Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Fly

A fly got into my room yesterday.  He was a sizable little creature, with large wings and red eyes.  When I first saw him whizzing around and buzzing loudly I of course was annoyed, like most people I am not a fan of the creepy little insect, and I started to wonder how I could best dispose of the pest.  I thought about the cat I once had who seemed to specialize in flying insects.  Give that cat a mouse and he would look at you like you were nuts, but get a moth in the room and that cat was instantly on the hunt.  But alas, Tyndale (for that was the cat's name) has long been dead, and I had to find some other way of dealing with my uninvited guest, the fly.

Not owning a fly swatter, and unable to think of any other way of removing the problem, I soon chose to ignore him, keeping my hallway door open in the hopes that he would find his way out into the hall and not return.

But he stayed, all afternoon I heard him buzzing against my windows.  And suddenly I found that my heart had begun to reach out to the helpless little creature.  You see, I have three floor length windows in my room and through those windows could be seen a sunny world filled with lush trees and grass.  The fly could see where he belonged, he could see it, but for some reason he could not reach it.  I heard his frustrated buzzing and the desperate way in which he threw himself against the panes of glass again and again.  Every once in a while he would take a break from his endeavors and fly around my head as if he was begging for my assistance.  I would get up and open the door that led out to the porch, but my movement would startle him and he would resume his fruitless attack against the window pane.

After the sun went down I found him buzzing around one of the small lamps in my room.  I took the lamp and held it outside the door leading into the hallway, he followed the light of course and once he was out I quickly closed the door behind him.  At that point I thought that was the end of it, that he would find his way out the front door and that would be the end of it.

But the next day, today, the fly returned to my room.  Again I heard him desperately trying to find a way to break through the invisible barrier that barred him from his world.  Only today his buzzing was less forceful, broken up with moments of silence.  I could tell he was getting tired, and I knew that if he didn't find a way out he would die in here.

At one point I saw the fly crawling around on my floor, I decided to try and capture the him.  So I got a glass and a piece of card, I thought i would trap him under the glass, slide the card under, and then I could free him into the wild.  But while the fly was obviously tired, he wasn't tired enough to let me get anywhere near him, and all my efforts seemed only to spur him on in trying to get out of my windows, which let light in but was not going to let anything out.  I tried opening the porch door for him and attempted to waft him outside, but I think all that only served to scare the poor, tired creature further.

I really felt sorry for the little guy by this time.  He had made his way into a world in which he didn't belong.  And by the time he realized his mistake it was too late.

We are not unlike this fly sometimes.  We wander away from where we need to be, and when we try to get back to where we belong we cannot seem to get there.  So often we can see where we need to be so clearly, but these invisible barriers get in our way.  And little do we know that doors have opened up behind us, little do we know that there are forces trying to help us out, if only we would stay still, if only we would stop and look around, face our fears.  Sometimes we have to fly into the darkness to truly make it back into the sunlight.

The buzzing has finally stopped completely.  I want to believe that at some point he finally followed me out the door and is buzzing around outside, free.  This is what I want to believe, but part of me knows that when I inspect my windowsills or look behind my dresser, I will find him, my little fly with large wings and red eyes, wasted away by his futile efforts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The small-talk algorithm

I am excruciatingly bad at small-talk.  This is something that has plagued me my entire life.  If you put me down in the middle of a large crowd of people (really any group of 5 or more) I start to feel like a deer in headlights.  Now I will say that this has gotten better over time, but not by much.

I think the problem is that I don't know what people talk about in those situations.  Sure there are the questions you ask a person upon first meeting them: How was your day?  Did you do anything interesting? etc. but that only goes so far and honestly it is usually pretty boring stuff.  So what do people talk about?  I know guys (and some girls) like to talk about sports, and that is great, I get that.  While I may know nothing about most sporting events, it is something people are excited about, something they truly enjoy, I get that.
The thing is, I like listening to people talk about their passions, I get excited for them, but most of the chatter that I hear at social events are not about people's passions, at least I don't think so.

I force myself to go to these sorts of gatherings because I know I have much to learn from them.  And I often find myself sitting in the midst of these groups of people trying to figure it all out and usually failing.  There is no pattern that I can discern, it is just little conversations none of which consist of very much, but all together take up an evening.  But how do you have these little conversations, that is what i can't seem to figure out.

I am not saying that every conversation has to be profound, far from it.  I have conversations about nothing all the time, but they only seem to happen with certain people, and I enjoy them, I don't even understand the stuff I hear at these parties.

There are times at parties that I feel so alien to what is going on that I start to feel as if I am some sort of physicist or mathematician trying to solve some deep scientific mystery.

Monday, August 27, 2012

journal entry: I see an existential crisis coming on...

It doesn't take much to make a good day, a joyful day even, end on an empty note.  It doesn't take much at all really, just a moment, a single moment of forgetfulness, of letting your guard down or thinking that life could only get better and then, BAM, you are hit by all that anxiety and uncertainty as it comes rushing back in.

Of course the anxiety is always there, and the uncertainty can't be helped.  What really happens is that there are times when I forget, when I am distracted enough not to worry.

This is not something serious, in fact, I don't think what I experience is in any way unique.  We are far more similar than we give ourselves credit for, we're just all to afraid to express those fears to each other.  Thank goodness too, can you imagine a world where everyone always spoke open and honestly about their deep fears and anxieties?  It is not just out of personal protection that we don't discuss these sorts of things too often, we are politely refraining from burdening our neighbor with our problems.

For me these anxieties  are in large part school related.  This is my last year of Seminary and for the life of me I cannot remember where I let those other two years get off to.  And here it is the final act of a play that has been remarkably similar to so many other plays I have been in, it is uncanny really.  Only difference now is that I know how this story goes, but I am still looking for that plot twist, that surprise ending.

