Wanting to be heard

by Marshall Scott

Not long ago I was responding to a news item on The Lead, and made this observation:

So, I find myself with this reflection, applicable on all sides: just because my argument has not been found compelling, it does not mean my argument has not been heard. I often find that hard to remember myself, since I am quite secure that my values are shared (or should be) and that my statements are rational, relevant, and cogent. That doesn't change, though, the central reflection: my argument may have been heard and still not have been found convincing.

Not long after, one of our Editors, the estimable Ann Fontaine, asked whether I would be interested in writing a reflection on that for Daily Episcopalian. I was, and I am.

Only, that was when I ran into a writer’s dilemma: just how does one go about writing about it? More to the point, how would I go about illustrating the point?

I could, I had thought, take an issue and highlight how personal conviction might interfere with listening one the one hand, and with accepting rejection on the other. At that point, the problem wasn’t that there were too few issues to highlight. The problem, or at least the beginning of it, was that there were too many. And, of course, for any issue that I might choose to use as illustration I would most assuredly have response from someone for whom that issue was entirely too important personally for any reflective distance, for any willingness to hear the other side.

And, when we think of that which might be too important personally, we have to ask why. Before we fall into that as an individual exploration, we might acknowledge other dynamics. One that I have found interesting came up on NPR a while ago. Last October I heard this story from Shankar Vedantam, a correspondent on NPR’s Morning Edition. He writes about social science research, and in this report he was focusing on the topic of “loss aversion.” Loss aversion is about how we make decisions. More specifically, “what the theory of loss aversion will predict is that you will fight harder and longer when you're confronting a loss.” In the story he quotes several scholars and cites their research. They illustrate this with examples both from gambling and from political decisions. The research and the examples lead him to this observation:

And I think part of the problem is that the voters are suffering from loss aversion too. So everyone is in the same psychological basket, so to say. You know, so the fundamental idea with loss aversion is that you're driving by looking in the rearview mirror. That's what loss aversion is. It's not a good idea when you're driving. It's not a good idea when you're gambling, and it's certainly not a good idea when it comes to national policy.

And it’s specifically not a good idea because an individual will fight harder to avoid loss than to pursue identifiable gain, or even, in the gambling examples, basic security. After all, isn’t this why we say that an argument based on “sunk cost” is fallacious: that simply seeking to avoid loss – to make the sunk cost meaningful or worthwhile – is likely to end up increasing the loss rather than recovering it?

Now, I’m not one to say that behavior is destiny, whether we identify it as social or as psychological. On the other hand, if this is demonstrable, surely it is one of the dynamics in our difficulty listening to one another. Moreover, and as I often say in premarital counseling, even if behavior is not destiny, it is the behaviors that we don’t pay attention to that come back to bite us.

Think about the prism this gives us for so many of our current controversies. In almost every case I can think of, the greatest noise in the argument comes from those on either pole who are anxious that something has been or will be lost. The right to bear arms vs. the right to a safer society; whether and how we should engage again in the wars in the Middle East; “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” (in which even our language highlights the focus on what is lost); arguments about “tradition” vs. “progress” in the church and out – all of these seem all too often to hang up on what has been or will be lost, even if that isn’t all that is talked about.

I have no doubt, too, that the rampant individualism that characterizes our society contributes to this. After all, how much more desperate is my position, my loss, if I have only myself either to rely on or to look out for?

So, what shall we say to these things? We could reflect on this as a matter of hope. After all, one might look at loss and say that one takes on the additional risk, the additional struggle, because one “hopes” for success. Unfortunately, both in the research and in my experience it seems in fact the opposite of hope. We take on the additional risk not out of hope but out of despair; and the deeper the loss that comes of the additional risk, the more desperate we seem to become. “Hope” seems hardly to be the appropriate category, even for a faith community that speaks of being a people of hope.

I think the more appropriate category is humility. To rehearse what we have all heard before: humility is not about simple self-deprecation, much less about despising self. It is certainly not about the great pride expressed in being “wormier than thou.” It is, rather, about seeing clearly; and not only about seeing ourselves clearly, but also seeing clearly the world about us. It involves actually looking at an issue, at a situation, and at ourselves in it. It involves especially looking, not in the rear view mirror, but all around – to the front and to all sides. It involves acknowledging our own limitations, certainly, as well as our strengths; and acknowledging the strengths of those with whom we disagree, as well as their limitations. It involves seeing not only the costs of our experiences and our struggles, but also the possibilities. It involves looking at all these critically, but not cynically; judiciously, but not judgmentally. Most of all, it involves recognizing that in these issues we are not individuals alone; for not only are there communities to which we can look, but God is with us always.

And at that point we can become people of hope. We can hope that both we and those with whom we disagree, can see more clearly and can see possibilities that we haven’t yet seen. We can hope to find values we share, instead of hanging up solely on conflicts where we disagree. We can hope to see how God is working in those with whom we disagree, even as we hope to know that God is working in us - to trust that God is working, as always, for the good of those who love God, even when - especially when – our arguments, when heard, are not compelling.

Or, perhaps there are other words to the same point that might sound more familiar: “seek first the kingdom….” To seek the reign, the citizenship, the community of God, requires first and foremost that we be looking for it. It requires that we clear our sight, and that we look not only back, but forward and all around, to seen not only what God has done, but also what God is doing and might do yet. We’re entering into a series of Sundays when the Gospel lessons from Matthew will be describing in one way and another the Kingdom. We know already that the Kingdom is costly. We have formed our community out of the experience of what it cost God in Christ. At the same time, we believe that the Kingdom is in some sense at hand, and in some sense still to come. What might it mean if in all things, and especially in our worst controversies, we could look all around again and seek the Kingdom, trusting that God is working and will work? What might it mean, and what might it take, for us to seek first the Kingdom, even when – especially when – we fear we are not heard; or, just as likely, when we are heard, and not found compelling?

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

The symmetry of life

by Mary Cobb Erickson

I am moved often by the symmetry of life. Although it doesn't always seem like it, there is a rhythm and pulse to life. The yin and yang. The push and the pull. I was struck by this profoundly today as I went from my mother's bedside in the Living Center over to the birthing center to visit a parishioner in early labor. Moving from the bedside of a dying older woman to that of a young mother preparing to give birth and a young baby boy preparing to enter this world. The cycle of life. Poignant and beautiful. Crushingly heartbreaking and exhilaratingly real and raw. This is the stuff of life.

I have spent much of the past weeks with my mother in the hospital and then the nursing home after a bad fall on the morning of May 2. She has a form of dementia, and I watch her decline literally day by day. She has been an imperfect mother, as we all are. The gift I have been given in caring for her in the end of her life is that of forgiveness and compassion - I for her, and she for me. In the face of death, all the little hurts and disappointments we dumped on one another throughout our lives seem meaningless. She looks at me with big, vulnerable eyes, trusting and loving. She is completely without pretense. All the facades she erected throughout her life have crumbled. She has never looked more beautiful to me.

She can no longer talk, but she writes in her chicken scratch on the white board we have given her to communicate with us, "You are my favorite." And in that moment, I am. I am all she has, in that moment. She is vulnerable and afraid, as I was as a child. And so I care for her the best that I can, making her angry by the hard decisions I must make about what I believe is right for her. And then I smooth her hair and she looks up at me with pure love in her eyes. The cycle is complete as the daughter becomes the mother. My mother's face lights up when one of my children walks into the room, offering her the gift of their love and presence. All that we have to offer her really is our love and our presence. We show up and we love her the best we can.

Flower of Life rosette (petals filled)Isn't that really all any of us have to offer - to show up and love as best we can. As a church, that is certainly the least and the most that we can offer. People show up here week after week longing for a connection, relationship, love - with God and with one another. And so we show up and offer the best we can. We show up for that young couple and their newborn son. We show up for the kids losing their beloved grandmother. We show up for the man searching for work, or the widower still grieving the loss of his wife, or the woman mourning the end of her marriage, or the man struggling to stay sober even though life has gotten really hard. We show up for the couple that wants to explore their faith together, or teach their children about God. We show up for the myriad people who just want to connect and plant their feet on solid ground, a place they can be themselves, a place they can call home. That is the least and the most we can offer - our love and our presence.

On May 10 Alisdair was born, and we were told my mother has a matter of weeks left. The beautiful heartbreaking symmetry of life. (editor's note: Beth O'Neil died on May 22, 2014)

The Rev. Mary Cobb Erickson is the Assistant Priest at St John's Episcopal Church in Jackson, WY.

Apologies do not count when you shout them

by Maria L. Evans

"Apologies do not count when you shout them."--from "The Journal of Best Practices," by David Finch

David Finch is a man whose marriage is in big trouble--until he realizes he may have Asperger Syndrome. In his book, "The Journal of Best Practices," he details how he re-tuned his normally distracting, disruptive hyper-focus into commitment towards saving his marriage. Because he takes things incredibly literally, he writes down instructions to himself in what he refers to as "the Journal of Best Practices." Although this book can be incredibly uncomfortable at times (for a variety of reasons), his list, meant for himself, turns out to be pretty good simple advice for many of us during Lent, when many of us struggle with sorting through issues involving reconciliation and forgiveness.

Most of his notes to himself are short pithy sentences--things like "Be her friend, first and always," "Use your words," and "Help her with the laundry,"--in a way, not so unlike some of Jesus' clearer instructions about forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus doesn't mince words either--"Seventy times 7," "Whenever you stand praying, forgive," and "Love your enemies," just to name a few.

