Monday, November 09, 2009

Discernment, Yet Again...

I'm once again deep in discernment. I have an opportunity for a retreat in April, which I must apply for by the middle of this month--if I am accepted, I will be informed by mid-December. What a Christmas gift that would be!

Part of the reason, the format, the purpose of the retreat is pastoral renewal. As followers of this blog know, I've been struggling with what I should be doing and where, for a while. My call to ministry is still clear--what's gotten murky is the direction or focus of my ministry now. Do I stay here in River City, encouraging the growth I'm seeing in the church here? Do I go back to grad school for that doctorate I've been toying with for a couple of years now? Do I change directions a bit and look into community work, working in one of the community organizations? I just don't know and my thought/prayer/hope is that the retreat would assist me in the clarification I need. I do know that the thinking I have been doing in order to write the application has helped me to think about all this and what a change might mean, might look like, might imply. Even if I am not selected, this has helped me think about it in new ways. If I am selected--wow, Well, I am not going to think about that because I don't know that I will be...

Growth... yeah. Wow. At our annual congregational meeting recently, we had three spots available on the board and four people ran for them... This was a first for us, and the board had to do some consulting to decide how to handle it! The new members are energetic and committed and I am thrilled to have them. I think we might turn things around here, if this trend continues. WHich may be God's leading to remain...or of gently telling me, "it's time to move on."

Yes. Discernment continues.

Friday, October 16, 2009


1. What is your favorite footwear at this time in your life?
They’re the shoe everyone loves to hate…my crocs. Although my leather clogs are a very close second. I like the comfort and simplicity of clogs—just slip them on.
2. What was the craziest shoe, boot, or sandal you ever wore?
My sister had a pair of knee-high suede embroidered boots back in the 70s that I used to borrow every once in a while. They were two sizes too small but I loved them.
3. What kind of shoes did you wear in your childhood?
Typical saddle shoes, as I recall. Tennis shoes/sneakers were for gym class, sandals for the summer.
4. How do you feel most comfortable? Barefoot, flip-flops, boots, or what?Socks at home. Out and about—clogs. Although I do love my boots.
5. What kind of socks do you like, if any?
Ankle high socks—the crazier the better!Bonus: Anything you want to share about feet or footwear.
I think I need to revamp my shoe collection. Mostly a variety of clogs and clog-styles, with a bunch of pumps and a couple pairs of running shoes.

Friday, October 02, 2009

RevGals Friday Five: Touching the Holy

After a loooong hiatus, I am attempting to get back into the habit of blogging!

So I begin with an easy one, because topic was given to me!

1. A place that holds a special memory?

There are several. The deep cut in the nature preserve I practically lived at when I was young; the chapel at my favourite retreat centre; the baths at Bath, oddly enough—the undercroft, with the votives to Minerva, whose spring it was. Not so oddly, but sadly, Auschwitz and the former synagogue in Krakow.

2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies?

It’s a moldy oldy, but perhaps that’s why songs and hymns like this become moldy oldies…”Is It I, Lord?”

3.A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot?

The Prayer Jesus Taught Us (aka The Creator’s Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer). It is so complete and entire.

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?

When I don’t even have the words to express how I feel, the Prayer Jesus Taught Us is always there.

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...

Done--the open hands, ready to receive, myself, offered in service...

This will have to follow later today…I must be off for the moment!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I've been thinking about calling, and ministry, and specifically my call to ministry, in response to reading William Willimon's "Calling and Character."

What I know about my call:
I could not refuse it--although I tried to channel it into other directions for several years (several committees in the local church, choir, writing, etc.)
God called me, not a particular local church or denomination; if one would not, could not accept me, that did not invalidate my call; it simply meant I was meant to serve in another.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to me than my call, my ministry. That doesn't mean I don't have balance in my life. But when it comes to life decisions, I cannot allow anything else to divert me from the fullest response to my call that I am capable of--not relationships, not fear, not finances, not other people's opinions of me... I gave up many things to respond to my call, both before and after I came out and left my denomination of origin. I am not going to waste that sacrifice (which was not only my sacrifice, but others' as well) by being any less than God calls me to be.

Beyond that, in the specifics, I'm still exploring and discerning. What size or location or mission or style or theology in a local congregation is a best fit, will, I suspect, change over time. I am too capable of seeing all sides (or many) sides of a situation to commit to one thing always and forever.

I was talking with a clergy colleague recently who said she never wanted to serve in a large church because she felt called to the intimacy and family feeling of a small church. I understand that well, having served in small churches. But, again having worked with large churches, I feel a pull to serve there as well, simply because of the resources available and the breadth of experience in a larger church. I can see and feel the call, the pull, to both or either. So does that make me wishy-washy or available to God? The jury's still out on that one!

Willmon's book is, for the most part, excellent. He talks about the ethics of ministry and call, the need for truth spoken in love. He's not only referring to the needed truth we pastors speak to congregations in our sermons and studies--although that is part of it--but the truth spoken to our colleagues in ministry. If we allow our colleagues to be less than they are capable of, we thereby give them permission to allow us to be less than we are capable of--and neither is a faithful response to our call.

My one complaint (at least so far, I haven't finished the book yet) is that while he recognizes that God calls whom God wills, and that may include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, he still feels that celibacy is called for by non-heterosexual people. He's missed two points here.

First is that no intimate relationship is solely about genital sex, the physical part of a relationship; what about intimate love, caring, nurture, mutual support? No one I know (of any orientation or gender identity) would define their intimate relationships purely around the physical act. In calling for celibacy (i.e., enforced singleness), Willimon is denying GLBT people the opportunity for the kind of intimate support and caring that heterosexual people take for granted from their partners.

Second, celibacy is a gift, it is not granted to everyone. To force someone into a state into which they are not called is wrong, simply put. To accept that persons are called, then to decide that who they are doesn't fit someone's (human) comfort zone and so they must surpress part of who they are is a failing of human grace. A person is called with all of who they are, not simply the parts of them we are comfortable with--it may be that what we are not comfortable with is exactly what God requires that person to express and share with God's people.

I understand Willimon's point that the pastor has a peculiar responsibility to be a living model of the Christian life. But having accepted that all persons may be called, why then would we ask that called person to be less than who they are?

Well, that's a pet peeve of mine--so-called acceptance and tolerance that isn't quite comfortable with the whole concept. A black friend of mine once comparesd it to her being welcomed in a majority-Caucasian church--as long as she didn't stand up and wave her arms, or shout "amen!" at the preacher, she was welcome--they were comfortable with her. But when she began to express herself in worship, as she felt comfortable and called, they were not as accepting. So too, as long as non-heterosexual people look and act just like heterosexual people, and don't do anything to remind heterosexual people that they aren't just like them, then non-heterosexual people are welcome. But only until then.

And so I have been doing some thinking about celibacy as part of a call--for anyone, of any denomination or orientation or gender identity.

Does it truly free one for greater service or does it lay an enormous burden of loneliness on the person? How does one find that ease, that comfort in sharing and mutual support that is really only available in the most intimate of relationships? Friendships, even long-standing ones, close, intense and trusting, can only go so far.

Does it have something to do with committment? Is is fair to ask someone, not called as I am, to commit to a life--or an extended period of time--with me, knowing I will not be able to give them all the attention, care and nuture they deserve because my congregation comes first? On the other hand, without committment, how can it even be called a relationship rather than...what, friends with benefits? I think at some point there does need to be a committment to a relationship (any intimate relationship), even if it's only a committment to work on the relationship--not necessarily a committment that the relationship will never end (probably unrealistic anyway), but a promise to at least try to make it work and attempt to solve diffculties. Otherwise no matter the emotions involved, it's not more than intensive dating or living together. So I am faced with either asking someone to share my life, knowing they will always be in second place; or living without that intimate place of sharing and caring and mutual support. So perhaps it is better to be single--not because of any perceived sinfulness or concern over misleading the flock, but because it is too much to ask another person, not called, to accept. It would be a great gift if offered--but until the life of the clergy spouse is lived, no one really understands it.

Of course, it may be that "clergy spouse" is a calling the church has not yet recognized! It may be high time for that!