Damn, I am maudlin tonight.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What I thought about in the car today

I remember saying to you, “You never hear the one with your name on it.”  And later I saw you carving your name into a bullet, storing it safely in your breast pocket.  I laughed at you then, but at night as you slept soundly I woke with dark dreams in my head. 

I smile politely when people tell me about their assurance, whatever it may be, but inside I am scornful.  “Ha,” I say to myself, “To be so certain is to ignore the complexity of the world,” and I feel like a superior species as I sit there knowing that the veil cannot be lifted, that nothing can be known for sure.
But as I lay there in the dark, with shadowy dreams of war swiftly slipping from my memory, I prayed.  I prayed that I would be shown what was underneath it all.  I prayed that I could see with all certainty the end of the road.  The answer came in the form of sleep and dreams that could not be remembered.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I'm a really good goalie playing against myself

Unfortunately I am unable to do the next two prompts because I am not at home and don’t have access to my photos or a dictionary where I can pick out words randomly.  So tonight I will write something else.
I am only three weeks away from being done with CPE.  I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as that is concerned.  But I have to admit I don’t feel all that great about how my summer has gone.  Sure, I have been busy with CPE, and that has been incredibly stressful, but I had high hopes that I would be able to do something else with my summer other than chaplaincy.  I wanted to work on losing some weight for instance.  This is hard enough for me without all the stress, so I don’t know what I was thinking setting a goal like that, still, I feel I have let myself down.  Honestly, I am really terrible at meeting goals that I set for myself, there are certainly things I want to do, but I have spent so much of my life wandering around inside my own head, I actually find it difficult to do much without outside pressure. 
Anyway, I will keep setting goals for myself and I will keep looking for ways to make myself turn these goals into habits.  I know I am not the only one in the world who has problems like this, but I often feel that I have it particularly bad, that I am particularly weak-willed.  It shows a distinct lack of character on my part.  Is it possible to build character without outside assistance?  Is there really such a thing as ‘self-help’? 
I just got interrupted by a very long call.  I suppose I can continue to talk about my self-discipline issues but I no longer care, I guess.  Nothing happened in the call to make me less concerned with myself, I am just really tired now, and writing about myself is just as draining as talking about myself can be.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Prompt #1: My little orange Hamlet

Prompt #1: Close your eyes briefly.  Think of one object that is in the room and focus on it.  Without opening your eyes, recall as much detail as you can about it.  After 3 minutes or so, open your eyes and write about that object without looking at it.  -

Next to my bed is a small bookshelf with two shelves.  It acts as my night stand.  On top are the normal things one would find on a night stand: a lamp, a coaster with a glass of water on it, a remote control for the TV, that sort of thing, but on the shelves are books.  The upper shelf has an assortment of old hardcover books one of which is an a copy of ‘Hamlet’.  It is a slim volume with an orange cloth binding.  The edges are all worn and the pages are dark with age.  The book was probably new in the fifties or sixties, it doesn’t have any fancy commentary or definitions inside, it is just the text.  I imagine this book is the sort of thing used by actors in their local community theater.  I wonder who used this particular copy?  I imagine it was some aging Hamlet, a man in his forties, pudgy and balding, but thrilled to finally be given a chance to perform such a seminal role.  He must have poured over the pages of his little book, and even though he didn’t understand everything that he was saying, he memorized each and every line perfectly.  He had heard once that it was disrespectful to the writer to make changes to the text, and the last thing he wanted to do was disrespect Shakespeare by getting the words wrong. 
His performance was probably wooden, unremarkable, and yet delivered with such love, such devotion not just to Shakespeare, but to the theatre.  Playing Hamlet would be a source of pride in an otherwise unremarkable life.  Shakespeare has that effect on people, to be able to say his words to an audience is to be given life.  When our aged Hamlet opens his little dog-eared play book he leaves behind the tragic mediocrity of his own life and he takes on a princely tragedy.  He probably never made the connection between his own desires for personal meaning and the desires of his beloved Hamlet, and that would be the truest tragedy of all…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Start again...again

Deep breath.

Okay, so I failed again.

I tried, over and over again I sat down to write, but a mixture of stress and other psychological factors kept getting in the way, and writing for even 20 minutes was just too much.  I have been a dry well lately; more than usual that is, and as much as I would like to deny it, I need help.  One of the reasons I want to do this 'project' (I guess it can be called a project) is because I do find it difficult to articulate myself, particularly in writing.  Also, I think it will be useful to exercise my writing skills for the sake of sermons, and of course just general creative stretching is good for the soul.  But what is a girl to do when she can barely form a single sentence while staring at a blank screen?  The dreaded prompts.  I so very much did not want to tie myself to a predetermined set of prompts, but I suppose some of us just need training wheels at first.  I am no stranger to God cutting back my pride, it happens all the time.  So if prompts are what I need - then prompts are what I need.  So I looked, and honestly the internet has little to offer and the writing prompt books in the bookstore were not much better.

But after a while I did find this:   They are okay, and they will do.

So I will start at the beginning and use these.  Hopefully writing will come more easily long before I get through all of these prompts.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

sociological and theological reflections on 'Cabin in the Woods',(beware of spoilers!)

I went to see 'Cabin in the Woods' again tonight.  I am constantly fascinated by the work of Joss Whedon.  He uses such common genres to make truly interesting statements about us and the world in which we live.  But it can be easily missed; the themes he explores can be easily missed or confused.  It is not that what he does necessarily has a particular message, but rather it poses questions about how we view ourselves and our relationship to each other and to the world. 

One of the themes that is present in all of his work, but in a real significant way is our relationship to the powers, whatever they may be, and how we let those who are in authority control us.  So in 'Buffy', it was the watchers council, and later the system that created and maintained the single slayer lineage.  In 'Angel' it was the ‘Senior Partners’ who controlled all the evil in the world.  In Firefly it was the Alliance and in 'Dollhouse' it was the Dollhouse itself.  In 'Cabin in the Woods' (spoiler alert!) it’s the evil gods who used to rule the world and now are placated by the horror story that is acted out by the unwitting campers. 

