Friday, December 2, 2016

forks, spoons and knives together.

Once upon a time, my husband and I went to a dinner party at the home of a new friend.
We were excited that we'd been invited-  our host was someone new to our church and we really liked him.  He was a bachelor, living in a quaint cottage (an old carriage house, I remember) on the edge of town and, from the handful of interactions we'd had with him, he seemed really smart and really fun. We looked forward to the party with great anticipation.

On the evening of the party, we all arrived with various dishes in hand.  The cottage was just perfect-  cozy with deep couches, a small fireplace in the corner, exposed beams and brick, a long dining table laid with a simple linen cloth the color of cream, broad floorboards and intriguing pieces of art- abstract paintings and a few pieces of sculpture- placed here and there.  The conversation was easy, the combination of guests just perfect, and the different offerings of victuals  that had been brought along smelled delicious.  I don't remember what I brought to share, but I know that it needed a serving spoon.
The host motioned to the single drawer in the tiny kitchen.  
"You can find a spoon in there, " he said, and nodded by lifting his chin in the direction of the drawer.
I crossed the room and opened the drawer.
It looked just the like picture, above.

One jumbled, jangled, mess of silverware.

I dug through and found a serving spoon.

So what. Hardly a mic drop, right?

The party was lovely, we stayed until all hours of the night, singing and talking and eating and having fun.  We made new friends.

But ten years hence, I can still see that jumbled drawer of silverware in my head.


If you've ever been to my house, you know that housekeeping is not my gift.
I married someone, thank God, who enjoys cleaning and who learned from his mom how to do domestic chores with  great proficiency.
After more than three decades of married life, we have a good system worked out where I cook and he cleans.  I straighten things up (pens and pencils in the mug on the counter, magazines in the basket on the coffee table, shoes paired and lined up near the door, sofa pillows plumped and set upright, against the back of the sofa,) and he does the deep cleaning- floor washing, vacuuming, hands-and-knees with a spray bottle on the bathroom floor.  We get it done.  But most important for me is that  there is a certain order to things.  Now-   my own silverware defies obsessively neat nesting, but the pieces  mostly cooperate and lie in their appropriate column of the red Rubbermaid divider that keeps order in the drawer.

Some of us crave order and organization.  We function best when the little details are ironed out, order is evident and there is some symmetry to the bits and pieces of our lives.

Others of us prefer an unharnessed environment and are more productive and creative when freed from the strictures of organization.

As a leader, I feel compelled to offer both to those whom I serve.

In a couple of days, we will be meeting as the newly expanded Council of Trustees in our diocese.
Changes to our canons at our fall convention increased the size of this group by three members and gave vote to another seven members who, previously, had not had the privilege of voting and, consequently, were not in the habit of attending each meeting.  There has been some small amount of concern that this group, in its larger size, might be difficult to manage or at risk of being unproductive.  I look forward to helping this group understand the organization of its body, offering new guidelines for participation, creating clean lines of accountability and inviting a process of orientation so that each person has a grasp of their place and role.  We need this body to function well- for the sake of our diocese and for the sake of the mission of God.

I also hope to leave room in the structure of our organization to allow for creativity, the breath of God's Holy Spirit, for laughter and joyfulness and for building relationships.  Following the theme of our diocese for this year, "Know Your Story, Live it Boldly," we will be spending time reflecting God's Holy Word and connecting stories from our own lives to the stories of salvation.  We will be generous in the  time needed to build relationships,  listening to each other and making space for the spark of new life and growth in God.

I wonder, then, how it is with you?

This season of Advent can be a time of ordering our lives in new ways; for some, it is a letting down or letting go of habits, patterns or structures. (I practice contemplative prayer in this season which is so different than the regular pattern of the Daily Office that I normally read in its ordered form) and for others, it is a time to take on new patterns, rules or gentle guidelines to lead us to a more holy life.
Some of us practice Advent devotions that call for a different deed each day, some participate by reading a new spiritual book, others are intentional about keeping a journal or lighting a candle, night by night, to mark the days in an ordered fashion as we wait, hoping for the coming of Christ.

Which is it for you?  And what does your soul need.... this year?  In this moment?

Encouragement, from here, to do something different... to try on a new practice.  Heck, go and dump out your silverware into the bottom of the drawer... and dare to live in a new way, as, together, we wait in the advent of our Lord.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

on the road again.... finding quiet with clergy

a vlog for this week’s entry... filmed in my car (while parked).

Compass Points: Mapping the Way will be on hiatus next week as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

See you in Advent!

Friday, November 11, 2016

And now, for something completely different (sort of).

