Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A new canon for our hearts.

In my sermon last week for Biblical Preaching, I tried to say (I'm not sure if it was clear, but I tried) that the words we use in Scripture and in singing write a particular kind of canon on our hearts.  So we should take our words -- and particularly our songs -- very seriously.

To close, I had the members of my preaching lab sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but with words from Isaiah 40:1-11 as I'd rewritten them.

O comforter, speak tenderly of peace;
Cry words of promise and release.
You level hills and make valleys plain:
Reveal your glory, end our pain.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
has come to you, O Israel.

Our broken faith we doubly bear as shame.
Come be our Word, a saving Name.
All words that wound will cease to stand
When you lift your almighty hand.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
has come to you, O Israel.

Our troubled hearts can wander far,
Forgetting how you make us who we are.
Now lift us up and hold us fast--
Our future liberated from our past.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel
has come to you, O Israel.

(O Come O Come Emmanuel)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Poetry: "Bleeding heart"

I ask for prayer instinctively.
Ignoring the wince of the new-cut wound
I focus on your hands, for
mine are not strong enough
to bear me or part of me.
My heart hangs heavy,
aorta strained, artery straining.
My ribs run red in blood.
I have read that the heart,
of our many organs, when torn
is medically simple to repair.
Like rich leather, the tough muscles
take stitches like a lover’s embrace.
Yet none of the bindings offered
hold my veins together.
Bring me spiderwebs, fishing line,
baling twine, barbed wire;
none of it can staunch the spread.
All I can be bound by
are all these hands, joined,
like the many-armed Guanyin.
Hold me in prayer
because nothing else can.
It may not save my life
but at least I will die held.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Poetry: "A woman who looked like God"

One child very much alive,
one at the point of death.
I walked out the screen door of my heart
and laid in the grass of the wide backyard.
A woman who looked like God
walked close and sat beside me.
I turned to ask her Whybut saw her face.
Beyond haggard and full of joy,
like the mother of ten billion children,
like a mother who’d seen a hundred children grow
to be more than she’d ever dreamed for them,
like a mother who’d buried a thousand million more
before she had the breath to name them.
“I tried,” she said.
“I know,” I said,
and covered her hand with mine
as she wept.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Of History and Religion: Raise Your Voice"

As we approach on the ballot measure in November 2012, we will begin to hear “Christian” voices in support of a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.  These voices seem inescapable and indefatigable.  Yet, as an openly partnered queer woman and a student at Luther Seminary pursuing ordination, I know that these are not the only voices rising up in the church today.
As a result of many brave men and women who have gone before me, I am able to be a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.  After nearly twenty years of discussion, the ELCA voted in the summer of 2009 to allow individual churches and regions, as they felt moved, to call pastors in “publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same-gender relationships.”  Other “mainline Protestant” denominations — specifically Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian — have been through similar processes to remove barriers to the ordination of gay and lesbian people.  (The largest mainline Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, does not allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian pastors, and has also been discussing the issue for some time.)
There is still a great deal of struggle in the church, even after the policy transformations that have taken place.  Many people and pastors cannot (or will not) understand what has happened and have elected to leave their particular churches or denominations.  Debate continues — and not always civilly.  Yet there is also a great deal of celebration.  Many people and pastors are coming forward to rejoice in the long-awaited recognition of partnered gay and lesbian people as children of God, loved and accepted unconditionally.  My partner and I, the congregation where we worship, and many of my fellow students at the seminary are among those who daily celebrate how far the church has come.
We have not come this far by votes and debates alone.  We are where we are today because of the courage of people throughout the church who raised voices and questions that challenged and strengthened us.
Some of those voices raised the question of biblical authority.  For much of the church’s history, we treated the Bible as a book with a single author (usually God), which spoke to us plainly no matter where we were in space or time.  It is in recent centuries that academics and scholars in the church have awoken us to how far we are from the original setting of the Bible — culturally, geographically, racially, historically, even religiously.  What came to be called “historical criticism” attempted to reconstruct the context in which the books — plural — of the Bible came to be.  For many, understanding the teaching of the books — plural — of the Bible in their first context brought the lessons in those books into greater clarity.  The creation stories became not a scientific and historical record but songs of praise to the beautiful work of God’s hand.  The laws and commandments given in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy became not a way to cast out the “unclean” but a collection of guidelines for keeping a community “clean”, set apart from other religions who worship other gods.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John became not four voices to the same story, but four authors of four distinct stories offering different windows on the person of Jesus Christ.  For many, historical criticism brought the Bible from an untouchable and condemning pedestal into our own hands where the stories of struggling to know what it means to be “God’s people” became a living and nourishing witness to our own story.
Some of those questions came from the perspective of the oppressed.  In the twentieth century, national and global voices raised questions about institutional oppression within the hierarchy of the church.  Social injustice and the inequality, poverty, and cruelty it sowed was challenged.  No, said voices from colonized countries in South America, Africa, and Asia; No, said voices of African-American and Latino-American church leaders; No, said voices of women across the church.  A Savior born to a working-class family, who ministered to fishermen and spoke about farms, who died at the hands of religious authorities and political regimes — this Savior did not come to establish a church of injustice.  From these perspectives grew liberation theologies and feminist theologies, speaking from and for the perspective of the oppressed, looking to Christ not only to save us from our individual sin but from the institutional sin that bound us to hurt and oppress one another.
But the most important questions came from the witness of ordinary people.  This has been the biggest challenge to the church:  when its children, baptized and raised and loved by many, step forward and speak their truth.  The bold witness of the queer children of God has been the transformation of the church.  Each church, both individual congregations and gathered denominations, has wrestled with these beloved children, the Sunday School teachers and secretaries and musicians and potluck coordinators who stepped forward and said:  “This is who I am.”  Each church has asked:  “How do we hear this witness, the voices of the people we love speaking out against hate?  How do we understand the experience of our queer brothers and sisters in the face of years of tradition?”
We still have a long way to go, and there are days and weeks when we are weary of the journey.  When our voices of celebration are mixed with voices of condemnation, when two sets of hands open the same holy Book and see two very different images of God, it may seem that we have not come very far at all.  The constitutional amendment looms before us, and varied voices from the church rise up.  Our own voices are strained after years and decades of calling for justice, for equality, for the right to the pursuit of happiness.  And it has been those voices, weary and worn, that have changed the church.  It is the bold witness of the queer children of God, their proclamation of the truth of God’s love for them, that has brought us here, to this place, where we might be able to dream of a world where despair can be conquered by hope, where lies can be consumed by truth, where hate can be overcome by love.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Poem for a scared girl who loves strange flowers.