In every instance the protagonists rebel against the status quo.  The idea of doing something because that is the way it has always been done is never an option for the characters in Joss Whedon’s stories.  Now this is not unusual for movies, standing up against an evil regime or unjust system is common theme.  But where Joss approaches it differently is the idea that the system should be questioned always.  In ‘Cabin in the Woods’ the purpose of placating these evil gods in this way is to keep them from destroying the world in a gruesome and terrifying way.  Basically the small evil is done in order to prevent the larger evil from taking place.  The main characters refuse to participate and the end is world annihilation.
Of course Whedon doesn’t offer any solution to the problem, he never does.  There will always be systems that are in place to maintain order, and those systems will always sacrifice little goods for a so called larger good.  But he begs the question, is that larger good really good at all if it has to be upheld by the allowance of evil?

I have a lot to say about how Christianity has failed to step up and fight against the status quo(most of which I will not be saying here).  The lives of most Christians are no different than the lives of most secular persons.  We are just as entrenched in the system that is constantly upheld by little evils.  We each like to think that our lives are not tainted by such things, but they are.  Look at your clothes, where were they made?  Or your Apple product?  Or your food, who picked it?  Christians, look at your house and tell me that Christ wouldn’t tell you to sell all you have and give it to the poor.  We live within a system that perpetuates haves and have nots, and we always think that we are among the have nots, but if you are reading this blog it just isn’t so.

Now of course I am among the worst offenders I enjoy the benefits of a first world lifestyle and generally don’t think about the system that always has me worrying about superficial crap.  And I would really like to say that I don’t know what the answer is, but of course I do know, every Christian knows.  Joss Whedon knows, and that is why his protagonists chose not to placate the great evil by performing a ‘small evil’ because of course there really is no such thing as a ‘small evil.’

Friday, June 22, 2012

As I went down to the river...

We drove down to the river, my father and I.  It was muggy outside and there were people milling around, a couple of tents set up and some booths selling food.  A group of people were sitting together playing Irish music.  We started to walk down to the shore, only two bateaus had come in so far.  As we go down to the river’s edge we saw some people from church sitting on the lawn waiting.  My mother was on one of the bateaus, The Lady Slipper.  They were late coming in and we had time to kill.  As I sat there with my Dad, sharing my skittles with the women of my mother’s church I looked out over the river.  There was a large bridge that crossed the river, but right next to that bridge, a little lower down were the remnants of an old bridge.  It no longer went across but it was beautiful, just sitting there on either side of the river covered over in ivy. 
I asked my Dad if there was a way to get up onto the old bridge, he told me where to go, and then said that I should be careful because the bridge has a bunch of rotting boards across it and there is the potential to fall through.  I thought about it for a second.  I would hate to fall through and be the person to ruin everyone’s evening by getting hurt or dying, but I would also hate to deny myself the experience of seeing this old bridge up close and personal.  So I decided to go.  There is something magical about manmade structures that have been reclaimed by the natural world.  The bridge looked secure enough so carefully and slowly I walked out onto the bridge.  The red rust cross beams contrasted the surrounding greenery nicely.  There were a few holes in the wood floor, and it was certainly rotting, but overall it seemed pretty sound structurally.
I walked out to where the bridge fell away, just over the edge of the river and I sat down.  I must have sat there for over 2 hours.  One by one the bateaus started to come in, they each had their different ways of announcing their arrival as they came around the river bend.  A couple of them blew horns, one blew a conch shell, another fired a flare gun.  I watched and in between boats  I examined the bridge.  I looked at the rusted nuts and bolts; I examined the pealing metal and green wood underneath.  I marveled at the crossbeams up above me  and I stared across at the matching ruins on the other side of the river and I wondered what the world looked like from that angle. 
At one point I was joined by two ‘bubbas’.  They walked up loudly smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.  These guys were the epitome of the southern white trash stereotype, it was as if they fell straight out of a B movie.  There was Bruce the loud joker, whose accent sounded like an imitation of itself, and there was his friend, I honestly don’t remember his name, but he had a more serious quality about him.  At first he seemed to be less of a caricature than his loud friend, but then I saw the “white power” tattoo on his forearm and I realized that he too was a B movie character but instead of the drunk uneducated bubba, he was playing the part of the angry white supremacist. 
Needless to say I did not feel entirely safe sitting with them on that quiet bridge, but I decided it would make more sense if I were to stay there and let them leave first.  I did make sure to point out, when they asked if I was there alone, that my Dad was right down there by the side of river, not very far away at all.  And when they asked my name, and upon hearing it exclaimed “Shireen! That’s a weird name.”  I decided it would not be a good idea to tell them where it comes from (Iran).  When Bruce remarked that it sounded like “Charlene and Irene mixed together” I said “Yes, it’s a combination of both those names.”
Eventually they decided to leave.  My only regret is that I didn’t get their picture, but being up their alone I did not want to encourage them in any way.  I know, I know, they probably didn’t mean any harm. 
After my two new friends left I continued my river reverie until finally I could hear the voices of women in the distance.  It was The lady Slipper.  They came in singing Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”.   

And that was that, my James River Experience.
Day Three.

The bridge 
This is one of the Bateaus coming in to port

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Annoyed is an emotion, right?