The election of our new President has been forefront in our minds in these recent days. For those who had been waiting for Tuesday to come and for the campaigning, the rancor, and the vitriol to end, there’s been, perhaps, some disappointment as instead, there has been a new wave of violence and unrest through public protests, incidents in schools, and social media blowing up with every individual on Facebook offering their own response to the election results (including me). There are those who are feeling very vulnerable, disconnected from their communities, fearful and sad.  And, safe to say, there are those who are rejoicing that their candidate prevailed and that it is time to get on with reforming the country.  

My work is not primarily in the political realm, though the things that I care about- and, more importantly, that Jesus cares about- bring me there, by virtue of my office.  As I said in my Facebook post on Wednesday morning:

And so this morning, our call as Christians to participate in God’s mission has not changed: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor. Reach out to the margins and welcome in the stranger, lift up the downtrodden, make free the oppressed. This includes women, LGBTQI brothers and sisters, Muslims, refugees and all those subject to the sin of racism. Pray for peace, strive to end gun violence, bind up the wounds of those who ache. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what matters.

As the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, I am committed to caring deeply for the marginalized and to work to empower others in our diocese to care, in the name of Jesus for the least of these.  This is work that started, for me, more than a year ago in this place and continues no matter who is sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.

And so.  Let me tell you what I did on Monday.

On Monday, the day before the election, when the nation seemed to be about as tense as a two-inch rubber band stretched to ten feet, I attended the LARC Day of Dialogue. LARC stands for Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholics in our Commonwealth who have come together in Covenant Agreement.  The LARC agreement was signed in 1993 to commemorate a movement for spiritual understanding, cooperation and unity among Christians and their churches. Four local church bodies signed the document with a goal of more visible Christian unity in Central Pennsylvania. The terms of the covenant included prayer said for the other denominations during worship services; joint retreats for clergy and parish leadership; pulpit exchanges in non- Eucharistic liturgies; joint efforts for evangelization and social justice concerns and study of the common traditions of the churches.”(from a 2007 press release issued by the Archdiocese of Harrisburg )

These days, the LARC action in Harrisburg has lagged some, but the LARC Day of Dialogue remains of some interest.    On Monday, the topic was Creation Care.  Our guest speaker was Mrs. Stephanie Cleary of the Archdiocese of Vermont.  The title of her lecture and discussion was “Rooted in Common Ground.”

She spoke eloquently, sharing a recent paper that she had written responding to the Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato Si (trans. “Praise be to You”) : On Care for Our Common Home which was released on 24 May, 2015.  Stephanie lifted salient parts of the text to share with us, discussing Creation Care, Climate Change and our call to participate in healing the earth weaving together the areas of Cosmology (our beliefs about Creation), Anthropology (our beliefs about humankind), and Christology (our beliefs about Jesus Christ).  She talked about the fallout of global warming and climate change and how those who contribute most to the problem (that’s us) are the ones least affected.  We saw a video of an island culture whose entire cluster of islands is being compromised and their subsequent immigration to New Zealand where they face the eventual loss of their cultural identity altogether. See for an excellent article on the topic.
The same video showed the loss of land mass in Louisiana and the effect on the people there.  We learned about “Differentiated Responsibility” in which those with more resources must lead the change to effect healing.  Stephanie quoted Roman Catholic Eco-theologian Elizabeth Johnson who writes, “Ecological integrity and socioeconomic justice intertwine in a tight embrace.”

It was a stimulating lecture which invited us, then, to share in small groups about our own efforts as Christians- corporately and individually- in Eco-Justice.

I want to know who, in our diocese, is working in the area of Environmental Justice.
This is an area which needs our efforts of education, advocacy and action. 

In a Commonwealth marked by such striking physical beauty and natural resources, who, among us, is working with an eye towards justice and the Common Good?  Who, among us, has grasped the idea of Differentiated Responsibility  and is working to heal our earth-  not just for our own selves, but for people far away whose very homes are disappearing, being engulfed by the sea?

Fill me in if you’re on this already.
Let me know if you want to start something.  We have a Council of Trustees and a Social Justice committee who want to support your efforts.

I am proud of the work that we do, as Episcopalians and as Christians in this place to bring healing and reconciliation in so many ways.  There is no end to the work before us- until the Last Day- when we will all be redeemed.  Until then, we are led by Jesus into the vineyard to do the work, into our churches to be nourished, nurtured and fed, and always, to give praise to our great Creator who fashioned this amazing place that we call home.

Friday, November 4, 2016

lessons in the woods

I don’t think that it is possible for me to go to Potter County without going on a hike.

Potter County’s nickname is “God’s Country” and it lives up to the name in the amazing natural beauty that is evident around every corner on the winding mountain roads.