What David Finch found out, though, after a time, was that no matter how simple the items on the list were worded, it could still become confusing, conflicting, and convoluted when there was no context involved. Even for someone whose mind worked in such a literal way, he began to understand (sometimes in hilarious ways, at other times in very painful ways) that there was a place where his meticulous lists didn't work. It would cause his temper to flare and his wife to burst into tears or lash back. In the end, he comes to realize that it was as much the business of creating and understanding the context of his Journal of Best Practices, as it was the best practices themselves. He learns that relationships, particularly our more intimate ones, are about simply being present, and forgiving and reconciling when we are not present enough...or too present.

Likewise, when we take those pithy statements that Jesus says in the Gospel, and start to move them from ancient time to our time, particularly when they are in the middle of parables that we can't fully understand the context of them in his contemporary world, those statements can at times run counter to our modern way of thinking about them. Jesus' simple statements can seem conflicting, unreasonable in a modern context, or even harsh. We can find ourselves paralyzed in knowing the next best move to get to a place of forgiveness or reconciliation. It might even, at times, feel like the best thing to do is withdraw or hide from them.

We don't have to be on the autism spectrum or know someone who is to appreciate that any of us, on any given day, can well be suffering from a sort of "relationship autism." We are imperfect beings and even the most astute of us can find ourselves in that spot of lashing out, or having a conflict that we are taking in a very literal sense, when in reality we've missed all the cues that hint that there is really more to what's behind the conflict than the conflict itself. It might be because we really don't know and understand the story of the person we're dealing with--their old painful triggers. We might be oblivious to our own painful triggers and need some work to excavate their history. It might be because we're using a mode of communication that creates limits on our interactions--for instance, how many fights have we seen break out when we're limited to 140 characters?

Likewise, being "too present" can be just as problematic. No matter how educational our own experiences have been in understanding the various mistakes in life, enabling or manipulating prevents others from making their own mistakes and "hitting their own bottom." Sometimes our best-intentioned advice or actions, in truth, reveal that we are struggling with our own discomfort factor more than we are the other person's problems or feelings.

No doubt, any of us can benefit from making our own "Journal of Best Practices"--but when the list becomes convoluted, it's probably best to realize our best chance at forgiveness and reconciliation will be in the recognition of when we are "too present" or "not present enough."

When is a time you struggled to find the balance in being "just present enough?" What did you learn from discovering your own "best practices" in life through the lens of the Gospel?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

America la Maganda

by Linda Ryan

During the Super Bowl, the highlights (and sometimes low lights) are the commercials. Advertisers spend millions of dollars to produce the best commercials they can come up with and more millions to purchase a small time slot on a Sunday afternoon/evening in January every year. They know that a great commercial can sway public opinion and bring more revenue into their coffers, but some also like to have some sort of message over and above “Buy my product;” they like to take a stand for something besides chips in a bowl or some sort of beverage. As in the sporting event itself, there are winners and losers in the commercial wars, and this year was no exception.

Most writers seemed to agree on in the outstanding category was the Coke commercial featuring scenes of Americans living their lives in various places and in various ways while the voices of young women soloists sang a song that is iconic in the United States, “America the Beautiful.” The video was lovely, the voices of the young women clear and sweet, and the whole package seemed almost flawless. Yet there has been almost a firestorm of condemnation and anger about this very beautiful and meaningful celebration of not just product but national pride and diversity. The cause? “America the Beautiful” was sung in English – and Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish and several other languages that clearly were NOT English.

People were up in arms that the words to such a song could be sung in any language other than English. How dare Coke foist such a disgusting misuse of a national anthem (some even referred to it as “the” national anthem) on an unsuspecting nation? We are Americans and Americans speak English is their cry. Anybody who comes here should either speak only English or go back where they came from. Xenophobia is alive and well in the United States of America, land of the free, home of the brave and, apparently, the seat of E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One, which now seems to be only those who look, act and speak like us, whoever “us” is.

Instead of using the term “melting pot” we now use “diversity” and, for some, “diversity” is a very bad word indeed, almost worse than some of the scatological and carnal words and phrases that are heard on almost every street corner, school hallway and locker room, and even over backyard fences in “nice” neighborhoods. And this Coke commercial? It celebrated diversity by having young women sing a familiar song in more than the original language in which it was composed. In celebrating diversity, it has helped to expose the fact that we don’t believe in the basic right to freedom, including the right to speak in their own languages and dialects in this country; we only want others to be like us in every way. It’s funny, but I bet none of these people complaining about the commercial have any problem singing “Silent Night” at Christmas (it was originally written in German) among other translated classics. Music is universal, poetry and sentiment as well as news and inspirational writings are translated into many languages and dialects every day, so what is so sacred about “America the Beautiful” that it can’t speak to others in Hebrew or Mandarin as well as in English? Even the Bible is written in many languages other than its original (of which there is no “original” copy) without losing its power, beauty and meaning.

In first-century Palestine, the land Jesus knew, there were numerous small towns and villages where individual clans and tribes made their home and probably spoke their own dialect of Aramaic. Those involved in trade such as merchants, skilled laborers, innkeepers, and those working for the government probably all spoke not just their local version of Aramaic but Koine Greek, possibly a bit of Latin, maybe a dash of Hebrew and perhaps even a pinch or two of Demotic. Most towns and villages didn’t have many immigrants but some probably did, and Jesus, as an itinerant preacher/teacher/healer, would have undoubtedly been able to make his message understood no matter to whom he spoke. The Samaritan woman and the Roman Centurion probably didn’t speak the same dialect or maybe even language, yet Jesus seemed to be able to speak to both of them in very clear and understandable ways. And so it went also for the individuals and crowds with whom he came in contact. The only ones he seemed to have trouble with were the Pharisees and that didn’t have anything to do with the language they each spoke, only the interpretation of that language.

Does the message of Jesus become diluted or unsuitable because Jesus didn’t speak English and we don’t speak the original language (whatever language that was) in which he expressed so many of his teachings? His message was to draw people together, regardless of whether or not they were members of the same clan, nation or even language group. What amazes me (and amuses me in a sad sort of way) is that we think nothing about truly sacred words of the Bible that we read being translations of translations, versions of versions and interpretations of interpretations of a message that wasn’t in English or even in a language commonly spoken today, Koine Greek. Yet we raise a huge fuss over the lyrics of a secular song extolling the beauty of the country and the freedom we have to enjoy it.

What a strange world we live in that we begrudge them the joy of expression of the blessings and beauty of our land or any land simply based on the language they use to express that joy. What would Jesus think?

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

A Pastoral Paradox

by Richard Helmer

In a more provocative moment, I recently posted on Facebook that when confronted with the word "pastoral" I am increasingly tempted to wonder -- if not ask out loud -- if "co-dependent" is what is often really meant. It seems that "pastoral" can be code for mere coddling bad behavior, or simply leaving things dangerously alone.

Approaching eleven years in congregational leadership as a priest, I have heard "pastoral" used in a wide variety of ways by laity and clergy alike. Judging by the responses to my Facebook post, there is little agreement about what we mean by "pastoral." The word seems to hide or embrace a whole host of meanings. And it often too easily gives rise to a whole host of platitudes.

We are often guilty of applying "pastoral" as a judgment:

"She's a great administrator, but a lousy pastor." (As though successfully managing a complex blend of personalities and agendas like a congregation or a staff isn't "pastoral.")

"He doesn't have a pastoral bone in his body." (As though being "pastoral" is something innate, rather than a learned skill.)

Worse, we often leverage "that's not pastoral" when our leaders make difficult decisions, particularly decisions with which we disagree.

One response to my Facebook post talked about "pastoral" only in terms of presence. That is, being "pastoral" means being present for people while not trying to "fix" anything. It is true that much of the work of pastoring in a community is about showing up, listening, and being fully "on deck," as those in our charge approach with the bumps, bruises, and paradoxes of this life. But is this way of being pastoral enough when the community is threatened by a toxic personality or two? Or when the most well-intentioned souls, if left simply to their own devices, might wreak havoc on the shared trust and integrity that the community relies upon to work out its mission in Christ? Sometimes being "pastoral" means holding firm the boundaries, plans, and structures of the community. Saying no can be just as pastoral -- sometimes even more so -- than simply listening. It is certainly more pastoral than the co-dependent "yes" that sometimes gives bad behavior permission to thrive, that allows the wolves to have their way among the sheep.

A well-seasoned priest once reminded me that sometimes no pastoral care is the best pastoral care. How do we as leaders decide what is important and what is the ordinary static of human relationships? And when does our attention to an interpersonal conflict magnify the difficulties more than resolve them? When is simply moving through the ordinary bumps of relationships -- as many healthy friends, spouses, and communities learn to do -- better than holding a "pastoral" conversation over a perceived problem? When do we back away enough to allow people to grow up in Christ in their own rough-and-tumble way?

I wonder at how sometimes we expect "pastoral care" to be some kind of therapeutic "I'm okay, you're okay" -- a mere validation of our feelings or, worse, a coddling comfort when we have erred. In my experience, that's not good pastoral care. It's not even good therapy. We need help to find our ways out of our bad behavioral binds, our emotional mazes, and sometimes our addictive patterns. Like lost sheep, we need pastoral care that guides us back to the green pastures and still waters that nourish us. We need to be told to get up and walk out of abusive situations and stand tall over and against the wrong, the hurtful, and even the outright evil that will inevitably come our way. We need to be supported by pastoral care in doing what is right, even when it is unpopular or profoundly difficult.