Two-clergy couples have their own struggles, before someone suggests that... Two calls, two demanding lives...and sometimes the calls will lead in different directions. If it is not fair to ask someone who has no call to ordained ministry to be our partner, how much worse is it to ask someone who does have that call to committ to delaying or rearranging or denying that call--or having them ask you to do so? I know there are clergy couples who make it work, and I rise up and call them blessed.

Perhaps I'm creating a false dichotomy here, between commitment to the congregation and commitment to a partner. In all healthy relationships, such as between the pastor and the congregation or between the pastor and his/her partner, there should be balance. Simply because that balance is difficult, that does not mean one should not try for the relationship, for the balance. If one is truly called to celibacy, or singleness--and I have known one or two people who are--then that is one's call. But it shouldn't be a choice of fear or disappointment, born of the difficulties of relationship in this situation. If it is freely chosen and one is called to it, then it can be a true support for a pastor.

But for the rest of us, as part of our call, we are to model the Christian life not only in how we deal with money and conflict and societal influences, but in our relationships as well. This is what Strong Heart and I were attempting to model this summer at the conference--difficult as it might have been for both of us, we were very aware of our call to model Christian love and truth, as pastors called to lead God's people. We tried--and I hope, succeeded--in modelling love that goes beyond the momentary to the long-term, love that offers forgiveness and acceptance, that sees beyond momentary pain to a love that does not end with a change in focus or direction. So, too, in our relationships with partners, family, friends, and others, we should be models. I'm not saying it's easy, especially with family--but we as pastors are called to act as Christ would act, whether our actions are responded to in a Christian manner or not. Therefore, it seems to me, we are called to partnership--not only as a model but for our own comfort and well-being in this ministry God has called us to.

And let me add one thought to that--there is a very special corner of heaven reserved for the spouses of pastors!

Well, this is a long musing with no real conclusion, more a string of thoughts I have had. I am not sure what it all means, of anything. I do not think, at this point, that singleness is part of my call, although I will say that in the most important relationships of my life, they did not continue as they were because of my calling (at least in part, never the whole or only reason), in one way or another. My partners either could not accept the reality of what my call meant; or my call led me in one direction and my partner was called in another direction. Which is why I am contemplating this whole matter of partnership for do we make it work?

Ideas, anyone?

On the Journey XV....and probably last.

Medical followups and such..

I had my first post-treatment mammogram on Monday, then a follow-up appointment with my medical oncologist on Thursday.

The mammogram was clear, praise be to God.

The cehmotherapy did put me into early menopause. I could do without the mood swings and hot flashes, but I wouldn't want to have done without the chemotherapy, so I'll take it!

I'll be going back every three months for a while, just for follow-up and making sure all continues well.

In physical terms, I am getting back to normal. My hair isn't back to the length I would like, but that's just a matter of time. I have heard several times that it looks good at this length. That ma be true, but it's not where I want it, it's not the image I have of myself, so yes, I'm going to keep growing it. I have a photo of myself taken back in the summer of last year, and that's my benchmark--y hair then was a good length, a good colour. That's my goal for my hair, my appearance, my own self-image.

It's not about vanity--it's not that I want to look good, simply for the sake of looking attractive. It's about looking like me. To me, I do not look like myself right now.

So there's the medical update--the 15th and, I think, last. Even though I will be going back in for periodic follow-ups, I think most of this is behind me now, and I'm ready to move on from the regular updaes here. Any new developments will be posted, of course, but for now, this journey is over.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Blogging the Unbloggable...

How to blog the unbloggable…

At my denominational conference in July, one of the preachers spoke of asking God for what we need. She said (at least, this was my understanding) that too often we don’t dare to ask for what we really need, requesting half a loaf when we are hungry for a whole one. We may do this because we think we don’t deserve a whole loaf; or we may think that if we only ask for half a loaf, then we won’t be disappointed; or perhaps we think God doesn’t deal in whole loaves. This is especially true, she said, of pastors—we who are so busy taking care of others (our congregations, our denominations, our communities, our families, our partners) that we do not take adequate care of ourselves.

I thought about that a bit.

I had felt for several months that I had no clear channel of communication with God any longer. Earlier in my life, when I had been at a crossroads or in doubt as to what I should do, I could open myself to God and feel the divine guidance—not always right away, but eventually. But no longer. I struggled and struggled—trying several methods of prayer, trying doing nothing, trying many things. But still that channel felt blocked—as if something were in the way, between me and God. After much struggle, prayers, tears and thought, I realized that what was blocking that communication was that my heart had not completely changed towards Strong Heart—I had not completely made the transition to friends. My head had, my spirit knew too that she and I were best as friends, for many reasons, and had known that on some level for quite a while before we agreed to change our relationship—but my heart didn’t quite agree yet. My heart longed for what we had had. I tried to argue my heart out of it, but as you may know, hearts are stubborn. Strong Heart is an amazing woman, one of my dearest friends whom I love deeply—but by no means was she or can she be my ideal partner, nor I hers. We had both come to realize that, and had accordingly changed our relationship. So I struggled with my heart to let go of that, but I was so focused on all the debris that comes even with an amicable change in relationship that I could not hear Spirit above the clamour.

And so, there I was in worship that Friday night, the night of the traditional healing service, and the sermon was about not being shy to ask God for what you really want and need. And so I did; I asked God for that healing I needed—to clear the way for that sweet communication with Spirit that I so missed. When it came time for individual prayers, I went for healing prayers, asking for the way to be opened to hear God and speak to God again.

Let me be clear here. I come from a very structured United Methodist background. I do not see angels. I have never prophesied nor spoken in tongues. We didn’t do that sort of thing in the proper MidWestern church I grew up in. Heck, we barely ever even clapped along with the hymn and we never ever raised a hand to the music or in affirmation of the preacher’s message. Saying, “Amen?” Honey, it didn’t happen.

Needless to say, I worship differently now! But—I still clung to those remnants of my upbringing and was sceptical of such things as speaking in tongues and being slain in the spirit.

I am sceptical no more. In that time of prayer, in which I wept as though my heart was breaking, I felt that channel cleared--the debris of my clinging to the old, no-longer-existent relationship with Strong Heart because it was what I knew and because it had been at one time so sweet to me, rather than the healthier, and yes, holier, relationship that we had now—all that debris of the past was swept away and Spirit came rushing in. Came rushing in and laid me flat out, caught by the loving arms of friends—Boss Pastor, Dona, Celtic Rainbow, and Pilgrim Companion.

Yes, my friends, I was slain in the Spirit. That rush cleared my heart, my head, my soul, my very self. Not only was my heart healed of its mourning, but it was opened to new hope and possibility.

Literally, from that moment, the healing began and has continued. The connection with my friend the revitalization pastor—Living Spring—that very evening, within the very hour, even—and the continuing involvement with Host Pastor and the others working towards a cooperative parish after conference, are affirmations that remaining open and revitalization is the right thing to do. I had no such reassurance earlier, though I sought it long and hard.

I have moved further along on this journey—finding new energy in the work towards a possible cooperative parish, in the new sermon series on Christianity 101, in the support of Living Spring, and in two deepening friendships with Lake Retreat and Pilgrim Companion that are precisely what I need now—mutual support, spiritual conversation, laughter, simple fun, and love. Once again Spirit flows for me, a reassurance even in days and nights of struggle, annoyance, and uncertainty.

Praise be to God.

OK, OK, So It's Been Two Weeks...

I definitely need to get this back in my routine again...

I'm finding it both interesting and difficult to preach off-lectionary. The topics are vital and absorbing--God, the Bible, salvation, faith, worship and so on--and while it is a challenge to preach away from the lectionary and all the supports for that available--the commentary, conversation with friends who are preaching on the same texts I am, the online resources--it is a good stretch foe me, and, as they say, "a learning experience."

I'm to have an article published in a scholarly journal! Peer-reviewed and everything! I sent off my final draft this week--let's see what the editor does to it now...

Living Spring and I had a wonderful conversation earlier this week. She gave me a resource, and a couple of solid suggestions that felt so right I knew I had had them in mind before she spoke them but did not have the words--she gave me the words. We have agreed to talk on a regular basis--apparently she found something she needed in our conversation as well.

