This past Sunday my partner and I attended a service at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston. We decided to attend because we had just started couples spiritual direction with Rev. Pam who is the rector there. In many ways the Episcopal Church is a funny home for us as a couple. She grew up and still identifies as part of the Roman Catholic Church while I grew up in Evangelical spaces and do not claim a specific Christian denomination as home right now. After the service, my partner told me that she noticed how for all the progressive leanings of the Episcopal Church, the service felt more Catholic than her simple Catholic service back in Münster, Germany.
All is dark and quiet as I write tonight, hurtling through the sky somewhere over Montana. I’m on the Friday evening flight to Seattle, a sleeping baby on my lap and sleeping strangers surrounding me. There is something that I love about this moment on a plane— for a few brief hours, a couple hundred people can largely rest assured that the phone won’t ring and the email inbox will remain empty. We have collective permission to push the “pause” button on our rapidly moving lives and rest. The peace is palpable.
Growth, as life, is nonlinear, adaptive, ever changing (read Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown!) Who can predict the shape a plant will take after it is sown? I think of the next door neighbors of 40P, who have a lovely crafted front yard, full of large plants and bushes (which before too long will start to bloom once again), enclosed by a fence. Along this fence grows a series of viney bushes, which as of now are barren tendrils. The gardeners have attempted to fasten the branches to the fence with a type of velcro material, perhaps with the attention to control, shape, or mold. However, the spindly limbs have grown according to their own nature, spiraling out, sometimes encroaching onto the sidewalk, sometimes bending back towards the house.
Happy New Year! Even as many people are making (and breaking) resolutions, or perhaps crawling into a hole to hibernate from the dreariness of mid-winter, at Life Together we are already looking ahead to a different kind of new year’s day: August 14, when the 2019-2020 Life Together fellows will arrive for their first day of Orientation. Even as I write, the familiar sounds of an applicant interview float across the foyer from the training room at 40 Prescott. Meanwhile, I’m working on the agenda for a meeting of our host site selection team. Applications for our second-year Emmaus fellowships open next week. Long before we ever meet next year’s new fellows, we are dreaming about what the year might hold and laying the groundwork for it.
Somehow it is already application season in the Episcopal Service Corps world for the 2019-2020 cohort, which means I have started interviewing new candidates for Life Together and talking to current fellows about doing a second year. This is my third season of LT applications, second as the reviewer, and I have been asked a lot about my experience in the program. What have I learned through Life Together? What are the best and worst parts of doing an ESC fellowship? How do things change in your second year? I readily name dirty dishes as the biggest challenge, 90% seriously. The other questions require more thought. Thankfully, Life Together loves reflection. If I had to name one skill that I honed in LT, I would say the ability to reflect with a growth mindset.
It’s that time of year again… the holidays. I say the words and images of crackling fires and cups of steaming hot chocolate, gatherings and good times with old friends magically appear (at Life Together’s Christmas party TOMORROW! RSVP here). I also see my family, sitting around a beautiful Advent wreath over dinner, the candlelight reflecting in their eyes as they soak in the anticipation of this season of waiting for the Christ Child.
My favorite song to sing is called “Nirvana,” by Sam Smith. When I sing it to the empty, vaulted chapel of St. Michael’s, I love the way the melodies bounce back to me off the high ceilings and stained glass windows. It’s spiritual. It’s a time when all of the masks that I wear fall off and a place where all of the messaging I take in - how I should act or who I should be - dissipates like the reverberation of the sound waves that burst forth from what feels like the deepest part of me, a part that isn’t anatomical.
When I was in divinity school, I observed that my friends seeking Christian ordination fell into two broad camps: the Hebrew fans and the Greek fans. Most of them had to study a biblical language in order to meet their ordination requirements, and their preferred language said a lot to me about their nature. The fans of Biblical Hebrew I knew were drawn to the multiple meanings of the text, and loved its earthy, creative play. They were comfortable with ambiguity, both in their Hebrew translation and in their lives. Those who preferred Koine (Hellenistic) Greek, on the other hand, enjoyed its linear, orderly nature, with its tidy declensions and clear meanings. Guess which one I elected to study?