So I am in the middle of CPE right now.  This is making for a very very long summer.  I am getting used to the patient visits, and I actually enjoy them to a certain degree, but the days are long and I am exhausted easily.  But the work in the hospital is nothing compared to the ever increasing hell that is the ‘group’ work.  Two days a week I sit in a tiny room with 7 other women where we analyze patient encounters that we have had.  If that is all the group work was, everything would be fine, but it seems that we spend much more time doing exercises that require us to analyze our feelings.  One of the things that has been pointed out about me on several occasions is that I don’t approach things emotionally enough.  Okay, I may be more analytical than your stereotypical female, and I am sure that there is something to gain in me learning to share my emotions, but I can’t but help to notice that those who are all emotion are not being pushed to think a little more logically. 
Why is that?  Is it because we are all women and despite the best efforts of feminism we are still stuck in these stereotypes that require women to feel deeply about every little thing?  Do we think that the emotional response is the final response?  I mean, I often have an emotional response, but it is my initial response, I move on from that point.  I wonder if the problem is that I have already done the processing of my issues long before I came to CPE. 
I have been sick this week and that is making me tired and defenseless.  Which means I now feel free to be emotional about my CPE experience and the emotion I am feeling is irritation. 
Of course that irritation might be gone by tomorrow, as I will have processed it and learned to think more logically about my situation.  That is, what good is it to be irritated by something that I have no control over and really, in the end, just need to get through?

Day Two

(Not the most inspired writing, but it is writing all the same, and at this point that is all that matters)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Could we start again, please?

So, I haven’t written in a long while, and even when I did it was sporadic.  But I thought about it almost every day, I suppose that doesn’t count.  I am going to give it another try, writing every day.  This is harder than it sounds, for someone like me who has no capacity for self motivation.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the things I want to do, and very little time actually doing them.  So this is an attempt to overcome that in myself, and believe me it is hard.  Right now even I have this feeling of dread inside of me.  I wonder if there is a word for a phobia of truly accomplishing something…
One of the problems is that I don’t really feel like I have anything interesting to say.  Sometimes I have stories and I can always write in a sort of memoir kind of way, but I don’t want this to be just a journal, this is a different sort of writing exercise that should cover a wider range of writing styles.  Prompts would be nice, some sort of outside source that would give me prompts that I could use as inspiration.  But outside prompts kinda feel like cheating.  At times like these I feel like I am desperately trying to hold in my crazy.  Usually I can throw the focus off of myself so that no one notices how strange and insecure I really am, but if I am writing in a blog, it is bound to come out. 
This may be one of the reasons I should write, both at my field education parish and in CPE I have been asked to allow myself to be more vulnerable, more emotionally available.  Part of me finds this offensive and a total intrusion of my privacy, but I also know that I have created some pretty amazing walls over the years and perhaps it might be useful to create some doorways as well.
So, here I go again, day one.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A girl walks into a bar - a short journal entry

Let me tell you something about myself.  I am not someone who absolutely has to stick to a plan.  That is not to say I don’t like making plans, it just means that if something better comes along I am not adverse to the idea of changing my plans.  In fact, many times I am well pleased with evenings that do not go strictly as planned.  Soooooo, after exercising I got it into my head that I was going to study in 1823 this evening, which I did for a while anyway.  I am now done with 2 papers, and while they still need some editing I am left with only one paper and 2 exams left to prepare for, that is if you don’t include the 7 pages of field ed. reflection that I have to do, which I don’t, but I should.
ANYWAY, I did my best to help Grey find a ‘suitable’ song to play in church (I put quotes around the word suitable because it is more subjective than you could possibly imagine) which was fun though I don’t think I was of much help.  And then after I was as done as I was going to be with my papers, I watched some hockey ball on the television.  The Caps won, hurray (if the Rangers had won I would have said ‘The Rangers won, hurray) then I wondered why only the winning team did the big group hug after the game, when it was the losing team that really needed the hug.
I then told my friend to stop poking me with his banana (get your mind out of the gutter, it was a real banana and he was poking my arm, sheesh!).
I then had a great conversation about trains and how cool they are.  I do like trains a lot…anyway that was my evening, how was yours?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Star Wars, Post-modernism and various other tidbits from my life...

I had a bunch of different things I was going to write about today.  For instance, I was going to tell the story of the super strange dream I had last night, but I was going to tell it like some surreal story so that you didn't have to be annoyed that I was actually telling you a dream.  Or I was going to write a poem about myself as a child and how my viewpoints have changed, not necessarily for the better.  But I had a pretty decent evening and I think I will just do a brief journal entry about my evening.  Nothing special, probably a bit boring, but there it is.

Taking a step back I realize just how varied my day can be as a seminarian.  This morning started out with Ethics where we talked about the nature of Christianity in relation to Just War.  This was interesting not necessarily because of the subject matter (which was interesting, but kind of beside the point) but because I got to examine what happens when a realist and a post-modern thinker try to have a conversation.  The realist is just that, empiricism is everything, and there is no room for ambiguities or paradoxes.  While facts are important for the post-modernist, the way in which those facts are talked about is much looser, leaving room for hyperbole, absurdity, and humor.  Paradoxes and ambiguities are not only allowed but expected.  There is no need to go into detail about the conversation but let me just say that this was my major contribution to the argument:

After that Chapel,

After that Lunch,

After that reading on a bench.

For no particular reason, at least none that I care to go into, my day got a bit rocky, which contributed to a major moment of vulnerability where I told a classmate about some pretty deep insecurities that I have not ever really shared with anyone.  I am still processing how I feel about this.

Anyway, I went on from there to my next class which consists of me, two other students, and my professor. We are reading through Catherine Pickstock's book After Writing.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, by the way. I had this weird moment where I started commenting about something I actually know nothing about, and the professor responded by reading a passage of the book, which actually sounded like gobbledygook to me, she then turned to me and said "is that what you mean?"

To which I start babbling, and everyone is staring, so I keep talking hoping to God someone will interrupt me, but no they don't.  Eventually I stop, the class ends, and we leave.

I am told that I actually gave the impression of being knowledgeable.  I wonder if Dr. Sonderegger bought it.

Fast forward to the evening where I went to watch a one woman show about Eunice Kennedy Shriver that was written and performed by a high school parishioner from my field ed. site (the church I attend while in seminary).  She did a fantastic job, and I was impressed by how much these high school kids in Arlington, VA are overachievers.

