17 Aug 2019

The Problem of Free

          Our parish hosts a 'Random Acts of Kindness' (RAK) group. Once a month, we gather together and undertake a project that will benefit the community. We get folks of all ages and affiliations coming out (we're not just Anglicans); and each project is completed in an hour. It's fun, it's free, it's mission!
            This month, however, we hit a snag... our project was to hold a lemonade stand. Free lemonade! No cost, no expectation, just yummy sweetness on an evening when the whole town was engaged in a large-scale music festival.
            The problem: it was free.
            A lot of passers-by didn't believe it was free; and even when we told them there was no cost, they anticipated us to suddenly pop out a donations basket. We live in a society that firmly believes that nothing comes for free.
            But... it was free. We weren't accepting donations. We were just handing out lemonade, to make peoples' day a bit better.
You've been RAK'd!
Random Acts of Kindness
            For those who did stop by, we received a LOT of compliments and thanks. They were grateful, they were kind, and (sadly) they were surprised. But there were many who missed out on the opportunity - because they couldn't fathom 'free'.
            What does it say about our society that we view kindness and gifts with suspicion? That we look for the 'catch' when something is given to us, that we would rather divert our eyes when offered something rather than engage in conversation to better understand what it is we're being offered?
            I wonder when our society became so suspicious of receiving something, that it is now laden with an expectation of reciprocity; that we have forgotten how to accept without an anticipatory quid pro quo. I wonder how much time and generosity it will take before we (collectively) move from fear and reluctance into acceptance and interaction.
            I dream of the day when a culture that is reticent to receive free lemonade will have such open hearts and positive interactions that we can receive the free gift of God's grace.
            I pray that day will be soon.

We even offered drive-thru! 

10 Aug 2019

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

            My regular dog-walking adventures are a bit different now with only one dog. While no longer needing to keep eyes peeled in two directions, when my boy pauses, I get to pause too... and to look around at what is happening around me.
            The world is a beautiful place, after all, and it is a gift to be able to see it - smell it - hear it - touch it.
            I noticed, one day, some dew-covered spider webs in the grass. It was easy to imagine them as otherworldly: fairy-blankets, perhaps; somehow their delicate and fleeting presence (gone once the sun dried the dew) made them mystical and special.
            I can check in on the status of the day-lilies and morning glories, as their charming vibrance is revealed in the sunlight yet hidden during the darkness; all the while wondering what treasurers are concealed beneath their leaves (in which the dog takes considerable interest!)
            I pause and appreciate the unique rustling of the leaves as the salty sea breeze moves through town, an invisible force leaving a distinct scent and taste while it beats a gentle percussion for my canine procession.
            I relish a fresh-fallen rain, the tingling of charged air and gentle mist on my skin, the sound of the droplets hitting the ground, the unique petrichor scent of new rain on dry soil. 
            The world is a beautiful place, after all, with no end of surprises. What delight that God has given us such abundant gifts to enjoy.  "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Ps 104.24 

28 Jul 2019

Tears are Holy Water

            Some years ago at a time of grief, a friend told me "tears are holy water." Aside from being an expression of deep emotion, tears are salt water that come from a blessed vessel. He was providing comfort at a difficult time, and giving me the gift of a safe space to cry.
            Those tears were a gift, and not just in the release of emotion that I had been holding in. Those tears were holy because they were liquid love; they were also a shared pain. My friend, in stating that he would witness my tears, was granting a safe and holy space of companionship and . He gave room for my emotions, a comfort of being in a safe space with a person who not consider me weak for crying, nor use those tears to mock me. The tears were holy as they fell in the midst of relationship, as the burden of grief was shared.
            In the past few weeks as my lovely old dog Guinness headed closer to his end, the tears have flowed easily, and abundantly. It has been a holy time; love has leaked out freely. I have been profoundly supported in this journey: friends have offered kind words and encouraging embraces. From sitting on a fur-covered floor with me ("there's something grand about crying on the floor with someone you love") to offers to accompany us when the time came, the time has been holy and the loving connections have meant the world to me. I have been ocularly emoting a lot of holy water.
            For me, crying with someone does not mean that I am wounded beyond composure; it means that I am able to be so vulnerable as to let my heart-broken reality come through. It means that I trust and appreciate our relationship that should the tears need to flow, I feel safe to lean on you for support - because our relationship is holy.
            When Guinness died, he had a belly full of cheese and treats (a typical lab!); he was embraced with love and prayer; and he was anointed with holy water as it flowed from my eyes.

