Isaiah, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Let us argue it out

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:10-18, NRSV)

Yesterday I preached about confession being the ultimate in vulnerability. We don't like words about humility in this era of self-esteem, I said, and we surely don't want to make people compare themselves to worms. But our authenticity, which I believe is key to our salvation, requires our vulnerability with God.

I believe that.

Which isn't to say I like it, necessarily. Because being vulnerable with God means being truthful with myself. 

 

"Wash, wash me clean./Mend my wounded seams./Cleanse my tarnished dreams." A friend sent me this song by k.d. lang not too long ago. 

Though my sins be like scarlet…they shall become like snow. 

For me the biggest sin is to be out of touch with God, to stay in the condition or the hiding place, that won't allow God inside. Well, that I *think* won't allow God inside. God has ways.  Like songs a friend sends to you. Or plane reservations they make to come and see you and be sure you are okay. Or frozen lasagna they leave behind. Or toilet paper holders they install, just because.  Or the affirmation of the congregation on a Sunday when you wondered if you would have any Good News to share at all.

I'm amazed at the multiplicity of means God has used to argue things out with me, to make sure I cannot possibly feel alone, at all hours of the night and day. God is tired of old forms of behavior and old ways of being, ways that I tried to be the person society expected or the church demanded or my own family history suggested. Forget about all that, God says. Let us argue it out. Let us find the way in which you will be washed clean of all that and really, truly know it. 

Job, Midway, Twitter

My friend, Job

I wrote a paper about him once, that Job, a long, long paper on a teeny, teeny bit of the text. I wrote it for Carole Fontaine, who is a wonder. I loved writing it. I loved Job and his struggle and his humanity and the exegesis and the old part of the story and the expanded part of the story and analyzing the meter of the poetry and the way Job argued with God.

Which is hilarious, because I am *so* disinclined to have the argument directly with God myself.

Job One of my church members (Hi, Laurie!) is the librarian at Bangor Theological Seminary here in Portland, and she brought me this old card, now on the scrap paper pile, that came across her desk recently. 

In some ways I'm sitting on the scrap paper ash heap right now, scraping myself with the pot shards, looking back to that crucial year on the library card, wondering why I wanted what I wanted, and why I decided what I decided, and why I asked for what I asked for and, mostly, where God was in all of it.

Job did not hesitate to give God his opinion, even when his friends warned him against it.

Yesterday on Twitter, I asked whether it was okay to be angry with God, and of course people responded in the affirmative: people who know me in real life, people who have been blogging friends for five or six years now, and people I only know in the Twitterverse. They raised the Psalms and Job as examples of human outcry toward God when the situation seems unbearable, and unjustifiably so. 

Other sources, of course, justify those circumstances. We hear it from Jeremiah this week, for instance:

Thus says the LORD concerning this people: Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the LORD does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. (Jeremiah 14:10, NRSV) 

That sounds more like what I learned as a little Baptist girl. No, really, let me state that more clearly. I learned it as a Very Good Little Baptist Girl, or one who attempted to be that anyway. But life as an adult, life as a divorced seminarian mother of three was more complicated than anything I had ever imagined, and I yearned for companionship, which I believe was fairly human of me.

It may be that I wandered, that I did not restrain my feet. I did so in an attempt to make things come round right. Maybe I needed to learn that coming round right need not be so tortured. Maybe I needed to learn that coming round right really is just about turning and turning until you get to the place where you can see God and feel Love and know Joy. 

For Job it comes at the end of a long haul. It comes with friends who sit with him but also give terrible advice. It comes with an urge to put God on trial. It comes with an answer from a whirlwind, and a defense of those friends, and we, the readers, know that Job was a good guy all along. I'm a little dissatisfied with God, to be honest, and the way HE is portrayed in Job. I like the sweeping expanse of Creation version of God, yes, but I don't like the whole dysfunctional family dynamic that suggests if we give God a hard enough time, we'll get somewhere. That's the direction Jeremiah heads, of course. Oh, God, are you really going to abandon us? We are so, so sorry!!!

I have to think that's human despair speaking. When we're turned the wrong way, we can't hear God. We can't see God. We can't apprehend God in any way.  

