About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Praying in Love - a Multicultural experience the day of the Women's March


  (See also version on episcopal cafe)

Since I am uneasy in big crowds, I opted not to attend the Women’s March in DC. , and instead to follow a strong urge I was feeling to be at prayer as this new administration comes into office.  So I reached out to some of the other prayer-ministers and members of my parish, the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, and we advertised a Multi-cultural prayer vigil   Since we were put on the map as one of the first sites of post-election racist graffiti,  it seemed like a good place to assemble people for a multicultural vigil, to offer prayers for the day, and the work ahead for the nation.
            So, without much of a structure, we opened the church from 10-4. One of the women prepared a simple soup luncheon, so we could break for conversation and fellowship at midday,  and over the course of the time about 15 people came and went, mostly from Our Saviour but with a few supporters from the surrounding community.  We took turns leading prayers at the top of the hour, and followed explicit prayer times with times of sitting together in silence.  Our prayer styles ranged from meditative silence to spirit-filled singing to spontaneous prayers for the causes that were on our hearts. As the day went on, periods of silence were filled with spontaneous singing,  and people calling out hymn numbers from the Lift Every Voice & Sing hymnals we had in the pews. “We’re Marching to Zion,”  “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone.”  “My anchor holds, and grips the Solid Rock.”    Being in the company of people who are gifted “prayer-warriors” was a rich gift to me, and I was glad to have thought of gathering in this place, on this day. I contributed by opening and closing the proceedings and also produced a litany of prayers based on the vision statement from theWomen’s March organizers.  We prayed that together – and several people commented that they’d like to take it home and use it further, so I’m also posting it here in case other prayer or worshipping groups find it useful. 
            We also offered prayers of thanksgiving, coming out of time spent looking through the many, many supportive cards and letters that had come to Our Saviour after the graffiti incident in November, messages from all over the country:  California, Ohio, Kentucky, Colorado, Illinois as well as from near neighbors in the Muslim and Jewish communities and other schools and churches in our area  I suggested that people read through and bless those whose notes we read, as I do when I read through my Christmas cards:  it was a good way to remember how many people in our country have good hearts and are drawn to compassion and solidarity.  The Women’s March also reflected that,  strong solidarity, and so the prayer vigil was for us gathered there a profound experience of contemplation and action. I hope that this practice of prayer, undergirding and supporting political activism, will continue to provide us with strength for the work ahead. 

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

On "Jesus Movements": Claiming My Tradition's Way of Being Christian

(also published on Episcopal cafe)
I have been teaching in a forum series locally on the theme “Why Be a Christian,” and in the course of that I’ve been digging a little deeper into Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s efforts to call the Episcopal Church back to our identity as a “Jesus movement,” even as I’ve been surprised and a little dismayed by many “liberal” Episcopalians who confess they have “trouble with the Jesus part.” 

When I teach about Christian spirituality I often remind people that at least in the historical tradition, when Christians talk about “following Jesus” they mean not only following precepts of a great Wisdom teacher, which Jesus certainly was, historically, but about following and knowing the post-Resurrection Jesus, experiencing the holy through our experience of the Living Christ who promised to be with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)
 
But I think that Episcopalians and others who identify as mainline Protestants or “progressives” have been shy about Jesus-language, largely because of the way that self-identified conservative Evangelicals have emphasized as normative a “belief in Jesus Christ as personal Savior”, but tying that to a highly individualistic theology that tends to emphasize personal salvation from damnation, fear of judgment, and conformity to community norms that are considered “Biblical” through a fundamentalist lens.