And tonight I will be indulging myself in something I haven't been able to do in a while--I am going, with Man About Town and Artist Doctor, to hear my friend Musician play. It has been far too long since I have heard him create his music, and a true treat.

And I have been working on a post about the difficult-to-blog-about event at conference. It is the next post.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Contrary to Popular Reports, I Am Still Alive!

I have been incredibly remiss in keeping this up to date. I have no excuse, none whatsoever.

The trip to Capitol City of Capitol Cities was a blessing. I reconnected with so many people, spent time with TO and others whom I love, worshipped in the church that supported me through my transfer, and realized how much I love that city. Quite a week!

And back into the maelstrom!

As part of the revitalization/renewal project, now that we are staying open, I’m throwing the lectionary out the window and focusing on the foundations of Christianity—Christianity 101 if you will. Because the congregation is generally fairly small—c.15-20 in worship—we will do as much discussion, if not more, than I will preach. We’ll be doing the house church thing twice a month now. We’ll be discussing things like salvation, and faith and the nature of God, and the Bible, and worship… And I want the congregation to discuss and come up with what they believe, not what I’ve told them, or what they think they should believe or what they were taught in Sunday school, or heard a TV preacher say…We're having a variety of guest preachers come in to preach, from different traditions and backgrounds and theologies, so the congregation can get another viewpoint besides mine. I want them to come to their own theology, so they can truly believe it.

So that’s step one. I’m having a phone conference with someone I reconnected with at conference who is energetic, has great ideas, and is a fount of knowledge about revitalization/church growth. She reached out to me to offer her support and guidance if and as I want it—and of course I grabbed onto it like a lifeline! I’m hoping to refine my plans as part of our conversation, get some resources, and see if she thinks I’m heading in the right direction.

Step two is our new ministry opportunity. Our congregation has received an informal invitation to be part of a cooperative parish (sometimes called a larger parish) with several United Churches here in River City. We are very excited about this concept! Together, these gathered congregations can offer worship, outreach, study, missions…the list goes on…that we could not on our own. The hope is that each congregational building will serve as a “centre”—worship centre, outreach centre, etc. With a multiple-pastor staff, each pastor can focus on their area of passion/expertise, have a portfolio, and let others work with the areas in which they have passion. Each congregation will remain autonomous, with their own governing body, but there would be a coordinating committee of some kind to keep track of what is being done where and so on.

What do we bring to the table? We have a broad theological base in the MCC; we bring in many different traditions and incorporate them in our worship and in our structure. We can offer a very different viewpoint. Also, we have been very active in the community—LGBT and straight—and can offer numerous community contacts and connections.

I should also say that for the last few years, we have been doing more and more with this group of UCCs—joint Lenten services, for example, a joint Bible study. I have preached at Host Church on a regular basis, and am at the moment serving as pastoral contact in case of emergencies while Host Church Pastor is on holiday. So our congregations are somewhat used to the idea of working together, of seeing me as a pastor, as possibly THEIR pastor…an important step. I’m not a stranger to any of them.

There are many meetings and details to be worked out in the coming months, and it may not, after all, come to pass—but if it does, it offers us tremendous opportunities.

We are very excited about it. The congregation is intrigued, the board is thrilled, I am hopeful…

I survived Pride! It was very hot this year—so ugly that most of the vendors packed up and left on Sunday by about 4 pm, instead of staying until it closed at 9 or 10. But we had a great service, many enquiries at our table, many connections made, and remade. In a way, it was my re-emergence after treatment—starting to get back into my activities and projects in the community. As I said to Strong Heart recently, I feel like I’m waking up again. One decision I have made already for next year, however—I will be on wheels of some kind! A convertible, a motorcycle, heck, roller skates! I just don’t think my knees can take another parade on top of standing at the booth for two days. (We won’t talk about dancing Saturday night away…)

Life is feeling very good right now. I see possibilities for the church, I am feeling physically better, opportunities are opening on all sides.

At Conference, one of the preachers talked about daring to ask God for what we wanted, not just what we needed; a loving God wants to supply our every want. So I did—asked God for the desire of my heart, the deepest need of my soul, for me, personally—not for the church or the congregation, or the denomination, or for those I love—but a purely me-centered desire. God does hear and answer prayers, my sisters and brothers… At the moment, this is unbloggable. Sometime, I promise to blog about the incredible experience of grace I have had.

One more note: Boss Pastor is recovering from some outpatient surgery—prayers requested for his healing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Busy? What's That?

I am off again this afternoon on my trip to Capital City of Capitol Cities, having been home barely 48 hours!

Our church's regional conference was amazing. It was a little difficult for me, as Strong Heart has begun seeing someone, and they were there together at the conference. But she had told me about it beforehand, the three of us are comfortable together, and she has made it clear that she and I are very close friends, we will continue to be a part of each other's lives, and her new interest is very willing to accept that. So the best part of our relationship remains strong--the friendship.

And I have to say, the rabble-rouser in me is pleased that we (the three of us) rattled a few cages over the weekend, by being close, spending time together, not creating drama--in other words, acting like adults. We shared time in worship, in retreat and at meals--and let it be seen that, gee, we like each other and can spend time together.

Besides that, I also enjoyed getting to know some people better--a very energetic pastor whom I have always admired, a new neighbour, and a member of Sister City Church; reconnecting with friends; learning; and some amazing worship, including an experience I'm not quite ready to blog about, but I'm sure I will soon.

In other news, our church has received an exciting invitation to a new form of ministry! That is still in process, so I won't say more about it right now except that it would be a first for my denomination in Canada and it would allow us to do things we've only dreamed about doing.

We are--obviously--remaining open. Details to follow.

Off to Capitol City of Capitol Cities!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Up and down...

Much has happened, some of it unbloggable, some important at the time and minor now, some of it providing fodder for thought, some to celebrate…a mixed bag.

I’ve been gifted with a trip to Capital City of Capital Cities, to visit friends and TO. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice! I will have a week to do little but visit loved ones, catch up on their lives and catch them up on mine, spend time with a couple of emerging friendships, and relax. Praises for friends and a capable Board (which allows me to be out of town for a week and over a Sunday without heartburn)!

I have also been gifted (or will be) with the means to take care of some debts. These have been eating at me, and from time to time keeping me from full focus on ministry. This gift, totally unexpected and completely selfless on the part of the giver, will free me from some mundane worries. Praises again!

And one more gift—a friend is sharing her cottage with me for day tomorrow. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a day completely off until she made the offer and it sounded like heaven—eight hours away from phones, cell phones, and yes, even my computer. Because the truth is, if I’m around any of those, I feel like there’s something I should be doing.

We all know how ministry is—there’s always something we can/should be doing. “Is the sermon written and the service ready for this Sunday (HAH!)? Then what about a start on next Sunday, just in case there’s a crisis? And besides, it will let me be more creative, work harder on the sermon. Or what about updating those PowerPoint backgrounds? I’ve been meaning to do that. Of course, I haven’t finished the pastor’s report for the month…the liturgy for Pride Sunday…the readings for the next couple of months…” You know that conversation with yourself, if you’re a pastor, you’ve probably had it or one like it.

Strong Heart, in searching for a new apartment, made sure to get one with two bedrooms—she wants a study with a door she can close. Wise woman, as I have said many times… It would probably help my sanity to move my laptop back up to the study instead of leaving it in the dining room, too…

Anyway, there is much that is good in my life right now. Celebrate!

There are two sadnesses. One is minor, and one is larger, but together they pushed me to think about what is really important in my life.

My mother’s brother, the one just younger than her, is terminally ill with cancer. He will be the first loss among the eight siblings, and she is having difficulty with this. It doesn’t help that her late husband (my step-father) died as a result of the same kind of cancer, and at about this time of year. I am concerned for my mother—I don’t know my uncle well, we were closer to others of my uncles growing up, so of course I am concerned for my cousins, but more so for my mother. This is the larger sorrow.