It's taken me eleven years to learn to pray (a lot!) into some hard-knock, paradoxical learnings:

We need -- whether we expect it or not -- pastoral leaders who tell us hard truths and have the fortitude to bear the hostility that will sometimes be the response; to remember, in the words of a spiritual director of mine, that what others think of us is not really our business.

At the same time, we need -- whether we expect it or not -- pastoral leaders who are sensitive and vulnerable enough to work at discerning how best to disclose the truth in ways that we might be able to hear.

We also need pastoral leaders who will take tough stands on behalf of the community: leaders who will prayerfully discern when people need to be shown the door; when people need to be allowed to depart in peace; and when it really is time, in Jesus' words, to leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost one.

Most of all, we need -- whether we expect it or not -- whole pastoral communities that are more than sacramental grocers or spiritual retailers. We need pastoral communities that hold their members accountable; that set expectations; that challenge us all to grow in the paths of our most faithful Pastor, and disclose the divine shepherding at work in our midst.

Br. Richard Edward Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, CA, and a professed member of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. In addition to full-time parish work, he serves as a Deputy to General Convention and Secretary of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of California. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs occasionally at Caught by the Light.

Ten tips on addressing conflict within the church

by Eric Bonetti

Conflict. Even the word itself makes us cringe a little. It has a hard, biting edge. In the back of our minds, the word conjures up unsettling images -- of dentists' drills, of that last really bad cold, of falling out of a tree as a child.

Fortunately, when we understand conflict, we learn to take a deep breath, to relax a little, to move past the immediate issues, and to view conflict as perhaps even a stepping stone to positive change. We may never come to enjoy conflict, but with perspective we learn to put it in its proper place.

So, next time you feel like you're about to be run over by a truck named conflict, here are ten tips to help you understand and work through conflict:

1. Conflict is inevitable -- Much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, conflict is as old as humanity. It happens among the closest friends, even among Jesus and the disciples. And like death and taxes, it comes to us all. So don't panic when you see conflict coming--it's just part of life.

2. Churches may be particularly susceptible to conflict -- Avoiding conflict is easy when we get to pick and choose those around us. But in an environment that embraces diversity, there will, by definition, be a wider array of perspectives and viewpoints. As a result, there will be a greater likelihood of conflict.

3. Conflict doesn't make you bad -- Conflict, in and of itself, has no moral implications. Just because there's conflict afoot doesn't mean you're a bad person. Similarly, the presence of conflict doesn't reflect badly on your parish, your vestry, your priest, or your bishop.

4. Conflict can be healthy -- Growth requires change, and change engenders conflict. Handled appropriately, conflict can be a sign of positive change and growth. So next time you feel tension in the air, consider the possibility that something good is in the works.

5. Suppressing conflict is unhealthy -- Suppressing or ignoring conflict inevitably spells trouble. The underlying issue doesn't go away. Instead, like a locust, it goes underground, only to emerge later in spectacularly noisy fashion.

6. It's all about how we handle conflict -- Moral meaning attaches not to conflict itself, but to how we handle conflict. Remembering that we all are made in the image of God, assuming good intent, and avoiding "scorched earth" responses can go a long way towards de-escalating even the most difficult situation.

7. Choose engagement over fight or flight -- The old axiom about fight or flight as a response to threats misses the third option: Engagement. When conflict rears its ugly head, take a deep breath, relax, and "lean into" the issue. Promote engagement through use of "I" statements versus "you" statements, and by avoiding sweeping generalities. For example, "I feel like you are often late to meetings," is better then "You are late to every single meeting!" Test for understanding by reflecting back the other person's comments, "So you are saying it would be easier for you if the meeting were a half hour later?"

8. Get outside help when needed -- Sometimes, a neutral third party can be invaluable in breaking through layers of anger and misperception. If you're just not connecting with the other person, consider asking your priest, a professional mediator, or other trusted person for help.

9. Know that some situations require an immediate response -- Situations involving bullying or workplace violence, whether verbal or physical, require an immediate response to avoid potential damage to people or liability. Similarly, potential violations of fair employment laws, the canons, or issues involving sexual misconduct warrant a special response. When in doubt, act immediately to protect the vulnerable.

10. Persistent, high-level conflict is a warning sign -- Church, like work and home, should be something to which you look forward. If you find yourself dreading that next vestry or altar guild meeting, or you routinely dash out after services to avoid coffee hour, consider the possibility that a larger, more serious issue is afoot, and take steps to address it before it becomes even more toxic.

In short, while no one enjoys conflict, there's much that you can do to manage conflict, to reduce anxiety, and to move towards successful outcomes.

Eric Bonetti is a nonprofit professional in Northern Virginia with experience in change management and strategic planning. He is an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA.

Forgiveness is not re-booting or cache clearing

by George Clifford

On a recent trip, I visited a public library where I had previously used a convenient, free Wi-Fi hotspot. Unlike my prior visits, I could not connect to the Internet even though my computer received a strong signal from the network. After I rebooted my computer and still had no success, I spoke with one of the librarians. She was very pleasant, informed me that several people had complained about difficulties connecting to the internet that day, asked if I had tried rebooting my computer, and then apologetically told me that library policy does not authorize the staff to reboot the network.

Both the librarian and I were aware that rebooting can correct many computer glitches, sometimes so effectively bringing closure to problems and rectifying the situation that no trace of the prior difficulties remains.

Driving from the library to another Wi-Fi hotspot prompted me to reflect on rebooting. Most people probably have a few moments when they wish that humans came equipped with a reset button with which to reboot life or a relationship, moments for which we want (or need) forgiveness and/or closure.

Humans, however, differ from computers. Rebooting a life, or even a relationship, is impossible. Our brains record data from every experience. Some of that data may degrade over time, some may become inaccessible to one's conscious mind, but no data set is ever likely to be entirely deleted (apart from permanent brain injury or a debilitating neurological disorder).

Popular theological and spiritual descriptions of forgiveness as wiping the slate clean therefore rely on an unhelpful metaphor. We can more powerfully conceptualize forgiveness by picturing it as removing the barrier that an injury or wrong places between two people, or even between God and a person.

For example, in the fifth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus tells a paralytic, Walk! The paralytic, and probably most of those present, shared the worldview that paralysis resulted from sin, that is, a wrong done to God or neighbor prevented the person from walking. Jesus' injunction to walk shattered that perceived barrier, communicated forgiveness, and brought healing. The gospel is also clear: the paralytic, after his healing, remembered his paralysis and, by inference, the circumstances that had led to his paralysis.

Decades of ministry have taught me to recognize the paralysis that sin causes. One of my first parishioners refused to enter the church, insisting that a nameless, unforgivable sin would cause the roof would collapse. In retrospect, I now recognize that parishioner lived in the shackles of paralysis caused by sin. Other cases of paralysis caused by sin were perhaps less dramatic but no less real: individuals trapped in dead-end, destructive relationships convinced that s/he deserved nothing better; individuals unwilling to succeed, believing that they merited only failure; etc.

Most of us have moments that we wish a rebooting would delete. Those moments need not paralyze us; the reality of forgiveness can shatter the barrier or barriers that prevent us from living abundantly. Jesus incarnated God's forgiveness; his words to the paralytic echo across the years, words we can hear him speak freshly and directly and freshly to us: Take up your pallet and walk; live fully, as God intended.

One of my pet liturgical peeves is people pausing between two inseparable phrases of the Lord's Prayer: forgive us our trespasses PAUSE as we forgive those who trespass against us. The PAUSE insidiously implies that experiencing God's forgiveness is detached from our forgiving others when actually the two are indivisible. Resenting others blinds and deafens us to God's grace; spiritually, and perhaps otherwise, negativity immobilizes us.

Yet forgiveness is not rebooting. Living with moments that we would prefer to delete and the associated remorse can help us to learn from our mistakes and to avoid, at least some of the time, hurtful repetition.

If rebooting – starting fresh with no lingering memories of the past – is impossible for humans, is closure also impossible?

The phenomenon of people explicitly talking about closure is relatively new. Couples ending their relationship want closure. Bereaved persons seek closure. Families missing a loved one (a member of the armed services missing in action (MIA), a person presumed to have died in a natural disaster but whose body remains undiscovered, etc.) yearn for closure. Traumatized persons pursue closure, wanting to move ahead with life free of their injurious past.

Aiming for a type of closure that connotes erasing all memory of a relationship, no matter how desirable, is to tilt quixotically at windmills. The physiological reasons that prevent human rebooting also thwart any closure that entails erasing memories. Furthermore, the plasticity of the human brain records and then subsequently contributes to the unique interaction of the physical and experiential that shapes an individual. Erasing every residual memory trace of a relationship, regardless of how painful or damaging the relationship, would alter a person in presently unimaginable ways.