A watchword of “liberal” Christianity, beginning with Harry Emerson Fosdick and picked up by Verna Dozier and Bishop Michael Curry among others, is that we need to learn to “follow Jesus, not worship Him.”  I would be on board with this if we added “follow Jesus, not just worship Him,” but my experience tells me that the energy that allows us to follow Jesus’s teachings comes from a more mysterious place that the tradition has named as the work of the Holy Spirit or as the encounter with the Living Christ.  We not only follow the teachings of our great Wisdom Teacher; we seek to be empowered, through prayer, worship, and spiritual practice, by the God who desires New Life for all of Creation, who was Incarnate in Jesus.    We are called  both to follow Jesus and to worship together, to embrace the mystery of the divine life, in which His story invites all Creation to participate.  This is what our sacramental tradition affirms when we call ourselves “living members of our. . . Savior Jesus Christ”  - sent “to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord”) as our prayer book has it (BCP. 365-6).

As I explored “Jesus movements” of the 20th century I came to realize that I myself am a product of the revival of a Jesus-focus that we saw in the US in the 1960’s and 1970s, expressed in the “Jesus people” of hippie culture, in the charismatic revivals in the Roman and Episcopal churches, in the strengthening of movements like Intervarsity and Campus Crusade for Christ, and also – strikingly – in movements like Sojourners and Call to Renewal that persist in tapping the energy of the Living Christ to build “base communities” dedicated to the service of the poor and work for social justice.  

Looking at “Jesus movements” in the Christian tradition, we can see that across the political spectrum, times of revival have come with the invitation to embrace a relationship with the Living Christ.  So the progressively oriented Social Gospel movement of the turn of the 20th century was powered in part by the question “What would Jesus do?” – a question nourished by deeply personal prayer.   Jesuit spirituality invites companionship with Jesus as we discern our path for life, and Franciscan spirituality embraces the God of Creation incarnate in the humble Child, calling Christians to a life of following Jesus that embraces Poverty of Spirit.   These are spiritual traditions that have been available to what our culture labels as “liberal” or “progressive” politics – but the Church often seems disconnected from these rich resources in our tradition, even when the words of our liturgy and hymnody invoke them.  

I think we Episcopalians and liberal Protestants have become shy about embracing a relationship with the Living Christ because we have ceded language about “following Jesus” – even the word “discipleship”-- to the theological discourse of American fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.  And the reasons for this divide have deeper theological and cultural roots that I’ve uncovered in looking at my own journey of faith, which is very much “Jesus centered” though I’ve often been shy about using that language in Episcopalian circles:  I want us to get over this shyness.  But here’s my story. My testimony, if you will.


I came into the Episcopal Church as a young adult in the mid-1970s,  playing my guitar for the student chapter service at St. John’s Northampton, on the campus of Smith College.  I learned not only the early folk masses of Ian Mitchell (now largely forgotten) but also many of the songs that energized my evangelical friends who attended the Thursday Eucharist and were also active in Campus Crusade for Christ.  In fact, part of what drew me back to active involvement in Church was the way I experienced, in one of my evangelical friends, a person who clearly lived into and took great joy in an ongoing, prayerful relationship with Jesus.  Just being in her presence was transformative.  We differed theologically on a lot of things (I’ll get to that in a minute) but there was a core experience that attracted me, and that I came to find in the celebrations of Eucharist at St. John’s – affirmed in the new liturgical language that we were using and in the conversations we had in small groups about what this all meant for our lives.  But it was about experience at first, not doctrine or belief. And that experience was about Jesus, though because of the excesses of my Evangelical friends I gradually became more  shy about claiming my experience in that language. Luckily the Eucharistic prayers named it every time and gave me language that worked for me.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vandalism at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour: Some thoughts a week later

 Last Sunday I arrived at church for choir practice and the 10:00 service, to find that vandals had scrawled “TRUMP NATION: WHITES ONLY” on  the banner advertising our Spanish language service and on the wall of the Memorial Garden, the area beside the church where many of my longtime friends and mentors are buried.    We are a church proud of our cultural and racial diversity – close to 80% of our members are immigrants , from all over African, the Caribbean and Latin America.   When we gather for worship on a Sunday morning it feels to me like the reality of the “reign of God” – people from east and west gathered at Christ's table, joined by a common faith and spiritual practice that transcends our differences.



