Jettison Cargo

Over the past couple weeks as I’ve been living in October’s “over-drive” mode, I have had a couple brushes with ordinary mortality.  A seemingly healthy, not-much-older-than-me neighbor died suddenly.  Close friends are battling with cancer.  In the course of being a helpful-yet-boundary-setting social worker, a client made a threat against me.  Candles lit by friends and colleagues and co-workers on pregnancy and infant death remembrance day reminded me of how many lives end before they even have a chance to flourish.  These are the kind of incidents…the daily ordinary… that can prompt us to take a breath and realize:  life is fragile.

Life is fragile and precious, and our days are of limited quantity.  Most of us know this.  We don’t care to think about it, but we know it.

What is weighing on my heart…and making me a bit snippy, I will admit…is how we act in the face of that knowledge.  Lately, fear fills every newscast, newspaper, and social media streams.  I am growing increasingly impatient with people’s fear-filled and distant responses to tragedy.  It starts small, “How did he die?” someone will ask, with an undercurrent meaning of “let’s hope that it was something unrelated to the risks I take in my own daily life…”   Or, in the tragedy of Hannah Graham, missing college student from the University of Virginia, we second-guess why she was where she was and give lectures to our daughters about self-protection as if we can shield those we love from every evil by the cut of our clothes.  Then, the fear and distancing grows.  We begin talking down about people and trying to point fingers of blame.  We start building up the “us vs. them.” statements, speaking of “those people with HIV” or worse yet, thinking of a new uprising of Ebola as something “those Africans” experience.  Somehow it didn’t seem so bad when it was “over there.”  Our statements become infused with political rhetoric, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism.  We lose sight of the fragility and connectedness of life.

These distinctions we make serve only one purpose: to ease our fears by trying to control our personal circumstances.  What we can fail to recognize is that our circumstances are a part of the human dynamic.  What happens to one person, affects every person.  Wise leaders, like Martin Luther King, Jr. have spoken those words:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So, today, I am suggesting that we stop and ponder for a few minutes the possibility that our individual circumstances are not “ours” to control.

While writing this week’s faith formation series for my faith community, I heavily pondered this idea of “giving to God what is God’s.”   What if that statement applied to our fears, our preoccupation with controlling our individual lives, our fascination with trying to ease our conscious worries by keeping more and more walls of protection between ourselves, and our neighbors?  What if I could jettison some of the cargo that I carry: trying to protect, prevent, isolate, distance.  What if I could hand today’s worries off and instead live deeply into the present moment of being a force for love and grace in the world.  What if each of us could see that our daily ordinary worries of human life really are God’s worries:  for each person, and for the whole fabric of humanity.

At one of the counseling agencies where I worked over the year, my colleagues and I used a particular phrase with our clients and each other:  Jettison Cargo.  We carry so much pain, grief, despair, and fear.  What if we could mentally jettison that cargo away from our lives and into a greater understanding of what it means to be alive.  Even for a moment, giving up some of that angst can transform us.

I believe that this courageous act of letting go is what propels those who serve, those who care for those experiencing the pain and suffering of this world: from Ebola, or cancer, or grief, or poverty.  For one suspended moment, I can stop trying to control my own destiny and realize that I am a part of something far larger than myself.  That moment is transformative, to ourselves and to the world around us.  That moment is divine.

This is Sunday, and in my faith tradition many of us will make our way to a church.  Many others will worship on this day or other sacred days in their own faith traditions, too.  We may listen to wisdom and inspiration shared in word.  We may be reminded of Divine Presence in music, in prayers, in community.  We may shake hands with and embrace others, greeting their divine spirits with our own divine spirits.  We may be invited to make our communion with God.  If and when we do any of these things:  Jettison Cargo.  Give to God what is God’s.  God’s love and care for each person, God’s love and care for the fabric of humanity.  God’s benevolence to the Universe in creation, evolution, science, knowledge and wisdom.  God’s grace in granting us minds to question, hearts to love, hands to serve each other.  Jettison the human cargo.  Give to God what is God’s.