I then spent the evening hanging out with other seminarians and having very deep, very theologically relevant conversations about which student/faculty member would be which Star Wars character.  I somehow ended up with Darth Maul.  Sure the guy gets cut in half in the middle of what is arguably the worst of the Star Wars movies, but he did have some Kung-fu badassness going on...

maybe I can trade up and be Grand Moff Tarkin instead.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Past and Future, but don't forget the present.

Time spins around and around inside my head.  It could be the beer, I suppose.  I did drink it pretty quickly.  I am really tired and I want to sleep, but I am writing instead because T.S. Eliot tells me I ought to.  I ought not dwell on what might be, but focus on the present.  I should “fare forward” and quit getting distracted by what was or what might be.  He says that if I don’t, not only will I die with my last act being utterly void of meaning, but I will live my life without noticing that God is there in every moment.  
Sure, he's probably right, but he’s a bit of an asshole for pointing it out.  Maybe that is a bit harsh, he really wasn’t talking to me or any other reader, it is pretty clear he was talking to himself.  Kind of like I am doing right now.  

While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: 'on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death' - that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.

- Dry Salvages, III

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A 'Low Sunday' sermon: John 20:19-31

Sermon Second Sunday in Easter                                                                                              4/15/2012
It has been seven days now , since we have had our Easter celebration,  and yet the gospel story this morning picks up just a few hours after Mary Magdalene tells the disciples what she experienced at Jesus’ tomb.  And while we have proclaimed Christ’s resurrection, said our Alleluias and eaten our Easter candy, the disciples have yet to join in the celebration.  In today’s Gospel we are pulled back, back to Easter Day, back into the story where we are reminded that the events at the tomb are by no means the end of the Easter story.  The disciples do not seem to believe what Mary has told them, if they had believed surely they would be out looking for Jesus, but instead they have locked themselves inside, afraid of the persecution that may be waiting for them out there.  I can only imagine how they must have felt. The disciples have had their lives turned upside down.  They had given up everything in order to follow Jesus and follow him they did, for three years.  And quite suddenly they find themselves without him, without his leadership, without his strength and wisdom to guide them, and without him they are lost.  Then all of a sudden, in the midst of their grief and despair, Jesus appears among them.  Only then, after they saw him, after they saw the wounds in his hands and his side did they finally rejoice. 

And Jesus wastes no time, in the Gospel according to John, it is on Easter day that Jesus gives the disciples his Great Commission, telling them “As the Father has sent me, even so I have sent you,” this Gospel story makes it quite clear that the mission of the church is inextricably linked to Christ’s resurrection.  The lives we live as Christians cannot be separated from Christ’s saving action on the cross.

 But what Jesus gives the disciples to do is no easy task, the disciples are sent into the world, just as Jesus had been sent, and they are given the unique responsibility of forgiving or retaining the sins of others.  At first glance this looks as if Christ has given the disciples the ability to be the judge and jury over all those that they meet, and certainly it has been interpreted that way, but it is not the privilege of judgment that Christ bestows on the disciples.  It is the responsibility of evangelism.  Jesus gives the disciples the responsibility of bearing witness to the work of God in the world. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had given them the commandments to love God and to love their neighbor, and through his own life and death he has shown them what it means to live out those commandments.  Now it is the disciples turn, by living as Christ has taught them to live, they can demonstrate God’s Grace to the whole world, They are called to offer forgiveness to people by letting them know that through Christ they are freed from sin and death. 

 Jesus breathes on all the disciples, giving them the Holy Spirit and commissioning them to continue his work in the world.  All the disciples that is, except for Thomas.  Poor maligned Thomas.  His name forever marred by the “doubting” epithet.  Where had Thomas gone off to during this oh so crucial moment in the life of the church?  If the eleven of them were all so scared of being persecuted, then where was Thomas?  I like to think that Thomas was the only one brave enough to go out, and in the hour of Jesus’ appearance Thomas was out buying everyone dinner.  Of course we can never know for sure where Thomas was, all we know is that he was not there.  What must it have been like to be Thomas, to return to your friends only to discover that they had had this incredible experience in your absence, not only did Jesus appear amongst them, but he breathed the Holy Spirit onto them and gave them a new mission in life.  It is not an enviable place to be in, the odd man out.  No one wants to be the outsider, the one who doesn’t quite get the joke, or understand the reference, No one wants to be the only person who wasn’t there. So I don’t blame Thomas for not believing.   For Thomas to believe what the other disciples shared with him would make him the only disciple NOT given the Holy Spirit, the only disciple NOT made into an apostle, the only disciple NOT given the opportunity to see Jesus once again.  Who, thinking that their loved one is dead, wouldn’t immediately demand to see him upon hearing that he was, in fact, alive?  Who wouldn’t want to touch that person, to embrace him?

Poor Thomas, he would have to wait a whole other week before Easter would come for him.  But eventually Jesus does return to the closed up house, and he presents himself to Thomas who immediately upon seeing Jesus declares quite powerfully “My Lord and My God!” Not only does Thomas believe when sees Jesus, he sees Jesus for who he truly is, Thomas understands and declares it loudly “My Lord and My God!” 
And Christ’s response, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” is not meant to shame Thomas, or to set him up as a foil against the other disciples.  None of the disciples believed before they saw, and that is okay.  Christ understands who we are, he knows that doubt is part of human nature.  Thomas’ encounter with the resurrected Christ is not meant to make us despair over our own doubt, rather it is a story of promise, and it is meant to give us hope.   Thomas was not physically present at the Great Commissioning, but he is still blessed by the Holy Spirit and counted among the apostles, and in his interaction with Thomas, Christ assures us that we too, are blessed and called to represent Christ’s love in the world.  

This calling starts for us at baptism where we are marked as Christ’s own forever.  At baptism we are made part of the body of Christ and as a part of that body we are supported by our fellow pilgrims, and together we are sent out as representatives of Christ to the world.

