drinking fountain lure

Several months ago now I was gifted with a shard of clarity in the form of a parable.  A child on the playground loses both her hero and her playground in her quest to play in the river.  In the parable, that came to me in the pacific Northwest as the great horned owl sang, the choice was clear and the child unwavering in her trek to the fresh water.

As summer turned to fall and now fall to winter, I find myself realizing that the parable needs a sequel.  The story, as it came to me, ends at the edge of the playground.  Facing the river, to be sure, and in motion.  But the story closes before the little girl’s feet actually leave familiar footing.  In these ensuing months, facing the river and making my way across the playground to the open banks which beckon, I realize that I am doing a wee bit (or more) of spinning at the edge of the familiar terrain.

In recent weeks I’ve had the privilege of being (officially) on vacation, so that I am neither working nor not.  This time has been invaluable for catching my breath and for coming to terms with the grief that is mine as I leave this life that I have loved. A curious pattern emerges, however.  As a moth is drawn to flame, I am drawn to grief.  Given the foci of the playground loss, I am drawn to the rusty drinking fountain while the river water rushes by unheeded.  Even as I write the words I can feel the taste of the cool rusty water of a childhood playground.  This is a half world in which I grew until I could no more, a world which seemed complete until it broke open.  It is known and familiar.  True, but incomplete.

What is it about this pattern of mine that draws to the place of sorrow?

Sitting in the promise of a warm January morning, I realize that dancing with the question itself gives more time to the sadness that would take me hostage.  There is another truth, more powerful truth, that has never left the core of my being.  At times shuttered away, not often welcome on center stage, this is the delighted heart of the child headed to the river’s edge.  She is waiting to take me there if I would but follow.

Standing at the anxious precipice between yesterday and tomorrow, I understand the salt that filled  Lot’s wife and left her as a monument to nostalgia.  I respect her.  And I honor the sacrifice which bears witness to the cost of rearview mirrors.

Today I’m holding Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Holding the hand of the effervescent child, my feet feel the softness of the earth uncovered, my ears begin to hear the sound of twigs breaking underfoot and bird songs above, my nostrils fill with the smells now of gentle decay and rebirth, a cycle of life and promise.  Soon I will see the river, but lest I get ahead of myself I will take time to simply note the presence of this one moment. And it is good.  It is so very very good.

January 10, 2013

TILT (Things I Love on Thursday): gray skies which bear witness to the alternate blue, the simplicity of a grilled cheese sandwich, the miracle of blogging and electronic connections, words and silence that alternately offer healing balm, successes that balance disappointments, and walks in the garden beside my beloved.

Christian Who’s Who – taking a pass

In a truth is stranger than fiction display, I received email notification yesterday that I’ve been selected for publication in the Christian Who’s Who.  Clearly they didn’t get the memo that I’m leaving the church after a bitter smear campaign that questioned the Christianity of my leadership.

While the email is clearly an example of spam-style marketing (yes, a hoax), the irony is almost painful.  Nothing in all of my years of ministry prepared me for the heresy charge that has dogged me for the past year.  Had the charge been officially leveled and a ‘trial’ ensued, I may have had a chance to state my case and clear my name.  Because the whole tawdry affair was in the shadows, in the parking lot, with anonymous letters, and over the phone lines, there was no direct conversation, no specific accusation, no chance to defend, explain, or deny.  In the end, it was an underground smear campaign with the growing number of people asking the same questions with identical vocabulary bearing witness to it’s effectiveness.  Ironically, because it was never direct, my attempts to name the conflict were seen as either paranoia or evidence of personal conflict.  Once such a mean spirited and covert attack is waged (perversely in the name of protecting the church!), the pastor is finished.

Still in question was only the timing of my departure and the context.  I was able to name both, at least publicly, and for this I suppose I am grateful.  Curiously, or not so, the wound was not publicly visible.  Those not swayed by the drama have no way to understand the devastation that it has caused both to me and to our community.  For those not involved, my departure has been seen as unnecessary and perhaps even unfaithful.  My dearest friends, those who did not recoil when the well was poisoned last spring, now in my announced departure have hurt in their eyes when we speak. Typing this truth this brings tears to my own. But the damage is done, whether or not it is yet evident. Having lost all heart for anything bearing the name Christian, the name used to attack and discredit my life’s work, I will relinquish my robe and retire my status as an ordained minister.