White-headed dandelion girl, who loves the flowers no one does.
Raised a rosebush, pruned and delicate, you envied the yellow capped weeds.
Born a seed, you were made to grow,
but shoots of weeds sowed themselves upon your soul.
Your long-growing leaves horrified you,
stem strong against your broken will.
As you reached for the sun, you feared others
would loathe you for the shadow you had made.
With trembling leaves you held at bay the gifts
of air, of light, of ground. You kept yourself a seed.
You hid the seed of self and weeds grew round.
Fear sown in fear made space for fear to thrive.
Now you stand on the banks of the Jordan
and wish you were only a reed in the wind.
But you were not made
to hide your shining head
beneath stalks of green and gray.
Grow tall.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Love is not a victory march -- it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

I've been struggling lately with my call.  Oh, not with whether or not I'm called, or what I'm called to, but rather where.

Shortly stated:  I'm a little tired of the church.

I feel like there is so much work to be done before any real work can be done.  I have the same conversations over and over and over again, about biblical authority, about transforming worship, about self-integrity, about the truth of God's call to me not in spite of but in and through and because of who I love.

A little flicker of hope has been burning inside me, ever since I started writing my endorsement essay back in August, that my candidacy committee will not endorse me for ordination.  That they will postpone me instead.  Not a no, but a "not right now" -- a "there's a little more work to be done" -- a "take some time off and think about this."

Because I want time off.

This was really bothering me the past two weeks, this feeling of needing time off, needing to rest, needing to figure out what I really want, because I don't have time to do it.  I overloaded on classes to start the semester, and then there's church work and home life and friends and training for the 5k and being with Kristi and ... where in the midst of all that do I find time for discernment?

So, of course, the Holy Spirit busts in a wall.

(Not totally without a cry from me.  I did remember my favorite Anne Lamott prayer, during a particularly stressful day last week, which goes:  "Help me, help me, help me.")

I told my seminary mentor, Margaret (a former seminarian & a present social worker), that I was struggling, and thinking that secular work might be better for me because there wouldn't be so much work required before I could do the real work, and she said with her usual ironic smile:  "Wanna come to work with me?"  ... Well, no.  Not really.  And then she leaned in and said:  "You know, people are going to tell you the truth here, and not a lot of other places.  And when I come here, people treat me like a human being, and they don't at work."  ...

Well, okay, but --

And then I get an email from a new online friend who wants to talk about seminary, and my experience there, and how she too feels this calling to where her deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.

Okay, but --

And then I get three emails from emotionalbagcheck.com, where I almost forgot I ranted two weeks ago about how I was tired of the church, and these lovely people who've never met me sent me Hallelujah and Chris Rice's Come to Jesus and Empire of the Sun's We Are the People, and one added a note:

"Randomly (for someone like me who is a decided atheist), I have several friends who are in seminary or recently out, mostly in mainstream Protestant denominations.  They are also struggling with these feelings... I say hang in there, read some Pema Chodron, and realize that the world needs as many peace-loving, caring spiritual people in it as possible.  If only to help inoculate the rest of us from the nutjob hateful organized religious people."

Okay, but --

And then for pre-preaching class, we were assigned to read Anne Lamott, who is the writer I go to when I need to curl up inside something and feel like my crazyness is not so crazy, or at least it's a normal, human crazy.

Fine, Holy Spirit.

You can come in now.

So I scrawled in my journal:

I am tired, but I am not FINISHED.

(Followed by my second favorite Anne Lamott prayer:  "Thank you, thank you, thank you.")

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

a retelling of the story of the woman called a dog

(an assignment for my preaching class)

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all.

Why do you ignore me?
Why do you not heed my cry?
I know you have an answer.
I know you hear me; I can see you flinch when I speak.
Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!
Do you know how long I have watched her suffer?
How many animals we have slaughtered to our own gods, begging them for mercy?
Do you see how this demon has beggared us?
I know you know.
I have heard of you.
Oh, I know who you are, Lord, Son of David.
You have cast out demons,
not by the power of demons but by the spirit of your god.
I have heard of you.
Why then will you not hear me?

And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Do you think I do not know who you are sent to?
Do you think I do not know who you are, Son of David?
You are a son of Israel.
You are a child of the people who slaughtered my people and took the land of Canaan for themselves.
Your people hate my people.
Your god hates my gods.
But were not your people blessed to be a blessing,
to be set apart as a city on a hill and a light to the nations?
Yes, I know your stories, Lord, Son of David.
I know who you are.
Do you know me?