The minor one… Last summer, Strong Heart and I set up a “bistro’ on the front porch—little table, a couple of chairs, a nice BBQ grill. We used it often. She’d have dinner finishing up on the grill for me when I got back from Sister City; we’d have coffee out there in the mornings; or beer and conversations with the denizens of the Little Yellow House. This summer, the Professor, who now works (and soon will live!) down the street, has stopped by for a beer and conversation a few times. We sat at the table and talked about the joys and worries and frustrations and hopes we had. I would grill for myself and eat in the sunshine, reading a good book.

All that is over… Someone came along with bolt cutters and took the table and chairs.

They weren’t that fancy—nice, to be sure, and comfortable and good-looking. As Strong Heart says, clearly we have taste! But there’s no real value to them—they can’t be resold as a bicycle or car or computer could. I’m more upset by the symbolic loss than the actual loss. If I really want a table, I can go get another one. But that one…that had memories attached to it—of Strong Heart and I, of friends gathered in laughter, of good books, of rest at the end of a long day. It’s not the monetary value, it’s the heart value.

My prayer (arrived at after some heartburn and sorrow, lest you think me a plaster saint) is that those who took the table and chairs enjoy them as much as my friends and I did.

Well, onward and upward, my friends. I’m off to the cottage tomorrow!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Psalm 130, John Rutter

An amazing setting for the Psalm this Sunday--one of my favourites. This is by John Rutter. And my thanks to my former choir director, Joche, for turning me on to Rutter!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flip Flops

Wow, I am glad this is an anonymous blog! Well, there's a few of you who know who I am, but none who are directly involved in the church...which is a good thing today.

I'm feeling very ambivalent.

We've been struggling here ever since I can remember, but it got very bad--or I looked at more closely--last summer. I had been feeling frustrated and tired for a while, but thought it was more related to working two jobs, being involved in a new relationship, and my community work. I had tried everything I knew and several things that were suggested to me, and they simply were not working. The church was not only not growing, it was stagnating a bit; and everyone in leadership was wearing two or even three hats, nad beginning to burn out. We simply did not have the human resources to carry out our mission.

I began questioning my abilities as pastor, even my call. What had I done wrong? Where could I have done better? How could I fix my mistakes? Should I be a pastor? Should I be a pastor here?

Thanks be to God for Strong Heart, Dona Quixote, and my elder... Together, they helped me to understand that while the buck does stop with the pastor, my job is help people find their call and then help them fulfill it--not to fulfill their call myself, nor to force them to fulfill it. And also that the Holy Spirit is in charge; what happens is in God's hands, not ours. The church did not get this way since I have been here--the last four years--and it's not going to be fixed in four years, assuming that's God's intention for the church.

I have come to the discernment that it is time for me to move on, that my work here is done. I resisted that for a long time, because I know that when I leave, the church will probably close--it's a part-time position and few people can afford to work part-time I can't; I'm working another part-time job). I didn't want to feel responsible for the church closing. But again, my elder and Strong Heart pointed out to me that I was taking way too much on myself. If God is calling me to another place, and God's plan is that the church here stays open, God will provide a way for that to happen. "Trust the Holy Spirit," Strong Heart said.

Of course, my cancer diagnosis put all that on hold for a bit too. I could hardly apply for another pulpit while in active cancer treatment, and in purely practical terms, I needed to stay with the health care plan and providers I had until it was done.

But now it is done (except for the routine follow-ups) and it is time to make a decision. The congregation will meet next month to decide what will happen to the church. For myself, I have applied for a couple of pulpits. I've been short-listed for one and will hear about that congregation's (or their search team's) decision next weekend.

And yet... The last month attendance and giving have been up; interested, energetic people who want to be involved. I left the yard sale today because we had so many people they didn't really need me--and I knew I had work to do, and they needed to feel needed. I have several people who want to join the church...

Of course I will be honest and open with them tomorrow--that we are struggling, but it may be that God has called them here for exactly this reason--to be the new life of the church. Only they can know. And they will be a part of whatever decision the congregation makes next month.

So you see my ambivalence...I am thrilled and delighted by the people who want to join us, but I don't know if there will be a church for them much longer. I know I am being called away, but the flock here needs someone. And I'm eager to seek that flock God is calling me to, but I don't want to leave this one to feel abandoned.

Strong Heart is wise. We knew that our relationship would change when she was called to pastor a church, and it has. Her wisdom lay in asking for that change well before she was actually called--while she was still in the process. This has given us time to come to terms with the change and find our new boundaries and settle into the new shape of this relationship. If we were still in an intimate relationship, I would be even more reluctant to seek a new call--I would want to stay (geographically) where Strong Heart and I could at least attempt to maintain our relationship. But because of her foresight, I am freed (and I think that is the right word) now to seek that call and respond. And if God intends me to be in an intimate relationship, then it will happen.

Hope and sorrow mixed on all sides... New members, but not enough...a changed relationship which I wish did not have to change, but which, in the change, has allowed me to be more available to God's call (and we always said our ministries came first, before our relationship)...a pull to leave, a pull to stay.

I know that, ultimately, all will work to the good God intends if I listen and follow that call. The difficult part is being sure that I am listening to God's voice and not that of my own heart.

My mantra now is "Trust the Holy Spirit." I crave your prayers: for that trust, and for serenity and for hope.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dry Bones (sermon draft)

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The hand of God came upon me, and brought me out by the spirit and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. God led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. God said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then God said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of God; thus says the Holy One to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am God.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Holy One: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as God commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then God said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Holy One: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am God, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Holy One, have spoken and will act,” says our God.

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “You of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young ones shall see visions, and your old ones shall dream dreams. Even upon my servants, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of God shall be saved.’

Namaste, my friends—the God in me greets the God in you. Will you pray with me? God of wind and flame, God of clarity and truth, God of wisdom and strength; God our rock; pour out your blessing and grace upon us here—open our hearts and spirits to all the truth you would have us speak and hear. In all your names, amen.

Today’s Pentecost—one of those feasts, or celebrations, that means a lot more to some people than it does to others. It’s true, there are no Pentecost trees or Pentecost egg hunts… But there certainly are Pentecost presents! We’ll get to that in a bit…

The first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, comes from a time in the history of the people of Israel when they were in exile, defeated. They must have been feeling lost, depressed; indeed, like dry bones in a desert, as if they had no strength, nothing to live for, nothing to offer, useless and empty, something people would look at and turn away from. They felt lost and alone, dry husks of God’s people.

A couple of years ago, I went to General Conference, the every-three-years meeting of all MCCs around the world. That year we met in Scottsdale, Arizona, in July. Yeah, Arizona in July…Heat, and a dry heat! The resort where we were meeting was very aware of the dangers of dehydration, especially for people who weren’t used to the dry heat of the desert. There were pitchers of water literally everywhere—not just in the hallways around the meeting rooms, as you often see at conferences and meetings, but in the open patios and walkways and by the pools and in the seating areas. I understand the staff working outside were required to take a ten-minute break every half hour, to drink water and rest, because of the dry heat. And I listened to the recommendations of the staff, and I drank plenty of water—always had a water bottle with me, always drank a full cup of water or iced tea with my meals, and so on.

The conference was in two parts—a clergy meeting for a couple of days, and then a day of transition before the main conference began. I took that day of transition as a Sabbath, a day of rest. I slept late, went for a walk, and went to read by the pool. It was very hot that day—I don’t remember the temperature, except that it was way more than I was comfortable with! I was hot, but not sweaty—any sweat evaporated right away, the air was so dry; my mouth was parched, again from the dry air. I felt almost as dry as those dry bones of Ezekiel’s! Dry, tired, weak… As soon as I sat down by the pool, one of the staff came over with a pitcher of water for me; and she kept it filled. Nothing in my life has tasted as good as that cool water… it cooled me, it replenished me, it refreshed me. I was renewed, alive, strong again.

Ezekiel’s message to the people of Israel was just as refreshing. In his vision of the bones reconnecting, the tendons and flesh returning, clothed again in skin, and, finally, filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit, he is telling them not to despair, that God is with them still and always. They may feel lost in the desert, but God is present with them and will give them new hope and new life—and a new task. Notice that. God doesn’t just renew them—they are renewed for a purpose.
They are to return to Israel and rebuild; they are still God’s people, they still have a gift to bring the world, God is not done with them. They have been revitalized for a reason—the Spirit, the Holy Spirit gave them that new life for a purpose, that strength, so they could be God’s people.