As it turns out, being a teacher involves a lot more learning than teaching. Today, I learned how to calculate the Greatest Common Factor and Least Common Multiple using factor trees, and I learned that my students are easily motivated by the promise of fruit snacks. Yesterday, I trained myself in solving division problems using long division (the “standard” way that we all probably learned) and a place value chart (the new-fangled way that someone invented just to confuse math teachers) simultaneously and well enough to perform in front of a group of ten-year-olds who literally keep track of my monthly mistakes.
Last weekend, my family did a photo session with a professional photographer. And of course, as soon as the photographer posted a “sneak peek” photo of me with the kids online, I changed my profile photo on Facebook and basked in the adulation of friends and family from Boston to Budapest. Never mind that we had pulled up for the 9 am session still stuffing Kane’s Donuts into our mouths and that the baby was cranky most of the time. Never mind that it had been a long, stressful work week, that we are still working through a backlog of crusty dishes piled up on our kitchen counter. On social media I was confident and capable, with my two adorable offspring by my side.
A few months ago I started a new part time job with Our Bible app, the first LGBTQ-affirming, progressive Bible reader app for mobile devices, as their social media manager. My day-to-day routine involves designing social media posts, and reaching out to potential devotional writers, engaging with users via Twitter. But another aspect of my position that isn’t in my job description is pastoral care. Almost every day I hear from someone on Twitter or through email how they’re so excited to be able to engage with the Bible and read devotional material written by and for LGBTQ folks. Often coupled with these wonderful testimonials from other LGBTQ folks are stories of how the Bible was weaponized against them, how alienated they feel in church, or how they’re learning to trust family members again after coming out and being ostracized. I treat these stories with care, as holy things to be held. It’s something I didn’t really expect to be doing when I took the job, but I enjoy it immensely. My experiences with Life Together, both good and bad, have really prepared me to do this work.
Today, I need you try and actively resist becoming an entitled consumer of survivors’ pain. If you have even the mildest interest in not being a passive bystander, you should offer support to people especially when you do not find their requests for help to be narratively pretty. No one should have to craft their suffering for you to extend basic human concern; suspend that shunning disbelief that trims survivors to silence.
“This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.” --Fr. Ken Untener
When I worked in the stewardship office of a large Episcopal parish, this time of year was replete with themes of harvest. The church even had a beautiful stained glass window, depicting the biblical parable of the sower and the reaper, that we used in materials where we asked people to make gifts to the church. And the late summer bounty of apples, carrots, and the more eclectic kohlrabi that come in my farm share right now support that.
“Back to the strawberries? Again?” my students ask in disbelief. This is the third day this week we’ve knelt in the dormant strawberry patch, painstakingly pulling out the tall grasses and nascent weeds that have entwined themselves with the base of each plant. Our fingers are speckled with tiny, shallow cuts.
Somehow, it is already late June, and the program year has come to a close. This past Friday and Saturday, the cohort gathered for Dis-Orientation, our final program for the year. We shared our “River Stories” with one another -- a practice of reflecting on our experiences of the year, identifying five key moments, and assigning a song, poem, dialogue, description, or five evocative words to each, and then sharing these moments with one another.
“Are you in the ordination process?”
I had never been asked this question before becoming a Life Together Fellow. The first time someone asked me I responded immediately, “I can’t be. I’m Catholic.”
The idea had almost never crossed my mind. Sure, I’d read about women’s fight for ordination in a theology class in college, and I’d even heard women preach a few times. I’m a feminist, and an activist, and occasionally an optimist, but nothing has ever seemed so impossible to me as the idea of a woman being ordained in the church I was raised in.
Two years ago when I entered Life Together after graduating from Wellesley College, my body was already tense. Not because I didn’t know what to expect from the program, but because I knew all too well the mazes, pitfalls, and disappointments I would have to navigate in this, predominantly white, east coast, self proclaimed liberal space. After all, I had just spent the last four years both benefiting from, and being frustrated by a similar environment at my college.
As I write this letter, sunlight streams through my window, and I find myself wondering when I might take a break, walk my dog, and spend a few precious minutes soaking up the sun. It has been this way for the past week or so, now that spring has definitively arrived in Boston. On Friday, we held our staff meeting outside, and just yesterday, we gathered around that same table, on the porch of 40P, for our weekly staff lunch. We know these spring days, before the heat and humidity of summer arrive in full force, are not to be taken for granted.