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
He answered, "It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs."

What then shall I say to these things?
Are you blind, you who gives sight?
Are you deaf, you who opens ears?
Are you as worthless and lifeless as the idols of my household, unable to think, to move, to save?
No, I am not a daughter of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob -- no, she is not a child of the Covenant --
but neither are we dogs.
Look back further in your family,
back beyond Moses and Joshua,
beyond Abram and Sarai gazing at the stars.
Go back to the root of the family tree from which no one can be divided.
Yes, I know your stories, Lord, Son of David.
There is one ancestor from which we were all descended.
A mother knows her family.
A mother knows her daughter.
She is not a child of dogs.
She is a child of God.
Are you testing me, Lord, Son of David?
Do you question the strength of my convictions that you might be able to do what I ask?
If you were who you claimed to be, you would not do so.
If you are who you claim to be, you can see my heart.
I come to you out of the strangeness of a mother's love,
worthless in the measure of riches,
beyond measure in power and strength.
I did not come to be tested -- I did not come to be cast aside --
I will not let you go until you bless me.

She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table."
Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed instantly.

(Matthew 15:21-28)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Found this in my Drafts folder. A poem from a long night at the hospital this summer.

All day long the office has been harassing me to visit her.

I do not want to go.

I saw her yesterday,
her skin beyond jaundiced,
her eyes yellow like a Yield sign,
her face uncomprehending.
She could not carry on a conversation.

Her room was empty but for a few flowers
from a friend's garden, and the angel statue
she requested from a nurse.

This is not new territory,
not for me.

I do not want to visit her again.

She is too much like my father.

I sit in the chaplain's office,
stand at the windows,
stare into nothing.
I allow myself to shake.

I allow myself to be seventeen,
standing in the ER hallway
as my father was intubated.

I allow myself to be nineteen,
watching as my incapacitated father
struggles against his bonds,
his almost-useless hands tied
to keep him from tearing out the tube
that is keeping him alive.

I allow myself to be twenty-one,
singing in the Saint Olaf Choir,
watching my mother's face break as she explains
that she will not be able to attend the Christmas concert,
that someone will have to stay 
with my cancer-struck father.

I allow myself to be angry,
at him, at her, at everything.

I have been told that explaining all this
will do nothing to help me survive it.
Remembering what happened,
understanding what happened,
and releasing what happened
are three very, very different things.

I wonder if I ever can release
all that is built up inside me,
if the fortress 'round my heart
can ever fall completely.

Jesus, you have brought me this far.
Are you with me now?

I take some papers and go.

The room is full today.
Mother, brother, sisters, daughters,
grandchild, niece, nephew.
My heart swells and hurts 
for those gathered,
and for the woman who they surround
as she barely wakes to see 
the grandchildren she's never met before.

Sisters shift to make room for daughters,
brothers and in-laws waver at the back of the room.
Each breaks from their watch
and tells me a piece of the story:

A broken story, a broken family.
Now they are trying to make sense of the pieces,
re-constructing ten shattered years.

The pain of it stings.
I am outside it and yet within it.
It does not touch my past
but my heart,
and I love them without reservation.

I bring them water and coffee, 
take a niece to the cafeteria,
take the estranged son for a soda.

He tells me they called 911 on their mother ten years ago
and were taken from the home
and never looked back.

When we return 
the family is murmuring:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee...

I pray silently with them.

Is it me that is praying,
or someone else that moves my lips?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

This is where I've been all summer.

CPE Final Evaluation

6. Summarize your spiritual journey of these past eleven weeks. How is your faith changing? Your practice of ministry? What has been most painful? Most rewarding? Who are you becoming?

Honestly? It's been really hard. I've just been exhausted. But even when I've felt totally bottomed out, spiritually I've always felt supported. I've never felt abandoned, not by God - maybe by myself, though. Emotionally and mentally, I've checked out when I felt too threatened, and I ran from anything spiritual then -- because I knew it would bring me back into myself, and reconnect me.

I don't know if my faith is changing. I think it's deepening. I'm going deeper into myself, and into my pain, and into the world's pain, and that means I'm going deeper into what I believe. I think I know better what I believe now, and it's simpler than any of the confessions or creeds: it's just that I believe that God is real, and here, and ready. That's what I know, at my core; everything else is built on that, but that what I can't get away from. God is real, and here, and ready. That's not anything different about my faith; it's deeper. I know that my expression of faith is changing, that I'm finding new words to give voice to that experience, trying to find ways to explain how I understand God.

The most painful part of this summer has been coming to understand that I don't love or trust or even accept myself. And yet I'm worthy of it. That's really hard to live into, to know that there's such a breach of reality in my brain. And to learn to say, not that it's wrong, but that it's holding me back from being who I was made to be. I want to grow into loving and trusting and accepting myself, and there's a lot of habits that keep me from doing so, and it hurts to know how long I've held myself back from myself and from the world. But it's also a little exciting (just a little bit, way down there at the bottom of the heap of pain) to know that I'm not at my most yet. Maybe that's the most rewarding thing, too: to have experienced myself as lovable and trustworthy and acceptable, and to know I'm not there yet but to be just a tiny little bit excited for how much growing I have left. I don't look forward to the growth but I have this inkling that if I can do what I'm doing - being honest, being intuitive, being actually good at things - when I've been holding myself back, then maybe as I become more myself and more okay with myself, I'll be able to do even more and it will be even more meaningful and transformative for me and for others. Yes. That's what's been rewarding: to feel as broken down as I do, stripped bare of all my illusions about myself, and yet still be able to do good work, to want to do it, and to know what that means for how I'll grow.