This is what happened to Jesus’ followers on Pentecost also. Our reading from Acts tells us how they were all crowded together in that small room, praying and talking. I can imagine them gathered there, wondering what to do next. They must have felt desolate and lost, like the Israelites, in the desert, dry useless husks. Last week we talked about Jesus’ Ascension—how Jesus had given the disciples a task—to go into all the world and spread the message of God’s love for all people. And we talked about how they had praised God for that, gone to the temple and worshipped. But not everyone had been there—it seems to have been just a few people who were there and witnessed that. The others hadn’t had that experience, and didn’t know what to do now that Jesus was gone again. Remember Jesus had said the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit came on them—and that’s what they were doing. But the ones who hadn’t been there didn’t know what that meant—well, I’m not sure the ones who were there did either. But they were waiting—for something, they didn’t know exactly what, but something, this “power from on high” that was to empower them to go out into all the world to spread this knowledge of God’s love.

And suddenly it swept down upon them—like a wind, or flames, a great rushing—and the Holy Spirit was there amongst them. And they knew the Spirit was there because they could understand each other. Everyone heard their own language spoken, they could understand what was spoken to them, they could perceive God in the words spoken, and thus in each other. What else can the Holy Spirit be but this understanding of each other, this acknowledgement of God in others? That recognition of God in oneself and in one another, the Namaste of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is called the birthday of the church; the day that a group of people in Palestine recognized that they were more than a group of people who were trying to follow the teachings of a wonderful rabbi and prophet—they realized they had been given a message of power and love, and they had been given the ability, shown the way, to carry that message of revitalization, of new life, to the entire world.

They could not do it on their own—that’s why they were there in Jerusalem, waiting for what Jesus Christ had promised them would enable them to do that enormous task.
The physical part was difficult—the travel, finding ways to support oneself while bringing that message—a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear. But it was doable—people did travel, and some people travelled a lot then. But what was much more difficult was the spiritual, the emotional part. How can one person tell another person that God loves them, unconditionally, completely; and that because God loves them so fully, and because God is within them, they too must love the people around them, because those people too, have God within them? How do you convey such a message?

I don’t mean what language, or is a sermon or discussion better. I mean, how can the essence, the meaning of such an enormously important message be made clear and immediate to everyone?

There are two parts to the answer. The first is, again, Namaste. By simply recognizing and acknowledging the divinity in every other person, by understanding that we are, in fact, all connected through God, we cannot help but treat everyone with respect and tolerance and understanding. Jesus said to love our neighbours as ourselves; this is what he meant. Because, in some senses, out neighbours are ourselves. Like the Beatles song says, “I am you and you are me and we are all together.” Or, if you prefer your quotes traditional flavour, John Donne said “No one is an Island, intire of itselfe; every one is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine...” That’s part one.

Part two is the language. Not, again, literally language. I think we can look at the languages as being metaphorical. Those strangers in Jerusalem each heard the language they understood. Jesus’ followers were given the gifts they needed to communicate with those visitors, and to tell them the good news. Later on, they clearly used other gifts—of speech, like Paul and Peter, or understanding, like Dorcas. But they were given gifts, and those gifts clothed those dry bones and lifted the disciples and followers out of the desert, gave them new life and revitalized them to bring that message of God’s love.
Now, to the ouchy part. Here at MCC River City, we’re in a bit of a desert too, aren't we? Income is down, our membership isn’t as high as the Fellowship would like it to be, members are getting tired and burned out… We’re not really sure, to be honest, how long we can live. We have hope—there is always hope in the Spirit, and seeing new faces, energetic faces, always helps. But the fact remains that we sometimes feel like we are dry husks, bones in the desert.

But. . .

The Spirit came down with a mighty rush of wind and flame to those disciples in Jerusalem, just as the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision were visited with the breath of God. They were covered with flesh and sinews and skin and they rose and lived! They took in the gifts of the Spirit and went out to spread the good news—God loves you!

We have gifts, too, church. Each one of us has gifts. God has given us these gifts for a purpose—to use them. I cannot tell you what your gift is—that is between you and God. It may be concrete, such as working with numbers and budgets and finances, or a musical talent. It may be more abstract, the ability to work with children, or to plan and strategize. But it is your gift, and has been given to you for a reason.
The church, our church, this church, has gifts too—as a church. This church has been clothed with the Holy Spirit to do work here in River City. We may feel like dry bones in the desert, lost and alone—but if we allow that Holy Spirit to come upon us, to work within us, both as individuals and as a church, then we will feel such a power, such a strength and renewal as River City has never seen! Open your heart, open your spirit to the incoming of the Spirit, search your soul for the gifts of Spirit which God has given you!

Let the God in each of us welcome the God in each other—every other, not simply in this room but every person—let that Namaste of the Holy Spirit fill us with the reviving flame and wind and water, bring us back to life to love and serve the God in each other!

Praise God for the Holy Spirit, that power that teaches us to love each other, to be present for each other, to recognize the divine in each of us, that all of us are of God and beloved of God—open hearts and spirits to that grace and power and love. Share those gracious gifts given to you—show the God in you to the God in others.
So may it be, Namaste.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Aren't They Lovely?

This is the poster, in a wonderful digitally-cleansed version, of the poster I mentioned a couple of posts ago. It's in the frame shop, costing more than it should, but wow!