So keep turning, that's my thought for the day. Keep turning. Job did, and sooner or later, he came round right. I'm glad to know him.

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(This could only be considered an excursus from the lectionary, but here's a link to the full Jeremiah reading, one of the alternates for this coming Sunday.

Divorce, Dreams, Genesis, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Call Me Israel

Jacob Wrestling

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

 (Genesis 32:24-28, part of a reading for Pentecost 21C)

It must have been quite a night. Jacob sent his family across the river ahead of him: his wives, his children, his servants, his livestock, all his property as a highly mobile desert patriarch. Was he looking for peace and quiet, or did he anticipate a struggle, or an opportunity?

In the middle of the night, at mid-life or really past it as I edge toward 50, I am struggling with God in the night and trying to call it an opportunity. How am I a different person than I was ten years ago? Or than I was at 24, the age of my oldest child, the age I became his mother? (A terrifying thought! Who ever rated me ready to care for an infant when I was so young myself?)

We’re shifting at home, readjusting our view of what life had been, trying to see what the future will be and bring. I have a new call, and a very sick dog, and my marriage is over.

I am striving with God and humans.

I wake in the night, and I wonder what’s next? And I look back at this year and I think I can never call it the worst year ever, no matter what, because my second son flew out of a car and lived, because all three of my children are wonderful, because I found out who really cares about me, and because two people who cannot live together anymore are doing their best to be merciful about it while caring for a beloved pet who is likely nearing his end.

But like Jacob, I am out of joint, and I may walk with a limp. So call me Israel.

Midway, Ministry, Writing

I’m Nobody


Songbird  
I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair of us—don’t tell!

They ’d banish us, you know.

  

How dreary to be somebody!        

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

~Emily Dickinson

I just changed my Twitter handle from an email nickname to my real name, which I’ve been slowly making more available to blog readers, too. It’s a strange journey from six or seven years ago, when I hadn’t thought about whether it mattered if I identified myself on the Internet, to joining the generation of anonymous or pseudonymous bloggers, and now to recognize that by cloaking myself in the persona (much enjoyed) of Songbird, I’ve done exactly the opposite of what I hoped to do when I began my work in ordained ministry, which is to forge my own identity.

Now, identity is not the same as fame. I never thought it was. If I wanted to leverage fame–someone else’s–I might have kept and traded on my maiden name. I was wearing it when I graduated from seminary. I could easily have kept it when I married again; I could have been ordained with it.

But I had this notion that I could be in the world with my own name, though borrowed from a spouse, and develop my own reputation as a pastor and a person and maybe a writer. I had no idea I would be building a group of friends and readers using a nickname; I could not imagine or predict Facebook, where I daily communicate with a strange admixture of childhood friends and mom or academic bloggers (met and unmet in real life) and people from right here in Maine and lots and lots of RevGalBlogPals and my own children, too. I couldn’t have foreseen Twitter, where in blasts of 140 characters I do–what? I don’t even know, really. Keep up with friends who are too busy to blog anymore, make a few new connections, carry on behind-the-scenes conversations if my tweets are “protected” as they sometimes are, and give up that hope in the seasons I decide they won’t be.

I don’t know how much I care anymore about being a writer, which is to say being published. There are those who would argue that if you are unpublished you are not a writer. And I suppose if I were called to write books, I would have had an idea for one by now. I hope, now that I’ll be preaching regularly again, to get back to writing about life and the lectionary here.

Mostly I’m a little sorry that a tremendous amount of my effort over the past five years belongs to a cartoon character more than to me. And at 49, I want to claim my work and my life, for me at least, whether or not it matters to anyone else.

I’m writing, even if that doesn’t make me a writer.

I’m Martha, and I’m nobody. Who are you?

Midway, Ministry, The Inner Landscape

Perceiving

I went to a Myers-Briggs workshop for pastors today. It's not my first go-round with Myers-Briggs. I remember being so fascinated with the type indicator when I first learned about it that I could not resist "typing" everyone I met. My karma ran into my dogma when my daughter became equally fascinated a couple of years ago and started to do the same thing. I remember trying to figure out my parents' types, getting them to take the MBTI short form, talking to them about it. 