Instead, genuinely constructive closure adds a new layer or sequence of experiences to an existing relationship, as an author might add a new chapter to a book or a composer might append additional measures to an existing opus. The new complements or completes rather than replaces the old. A couple may rejoice for what they shared, jointly acknowledge what has changed, and together release the other from the vows that once expressed their mutual claims upon the other. Symbolically, the bereaved says goodbye to the deceased, admits to feeling abandoned (or other negative feelings), and takes the first tentative steps to a new life. Families tell stories to remember the missing and honor the life shared; through caring expressions for others, done in the name of their beloved, they can give the gift of hope and enable the missing to live again. Traumatized persons may metaphorically burn their memories, expressing their decision to not allow a painful, injurious past to monopolize the present, discovering in the release living springs from which spiritual gifts flow.

Forgiveness and closure, unlike rebooting, are inflection points in the spiritual life. The option for Reconciliation of a Penitent in the Book of Common Prayer's Pastoral Offices and the new liturgy for the Dissolution of a Marriage are helpful rites for marking and more fully experiencing God's grace in inflection points. We would do well to create more such liturgies, for in inflection points God acts, barriers fall, and we experience life a little more abundantly.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Change Happens

by Linda Ryan

"Assuming that tomorrow will be the same as today is poor preparation for living. It equips us only for disappointment or, more likely, for shock. To live well, to be mentally healthy, we must learn to realize that life is a work in process." -- Joan Chittister, Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy *

There's been a lot of discussion lately centering around aging and the church, specifically the role of older people running the church. When I saw this quotation in Sr. Joan's book this morning, it was like a V-8 moment - a smack on the forehead that makes you catch your breath and think, "Yeah! That's it!"

The quotation does, I believe, speak to those at both ends of the process of aging. To the elders it speaks of having gone through multiple changes throughout their life, including their place in the world, the neighborhood and the church. It's been a more-or-less steady process of morphing (or sometimes total upheaval) from one state to another, sometimes imperceptible, sometimes with the force of a 9.5 earthquake. But the thing is that change is normal. It's natural. It should be expected. We accepted it in our times of change, liking it or not, and sometimes wished the world would stop spinning because it was so much more comfortable being in a familiar place where we knew the rules and knew where we were. To the younger generations, it speaks to the changes that they will undergo. Some will have undergone changes already, but the ones looming on the horizon and as yet unknown, may shake them and form them just as the ones my generation have undergone. The answers that are so patently clear right now aren't necessarily the ones that will still be so transparent in the next year, ten years, even in the next generation.

The world has changed so greatly in the lifetime of the Boomers. We grew up when television was still fairly new and color TV was cutting edge. We've lived through the technology revolution, room-sized computers becoming small enough to fit in the tiniest space imaginable, instant communication by internet, cell phone, and tablet, advanced medical tests that were (and sometimes still are) incomprehensible (and expensive) but which are capable of diagnosing things that even ten years ago were destined to remain unseen, unfelt, unnoticed and undiagnosed. We've seen the sexual revolution (and some of us took part in that!), the bridging (or continued bridging) of the gender gap, stock booms (and busts), the leaders we admired two years ago now are shown to be guilty (or merely accused) of gross injustice (or merely feet of clay), and what happens in Vegas is now fodder for the world's media. No generation, I believe, has undergone as many changes as our has, although the Gen-Xers, Millennials and their successors may beat that record. I think that both parts of that statement bear remembering -- we changed, they will change. The meeting point is the "is changing" between the generations.

The church has changed too over the course of our lives. Liturgies have changed, the Bible has been re-translated and re-translated again and again to speak to different groups and in different vernaculars, there has been an increased awareness of stewardship not just of individual time, talent and treasure but also of communal and global stewardship of the earth and all that lives, exists and is on it. We have come to a new understanding of and need for evangelism, not just because our numbers are dropping but because like the beggar who found a cache of food, we want other hungry people to find what we have found. It is a process. Nobody stays precisely in the same slot into which they were born, even in the church. The old quip of "But we don't need evangelism because everybody who is supposed to be Episcopalian already is one!" doesn't work any more -- if it ever did.

So that brings me back to the process of change and where we are in it. The Boomers still have life in them, gifts to give and experience to pass on to those who are so ready to take over and change things themselves. The excitement of the next generations to get going with their church and taking it in new directions is exciting to us, even if a little intimidating. It is sort of like watching them start off on their first day of school, so eager to take the next step to growing up but wondering where their journey will take them.

The common denominator is change -- changes that have taken place and those that will. For Boomers, we need to practice patience with those younger than us. We were anxious to grow up, get out on our own and take on the world to make it better for ourselves and our kids. The Gen Xers and Millennials are no different; they just have their own agenda, not necessarily that of their parents and grandparents. Their world is
different, so change has to be expected. Maybe it won't always be comfortable and maybe not even what we consider wise, but definitely expected.

Life (and the church) is a work in progress. As surely as winter moves through spring and summer before arriving at fall and then winter again, change is inevitable. It might be a place to start in cross-generational discussions, not with one side haranguing the other about how it was or how it ought to be but where it has come from and where it could be going. If we become compartmentalized within our own generation we lose touch with something precious, something important. Each generation has something to offer the church; we just have to find where the common ground is and begin there to listen to all the voices and all the ideas, weighing them carefully, examining them from many angles, and coming to a common agreement -- not necessarily an all-or-nothing command.

Be kind to each other, one generation to another. We're all changing in some way, and for some of us it is painful, and that goes for both sides of the age fulcrum. Work together, learn from each other, trust each other's motives are for the best that they can conceive, and tread lightly because we deal with people, not just ideas. Above all, expect change in all its forms. It will happen.

*ch. 13, ¶ 6, (Kindle ed.,) (2012) New York: Image.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

Civil Discourse in the Blogosphere

by James Mathes

A few weeks ago, my fellow bishop, the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little, issued a pastoral letter to his Diocese of Northern Indiana regarding Resolution A048, which authorized a provisional liturgy for same-sex blessings. As a theological conservative, Bishop Little voted against this resolution. Not surprisingly, in his pastoral letter to his diocese, he stated that he would not allow its use in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He then went on to describe, however, how he would permit clergy of the diocese to use the provisions of this trial liturgy in adjacent dioceses. Indeed, he had already conferred with the bishops of those dioceses and received their consent for the protocol.

As so often happens in today’s church, the blogosphere picked up the pastoral letter. As one who uses Episcopal Café as tool for staying up to date, it was actually on this site that I first spotted Bishop Little’s letter. When I read the article with its copious excerpts from the pastoral, I was humbled by my colleague’s effort to be true to his theological convictions and create space for his clergy to be true to theirs.

As I scanned the comments, I was stunned by the strong reaction to Bishop Little’s letter. People expressed anger, said he was cruel, implied that the bishop was a bigot, and were mocking and sarcastic. The most critical and acerbic comments were posted in the first twenty-four hours. Indeed, it appears to be a general blog characteristic that most comments are registered within a day after the posting.

I am keenly aware that the question of same-sex blessings is a nexus of heartfelt emotions, strong beliefs and for some, questions of identity and personal hurt. I recognize that some of the strongest comments offered are from deep in a person’s soul. I do not quibble with someone disagreeing with Bishop Little’s letter or his actions. People feel their emotions, sometimes with great power. We need to take a look, however, at how we speak to and about each other.

As followers of Jesus, we have a most challenging vocation. We are to be those who love our enemies and strive for justice and peace. His own mother sang in expectation of him, “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” (Luke 1:52) and yet this Jesus says to those who follow him, “do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Today, we inhabit a church of diverse views. When we look at issues such as homosexuality and same-sex blessings, some see it as a clear justice issue and others as a clear issue of biblical injunction. With the exception of the undecided, an ever shrinking percentage, everyone sees the matter in black or white.

And in this, the church mimics the society at large. We see this most clearly in the present electoral campaign, which is similarly divided with few undecided. And the tone of the political discourse makes my concerns about the comments on Episcopal Café seem downright picky! Yet, the church is not called to simply do better than the community in which it ministers, but to strive through love for that more excellent way. Herein lies both the danger and the opportunity. The danger is that we will not heed this call and simply become like the culture we inhabit rather than transforming the culture through Christ. And similarly the opportunity is that we might actually be able to do that work of transformation.

It begins with a commitment to discourse, especially with those with whom we differ. It continues with great care with the words that we use and the judgments that we make about others. Our common conversation about things of importance should be imbued with prayer. It requires more questions of inquiry than assertions of our own position—positions we should hold gently.

In all of this, the blogosphere is presently problematic. Read, react, respond is the norm. I wonder what would happen if we read, meditated and pondered, asked only questions of inquiry for a few days, and only then positively expressed our place in the conversation. Blogging could quickly take on the character of discourse and transformation.

And here is my dream: that our larger society would take note of how Episcopalians discuss the hard questions—how we speak with care and listen in deep, searching ways. As they observe us, they would see who we are as the body of Christ and how we treat each one another. As they see us, they will want to know more about the one whom we follow. I yearn for that kind of church: quintessentially Anglican and truly inclusive.

The Rt. Rev James Mathes is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Deigo.

The changing face of stability

by Torey Lightcap

Having read what I think is all I could find on the round of conversations from the late spring called "Where have all the rectors gone?" – and finding it both scary and enlivening – I think I’ve spotted something no one has yet said, and I’d like to simply put a finger on it so we can all see it for what it is, or at least for what I think it is.

It’s just this: I believe that in the overall experience of most people bothering to call themselves Episcopalians, a Rector/Vicar represents the idea of stability in a congregation.