Who am I becoming? I'm becoming me. I'm not becoming more lovable or trustworthy, or less broken or anxious. I'm ... well, I'm not there yet, not anywhere close, but I'm being pulled (it feels like a pull) into something that's just more me. That involves becoming mindful, and self-aware, but also a lot more self-gracious. I want to get there. I had my Melrose kids imagine their future, not knowing that I was the one who needed to be awakened to how much more fulfilling life was going to be when I was finally okay with myself. And I'm sort of okay (tentatively) with being where I am, which is not yet integrated, not yet okay with myself, not yet integrating hardly any of what I've learned at CPE. I want to be okay with that, and I think a small part of me is.

7. Get into your right brain and write a fantasy, a parable, a metaphorical story, a song, or whatever captures your learning experience this summer.

I do feel broken, in some ways. Dismantled. I feel like most of what I thought (consciously or subconsciously) about myself has been broken down. That's the outer shell; the mix of greens, blues, and purples that made up who I presented to the world (and to myself). CPE has cracked that shell.

Inside is a pearl. It might be the pearl of great price, for which the merchant sells all he has. To find this pearl - who I truly am, and who I am becoming - I have to give up a lot of what I want about myself. I have to lose what I have called my life - my well-crafted persona - to find what is truly me.

Along the edge of the shell is a golden web, crossing color patches and stretching across the void the crack created. Even as I have felt broken down and taken apart, I've had a sense of being held together by something outside my shell, something larger than my persona or my essence. I also had a sense that this web (and my picture doesn't capture this well) is made of the same material that the pearl inside is.
This web meant I didn't have to be afraid of the process (although I certainly was, quite often). I could trust in a strength greater than what my shell could handle. The "cracking open" of CPE hasn't disturbed this web; it's simply stretched. There have been times when I have still needed the shell - still needed to be able to cloak myself, to pull back. I'm not actualized yet. The web allows me to do that, to pull the shell back over myself until the moment when I can feel free and safe again to be myself. And the web also calls to the pearl: we're of the same material, come on out, it's safe.

The web feels like God. The web is God. The web is what has been keeping me "together," not in the sense of rebuilding the shell or letting me hide, but in the sense that something larger than this tiny exposed pearl is there, real, present, attentive, protective, prepared.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Paper has more patience than people..." and perhaps more power

I've started writing again, just in the past few weeks - not blog posts (as you know I've barely touched my blogs this summer!) but story sketches and unfinished poems. I never really stopped writing, but I know I didn't write for fun this whole last year of school. But CPE's been hard, and I've felt the need to process more than usual, so suddenly I've wanted to write again.

In a way, it's a good thing that I haven't felt that old compulsion to write - that need to take up pen and paper and explain myself. Writing was a part of my life for a long time because writing was one of my ways to understand myself when I didn't feel my friends would (or wanted to). I would take my situation, my story, and lay it out on a table, flaying the edges, working through the meat and muscle, taking the raw experience of my life and making it a meal. My pain would become poetry, my history would become a story.

I haven't felt that need, because I haven't felt that I wasn't being heard in a very long time.

Now I look at my writing in a different way: it's no longer for my own release, but for the transformation of others. I want to write my life because I want others to understand what I have understood - I want to share the secrets of my unlocked heart in the hope that what I have learned might become a key for someone else.

I feel that I have been, in many ways, more than blessed in this life - an overabundance of good, even in the midst and face of pain. And I feel that this generosity of grace is not meant for me to keep. I don't feel an obligation to share it, but an excitement - that what I have been through might be a help to others.

My first new writing attempts this summer were clumsy - poems overladen with metaphor, fiction that tried to tackle issues bigger than my experience. But I've retrained my brain, going back to what always made me a better writer: cutting my teeth on others' words.

I've crawled back inside the wizarding world and stared in awe at magic and loyalty and courage. I've lain on my back in fields with Mary Oliver and watched black birds cut blue sky. I traveled back to Alpha Centauri with my favorite team of Jesuits and secular scientists in The Sparrow, exploring a new world, stumbling through our humanity together. Tonight I struggled through the forest with Katniss, feeling the conflicted emotions about Gale and Peeta fight within me.

I've learned again to craft sentences, to cut words short or long, to tease in alliteration and hints and secrets to keep the reader thirsty for the next line. I've learned to stop when I'm done - to accept that writer's block is a way of my heart saying, "I'm done singing for the day. Come back tomorrow."

I don't know if I'll ever be a good writer, or a published one - not any more than I was at fourteen, the first and last time something of mine made it to print. But I know that this helps me, that I hunger for it - to lay out my life, to turn it over, to cloak it in new characters and experiences, to hope that what I have lived and learned might someday liberate others.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Giving the right answer

Today, I got caught off-guard by a patient's question.

I should be used to the fact that patients want to know about this smiling short-haired brunette who shows up in the midst of their pain (physical and emotional) and says "Hi, I'm from Spiritual Care..."

But every time the patient suddenly turns to me and says, "So, where do you live?"  "Do you have brothers and sisters?"  "Are you in school?"  "Did you grow up here?"  I go... Durrrrr...what do I do again?  Because I just get into the moment and sort of forget myself.

Today a patient said:

"So are you married or what?"  (He was very direct.  It was a stitch.)

