Category Archives: On Being Episcopalian

Evidence of a Benevolent God

I recently had a conversation with a friend who stated that it’s not that he doesn’t believe in God…it’s just that he’s not sure he believes in a benevolent God.

Hmmm…that was a new one for me. No God? Possible. God who wants bad for people? Much harder for me to grasp. (It’s the devil’s job to be bad, and God’s job to be good, right?)

So of course that started me thinking about the reasons I believe in a benevolent God. Not a God who steps in to fix things. Not a God who prevents evil. But a God who wants good things for me, even if I manage to muck it up much of the time.

I could list lots of things – snuggly children. (Could be preservation of the species. If they’re snuggly, you’re less likely to kill them.) A day with low humidity after a summer of 70+ dewpoints.  (Could be just random weather. Or more preservation of the species. If the humidity is down, I’m less likely to kill people.)

But the best I can come up with is my experience that there are no coincidences in life. That experience of the exact right person with the exact right experience, or the exact right wisdom, or the exact right piece of knowledge, showing up in my life at exactly the right time.

Like the time I was at a conference (at the ripe old age of 23) and confided to a man that I’d just met that I was thinking about going to business school but that I was scared to quit my job. And he said, “My firm just conducted a survey of the best business schools in the country and Kellogg came out at the top of the list. My daughter just graduated from there. You can go stay with her for a weekend in New York and learn more about it.” And then I did. (I’m sure she must have been ready to kill him for sticking him with a stranger in her apartment for a weekend.)  No coincidence.

Or the many times I’ve been searching for information…the times I was considering job changes and came upon just the right person with just the right angle on the situation. The times I was struggling with a kid issue and came upon someone who had faced exactly the same thing.

But the best example was on Sept. 11. 2o01, when we were stranded in London and I was so scared that I’d never get home, and I prayed for God to send me a sign that everything would be fine, and then I walked into the American Airlines office and standing in line ahead of me was the mom of one of Emma’s classmates who was stuck in London too. Emma changed schools soon afterward, so I only saw that mom one more time, several years later, when she explained to me that she too had prayed for a sign that everything was going to be ok, and then SHE saw ME standing in that line. No coincidence.

In most cases these people disappeared from my life immediately (or soon after) after our encounter. We didn’t stay in touch, or even pretend that we would. We just had a moment. Or a few moments. Or a few days.

Now, I know that I played my own part in these experiences. I opened up to the people in question. Shared with them what was going on in my life or in my mind at that moment. Invited them in to my life.

Do I believe that God picked them up and put them there? No. I don’t know how it happened. But I just can’t believe that it was random. For me, it was evidence.

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Filed under Gratitude, On Being Episcopalian

Becoming Real

I have a love-hate relationship with Holy Week and Easter. (Okay, hate is too strong. I have a difficult, complicated relationship with Holy Week and Easter.)   First, there’s all the hocus-pocus associated with Easter. (Christmas has a lot of hocus-pocus too, but the traditions of Christmas – giving, celebration, family, food) carry me through that one.  Then there’s the fact that for choir members, Holy Week is a long, grueling marathon which starts on Palm Sunday and doesn’t end until about noon on Easter Sunday.

But more and more, I’m able to see Holy Week and Easter in a new light, as not about physical dying and rebirth, but about dying to those things that keep us isolated and in pain, in darkness and suffering.

And instead, becoming Real.

I was reminded of this today as I heard again this passage from the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit”, by Margery Williams.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As was pointed out in today’s sermon, the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, like the story of Easter, is a  Resurrection story. And a recovery story.  About having to go through the pain to find the healing, to go through the discomfort of learning to be honest so that I can be comfortable in my own skin. About being humble enough to recognize that my power is limited but God’s isn’t.  About recognizing that perfection isn’t the goal, but Realness is.

You don’t have to go to church on Easter to become Real. You don’t have to wave palms or wash feet. Those are helpful to me in my path to Realness, as they are a reminder of the journey from darkness to light, from isolation to inclusion and wholeness.  Through the pain to the healing.

But whatever your path to Realness, I wish you traveling mercies.