Be transformed in that present moment and let it nourish you throughout your week.  In Monday’s world, this may make me a more caring professional, a more loving partner, a more patient parent, a more committed human being.  I may move to other moments of transformation, living with, embracing the possibility of the present moment instead of fear for the future.  I may live differently.

We may be amazed.

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We Can Do It

On this gorgeous Autumn morning, I am sitting at a picnic table in a quiet grove of trees, catching my breath after a long week. The precocious tween that I gave birth to eleven years ago is down the hill on an archery course, dressed in skinny jeans tucked into knee high leather boots, with a flowing black shirt and her long hair braided back. She’s channeling Katniss Everdeen this morning, although there was more Krispy Kreme than hunger in her morning routine. This morning follows an evening with her friends, all dressed up for Cotillion in their party dresses and white gloves while learning the polite subtleties of dance and social grace. She was sure to put her own flair on it: safety pins in her hair, just for effect, and ending every polite dance with a little two-fingers pointed greeting to her dance partner, an homage to James Bond, and a reminder to the boys that she will be just as likely to lead as to follow. Be warned.

I love this child, truly.

She comes by her attitude both by nature and by nurture. She is the child of independent parents, to be sure. Its been more of a learning experience for her Dad and I to develop mutual inter-dependence with each other and to foster a development of community once we found a place to settle down and make a home here in Virginia. Who we are…all of us…is about this blending of individuality and collective identity. Sometimes, what I see reflected in my child actually speaks volumes about my own narrative.

Last night, before Cotillion, we were walking by the public library and she saw scaffolding that had been erected for some construction work. She lit up: “oh, take my picture here!” I tried to steer her toward the stately staircase and columns, but she would have none of it. I snapped a few photos as she wrapped herself arm and arm with the scaffolding in the same way she has been instructed to promenade with her partner in the dance hall. I immediately felt a calm rush over me as I watched the young woman I was raising standing solo and proud, arm and arm with scaffolding, making a power muscle with her other arm. She is going to be all right. I thought. And then I really took it in. She is going to be better than all right. She is going to be great. She already is.

She reminded me, standing there, of Rosie the Riveter.

I seem to find myself at a life cross-roads each decade. As I approached age 30, I was in a relationship that was not working, no matter how much either of us tried. I was the one that chose to end that dance, and to step out into the solo unknown of figuring out who I was and where I was going. I meditated, I prayed to whatever divine force of the Universe I could believe in during that time and place in my life. I boldly decided to make a cross-country move for new beginnings, and to work toward my PhD. I moved in early June to an apartment I had found the month prior. I moved the same week I turned 30.

I wasn’t alone, though, not really. First of all, Divine Presence was with me every step and I knew this to the core of my being. Pragmatically, my best friend since high school was there to be my listening ear on the other side of the country. She sent me flowers for my 30th birthday, and surprisingly I also received a beautiful plant from my brand new colleagues who knew I was relocating solo a few months before school to work with them. I didn’t have any birthday plans, but I decided to visit some museums near my newly set up apartment near Forest Park in St. Louis. I had packed only what furnishings would fit in a mini-van, so the place was pretty sparse.

I walked through the Missouri Historical Society museum and took in the spirit of adventure on which my new home town was built: westward expansion, rugged frontierism, the first machine taking to flight, “The Spirit of St. Louis.” When I walked through the gift shop on my way out, there she was. Rosie. Rosie the Riveter in her iconic red and yellow, bearing the slogan, We Can Do It.

Yes, we could. I hung Rosie proudly in my kitchen so she could remind me every morning.

Some of the first friends I met in St. Louis were women I found on a sign in a New Age Bookstore. Some women were forming a SARK-based, “Succulent Wild Women” group. I was all in. This group became my sisterhood, and although we were different people with different backgrounds and life circumstances they became my sisters in adventure. Over the years, we would celebrate, cry, dine, travel, laugh, and be real together. Although we all had other friends, colleagues, and families there has been a special, irrevocable bond between four of us in particular. We drank a number of cups of coffee and glasses of wine with Rosie smiling above us in my kitchen.

