Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Five--Transformations

Today’s Friday Five for the RevGals is about transformations… 

Probably one of the primary turning points was attending seminary. It was a long slow turning, to be sure—I was on the five-year plan—but in the process I was able to express more of myself, my real self, than I had in years. I rediscovered my leadership abilities, my analytical skills, and yes, my flair for the dramatic. I became more fully myself; it was safe to do so, and in fact I found that these qualities of mine were wanted. Also, so much of seminary is about truth—speaking your own truth in exegesis, for example, or in the creative work that was a course requirement in most classes, and in seminars and discussion groups. My professors were not interested in having their own thoughts handed back to them, nor in how much research I had done. They wanted to know my thoughts, my understanding of a Biblical passage or worship structure or prayer or ethical dilemma. I got used to telling the truth and being open. Not that I was a huge prevaricator before—but I simply didn’t speak, or I didn’t speak everything that I felt. Lies of omission, if you will.

Another turning point was the death of my father. We had never been close, and to be honest, it felt like a release rather than a grief.  I mourned the relationship that had not been, not the one that had been. My father had never seemed satisfied with what I did; not so much that he criticized (which he did and which I sometimes deserved, being human), but that he never praised.  I never had the sense that he was proud of what I had done or who I was; or, really, a sense that he loved me. I was his daughter and he was my dad, but that was about it. With his death, I began looking at my life—partly because the death of a parent brings a person to thoughts of their own mortality, but also because I realised we had not had the loving relationship I wanted. To this day, seeing father-daughter relationships where there is mutual trust, love and support makes me wistful. I knew if I wanted to change things in my life, I did not have forever. 

A few months later, as part of my seminary studies, I took a ten-day study trip to Poland. The main focus of the trip was the Shoah (Holocaust) and the roots of anti-Semitism in the Bible.  Poland has never been easy on her Jewish citizens; with the Nazi conquest of Poland in 1939, the invaders used the internal tensions of Poland against both Jewish Poles and Christian Poles. Both were interned and massacred in the death camps. Seeing the Jewish ghettos in Warsaw and Krakow, visiting the camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka, confronted with the museum display cases of prayer shawls and children’s toys confiscated from the arrivals at the camps, I was forced to consider what I would have done (or not done). I was faced with, as Hannah Arendt put it, the “banality of evil.” Most Poles, Jewish or Christian, were simply trying to survive in wartime. This doesn’t excuse or condone the betrayal of whole Jewish towns and families, nor willing participation in mass murder. But I began to wonder, first, whether I would have been able to muster the courage to be part of the resistance (as we all want to think we would), and then, whether I might have been a target. I was beginning to come out to myself, and deep within myself, I trembled at the thought of being arrested and sent to a camp for being who I was. And then I began to turn that around…who was I to hide, to not take a stand beside my sisters and brothers of oppressed nations (the Roma, Poles, Slavs), faiths (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Confessing Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and of course Jews), and sexualities (gay men were interned and frequently became the sex slaves of superiors; lesbians were considered anti-social because they did not “bear children for the Fatherland”).  That ten days pushed me into a realisation of personal responsibility and the responsibility for ethical leadership and honesty  incumbent on a spiritual leader. 

And these all led to turning points four and five--coming out and 9/11. I had always felt an attraction to both men and women, but had pushed the latter feelings away, telling myself it was a phase or I was just confused. But with seminary and the emphasis on openness and truth, I began to peek out from those walls I had built. My father’s death and the trip to Poland cracked the walls even more. Then came 9/11. As I have mentioned before on this blog, the events of that day were very immediate for me. I was living in a suburb of Washington DC at the time. My then-husband was retired military. Our extended network of family and friends (he had lived in the area for more than thirty years; I had lived there for twenty years, off and on) included people at the Pentagon, in downtown Washington, in Manhattan, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. That terrible morning, I managed to get through to my sister-in-law, who worked two blocks from the White House. The terror in her voice as she said there had been an explosion nearby and that they were being told to go home, and the tears in our voices as we said “I love you,” before hanging up… It all brought home to me that tomorrow is promised to no-one—which is a banal conclusion—and so the time to be me, all of me, was today. It took me another year before I was able to come out completely, but that was the spark to the fuse that had been laid with my father’s death and the trip to Poland.