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Filed under On Being Episcopalian, Recovery

160-pound weakling

Feeling powerless is not an unusual occurrence for me.  I come across many situations each day that, try as I might, I am powerless to change. And yet, my feeling of powerlessness was taken to a new level this week with the earthquake in Haiti.  Like many people, I was regretting that decision not to go to medical school or at the very least paramedic school  so that I could do something to help.  (I don’t think that paramedic school requires that you be able to pass college physics, so that might have been the better option for me.)  I don’t think that there’s much of a need for marketing experience in Haiti, at least for right now.  Like many people (about a million, according to the last estimate I heard), I texted 90999 from my cell phone to donate $10 to the Red Cross, and went on-line to donate more to Episcopal Relief and Development. And I prayed. And I watched Anderson Cooper.  But that didn’t seem like very much.

And I was struck by the stories of others who felt the same way. I listened to the story of an Episcopal Youth Volunteer from our diocese, who had been missing for 24 hours after the quake, until she was finally able to call her mother.  She was flown home  to the U.S. later in the week, and she spoke of the guilt she felt over leaving, when there were so many who needed help, and who, as Haitian citizens, were not able to leave.  But in the end, she realized that by staying, she would be another mouth to feed in a place where there were too many other mouths to feed, and that it would be better to come home for now, and go back again when her skills could be put to use.

Powerlessness.

I was the substitute pianist in a small Presbyterian church this morning. As it happened, the New Testament reading was from 1 Corinthians. That passage about how we each have unique gifts.  Some of us speak in tongues, some of us have the gift of prophecy, some of us the gift of healing.  I don’t happen to have any of the gifts that were actually listed in the passage – interpreting tongues is not my thing. But I guess the point is to figure out what our gifts are, and to use them to the best of our ability, rather than agonizing over the gifts we don’t have.  So today I shared with a small congregation my ability to play hymns on the piano, and with my own congregation my ability to cantor the Psalm, and with my kids  my gift for patience. (That last one was a joke, to see if you were paying attention.) And tomorrow I’ll go to work and share my gifts to do what I do there.

For now, that’s what I can do. Maybe tomorrow, there will be another way to share my gifts to help the situation in Haiti. If I look, there will certainly be opportunities to share my gifts with people here in Oak Park.

Ok….maybe not completely powerless.

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Precious Lord, Take My Hand

I had the difficult task today of singing for the funeral of  a 38-year-old mother of three from who died unexpectedly last Thursday.  It was a beautiful, intimate service, attended by so many people who knew her and her family.  She was a wonderful wife and mother, and a talented artist, and a bright, warm, kind, and funny person.  I’m sorry that I didn’t have the opportunity to know her better, but I’m glad that I could take part in her funeral to support her family and close friends.

I find the Episcopal funeral service to be quite moving, and this was probably the most moving one I’ve ever been to.  Paris Coffey, our rector, gave a perfect eulogy, and the whole service was a wonderful tribute to her life.

During the preparation of the table, Kathleen O’Connor and I sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, written by Thomas A. Dorsey (not to be confused with Tommy Dorsey) accompanied by David Anderson, the music director of Ascension Church, Oak Park.  I had mixed feelings about taping it, but Kathleen and I don’t sing duets very often, so I decided to capture it.  For those who are interested, here’s the link:

I don’t have any wise words, or observations about any of it other than that.  There are no wise words. Just a tremendous sadness for the family she left behind, mixed with gratitude for the wonderful church family of which I am a part, and which provides tremendous support for me and my family when we need it, and for others who need it too.

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Filed under Music, On Being Episcopalian

An Evening Prayer

cross

I’m afraid that I don’t have anything amusing or funny to say today. I’m just not feeling it. So if you want a laugh, it’s probably best to read something else.

One of the reasons that I love being an Episcopalian is that I love the Book of  Common Prayer.  (Actually, I know many people who aren’t Episcpalian who love the Book of Common Prayer. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend getting a copy.)  I find the poetry and rhythm of the liturgies and the prayers to be comforting and uplifting. One of my favorite prayers is said at Compline (the Episcopalian name for “evening prayer service.”)  I’m not sure why, but it always makes me weep:

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ;  give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

That pretty much includes everyone, in one form or another (even the joyous).

