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Good Shepherd Athens
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Intersections: Where the Holy Meets Us
Intersections: Where the Holy Meets Us

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Civil Obedience

"I am commanded to summon you ...” - - My summons for jury duty did not begin politely or kindly or invitingly; it began with two words that are heavily formal: commanded and summon. These are words that leave no room for anything but obedience and compliance on my part and that of the sheriff, who issued the summons. Together we are commanded and summoned to an act of civil obedience: the sheriff to summon me and me to answer the summons to serve on jury duty.

This summons carries with it several inconveniences for me. The way this jury duty works here in Athens is I am "on call" during the month (yes, the whole month), and simply go about my life BUT I could be called to serve at any time during the day. I am not just waiting for my phone to ring, I also have to explain why I have to check my phone when it rings, I also have to explain I might not be able to make events or meetings, and I have to stay in town. This means I can't participate in meetings, groups and events outside of Athens. And that is disappointing. It interferes with my life the way I want to live it, including serving God and the Church. And since the concept of civil disobedience seems fashionable right now, I am tempted to be disobedient, to fight this inconvenient summons. But as justified as I might feel, my inconvenience is not a good enough reason to refuse to participate in the community to which I live and serve and pray.

In his inauguration speech in 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, "Finally, whether you are citizens of America, or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you." As I stewed over my summons for jury duty, I remembered this speech and its tone of citizen involvement and these words put my inconvenience in perspective. It also made me realize that if I have high expectations of the government, whether local, state, or national, then I have not an obligation, but a role to play in the day to day activities of government, so that the government can accomplish that which I hope & expect it to accomplish. Even as a priest, my role as a citizen goes beyond casting a vote on election days and obeying laws. Being a citizen means I am part of something larger than myself, just like I am part of my own family and I am part of the church.

While I might have had other plans for the month of February, the local government called me to a month of waiting to serve; sort of like the season of Advent when we are reminded of our constant waiting for Christ to return and how our waiting is not in vain, for there are glimpses of Christ, if we are paying attention and notice. So I will give up a trip, I will give up a meeting, I will warn all the people I have appointments with, and I will wait. Perhaps I won't get the phone call, perhaps I will, perhaps the phone call to appear at the court house isn't even the point. Perhaps the point is I am a citizen, and I have something to contribute, and I am willing to share what I have been given should it be required of me. Who knows what this waiting will bring? I've already had conversations with fellow potential jurors who are waiting too. Perhaps there might even be an opportunity to encounter the Holy in this waiting. Perhaps there is a gift in obedience that opens the way for the Holy to enter the places we are called to, even the places we might not want to be called to. Guess I'll keep waiting and see.

Many Blessings, Mother Deborah




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God in Brokenness

A week or so ago I had a day when I was given broken things.

At Diocesan Convention, a friend working a Free Trade exhibit gave me a broken water buffalo carved out of (I'm guessing) soapstone. I noticed the little figure half buried beneath some attractive hats and I asked her why it was hidden before I noticed its horn and ear were broken off. Still, it had lovely colors in its stone body and a charming face and I said so out loud. She surprised me by giving the little figure to me and explained that all the items she sells come from Africa, each is one of a kind, they can't be sent back, there are no refunds so broken items present her with an opportunity to find homes for those willing to see beyond the brokenness.

I took the water buffalo figure to the table I shared with other clergy and the lay delegates at Convention and told them about how I had been given the gift. Everyone admired the figure, a few commented on what was broken, or what it was made of, and one person said, "Like all of us."

When I got home from convention I found a package waiting for me with no return address that made a sound like broken glass when moved. Inside I found books and a container of beach glass from a friend who understands those are two things I enjoy. I scour bookstore shelves the same way I scour favorite beaches for treasures. My favorite beach is on the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior, where I have found many pieces of broken and beautifully worn glass. Having beach glass from my friends' favorite beach means a lot to me, and I put the pieces in a bowl so I could be reminded of their beautiful thoughtfulness.

That same day it occurred to me I had received quite a lot of broken things and wondered about that. Especially because I felt honored to receive them, when the usual response to broken things is disappointment. Usually broken things are thrown away, or maybe recycled or reused. I hardly ever hear of anyone seeing beauty in the broken,

The day after I had received these broken things was Sunday. As I was celebrating Holy Eucharist, saying familiar words I've been saying for 9 years and hearing for far more years, the image of the broken water buffalo figure popped into my mind's eye as I said: "For in the night in which he (Jesus) was betrayed, he took bread; and when he had given thanks he brake it, and gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you."

And in that moment I understood brokenness in a Sacramental way. A loaf of bread can be a thing of beauty, but it cannot be shared and eaten without being broken. That we call this Bread that is broken by Christ the Body of Christ means something. Perhaps brokenness is where God is Present.