As I look at the cruel joke on my screen, offering (for a fee) to publish my name in the (presumably) immortal list of ‘real’ Christians, I wonder about the power of these labels.  Words used to label are dangerous both as they intend to include and thereby definitionally exclude.  But the email points to another truth, the way we buy our way into seats of privilege.  For a small fee, another line on a resume.  For a small concession, another day at the table.  Each fee we pay, each concession that we make, seem innocuous in the moment.  It’s only at pivotal points of transition that we realize that cumulative weight of these costs.

Today I am grateful that my truth is not dependent on a label.  My loss of Christianity as a label coincided with my deepening awareness of sacred presence.  The more clearly I understood this presence to dance beyond the walls of our words, the more I worked to help other embrace this truth and (more importantly) this presence, the more fuel was added to the war that I recognized only in the rearview mirror.  Yet I am coming to trust the placement of the mirror for this sooner knowledge could only have thwarted my awareness of the holy.

Will I relinquish my place in the annals of Christianity for a chance to dance with spirit?  Though the choice itself is a tragic commentary, the answer is remarkably clear.  Let the dance begin.

outside the circle

Like almost everyone I know I have a complicated relationship with my family of origin.  Some seasons are easier than others and sometimes blood thickens, but most often it is every bit as fluid as water.  Long before my coming out, family was complicated and at times I envied my out-lesbian friends for the ‘families of choice’ that seemed so appealing from afar.  As I moved through the gut wrenching process of naming my own truth and the messiness of a public outing and divorce, I too discovered an emerging family of choice, my church family.

To be sure my church family had been a family of choice for many years, but in the process of setting aside all that I had cherished, the precious nature of these relationships grew in powerful ways.  These were the women and men who knew and loved me through thick and thin, who loved the mirage of the straight me and dared to embrace the more authentic lesbian me.  I felt grateful that my church family had bucked expectations and stood beside me each step of the way.  Moved by my personal experience of embrace, my preaching and outreach had renewed passion.  All women and men need and deserve the kind of family that I experienced with my church family.

All of this is true, except that it is only a partial truth.

The harder part is that as a pastor I am not one among many but literally the hired help.  While the love and relationships are real and authentic, the relationship is also a professional and contractual one.  One immutable part of the contract is that if/when I cease to be the hired professional, I must immediately and absolutely relinquish all engagement with the community.  In other words, given the embrace of my church community as family, leaving the employment means losing my family.

On days that my frustration with the community is great, I take this bitter pill without even much of a chaser.  But I confess that on most days, I have trouble getting this one down.

As I sit with the grief of losing not only my employment and my social life but also deep friendships with people that I love, I find myself eye to eye with a fatal institutional flaw. The pastor who labors at the center of the community building is definitionally not a member of the community.  The health and growth of the community depends upon the pastor appearing to be at one with the community but in actuality the pastor must always remaining apart.

Clergy are advised, of course, to find friends (and families of choice) outside their local congregations, with colleagues or other community circles.  Good advice, to be sure, but difficult to juggle with a profession that taps one’s social energy in the effort of community building.  Except for the most extroverted of souls, there is scant social energy to be had outside of the demands of local church. As I’ve listened to colleagues, I don’t gather that I am any more or less attached to my church community than the average clergy person.  Given the length of my years in this one place (more than 15) and the tremendous life changes I’d weathered in the context, the bonds may be particularly strong but such is the nature of the occupation.

The pain of this departure for me is in part my hubris in believing that I was the exception.  I am not.