It is hard to believe that only a week ago we were celebrating Easter.  If it weren’t for the dwindling shelves of half-priced Easter candy, one would hardly know that the Easter holiday had ever happened.  I find it a little frustrating at times, while we are in the midst of the somber season of lent the world around us is  decorating with colorful eggs, bunnies, and pastel colored flowers.  And when we finally get to the Easter season and it is time to rejoice and celebrate the world has already moved on.  But you know I think that is right, the Easter we are celebrating is something entirely different, something far greater that cannot be contained to just one day of the year.  Christ has overthrown death, not just for himself, but for all of us. Christ is the light in the darkness and there is nothing left for us to fear, wherever we are, Christ will meet us there, there is no locked door, no amount of despair or resentment or doubt that can stand in his way.  The Easter story continues with all of us, like the disciples we are called out of our locked rooms and asked to take the joy we experienced on Easter Day, the joy of a life renewed by Christ and we are to share that joy with a suffering world in need of some good news.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Vigil

We stood in the dimly lit hallway whispering bits of conversation to each other.  It was early and there was an air of expectation all around us.  Finally the clock ticked into place.  It was time.  We filed out one by one into the darkness.  We walked into the church and as we moved along the wall single file I looked out into the nave.  It was not completely dark, the street lamps outside provided just enough light so that I could see the empty pews.  Where was everybody?  I looked forward again, we were about to exit out the back of the church.

For some reason I was reminded of Space Mountain, I felt like I was about to be shot out of a tube into the darkness and I wasn’t entirely wrong.  I walked through the door and found myself engulfed in black.  No light was coming into this room off the street; all the windows were completely covered.  But I also quickly became aware that the room was packed with people.  I knew I had to make my way through the crowd to the other side of the room, the room wasn’t really all that big, but  I started to feel a bit panicked that I would get lost and never find my way through the throng of people.  All I could do was keep my eyes fixed on the faint white outline of Andrew’s robe.  I had to fight back the urge to reach out and grab his hand.  Forgetting that I needed only to cross a single room I started to wonder why we were all expected to make our own way through.  Finally, after what seemed like forever I made through.  A group of us formed a barrier as the first light was lit, we then moved aside to let everyone else witness the lighting of the Paschal candle, and then slowly but surely the light began to spread as everyone began to light their candles.  I didn’t have a candle but I could see by the light of those around me.

 I was reminded of a dream I had, where I found myself looking into the darkness but when I turned around there were rows upon rows of people in white robes lit up by the candles in their hands.  They stood there, neither moving nor speaking, and I turned back to the darkness expectantly.  Something was about to happen, judgment perhaps.  I didn’t have a candle then either.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


She moved through her apartment in a systematic fashion.  As she went she picked books up off the floor and placed them on the shelves.  Bits of trash like old fast food sandwich wrappers and plastic coke bottles and crumpled up napkins were thrown in the trash.  She moved through the studio apartment slowly but deliberately, clearing one space at a time.  It felt as if nothing was in its place and as the clutter and disorder grew so did her anxiety levels.  Hating it as much as she did, one would think she would have prevented it from ever getting this far, but it was always like this, never too bad, but always on the brink of being unlivable.  When she is out in the world she thinks to herself, today I will take care of this; today will be a new day.  Soon though the energy evaporates and she sits at her desk looking into the internet to find something to distract her from truly facing reality.  And the day winds up not being so new, and like her surroundings it sits on the brink of being unlivable.

Today though she is determined, and as trash finds its way into the bin and dirty clothes are put in the hamper she starts to feel a sense of control, a sense that life may actually be manageable after all.  Eventually the clutter is cleared away and she is able to wipe down her desk and her tiny kitchen counter and she thinks about stories where people whitewash the walls and floors and she wonders what whitewash is, but pictures a room that is clean and bright and she wants to be there in that whitewashed room where the sun comes through the windows and the air is quiet and fresh like it is on after a heavy rain.

Whitewash is not an option, and the room does not get any direct sunlight, but she tries her best to give the place a fresh feeling. 

Finally, after several hours of work she stands in the middle of a room that has been cleaned.  She stares at the clutter free desk, the dresser with jewelry boxes and small leather bound books, placed in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and yet not contrived, she looks at her perfectly made bed, and she feels calm.  She does not want to move.  She wishes she could just leave it as it is, never pull the chair out or open a drawer.  Everything is so perfectly ordered, to move would be to risk disorder, confusion, anxiety about the unknown.  But she knows that she must move; she knows that disorder must be risked for anything great to be realized.  It seems as if for her to do anything she must accept the eventuality of chaos.  But in that moment standing in her ordered apartment the chaos is pushed back, if only for a second, and potential is realized.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Day 6 - Tomorrow

I wonder what tomorrow holds.  Or does it hold anything at all?  So often today is the day for over indulging, shirking responsibilities and just getting by while tomorrow is filled with potential to abandon all the bad habits, to get the reading done, to start or finish that project.  The problem with tomorrow is that it is always a day away.  But still I plan and scheme and imagine what wonders tomorrow will bring while I let today waste away.  Tomorrow can be anything or nothing.  It will probably be no different than today, but still tomorrow has a potential, a magic of things unrealized. 
Tomorrow is filled with adventure.  Tomorrow I will go to the zoo; I will howl with the wolves and come face to face with a gorilla when it escapes its pen.  It won’t hurt me, it will place its palm against mine and we will look into each other’s eyes and understand each other. 
Tomorrow I will meet a man in a coffee shop.  He will be an archaeologist and will tell me about how he spent his summer on an island in the Mediterranean where he uncovered ancient civilizations and had profound conversations with other scholars as they drank whiskey and watched the sun set: gold, violet, and rose.
Tomorrow I will discover a charming little restaurant.  It will serve Coquilles St. Jacques and Key lime pie made from scratch.  In the evenings couples will dance to torch songs sung by an Edith Piaf impersonator. 
Tomorrow I will lay down in the grass and fall asleep with the sun shining on my face.  I will wake up with dozens of butterflies resting on my arms and legs, and when I move I will watch them take flight and my soul will take flight with them.
I cannot know for sure what tomorrow holds.  Tomorrow could be breath taking.  It could be a day of profound understanding, or the lynchpin on which my life turns and heads in an entirely new direction.  Tomorrow could be the first day of the rest of my life or my last day on earth.  Tomorrow could be anything or just another today, filled with perfunctory responsibilities and meaningless busy work. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Day 5 - stress