I used to work with an Episcopal ministry called Living Compass that focuses on wholeness and wellness. What I admire about Living Compass is how it teaches that wholeness is God's intention for us and gift to us. At the same time it is not the same thing as perfection or flawlessness. Wholeness is something that does not exclude brokenness and instead is a process that includes paying attention, responding and healing. It recognizes that through healing wholeness is realized but the person never goes back to being exactly how they were before they were hurt or broken.

My spiritual director explained it by telling me about a Japanese custom of fixing broken pottery with gold as a way to call attention to the beauty of brokenness, how the pottery is made more beautiful by being broken.

It seems to me that while the usual reaction to brokenness is to dispose of whatever is broken, there is another way to respond. A way that challenges the notion of broken as "worthless". Perhaps being hurt or broken does not demean or diminish the person or thing that is broken, perhaps being broken opens up possibility for God to enter, to help heal, and strengthen. Every time we receive Holy Eucharist we are receiving and sharing the Body of Christ, both broken and whole, as both a reminder we are part of Christ's Body (another name for the Church) that is broken and whole and we receive the Sacrament that strengthens and renews.

On Thanksgiving there will be a lot of bread breaking going on as families and friends and even strangers will gather together to share a meal. While not a sacrament in itself, perhaps the meals we share can be reminders of the ways broken things can sometimes bring us together, especially when the item broken can be shared and made holy when God enters in.

This Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for brokenness.

Many Blessings,
Mother Deborah

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11/23/16
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"Love your enemies." - Jesus

I don't often listen to country music, but when I do I find songs that stick with me. More than several years ago there was a song called "In the Middle" by the country group Diamond Rio that played on local radio stations and I found myself turning the volume up a little louder when it came on. It's the chorus that gets me singing along:

I'd start walking your way
You'd start walking mine
We'd meet in the middle
'neath that old Georgia pine.

We'd gain a lot of ground
'Cause we'd both give a little
There ain't no road too long
When we meet in the middle.

I know it is a song about a married couple and how they live out their relationship. One line in the song says, "Babe, I love how we work things out, that's what love's about." But for me the song echoes a deeper truth that what works for this couple would work for lots of other situations. Love, Jesus painfully and clearly states is how we are to relate to our enemies as well as people we like. But loving is hard enough, and loving the people who hate us sounds impossible. And honestly, I don't always want to do it. But as a follower of Jesus, I want what he wants more.

The election of 2016 was disheartening for many people. It was for me too. For my own reasons. Reasons I am afraid to write for fear I'll be chastised, put down, or accused of trying to make an institution or someone else look bad. The reason I feel disheartened is that for me this election embodied the bias against women that I encounter in my daily life. It's painful to name, but it is true. As a woman I can answer God's call and be ordained a priest and serve God BUT changing the rules about who can be ordained does not mean everyone will accept me. As Gandhi (I believe it was) said, "You can change the rules but you can't change people's hearts." I've experienced this, people being slower to change than the rules. This is always discouraging, frustrating, disheartening, upsetting, AND I've learned it also gives me opportunity. I've learned to do that walk Diamond Rio sings about and talk with and listen to the people who have found it hard to accept me. When I give a little, I learned it was never personal. And when the other person was willing to listen to me, things did change. Not for "them". Not for me. Things changed for us.

"Love your enemies," Jesus said. And we might respond with "Are you crazy?!", or "How?" I believe what Jesus was talking about is in the wisdom of the song, "In the Middle". There are those who say the road to equality is long, and they are right but so is the song's wisdom that reminds no road is too long "when we meet in the middle". There needs to be movement on both sides, which means we need to learn to see each other as people, not dehumanized enemies. In the years leading up to the election I believe we have seen amazing social changes. However, not only have these changes not been celebrated by everyone, the acceptance of the change itself has made people feel disenfranchised or unheard. I believe it is not the changes themselves that are the problem. The problem is how both sides adopted a stance of bring "right" without regard for the other side. It seemed no one was willing to give, even a little, and that is a sin that has caught up with us. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem "standing my ground", and there are occasions when I have had to do so, but standing my ground was never about getting my way as much as it was an attempt to express an unheard thought. When it comes to making the changes that need to be made, changes that can bring us all closer to God's Kingdom, we can't be stubbornly digging in our heals. I believe this is what is causing divides over race, gender, religion, age, and all the other issues we struggle with as a county. If we could remember how good it feels to open up and give a little and receive a little, then we could start walking toward each other instead of pushing each other away. I'm not talking about taking abuse or staying in toxic, hurtful situations because those are situations where one person isn't willing to walk, or give. I'm talking about changing how we view each other as someone to go toward and work with instead of "other" or "enemy".