Facing this shadow of the clergy profession, I am loath to join another church even as a not-clergy person.  Although as a not-clergy person, I could (finally) have family of choice that is not employment dependent, my membership would be supporting an institution that asks for the hearts of its professional leaders while not accepting them as equal members at the table.  Recently I considered attending a local church whose mission I appreciate and for whose pastor I have deep respect.  But as I considered visiting this church, I realized that were the pastor to become family for me, when she retires I would lose yet another family member.  And worse, I would be asking her to stand alongside my family but by definition I can never do the same for her.  Our relative roles keep us apart.

As I grieve the loss of my church family, it is my heartfelt wish that they will continue to find new and vibrant life together.  But I am keenly aware that as they gather to sing, I move in a different direction.  Painful though this parting is proving to be, I am grateful, oh so very grateful, that one dear (former) member of this church is now my wife.  Together we begin our new family of choice.

reduce, reuse, recycle

Church real estate was once a relatively booming market.  In our suburban location we would routinely receive correspondence from a realtor who called herself the “church lady”, a realtor whose business it was to help us sell our ‘small’ building and upgrade to a larger one.  As I survey the landscape with churches closing all around us, I realize that the church lady no longer comes calling.

The pieces of church buildings that can be repurposed have been salvaged, with stained glass windows still being the prized possession.  The beautiful wooden pews, however, have found little market.  The market is so glutted in our area that pews can’t even be given away. After several years of trying alternately to store or sell a dozen or so from our church, I was heartbroken to see the old wooden benches cut into pieces in placed in the dumpster. It was a tragic omen of a quickly changing world.

Choosing what to keep, repurpose or simply to lose as one transitions to a new way of life is an important and perhaps ongoing process.  As I transition out of church life and leadership, I have only just begun this process.  Books, robes, the trappings of professional ministry sit in piles around me. While I will likely keep a relic or two, I have little use or desire for the vast majority of artifacts that fill my clergy office. As I was announcing my departure last fall, a colleague asked for one of my stoles.  In the moment I was taken aback, but I realize that such an audience might be a gift as I begin the divestment lest I fill yet another dumpster with unwanted mementos.

At the same time, I find myself somewhat surprised by what appears in the keep pile.  Last night I feel asleep musing about how to repurpose one piece and awoke with the same puzzle in my mind. This is an artifact that for me initially appeared contrived but over time has become life-giving.  This linguistic artifact is the gift of the liturgical calendar.

Having grown up in evangelical Sunday Schools and an unchurched family, I grew up with no introduction to the cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  I knew nothing of Lent and Easter or of the great season of Pentecost.  As a young adult I was introduced to words like Maundy Thursday and Ascension Sunday and found them to be at best a beautiful Medieval relic and at worst an archaic albatross.  But as the seasons come and go over time and space, marked by a pattern of stories and colors and changes in the earth itself, I have found increasing meaning and purpose in this ritual.  Even as I step away from the institution, I wonder about the possibilities for sharing this rubric with an increasingly unchurched world.

To be sure the liturgical calendar is contrived.  There is no reason to believe that the historical Jesus was born within days of the winter solstice, this was an intentional pairing of the Christian story with a more ancient tradition which together bear witness to the particular darkness of the earth in the Northern Hemisphere’s deep winter.  Because the institution of Christianity came of age in this particular place in the earth’s orbit, our celebration of new life similarly coincides with more ancient traditions (Eostre) and too the rebirthing of the earth.  These connections speak to the historical realities and it is life-giving to see these holidays interpreted by friends in Australia and New Zealand who interpret Easter in the earth’s autumn and Christmas at the summer solstice.  Yet as I read these interpretations from another vantage, the value of the cyclical calendar simply expands and I feel a passion that is familiar.

The liturgical calendar in concert with the seasons of the earth have fostered for me a deeper understanding of the earth and my place within it.  I know that the sacred moves through the calendar but is not contained in it and should the calendar disapparate like the church lady, the sacred will continue to find new paths for communication.  Yet I feel some tug to use this tool, the liturgical calendar, at least one more time, perhaps as a rubric for a day reader, to allow this unsung relic one more chance to share rhythm.

