Tag Archives: grief

Back to blogging

It’s been a month since my last blog about the Great Plains  Annual Conference. Following conference I took a week for sermon planning and a week for vacation. Seemed fairly straight forward and well planned.

You know the saying, “the best laid plans….” It was a good two weeks, but as the week of my sermon planning time began, a neighbor and a friend died. It was unexpected in many ways, I had seen him the week before and I would never guessed I would be planning service within 10 days.

In my neighborhood, I am not the “pastor” particularly. Some of my neighbors attend church in other denominations than mine. Some of my neighbors do not. To be a “neighbor” is a wonderful thing as opposed to being whatever my “vocation” might be. Yet, it was a privilege and honor to be asked to preside at this man’s funeral. It was his request and so I sat with his daughters and we found a way to honor his life and spirit.

He had many  talents,  not the least  of which was gardening. He was meticulous in pulling weeds and keeping his flowers and his lawn beautiful. He was smart and funny. I will miss him.

During the time I was so blessed to become acquainted with his daughters, brilliant and funny and accomplished each in their own jobs and professions. I now have in my home, a few things in which to remember this wonderful and thoughtful human being. These past few weeks have reminded me again how precious life is and how each person plays a part and makes a difference in the lives of others.

As I begin my second year at First UMC, I am so grateful for those people who created this place for people all over Wichita to encounter the living spirit of God. I am blessed to continue in ministry with the gifted people in this community of faith. Life is precious and the call of Christ is to be a neighbor to every person we meet and to make a difference in lives of others. I am thankful my friend’s life and death and memory reminds me of this reality and call. I am graced to serve in this city and in this place and in this neighborhood. Life. Downtown.

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All Souls Day

Part of this post was written three years ago. Our culture doesn’t know much about Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Some of what is shared in the next three paragraphs are from that blog, but I end with some new thoughts about this early church tradition.

Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day.  It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.”  Who knew that Halloween was a holy day?  The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner.  They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them.  Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.

The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown.  The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.”  In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.  A google search will give multiple hits on these traditions.

I, being who I am, love this history and the layers that surround these practices both from the Christian tradition and other traditions.  What I love most, is the remembering and the giving thanks.  Often in the U.S.A. graves are visited on the last weekend in May.  I always tried to avoid focusing All Saints on that weekend, because it is also the first three day weekend of the summer and consequently loses some of the religious significance that the first Sunday of November can offer.

Remembering those who have gone before is holy, sacred and spiritual work.  The act of remembering is a blessing on those who take the time to laugh, to cry and to tell the story of those who have made a difference in their lives.  After thirty plus years of ministry, the list gets longer each year for me.  The spaces around those memories grow more tender as I remember, as I grieve and as I smile through tears and give thanks that I have been so blessed by so many.

The holiness of these moments become more sacred in the midst of a time of great anxiety and fear. Next week, will be an election which has been filled with bigotry, hatred, lies and ugliness from both sides. The fear mongering has been almost overwhelming. Many, myself included, will be glad when the election is over.

Add to that another horrible shooting in Des Moines where two police officers were ambushed, another black church is vandalized,  and where the deaths in Syria mount, is it any wonder that many are just tired and afraid. It is important in times like these, to remember the saints and souls and spirits who went before us. We are NOT living in the first period of time fraught with fear and anxiety.

Those who went before us lived through wars and rumors of war, violence, hatred and natural disasters. The early Christians were persecuted and wondered if the end of the world was coming. In these days, we are hearing the same from both parties. Neither is speaking the whole truth. These elections and difficulties are part and parcel of being part of this world. The saints that have gone on before us, understood that whatever occurs day in and day out is not the kingdom of God. The reign God continues to challenge all of us “saints” to live lives of faith, of hope, of love and justice.

We keep eyes and hearts and spirits focused on the promise that the time is coming when we will experience something new and wonderous. In the meantime, we lean into each other for strength, and trust God’s Spirit to help us believe and God will make all things new in God’s own time.

And so, remembering I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) , these saints and souls of God, I am graced to serve.

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All Saints Day

Each year, I am profoundly moved by All Saints Day. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact I have been a pastor more than three decades. The list of “saints” whom I have buried, or have loved and lost gets longer each year. Time is precious because I realize it is not a given or is not promised.