Walls and Windows

Will you pray with me? God of today and yesterday and tomorrow, bless us with grace and understanding and hope; give us courage and strength to hear your word, your message for us, not only in these words spoken, but those left unspoken; today and every day. In all your names, amen.
Ascension Sunday—it’s not one of the big holidays of the church, not like Christmas and Easter, or even Pentecost or Ash Wednesday. But there’s a lot we can learn from this story, about how to hear Christ, how to behave in the world, about relationships.
Doesn’t this scene seem a little strange? Christ is leaving the disciples, forever this time—they will never see him in the flesh, in solid reality, again. But he doesn’t seem upset about it, or concerned about this huge task he’s just given them. They don’t seem terribly sad, either. When Christ begins to leave the disciples, he isn’t offering them more advice, or saying, “Oh, one more thing!” He’s not ignoring them, either. And they aren’t weeping and wailing—there’s no grief in this scene. In fact, as he leaves, Christ blesses them! The Scripture says, “While Christ was blessing them, Christ withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
It can be difficult to say goodbye—relationships are a blessing, but when they end, there can be great pain. But you see, that’s the point here. The disciples won’t see Christ in the flesh again—they know that. But they are also very aware that his presence will be with them—they are not abandoned by God. Their wonderful relationship with Jesus Christ has not ended—it has merely changed, and, in fact, for the better. A wonderful miracle-working wise teacher here on earth is life-changing—but a divine presence with you always to teach and lead and comfort—that is an eternity-changing event!
There are many jokes about the women’s community, the lesbian/bisexual women's community, and the tangle of relationships that are often found there. Susie’s ex-girlfriend Flo is now dating Katie, who used to run the coffee shop with Susie; while Katie’s housemate Meg has her eye on Dana, who used to date Jan before she was with Kelly; oh, and Jan was Katie’s boss and Kelly’s best friend. And all of them have dinner together every Friday night! In spite of the re-alignment of relationships, of the shifting of intimacy into friendship and vice versa, they are still close. And really, doesn’t that make more sense—to remain close, supporting each other and caring for each other? Unless there was some real damage done—cheating (whatever that meant in the relationship) or stealing or even abuse—the people in that relationship—I’ll say “we,” because I’ve been there, and I think some of you have too—we knew each other better than we knew anyone else, and were known better. No one else heard our hopes and dreams and fears in the same way; no one else encouraged us as much when we were down, supported us when we were in need—very few others have loved us so much. And so even if that intimate, personal relationship is gone—no longer lovers or partners, friends now—that love, if it was truly love, should still be there. You may argue with me on this, and it is difficult sometimes to make the transition, but if it can happen, these are some of the best relationships a person can have—the friend who was once a lover.
Because it is true that lovers can be easier to find than friends—so when you meet someone who is both, hang on to him or her—even if the love changes, you will always have the friendship.
Even when Christ ascended, the disciples still had a relationship with him. It did not end because he wasn’t with them anymore. It simply changed character from a physical presence to a spiritual one, as our relationships can change. The disciples weren’t mourning and sad at the end of a relationship—they were celebrating Christ’s power and glory, joyful that their relationship had changed—that now they would always have him with them. True, it wouldn’t be in the same way—but in a much better way. It’s not something to mourn, although it does take adjustment—it is something to celebrate.
Now, notice something else here—the disciples are looking in two directions here. They look up to Christ as he is ascending, then back down to the earth, as they return to Jerusalem, back to the Temple. Christ tells them he is going to prepare a place for them in heaven, which draws them upwards. But then the angels ask them, “Why are you looking upwards?” which draws their thoughts back down to earth.
They worship, and wait to get their work orders—we’ll hear about that on Pentecost, next week. But they know there’s work to be done. Almost the last thing Christ had said to them was, ““Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Christ’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” What a huge task—to all nations! In a world without radio or television, let alone the internet, without the printing press, to take that good news everywhere, to every person on the earth, that must have seemed impossible. But then Christ adds, “I am sending upon you what the Creator promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” They’re not going to be doing it alone—they will have power—power from “on high,” that resurrection power of Christ, the Ascension power—the power of love and grace and hope, the power to change lives with Christ’s message of God’s acceptance and love, the lives of ordinary people who are hungry to know that God loves them—them, in spite of what they see as their own failures—addictions, lack of worldly success, broken relationships with family or friends, loneliness, homelessness, whatever they perceive as their failings—none of that matters. That power of love enables the disciples—and us, when the Bible talks about disciples, we are included in that group—to see their friend Christ in every person and reassure them of God’s love for them. Because God is in every one of us, and God loves Godself.
In my seminary, Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC, the chapel has one side wall that is almost completely brick—a solid wall almost three stories high, with only a tiny string of windows along the top, filled with stained glass. The opposite wall is almost nothing but clear glass, looking out into the world. When the students and faculty sit there in worship, they are reminded that they are called both to contemplation and worship on the one hand—the high walls of the temple, of prayer and worship—and also into the world to be Christ’s hands, to bring the message of new life, of resurrection, through that clear glass of hope and promise.
We have two tasks—to worship and to serve. We cannot do only one and call ourselves a church. It Is the call of Christ’s church to do both—to worship the Ascending Christ and to take that message of God’s love to all the world.
Changes in relationships can be sad and difficult--relationships are powerful and scary. But they can also be joyful. A friend and his partner, who had been together many years, realised that their relationship was changing, that they could no longer be partners—and they made sure to invite God to be present in that change. They prayed together regularly as they worked through the changes, keeping their bedrock love for each other and for God present in the struggles and in the transformation from partners to friends.
So too, Jesus’ ascension reminds us there is something deeper at work in these of transition, something that not only carries us through the changes but also uses them to transform us and to bless the church, the congregation. Christ is present in all these changes, offering the power of his grace to transform and strengthen.
You have received Christ's blessing--how will you offer it to others? How do you imagine putting the power of Easter, of Christ’s love, to work in your world, our world, today? What is the change God is calling you to bring today?
I heard a pastor describe a congregation in this way: “They’ve heard the good news and are ready to break down the walls of the church and take it out to the world.”
That’s church, my sisters and brothers. That’s answering the call.
Break down those walls--take that message of God's never-ending, inexhaustible resurrection love out into the world.
In the many names of the one God, amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Random musings and catching up...

Bits of this and that...

I've been meaning to write a review of a great book I read, Four Seasons of Ministry, by Bruce Epperly and Katherine Epperly. They compare a pastor's career to the seasons--first church pastors are in the spring, with everything fresh and new; then as a pastor progresses, she moves into summer, when they cultivate the crops, so to speak; then as they move into fall, they harvest the fruits of their labours; in the winter of retirement, they benefit from the work they have done earlier. The writers dont' pay enough attention to the slightly different trajectory of second-career pastors, I think; and in their references to "family, partners and loved ones," they tend to leave out those of us who are single, especially in reference to where pastors get support and how they take their Sabbaths. But those are minor. One of the themes I really appreciated was that of setting patterns of prayer, study, rest, and retreat early on, and how those can fill different needs as you move through your time as pastor. I will try very hard to get that review done and up this week.

Emotionally I'm settling down as well. It was very hard to change my relationship with Strong Heart into friendship; it was the best thing to do, we were not working out as partners--and yet when the relationship was good, it was very good. I will miss those wonderful good parts very much. However, we are finding that we can be friends--our sharing and mutual support around ministry (from sermon prep to dealing with a board to Bible study resources) was always one of the most satisfying parts of our relationship, and that is intact. It just takes time to adjust.

I'm still listening for God's voice in my sense of restlessness. I think I'm hearing a faint call, but I'm not certain. Prayers for discernment, please!

I may have an article published! A journal that focuses on bisexuality is publishing a special issue on bisexuality and spirituality; the editors like my article and want to send it out for review... I've been associated with scholarly publishing, but on the other side--as a reader and as a librarian, so this is a new experience--very interesting!

I've been enjoying a local cafe very much--often spend at least part of a weekend afternoon there. They have organic teas, gluten free cakes and other baked goodies, and generally healthy food. They also have some of the other stuff--espresso to die for, great martinis, and some very interesting grilled cheese combinations (my fav is cheddar and mango chutney).

I met friends there for tea yesterday; Musician and his partner, Artist Doctor. They had a wonderful belated birthday present for me--an advertising poster they had picked up on a trip through Hong Kong (AD works for a university, doing work in Cambodia with free clinics and clean water projects). The poster is for a variety of things, all of them vaguely bug-related--it seems to be for bug powder, a mosquito coil, and so on. But the amazing thing is the illustration--two women, flowers in their hair, elegant earrings dangling, dancing close together, rapturous expressions on their faces. I am SO having that framed!

In the interest of that study thing mentioned in the Four Seasons book, I am embarking on a new project--reading A Course in Miracles. I tried once before, with my best friend, but when we started discussing it, we digressed totally and ended up gossiping instead of dicussing the book. So I am going to try again...

I have started really cooking again. My first attempt was Sag Ghosh, an Indian/Pakistani recipe involving beef, spinach, and curry. My aforementioned best friend often makes it for her Pakistani husband, who calls it "Pakistani comfort food." She got the recipe from his mother, so I think it's pretty authentic! It turned out pretty well--I think I needed more curry and less cayenne; also less spinach. I used less beef than the recipe called for, but the same amount of spinach...a bit overwhelming in the spinach department, let's say!

Busy week ahead--appointments at the clinic, a wedding, and a meeting--all tomorrow; a lunch on Wednesday and another on Thursday, then a mini-conference on Saturday, with a church cookout on Sunday.

I'm trying to read Ann Coulter's book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism; having a difficult time. She makes such sweeping statements, as if all "liberals" (not a term I like) were members of PETA and Greenpeace, or atheists in Christian clothing. It's that old circular definition thing: if you don't fit her definition of a Christian, then you're not really Christian and are fair game. She doesn't seem to want to allow for honest disagreement between groups, or within groups, for that matter. That and her tone of sneering superiority is quite grating. And I'm only about 30 pages into the book!

There, cleaned up those snippets of this and that... Enjoy your weekend, and Happy Mothers Day to the mothers and those who have been like mothers!

On the Journey XIV

Hmm, those Roman numerals are starting to get complicated!

I have finished radiation (as of a week ago) and so am done with cancer treatment!

I'm feeling conflicted, to be honest. On the one hand, I am celebrating the end of chemotherapy and radiation--no more abusing my body in the name of saving it. On the other hand, I'm feeling a bit worried--what do I do now? When I was in treatment, at least I knew I was dong something about the cancer. But that's all done, we've done what we can until and unless it shows up again. I don't know why I got cancer, and therefore I can't do much to prevent it--and might not be able to, even if I did know. So I'm at loose ends.