I answered:  "Yes, I'm married."

(I guess technically the state of Minnesota would like me to say "I am 'or what'.")

He asked:  "What's he like?"


You all may not know that there are several ways I've handled this question over the years, from direct truth to direct lie and quite a few stops in between.

The safe bet is always, "Lovely."  English is nice in that it doesn't gender its adjectives, so as long as I skip the pronouns, I can get pretty close to describing my actual life.

But, there is, of course, the honest answer:  "She's lovely."

And there is, of course, the really safe answer:  "He's lovely."

One is a truth and can get me thrown out of a room.

One is a lie and can make me want to throw up.

I have been self-aware for ten years.  Out and proud for most of those.  With my lovely partner for five and a half, and out and proud about us for most of those as well.  I have fought with administrations about open acceptance of LGBT students.  I have worked Pride festivals.  I have spoken truth to power.  Yes, I have been quiet when I was still gauging the room (just as recently as yesterday, actually), but I have also been honest when it was dangerous.

So I said:

"...He's lovely."


I took the safe road.  The really safe road.

I will very rarely take the honest answer, especially early on in a conversation with a patient.  I think that's good pastoral care, sometimes - keeps the focus on the patient, and not on me.

But that doesn't mean I have to lie.

...But I did lie.

Normally I'd come home annoyed with myself but sure that I'd taken the right path.  This is a patient that referred to something stupid as "gay."  This is a patient who was watching Fox News when I entered the room.  And other justifications.  (Both of these are true, by the way.)

But this is also a patient who, twenty minutes later, suddenly said:

"So you're a minister.  What do you think about this same-sex marriage stuff?"


Great CPE lesson:  Ask the patient, "Well, what do you think?"

So I did.

He laughed.  "Well, I gotta be honest with you."

(Here is where I pat myself on the back for making the really safe choice.)

And here is where he says:  "If they want to be as miserable as the rest of us, I say let 'em at it."


"You know, I think the gays are weird.  They're just weird."

(Hooray, resume back patting!)

"But I guess it's 'cause I don't know any of them.  I think they're weird, but maybe they think I'm weird.  I don't know, because I don't know any."

Here is where the girl who earlier took the safe route of "Lovely" could now say:  "Well, now you do.  Your chaplain is gay."

Here is where the girl who took the really safe route of "He's lovely" can't even manage "Well, I know gay people, and they're not so weird" or "Maybe you do know gay people and you just don't know it" because she's choking on the fact that she totally, totally botched this one.

I'm letting myself not feel guilty about this.  I made a call that I thought was right, and it's clear now to me that I could have made a different one, and then had a different conversation.

But it's okay that I "botched it."  I'm honestly OK with it.  We've been working hard in CPE to not do value judgments on our pastoral care, to accept that what we do isn't "right" or "wrong" but far more grey and nuanced.

In some cases, to give the safe answer of "Lovely" and never to come back and qualify it with the correct pronoun is the "right" answer.  It's the answer that the patient needs - to make a connection with me, to see that I'm human, to start talking about their own spouse or loves lost or kids or whatever.

But that doesn't change the fact that I lied.  Openly.

Which is kind of a botch.

So I'm sharing this with you all not because I botched it, but because I want to remind myself not to botch it next time.

To offer, if I can, the safe (but open) answer.

To offer, when I can, the honest answer.

To listen to the Spirit and not to my fear.

So I'm writing it down and baring my fears and my stumblings so that you all can keep me accountable to the girl who wants to give the honest answer.

And so I can be, too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Unrefined poetry: "With Sighs Too Deep for Words"

No, I do not pray as I ought.
I pray in hopes and wishes,
in wild imaginings of futures,
with Oh! that it migh, be another time and place!

To this the Spirit replies:

I think I do not hear,
and so I ask You? or You? or You?,
but when all is No and Next Time
and I am dared to truly wish,
what might have been is now.

What I wished for is not another place and time
but a wholly different feeling,
a total new communion,
something else than what I live in now.

I receive it by grace, but not graciously,
and fighting it, am asked:
Is this not what you wanted?
I say:  I was afraid to say I did.

Then, holy laughter.
O child, she says,
you never have to ask
for me to know.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"You didn't mention God"

(For every Friday at CPE, we bring a "journal entry" about a theological issue we're currently wrestling with.  This is mine for the week, with some links that will help with references...)

"You didn't mention God."
     - a comment on my first chapel talk

For a year I've not written the word,
baptizing a Jewish G-d in the name of
doubting what I have proclaimed.

We speak too casually of
Who is so deep and wide.
We speak too cruelly of
Who is the source of Love.
So I would not speak anymore in His name.

Who is this God of whom I dared
not speak or write?

slaughterer of Egypt's children,
raining fire on Gomorrah?

Guider of the invisible hand
leaving well-crafted watches in woods?

Distant clockmaker, great Physicist,
puller of atomic strings?

Omnipotent, omniscient, eternal,
He beyond all knowing?

Never did the gods
of white and western men
find permanent thrones
in my heart's gold chapel.

For years I supplicated
Son and Spirit alone,
denying space to the Father of the fathers,
to a Mighty Hand in the face of mighty evil,
to Exclusivity in the face of experience,
to Judgment in the face of injustice.

For years I have called upon
the Son who suffered
and the Spirit who soars,
more sure of pain and prayer
than of power.

