Friday, January 30, 2009

I am woman hear me rant

Today was a tough day that started with an early morning subway ride across the city. By the time I got to work I was thinking of blogging a long list of rants against New York's rude subway riders. 

It's amazing how inconsiderate we can be to each other in our use of mass transportation. Blocking the doorways for one: there was a young woman on the #1 train who was blocking half the entrance to the car from 110th Street to 50th Street (where she finally exited.) That's nine stops where people had to squeeze by her to get on and off the train. Now I can understand wanting to be close to the exit when yours is the next stop. But for nine whole stops? And that's only the ones I could count. She was blocking the doorway when I got on at 110.  The MTA needs more money to run its operations—why can't they fine people for doing that? That... and holding doors, dropping your trash on the floor and blasting your headphones so loud they might as well not be headphones. I wonder how many of the ipod users of the future will have to wear hearing aids because of their blasted eardrums from their ipods? I wonder how much time that same person spends in a year untangling their ear pieces to those ipods? Inquiring minds want to know.

But the truth of the matter is you can't legislate manners. There's just so much you can make "against the law" before it gets silly. Rude people will continue to be rude because there are no consequences for their behavior. It is what it is. Get over it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

not a lot of hope...

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time... —Jonah 3:1

Our celebrant this morning mentioned that her class had studied the book of Jonah for their Bible study last year. Earlier she had been telling them about the minor prophets and the wonderful stories that you always hear in Sunday school, but never think to read the actual text. So to her dismay, they had picked the book of Jonah. Dismay, in particular, because of all the prophets, Jonah is perhaps the best example of one who just doesn't get it. While he converts an entire city, he himself is never converted. He saves them, yet despises his own life.

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she said. But she went on to lay out the theme of today's readings: the call from God... and to look at that theme from our own 21st century lens. 

What do we do about a call from God? 
Jonah was called by God, Simon, Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus, yet unlike the four, who dropped everything and followed Jesus, Jonah tried to escape. Of course he didn't escape, and he finally begrudgingly did what God asked of him.

And it worked. The people of Nineveh repented. God changed his mind about the disaster he was going to bring, and he didn't do it. So... was Jonah proud of himself? Was he happy that his words had brought about such a dramatic conversion of all those people? Not on your life.

He wanted them to be punished. He knew God would be merciful if they groveled and it smacked up against his own bias of who God was and how God should act. "Just kill me now." 

"Conversion is not just about us," our celebrant reminded us. "It's about a people ready to be transformed." 

She related her experience in Washington at the inauguration last week, where she and her children waited in the bitter cold with two million others to essentially watch TV outdoors. Her kids wanted to know why they were standing in the cold just to watch TV, and she explained that it was not what being there was about. 

It was actually about conversion, and the masses assembled there giving witness and approval (or at least acceptance) that we wanted more from ourselves, from our nation, from our lives... than getting rich, being thin and collecting more toys. She said that it feels like we have just been spit out of the belly of the whale. Now we get to decide how we will proceed. 

Will we answer the call with enthusiasm and a willingness to see what God has planned for the future? Or will we be like Jonah... whining and complaining and arguing about everything that doesn't suit our preconceived ideas of how it should work?

"There's not a lot of hope in Jonah," she had said earlier. On the other hand, I find it more than hopeful that God uses even the most cantankerous, ill-tempered and unwilling people to do his work. It means there's hope for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

moments in history

Today is a regular pantry day. My volunteers were somewhat disgruntled that I didn't cancel today because they wanted to watch the inauguration on TV. I can understand that. But this year there are only four Tuesdays in February and we have a four-week schedule of clients to serve. I think Obama would approve of feeding the hungry, even if it is his big day in history. Jesus certainly would.

Every day is actually history, when you think about it. It's just that we don't necessarily mark it or document it as such. This morning I made history when I left for my day job before Morning Prayer. That was a first. Usually I rush out the door while the communion wafer is still melting in my mouth. But my brand new assistant starts her new (paid) job today, and in January there are extra things to be done before the pantry opens. Leaving early was a new thing today, so it's history.

As I walked the seven or so blocks from the Westside to the Eastside of Manhattan, I saw the most beautiful early morning sky. The sun had risen, but not that high, so the oranges were vibrant and intense. I'm not usually outside that early. I'm basically an indoor person, especially in winter, and our convent's views are mostly to the west. I haven't seen skies like that since I lived in Long Island City seven years ago. I thought about the DVD I saw recently "Into the Wild" ... about the scene where he watches the sun and the vibrant sky and thinks "It doesn't get any better than this."

My sky this morning gave me the same feeling. Random intersecting events collide with each other to create a moment in time... historically documented or not.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

no regrets

The word of the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were not widespread. —1 Samuel 3:1

This line from today's Old Testament reading made me chuckle and think to myself: Yep, and that word is even more rare in these days. It struck me too, that though it was Eli who recognized that it was God calling Samuel, what God actually had to say ended up not being such good news for Eli. Irony abounds throughout the Bible. Throughout Life.

In his sermon, our celebrant tied all of the readings together as a central theme: the call from God. He went on to explore the struggles we have with this thing we call "belief"... how do we deal effectively with the doubts of those around us, as well as the internal doubts we may harbor in secret?