Over time, of course, and in actual practice, there are things that can be a lot more stable than a priest. Matriarchs and patriarchs help carry the enterprise of church on their shoulders whole generations at a time. Longstanding groups or ministry programs like shelters, food pantries, or choirs say more about serving Christ over 20 years than any 20-minute sermon. Buildings hold place year after year after year and may even often host a place where (I’m laughing at this) the latest priest’s photo can join in a line of history marching back to the days when a community was settled. (In a sense, as if to threaten or cajole or at least remind, there’s always more room on the wall if things don’t go well or if we somehow can’t stop time.) There are certainly elements of a congregation that say “We are here, and we are here to stay” in a way that’s real.

The Rector or Vicar, though, by his or her very presence, is an an extension and an embodiment of that need we all have for stability. He or she meets the emotional requirement to see the institution locally manifested in a person to which we can publicly point and say, “That cat right there – the one in the collar – that’s the Rector,” or “that’s the Vicar.” Whatever other opinions we may possess about these persons or the quality or content of their work, a fact is indisputable.

Very subtly, then, in the aggregate, and taken apart from any other implications for the moment, the question “Where have all the Rectors gone?” has an implied tone – or at least it does in my ear. Its tone is that of a lamenting, plaintive, and unanswerable urgency. It says, “What’s to become of us?” or at the very least “Look at this leak we’ve sprung.”

I hope you don’t read that as some sort of hyper-clericalism. It isn’t written in that spirit. In fact, if anything, it’s the opposite.

About a year ago I went down to City Hall for the weekly press conference where our church’s community garden was to receive a grant that would pay for a wonderful new sign. I asked one of the chief animators of that ministry to come with me, and I told her in no uncertain terms that I was tired of speaking out in public for all our church’s causes – that when it came time for a representative of St. Thomas Episcopal Church to say something, I wanted it to be her, not me, doing all the talking.

At the appointed time that’s precisely what happened. Our church’s name was called and I stayed where I was, out of camera range, and Becky, the person I’d asked to speak, did so. My clerical shirt and collar were seen briefly on the evening’s news.

It was marvelous! Empowering on all sides! She did an incredible job and I didn’t clutter up the shot. I’d never felt so good. And I began to realize that if I could make myself – well, not disappear so much as fade out a little in this way, it might be that perhaps the representation of stability could be massively diffused from one dude in a collar (who could go back to working a little harder at preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments) to a whole rank of leaders prepared to step forward and be the public face of our congregation.

This is my strategy now. It’s slowly happening. I couldn’t be happier.

In the end, that’s how it really should be. A priest is always a limited quantity whose tenure is bound by innumerable, complicated factors. Permanence, of course, is an illusion; stability is closer to reality. The vision of stability and of moving forward into the future should be shouldered by the people who will actually do it, and who frankly are probably more relatable. The dynamism and charm of the clergy will always be immaterial as it always has been, perhaps moreso now that we live in the age of the disappearing rector. But who cares. I believe God’s concern is for our adaptability in carrying forth the banner of Jesus far more than our priestcraft, valuable as that has been to our sacramental existence.

We recently had that amazing eucharistic collect cycle through in which we pray that “we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” That’s an ancient Latin oration found on the lips of many a priest, bishop, and deacon over the centuries. For those praying Morning Prayer, it’s also an appeal on the lips of everyone else. Perhaps we’d benefit from standing back from our current emotional needs long to enough to ask ourselves just how it is we could “lose not the things eternal” in the age of the disappearing Rector.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the adjunct staff of Episcopal Café.

Exercising "power with"

by Marshall Scott

There’s been a lot of talk about power lately. Perhaps it’s the political season (oh, how I envy the limited campaigning season in some countries). Certainly, it’s been part of the conversation about the Anglican Covenant.

Perhaps it’s because of that old and well known aphorism: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The author was John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton. He was a believer in power spread around and not concentrated. His was one of the voices in England that during the American Civil war supported states’ rights, and so the Confederacy.

But that wasn’t the context of his most famous statement. Lord Acton was also a Roman Catholic, and with his sentiments he was opposed to papal infallibility. Some years after the First Vatican Council, he wrote,

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means.

It is of interest that he wrote that to a scholar of the papacy – not a Roman scholar, but an Anglican. Mandell Creighton was a Cambridge scholar and a future Bishop first of Peterborough and then of London. It was in reviewing Creighton’s A History of the Papacy During the Period of Restoration that Acton wrote perhaps his most famous words. (Perhaps these days that seems an observation that continues to be entirely too apt.)

And yet that is not the comment on power that has proven most interesting and most compelling to me. Long ago, during my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education a CPE Supervisor said to me, “Power is the ability to persuade.” I don’t know where he came up with this, but with some digging I found two similar quotations. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.” President Eisenhower wrote, “I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.” Remarkable, I think, that these two warriors, accomplished leaders of armies, were convicted of the value of persuasion over force.

The point, of course, is if we think about the end rather than the means, the ability to persuade can well be more powerful than power as we usually think of it: the ability to coerce. Indeed, coercion is simply one means of persuading – and if our two generals, separated by so many centuries, are to be believed, a means not all that effective.

From those seminary days that thought stayed with me. It was reinforced when I encountered Touching Our Strength by Carter Heyward. Heyward called her readers to a different approach to power: power with instead of power over. Power with calls for respect and mutuality. It is about what we can do together, and not about what you will do for me or I will do to you.

Much of the anxiety around us reflects a concern about power over. Consider, for example, our controversy about the Anglican Communion Covenant. Many are concerned (and I believe rightly concerned) about Section 4. It seems designed to create power over, even as much of the rest of the document tries to persuade that it’s about power with.

Or consider our recent discussions about the structure of the Episcopal Church, and whether it needs revision. Much of our discussion has seemed to reflect distrust – distrust of leadership and distrust among leaders. At times our concern about who might lead, about how to prevent power over, leads to suggestion of leadership so distributed – indeed, so disparate – that there seems hardly to be enough with for power with to function.

But in both cases this is based on a presumption power over, of power as enforcement, power as coercion. What if we were instead to embrace the concept of power with, and of power as the ability to persuade? What structures, for example, would best reflect the mutuality and engagement that power with requires? Certainly, too much would not meet the need; but neither would too little. Again, leadership is not truly shared if we are not all actively engaged. There can be no power with if there is no with.

Or, what might mission mean? We have discussed at this site mission as vocation and mission as message and mission as activity. We have talked about buildings as encumbrances and buildings as tools for ministry. What if we began with considering how we might exercise the ability to persuade? Sure, we will begin with the critical questions of “Persuade whom?” and “Persuade to what?” And after our first immediate responses, we’ll get into the real discussions. We’ll wrestle with persuading our own community, and then persuading the wider world. We’ll wrestle with what we ought to be persuading to. We’ll wrestle with what structures and leadership and tools might be required. We’ll wrestle, really, with all the things we’re wrestling with now. But, we’ll be wrestling, I think, in a different spirit – even in a different Spirit.

If we turn our concern from a fear of power over to a commitment to power with, how will that shape our expectations of our leaders? If we expect our leaders – if we expect ourselves as leaders - to measure success not simply by the ability to effect change but by the ability to persuade, that may well change the qualifications we expect, the structures we require, and the tools we provide.

And after all, isn’t that the model of the One that we follow? As recently as Good Friday we heard again Pilate’s examination of Jesus. When Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ ultimate answer was, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” And again and again, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers, it was not to command but to persuade. “Here,” he said, “look at my wounded hands. Look at my wounded side.” On the road to Emmaus he did not assert his glory, but instead “opened the scriptures.” It was persuasion that warmed hearts, and brought Thomas to his confession. When we look at our Lord who spent his time preaching and teaching, healing and hobnobbing, and doing almost no commanding, surely we see most profoundly the power of God expressed not in coercion or enforcement, but in the ability to persuade.

So, I have to ask what that would mean for us – for us as leaders, certainly; but also for us as the Episcopal Church. We argue about many things precisely because we see them through the worldview of power over. What would it mean for us if we turned to the model of Christ, and sought to exercise power with, and to measure our own power first and foremost in our ability to persuade?

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Room by Room

by Heidi Shott

After dropping my son off at school this morning, I stop for coffee at the bookstore in downtown Damariscotta. Sometimes I see friends or acquaintances there and stop for a bit to catch up, sometimes I splurge on a double latte, but today, with just a dollar in my pocket, I get a to-go cup and am out the door in a minute. As I stop to turn right on Main Street and head home, I look to my left and see a woman coming out of the Waltz’s Drugstore. She’s someone I worked with at the local newspaper 15 years ago, and I know a small portion of her story: her husband is an alcoholic, she wanted a baby but never got one, she stops each morning at a half dozen different places around town to buy lottery tickets. She often drinks coffee with the local guys at the soda fountain at Waltz’s.

“How are those boys?” she’ll call out when she sees me come in for a prescription or a greeting card.

“Great!” I chime. “How’re you doing?”

“Great!” she replies.

It’s easier now, but years ago when I’d be out and about with the our twin boys, our fertility drug babies, she would make a big deal of them. And I felt bad for the heartache seeing those boys must have caused her. I got two and she got zero, as though God cared which way our names are spelled, as people say around here.

With no cars barring my way, I turn right and see a man walking down the opposite sidewalk, head down, hands in coat pockets. My husband knows him better than I do, but I know him well enough to make small talk at parties. I know that last year he lost a wonderful and promising son in a car accident in Asia, and I can’t imagine such a loss.