It is difficult trying to find something to write about.  I don’t have any story or particular topic in mind to discuss, this makes doing 20 minutes truly difficult and it means this post will be more of a journal entry than some form of creative writing.  But I really do want to try and make writing 20 minutes a day a priority.  So far I haven’t been so very successful.
This post might not be particularly interesting because I have decided to talk about the stress I have been experiencing these past few days.  It all started on Wednesday after I took my ethics test.  Right after I took the test I felt okay about it, but as the day went on I let myself get more and more worried about how I did on the exam.  My dreams became very strange on account of my stress.  Usually when I dream I don’t dream about things that happened in the previous day.  Usually it takes my mind quite some time to process things and incorporate them into my dreams.  For instance if I were to watch an episode of Walking Dead I am not likely to dream about zombies.  It actually took watching the whole first season over a couple of days for me to have zombie dreams, and even then the zombie dream came days after I had watched the show.  Anyway, Wednesday and Thursday night I had dreams that were directly influenced by the previous day’s activities.  On Wednesday I learned that a going away party had been thrown for one of the women who worked for the school and I had not received an invitation about it.  Now to be fair, the invite only went out to the staff and faculty, not to the student body.  Also, at lunch on Wednesday a fellow student, who is about to get married, showed me pictures she had on her iphone of wedding dresses.  With that information my mind created an anxiety dream where I walk in on a party where everyone is dressed up.  All the guys were in tuxes and all the women were in big puffy white dresses.  I was dressed in jeans and realized I didn’t have time to get a white dress so I could join in the festivities. 
The next day I took a nap in the afternoon and dreamed of exactly the thing that had caused me stress during the day.  I dreamed I couldn’t go to a friend’s birthday party because I had a prior engagement at my field education site.  In actuality, I was late to a surprise party because of a service at my field ed. site, but I didn’t miss the whole thing.  The point is that my subconscious had decided to stop being particularly creative.
The next night the dreams got even more direct and I dreamt that I got my exam back and at first it said 95 percent on the top but the 95 quickly morphed into a 55 percent and stayed that way.  I woke up convinced that I had flunked my exam. 
It was really strange how badly I had stressed myself out on account of this test.  My jaw is only now recovering from the flair up of TMJ I had.  It was at the point on Thursday where my jaw wouldn’t close right and the muscle hurt constantly.  In addition to this I was having stomach trouble, extreme fatigue, and I felt like my hair was falling out. 
It turns out I did fine on the test, but the stress was seriously overwhelming.
Anyway, sorry this post is so utterly pointless.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 4 - My first concert

In 1986 - when I was in 3rd grade - I went to my first rock concert.  I remember this and a couple surrounding events pretty well, though not perfectly.  The fact that I remember them at all is kind of telling since the memory I have of my childhood is spotty at best.  But I remember this concert because this concert was special.  It was at the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont Illinois and we had seats in the balcony.  I think the seats were close to the front but I could be remembering it wrong.  Up until this concert I had seen music videos where people jump up and down and scream as the musicians play the music.  This is something that I certainly wanted to do but I remember how strange it felt to do it the first time, I remember how self conscious I was about it, and that my sister had to essentially teach me how to have fun at a concert.  But before that happened, before the music started, we were led in prayer by a Roman Catholic Cardinal, Cardinal Bernardin.  I remembered he prayed, but what I really remember was the thin red rope that I was given to tie around my wrist.  I couldn't tell you why we were given this red string, maybe it was for world peace, maybe it was to end hunger, maybe it was a reminder that we are mortal...I  don't know and it isn't really important.  What is important is that I loved that bracelet and I wore it until it frayed and fell off months later.  After the Cardinal prayed, the opening acts started.  The only one I remember was Herman's Hermits, I was told later that they and the other opening acts were really bad, but at the time I didn't think so, at the time it was just a band who was trying really hard and deserved to be clapped and cheered for if only because they had the guts to get up before thousands of people and sing their hearts out.

But we weren't there for them, we were there for the main act.  We were there to see The Monkees.

By 1986 I had seen most, if not all, of The Monkees television show.  I loved it.  It was weird and absurd and colorful, and I may not have understood half the jokes that were being made but it was filled with dream logic and it made sense to me.  As a side note my tastes have changed very little in this regard.

Now I know that everyone's favorite Monkee was either Davy Jones or Micky Dolenz, and while I loved both of them dearly, my favorite was without a doubt Peter Tork.  I know of course that his character was a bit of a dummy, but there was something kind and sweet about him.

So, the concert.  When The Monkees theme started playing I had no trouble screaming and dancing to the music.  What I remember most about the concert is, of course, Peter talking about being the quiet one, and then singing an awesome song and playing the guitar (I think he took the lead on 'For Pete's Sake', but I can't be certain).  It was an amazing experience and a great first concert for a 9 year old.

I wish I could say it was all great.  The next day I went to school tired and wearing a Monkees t-shirt. This led to me being tormented and made to feel guilty by Mrs. Eegan for having had fun.  To be fair, she hated me and it was, I believe, her mission as an emissary from hell to make my life as unbearable as possible.  She was certainly good at her job, but still, she cannot take away the awesomeness of that evening.  And I only wish my highly selective memory did not in fact include her.

So there it is, The Monkees.  It is sad that Davy Jones has passed, but I feel so blessed that I got to be influenced by that band and their show.  The more I think about it, the more I think they are the reason I like such strange stuff, them and 'The Electric Company.'  But that is a different memory all together.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 3 - The Entropy of Procrastination

So my Lenten goal has been giving me some trouble.  Seeing as I missed 3 days straight I decided to write a poem about it.