Friday, May 24, 2013

RevGals Friday Five—Dogs or Cats or What?

I belong to a blog ring—RevGalBlogPals—and on Fridays we do a fin meme called “The Friday Five,” which calls for the writer to list and discuss five items with a common theme (or not!). 

Today, the topic is pets. 

So here I go. 
1. Are you a DOG or a CAT person? Or OTHER?
Like my taste in music, it depends on my mood. I love having a cat that will cuddle into my lap while I am reading or watching a movie; for the quiet, at-home times of winter and rainy days, you just can’t beat a cat (they don’t need a walk, for one thing). On the other hand, when it comes to being able to take them along for a hike or a visit or just running errands, dogs rule. As a single person living alone, I also liked the protection factor of a dog (any dog; I once read a statistic that said the majority of burglars would avoid a house with a dog, just because of the noise factor; I have no idea if it’s true or not, but it was comforting to me). Living in a third floor walk-up right now (in a secure building), a dog is not really in the picture.
2. Who were the pets of your childhood and what were they like?
We had only one dog—a Basenji named Kita (which means “dog” in Ibo, the Nigerian tribe which bred Basenjis). Cats—we had tons. At one point in my childhood, we had Kita, four cats (Sam, Quicksilver, Kiki and Shrimpy), a pigeon (Pidgy) that one of my older sisters had rescued from a psych department experiment, and a tank of fish. We named the plachostoma fish “Plachy.”
3. What pets do you have now?
My best kitty-buddy, Dylan. He’s a bob-tail rescue, with a little beard like a real bob-cat, but he’s a tuxedo kitty. He’s affectionate and smart, and is just enough company but not obnoxious—i.e., he does not want to sleep in the bed with me.
4. Have you ever had any unusual pets in your household or visit your home?
Just Pidgy, and she’s not that unusual (and yes, we know Pidgy was she; laid an egg once).
5. What have you learned from your pets? Give one recent example, if possible.
When I asked to have a play session (aka “interview”) with Dylan at the Humane Society, the workers were pleased. Because he has a bob-tail (not natural, he met with some kind of accident as a kitten) and is black, the workers were afraid he would have a difficult time being adopted. He likes  people, is playful and intelligent and a cuddler—but apparently people found him—especially his lack of a tail—off-putting. It is just a reminder to me that each cat (person) has value, even if we can’t see it ourselves; and also that even if no-one else seems to value us, we are each gifted and valued creatures of God.
BONUS: Pictures or anything else related to animals you love.

This is Dylan with his favourite toy--the "worm on a stick."

Morgan, the best dog Corgi pal.

I don't have any digital photos of Kita, but this is a Basenji, with the typical tilted-head and wrinkled brow pose!

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Our Own Language" Pentecost C (May 19, 2013)

Acts 2:1-8, 11-21
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? I 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, “People 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 men shall see visions, and your old men 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 the Holy One shall be saved.’

John 14:8-17, 25-27
Philip said to him, “Sovereign, show us God, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen God. How can you say, ‘Show us God’? Do you not believe that I am in God and God is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but God who dwells in me does the work. Believe me that I am in God and God is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to God. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that God may be glorified in God’s Child. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask God, who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees nor knows this Spirit. You know the Spirit, who abides with you, and will be in you.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

"Our Own Language"

Will you pray with me? You who are, open our hearts and spirits to hear your voice speaking to us, in words that we can understand if we listen. Speak to us in our language, so we can make your words, your truth, a part of our lives. In the name of your gracious spirit, amen.