The event hit social media and has evoked outrage that this could happen – and expressions of support for our community and anger at those who did this.   What it represents for others is important for humanizing our national discourse.  But I hope that the story that breaks through ultimately will be the one I experienced:  the depth and clarity of the love that binds us as a community of faith,  carrying and grounding our response to this event and affirming of love as stronger than hatred and fear.  The coverage on WAMU, which included an interview with me next to the desecrated Memorial Garden Wall, makes a good start https://wamu.org/news/16/11/14/facing_racist_vandalism_diverse_church_in_silver_spring_meets_hate_with_love

Of course we were shocked and wounded by this event – in this community of “blue” Maryland that prides itself on our racial and cultural diversity.  But we didn’t dwell much on “who would do this?”  I was oddly unsurprised, I realize now: upset, but with more of a feeling of, “So, here it is:  we knew it was out there and it has come to us”– this atmosphere of hatred and fear that has become so pervasive in our political discourse through this election season.  But my reaction as a relatively privileged white Anglo may be different from those directly threatened, who have been feeling frightened and vulnerable even before this.  I am also aching for them – especially the children and the parents who seek to keep them safe.

What was inspiring was the way that the Church, as a Whole Church and the body of Christ, came together to support us.  The Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, came to celebrate communion  at our Spanish service and invited people from around the diocese to come at short notice, and they came.  Our rector, the Rev. Dr. Robert Harvey,  spoke for the welcome that binds our community.  Our preacher, the Rev. Francisco Valle, spoke inspiringly of who we are as Christians:  We are people who answer love with hate and this is the kind of time when we bear witness to this. He spoke from the heart, he quoted St. Francis, and he spoke for all of us. (see more here Afterwards chalk was given out and the people gathered, especially the children, wrote messages of love: Love WinsLove is stronger than hate; on the sidewalks around the church. 

Meanwhile Bishop Mariann and those who spoke for the church protested against these acts of violence against the vulnerable, and called on the President-Elect and his supporters to separate themselves from the hate-speech that this election has stirred up in his name.  It was not a condemnation of “those people” but a call to put an end to behavior that is hurtful toward the vulnerable.  Not a call for “political correctness” but a call for respect and empathy, and humane attention to the damage our words can do, and to the need for healing words.  This too is at the heart of our faith.

In the week since, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming –candles, flowers and cards left at our doors,  a new sign replacing the old and stating “Silver Spring Loves and Welcomes Immigrants.”  I was at the church on Tuesday most of the day working with our office of Samaritan Ministry and serving people from our community and our congregation who need help taking their next steps toward applying for jobs, improving computer skills, and other steps out of poverty and homelessness.  The gestures of support, and media calls  from all over the world, wer flowing through the church office all morning, all day, on Tuesday. The imam from up the road came with some of his congregation to pray at the church; 2 guys arrived from Pennsylvania with offers to clean the wall for free; others just stopped by to say "I'm with you" - and it continues.

At Our Saviour we have always been proud of our mission to be “a home for all God’s people” and we’ve  been clear that we are here to embody Jesus’ welcome to all, even when we sometimes have to work at it.  Being part of this community for over 25 years has been a privilege and joy.  It has kept me aware- if sometimes appropriately uncomfortable –of my own role and experience as a white person in this society, and grateful for the welcome that I receive because of a shared faith and the joy of common worship with so many people I might not otherwise have crossed paths with in the course of daily life.   And I’m grateful that my children were able to grow up with the experience of this kind of friendly diversity as normal and good and real – because I believe that that is what we embody at Our Saviour, and indeed what the Church at its best bears witness to.