A couple of weeks ago, I was stunned by the sudden death of a colleague. A. Mark Conard has been a part of the annual conference I have served since I began ministry. Mark had a droll funny sense of humor, a depth of knowledge of United Methodist history and doctrine and loved the church with a passion unsurpassed by many. I served on the General/Jursidictional Conference delegation with home 3 times. He was an early adapter of social media and on Sunday, October 16, he posted on my Facebook wall about the sermon I had preached. I wasn’t even out of worship yet! Two days later he died.


In the service celebrating his life, all I stated above and more was shared. I still can not quite comprehend that he is gone. I will miss him, his smile, his posts, his sense of humor and his ability to lower the tension in a room by just the right words. 

Another friend, Ben Murray, took his life over Labor Day weekend. Ben was an amazing chef. It was from Ben I learned that good food is not expensive food, necessarily. Good food, was food that used the best ingredients available, cooked to bring out the essential nature of those ingredients. It was Ben, who invited me to “guest chef” at his restaurant, me, with no culinary training. It was Ben, who when a disc exploded in my back, drove to my home and as I lay flat on my back in a twin bed in the dining room, cooked me a four course dinner, beginning with a lobster entree and a lovely steak entree. 

I believe Mark and Ben, like many others I have loved and appreciated, are part of what the book of Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses. His memory, their memories are a blessing. I believe that, I truly do.

The problem, of course, is that I miss them. I miss those who have meant so much to me. I miss my grandmother Nana, and grandfather Big Bob, my step-father Pep, my mom. I miss my friends and mentors through the years: Charlie Harrison, Jack Porter, Porrteus Latimer, George Gardner. Bill Shuyler, Les Hankins, Forrest Robinson, Paul Matthaei, and a host of others with whom I have life and laughter. I miss them.

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true. Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green, they were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping to be one too….They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains or in shops, or at teas; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  Lyrics by Lesbia Scott

I sing a song of the saints of God. On this All Saints Day, I am truly grateful for those who have gone before me, for those I have loved and laughed with and for their unique and unrepeatable spirits. Their lives have not been forgotten and their lights continue to shine through all of us who have known them and who continue to live out the values they held dear. I sing not only their song, I pray that I might be one, a saint, too.

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Weeping Day and Night

My newsfeed has been filled with sadness, anger and grief this morning. Many have been more articulate than I can be over what has happened in the last few days, and when you add the last few weeks it is overwhelming. Yesterday, I was trying to make sense of two more police related shootings of African American men: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and then Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Since I know many police officers and retired officers, I also know they put their lives on the line every day and never know what each day will bring. I also know that African Americans live in deep fear everyday and in the last couple of years those fears have been made public. Reality isn’t just what the dominant culture says it is, because the dominant culture is protected. As a woman, I have different experiences and fears, but it isn’t that I will be shot because my skin is the wrong color. Or pulled over because I might look like I don’t belong.

As I went to bed last night, there was a news flash that there was a shooting at a peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas. I made a comment among some friends, but I didn’t stay up to find out what was going on. This morning the number of police officers that were killed staggered me. Five police officers were killed and seven were injured as well as two civilians. What little is known  at this time is that the shooter that is dead wanted to kill police officers, particularly white officers.

I am soul-sick. There have been so many posts, by so many people I know that give voice to this grief, and pain, and yes, anger. Fingers will be pointed, blame assigned and hours of talking heads will dissect what has happened and is happening. Those voices will feed our own sense of rightness and judgement as to why these things occur, but it won’t change anything.

No healing,
    only grief;
        my heart is broken.[e]
Listen to the weeping of my people
        all across the land:
    “Isn’t the Lord in Zion?
        Is her king no longer there?”

Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then have my people
    not been restored to health?

If only my head were a spring of water,
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for the wounds of my people.

These verses, from Jeremiah 8: 18-19 21-22; 9:1 come at a time of great unrest and grief and violence. Jeremiah had a way of speaking truth that made him terribly unpopular. He was clear what God required which was justice, love and righteousness. These words are so often used because they articulate a deep longing for that time when we are not bombarded and consumed by a world so filled with hatred, war, anger, injustice and violence. Where is the balm that will comfort us and the physician who will heal us?