As I make my turn and cross the bridge from Damariscotta into Newcastle, I pass a gas station and see a man at the pump. I remember ten years ago or so when his free-spirited wife left him and their young children for a biker. “You gotta be kidding me?” was the general response around town to that development. I remember getting my car inspected at the garage not long after and seeing his daughter sitting in the garage office watching a small TV with a powdered doughnut in hand. She smiled at me with her white mustache.

If I were to drive around town or go into Reny’s (small town Maine’s answer to Walmart) or stop at Yellowfront Market, I would no doubt see, in a matter of minutes, a dozen other people whose stories I know in part either first-hand or second. But there are many more people I pass around town whose faces I may recognize but whose stories I don’t know at all. How full God’s heart must be with all of our stories.

Each afternoon my favorite thing to do is to switch on the little lights we put in each window at this time of year. In our little part of town there are many 18th century colonials and capes clustered together and most of us do the “lights in the window” thing in December. It’s very lovely to look out and see the old houses twinkle. Our neighbors must be less cheap than I am because they’ve obviously invested in the lights that turn on automatically at dusk. Our little lights with the rotary switches that slide with a snap between your thumb and forefinger refuse to give up, so I can’t justify buying the new and improved variety.

But I like going from room to room and turning on the lights in this one season of the year where light, candlelight and pale lamplight, is imbued with wonder and meaning.

As I move from room to room I sometimes imagine what it must look like to someone walking along the road toward our house. First the lower right comes on, then the lower left, then a pause before the upstairs bedrooms and the little room that connects the house to the upper part of the garage. These little candles don’t shed sufficient light to see everything inside our home but they give the passer-by, or the driver who turns to look, a glimpse into the face of our world.

What these lights don’t show is what’s happening at the back of the house: a disheveled child grumbling over homework at the kitchen table, a woman unloading the dishwasher and wishing she were the type of person who always knew ahead of time what they were going to have for dinner, a man in an upstairs office playing a few decompressionary games of solitaire while sipping a shot of frozen lemon vodka, a blond-haired boy on the porch off the kitchen cocking his head to a jazz CD and working to match the notes on his saxophone.

The homework child says, “Would you knock it off, I’m trying to work here!”

The saxophone child says, “Idiot, I was here first!”

The woman says, “Would you guys please be nice to one another.”

Who would know what is true about the back of this house unless they knocked on the door and asked?

In his song “Laughter” Bruce Cockburn, sings, “I laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been. I laugh for the dirty window panes, hiding the love within.”

Who can know? Who can know about anyone?

Perhaps this season of light, with its sense of expectation that even the most jaded among us feel, is one of the few times of year we’re granted the warrant to penetrate the darkness of unknowing that surrounds us on every side. Maybe it’s the time to knock on doors and ask, “How are you doing?”



As both an interviewer or a friend I've found that when asked, most people will answer. The desire to be known is so deeply found in each of us, because we know that to be truly known is to be loved. This season of light is about God caring about the details of our lives enough to enter into our midst and do something. Now we’re asked to be the face of God to one another: to walk down the road and knock on our neighbor’s door.

And it helps us to be brave when a light is on to greet us.

Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Keeping marriages moving in a healthy direction

By Margaret Treadwell

As in many movies, the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally (1989) ends with a happily-ever-after wedding. The film tells the story of how two friends became lovers. Interspersed throughout are clips of long-married couples lovingly reminiscing about how they met, scored with soaring music. How these strong couples made it through the inevitable rough patches is left to our imagination.

Staying in marriages over the long haul is a hot topic lately. The Washington Post recently reported on the decline of U.S. divorces and ran a story about a service at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where an estimated 600 couples celebrated their marriages of 25-plus years. Those interviewed spoke mostly about how they met, while a few mentioned humor, teamwork, faithfulness, God and prayer.
Some of us are "born lucky" in love, but many more need a road map to develop into a strong couple. Using family systems thinking, I've created the following four signposts to keep marriages moving in a healthy direction:

 Grow into your fullest potential in body, mind and spirit and encourage your partner to do the same.
 Remember the sparks that attracted you to each other in the first place. Keep your fun and spontaneity fresh, individually and together.
 Believe in something greater than you.
 If you have children, defocus them and make the top three bullets your priority.
This applies regardless of your culture, race, religion, sexual identity or socio-economic group.

I believe that we can grow to our fullest potential in marriage. It may take several "marriages within a marriage" to achieve this goal - before children, with children and after children, for starters.

One young husband brought the family calendar to a counseling session and asked his wife to schedule him in. She replied, "I'll be happy to, but I have to schedule myself in first, and then I can have more fun with you."

Far from being selfish, she was taking a clear stand for her self-preservation. How can we love someone else when we won't love ourselves first? List three things you love to do out- side of family and work; now consistently schedule these passions in. You'll begin to see your life - and your marriage - in a more positive light when you take care of yourself.

In my work, I define a strong couple and marriage as the health of the whole family unit - parents and children - rather than solely the couple relationship. Stress in families can manifest with symptoms in one of three places - between the couple (from constant conflict to not speak- ing), in one or other of the couple (from headaches to serious illnesses), in one or more of their offspring (from rebellious acting out to anxiety and depression). No family ever scores 100 percent health - which would mean no symptoms at all. My favorite New Yorker cartoon shows one gentle- man sitting alone in the audience under a banner proclaiming "Conference For Normal Families."

It is remarkable how many parents send their children off to a therapist for a symptom fix rather than taking a thoughtful look at their own relationship. These family leaders - the only ones capable of making a lasting family change - often carry levels of stress that are too big to contain between the two of them. This stress trickles down like an anxiety flu to the most vulnerable child. When people tell me about rough spots in their marriages, they usually are describing some variation of this pattern.

Bottom line: If the couple is OK, over time their children will be OK, too. When they "get" the importance of becoming a strong couple for their kids (even if they aren't particularly interested at the moment in working on it for themselves), the symptom relief for children is swift. But here's the paradox: techniques for strengthening a marriage are successful only to the extent that the individuals in the marriage are willing to strengthen themselves, rather than place absurdly high expectations on a spouse or partner to create their happiness.

In his homily at the April 29 Royal Wedding, the Bishop of London held up faithful and committed relationships as a door into the spiritual life: "Marriage should transform, as hus- band and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbor ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom."

Thanks to Glennon Gordon, LICSW, for our discussion about this column. Her Facebook page is Less Whine With That Marriage.

Margaret M. "Peggy" Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

Life in the neutral zone

By Margaret M. Treadwell

"Everything changes but death and taxes," my grandmother said during her final illness in 1968. How amazed she would be at the acceleration of change today.

Change is an underlying cause of anxiety that brings many to my office in search of a quick fix. Often, people's first reaction is to try to solve the problem by cutting off the person or situation to blame - the marriage or job, the alcoholic parent, black sheep sibling or negative friend. Since this option usually causes deeper problems, we begin to look for alternative strategies that require making a transition in oneself.

In his book, Transitions, William Bridges argues that we benefit from seeing transition (whether we have chosen it or it has been imposed upon us) as a passage with a beginning, an important neutral stage neglected at our peril, and an end that leads to a new beginning. Choosing a neutral space of "attentive inactivity" provides time to contemplate "the four Ds" endemic to transition: disengagement; disidentification; disenchantment; disorientation. Bridges maintains that honoring the gray in-between time of the neutral zone leads to a thoughtful direction.

One stay-at-home mother with a teenage daughter and a son in first grade entered the "neutral zone" during Lent, before deciding to accept a job and return to the workplace. She learned the following lessons from working on the four Ds.

Disengagement: "I entered my own wilderness to pay attention to signals that personal and professional timing was ripe for transition. A five-day retreat supported by my husband and mother, who came to be with the children, became my best thinking time."

Disidentification: "It was frightening to give up my self-definition as wife, mother and volunteer who had time for lots of friends. I wasn't sure who I was without that identity, even though I knew that the old was standing in the way of transformation."

Disenchantment: "I felt like I was floating in limbo between my old and potential new world and that neither was real. I remembered similar childhood feelings of disappointment or shock like the day my parents' huge mistake taught me they weren't perfect, the time my best friend betrayed me and leaving home for a college that turned out to be the wrong one for me."

Disorientation: "During the week's break from the familiar, I wrote in my journal about the emptiness and con- fusion of feeling stuck and dead inside and the ways I had weathered previous challenges. Gradually as I wrote about my dreams, an image and vision for my life began to emerge."

"In retrospect, I had to walk through a sense of abandonment like the valley of the shadow of death to make the transition to another way of being."

Re-entering her old world after retreat was extremely difficult. It was as if a rock of resistance within kept shattering her resolve, and for a week she could not make the call to accept the professional position that would stamp her new life. Finally, she consulted three people she really respected and when they all said the same thing, she made the plunge with a "YES!"

She was astounded at the reaction she received from her husband and children who heretofore had applauded her resolve to redefine herself. Nearing the first day of employment, her daughter went into a full-blown rebellion, her son clung to her and her husband became so busy at work that he hadn't time to participate in the new child care decisions necessary to actualize her decision. Even her supportive mother asked if she was sure about her plan.