We Can Do It

One of my succulent wild women friends, in seminary at the time, officiated the outdoor ceremony in Forest Park ceremony when Michael and I decided to elope several months after we met. As we set up house, while pregnant with my daughter and preparing for her arrival, I bequeathed Rosie the Riveter to another one of my friends when she unexpectedly divorced. The spirit of Rosie was living in me now, and I knew it was time for her to find a new home. Rosie made the rounds, reminding one woman after another that as alone and out of place as we may feel at times, we are never alone.

We Can Do It.

Last night, I came home after the Cotillion and post-dance FroYo and flopped on my loveseat. I was tired, and it had been a busy week of work and parenting, as well as doing the ministry work that feeds my soul. I had posted a picture of my daughter with the scaffolding on my Facebook wall. My friends were commenting the same sort of awe that I have of her. I noticed I had a message from another one of my succulent wild women friends, though:

“I just wanted to tell you that I have a friend who is going through a divorce and I just mailed her a rosie the riveter poster. The tradition continues.”

I realized something, in that very present moment, about the spirit of community. We Can Do It. Independent, but not alone. Embracing doubt which is the exact same thing as having faith. Embracing friendship, no matter where we may reside. Sharing strength, which is the core of community. Passing all this along to our peers, to our daughters, to the corners of the world where we live and breathe and minister.

Yes, Rosie: We Can Do It.

We are going to be great. We already are….

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We All Belong

Today, I was posting the weekly installment of Sunday Thoughts for a Monday World on the website for my faith community. Today’s Gospel lesson can be interpreted in various ways, but to me, its a story of someone who is suffering from that all-too-familiar-to-me “impostor syndrome” that can undermine all of our strengths. In case you haven’t encountered that term before, think of a time when you were in a place where you had been invited: a classroom, a workplace, a party, or another important event. Did you ever look around and think, “Look at all these other [intelligent, attractive, deserving, etc.] people. They deserve to be here…I had better not let on to who I really am, because they’ll find out I don’t belong!”

This scene is really familiar to me. I have played it out far more times than I would like to admit, actually.

I remember vividly sitting in the lovely, elegant wood-framed dining area of Holmes Lounge at Washington University in St. Louis at a table full of these brilliant, amazing, motivated PhD students from around the country and around the globe. Amid sandwiches and salads, they all spoke so eloquently about what they hoped to study as even more brilliant, experienced researchers and scholars asked them to talk about their substantive areas. Until about a week prior, no one had ever used the term “substantive area” in my presence before. I was a social worker; I sat in people’s homes listening and supporting in the midst of loss. I sat in cramped, dingy lunch rooms with my colleagues eating yogurt and leftovers between clients. I sat in meetings with the medical examiner and read through autopsy reports with families through tears and swirling questions. I always had more questions than answers, more doubts than security. I sat in a space that felt too good for me, stuffing bites of salad in my mouth in hopes that I wouldn’t be asked my “substantive area” not because it wasn’t important to me and to all those families I had worked with, but because I didn’t believe I belonged. I felt like the impostor.

I had to make a choice that day, at that table. I had already made big decisions: to relocate, to enroll in a PhD program, to step into the unknown of becoming a scholar instead of remaining in the comfort of doing a job I knew well. But that moment was in itself a choice: was I willing to step into the invitation that had been offered to me? Did I trust the invitation I had received to study in this place, with these people? Was I willing to embrace this new role, or would I keep myself hidden inside my cloak of insecurity?

In my life, just like in this parable Jesus is telling, we actually do belong. We have been invited, and we have been given all that we need to be fully present as our authentic selves without shame. We are not impostors. I may not have felt smart enough, good enough, wealthy enough, privileged enough to be at the table where I sat. But, I was at that table because I had been invited by those who saw potential in me that perhaps even I couldn’t see at the time. My University believed there was a “Sarah the Scholar” long before I embraced that role. But, I also had to choose to believe this, whether or not I felt it. I had to say a full and honest “yes” to the invitation to be present. I put on a role that didn’t yet feel like my own, and talked with guests that seemed so much more worthy than I was to be there. In retrospect, they were feeling the same way. In a few weeks, our friendship and collegiality would deepen. We would learn our new roles, and find that we fit them more than perhaps we thought we did. We would begin to see each other more authentically and humanly, filled with both strengths and challenges. We would become community.