And so it is that I see one possible role for this former-minister-to-be, reclamation.  Accepting the arduous task of repurposing the relics, I have an ever-deepening appreciation for the Quaker intention of simplicity.  Lest we become weighed down in our efforts to salvage the refuse, reducing our reliance on religious paraphernalia might be the path of wisdom.

liturgicalcalendar

Monday’s missing label

On a crisp Monday morning in early January, I have the luxury of sitting at my keyboard in pajamas.  The holidays are officially over and I did not trudge back to work with the rest of America.  Ostensibly I am on vacation, but this feels decidedly different than any vacation I’ve previously enjoyed.  This is a precipice vacation, a place to breath before here and there.  This is the grace-filled offering of church leaders who recognized that their pastor simply needed a break, a month of vacation before the final swan song in ministry.  And I am grateful.

But as I sit at the keyboard considering the landscape, I realize that how I label this place makes all of the difference.  Vacation implies rest and though I am engaging (thankfully) in that pursuit, I am also simultaneously soul-searching and job searching.  What do I want to be when I grow up?  What do I want to do with this one wild and precious life that is mine?  This retirement’s intent was to close one chapter with intention in order that another might blossom.  But what?

Truthfully, I would like to do just this: consider life and describe it with words at my keyboard.  I would like to consider the profundities, the absurdities, the sacred intersections and invite others to do the same.  I am essentially a ponderer at heart, with a vantage point that is uniquely my own and (perhaps equally importantly) a humble recognition that we each have such a window.  I would like to describe mine in such a way that you look more closely through your own. Of course such an endeavor is not a profession but rather the pastime of an elite subsection of our culture, those privileged with time, a keyboard, and a passion to write. So in addition to pondering I have been engaged in various flirtations with potential employment opportunities.

With the singular exception of a very bad form job offer last Wednesday, I have had a woefully underwhelming experience in the job market.  When I received the courtesy of a rejection letter today, tears burst to the surface.  The position was temporary and not likely to lead to a longterm position, but I had assumed that I would be a likely match and the pre-interview rejection was disappointing.  It is a tight market, to be sure, and I am an over-under qualified applicant for almost any position.  The profession upon which I’ve spent my passion and talent is quickly unraveling and has little to no value in the wider community; in fact I’ve been advised to remove any reference to a church related profession in my resume and from interviews.  And there is the harsh reality that I am “that” age; old enough to again have raging hormones and too young to retire.  All of which is to say, I am all too keenly aware that I’ve walked out of safe zone and into the unknown.

Admittedly I am perplexed and even a tad affronted that my (very respectable) career in the church is actually an albatross as I venture forth.  To be fair, by the time that women were accepted in ministry and I was entering the profession, the institutional church was already moving from the mainstream to the margins.  In these few short decades since, the movement has become something of a landslide cruising past the margins to a place unmentionable. As the institution crumbles from the inside out, with denominations like my own seeing membership halved even as the decline quickens, the Master’s degree that I hold from an accredited seminary is at best a curiosity.  My years of successful work in the church likewise apparently untranslatable.  Whatever this new chapter holds, it cannot be built upon the last one and this is a most painful truth.

Inasmuch as this is a vacation Monday, I might treat myself to a hot bath and a good book.  But insofar as this is also the first day of the rest of my life, I am aware that as the solid rock of the church dissolves so too do my credentials as a clergyperson.  Having chosen to step aside from the institution, it is clear that I can take nothing with me.  It is as if I were re-entering the job market after 27 years in purgatory.

This much I do know, the place in which I find myself today is neither purgatory nor limbo.  This is a quiet place in which the spirit is speaking and I am seeking to listen. This is a place where the sky is brilliantly blue and the passion that is the coming of spring is at work deep within the earth.  Admittedly what lies ahead has not come into view and what beckons in the rearview mirror is a taunting mirage.

Today must be lived on its own terms, which apparently includes a few tears, a couple of applications, a blog post or two, and (pleasantly) the season opener of Downton Abbey.  Today, on its own terms, is gratitude for choice and acknowledgement of the anxiety that accompanies uncertainty.  Today, on its own terms is one day.  And this one day?  It is very good.

quiet morning

The holiday flurry has abated and the house is momentarily quiet.  Two college age youth are still underfoot, but my dear one is back at work.  I’m enjoying a lazy morning amidst the  remanents of the holiday, plotting my tasks for the day and enjoying a space of leisure.  In this place of grace it is tempting to reach for a more permanent state of retirement.