I traveled North on Wednesday to spend some time with the Rev. Janis Yskamp and her husband Wayne in the aftermath of a devastating house fire.  No one was injured, but everything was lost.  And after we spent time on Wednesday touring the rubble, there wasn’t much to do, as the insurance inspector wouldn’t be arriving until Friday.

And so we took to the woods.

Joined by woodsman and hiker Lewis Russell, we four set out on a rainy Thursday on a trail in the woods on Denton Hill, near Coudersport.  Wayne let me use his new walking stick which looked surprisingly similar to a crosier- even with a slight bend at the top.  And so we began our procession through the woods.

It had rained all morning, and we set out close to noon. The ground was springy and soft and it wasn’t too long before the moisture found its way in through a hole in the toe of my hiking boot and my feet (well, at least one of my feet)  were sopping.  But there was little time to lament about sodden feet, as Wayne began his familiar banter, entertaining us with stories of people he’d known and places he’d been-  Wayne could smoke any Toastmaster’s meeting, for sure.  Lewis led the way, Janis played the role of Sweeper (making sure that the bishop didn’t lag behind and wander off the trail) and we made our way deep into the woods on a grey November day.

We walked on trails cut in the woods for cross country skiers and on logging roads.  All of these are connected in a trail system and documented on a state map- which we left at home.  These three had tromped all over this hill in the past and, with a few comic exceptions, had maneuvered their way around with few problems. 

We were a boisterous party, making our way through the woods and any deer or bear were well warned that we were  in the ‘hood, so we did not have any wildlife sightings. 

But, oh, what I learned.

Wayne, Janis and Lewis are so knowledgeable about the way of the woods and the animals that live in them.  It was like walking with a naturalist’s guide to the outdoors.  I learned about deer scrubbings-  circular patches on the ground where bucks scratch through the leaves and underbrush down to the earth to leave their scent for the does during mating season.  The buck makes the circle on the ground, urinates to leave his scent and then- this is the cool part-  reaches up to break an overhanging twig and rubs his eye on it to release mucus from his eye, which has another scent to mark and attract the does.  The doe, then, comes to the scrubbing, marks it with her urine as a way to let the buck know that she is in the area.  The buck returns at sunup and sundown to check the scrubbing and, eventually, the buck and the doe find each other, all facilitated through this system of scrubbing, marking and scenting.  FASCINATING.   Wayne pointed out about a half dozen of these scrubbings on our walk.  Each one, a circular patch about 2 feet in diameter and each one with a broken twig hanging overhead.   We saw, too, some “fake” scrubbings which had been set up by hunters who make the scrub and use a bottled potion to scent the circle. But the hunters do not bother to break a twig.    We walked past several of these, and determined their authenticity based on the presence of one broken, hanging twig (or not) in the middle of a woods filled with billions of twigs.  Wow.

I learned, too, about the process of rubbing-  when bucks rub the velvet off of their horns- and how you can track a buck (and how other deer can track their own) by following the progression of logs and trees going up and down a hill, that had been used as rubbing points.  I looked up the hill and saw a leafy, pretty hillside.  Wayne looked up the same hill and showed me the exact path that a buck had recently traveled based on the rub marks left on the trees on the way up.  Wow.

We walked past lots of creeks and streams and I learned about trout pools and the way that they travel through the watercourses.  

We laughed at “trees with legs” (trees whose roots were exposed, making them look like legs) and I learned about why they grew this way, in the path of the runoff of water in the spring.

We reached the top of the ridge and Wayne looked across, about 4 miles away, and spotted two hunters in blaze orange. 

I learned about clear cutting lumber and the degradation of the forest.

I learned that there is an entire ecosystem and natural course of wildlife that I know so very little about.  And I was grateful for the lessons and the time spent in “God’s Country.”

Our hike reminded me of the depth and intricacy of God’s Creation and how, as humans, we are called to tread lightly on this earth, respecting that we are but one part of God’s created order.  And I was in awe, again, of the workings of the natural world and our Creator’s design.  I remembered that part in Job when God lays it out for him, saying, 

         Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
    Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
    or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
    and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
    and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
    and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
    and it is dyed[b] like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,
    and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
    Declare, if you know all this.

This is a bit of a comeuppance for Job, but underscores that we know only a tiny bit of the Creator’s holy design (Well, Wayne seems to know a good deal of it, actually)  and possess none of the power.

We put in a good seven miles or so on our walk.
It was a healing, restorative and humbling afternoon.

And I thanked God for the day.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

church basement

An ode to a church basement

It can’t help it. 
This church basement – like many others- is slightly redolent of kitchen gas
            and Lysol
            and old stone, soaked in ancient dampness.
It is what strikes me (the one with the sensitive nose), first.