Right now in our country, the hatred and the violence is welling up and destroying any sense of what is good and right and just. Our fears are causing us to be hateful and mean-spirited and cruel. We judge persons by the color the skin, their sexual orientation, their religious and ethnic affiliations, their age, their culture, their social class. Then we post ugly memes on social media, send out false and horrible e-mails with little truth attached and surround ourselves with people who agree with us so we do not have to confront our own demons and dare I say it, sins.

I am grieving. I am praying for our eyes to be opened to our own sin and brokenness and how complacent we are to those injustices given to those who are different from us. I am praying that our ears will be opened to the cry of those powerless and afraid that we might respond with love and compassion. I am praying that our hearts will be opened to the Love and Light of God, that it might root out the darkness and ugliness and hatefulness that resides there. I am praying that God’s grace will haunt me until I am unwilling to be silent when I need to speak words of hope and justice and that I am willing to love all people as I have been loved.

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Horror and Violence part nth degree

How long? How long will our newsfeeds be filled with horror, terror and senseless violence? Whether it is focused on one individual, or dozens or hundreds…how long?

This theme has resonated with me the last few years. It never, ever seems to go away. Whether it was the shooting of Doctor George Tiller in 2009 when I blogged June 1 or Congresswomen Gabrielle Gifford, which I reblogged the post on January 9, 2011. Or when I posted about the senseless death of Tanya Tandoc just over a year ago, or when I posted about the violence in Paris, Beirut and other places for Advent 2015, it never seems to end.

I never posted, but preached a sermon on the tragedy at Sandy Hook, in December 2012. Words seem inadequate in the face of such evil and such horror and terror. Last night in Orlando, Florida, a gunman opened fire in the Pulse Club.  Fifty, FIFTY people died and fifty three were injured. The headlines noted it was a “gay” club and as I write this, the gunman had allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS. President Obama has stated it was an act of terror and a hate crime.

I am tired of hearing that more guns will prevent this, or that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” People do kill people with guns and bombs and knives and other weapons. I gunman with 2 guns wreaked this havoc. I will probably never understand why registration, background checks and limiting semi automatic weapons is a problem. I am not in any way saying that guns should be illegal, I just do not understand why having limits on those kind of guns is a problem, or why have permits or requiring training is somehow an issue of individual rights.

There are regulations that limit all our freedoms, that is how we live in a free society. The constitution and bill of rights were never meant for chaos and anarchy. There are limits to freedom of speech (you can’t yell fire in a theatre, for example) or religion (last I checked human sacrifice is not protected). Sensible restrictions make “sense.” I know it won’t solve all problems or that people, particularly those bent on violence won’t get around them, but it might make it harder.

On top of my great grief and sadness is an attack on my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Right now, the belittling and angry rhetoric is heart breaking to me. My own denomination almost split and came to literal blows over full inclusion. My own denomination chose not to pass a resolution on bullying because it was too controversial. I mean who defines bullying anyway?

As a pastor, I understand deep theological and philosophical differences. I can actually acknowledge and appreciate views different from my own. My deep sadness has to do with the language used to condemn others, particularly those who are bullied often from the time they are young. Often, we as the church, heap more blame and judgement upon those most vulnerable.

So fifty are dead, fifty three wounded, most part of the LGBTQ community. How will we as the church respond? Will we withhold our compassion and our outrage because the issues around sexuality are so “controversial?” When Sandy Hook happened, our moral outrage was muted and we spoke with compassion, but did not one thing to change a country where children can murdered at school. In my heart, we lost our moral compass when the deaths of children were not enough for us to look collectively at our romance with gun violence.

So how many more mass shootings of vulnerable people will it take? How many more deaths? For my own confession, I have found myself not as moved as I used to be, because almost every week we have another shooting. They all get blurred into the general news. It takes fifty for me to pay attention again. I know this post is written to quickly to allow for logical thought and progression yet, Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer. Help me be a voice for change, for love, for understanding and for the path of peace.

 

 

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Mother’s Day and Julian of Norwich

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. Celebrated with flowers, candy and often meals, mothers are praised and loved and remembered. This day can bring mixed feelings for many. Those who have longed to be mothers, grieve. Those who have lost their children to death, to disease, to addiction, to broken relationship grieve. Those who have lost their mothers to death, to addiction, to broken relationships, grieve.