I wonder now if
in my resistance to war and whitewash
I have been praying
to God all along.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

To the girl who loved herself too little

I swear an oath to you today
to sit with you one night,
not now, but soon.
I will grow arms large and long,
wrap them around you like gold.
I will love all in you that you never loved,
which is to say,
I will love all in you that is good
for what it is, not what can be made of it.
I will love all in you not yet fulfilled
for what you can become.
I will love all in you that is broken
for what it was,
for what broke it,
for how someday, not now but soon,
you will take the crisp shards
and build a heart much stronger,
build beauty from the brokenness.
I will look into the darkness with you
and be unafraid,
for I have sat in the dark night of my soul
and seen the dawn.
I have walked through the flames
and come out, singed but whole.
So I will sit with you and bear you.
I swear an oath today to love you,
not for any deed or work or thought
but for all the beauty and brokenness
that simply is,
as you are.
I love you, for you
are me and
you are mine.
And you never loved yourself enough,
which is to say,
at all -
but I love you now,
for you are me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The moment I accepted my call

I went to Saint Olaf planning to become a choir teacher.  I declared my major in Music Education well before I bought extra-long twin bed sheets.  I took the requisite exams, signed up for the correct first semester classes - keyboarding for three hours a week, theory for the same, individual piano and voice lessons.  I slaved over theory homework, once spending three hours diagramming chords before going next door and having Sarah look over it only to say:  "You did this all wrong."

But I was also taking other classes, including the first section of "The Great Conversation," a two-year humanities concentration.  The first section is "The Greeks and the Hebrews."  I did not slave over this homework -- I devoured the texts on ancient life, particularly the study of the Hebrew scriptures.

Six weeks into the semester, I knew that I was not ever going to be a choir teacher.  I was a good singer, and an OK pianist, but I lacked any natural skill at theory, and I was bad enough at it that I was beginning to hate music in general.  But I plunged forward, ashamed to admit defeat.  I simply added Religion as a second major, because I am not a quitter and I can totally handle this ... right?

It came time to register for second semester.  The next Great Con class was at a specific time, and when I got to registration, all the Keyboarding II classes were filled except one that was right after Great Con.

It wasn't unusual for keyboarding classes to go over the "Open Seats" limit; all of them had by two or three students in first semester.  They planned for this kind of thing.  It would not be a big deal for me to join a "Full" class so that I would not have to sprint across campus in order to make it on time.  I wasn't even the last section to register - there would be plenty of Keyboarding II students after me who would have to ask for the department chair's signature to allow them to join the class after it had exceeded its limits.

So I had no apprehension about asking him to allow me to join a Keyboarding class that did not require a backpack-laden 600m dash three times a week.

He gave me a disdainful and disinterested look and said:

"This is what happens when you double major.  You have to make choices."

Now, it is true that I was a double major, but the conflicting class was not a religion course - it was part of the Great Conversation and it fulfilled severalgeneral education requirements.

So that annoyed me.

I believe he may also have called me Emily when he said it.

That annoyed me too.

But what really annoyed me was that I was trying to make this work - trying to keep up the facade that I could be a music major - and I had come to a point where I had to accept that I couldn't.

I wasn't cut out for it.

I was cut out for something very different.

I knew that when I was twelve and wanted to be confirmed - wanted to accept the vows made for me by my parents at baptism and become an adult in the church.

I knew it at fourteen when my priest sat on my parents' floral green couch and explained how he would send people who wanted to become priests around the mall in a collar - so that they could experience people's reactions, see and hear and sense the feeling of being set apart.  I remember the mixture of terror and excitement that arose in me at that moment.

I knew it at sixteen when I started attending an AoG youth group, searching for something deeper.

I knew it at seventeen when I read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell:
He did not flinch from the knife.  He cut the thread cleanly, a priest in perpetuity.  God had been generous with him.  He could not stint in return.
And at eighteen, standing there with my unfulfilling registration card in my hand, I finally accepted what my mother had known since I was three:

I was called to be a pastor.

I could pretend all I wanted that I was going to be something else - an author, a librarian, a computer technician, an English teacher, a music teacher, a stage manager - but I'd known for years what my call was.  Trying to do anything else was just too exhausting, because I knew what was going to truly fulfill me, what was going to be me at my most me, and it wasn't music theory and it wasn't C++ and it wasn't the stage and it wasn't the classroom.

I was called to be a pastor.

I went to the library then and looked up all the available religion classes in second semester.  I went to the registrar the next day and dropped Keyboarding II and Theory and my piano lessons.  I added Religion 202:  "Classics and Moderns."  One of my Great Con professors was teaching it, so I thought it would be a good place to start.

On the syllabus for Classics and Moderns was a text I'd never heard of:
Martin Luther, Three Treatises, "On The Freedom of a Christian"
And I would open that red-covered book and read:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
A good place to start, indeed.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When my mother knew

Her story is that I was three.
She was driving me home from a birthday party.  I was sitting in the backseat, strapped into whatever contraption was used for toddlers in 1988.  I’d received a balloon animal at the party - some sort of blob with wings - and was playing with it.
Mom was struggling; she’d been raised Catholic but had left the church in ‘69, and we didn’t worship anywhere at the time.  I’d been baptized (Roman Catholic, by my uncle Father Maynard) and she was trying to figure out how to raise me with a sense of Christian faith without a lot of dogma and doctrine.
Somehow the topic of G-d came up; she doesn’t remember how.  
I responded and referred to G-d as He.
Mom looked in the rearview mirror and said:
“Emmy, do you think [G-d] is a boy?”
I looked at her and replied:
“Mom, [G-d] is like my balloon animal.  If you look at it this way, it’s a butterfly.  But if you turn it this way, it’s a bee.”
Mom apparently pulled over, looked at me, then looked up at the sky and wondered Who is this child and where did she come from?
She decided she was going to have to read a lot more books.
And that, according to my mother, is when she knew that I was going to end up in the service of G-d.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


When I was younger and too afraid of people to accept my call, I dreamed of being a writer.