Maybe the real trick with Jesus' command to love our enemies is realizing most of the people we might consider enemies really aren't. They are just people like you and me. People we can walk towards and perhaps when we meet in the middle that is where the Love of God can be found.

My conviction as I live into the days after the election is to take Jesus' command to love my enemy more seriously and start walking (listening to, engaging in conversation with people I know who disagree with me) and look for folks walking towards me. I'm not going to avoid any road, no matter how long. I'll let you know what I find when we meet in the middle.



Where I Saw God in "Sweetest Day"

Although this year marks the 100th Anniversary of a holiday called "Sweetest Day", I hadn't heard of it until five years ago when my (then) fiancé surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. He gave me a kiss with the flowers and eagerly wished me a "Happy Sweetest Day!". I had just returned from Diocesan Convention, which meant my mind was on other things, so his gift and greeting caught me off guard. I searched my mind but could not figure out what he was talking about. I was surprised to learn Sweetest Day was a real holiday. It was on the calendar and everything.

I can be a bit skeptical of things romantic or cheesy, and Sweetest Day felt my skepticism fully. I declared it a made up holiday intended by either greeting card or candy or floral companies to generate income. Fact checking my declaration only added to my conviction, as I read Sweetest Day was originally an idea put forth by candy companies. You can look it up for yourself. Yet despite my refusal to acknowledge the holiday, my husband has continued to observe it annually with more enthusiasm than he has for any other holiday, even "legitimate" ones like Christmas, Easter, and birthdays.

As we've grown together as a married couple, I've watched him not just struggle with other holidays, but slog through them with gritted teeth. It's not like he's a grinch type person; other days of the year find him warm, generous, kind, open to learning new things, funny and thoughtful. For some reason most holidays make him crabby, angry, sad, withdrawn, and resentful. Most holidays except the one created by some candy makers in Cleveland, Ohio called Sweetest Day.

On the other hand, I'm the person who loves Christmas and Easter for spiritual and personal reasons. I am fortunate to have a family who can come together and celebrate no matter what else we are going through. Birthdays and anniversaries are equally enjoyable, and I try to make St. Patrick's Day and Valentine's Day special in little ways.

Holidays have come to represent what is different about my husband and me: I love them and he hates them. All but one, and that is the one I don't acknowledge.

But there is more to life than our personal preferences, and there is opportunity in such differences to learn and grow and be the person God is calling me to be in my marriage. I asked my husband to tell me why he felt the way he did about holidays. He told me about what holidays were like in his family, how they were competitions for who could spend the most money on the most elaborate gifts, or the terrible fight that signaled the death of his previous marriage, of unspoken unattainable family expectations that left him feeling shame year after year. I listened to the memories. And I learned. And my heart opened with compassion as I realized for my husband, and many others like him, holidays are not opportunities to celebrate, honor significant religious beliefs, or be with the ones you love. For my husband holidays are burdened with reminders of the losses he is living with. Those burdens hinder his ability to enter into the intention of holidays, although he does try. The burdens add a layer of work onto holidays for him that I do not have.

With the exception of Sweetest Day. Being a relatively unpopular holiday, for my husband it is free from those negative associations all other holidays have for him. It is a day he can simply celebrate the love we have for each other, the sweet parts of life, and express his gratitude and joy for the new love and new life he has found. It's not like he is avoiding dealing with loss, it is a day for the new life. This is part of healing and growth.

That is where I felt God calling me into Sweetest Day. It reminds me of Paul writing about through Christ all things are made new, and how a new holiday can make way for honest celebration and honest expression of joy and love without fear of unmet expectations. Sometimes I see the holidays themselves get in the way of their purpose. I'm not sure many people feel closer to the Mystery of the Incarnation after the Christmas Season is over, or in awe of the Mystery of the Resurrection after Easter. Sometimes it seems so much is put on those holidays they feel more like work than celebration or opportunity.

Thank God for a simple little holiday that for 100 years has quietly kept showing up attempting to remind us
that all holidays are what we make them, and any day can be a day to thank God for the sweet things in life. This year, I'm answering God's call to love and celebrate.


Intersections: Where the Holy Meets Us

I believe intersections are a coming together: whether it is more than one road, branch, idea, conversation, place, or life. There are powerfully unique encounters that have the potential to leave us changed or at least influenced. As an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church I also believe that sometimes the holy can and does enter into our lives, and wherever and however these intersections happen, and such encounters are sacred. I believe these holy encounters can and do happen in churches, in homes, when hiking, in a kayak, a school or work, while watching a movie – anywhere -- because there is no place that is off limits to God.

The purpose of this blog is to pay attention to these holy intersections, slow down and spend some time exploring and lingering in those places where God intersects with our lives and the ordinary transforms to give us a glimpse of the holy.

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