In the New Testament lesson, Nathanael's prejudice gets in the way of his believing. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Instead of being insulted, though, Jesus praises him for being so straightforward.

Our celebrant related two stories: one about Joan Chittister, OSB, the Roman Catholic nun and widely acclaimed author, lecturer and retreat leader. When asked, she said that even though she may go to her grave unsure about some things, those doubts did not diminish her devotion to Jesus.

In another story a religious scholar was asked about his belief in the afterlife... what if it really was all a lie? His answer is one that I would echo in my own experience. He said he would bet his life on it. And if it isn't true, he still wouldn't change a thing and would have no regrets.

Is there really life on the other side of the grave? Do I care? I'm pretty sure there are those who care a lot, but I don't think I'm one of them. This life is pretty awesome as it is. If belief in God and trust in Jesus serve to make my own individual experience of humanity one where I strive to be compassionate, kind, forgiving, generous... all those things I actually do strive for (and fall short of) then it's been more than worth it. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Change is coming...

Last Sunday we celebrated the baptism of Jesus. It's always a curve ball for me. I'm still contemplating the visit of the wise men and wham! it's time to baptize a thirty year old. So much about our liturgical calendar puzzles me: we begin our New Year in late November/early December, we celebrate the Holy Innocents before the wise men's visit, we put Jesus in the tomb on Friday and celebrate Easter on Sunday... hardly three days in the ground by anyone's count. And yet other things seem pretty specific: The Annunciation is nine months before the birth... that's linear. Yet some of these wonky celebrations serve as a reminder that God's time is not linear, even though my pea brain likes to think it is. 

Our celebrant on Sunday did a time-skip himself. he began by describing John the Baptist and then explored the differences between John and Jesus. John preached that change was coming. That you'd better get ready for it. Then he skipped to our time, our now... where change is still being preached and we're also told we'd better get ready.

But ready for what? Global warming? Economic meltdown? Violence? Hunger? War in the Middle East and Africa? Strife in the Anglican Communion? These issues don't seem especially new. 

People went out in droves to hear John the Baptizer. Jesus went too, for whatever reasons we like to attribute to His motives. Our celebrant suggested that Jesus identified with John's message of change and wanted to be a part of it. 

But hardly anyone was ready for the message Jesus brought. If He appeared today I doubt many would want to hear it either. God did a new thing in Jesus. New, radical, and against all understanding of fairness and common sense. We've tamed that message over the years, sanitized it, packaged it, revised it to meet our needs. 

When will we ask what God needs? What God wants from us?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Three Kings Day

The Feast of the Epiphany never happened, according to Bishop Spong in his book Jesus for the Nonreligious. He doesn't believe the slaughter of the Holy Innocents happened either, nor the miraculous birth in Bethlehem. Maybe not.

Maybe not in the linear historical sense, a sense I'm beginning to explore in my cartoons these days. But the profound truth... that strangers can recognize what the rest of us are too blind to see... that innocent children are the beneficiaries of deadly violence at the hands of power-hungry adults... that any birth, in and of itself, is the most ordinary and yet miraculous of events... these truths are contained in the stories we relate to explain the ridiculous belief that God, if such a Thing or Person exists, would choose to be mortal, even if only for a brief thirty-or-so years.

This belief, in and of itself, is probably the biggest miracle of all. What's a few wise men thrown into the mix?

Sunday, January 04, 2009


It wasn't until I read something on facebook (yes, I now have a face on facebook... long story) about someone making New Year's resolutions that it even occurred to me that I hadn't. Not only had I not made any this year, I hadn't even thought about making any. So what does that mean? 

For one thing, it means the past week, the Christmas Octave, (for those in the liturgical know) and beyond... I've done just about the bare minimum. It's been a week of rest and reading good books. Never, since I've been in community have there been so many sleep-in days actually scheduled. It's a first.

This unexpected rest time came about organically I think. Nothing was premeditated. We had our usual Christmas week schedule intact, with Lauds and Vespers as the bookends for the days of possible social and rest times, excursions into the city for movies or other events. There was an overnight period of fellowship planned with the Melrose sisters the weekend after Christmas. None of that happened. They were just getting over the flu, plus one sister had broken her foot, was in a cast, and not yet able to travel. They didn't come.

We rallied once for a movie, three of us (plus the aide) taking the two elders in a taxi convoy to the Lincoln Plaza for "Last Chance Harvey" but otherwise it was just too cold for ventures out. Our cook was away for the holidays and we grazed our way through the refrigerator finishing up the leftovers. I cooked something most nights, but otherwise I rested.

Then the modified rest evolved... into full days of rest until Vespers. I cannot tell you what a difference it made. The sheer luxury of waking up in a freezing cold room and not having to jump up out of bed was one thing, but being able to turn over and snuggle beneath the covers and dream was the best gift I've received this year. (And I received some really good gifts.)

Today we are back on schedule, and unlike my silent retreat of a few weeks ago, I'm rested and ready for the change. Perhaps one of my New Year's resolutions will be to remember just how much I need to schedule rest and relaxation before I'm at the point of burnout.