It is a sonnet which I call "Entropy of Procrastination"

I have never written a Sonnet before so it's a bit rough, but it took way longer than 20 minutes.

Entropy of Procrastination
I’ll begin again, I swear, tomorrow night!
But fruition of that promise never comes.
The energy escapes and I must fight
For the vows I made from turning into crumbs,
Broken promises strewn at the Lord’s feet.
Putting off what I should do today
Chaos comes and hope starts to retreat,
How do I make my will my heart obey?
I would my promises forever keep -
All my desires were to make you proud,
But  I am weak and walk through life asleep
And break more than I keep what I have vowed.
This discipline I will again retrieve
To help my soul in all that I believe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 2 - The Chapel

“You can do this,” she told herself, “The question is why are you doing this?” 
Sara made her way in the darkness walking swiftly with her head down and her hands shoved into her pockets.  She wore all black for the occasion not that it would have made much difference in the middle of the night.
The burnt out chapel had been on her mind lately.  It was in the background of all of her dreams, and whenever her mind wandered in class, it wandered over to the chapel.  It had been over a year since the chapel had burned, and while the ruins still stood in the same place on the seminary grounds, people had moved on.  There was a new chapel to build, a better chapel, a chapel that promises to usher in a promising new age of worship and formation. 
Sara could not even remember the last time she even looked over at the chapel ruins.  It was different right after the fire, she looked at it every day then, but like everyone else she lost interest and had better things to do.  It was just a building after all and eventually it would be torn down, and something safe and beautiful would be put in its place.  Probably some kind of memorial garden.
But for some reason there she stood, in the middle of the night, staring through the chain link fence at the old husk of a building.  Sara walked slowly, around the chain link fence till she came across a spot where the fence butted right up against a wooden bench. Taking a quick breath she stepped onto the bench and hoisted herself up and over the fence. 
Looking up at the ruined chapel, a sense of great sadness came over her.  The chapel seemed alive somehow, and the fire had stolen away something precious that the old building desperately longed to have back again.  For over a century the faithful had worshipped in its walls.  Joy and sorrow, faith and doubt filled the building every day.  It had never been alone; trusted and loved, the chapel had shared in the greatest moments of so many lives.  But for a year not a single person had walked inside, and Sara could feel the loneliness pouring off of the chapel. 
Sara knew she was probably projecting these feelings onto the church.  It was something she used to do all the time as a child; she would anthropomorphize everything from buildings to furniture.  She would apologize to boxes of cereal that didn’t get bought in the grocery store and feel sorry for dented cars.  At some point as she grew older this stopped, but every now and then when she came across something old and loved Sara couldn’t help but feel as if the object was looking back at her, trying to tell her something.  And now it was as if the building was calling out to her for mercy and she could not help but feel sorry for this poor abandoned house of God. 
“They all move on, and you are left behind with nowhere to go,” Sara said looking up, “We’re not so different, you and I.”
She wasn’t sure if she would even be able to get into the chapel at this point.  All the windows and doorways were boarded up.  The only door that looked promising was on the South side of the building where the original doors were still on the hinges.  “Surely they have nailed this shut” Sara thought, but she went up to the door and gave it a tug anyway.  The door scraped loudly against the brick landing as it opened a few inches.  Sara stopped and listened, she couldn’t believe her luck.  She pulled again, and the door opened just enough so she could squeeze inside.
Sara stepped into darkness.  The choir loft was still intact and it hung over the narthex like it always had, but the effect was disorienting and it took Sara a second to adjust.  Slowly she moved through the rubble.  The floor creaked as she made her way to the center aisle between the pews.  She stepped out into the nave and looked up.  The roof was gone except for some rafters which looked like the ribcage of some giant mythical creature.  Carefully she made her way down the aisle.  Fourth row from the front on the right side, that is where she always sat.  It was remarkable how intact everything looked; she wondered if she could sit in her old spot again, she leaned her wait onto the seat of the pew testing its compression strength.  It seemed okay, so she cautiously sat down.  Charred around the edges and water logged, All the hymnals and prayer books were still sitting in the back of the pews.  Gingerly Sara lifted out one of the hymnals, “shall I sing for you?” she whispered.  Opening the hymnal she started to sing, “Deck thyself my soul with gladness, leave the gloomy haunts of sadness.”
As she continued to sing a soft breeze started to whistle through the rafters as if the chapel were singing too.  The weight of loneliness began to lift, but if it was the chapel’s loneliness or her own, Sara could not tell…

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 1 - Prologue

A while back I came across this quote from Ira Glass about creativity:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through.”

I let it simmer for a while in the back of my brain. Every now and then I would think about this quote and know it to be true, but I wouldn't do anything about it.

This January I went back to Los Angeles and I had a conversation with a good friend who told me about this writing project she has been doing. She writes every day for at least 20 minutes. She can write more if she likes but she only commits to 20 minutes a day. I was intrigued. I could do that, I could write for 20 minutes a day, and who knows, maybe something will happen.

I decided to do it as a Lenten discipline, which means from now through April 7th I will write something everyday. This is not meant to be a journal and it could be really bad, in fact I know that on multiple occasions it probably will be. And it might get really personal. This is a chance I will have to take. This exercise wont work if it doesn't test me on both a creative and spiritual level.

Spiritual you say? How can doing something like this test you spiritually? Well, I had a very heartfelt conversation with a friend yesterday and he made the observation that perhaps the cross that perhaps for some of us the cross we are supposed to take up is one of the heart. That is to say, the world has a tendency to break your heart, and for some of us the instinctive reaction to this is to put up walls against further hurt or rejection. But the spirit cannot grow and be fruitful when the heart is locked away for safe keeping.

So I will write, and in this way I hope to coax my heart out of its hiding place and see what it has to offer.