"Daddy," I said, "just because you scored as Thinking doesn't mean you don't have feelings, too."

"Well, Mawtha," he answered in his slow drawl, "maybe I don't!" 

Funny.

My mother came out right on the line for 3 out of 4 categories; it would have taken a more subtle version of the instrument to capture her, perhaps. And at the age she took it, I suppose she had done some of the lifework that brought her closer to the middle, naturally. My attempts to comprehend her did not end with her death, but there was one breakthrough moment that came for me the last time I did one of these workshops, an insight into how our relationship influenced my approach to the world, at least in her lifetime.

I've done some official version of the MBTI four times: twice in 1992 (for a church couple's group event and for a church governing board retreat, different facilitators so I did it twice within a few months); for a pastor's retreat about five years ago, and for today's workshop. There were differences between the first two scores, and I attribute those to the loss of a baby in between. I was grieving, and felt significantly less extraverted than usual. But even then, my letters were the same as the previous time, ENFJ. 

It became a complaint from a certain person in my life (you know who you are–if you're reading…), that I was "just so J."

So it came as a surprise to take the test some years later, 13 or 14, and get a different set of letters, and to have them be ENFP.

Well. 

I remember sitting in the living room at Rockcraft Lodge, surrounded by people I knew pretty well, wondering if I knew myself! I read the materials on ENFP, including that famous prayer interrupted by, "Look, a bird!" 

They have a lot in common, those two ENF types. It's no wonder I felt okay about the other type description. But I've come to believe that in the dozen years between tests, the first two being followed closely by my mother's death, I came out from under her influence. 

I realized that as a child, my people-pleasing little ENF self had bent toward J because it seemed like the simplest way to fit into her world. 

I couldn't be I. 

I couldn't be S. 

Maybe I could be J. Maybe I could strive to be more orderly, to organize my brain like the one that penciled beautiful lists on paper lined and unlined. 

I guess I gave it a good try. But in the years after her death and my divorce, I loosened my grip and found it felt right, and all those years later, a test validated the emergence of what was there all along.

P.

Perceiving. 

I don't know why I'm a person who tries so hard to adapt to the people around her. I suspect it's a combination of my nature and the way my mother raised me, and I don't want to lose that quality entirely. But at 49, I wouldn't mind a life that fits like a hand-knit sock instead of the high heels borrowed from my mother's closet.

Midway, The Inner Landscape

Forget-me-not

Blue and white My neighbor's backyard is full of these little flowers, spreading in an area where she would just as soon not mow. She lets them go until they are past their prime and mows then. Last year she offered me some for a bare patch in my backyard, but we never got around to transplanting them. 

Left to their own devices, though, they found their way to both my back and front yard. I asked for a dispensation for this little clump in front when the lawn mower roared its way around yesterday. 

They don't fall within the confines of a flower bed exactly, so their disposition needed settling. 

This morning I crouched beside them to take this picture, a cat by my side. They're lovely and hardy and profuse when left to ramble.

If you mow them down, they will come back next year.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28b-30,NRSV)

There's something thrilling about a little wild flower, popping up unexpectedly, beautiful and joyous. Bright white and Bahama ocean blue, they look like summer and heat and outside and possibility. 

On this first day of being 49, I look ahead to new possibilities, hoping to be wild and beautiful and joyous, just like the forget-me-nots, for as long as I last.

Midway

What am I doing wrong here?

LP and I went searching today for a blouse she can wear as part of a costume.

And so it was that I found myself standing outside the locked dressing room at the Goodwill.

Soon a well-dressed woman approached me and asked, “Do you work here?”

Ahem.

I was wearing a coat, carrying my pocketbook and checking Twitter on my iPhone.

“No, I do not work here.”

But I must admit I came home wondering how she thought it might even be possible. Does my newly-longer hair look tacky or something?

Really, why would you ask a person dressed in outdoor gear such a question? Why?

This incident and my response to it fall clearly into the FAIL category for Making Less of My Own Drama. What’s setting you on edge today? And do I need a new hairdresser?