Monday, August 15, 2011

Take Me to the Water

"Take me to the water ... to be baptized."

I could not go to the waters I normally travel to each summer. For one thing, I was working full time plus, as a hospital chaplain. For another, it has been sold. Some other family goes there now.

I reached the end of my CPE summer and felt the call to come to the waters. There will always be water to refresh you. And I was hot, hot to the very core of my being. I'd drive to the park and ride, and it was already hot. Board the bus, walk a couple of blocks to the rail. Hot, steamy, even in an air-conditioned train car. A block to the hospital. Walking around, one end of the hospital to the other, clothed in a suit, because it's a formal type of place. Sweating through my blouses. Time to go, out to the even hotter day now, the rail, the bus, the car that has baked all day in the sun. Home, but the a/c couldn't keep up with this insane summer. Ice water on the inside, cold showers on my skin, it didn't matter. I couldn't get cool.

I knew where to go.

About 2 1/2 hours from my house, there is a giant pool, fed by natural cold springs. As a child, we would take trips and I would swim there. When my mother was a child, so did she. So did her parents, and her grandparents. Perhaps even those before them. I feel that the very molecules of my body, the genetic material I have inherited, somehow carried those experiences and cried out for me to come to the water. To the cold, cold waters, to be refreshed and replenished.

We didn't tell the children where we were going. Friday, as I left for my last day at the hospital, I left them a scavenger hunt of things to find ... sunblock, swim suits, goggles ... They were madly curious. The coast? The place where I often preach, or their grandmother's home? Nope, we told them. And that was all.

We played tantalizing music on the way, as they cudgeled their brains. Take Me to the Water, Take Me to the River, Old Black Water ...

And then we were there. We slipped on the algae-covered bottom, took deep intakes of breath as the cold hit us, quickly going the very center of our being. So hot all summer long, now we looked up at the small clouds that made it overcast and asked them to part so the sun could come through.

We swam together, somersaulting under the water, showing off strokes, floating and looking up at the clouds. I left them in the shallow for a bit, their father smiling knowingly at me as I took off for the deeper waters. I swam, I dove underneath, I was refreshed, revived, replenished, recovered. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and more, as they swam here, in this same place, at a different time. They came together in me and we were held in the healing waters.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loved Into Being

I'm tired. I'm tired the way you are at the end of your CPE summer. Ministers, can I get an 'amen'?

But RevTony's post about his wonderful experiences with DBLE and HeartPaths Spirituality Centre prompt me to write. He blogs that those places were "an environment that made me feel appreciated, loved and cared for as a child of God" and that "what enables people to achieve any type of emotional and spiritual healing is that first and foremost they feel accepted, welcomed and loved...Learning can happen at anytime, but perhaps deep, internalized insight can only happen when we are loved."

Jim, who also did CPE this year, wrote about his CPE center, and his appreciation that they used a "collegial educational model, rather than believing that CPE students should be treated rather like soup ingredients that must be thoroughly chopped into small pieces before they can be of any use."

Amen, my brother.

I wound up at a center that was, from the top down, a nurturing, strengthening, affirming culture. Which didn't mean they held our hands ... no, we were thrown out into the big scary ocean straight away. But they cheered us on, answered our questions, and treated us with the respect of being full chaplains. It truly was a loving culture.

I learned, oh, how I learned. I received formation. Lots and lots of formation. I am a different, stronger minister than I was at the start of summer.

But along with that ... I did a lot of healing this summer. From those who have followed along since the cancer years, yes, a lot of healing from that time. The fact that I journeyed with my daughter through two bouts of cancer did affect my pastoral care, and many times, it was a help in connecting with patients. I am no longer resentful that the universe may, in some way, benefit from her illness. Was it worth it? No, of course not, but what does that matter? When sitting with someone hurting, needing my pastoral presence, I will use all the tools I have been given.

One of my heroes is the Rev. Fred McFeely Rogers. Also known as Mr. Rogers.

When receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys, he used his time to ask everyone to take a moment and remember "those that loved you into being."

I feel that I had the amazing fortune to wind up in a hospital with people that helped love me into being. Come to think of it, my life has almost always had that fortune.

I hope I may do the same for others. Because I am one to whom much has been given. With love, anyway. Undeserved, unasked for. In a word, grace.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Could Your Church Support a Mission?

So, let me tell you my fantasy.

My fantasy is that we come up with a sustainable model for minister-planted Unitarian Universalist churches.

Right now, our main model is for a minister, capable of living very frugally, and with a supportive spouse, to plant churches on his or her own dime, right? Commendable, but not a sustainable model if we want to have churches popping up around the country.

Which I do.

Christian churches support “missions.” They put money, people, and resources toward sending out missionaries to areas of need. This is part of the Great Commission, they believe. The missionaries return home and give exciting reports about what they’re accomplishing, church members go on mission trips to dig wells, build schools, and meet the members of the local mission. The members are spiritually fed by this, and they make that little pocket of the world better.

Here’s my fantasy.

A UU church – probably one of the larger ones in town – decides to support a Mission. They hire a missionary, a person trained in ministry and missional church planting, and call him or her “Associate Minister.” They allocate funds so that the minister can start a church on a shoestring budget. This missionary/minister goes into a community and plants a church, a church that will do missional work, because we say that we are a religion of deeds not creeds.

The missionary/minister doesn’t go to Uganda or Honduras. This m/m goes … across town. Across town, not to a wealthy area, not to an educated area, not to any of the areas bearing demographics of “People Like Us.” Because this is Mission. The m/m goes to the area of the greatest need because – and this is key – because the sponsoring church truly believes that Unitarian Universalism has a lifesaving message and the members of the church truly believe that they are charged with realizing The Beloved Community and accepting their role in creating it.

The minister/missionary sets up a Satellite Church, returning “home” occasionally, being an associate minister. The senior minister (and other ministers, if the church has more) occasionally comes out to the Satellite Mission, preaching and lending support. Members of the Home Church go out to do things in the neighborhood of the Satellite Mission … planting flowers, helping an area school, helping. Caring.

I’ve written before about shalom, about the fullness of the word. Wholeness. Wholeness of body, mind, economics, spirit. I believe in working toward shalom – wholeness – for all. I can see a church that devotes resources to helping “the least of these” get closer to wholeness … feeding the hungry, offering tutoring, teaching English, making a neighborhood safer, extending friendship to the lonely and giving inclusive, love-based food for the spirit. And finding that in doing so, they themselves were being made more whole.

That’s my fantasy.