And especially for those who mourn, and for those who comfort them, I pray that you will find solace and strength in these next few days, and in the weeks and months and years to come. 

Amen.

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Bells and smells

I recently read a statistic that over half of U.S. adults have changed religions.  So I got to thinking about my own religious change; specifically, how I became an Episcopalian, and more importantly, why I’ve stayed an Episcopalian for 24 years, with no thoughts about changing. 

People come to the Episcopal church for lots of reason, but judging from the informal poll I’ve taken over the years, most Episcopalians who weren’t born into it seem to have come from the Roman Catholic church.  I came from the opposite end of the spectrum, the United Church of Christ, one of the “bread cubes and grape juice” denominations.  

I was introduced to the Episcopal church in grad school, when I started attending with my adopted Chicago family. My roots in the church, therefore, are deeply intertwined with my love for this wonderful family which gave me a home away from home and loved me despite my flaws, and on a weekly basis fed me and allowed me to do my laundry. 

But that doesn’t really explain why I stayed. I stayed because I love the ritual. I love familiar rhythms of the liturgy, which are the same no matter what Episcopal church I’m in. I love the bowing and the choreography and the swinging of the senser (the thingy on the chain that holds the incense). 

I also stayed because of the grayness of it. The “life is hard, but if you pray and sing and connect with other people, God will show you the way” theology that makes so much more sense to me than the “Follow Jesus and you may just get to heaven if you’re lucky” theology that I perceived as the message growing up. I stayed because I think it matters more to me how we treat each other here on Earth and what we do with the life we have now than what happens afterwards.

I stayed because everyone is welcome at Communion. Because there are no rules about who belongs and who doesn’t belong. If you want to belong, you belong. All you have to do is hold out your hand. Even little children. Even my little children, whose hands are smeared with fresh marker from whatever Church School project they’ve just made. And even if you show up 50 minutes late for the service, as we did today, everyone is still glad to see you.

I stayed because it’s okay to believe in the Truth of the Bible, and not necessarily the Fact. Because what I believe is up to me to figure out, not someone else. 

And I stay now because I love my church, and the people in it.

It’s not perfect. We are all humans, who get feelings hurt and rub each other the wrong way and disagree about whose job it is to make The Coffee. And feel put upon and weary because no one else is working as hard as we are.  There are days when I ask myself why I bother anyway. But those days are infrequent.

There is no perfect church. There is no perfect religion. But in embracing our imperfection, somehow we find our way through the red doors every week. And we are welcomed.

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Thursday Meanderings

1. This woman called 911 because McDonalds was out of McNuggets. Ridiculous. I mean, I can see if they were out of Filet-o-Fish, but running out of McNuggets is not an emergency.

2. I’m pretty tired of reading stories like this which suggest that one of the main reasons people survive accidents is because the thought of their loved ones pulled them through. Do we know that the people who die aren’t thinking about their loved ones? No, I didn’t think so.

3. Okay, I’m really, really, really thinking about never staying in a hotel again (or sleeping in any bed other than my own, for that matter) after reading this article about bedbugs. “Infestation” is something that is never a good thing.  “Leakage” is another.  Think about it. Never good.

4. Speaking of never staying in a hotel again, or never leaving the house, for that matter, I love this article from O Magazine by Lisa Kogan (who has no Wikipedia page, so therefore, no live link to her info.) I love reading about other people who have as little sense of adventure as I do. 

5. Wow – what are the chances that Barbara Bush and Robin Williams would have aortic valve replacements the same week? And they’re both Episcopalians too.  Freaky.

6. Tryingnottothinkaboutthestockmarket, tryingnottothinkaboutthestockmarket, tryingnotto………..

7. Is anyone surprised by this?

8. No link to the story above, but here’s a proposal by Eliot Spitzer on an alternative way to pay for college.  Your thoughts?

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Filed under Current Events, On Being Episcopalian