I'm continuing to heal though--the burns and sore places from radiation are pretty much gone. I still have yucky nails and tingly fingers from the Taxotere. I have my compression sleeve for the lymphedema and it seems to be working. And my hair is growing! I actually had it trimmed last week--cleaned up and evened out. We're waiting for it to grow out a bit more before doing much more with it. It looks like all that grey/white may be from the chemo, as I have a lot of dark roots.

I'll meet with my oncologist on Monday, when I get the plan for the next few months. I already have a three-month follow-up appointment with my radiation oncologist. My first question will be about getting this port out--it will seem more like treatment is over if that's gone.

I'll keep you posted!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Sermon Procrastinating....

I really should be writing the Easter sermon...and I do have a lot of notes and a pretty good idea of what I want to say. I'll get to that in a moment. First, an update--it's been two weeks, how did that happen?

Strong Heart was called to the congregation where she was candidating--no huge surprise there. I pleased for her, although amazed at her energy. She'll be there only on weekends, driving almost three hours every Friday night and another three hours Sunday night; her weeknights will be taken up with preparing sermons, Bible studies, worship etc, and she's continuing a project with Sister City church.... I would not be able to do it, even when I'm healthy!

I'm beginning to work back into the community groups, committees, etc. People are wonderful, bringing me up to speed, asking me to take on tasks again, re-integrating me into the group. I'm able to put more energy into sermon prep and worship planning, too--both of which make me feel that I'm earning my salary again!

Radiation treatments are going well--I'm halfway through, at #17 (out of 33). My skin looks tanned, but no burns or soreness, except for a couple of "hot spots" near my collarbone. I've been using Burt's Bees Radiance Body Lotion, emu oil and Glaxo Base Lotion (which seems to be a Canadian product; it's what my tattoo artist suggested after my tattoo for healing). No fatigue, either, which I had worried about. I have ordered the compression sleeve for lymphedema--I get to have a purple one! Did you know they come in colors?

Easrer sermon... I'm torn between two ideas and I'm trying to reconcile them so I can use both. On the one hand, I read an Easter meditation by Gene Robinson (on about the stone being already rolled away, and all we have to do is look up to see the stone is already gone. The other is that we all experience mini-resurrections in our lives--how do we live out that sense of joy at those restorations of hope?

Well, the stone rolled away is what allows for the sense of resurrection--the way is opened for the new life, new life. Gene Robinson tells the story of his own rehabilitation from alcohol abuse; his substance abuse was a rock in his way, and yet it wasn't until he "looked up"--looked to God--that he found the stone was gone. He says he should have known that was possible because this had happened before, when the stone was his sexuality. Then, too, the stone was rolled away and he experienced resurrection and the new life of being who he was, openly, honestly.

So I think I will use his story, and my own (in a more minor way) of recovering after chemo to illuestrate resurrection and stones rolling away.

To bring it home, so to speak, I also want to talk about the fear of the disciples--the fear of change, of that new, resurrected life. Gene Robinson talks about the fear of th disciples--if Jesus really had been resurrected, then it would change everything. And of course it does--so what do we do with our fear of change, especially when it holds us back from a resurrection?

It hasn't quite jelled yet, but I want to get something on paper--I can always play with it later. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This and that...

I have become very lax about blogging--a combination of low energy and nothing really to say right now!

I'm feeling pretty well. Completing the chemotherapy has made a huge difference in how I feel. My hair has begun to grow back--it's about 1/4 - 1/2 inch long. Sort of duck fuzz. If it were a bit warmer out, I'd be tempted to go without a hat. As it is...Winter is not over in River City!

However... I've developed a condition called lymphedema, or LE for short. What is lymphedema? I hear you saying...

Short course:

Part of breast cancer surgery (whether lumpectomy or mastectomy) involves removing one or more lymph nodes from under the arm, to see if the cancer has begun to spread (they did find cancer cells in one of the 20 nodes removed in my surgery). The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which filters and clears toxins, infections, and general junk out of the body. When lymph nodes are damaged or removed, other nodes generally take up the slack. In cancer treatment, that sometimes doesn't happen, or the remaining nodes are overstressed by chemotherapy or radiation. When an infection occurs (might be as minor as a kitchen burn or a cat scratch) lymph fluid can build up in the arm. It becomes swollen and sometimes hard, stiff, and painful. Treatment is elevation of the arm, massage (either by someone specially trained, or self-massage), and compression sleeves/gloves of various types. It will never go away completely--even if the swelling is gone, I am at high risk for it to return with an infection or a plane flight.

That's what has happened to me. I had risk factors for it that I was not aware of--no spleen (which is part of the lymphatic system; it was removed when I was 10 years old), a couple of major injuries to that arm, and many nodes removed.

The cancer centre has been wonderful--I would have liked some more warning that it might happen, but now that it has, they have swung into action. I went to an LE clinic this week, and have begun the process to get the compression sleeve (it has to be fitted, the off-the-shelf ones do not work as well). The radiation tech told me she didn't think it would slow down my radiation therapy, but i will meet with the radiation oncologist on Tuesday and see what he thinks. I really don't want to delay it at all!

But it brings home to me that breast cancer (or any cancer) is not only about the surgery, chemo and radiation therapy. There are ongoing issues, life-changing issues that I will have to deal with the rest of my life. LE is the one I will have to deal with (besides the constant worry every time I have a mammogram). Other women have to have breast reconstruction, or their ovaries removed (because estrogen released by the ovaries "feeds" the cancer), or have both breasts removed because they are high-risk...etc.

I will deal with this--at least I was able to have a lumpectomy. Once I learn how to live with LE, I am sure I will be fine. My father had diabetes and he learned to deal with it--I can do the same.

Moving on from medical issues....

I am continuing to restructure my life with Strong Heart as a friend rather than partner. We have been able to get together a couple of times to talk and all has gone well. She is continuing to support me around the breast cancer issue--she promised to walk through it with me, and she always keeps her promises. I am trying to return the favour this weekend, as she is candidating for a pulpit. In a very curious (to me) way, we are doing better at supporting each other now than we have done for several months.

I;m rediscovering life as a single person. Some of it is simpler--I can make decisions about the weekend without consulting anyone else's schedule, certain groceries don't need to be picked up anymore--and some of it is more work--no one else helps with housework or errands--and some of it is lonelier--I still don't like going to a party alone, although that usually vanishes after a few minutes and then the upside is that I can leave when I like. As someone said, "When you live alone, you can put something down and know it will still be there when you come back. That's a good thing if it's a book. It's a bad thing if it's a half-full coffee mug and it's three days later."

On the professional front, I'm looking into interim clergy training. I don't know yet if I have the temperament for it, but I'm applying to my denomination's program. Unfortunately, there's a hold on training at the moment (the economy rears its ugly head), but they're still opening files on people who are interestd. I'm also exploring moving on. River City has been good to me, but I'm feeling God may be calling me to a new place. No ideas on that yet and no firm plans--looking into possbilitiies.

I'm also trying to reorganise my life a bit. Not only clearing the clutter in case of a possible move, but in creating more of a routine for my week, setting aside reading time or sermon-writing time and simply not making appointments during that time, for example. I'd also like to have more of a routine for my day. That's difficult when every day is different in terms of a schedule (Monday I'm off, Tuesday and Wednesday I'm in both River City and Sister City, Thursday I'm in Sister City in the afternoon bu no office hours in River City, etc.). And of course all of this has been thrown off by the radiation treatments, which are scheduled anywhere from 7 am to 9 am... Routine?

We're getting teased by spring in River City--but I am not going to be tempted into putting out the porch furniture, because I know that's the surest way to have a blizzard!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

And another update...

And there are other things going on in my life besides my cancer journey!

First and foremost, Strong Heart and I are changing our relationship to one of friendship. Our relaionship as partners was very deep and special, but it was meant only for a certain time, and that time is over. She is beginning her own ministry. Not that she didn't have one before, but now she is ordained and will, in all probability, be serving a church of her own before too long. The churches of our denomination are spread widely apart--the geographical distance between us will be even greater than it is now We have always agreed that our ministries, our calls, come first. I'm feeling that my time in River City is drawing to a close, and so I will probably be moving elsewhere at some point in the near future as well.