I sit on a metal folding chair; the seat dented at all four corners,
rough edges pulling at my tights,
 the underneath of the chair hiding the gum of last Sunday’s acolyte,
who was called to move from
Sunday school to Sanctuary
in a hurry.

I look at the chair in front of me and see
scratched into the back, this name:

Was it a paperclip or the errant tine of a mangled kitchen fork
that dug out our Savior’s name?

The tile floor is yellowed and cracked.

The walls are Mint Green. Powder Blue.  Faded Salmon.

Two floors above, I hear the karate club working it out in the gym.
One floor above, the choir agonizes over Tallis.
And here-  in the Vestry meeting,  we
Work the numbers
Hear the reports
Dream of the future

And I see the hand of God
drawing us
 from this basement to the world-
Where ministry continues- hour after hour after hour.

We are strengthened in that basement.
We are taught in the basement.
Salvation is won in the basement

            As God’s grace is freely given.  And received.

Friday, October 21, 2016

abundance, re-organized

There is a show on TV that I love to watch that combines the technical skills of cooking, the creative aspect of recipe design, the pressure of a running stop watch and the camaraderie of the kitchen, all in one.  The show is called “Chopped.”  The premise of the show is that each of the three contestants gets a basket of identical ingredients and, in an allotted amount of time, they must produce a cooked dish that is tasty, creative and pleasing to the eye.  The finished product must use all of the ingredients in the basket and be prepared to the highest standard.  There is a panel of judges-  professionals in the restaurant and food world- who rate the dishes.  The program proceeds through three courses- appetizer, entree and dessert- with one person being eliminated (or “chopped”) in each round until, at the end, a winner is declared.

I have an old friend from my restaurant days who has a wife and three children.  The “children” are all in their early 30s.  One of kids is a young man who, after studying at Colorado College, decided to go into sustainable farming and growing organic goods.  In the most recent past, he has decided to focus exclusively on growing flowers on several acres in California.  This young man has an amazing artistic eye and freedom in his creative designs to use ordinary- and unusual floral “ingredients”- to produce some of the loveliest and most beautiful floral arrangements and installations that I have ever seen.  His artistry is amazing and his enthusiasm is evident in the joyful bouquets that he concocts.

Last night, I worked my way through a church problem as I made my way home from a day on the road, visiting some of our churches and clergy.  As I “ciphered” the problem in the car, I realized that what I was doing, really, was like what the cooks do on Chopped:  The open their baskets, acquaint themselves with all of the ingredients inside, lay them out on the counter and begin thinking about how they can work with them to create a dish.  The bottom line is that the dishes  must be edible, attractive and well cooked.  Extra points are given for creativity.    And then I thought about my friend’s son, Seth-  the floral designer:  he takes his cutting shears, goes out into his field of flowers and comes back with an artistic arrangement that exceeds the expectations of a “bouquet of flowers.”  He produces art.

Why can’t we do that with our churches?

Some of our current church situations (the baskets of parish particulars around the diocese) include:

  •  a parish on its third search for a new priest (the first two attempts came close, but each of the two candidates decided to take jobs elsewhere)
  • an isolated parish in an affluent, quaint town that has an Episcopal Church but no priest and a small congregation that can only afford week by week supply.
  • a congregation with an amazing Episcopal Church building in a town that has all but died.
  • a parish with a priest whose family situation now requires- for the first time-  that the parish pay for his benefits.  The parish doesn’t have the money.
  • A number of seminarians who are getting ready to serve, but unable to find full time employment in our diocese
  • Some very skilled lay people who are eager to serve our congregations and are limited in their ability to act sacramentally, because they are not ordained.

These are some of the ingredients in our diocesan basket, some of the hardy flowers growing out in our field.

I want us to be empowered, as a diocese, to do creative and bold things.
I want us to begin to try ideas that create new “flavor” profiles in the Church.
I want us to see that we can draw from our abundance and create bouquets of people, programs and liturgies that serve God in beautiful, beautiful ways.

Otherwise, for many of our churches, the stopwatch is going to run out... the frost will kiss the field of flowers... and our options will be diminished.

This is the time to meet our “problems” with creativity, instead of fear.
This is the time to focus on our abundance and to draw new life from the springs around us.  I am reminded of Moses who tells the Hebrew people, “ The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and waters welling up in valleys and hills...” (Deut. 8:7)

We are in that good land.  
Our goals are to continue to be in community, to praise God, to serve our neighbors, to be nourished  by the sacraments and to invite others to join us in our fellowship in Christ.  Let’s keep our eye on those goals while daring to do things differently.

Who’s in?