Abundance, Acceptance, Unlimited

alexander-schimmeck-5sh4fYV191s-unsplashAfter three long years without Suzanne’s deviled eggs and Essie’s sesame noodles (although we missed Ruby’s ham and Christine’s potatoes), Thanksgiving came back to church as if it had never left. I didn’t cry; please clap! Although there’s still no better place to cry in all of New York City, in my practiced opinion. 

We feasted again, on turkey and vegan macaroni and cheese, on mandarins in bowls and fruit processed beyond recognition into pies and cobblers. Friends we hadn’t seen in years came back, pulled in like the tide by a satellite made of carbs and surrounded by the promised banquet that for so long felt so far away and yet never left us.

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A Native Language (for Junia’s Second Birthday)

isabella-and-zsa-fischer-sQoIRY84a2E-unsplashAnd how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
–Acts 2:8

Once there was the the drip and the drain of her beginning to leave, the harrow of the clatter on the way to the operating room, the latch she formed when I was finally stable enough to hold her, the dry sob of my throat against her scream when she was ten days old and I learned, oh, sometimes they don’t eat or sleep or do anything but cry and there is absolutely nothing you can do— In short, there were no words, no mutually intelligible ones, no useful ones.

Now there is a grammar and a lexicon. Good morning! I love you. Did you have a good rest? Hug, kiss, fist bump? Fist bump! Pwwwsssshhhhh. Yeaaaaahhhh. Let’s— no, don’t peel the elephant— let’s change your diaper and— yes, Papa works at the lab, but not yet, we’ll see him in a minute— PB toast! yes, we can have PB toast for breakfast, let’s have some milk first but wait, let’s change your diaper first, oh now you’re ready for a kiss? Okay, kiss, now let’s change your diaper— It starts as something an adult English-speaking human would recognize and rapidly morphs into an intimate, singsong pidgin.

Pentecost, the birthday of the church, arrived with a violent wind, and with flame. With terror, one must imagine. With light and the power to destroy. And then with translation.

How is it that we hear each other? Because a spirit came among us to give us a new and native language.

Thank God for her, and for another year with her.

Photo credit: Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

The Book of Acts

20220529_113227Have I mentioned that it’s hard to do church with a toddler? It is, and still the toddler is the reason I try. When the news of yet another mass shooting in a school broke in the late afternoon on Tuesday, I couldn’t quite put her down easily for the rest of the day, and as a week of rage and grief unfolded, I couldn’t put social media down either, desperate for a Greek chorus that would echo my fury. So I had to try to get us all out the door to church today, to take refuge from the world that not only allows such things to happen but allows them to happen again and again, sickly and identically and endlessly again. We would be safe there— she would be safe there. Not that church is safe either, not in that sense, but at least there we are safe from the callous disregard of the world.

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A Prayer for Us (and Ukraine) on Ash Wednesday 2022

tina-hartung-IwLY-pLic_U-unsplashFor the Ash Wednesday service tonight at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, Pastor Dwight invited us to compose prayers around the events in Ukraine. In the spirit of the season of atonement, I wrote this one.

*

God, we want to see ourselves in the resisters and the freedom fighters.

But we need to see ourselves in the invaders, also.

Where in our hearts do we need to root out excuses for violence? The tendencies to invade and colonize, to take what is not our own? The refusals to consider other claims, to share or to gracefully yield?

Root this sin from Putin’s heart, and from mine.

Protect those who desire peace, and those who, in the coming days, may regret the harm they have caused or are positioned to cause.

In the name of the One who refused violence.

Amen.

Guy Loves You: Vignettes from Winter 2022

mathew-benoit-4gY8H3wfaN0-unsplash“We have grown far from the dirt,” Roy said, in his sermon a few weeks ago, and while I know what he means, I myself never feel very far from the dirt.  Certainly not while watching Zoom church, which I’ve been doing in my home office space next to my Boston ferns, just barely holding on through the winter and shedding fronds at an alarming pace, while ensuring that Junia doesn’t eat stickers off the floor or color on the walls.

Later in the service, Valerie said, “Lord, you made everything and called it good.” Including, presumably, the dirt in all its forms.

***

God isn’t a new concept for Junia, who was baptized, in the midst of COVID, at five weeks old.  She bounced in her carrier during Zoom church services and coffee hours.  She played in the grass during the outdoor Easter service at Orient Congregational Church.  She loves Judson, without pews and with so much space to run around and so many people to encourage her to do so, and in general, church is one of her favorite places to enjoy a few sips of breast milk. (Weaning is going great, thanks for asking.)  We pray every night before bedtime, using words I remember from my own childhood. Rachel Held Evans’s What Is God Like? is one of her favorite books.  But what really seems to have kicked her awareness of God into high gear is a little board book she got from my grandparents for Christmas, Good Night God.   We started calling the bedtime prayer “saying good night to God,” and now, when storybooks and songs conclude, we don’t have to tell her it’s time for prayers anymore.  No, now she announces it’s time for God.  Or, as she calls God, “Guy.”  “Guy!” she exclaims as we turn off the rotating night light that projects outlines of sea creatures onto the ceiling, and we say, Yes, time for Guy.  I mean, God.

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(Don’t) Take Me to Church 1/16/22: Accepted

jessica-felicio-FjvXUeYf1AA-unsplashI watched church the week before, too, but I couldn’t write about it.  Between crying at how much I missed being in a space with other people and trying to stop Junia from launching herself off the sofa, I can’t say I took many notes or thought too deeply about it.  This past week, though, I was prepared.  I had a pile of paper from my old life, handouts from classrooms I used to visit and agendas from meetings I used to attend, ready for her to scribble upon.  I moved the church viewing area to my home office, where she could sprawl out on the floor or run around the upstairs reasonably safely when not sitting on my lap and waving at the Zoom boxes on the laptop screen.  Still, even watching church from home is an effort.  But I need to make it.  There is a sea wall that being in community seems to build for me, one that is constantly under attack from the wind and waves of the tragedy, cruelty, and bullshit the world at large has to offer.  I share some thoughts and hopes with others, take some of theirs home with me, and, maybe while I’m sleeping or drawing a crayon picture of a cat or cooking another meal destined to go only half-eaten, those thoughts and hopes fill the cracks in the wall.