To me, when I read this story that Jesus is telling, I see this same scene playing out. I suspect most of the guests there put on the wedding robes and made a choice: to trust the invitation that they were welcomed, and that they belonged. No where in the parable does it say that the guests were free of self doubt. But they were there, wearing their robes and stepping in where invited. Eventually, the guests would come to know each other and in doing so, they would become a beloved community who could reflect each other’s strengths. The guest who showed up but didn’t wear the robe…well, that would have been me if I had kept my head down eating my salad, and let my insecurity get in the way of answering the question and learning the role. I would have wasted the invitation extended to me. No one was taking it away from me. But, I could have just as easily become the outcast if I gave in to the impostor syndrome because I would be blind to the strengths, the possibilities…and, to use a God-word, the grace…of the invitation.

So, I offer up this story as a parable of life, wherever you are on your own journey. We have been invited and welcomed to the abundance of this feast that is our lives. We don’t have to feel worthy, or good-enough, smart-enough, beautiful-enough. We are invited and welcomed exactly as we are. All that we need to do…ever…is step into the divine grace of that yes and allow ourselves to be transformed by being present at the feast of this life to which we have been welcomed and invited. We are not impostors: we are learning to recognize and clothe ourselves in the fullness and authenticity of our humanity and the Divine that dwells in us. We are all guests at this feast, continually learning who we are, and Whose we are.

Welcome. We all belong.

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Compline Prayer

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from Compline, Book of Common Prayer

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Your Presence, merciful God, is with me tonight.
Your Presence is with those whose lives met my own today,
Those who were in need and I could offer help,
Those who reached out to me when I was the one in need.
Those for whom I could offer nothing,
Those whose need is known to You alone.
We are so wearied by the changes and chances of this life:
Health that we cannot guarantee;
Safety that eludes us;
The ebb and flow of relationships;
The insecurities of the unknown.
Your Presence, changeless and eternal, is beyond what I can know
But as alive as the still, small voice that knows me to my core.
I rest tonight, not with a firm hold on tomorrow
but in the eternal now:
that home in the quiet hours of this night
where my spirit rests in you.
–SKP

These words are the prayer my soul breathes tonight.

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Turkeys of Thanks

There is no doubt in my mind that for me, Thanksgiving is a metaphor for abundance.  I have vivid memories of my whole extended family stretched out across four rooms of my Gramma’s farm house, sharing that annual meal together.  Last year, on the Night before Thanksgiving, I wrote about some of those memories which are like treasured family jewels in my upstate New York farm family.  Thanksgiving in my family is a harvest of people’s time, favorite dishes, and abundant and lavish sharing of food, stories, and company.  In recent years, Thanksgiving for my smaller family here in Virginia has also brought friends and neighbors and our family to the table, cooking favorite dishes that give us a shared sense of love and community.  Thanksgiving is a metaphor for our abundance:  as individuals, as families, as community, as citizens of a country that has nationalized a holiday to give thanks.

But it’s only October…why all the Thanksgiving talk?  The reason why I’m talking about turkey today is that I am leading a charge to fund raise for 350 Turkey Dinners for clients of the food pantry at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.  Our Turkeys of Thanks campaign is a way for us to share what we are thankful for, while giving to support this abundant gift of love, food, and presence that we will provide for our community.  This is a lofty goal, so we are starting on this first Sunday in October to spread the word and share the thanks.

How does it work?  You choose to donate $20 to sponsor a turkey for one of our food pantry clients (you can use the direct PayPal link on our church website).  We fill out a “Turkey of Thanks” with something you’re thankful for, and decorate our parish hall/food pantry with all these notes of thanks.  A virtual “Turkey of Thanks” wall will be posted on our website (below) with all the wonderful messages that we are receiving with each donation:

Turkeys of Thanks

Now, on to my own thoughts on Thanksgiving as abundance:

