included an undated story from the Sumter County (FL) Times about his service on the Board of County Commissioners:
He was married in this county (few words are not legible) to Hattie Barren and they have made a comfortable and happy home about halfway between Sumterville and Bushnell. Charlie is a factor in politics in Sumter County, he never hesitates to roll up his sleeves and work with vim for whatever cause he believes to be right.
In the same document, his obituary is reproduced, which reads in part:
Due to the fact that he has lived in this county for nearly 60 years, he was known by many people and had many friends in all sections of this county and over the state.
Mr. Culbreath will be greatly missed by his many friends, as he was always very lively and had a word for every one. He was a kind and big hearted man, always ready to do anything, anytime or a friend in need.
The obituary goes on to list his surviving widow and six grown children, including my grandmother, and the entry finishes: "Our sympathy is extended to the bereaved family in their hour of sorrow."
Sounds standard. But when I read it, I gasped because: Charles Culbreath did not live with his family at the time of his death, and I don't think any of them were sorry for his passing. His wife had put him out many years before. My grandmother despised him. She hadn't seen him for years when he died, and she didn't want to go to his funeral or have anything to do with it; my grandfather insisted. My grandmother would never talk about it, but it's obvious that some very bad things happened to her in association with the man. She was a deeply scarred person.
I called my grandmother "Meme." She loved family history and made huge scrapbooks for her daughters with copies of family records. Her father is listed and pictured, as a fact. You would not know, if you looked at the scrapbook, that things were any different from the normal in that family, just as you would not know it from the obituary.
And this is the story that I know about it, which I know from my mother, who is now 84. She knows a different version of this story, and so did my grandmother and her siblings, and so did Charles.
It points out to me how the truth is an absolute, but the stories we tell and hear and remember about it vary infinitely because we all own some part of it: our own truth.
In a world that (it seems to me) has clearly gone mad, where calling someone "evil" or "Lucifer" or worse has become part of daily national discourse, how can we discern the truth? The media has its own story to tell, and its own purposes for telling it so. An infinity of internet sources contribute to the confusion: "if I read it, it must be true."
The first church I chose and belonged to as an adult was St. Francis, College Station. The lessons we learned from Francis in that parish were many. We had a vegetable garden and a food pantry and an amazing intergenerational community.
In 1996 I was fortunate to be able to visit Italy, and a trip to Assisi was a hallmark for me.
And, I have two St. Francis statues in my yard.
This Francis lived in the back yard at my Gramma Beth and Aunt Etta Jane's house in Houston. It's at least 35 years old. I have no idea where they got it or what the story is. This Francis toppled over once and broke in half. Ken fixed it with epoxy. I see this statue out my bedroom window each day. I love how he is looking up.
This Francis was given to me by my friends the McLeans (who I knew at St. Francis Church). They were moving away and could not fit him in. This is the figure I'm more accustomed to seeing in other gardens. The shredded green stuff at his feet is what a squirrel makes out of a bois d'arc / bowdark / Osage orange fruit:
I like to think this is their offering to him. But, really, they are just making a mess.