My intention in announcing my retiremement from ministry was to make space for the next growth place to emerge.  Presumably this would be teaching mathmatics, a former career for which their is purported demand.  While enjoying the zen of working problems this fall, I confess that many fields beckon while I perch in this place in between.  Were it not for the effort of marketing oneself, I think that I would choose to sit at my desk by day and ponder at the keyboard.  Writing platitudes with and without audiences, making images with words and seeing them come alive on the screen is bliss.  Of the many past times I enjoy, this is the one most persistent.  But were it an obligation?  I do not honestly know.

Today I am aware that I am still on the clock at the church where I have served for the past sixteen years.  I am on the front side of 3+ week vacation.  When I remember that this is a vacation and that in 2+ weeks I am scheduled to return to the church, I feel anxious.  The weeks following my retirement announcement were excruciating for me and the absolute inverse of what I had expected and needed.  While I am exceedingly grateful to the elected leaders for their remarkable gracefulness and genuine friendship, the situation has stretched my last nerve so tightly that the slightest bump becomes a searing jolt.  Pondering this truth brings it into clarity but not relief.  The anxiety waits just on the other side of this peaceful morning.

My temptation, of course, is to make sweeping decisions to avoid the anxiety.  Yet the peace that I seek lies beyond the quick fixes that appear so tantalizing.  Beyond the fight and flight impulses, the reckless proclamations and the uncritical cling, only here will I find the path in which the light dances in patterns that my feet can follow.  Tempted to build a tent in this place of solitude on an early January morning, I am timidly aware that the solitude in this particular place belongs only to this particular moment in time.  The continued grace of this moment lies not in capture but conversely and perhaps ironically in openness.

The sun is clear this morning and too the path.  For this one day I take a step in faith breathing deeply of all that is good and exhaling all that cannot be understood or controlled.  Breathing in deeply the truth of this moment of grace, breathing out the doubt and clutter.  Breathing in the hopefulness of this moment, and trusting in it’s goodness.

hangman

Childish, politically incorrect, and perhaps even macabre but when I downloaded the “hangman” app on my ipad I was immediately hooked. The game is simply the electronic version of the one we played as children; a series of blanks at the bottom of the page with space to draw the gallows and the soon to be deceased as I scramble to fill the blanks with letters.  As I played last night, I was struck that the real challenge is not the seen but the unseen, not the spoken but the unspoken.  This is a game of too few clues, of words out of context.  Yet there are worthy strategies to employ (ie: leading with vowels) and the undeniable truth that even here practice makes progress.

On this cold winter morning sparkling with both sunshine and openness, I am struck by the  simultaneous intimidation and promise of the blanks.  On Monday I signed up for an evening class, on Wednesday I had my first job offer which was in direct conflict.  As the blanks fill, the field of choices narrows.  With so much uncertainty, however, I fear that I will grasp anything that tethers (even unsafely) to the ground.  In very real ways, I feel the tyranny of choice.

The job declined was one that I likely would have enjoyed immensely, but the offering was a very negative experience and I was grateful for the graceful out.  The position was parttime but professionally engaging and the interview had actually been very enjoyable.  The challenge was that the perimeters of the position were unclear and it appeared to require a fulltime commitment (five days a week) for a very parttime salary (less than 2 hours each day). Still I appreciated the people with whom I’d interviewed and the project presented, so I was disappointed when a week and then two went by without feedback.  Now more than a month in the rearview mirror, a few of the hangman tiles are filled in and the position no longer fits.