She wondered if she had made a mistake and should wait to fulfill her dreams until after her daughter graduated from high school. Clearly a completed transition does not occur at the moment of a decision but rather after those around us have become uncomfortable with change, sought to pull us back into our old way of being, and we have been able to resist the pull back to keep on keeping on with our dreams by living the decision well.

If you want your rebellious daughter to become more focused and live into her potential, begin living a more focused life yourself and she is likely to follow suit over time. Things often get worse before they get better when you set out in a new direction. In fact, if you don't get the pull back, you probably haven't made any change at all. This truth is what the "how to" books forget to tell us!

"Is there anything as horrible as starting on a trip?...the last moments are earthquake and convulsion, and the feeling that you are a snail being pulled off your rock."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Margaret M. "Peggy" Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher inn private practice.

The vow

By Adam Thomas

A couple of months before our recent wedding, my wife and I sat down with the Book of Common Prayer and turned to page 423. We read the header and the italicized rubrics, and then our eyes fell on those famous words: Dearly Beloved. “We’re really doing it?” she asked. “We’re really planning our wedding ceremony?”

“We really are,” I confirmed. We each held one side of the book as we leafed through the service, discussing music and readings and the people we might ask to participate. When we reached the end of the printed liturgy, she looked at me, confusion written on her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“When do I get say ‘I do?’ ”

I stifled a chuckle, remembering that each of the brides I had counseled before their weddings had asked me the same question. From the days when brides, my wife included, draped white pillowcases from their hair and walked down imaginary aisles lined with dolls and stuffed animals, they had each dreamed of saying those two small words. When they discovered that “I do” doesn’t appear in the beautiful Episcopal liturgy, I had ten-minute mutinies on my hands. “What do you mean I don’t get to say ‘I do?’ I’m out of here. We’ll get married at the VFW hall and my cousin will get a temporary license to officiate and he’ll let me say, ‘I do.’ Come on, dear, we’re leaving.”

After of few minutes, though, they calmed down enough to listen to reason. Now, I don’t relish the thought of destroying the dreams of brides everywhere, so I try to be as sensitive as possible. But when my own bride-to-be wondered aloud about the lack of those two little words, I didn’t really know what to say. My standard pastoral line wouldn’t work on her because I’m not her priest. So instead, I patted her on the back and resisted the urge to say, “There, there.”

A few weeks later, we had our first premarital counseling session, and the priest suggested that we memorize our vows rather than have the officiant feed them to us line by line. We decided to take on the challenge. Each day from then on, we practiced the vows. We spoke them aloud, prompting each other when we hesitated and gently correcting each other when we mixed up the phrases. Over the course of a few weeks, we learned the words by heart.

In the name of God, I, Adam, take you, Leah, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

These deep, rich words sunk into us as we learned them. They are now the bedrock of our marriage, and (I hope my wife agrees with me!) they are so much better than “I do.” These words make me wonder: how often in our lives do we vow something? We might give assurances that we’ll get the paperwork done or promise to pick someone up after school, but when don’t “vow” to do these things.

Vows don’t happen too often. Witnesses swear to tell the whole truth in court; government officials, new citizens, and military folks pledge to uphold the Constitution or obey officers. These are as close to “vows” as people make outside of the covenant of marriage. But the “solemn vow” of marriage is unique in society, and that makes it all the more special.

A vow is neither time nor place specific. It covers more than the limited scenario during which one might make a promise. Indeed, a vow is not promise, but the framework on which promises are hung. This is made explicit by the pairs of opposites that the couple speaks during the vows – better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. The vow is the acknowledgment that life will never quite be the same as it was before that moment, no matter how long a couple might have been living together before marriage. When I vowed to take Leah to be my wife, I entered into a new type of existence, one in which I now (at long last) own the fact that I am not the most important person in my own life. I vowed to cherish her and to love her – come what may. I can think of no greater duty and no greater joy than to explore with her this new existence that our vow has opened to us.

This new existence begins with the vow – not two measly words – but a few sentences that changes lives. And the vow begins with a few more words that are more important the all the rest: “In the name of God…” The vow would mean nothing if God were not part of it. Just as the vow is the framework for all promises, God is the framework for the vow. The new existence into which we entered a few weeks ago at our wedding happens with God’s name at the top of the page. It couldn’t be otherwise.

I know that it has only been a few weeks, and we aren’t planning on having children for a while; but I wonder if our future daughter will put a pillowcase on her head and walk down an imaginary aisle? She probably will. But hopefully, we will teach her not to look forward to saying, “I do.” Rather, we will teach her to dream about the deep, rich words: “This is my solemn vow.”

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the assistant to the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Mass. He blogs at wherethewind.com. He is the author of the forthcoming book Digital Disciple, out this May from Abingdon Press.

The dark and light sides of social networking

By Ellen Painter Dollar

Do you Facebook?

The question comes up often in conversation these days, as a practical matter (“Can I keep in touch with you through Facebook?”) or a more significant marker of where people stand on the distinctly un-private world of social networking. Rutgers student Tyler Clementi posted his intention to jump off the GW Bridge on Facebook after a roommate filmed him in a romantic encounter with another man and publicized the video via Twitter. The role of social networking—its ability to erode privacy and magnify teenage prank-pulling and name-calling into something much more insidious—has been one of the hot news topics in the weeks following this tragedy. One of my fellow bloggers on Christianity Today’s women’s blog went so far as to hold Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg partly responsible for Clementi’s suicide.

Do I Facebook?

I do, but not without some trepidation. Many of us educated, busy working moms and dads seem slightly embarrassed by our immersion in the Facebook culture. We wonder if we’ve lost all sense of propriety, balance, and privacy. When I go a day or two without checking Facebook (a rare event), I feel oddly proud, like I do when I forego dessert or turn the TV off before the fourth episode in a Law and Order marathon. I feel like I’ve avoided something unhealthy, a bad habit that feeds my more unpleasant traits—narcissism, nosiness, self-righteousness.

But I go back anyway, for many small reasons (promoting my writing, keeping up with school and community news, mindless distraction when my head aches from an intense bout of writing) and one big reason. Facebook has been a rich and rewarding tool for staying connected (or becoming reconnected) with people whose presence in my life is a gift. Those who don’t understand the appeal of Facebook say, “If I wanted to keep in touch with people I knew 20 years ago, I would have.” But would they? Do they?

Before Facebook, I had superficial relationships with a number of people whose friendships had been central earlier in my life—college roommates and friends, coworkers from my early jobs, members of a young married couples’ group at the church I attended in my 20s. I generally knew what they were up to—where they were working, the names and ages of their kids—but that was it. By reconnecting with many of these friends via Facebook, I now know much more about them, and vice versa. Status updates describing daily events—good, bad, and run-of-the-mill—give us a real sense of what goes on day by day in each others’ homes, workplaces, and families. Facebook has transformed a handful of relationships from “annual Christmas card” level to a more significant level of regular give-and-take.

Because I post links to all my blog posts on Facebook, I have online conversations with old friends about the complex topics I write on—parenthood, disability, reproductive technology, genetics, chronic pain. When far-away friends are coping with illness, difficult parenting moments, or employment troubles, I know about it and can offer good wishes, advice, commiseration, and/or prayers. Facebook reconnected me with the friend, now an Episcopal priest, who introduced me to The Daily Episcopalian. When he posted on Facebook that his daughter broke her leg last year, I could send him all of the “toddler in a cast” advice I have from my family’s extensive experience with broken bones. Through Facebook, I have listened to one friend’s radio show in Atlanta, watched videos of commercials and movie trailers featuring my actress friend, and perused photos of teenagers whom I once held as newborns.

Facebook’s value for reigniting and stoking the flames of old friendships became especially clear last week. I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer—a non-invasive, treatable kind. Despite the good prognosis, getting a cancer diagnosis at age 42, when I still have a preschooler at home and an impending book deadline, has been overwhelming. I struggled with how to tell friends near and far. No, I didn’t post the news on Facebook; too many Facebook “friends” are acquaintances or professional contacts who don’t need a blow-by-blow of my family’s medical crises. I told local friends either in person or via personal e-mails, and sent one group e-mail to far-away friends.

I received several phone calls and return messages, including one from a college roommate. Because we were both camped at our computers that morning, we ended up having a real-time e-mail conversation, sending new messages immediately in response to the ones we received. Her words of support and sorrow were so pitch-perfect that I ended up in tears, and told her so. In a return message, she told me she had news too. She is divorcing the man she married at a Christmastime wedding as I stood by their side in my bridesmaid dress. As we exchanged more words of grief (“Getting old sucks!”) and hope (“I have a wonderful family and will get through this”) I was aware that this online conversation—this real, gritty, meaningful conversation—would not be happening if she and I hadn’t reconnected through Facebook.

Online contact doesn’t replace personal contact. Our twentieth college reunion was coming up that weekend and my roommate would be there, while I would not. Our exchange made me even more hungry for an in-person visit than I was before. Social networking can enhance relationships, but it can’t replace the pleasure of talking with an old friend over dinner.