  • Thanksgiving offers us an abundance of opportunities to consider the blessings of this life and speak our thanks out loud.
  • Thanksgiving allows us the abundance of being with family and friends (and inviting family and friends to just us) in sharing the blessings of this life.
  • Thanksgiving allows us to eat abundantly from the bounty of our recipes and classic dishes.
  • Thanksgiving is the picture of abundance, a mental image of plenty to which we aspire.  Even for families that have little, it is a sign of abundance in comparison to many who have nothing.
  • Thanksgiving is abundant grace, the ability to sit at a table together and invite others to join us.  We don’t all necessarily see eye to eye at our Thanksgiving tables…but we still share community.  In that act, there is abundant grace.
  • Thanksgiving is abundant giving and receiving.  Every time I have given of money, time, meals, or services I am gifted back beyond what I could have asked or imagined.  Giving is an act of abundance, and a recognition that what we have is not ours to horde, but our to generously share.  Whenever we let go of our time, talents, and money to help others we are richly blessed in ways that go beyond calculated investment.  We are blessed at a soul level, and we are given the grace of catching a glimpse of Divine Presence moving through the world.

I’ll be sharing more Thanksgiving stories as this campaign progress.  But, if you’re reading this today, consider doing something abundant and sponsoring a Turkey of Thanks.  Use the PayPal link at http://www.stthomasrichmond.org/article/turkeys-of-thanks where your tax deductible donation will be routed to and directly used by our 100% volunteer run food pantry to offer abundant food and groceries to our neighbors.  Your PayPal receipt will be from St. Thomas Episcopal Church and is tax deductible.  Leave a note in the “message to seller” line or as a comment on my blog, and I will transfer it to our Turkeys of Thanks wall both in person and virtually.

Thank you in advance!  And feel free to spread the word, and share the love…

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Beads of Privilege

Tonight I am compelled to write simply because it was such an awesome, wonderful evening of class with my students.  Just to re-cap:  I am teaching undergraduate (BSW Junior) students this year after having spent the past 14 years immersed in graduate teaching in our MSW and PhD programs.  I sincerely enjoy teaching students at all levels, but every week I am reminded of how wonderfully gratifying it is to teach these amazing people who are just beginning their journey into our profession.  That, and their total honest and “out there” style just cracks me up and makes my day.

Tonight, we had class by immersion.  We didn’t have lectures or notes or anything traditional for that matter.  We engaged in two activities, each of which put to practice the information we have been learning about difference, diversity, institutionalized oppression, individual experience, social justice, human rights and perhaps most importantly: what it means to be actively engaged as a social worker in the midst of it all.  First up: Beads of Privilege.

The Beads of Privilege exercise is from the Difference Matters teaching resources.  It’s an exercise I’ve used in community groups and other forums over the years.  Basically, a series of questions are presented in the key areas of Race, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Gender, Nationality, Ability, and Socioeconomic Status.  The questions illustrate privilege that we may take for granted and which may be invisible in our everyday lives, but all oppression…and all privilege…impacts someone.  Reading the questions in each category, participants take a bead (one color for each category) every time they can answer “yes” to a question.  If they would answer “no” to a question, no bead is taken.  The “yes” responses are colorful examples of areas of privilege of which we may or may not even be aware.  At the end of the exercise, participants make their beads into “bling” as we discuss the ways in which each person has to become aware of and honor the privileges that are offered to each one of us in our lives.  No one is without privilege, and no one is without an intersecting series of differences both seen and unseen that can oppressive some and privilege others.

While we were making our “privilege bling” tonight, several students began an impromptu conversation about the (un)availability of hair products in major retail chains that reflect anything other than a dominant Caucasian hair type.  The conversation shifted to reflect that the shops that did sell the right kind of product for their hair types all tended to mis-spell one or more words in their brand name.  I stood there, stunned, having never taken that in.  We were roaring with laughter at the colorful examples of daily privilege being shared, and crying with realization of some truths about daily life that hadn’t become part of the conversation before.

Success.

As we finished out the activity, several students shared spontaneously about their own recognition of areas privilege and questions they had never even thought to ask that were being asked of them.  They shared a sense of feeling their hearts broken at some bead stations when none of the questions could be answered with a “yes” (this was particularly true with the Gender questions for the female students in the class).  When someone shouted out, “we need a picture of all of us with our privilege bling!” I was very quick to oblige and whipped out my smartphone camera just like they all did.  I got home tonight, looked at the picture, and realized it’s one of the most beautiful images I’ve seen in a long time.