In one way it is exciting that as a result of this ugly event our common vision and commitment to one another is on display for all to see.  In another way it is exhausting, the way any grieving process is exhausting,  sorting out the sense of violation the  loss of the sense of safety we had,  and becoming a public symbol on social media across the world, because of the way that this hate crime reflects the sad and broken state of our country.  At Our Saviour we haven’t been spending much energy on “Who did this?” Or “Why did they do this?”  Jesus was the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  My comfort and my hope  is that all this public exposure will invite people of good will, across the political spectrum,  to think on these things, and recognize the need for far more compassion and empathy, and firmness in the struggle against hate as we journey together through the very challenging time that lies ahead.www.episcopalcos.org.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My thoughts as I'm watching Hillary's Concession Speech


So here we are after this election.   With headlines I and most of my friends and family did not expect.  I am watching Hillary’s concession speech I am and probably will be for awhile on the edge of tears, and maybe over the edge.   Perhaps for the first time in my life I’m aware of the rejection of someone I admired and deeply identify with:  an educated, organized, strong white woman. I really thought it was our moment.  And I just ache for Hillary and all she has been through, all she has offered, the President she could have been and knows she could have been.   She is such a class act.  

OK. Here come the tears.



And I also know that we have to go on, with our eyes wide open and clear, and avoid denial and smoothing over and continue, those of us with means, privilege and power, to work for those who continue to be left behind and rejected in our system.   And to watch for ways to do this both within and outside of our political system. 

 For me it has been a rollercoaster week.  I spent all day on Monday ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania for Hillary, in Reading PA – meeting people across the spectrum – in small working class homes, in student houses connected to nearby Albright CollegeThe canvassing team of 4 that I was assigned to included me, a Jewish woman about Hillary’s age, a young African American man (a lawyer), and a Muslim neighbor.     It was a high-energy, hopeful group, the busload of us who spent the day traveling from Maryland to a neighborhing battleground state – we bought into the strategy, and we met people who had great enthusiasm about voting.  I walked up and down hills in residential neighborhoods in beautiful fall weather – I think the images of that day will stay with me, and I’m glad I did it.     

Then on Tuesday, I spent the morning at the SamaritanMinistry office, doing casework with people who need to find jobs and are shut out of the system because of the shredding of the safety net, the high cost of housing, the lack of education and support sytem.    I will continue this work and find more ways to do it and to work for whatever political change can happen – on the most local level if necessary. 

And in the afternoon, speaking with my spiritual director.  And then the evening as the election returns came in and began a period of mourning for me.  The grieving, the anger, the deep sadness will continue:  and I have also learned that mourning, and anger on the side of the oppressed, help us to grow in compassion.    It has to.  And my days of canvassing, of meeting reasonable, lovely, diverse people did make me feel positive about this country, our diversity and strengths. It was the America I believe in:  “hopeful, resilient and big-hearted” as Hillary says. 

Sustaining me is the hope that there is resilience in this country, and among us who believe that we are “stronger together.”  That was not just a slogan: and it doesn’t mean papering over differences. But it means continuing to see each other clearly.   Standing up for everyone and supporting one another and those who have no voice.    Opposing outrageous policies and craziness.  And being, really, yes:  “stronger together.”  

This evening I am on to lead a Bible study at a local church -- the Gospel of Matthew, looking at Jesus' teaching and the Sermon on the Mount.  The story of Jesus that we have in this gospel Matthew is about a community that forms in the midst of great political turmoil and surrounded by values that are not those of this community.    And he preaches inclusiveness, care for the poor, healing for those who are left out.   Reading this part of the gospel story today I am impressed by the way that Jesus’ teaching of his disciples invites and describes a way of life and an attitude that is a life-giving way in any and all times.  And for me the shift in national fortunes makes this even more vivid.  

I've posted on a separate page my poem "Judgment Day" -written in 2001 -- which sounds in a different way what I'm still mulling over, as someone who belongs to the now-discredited "elite" and aware of my connection to so many of my neighbors.  Still not sure how to paraphrase the insight but I think it still speaks.
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