Agatha Christie

I dreamed of secluded fame, of fresh-printed books still smelling of wet binding glue and Emmy Rettino Kegler (or any of the many pen-names I came up with) embossed along the hardcover spine.

I filled journals, notebooks, floppy disks, hard drives with short stories and poems.

Writing gave me control.

I didn't have to fulfill any requirements, follow any rules I didn't want.

I could make my characters speak only in five-word sentences.

I could leave out any words beginning with S.

I could use em-dashes and semicolons fifteen times in one paragraph.

I could break the line here,
here, or

I could have my happy ending.  I could decide how the poem ended.  I could choose who lived, who died, who finally confessed their love and who walked away to start a new life.

I didn't have a lot of happy endings in high school.
I don't suppose a lot of people do, no matter what the storybooks say.

I didn't have a lot of control over my life.  School, even after school activities, are highly dictated by rules and regulations and teachers and coaches.  And I knew something was very wrong at home - something beyond how physically sick my father was - but I didn't know what.  And for a very long time I thought there was something wrong with me - and writing was one way to get down into the isolation I felt, the differentness of me, and imagine a better world where I didn't feel so unlike everyone else.

Writing was my way of knowing that what I was experiencing - pain, heartache, inner turmoil, transition, fear, anger - was real.  And it was also a way of asserting that I believed it was not the final reality of my life.

I wrote because I believed my life could be better.

I had a few things published - no big deals, just poems or short stories submitted to various teen publications and contests.  I made my first $100 at fourteen from a writing contest, and bought a portable CD player with it.  That was the last time I openly shared anything I'd written with my friends - too much of the rest was unfinished - too much of the rest was dark.

I didn't write as much in college.  There was too much going on - too many friends - too many events - and then this beautiful, totally new thing with this beautiful woman named Kristi.  Oh, and too much schoolwork, I guess.  I'd come up with story ideas and jot them down, but I didn't feel the ache to write like I used to.

I didn't think of myself as a loner anymore.  I didn't need to write to change my world, because my world was really, really good.  So I stopped thinking of myself as a writer, and started thinking of myself as a pastor.

When I took up blogging, I was writing to chronicle my journey through seminary.  I still didn't think of myself as a writer.  I was just blogging what's on my mind at any given time.

So it was sort of a shock, several months ago, to have one of my newly dear seminary friends say:

"You're such a good writer."

I haven't been told that in a non-academic context in ten years.

I haven't been called a writer in a very long time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon for May 15 2011 (Good Shepherd Sunday / Youth Sunday)

Texts here.

In reading over the texts and working with our youth as they prepared today's service, I couldn't stop thinking about the December Christmas pageant. I guess it's because today is Good Shepherd Sunday - I don't have a lot of sheep in my life, but at the Christmas pageant - well, then we have sheep! We have sheep and a donkey and, if we have enough kids, maybe a camel.

The sheep in our pageant are usually the littlest ones - the ones that, in some ways, need the most shepherding.  They haven't been in the pageant before. They're not sure when to walk in.  They aren't sure of the story, or what their part is in it.  But we bring them - again and again - and after a few years as sheep, they graduate to donkey, to shepherd, to angel.

Many of our children and youth leading today were raised in the church. Many of our adults were too.
Parents, grandparents, godparents, guardians, family - by them our children are brought to church like the first shepherds carried the first lambs to the first Christmas manger.  And these little lambs we call the children and youth of LCCR bleat through the hymns, and trot up and down the aisles, and fight with their siblings and friends like baby goats butting heads.  But we bring them, and we welcome them - even squirming, fussing, kicking, bleating.

Some of you know that, as the Children's Education Associate, one of my less official tasks is to help children and youth transition from classrooms for education to the sanctuary for worship. This is always a time fraught with excuses, and a little bit of whining. "I'm tired. My sister woke me up early. I was up late last night. I'm not going to church. I'm waiting for my parents to come get me." (That last one works when you're six, but I send sixteen year olds to worship on their own.)

And every now and then, one of these precious lambs and sheep of the church of Christ will ask me outright:
"Why do I have to go to church?"
One of my less official tasks is to answer that question.

So: Molly, Jake, Grace, Kayla, Abby, Alex, Audrey:
what I am trying to tell you when I teach, and what I tell you all this morning, is that no one can answer that question but you. I hope all of us have the start of an answer to this question - to why do I have to go to church. I know that I am still working out my answers now. So today I will tell you why I am here, in the hope that my answer to the question helps spark answers for yourself.

I am here because coming to church is an act of rebellion.

Coming to church is a rebellion against culture - culture that says:
The most important relationship is the one that gets you noticed.
The way to find your value is to count how much money you have.
You are beautiful if others admire you.
You are powerful if others fear you.
The most important person in your life is you.