Curiously the call with an offer never did come.  Instead I received a series of unceremonious calls yesterday; the first requesting information for a background check, the second requesting additional reference information, and a third asking for my presence at 3:30pm the following afternoon “to sign your contract”.  Admittedly I’ve never heard of skipping the offer and scheduling the contract, but the next (fourth) phone call was even more bizarre.  As I was asking clarifying questions, internally working the schedule puzzle in my mind, the project director became exasperated (his word, not mine) and chastised me for not “taking notes” during the interview where “all these things were asked and answered”.  Regardless the relative merit of his perspective, being scolded during a job offer cannot be good omen. In an act of fate (or divine intervention if such exists), my cell phone dropped the call as I was attempting a graceful close.  (You can’t make this up.)  I sent a polite email declining the position and naming the conflict with a class.

This morning I found myself looking at careers totally unrelated, wondering about a whole new genre of possible consonant combinations.  To be sure, the uncertainty is unsettling and it is tempting to speed through the process and fill the slots.  And though I don’t presume there is a single correct word in wait, I am beginning to respect the rhythm.  For today, I will enjoy the space to write, drink another cup of coffee, and be grateful that my dance card was filled at just the right moment.

gentle images, profound truth

The image is familiar, a sensation really, of cowering at the approach of antagonists.  The faces are not constant, but the sensation has become consistent.  As I settle into a meditative place at my first Quaker Meeting, I admit to being annoyed by the return of the familiar scene.  Yet feeling quieted by the space in which I find myself, I allow the image to unfold as it would.  Now in a place of relative emotional safety, I find myself almost magically erecting a circle of trees around myself, at a generous distance, that keeps unwanted intruders at bay.  Visually I have created a giant hoolah hoop around me and it feels truly utterly absolutely safe.

Except that as I sit with the image of safety, I realize that I am alone in my circle.

Keeping people at bay is one antidote for the drama of interpersonal dynamics, but one that precludes connection.  While preferable to doing combat, I realize that though this image of a foliage barrier is compelling, ultimately it cannot deliver healthy relationships.

Comforted by the safety of the image in the quiet of the Sunday Meeting space, another image began to form in my mind’s eye.  This image was one of a more athletic me with a kind of permeable armor, dancing lithely through the field.  Truth be told, athletic and I do not fit in the same sentence, let alone the added images of lithe dance and flexible armor.  All the more I am struck by the gift of the scene coming from a place not my own.  I find myself wondering if it is possible to develop a lightness of step and protection of self such as to allow safe movement in a world of chaos.  Clearly the recent months in the church that I’ve called home have shown that such interpersonal strength is not something I yet possess, but inasmuch as the two images suggest a choice between isolation and healthy inclusion I am compelled to consider the invitation of a new image.

Later in the day in the midst of questions from friends about next steps, I found myself tongue tied and unsure, seeking the calm promise of the protected perimeter.  But I remember the sense of empowerment felt in the brief dance amongst the throng.  It was a dance of delight and one that I would like to learn.

In the quiet of my sleeping world last night, I was visited by the shy child.  She was being interviewed in a setting of honor and publicly confessing, to the surprise of the crowd, her severe shyness.  The gathered room was respectful of her disclosure and in naming it so publicly she felt the power of shame begin to dissipate.  As I now sip coffee with the remembrance of her embrace, I am aware that I long to feel the coalescing of the appreciation and honest vulnerability, to be simultaneously known and loved.

The perimeter of the trees has an appeal but will never provide this encounter.  To experience the full human interaction for which I was created, I must be willing to touch and be touched. Such interaction inevitable means to bleed and heal, to wear scars alongside the bud, to spend time on the ground in sorrow and to rise with new life and dance.  The lithe dancer is one who practices and bears bruises, the one with permeable armor is one with scars.

This has been a year of losses and my heart is heavy as I bear witness to it’s close.  The snow gently falls and so too the tears.  But underneath the snow, Bette Midler promised a rose.  And I choose to believe.

sunday morning

This is the first Sunday morning after the hubbub of Christmas and I am beginning an extended vacation as my ministry winds to a close.  The hope is that at the end of this month, I will return to active ministry for three months of closure.  Although I deeply appreciate the grace that this month represents, I am keenly aware that the thought of returning to active duty in the church makes my insides lurch.  As I sit in my bathrobe sipping coffee on a Sunday morning, I have zero desire to approach a pulpit.