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A Tiny Prayer for anyone who, for any reason, needs time to figure out what comes next…

nathan-dumlao-LPRrEJU2GbQ-unsplashI attended Micah’s workshop on prayer tonight, and the hands-on part of the workshop was a chance to write our own “tiny prayers,” loosely following a structure Micah often employs in his own prayers.  I thought I’d share what I wrote there because it was really nice to finish something!

A tiny prayer for anyone who, for any reason, needs time to figure out what comes next

May you find the energy to get up just a little early or stay up just a little late;
May you find the courage to leave just one thing a little less than done or perfect;
May you trust someone to pick up what you lay down.

May you receive the gift of that time, or borrow it or steal it;
In stillness and memory, may you recollect the times when your heart’s deepest desire met the world’s deepest needs;
In community and companionship, may you be reminded of your gifts, your capacities, your powers.

And may you, after one time or one hundred times, return, nourished, energized, and committed to care;
And may you know when you don’t know,
when you need to know,
and when you don’t need to know…

…what comes next.

Amen.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash 

Take Me to Church October 2021: …Till It’s Gone

elements
Photo credits, from top left, all via Unsplash: Caroline Ryan, Siim Lukka, Daniel Hajdacki, RAWFilm.

Autumn is the earth announcing its own impending sabbath, or it ought to be: the leaves lighting up in their familiar array of crimson and gold, the light fading earlier and earlier each day, the last of the small green figs on the tree in the backyard turning a streaky purple.  Here, the earth is saying, I will not leave you without this particular beauty, but I am going to lie fallow for a time, let you enjoy the warmth and bounty of each other from your windows while I lean your half away from the sun and your southern brethren towards it. Good night and good luck, see you in the spring.

This isn’t quite true, of course.  Mycelia continue to snake beneath the soil; perennial bulbs assemble the shoots and sprouts that will reveal themselves after the thaw; animals digest the fat they store up in the fall to sustain them until the planet tilts again.  Still, at least it’s poetic, a nice story to tell over pumpkin spice lattes in our chunky sweaters, the ones that will look heavy and tired by March.

The actual state of things is a bit more complicated.  We wrapped up a four-part series, structured around the four classical elements of water, fire, air, and earth, this week at church as we listened to the Gospel of Joni Mitchell: Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone?  Do we?  One of the major lessons from the series has to be that there is no rest for the church around climate.  If life on Earth actually becomes too grueling for a critical mass of humanity, Pastor Dwight asked, how is the Christian church to respond?  The Bible, ambiguous to be sure on a great many things, is clear on this much: the Second Coming is not a reprieve.  We will not be spared the consequences of our greed, our shortsightedness, our apathy—not by the planet and not by God.

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Take Me to Church 9/5/21: All These Things That I’ve Done

1599px-The_Killers_@_Bonnaroo_2018
The Killers at Bonnaroo, 2018. Photo credit: Thornton Drury, Wikimedia Commons.

The first dress I put on this morning was missing a button. I found another dress to wear, but the missing button was a harbinger of discomfort and frustration to come: the shoes that rubbed a blister on the back of my heel, the hem of the second dress that felt a little too short, the cool breeze that stopped just short of actually refreshing in the humid late summer air. It’s Labor Day Weekend, and above all I should be resting, but I’m tormented by the thought of the pleasant barista at the coffee shop down the street from the church we started attending in our still-new-to-us town. She should be resting, too. Why was she making me a butterbeer latte on Sunday morning? Why, in my struggle to avoid shopping during the long weekend, did my post-church coffee run not count? I didn’t think of it, and thinking of it now only makes me more tired and more in mind of total depravity.

Pastor Dwight spoke on Ecclesiastes, but I can’t cite more than that because I spend the first thirty minutes of each church service wrangling Junia until the church is ready to reopen their nursery post-COVID (if we are ever post-COVID) and until we’re ready to leave her in the undoubtedly good hands of the volunteers there, and I didn’t catch the citation. (Dakota takes over when the bell chimes ten-thirty.) But Ecclesiastes has a lot to say about work: “So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot” (3:22), for example. That seems like a fine place to start.

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Take Me (Back) to Church 7/11/21: Out of the Cave

cave-and-juniaForget what J.D. Vance and the Post would have you believe: it’s still perfectly safe to picnic with your little ones in Washington Square Park.  I know, because I tested this theory with my tender thirteen-and-a-half-month old just this past Sunday, and she danced to “Johnny B. Goode” in front of the fountain and even tipped the piano player (with my money, of course, but it’s the practice that matters at this point; if you enjoy the busker, pay the man!).  I didn’t doubt it, not exactly, but the rumors do reach one even all the way out here in the sticks of Suffolk County, and I wanted to believe I’d find the park more or less the same when I got there this past Sunday.  And there they were: chalk artists, chess hustlers, dog walkers, vendors selling pins and balloons…all in their places, all right with the world.

We were there to celebrate our return to in-person worship, of a sort, after sixteen long months away.  The prerecorded service, interspersed with Mumford and Sons and Earth, Wind, and Fire videos, played on the wall below the rose window while a group of us watched and prayed, or didn’t pray, beneath.  And one of us took the opportunity to run some laps, and two more of us took the opportunity to chase her.  You will be able to figure out who.

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