The church - at its core, and at its best, says :
The most important relationship is the one we have with our neighbor.
The way to find your value is to understand your life as a baptized child of God.
You are beautiful because you are made in the image of a beautiful God.
You are powerful when you are weak.
And the most important person in your life is who we are, as a community,
gathered in the presence of God, in the hope of Jesus' resurrection, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today we read about the early church of Acts - the church of signs and wonders, of all things held in common, of glad and generous hearts, of daily new members added. A church that centered itself in the Spirit. I'm just finishing my finals after my first year of seminary. After a year of studying Scripture and church history, I will tell you something: this is not the whole history of the church. The history of the Christian church and the narrative of the Bible is this: God is with us, always loving us, continually calling us to love each other - but in our Scripture and our history we also see the many ways we have fallen from that love.

A lot of Scripture and church history is theological battles - believers against other believers, drawing lines about who was out and who was in. Much of Christian history is a history that said there were people who were unimportant or unacceptable,  who were not worthy or welcome, who were not called or welcomed to lead the people of God.
The poor. The very young and the very old. The weak and powerless.
The oppressed and the ones without influence. Women. Widows and orphans.
Non-white. Non-English speaking. Disabled and handicapped. Deaf and blind.
Quiet and shy. A little too loud.
The uneducated. The sick. The tired. The suffering. The abused.
Gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and intersex and and queer and questioning.
The stranger. The doubter. The agnostic and atheist.
The broken.
The sinner.
The people who, for whatever reason, were kept out of the body of Christ.

But over and over again, in Scripture, in our history, and in our present day lives, God breaks through our boundaries to bring all into the family of God. God rebells against the lines we draw, against the lie that something can separate us from the love of Christ. God insists that when the shepherd calls our name, nothing can prevent us passing through the gate. God insists, against all realities and against all odds, that we have the opportunity to have life, and have it abundantly.

And I see that insistence in our life here at LCCR. For me, coming to LCCR is another act of rebellion - rebellion against our sometimes painful Christian history. So I come for the wildness of our our passing of the peace - crossing borders, getting out of our comfort zone. I come here for the unity in our communion - for the moments when we are fed together. I come for the stories of our past - for Scripture and history that testifies to God's presence and love for us.  I come for those moments when I so clearly hear the gospel and see the movement of the Spirit, for those moments when we rebel against the thieves of life, for those moments that spark my imagination and vision for what the church has been and can be.

We are all brought here,
carried like sheep on the shepherd's shoulder.
We all butt our goat heads against the lies of culture and history,
and we wonder like wide eyed baby lambs at the beauty of our past and the hope of our future in God.
Because coming to church is an act of rebellion.
And we come through the Gate that was opened for us -
the Gate that is the One who knows our name,
the Gate through which we come in and go out,
the Gate where we find green pastures, still waters, a welcoming table in the midst of hate -
the Gate which does signs and wonders among us -
the Gate where we find life, and find it abundantly.

Texts for May 15th 2011

Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

John 10:1-10
"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate
but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This month's edition of the Concord (the seminary student-run newspaper) is Big Words.  One of my dear friends was brave enough to write about her experience in the Assembly of G-d and the meaning of the word "glossolalia" - the act of speaking in tongues.

When I was seventeen, I attended an Assembly of G-d church, as I've mentioned before.
There I spoke in tongues.

I could say "I learned to speak in tongues" as I had not known how before, but that makes it seem that such behavior was required, or taught, and it was neither.  I can say "I received the gift of speaking in tongues" but I am wary of claiming this gift of the Spirit, as if to exalt myself over others.  The best way is to say "I spoke in tongues" - I observed others speaking in tongues, and over time I felt moved to do so as well.

This is very odd to think about, and to explain to people; who am I to have done such a charismatic, pentecostal thing?  But I did.  I did not speak in a babble that all understood in their own language (as in Acts 2) - I did not speak in a babble that others interpreted, as mentioned in Paul's letters (1 Corinthians 12, for example).

Rather I spoke in a babble that I sensed inwardly as an experience of praise - a prayer that was so exhilarated and overwhelmed that words could not come fast enough, what I interpreted and named as "a sigh too deep for words" (Romans 8:28).  I do not know what others' experience was, but this was mine - that my mouth could not keep up with my heart.

This I have not done openly since leaving the AoG congregation - yet to this day I can feel the overwhelming movement inside me, threatening to burst out my sternum, in these odd moments of joy and connection.

At these times I clamp my mouth closed, terrified in the midst of our Lutheran chants of of Agnus Dei, Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi I might start babbling again.  I have learned that, when absolutely necessary, I can breathe out the words without vocalizing them - my lips forming the words with no sound to accompany them, like Hannah praying at the doorpost of the temple of the Lord (1 Samuel 1).  I do and do not like doing this.  It terrifies me that I am moved to do this, and it troubles me.

There are others at Luther Sem who have spoken in tongues in past congregation.  A few of us have found each other and had long talks about what it meant to us then and what it means now and how to interpret it within a Lutheran framework.  I call us the Evangelicals in Exile (with the irony of most of us now being members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

We have all agreed that we wouldn't feel safe speaking if the Spirit rested upon us during worship - but that we still, from time to time and place to place, feel moved to speak.

We have all agreed that it is very, very odd to confess such a thing in such a place as Luther Sem.  It was odd to confess it at Olaf, as well - I remember defending it then, trying to put words to a wordless experience.  Mainline Protestants do not have a framework for understanding glossolalia - to them, it is babble.

But what is it to me?

Is it a gift of the Spirit?

Is it the remnants of a scared seventeen-year-old girl imitating what others are doing?

Is it selfish, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14: "For those who speak in a tongue [without interpretation] do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church" ?

I do not know.

I share this in trepidation, but moreso in support of my friend's bravery; she is quite an amazing woman to be so open in so public a way, in a community such as Luther Sem.