Soundtrack: ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ by The Cult. “When the world drags me down, she sells sanctuary…”
Because she’s cooler than shit, she starts the meeting out with the following reflection: We tell other people all the time that God loves them, that they are the Beloved (see first creation story, any accounting of the baptism of Jesus, etc), but how often to we spend quality time meditating on that fact as applied to us? And then we spent five minutes in meditative silence. And instantly the tone is set for our sometimes negative, sometimes fractious group: start from a foundation of love, and be honest about where we are in relation to it. And we turned to the person next to us and discussed it. And we opened up to the larger group some of our experiences, and believe you me, we were all over the board with it.
For some of us this was the most fundamental part of who we are. In the voice of a mother, or father, or spouse there is that constant reassurance: You are so incredibly loved. You are lovable. You are wholly good. These other things? These failings? This brokenness? All of that is stuff that can be forgiven, or is already. But at your essence, you are Perfectly Beloved.
And for others of us… yeah, not so much. Perhaps you’d think a room full of Clergy who regularly preach the Love of God and who regularly sit with the dying and assure the Love of God and who regularly baptize newborns and proclaim the Love of God would have a better handle on it in their own lives. Well, you’d be wrong about that. ::stepping down off the pedestal, on behalf of all her brother and sister clergy::
Soundtrack: ‘Wonderful’ by Adam Ant. “Did I tell you you’re wonderful? I miss you.”
Serendipity exists. Either that, or the Holy Spirit is WAY more present that most of us are prepared to admit to. Call it what you will. This is Day 90 for me of a 90 day program. Why 90 days, you ask? Well, cognitive behavior research tells us that it takes just about 90 days of consistent work to either encode a new thought pattern, or to change an existing one. 90 days. This is a quarter of a year, or if you will, from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost. (Totally appropriate that it should be both all the 40 days of Lent and all the 50 days of Easter. Just sayin’.) So anyway, 90 days ago, in a tearful conversation with my best friend of best friends, one Ms. L.N.E. Joseph, Esq., after confessing to her what seemed to me to be one of the most shameful and painful life situations I’d encountered yet, we slowly and carefully peeled back all the layers, all the reasons, all the influences, all the memories, all the past until we got down to the most basic and fundamental assumption that was fueling all of my suffering: My inherent worthlessness as a human being. There it is. 90 days ago it was the worst thing in my world and I could barely admit it to the one person I trusted above anyone else. Earlier today I admitted it to a room full of my colleagues who, and I’ll be perfectly honest here, I have not always felt safe around. (That’s clearly changing for the better. Yay. Anyway, continuing on.) And so, we talked this out, Ms. Joseph and I, and before long we came up with the perfect short phrase that seemed to us to be the best and most applicable way to describe what was actually true, the best way to counteract this illusory and painful falsehood. And it is this:
I. Am. Lovable.
And every day for 90 days I reminded myself of this. Some days felt like God himheritself was buoying me up, like I was walking on sunshine. And other days? I cannot describe to you the horrific suffering involved as every negative aspect of who I am rebelled with pitchforks, machetes and burning torches against this idea. It got significantly easier after about day 40, which has a beautifully ironic twist if you do, in fact, start on Ash Wednesday (which obviously I didn’t).
And what is it like? This difference? Intentionally changing a fundamental aspect of myself?
It is like being Lazarus, dead, entombed, and being called to rise. It is like the little girl (Jarius’ Daughter, for those who follow along), about whom Jesus says ‘Nope, don’t worry. She’s not really dead. She’s just sleeping,’ and then he goes into her room and says, ‘Get up, little girl.’ (Or if you’re a purist and prefer the Aramaic, ‘Talitha Cumi.’) And then, she does.
That’s what it’s like. It’s like Resurrection. And everything in my life has changed, accordingly. And I mean everything.
Soundtrack: ‘Rock the Casbah’ by The Clash (‘The Shah, he don’t like it: rock the casbah…”)
And so, she said many things to us. They were all good. She said, “Greet the Beloved [meaning YOU] in the bathroom mirror as you’re brushing your teeth every morning.” We laughed and she laughed, but of course she was exceedingly serious. She challenged us to do it for 30 days and see what it felt like. (But hey, go for the full 90 and watch it change your life.)
When we asked her how we can be better servants and have a better presence to the true diversity that exists in our city and surrounding areas, she said, “We are meant to be in dangerous places, because that is where Jesus is.” And dangerous, perhaps, is anywhere that is not in our normal, habitual routine. Which really opens wide the field of possibility, when you think about it.
When we asked her how how we can love each other when we feel so divided over theology and a sense of who is in and who is out (it’s that whole ‘we ordain gay people’ thing, again), she said, “If we can ramp up the sense of urgency for the Need in the World, it would be easier to jump over the little fences,” and “The needs of the world are more important than our differences of opinion concerning what is necessary for salvation.” And of course she was talking about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the wounded, educating the marginalized children of our world and rebuilding communities devastated by our earth-made crises. You know; all that mercy stuff that inevitably becomes the justice stuff.
And she also said, “Go. Go out. Into the world. That’s where the people are. Don’t wait for them to come into your churches. Go to meet them.” She encouraged us to think outside of the boxes we’re in, and then she named a few.
And she is the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, my presiding bishop. She really is cool as shit.