Quite unexpectedly I found myself back in my professional role this past week when my beloved’s step-grandmother died.  In a scenario that is becoming culturally normative, this loving and unchurched woman was surrounded by a thick web of family that had no religious connections and no clergy.  When the funeral director offered to provide a rent-a-minister, they remembered “isn’t that woman that Paul’s daughter married a minister?”  Both because I didn’t know the woman personally and because the family’s expectations about religious jargon were limited, it was an easy funeral to lead.  I didn’t feel compelled to used dated metaphors that chafe or descriptors that felt disingenuine but I was nonetheless aware of the weight as I pulled the pieces together.

I debated about wearing a clergy robe for the service.  I have a bunch of them, mostly unworn these days as I have gradually let go of the religious trappings of my profession.  Approaching this funeral, I wondered though if the garb would carry a helpful authority.  In the end, I opted for what has become my norm – nondescript black street clothes to draw attention away from self, making room for the spirit, focusing on presence and breath.  As the stories emerged, the only religious tradition known to this woman and her family was a Baptist one and I was grateful that I’d opted out of my robe.  Although her children spoke favorably about their mother’s childhood in the Baptist church, and she herself had asked that “The Old Rugged Cross” be played at her funeral, they quietly told the story of her leave-taking from the church.  Grandma was a young mother with six children (two in diapers) when her husband left her the first time.  Tragically, in a fit of orthodoxy, her church family advised her that “given the situation”, she and the kids should perhaps stay away.  Hearing the story, I was all the more determined to offer a compassionate funeral for Grandma as I exit the institution.

We need rituals to mark our entrances and exits and perhaps even just as importantly our transitions.  But to what extent do these rituals need to be the domain or expressions of religious institutions?  Is it helpful for these rituals to use metaphors and language that is otherwise inconsistent with life experiences?  In an increasingly non-religious culture, can we create traditions that do not rely on disconnected professionals to stand before us in times of transition?

Looking in the rearview mirror is familiar and important, but I find myself increasingly curious about what lies ahead.  If not church, then what?  This is of course a professional and employment question, but it is so much more.  My social and spiritual life has grown out of the context of religious community, and I am curious about where and how I will grow without church.

On this first Sunday in this space in between, we are going to Quaker meeting.  On the one hand I am aware and cautious that this too is religious community.  I may be trading one religious tradition for another if I transition into the Society of Friends.  On the other hand, Quakers are religiously unreligious.  (I often think that Quakers are to religion what Unitarians are to Christianity.)  Although I grew up with the fundamentalist wing of the Quakers (Evangelical Friends), I have always admired the “regular” Quakers from afar.  The service and witness of the Quakers is remarkable and I was particularly moved when our local embodiment of resistance to the endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan emerged from the community of the St. Louis Society of Friends. Quakers demonstrate a commitment to egalitarian community, service, and simple living.  Famous Quakers include not only President Nixon (ugh) but also Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer.  Particularly significant to me is that Quakers (the “regular” kind anyway) order themselves without benefit of clergy.

This morning, as I drink my coffee and look forward to my first Meeting, I realize that I am nervous.  The last time I visited a church as a potential church home (not as a candidate) was 29 years ago.  In each place I’ve lived, I’ve been aware of the Quaker community but also aware that (as an ordained minister, making a living on the words of worship) the Quaker practice was out of reach.  In order to embrace the simple spiritual practice, I would have to let go the professional comforts.  Often I would lament, “were it not for job security, I would be a Quaker.” Whether or not this local Quaker community is the community with which my partner and I will nest is yet unknown, but what is clear to me as I sit with my coffee at the keyboard is that this morning jaunt is deeply significant.  Like the shards of memories that emerged in my naming of my orientation as a woman-loving woman, I move through this morning aware that my path is offering colorful jagged edged pieces.  This too is a calling nested deep within.

As I lie on the river bottom allowing the trappings of my life as a minister to wash over and away from me, I am aware that my spirit grows stronger.