Sharing our Beads of Privilege group photo tonight…a small point of light in a wonderfully diverse world.

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Weekend Retreat

I had the joy of spending the weekend at one of my favorite places (ShrineMont) with some of my favorite people. I was able to accompany my faith community at St. Thomas to this annual mountain retreat to recharge, reconnect, and revive ourselves. It has been quite a challenging year for us in our parish-of-transition, but we now have so much to celebrate.

While away, I posted this week’s installment of our virtual faith formation series, Sunday Thoughts for a Monday World. One of the questions I posed for thought was, “what will we say on Monday about our authentic experiences on this weekend retreat?”

So, I thought I would answer that question here on my own blog, too. So,
I am reflecting tonight: What have I said today about my weekend…

ShrineMont is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, both in natural beauty and spiritual energy.

I wish I could begin every day walking the labyrinth at dawn like I did this weekend.

Serving Holy Eucharist in the Shrine was possibly one of the most moving and inspiring experiences I have ever had.

As hard is it was to let go at first, I loved seeing my daughter spread her wings of freedom and independence.

What did I do this weekend…well, I went to the mountains, hiked, and led a prayer beading workshop. Seriously, I did! (said to a colleague who looked shocked to hear all three).

I had so much fun making prayer beads with and for my friends. I feel like my whole Saturday was filled with holy moments.

ShrineMont weekends are never long enough.

While I was on retreat, I had a dream that I was making/baking communion bread…I thought about the symbolism of that dream all the while I was driving home yesterday.

I came home ready to take the next steps forward in my own journey.

The copper cross our youth made is awesome.

Today is such a challenging re-entry day for me. Maybe I need to stop struggling and listen to what is happening in my heart and my head.

I am ready to go back already.

It was wonderful to see everyone so happy, hopeful, and optimistic. I have been feeling that way for a while, but now it seems contagious.

I took a camera full of pictures. If you read my blog, you’ll eventually see them all.

Everyone should have a ShrineMont.

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Written in response to: http://www.stthomasrichmond.org/article/week-2-sunday-thoughts-for-a-monday-world

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Mountain Vista

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
John Muir, The Mountains of California

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Breaking Bread

When I woke on this second full day of autumn, the skies were gray and the possibility of rain hung in the air like a wet blanket. My daughter was tired and took her temperature four times, hoping that she could go back to bed instead of to school. Unfortunately for her, that strategy isn’t productive when you’re not sick. I could empathize, though, because it was the kind of day that makes you feel tired just from living. We both pushed through. I sliced her a piece of pumpkin bread and wrapped it in a paper towel as we rushed off to school.

Give us this day our daily bread.

I arrived at our food pantry a bit later than usual, after running a few errands in the neighborhood. Immediately, I regretted my decision when it was clear that we were way behind in our set up from usual. I quickly put down my bags and got to work. I dragged out canned goods, bins of potatoes, boxes of cantaloupes. Those of us there worked until the last minutes before the doors opened. I sliced up the donated pastries, gleaned by ever-faithful Andrea from a local bakery, into bite-sized pieces. Our quantity was somewhat smaller than usual today, but as I cut up the scones, cinnamon buns, muffins and raisin bread, the melody of a familiar setting of the Lord’s Prayer formed in my mind. I hummed as I composed trays that looked inviting and hospitable while talking with our hospitality volunteers and sharing stories of the nursing, teaching, and professional helping we do in the world outside these walls. Six trays of pastries took shape to go along with the coffee that was brewing. I thought to myself, “there will be enough…”

Give us this day our daily bread.

The parish hall had been transformed into our grocery store and hospitality center. While over a hundred people found their way into the parish hall, there were only a few shoppers to help at the pantry when we began. Someone wondered out loud if we would have enough food, and if there would be enough help. Eventually, a few more volunteers came in, and some additional canned goods and other donations began to appear as the first clients walked through and shopped for what they needed. The coffee was flowing, the pastries were being enjoyed. People began to talk, and some warmth began to emerge.