But one of the best parts of our relationship has always been our ability to share, to be open and honest and clear about our thoughts and feelings. This has helped us in coming to terms with this and it remains a reason we are still friends. She is one of the best people I know to bounce ideas off of, she has many resources and ideas, and her knowledge of leadership is profound. Some of our best conversations have been about the sermon we would preach on Sunday, or how to deal with an issue in the congregation, or the direction her or my minstry should take.

We want to retain that part of our relationship--morph it from partners into good friends. SH has a very restricted definition of friendship--someone she knows on a certain level and trusts and cares about, someone who really knows her, whom she has let into her life to a certain level of intimacy. Anyone else is an acquaintance. I am honored that she considers me a friend by her definition.

Secondly, as I mentioned, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that my time here in River City is about at an end. Obviously I don't know precisely when that will be, but I am taking a look around me at several possibilities. All will require a move, so clearly I have to do some coordination around my cancer treatment, as well as some house clearing! Time line? I can't begin ti guess. Probably sometime this summer--certainly by mid-fall. More than that I don't know.

So while there has been some sadness (being partnered with SH was fulfilling and very good; I will miss that closeness to her), there is also goodness (we remain good friends, able to talk--in some ways, our relationship is better now) and a sense of looking forard to the future with hope-- a new start, if you will, with the spring.

On The Journey XIII

Two days away from beginning radiation...

I'm scheduled for 35 treatments (5 days a week for seven weeks). It seems like a lot, but it's pretty standard for someone with my kind of cancer--grade 3 (very aggressive) and triple negative (not receptive to hormones, thus no hormone treatment like tamoxifen is possible for me after radiation). This is, basically, our one chance to hit the cancer and hit it hard--if there's any still there after the chemo. We don't know, can't know (there's no test to see if you have any cancer cells floating around in your body), so we have to do all we can.

The procedure itself is like getting an xray. I'm put in position (the techs are guided by the tattooed dots I received during the planning session back in January), which allows the radiation beam to be tightly focused on just exactly where the tumor was, and thus affect the rest of my breast/skin less. The beam is switched on for a few moments, then off. And that's it. As someone said, it takes longer to get ready and then dressed again than it does for the treatment itself.

Side effects--possibly some skin problems like redness, itching, sunburn-like irritation. Sometimes it actually blisters, but that's fairly rare. Fatigue is another one, because the beam does affect the ribs and breastbone, which manufacure blood cells--so if that capability is affected, there are fewer red blood cells (which carry oxygen) floating around, I'll get weary more easily and be less able to bounce back. I'm very much hoping that doesn't happen--I'm just atsrting to get back into my life after chemo, and I don't want to have to cut back again.

I still have some lingering side effects from the chemo. My hair will take another few months to grow back to a reasonable length--I'm at 1/4 inch right now! Peach fuzz, really. The other one that's a bother is tingling/numbness in my fingers and toes--this is from that last med I used, Taxotere, which is known for this. It's also supposed to go away in a month or two.

Otherwise, trying to get back into life, getting ready for the radiation (good book and emu oil at the ready!), and looking forward to spring!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On the Journey XII

I am DONE with chemotherapy!

My last treatment was Wednesday morning February 18th! It went well--no problems with access or reactions or anything like that. The oncology nurse, Betty, apologised that they were out of their "last treatment goody bags," and told me to be sure and get mine when I come back for my port care appointment next month. Apparently there's bubbles to blow and nice scents to put on (since you're asked to refrain from perfum during treatments). Goody bag? Heck, I'm just glad it's over!

The next step is radiation treatments. These are external beams of xrays used to kill any other cancer cells. Some of the treatments will be spread, to get the lymph nodes under my arm. Others will be more tightly focused, on the area where the tumour was.

I'll get a dose every day, five days a week for seven weeks, so 35 doses total. The last five will be "boosts," or more intense doses.

Side effects are skin irritations (redness, swelling, itching, burning, maybe even blisters or skin breakdown, although that's unusual) and tiredness (because the ribs, which are getting some radiation, produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen. The production of red cells may be down, so the blood can't carry enough oxygen and you feel tired). Also, according to my sister who went through radiation, the boredom of going to the clinic every. single. day. for. seven. weeks. But after chemo, I'll take it!

Good news--my hair is beginning to grow back already! About an 8th of an inch, but it's hair! And I'm seeing little black dots on my eyelids and in my eyelashes, which tells me they are growing back as well. Yay!

This weekend I spent at my mother's--she's spoiled me and taken care of me, which has been great. I've had fewer issues with the mouth sores this time around, which I attribute to the nasty medicinal mouthwash...hate it but it works.

I'm heading into a busy week--usual work, Ash Wednesday (and I am offering the reflection at a joint worship service), then a wedding Saturday and possibly a dear friend's birthday party on Saturday eveing, preaching on all-day seminar nex week...Yes, I'd best rest up the rest of today and when I can the rest of the week!

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the journey XI

I have ben very remiss in my postings--I do alogize!

I had chemo #5 of the 6 doses yesterday. This is the one that makes me very fatigues--Taxotere. Other side effects are dehydration, lowered blood cell counts, bone pain, difficulty eating (loss of appetite, odd tastes, dry mouth, etc.)and hair loss (well, I had the last with the other meidcations as well). My mom is here this time and helping out with those things that need to be/should be done around the house but that are difficult for me to do--vacuuming, dusting, etc. She's also a hugs help in cooking when I just don't have the energy to get up off the couch. She brought a ton of food with her--a pan of mac and cheese from my sister (best ever!), a chicken casserole, brownies, stollen, plum pudding, cinnamon rolls and banana bread, not to mention a bag of Hershey's minatures (yes, we're taken care of in the carb department!).

I feel very lazy, to be honest, sitting here on the couch with my laptop while Mom is cleaning house for me, but to honest, I would be able to do more than vacuum one or two rooms before i was worn out. So I'm going to swallow that guilt and just let her be Mom!

There's other news... The final report from the grant has come in and we'll be presenting to the leaders in the community next week. Very interesting results--we do seem to be on the right track with our focus on LGBY youth and seniors, but maybe we could go about it differently. And we were able to pinpoint some issues with fundraising as well.

Finances at the church (speaking of finances) are not much better. It's a matter of fewer folks in church (for a variety of reasons) and everyone having less disposable income. Not good, not fun, but when members are worried about paying thir utility bills (and they are higher than usual, with the cold snowy winter we've had so far) and not sure how long they will be employed (if they are still employed), well, it's diffcult for them to put that usual $5 or 410 or $20 in the offering plate. I sympathise but I also know that on my limited income I'm also able to make some kind of donation every month... But I try not to be judgemental, knowing everyone's situation is different.

Well, starting to fade again...must be time for a nap.

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On the Journey X...

The last couple of chemo treatments have really hit me hard. Fatigue is becoming a way of life.

However, today I was able to feel a bit more hopeful. I had my radiation consult, and have learned that I will need 45 doses of radiation...that's five days a week for seven weeks. On the one hand, it seems interminable--it's longer than Lent, after all!--but on the other, the side effects and logisitics are so much more do-able, to me, than the chemo, that I will be glad to deal with them! Get up and be at the clinic every morning at 7 am? Sure! Use special lotion? No problem!

The side effects are skin irritation and fatigue, with a slight possibility of arm swelling (lymphedema). Those are, to me, something I can handle. I know the fatigue may get to me, and, given the schedule, probably right around the time I most need energy--Palm Sunday and Holy Week. But I can start working on things now--work ahead for once in my life--and hopefully stave off some of that. And of course I have my wonderful deacon and Strong Heart and others to help as well.

I've started a new chemo drug--Taxotere--and it's a bit rough. Mostly fatigue, again, although there are other issues I will spare you. Suffice to say that meals are bland, soft and thin these days.

I do have other thoughts and other things going on in my brain...and I will write a separate post for those--after all, there's an important inaugeration coming up in the States!

I'll keep you posted!

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...