This reading from the book of Acts is probably the most challenging reading of the entire year. All the different nations and places, most of them now just names—like Parthian and Mede and Elamite. It’s interesting to note, though, that Mesopotamia is modern-day Iraq. The effect of this long list—which I did not ask Jason to read today—is to emphasize just how far and wide Judasim had spread throughout the ancient world. Remember, these crowds were in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, or Weeks—fifty days after Passover, a  day to celebrate the giving of Jewish law to Moses. These were Jewish crowds, not pagan, not Christian. Sometimes we forget, or don’t really think about, the fact that the early Christians were, in fact, mostly Jewish, and considered themselves Jewish—but fulfilled, or completed Jews, because Messiah had come, in Jesus.

So this crowd of Jewish people from all over the known world, have gathered in Jerusalem. You know what Walkerville is like during Art in the Park? Or downtown during one of the parades? Imagine that, if you will, with donkeys instead of cars, and few paved roads, and nobody has bathed in a few days.

This crowd has one thing in common—most of them live within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and therefore speak, or understand, Latin and or Greek. But that is not what they hear in the prophetic speaking at Pentecost—they hear their own languages—Persian, Egyptian, and so on. It’s not Hebrew—which might be expected—but the language each of them speaks at home.

How beautiful, that God speaks to each person in the most familiar language of all—the language of home. When the Holy Spirit reveals herself, as Jesus promised, everyone present can understand what is being said. There is no secret language, no translation needed—everyone hears God’s truth in her or his own language.

God still speaks to us, in the familiar words we knew as a child, the language we grew up using. In countries where more than one language is used, such as India, Canada, and South Africa, and people often switch between languages depending on the situation and who they are speaking to, intimate conversations are in the language a person grew up using. That language is the one in which  they understand matters of the heart.

But  this matter of languages isn’t just literal languages spoken, my friends. The truth is that each of us has a language of our own, that expresses us as individuals. Our language, our own language. God speaks that language; God speaks to us in ways that only we know. Each of us is unique; I am not like John, who is not like Amy, who is not like Steven. Each of us is unique and has our own language of the heart, of what is closest to our spirit, our soul. That is the language God speaks to us, not only on Pentecost but every day.

We celebrate Pentecost as the birth of the church, the day when the disciples were empowered to go out and share the good news they had been taught, to teach it themselves in turn, passing it down eventually to us, and now we in our time take that message of love and God’s truth to others.

God doesn’t require us to be multilingual. God asks that we be open to the moving of God’s spirit in our hearts, and that spirit speaks to others. We use our voices, our words—but it is God’s love speaking through us, in the power of the Spirit of God.

Yes. It requires a measure of trust. But trust is not a knowledge that everything will work out the way you want it to. Trust is knowing that taking that leap, speaking that truth, is worth the risk of failing, of being laughed at or ignored. And so we trust in God, and speak the truth. We use the words we are given at the time, and trust—we trust that as we speak in the language of our heart,  each person will hear in the language of their heart. And that is the spirit of Pentecost.

Trust in your heart-language; share God’s love with others in your own language, and you will be understood, by each person in their own language.

In all God’s names, amen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


OK, so apparently my “incognito” is not so much… 

I have been considering taking off the mask anyway—it was getting tiring creating pseudonyms for pretty much everyone in my life, and I also want more feedback, which means opening the blog up to my social networks—and it seems the mask has pretty much slipped off anyway.  ‘Tis true that I am on FB with many of my fellow RGBP’ers, so they know who I am, as do assorted family and friends and colleagues. 

So, for the one or two of you who aren’t aware—I'm Martha and I am an MCC pastor in Windsor ON.  

This blog is my personal blog, not the church’s blog. So while I will be posting sermons and prayers here, since I plan for this to be an outlet for my writing, I don’t plan on writing regular “devotionals” and such. It’s a platform for me to express what I am thinking beyond the sermon every week, or my FB postings. I might talk about current events or ancient history, cooking, queer history, my cat, art, kd lang, travel, who knows. 

I will NOT be blogging about: my friends, the inner workings of the community organisations to which I belong, my family (maybe very generally, but nothing revealing, I promise), or the inner workings of the congregation I serve, nor will I include any personal names (without the person’s permission). 

Honestly, I don’t think this will be a huge change. You will just know who and where I am.

So, hiya!

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