It was still a sluggish day, and there were honestly as many unhappy guests as happy ones. Life is challenging in a difficult economy, in an area of the city with few resources. I had several people who just needed to tell their stories, and a few who needed to cry. My attention was averted when two older women almost tipped over a cart trying to get it to their car, and suddenly a sea of helping hands reached out to assist. They had dropped a package of bread at the doorstep in the process and had overlooked it while repackaging. As I helped them load bags into their car, a man came running to return their fallen bread. They thanked him, and offered him one of the cupcakes they had just obtained in the line. That is how pantry is: its a community. As if reading my mind, one of the clients said, “this place always reminds me of that story of Jesus feeding the 5,000″ and her friend echoed back, “oh, yes Lord!” I laughed. I said to them, “it reminds me that it took that whole community to feed each other, just like it does here. Maybe that was the miracle Jesus was showing us.” We all hugged, and went on with our busy morning.

Give us this day our daily bread.

One by one, all were eventually served. We flipped through our 100 numbers and started recycling all over again. The last family I served had a beautiful two month old, and we just happened to have some extra baby food and formula to send with them. I laughed in spite of the cloudy grayness. I suddenly remembered that the delicious smell making my stomach rumble was my friend and co-volunteer Jen cooking up homemade soup from scratch for all the volunteers who had been serving. She scooped up the remaining partial loaves left from the table after the last client finished shopping.

We put away the pantry except for two long tables and about a dozen chairs. The leftover bread, sliced, was enough to fill two baskets. The soup warmed and soothed our bodies and nourished our souls. My social work student said he hadn’t eaten that many vegetables in a year (or perhaps ever) and he couldn’t wait to call and tell his Mom. We were breaking bread, talking social work, sharing meal and vocational ministries. At the table were clients and students and staff and volunteers. All of us breaking bread together, after feeding our community. Jen’s vegetables transformed into nourishment. We all had enough, and we were fed, bodies and spirits, at that table.

Give us this day our daily bread.

There is a not only a small point of light here, but a miracle of the daily ordinary. Feeding and being fed is liturgy, the prayerful work of the people who give and receive, who feed and are fed.

Give us this day our daily bread.

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My Fair Share

Everyone in my household has a love of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts characters.  There is always wisdom in Linus, unedited truth in Lucy, the wishy-washy doubts and insecurity of human nature in Charlie Brown.  The way in which characters are so brilliantly depicted in simple ways shows the real gift of Schultz’ artistry.  More than once in a while, a complex topic that I’m wrestling with, either in my classroom or in my life, comes out through the cartooned mouth of one of these characters.

It’s the voice of Sally Brown, younger sister to Charlie Brown, that is in my mind today.  You may remember the scene:  it’s nearly Christmas, and the Peanuts gang is readying for a Christmas Pageant and trying to find the real meaning and holiday spirit in a commercialized time of year.  Sally has her clipboard, composing a letter to Santa Claus and spelling out all the things she would like as gifts.  She dictates out loud to big brother Charlie Brown, who is helping with her writing.  At the end, she sums up what a lot of people are thinking:  “…if it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself and just send money.  How about tens and twenties?”

As Charlie Brown screams, “TENS AND TWENTIES!!  Even my baby sister…” we all chuckle.  Then, truth comes in Sally’s quiet voice:  “All I want is what I have coming to me.  All I want is my fair share.”

Whap.  Sally speaks words that most of us have thought…and probably said…more than we’d like to admit.

The truth is, we do want our fair share.  Nothing ticks us off more than when we see someone we judge as less worthy or deserving get something that we feel we are equally (if not more) entitled to.  It’s human nature, at least in contemporary Western society.  We work hard, we earn it, we deserve it.  Right?

I’m not so sure we really have our money where our  mouth is when it comes to justice and wealth.

What about the person who has worked two minimum wage jobs, both at 28 hours per week to avoid the dreaded “29 hour rule” that keeps her employer from being required to pay health insurance benefits on her behalf, which is why she works extra to buy into a health insurance plan on her own.  Does that woman deserve to be paid less than someone working a salaried position at 40 hours a week as an administrative assistant receiving benefits but “expected” to work at least 15 hours unpaid just to accomplish all the tasks assigned?  Do either deserve to make less money than an investor who has a good hunch (and maybe a good lead or two) and trades online 10 or 15 hours a week?