I am one of those who is “motherless.” My own mother died not quite three years ago. My mother-in-law is 96 years young and we have celebrated her with flowers and chocolate and dinner.

13139267_10154265783669274_8416943230986328543_nI am one of those women who happen to be a mother and a grandmother. This day becomes bittersweet as I celebrate the love I have for my children and grandchildren and appreciate so many women who have mothered me and mentored me throughout the years.

Today is also the Feast Day of Julian of Norwich. There is some discrepancy on her feast day, some celebrate it on May 13 and others on May 8. Since today is Mother’s day in my neck of the woods, it makes sense for me to reflect on this amazing woman.

Julian-Norwich-2

Not much is known Julian, not even if that is her real name. What is known is that she wrote a book around 1395, the first known to be written in English by a woman. Her Revelations of Divine Love is filled with such amazing imagery and faith.

There are many sayings of Julian’s that are important to my faith journey,

” As truly God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

These next words, are the ones I return to again and again and again.

When I first saw that God does everything that’s done, I didn’t see sin, and I saw all is well. When God did show me sin, He said then, “All will be well.” God also said to me, “You won’t be overcome,” and these words were said adamantly, and I was convinced. They gave me certainty and strength against every tribulation that might come.
God didn’t say, “You won’t be attacked” or “You won‘t be overwhelmed” or “You won’t be upset” or “You won’t be stressed out.” No, instead He said, “You won’t be overcome.” God wants us to pay attention to His words, and always be strong in our certainty–when things are going well and when things are going terribly–God wants us to love Him and delight in Him and trust in Him with all our heart, and all will be well.

All will be well. All will not perfect or fun or wonderful. Julian lived in times of great uncertainty, illness, pain. Out of that experience she was able to speak of great strength, comfort and love. Her words centuries later still speak of Divine Love that never lets us go. A love that is with us in life and in death and in life beyond death. A love that promises each of us that we are beloved and graced beyond anything we can imagine.

In Julian’s words: ” All shall be well, all shall be well….for there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” On this Mother’s Day, I pray for all to know that Force of love that will never let us go. I pray for the certainty that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” As a motherless child, as a mother, a grandmother, an aunt and a friend, I am certain that God loves me and loves us all. In that certainty I am graced to serve.

 

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Gratitude and Grief

Today is All Soul’s Day. It is the end of the three-day period that begins with Halloween. Most non-Roman Catholic churches don’t honor or celebrate All Soul’s Day. This day is the catch-all for “all faithful who have departed.” The Roman Catholic (and Orthodox) traditions have a strict definition of saints, where other churches do not. So saints and souls and sinners don’t have to be divided.

Today allows me some time to ponder grief and gratitude. Since November in my religious tradition begins with remembering those who have died and ends with the cultural holiday of Thanksgiving, grief and gratitude seem tied together. In my understanding as a pastor, I have always put those two together as I work with families to plan memorial and funeral services. Those gatherings lend themselves to both expressions of the human experience.

Personally, the anniversary of my mother’s death falls between those dates as well. Facebook does a tremendous job of reminding me. Not that I would need reminding, particularly. Many small things come along that send my mind racing back to those final days.

Yesterday in worship, the gospel reading came from the beatitudes with this verse included:

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In the first moments of grief, it usually doesn’t feel like a blessing. It can, particularly if death took a long time and the loved one transitioned inch by inch. Sooner or later, grief comes hard and fast and with a deep ache. Then comes the moment and moments when it doesn’t hurt so much. The sadness is not a constant shadow that stalks day in and day out. THEN, then the blessings come and the gratitude.

At that time and season, the memories comes with smiles and laughter and not so many tears. Grief transitions to gratitude as we become able to say thank you again and again to the gifts our loved ones have left behind: stories and sayings, laughter and love, values and faith. Our grief and our gratitude becomes a witness, a tribute to our memories. On this All Soul’s day I continue to be thankful for the many saints and souls that have gone before me. Their memories, their laughter, their love and their unique and unrepeatable spirits continue to be part of my spirit.

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