20 Jul 2019

It's (not) Okay!

            While a phrase of many contexts, one use of "it's okay" really bothers me. This is when someone has been asked to respect a boundary, and uses it as a justification of their (perceived) entitlement to disrespect said boundary.
            An example from this week, a tourist approaching my dogs to pet them despite my asking her not to (the boys had been clear in their communication that they wanted to be left alone). But the tourist repeated "It's okay!" as she continued approaching. It took 3 times of my telling her it was NOT okay before she rejoined her tour group (with some uncomplimentary comments about myself).
            She had felt entitled to pet my dogs because she wanted to; and felt that her desire justified rejecting my refusal.
            Now, I understand the desire: my dogs are beautiful, and petting them is amazing; we get several requests each week. And I have been the person while traveling who has asked others if I might pet their dog.
            However: respect in the appropriate place needs to be understood and respected. Saying "it's okay" does not override the articulated boundary. The boundaries are there for a reason; comfort levels, safety issues, agency, etc.
            In the case of my dogs, this woman didn't know if they were healthy, trained, friendly; she just felt entitled to pet a cute (old) puppy. But she did not have the right to; and I did not need to explain to her my rationale - "it's okay" was in fact not okay. In reality, what it conveyed was that this woman not only disrespected my decision, she disrespected me. Her immediate wish was more important than my experience and discernment. Her preference was, in her opinion, more significant than anything I had to offer. Her arrogant assessment of "it's okay" suggested that she was to maintain all authority and power - over me, my dogs, the situation, and anything else she wanted.
            This slippery slope can, is we're not attentive, transcend into all areas of our lives, our communities, our churches. Yet we have the ability to be intentional about choosing to engage in healthy relationships where respect is paramount. It means not always getting our way, but trusting that the best or right thing is happening. It gives us the chance to respond to others with dignity and appreciation. We should ask and not presume; and if we don't understand why we've been denied something we may begin a conversation and dialogue about that thing, not disrespect the other with a dismissive "it's okay."
            It's okay to ask questions, and to ask permissions. It's okay to be granted or denied those permissions. What's not okay is to overstep boundaries, disrespect our brothers and sisters in Christ, and presume that we are entitled to whatever it is we want. And it's okay, when we are being asked, to establish boundaries that keep us feeling healthy and safe.
            It's okay to love one another, and to respect our boundaries. It's okay to keep our focus on building mutual respect and relationship from the practice of hearing, listening, and responding appropriately.

13 Jul 2019

Prayer for the Broken-Hearted

"Broken Heart" CC BY 2.0 by David Goehring (Flickr)

     We crumble, O Lord, at the denial of justice, and the rejection of rights. We are crushed by the burden of apathy and inequality. From our darkness, Lord, we pray.
     We pray in words, spoken from our lips and whispered in our hearts: in our crying for justice, our pleading for unity, and our keening for love.
     We pray in quietness: in our stunned silence, our audible anguish, and our noiseless numbness.
     Intercede for us, Holy Spirit, with your sighs too deep for words: for we live in a world where words are weapons, cutting through the love-lines that connect our bodies and souls.
     Sit with us, holy comforter, as we acknowledge the fullness of devastation of our broken heart. Keep us aware of your presence when we feel that fear has triumphed over hope.
Show us your perfect peace, stronger than anything that this world can give; more powerful than any hurt this world can inflict.

     And then help us, dear Christ, to stand again. Direct us, in our grief, to avoid blaming and shaming, to refuse to giving up. Help us to stand, and commence the journey from bleakness to light and life.
     Remind us of this pain when we encounter others, that we may be gracious to their suffering.
     Help us to use the strength of our sorrow to inspire us in service.
     Show us, individually and together, how to release our disappointment and anger; that we may begin to piece back together our shattered hearts and shaken faiths.
     Encourage us to strive for the dignity of all human beings, to seek and serve You in every way, to forgive, and to journey as Your beloved.
     For you are our God; we praise you, we need you, we trust in you, we come to you. Heal us, make us whole, show us how to love again.