We put a lot of rhetoric equating work and money in the  United States, and it still doesn’t come out even.

I’m curating a weekly series for my faith community, starting today, on Sunday Thoughts for a Monday World.  Today’s Gospel lesson starts us out chewing on this topic of wealth inequality.  Feel free to check out all the links and questions in today’s weekly column, but most especially this video from Politizane which may give you something to ponder about wealth distribution.

In my own life, there have been times when I’ve received less or more than what I felt was my fair share.  I know this, and I admit this.  It’s called privilege, and when it’s given to us we have the responsibility to acknowledge it and do right by it.  Otherwise, it becomes entitlement which is never, ever something to which most of us aspire.  Let me talk about my privilege and unearned grace:  I wouldn’t be who I am today if a major University hadn’t decided I was worthy of a full scholarship and took a risk to offer it to me.  I am not more “worthy” than a thousand other people whom they could have chosen.  They saw something in my application, took a risk, and that is how I came to have the opportunity to earn a PhD.  It would not have happened without that.  But even in this story, I know that someone else didn’t get chosen, just the way that I did get chosen.

At an earlier point in my life, I was one of the non-chosen.  I had applied for numerous scholarships when I decided to pursue my MSW degree.  I didn’t receive any of them.  I took out loans…lots of them.  I took a job, and lived in a very humbling condition for a year to make ends meet.  I took a leap of faith in myself that I could eventually pay them off.  During that year, I felt bitter when one of my class-mates frequently flaunted that she received a full tuition scholarship and felt my indignation burn when she bought herself a car, a new computer, and was missing a few weeks of class to go on a cruise.  Bitter, bitter, bitter.  I admit it (and I remember it to this day).  At graduation, we both walked across the stage and had the same degree, though.  That, in itself, was a privilege to which not everyone had equal access.

So, why did I feel so bitter?  And why are we so focused on getting “my fair share?” when we sometimes fail to see that we are still getting more advantages than some others.

One of the realities I ponder is that being given an opportunity, especially in contemporary U.S. society, reinforces that we are considered worthy.  Someone believes in us enough to hire us, to give us a scholarship, to advance us money for a business investment.  It must be something about us, or what we have done that makes us worthy in someone else’s eyes.  We are clamoring for that sense of worth, to reinforce our value.

Does that mean that those without opportunity are less valuable in society?  Have we been telling groups of people that with our actions?

Today, people sitting in my church and many others hear a Gospel reading where Jesus tells a different story.  The parable of the landowners (Matthew 20: 1-16) asks us to chew on a story where a fair wage is offered to people for a day of working the fields.  Some are hired early and work all day, some hired mid-day, and some at the end of the day.  Everyone receives the same agreed upon fair wage at the end of the day.  But, the wage doesn’t seem “fair” any more, because some worked longer and harder than others.

I go back to my own college experiences and my wrestling with “my fair share.”  Its the tale of two graduate degrees.  I worked for both.  One, I paid off over 15 years.  The other was given to me without cost.  Was one worth more than the other?  Did I work harder for one than the other?  Was one more “fair” than the other?

Perhaps the Gospel parable is telling us something not about the value of giving based on hard work, but about the gift of generosity and abundance.  Grace is not dolled out according to how good we are, nor how hard we work.  It’s given, freely, to everyone.

As amazing as that is, it means we have to check our assumptions at the table (perhaps literally).  It isn’t about our worth.  We are already worthy.  It isn’t about earning God’s love and acceptance.  We are already loved and accepted.  That person next to me is receiving the full abundance of God’s grace, as I am.  There is enough for everyone, and grace is abundant.

Maybe it is about being willing to be transformed, to open ourselves to giving and receiving grace in a radically different way than we see in society around us.  That changes how we relate to others.  It begs us to practice generosity and abundance, rather than functioning out of stinginess and scarcity.  That, my friends, is an act of faith.

Living in that faith, one small point of light at a time, brings me into contact with more than my fair share of radical grace.  For that, I am humbled and grateful.

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