Social networking is one of many modern phenomena for which we don’t have clear guidance from Scripture. But there are hints of how we might approach it. We can follow Paul’s advice to think on those things that are life-giving and substantial over those that are distracting and destructive (e.g., Phillipians 4:8). The temptation to post clever status updates as a way to draw attention to my intelligence, wit, and the obvious rightness of my political persuasion, or to poke fun at opposing viewpoints, is real; I have succumbed to it now and then. Facebook certainly leads people to overshare, posting details of their lives that are either overly intimate or overly mundane. (My personal pet peeve: Parents who give play-by-play descriptions of a stomach virus making its way through their family. I have three kids. Trust me; I know how that goes.) Allowing Facebook to be a tool for relationship-building instead of a distraction requires humility, self-discernment, and discretion—qualities that are fostered by spiritual disciplines, honest relationships, self-examination, and confession, not by spending hours in online conversations consisting solely of clever one-liners.

Jesus lived in a way that celebrated intimate relationships but maintained boundaries between public and private. His life was structured around time spent in community—eating, working, preaching, and talking with his closest friends and strangers he met along the way. While Jesus challenged people, he didn’t air their dirty laundry. He spoke to the woman at the well about her adulterous liaisons; he didn’t climb on the nearest mountaintop to joke or preach at her expense. When he needed to, he separated himself from the crowd to give attention to his own spiritual and physical health. Jesus lived a very public life, but always with a focus on transforming relationships, not on trumpeting slick slogans selling his world view or exploiting the intimate details of his own or other people’s lives. I’m convinced that social networking can be a tool for intimacy as well as a temptation to use others for our own purposes.

One response to Tyler Clementi’s and other suicides is the “It Gets Better” video project, through which high-profile gay and lesbian men and women are telling teenagers struggling with their sexual identity to have hope. In the words of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, “God wants you to live in the light of God’s love and that light will take away all of this darkness…God loves you beyond your wildest imagining.”

Where is that hopeful message being shared, over and over and over, where it will surely be heard and embraced by a few despairing young men and women? On Facebook.

As with most human inventions, Facebook can foster intimacy or alienation, compassion or cruelty, substance or stupidity. The challenge is to use it for the former and avoid the temptation to participate in the latter. Facebook is no more to blame for Tyler Clementi’s suicide than the GW Bridge is. But we still have a responsibility to foster online communities marked by respect and appropriate boundaries, to use Facebook and other online tools as instruments of the light and not the dark.

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer whose work focuses on faith, parenthood and disability. She is writing a book on the ethics and theology of reproductive technology, genetic screening and disability, and she blogs at Choices That Matter and Five Dollars and Some Common Sense.


Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Margaret Treadwell

Have you ever met people so brimming with happiness they could be described as joy-spreaders? Susan and Hermann Jenny personify the term, but they say it wasn’t always so. How did this couple find happiness individually and together?

Hermann grew up poor in Switzerland. Following a tragic accident, his father was too debilitated to care for his family. His mother opened their home to guests; 15-year-old Hermann apprenticed with a master chef and became an accomplished cook for her business. He decided he could earn more money on the staff of a hotel and moved to Canada and then Bermuda, where someone commended him to Cornell University’s Hotel School. He says of his good fortune, “You have to speak up for your rights, which develops self confidence.”

He met Susan at Cornell where she was studying French and pursuing a teacher’s certificate and later obtained a master’s degree in English for Speakers of Other Languages.

“I come from a rural culture and am a businessman,” Hermann said of their decision to marry. “Susan is from an artistic culture of music and French literature. Together we have it all. I believe in marriage we are called upon to witness the life of another person, not to judge them… and that agreement is a commitment I will never negate.”

During the early years, as Hermann rose steadily in the hospitality business, they moved around the world – from the South Bronx to Bangkok, Singapore and Paris. They learned three important lessons: Be open to all people and situations, take risks and sink roots wherever you live. For example, Susan and their three children became involved at the American Cathedral in Paris. One Shrove Tuesday, Hermann, a self-proclaimed atheist who attended church functions to support his family, cooked the best pancake supper in Christendom. Susan said, “We’ve always given each other space while supporting our differences.” Hermann added, “With that attitude Susan made my career possible.”

By the early 1990s, Hermann had been the head of three different hotel chains and was working for the Aga Khan when the stress associated with constant travel and climbing the corporate ladder became unbearable. He asked, “Why am I doing this?”

Susan, who had created a program for dyslexic children at the American School in London, was devastated when it became clear Hermann wanted to move her from her city home to run a country Bed and Breakfast. But, she said, “I’ve always trusted Hermann’s instincts and home is where he is. I was ready for surprises, so I decided to live the decision well by thinking of our change as creating a new life rather than losing an old one. My American pioneering spirit keeps me curious.”

They looked for several years along the French Riviera before they heard that a divorcing English couple was selling their working B&B in northern Provence. The moment they saw the 17th century stone farmhouse, Les Tuillieres, set on 40 wooded acres with fields and streams far from the tourist routes, they knew it was the perfect place.

“When you live on an isolated farm you need to create a life that draws on hidden things inside you or expands your interests,” Susan said. “I began gardening in earnest and spent more time with my piano and different kinds of singing groups.”As her knowledge of the area grew, Susan became not only a warm hostess, but also an occasional sous chef, vacation planner and tour guide par excellence for her guests, who she treats like cherished friends.

The couple are in agreement about the qualities that make their B&B successful: Pure luck to have found the right place at the right time; good health to actively carry the decision through; an ability to speak several languages; and attending to the needs of the surrounding community, particularly hiring local citizens as valued staff. As Hermann said, “For every ounce of ego, an ounce of rationality leaves the brain. Don’t let ‘important people’ go to your head!”

Both acknowledge it takes a strong couple to do this kind of work. After all, with the usual 12 guests per night there is hardly any quiet or intimate time. They cope by teaming up 16 hours a day five months a year in work they enjoy, then take seven months off to sit still and listen to music.

How much longer do they intend to continue this lifestyle? Susan said, “Every year we put the question on the table: Do we want to do this another year? So far the answer is a resounding, “Yes. We are happy!”

Margaret M. “Peggy” Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

Second thoughts about forgiveness

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Ann Fontaine

What purpose can “not forgiving” serve?

Forgiveness is a highly recommended spiritual practice. The benefits of forgiveness are supposedly less stress and better health. Forgiveness is recommended by the church as a way to wholeness.

I wonder, however, if this is always a good idea. In cases of sexual and physical abuse, I believe offering quick forgiveness can continue the wounding rather than offering healing. It encourages people to “be nice” rather than find the wholeness of accepting the depth of one’s rage. When might it be good not to forgive?

I was reading the Daily Office the other day and this line stood out for me:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22

The passage made wonder about the process of forgiveness. This verse says to me that forgiveness does not always help the process of healing or result in restoration and reconciliation. It says something has to happen before sins are forgiven and relationship returned.

Two stories:

1. A man was sexually abused as a child by his priest, with the tacit consent of his mother. Once he was grown enough to resist and speak out they had him committed to an institution for incorrigible teens. He could never get the church to act against the abuser. He was shuffled off from one office to another. The canons of the church designed to prevent this were not in place. By the time they were – the bishop said the statute of limitations had run out. Forgiveness for him would have been the last straw – one that took away his dignity and the rage that kept him alive to battle a cold uncaring institution and help to change things bit by bit.

2. A priest was often observed crossing boundaries with women – touching them in ways that made them uncomfortable. Some said, “Oh he is just friendly and does not mean anything by it.” For many who were the victims of his touching, it evoked memories of rape and powerlessness. One day he was hit by a car and broke both arms. Some victims felt their wounds had been assuaged and they were able to forgive.

In each of these cases there was an offense or offenses. People dealt with the issues of forgiveness in the ways each felt was best for them.

The church’s demand to forgive can make victims feel guilty and blame themselves for what happened to them. Persons unable to offer forgiveness feel shut out and re-victimized.

I believe we should be offering wholeness that comes from acknowledging the wounding and sitting with that woundedness for as long as it takes for the victim to come to the right place. Instead of demanding instant forgiveness of a perpetrator by a victim, offer to listen and find ways to make amends for what has happened. Help the victim become a survivor by discovering what he or she desires for his or her own life.

Listening shows the person that he or she has a right to be heard. I believe no movement to wholeness can occur until the story is told from the point of view of the victim and the victim receives assurance that it was terrible and should not have happened no matter what else was going on. Acceptance of the event and the knowledge that no amount of revisiting it will change the terrible nature of what happened is the first step to choosing the future one desires. It may or may not involve forgiveness but gives power back to the one who has suffered.

A reflection on the reading from the book of Hebrews

withholding forgiveness from those who have offended may be a time of waiting to see the blood

What sort of blood is needed?

As our daughter, a wise woman, says:

The most important thing I've learned about forgiveness is that it can't be forced. It must flow naturally from where the victim is in their healing process and frequently marks the point at which one has decided not to let the event be a distorting effect on one's life. Justice is a part of forgiveness. If someone did something wrong that was under their control and they show no remorse, then it is very difficult to forgive. If remorse is shown (not just said)-- or one feels that 'fate' has provided justice (as in the broken armed abuser story)-- then it is easier to let go of the protective anger and move on. Anger can a protective shield-- perhaps it is like a cold-frame for seedlings -- protecting a vulnerable person until they are strong enough to live on their own, but confining if left in place too long.

Withholding forgiveness may be a way to retain one’s power in a situation of powerlessness. I believe it can be a first step to regaining a sense of self that has been destroyed by abuse and exploitation.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Chastity, now

By Richard Helmer

In starting discernment to become a member of a spiritual community of The Episcopal Church, I have been invited in recent months to study the three classic evangelical counsels as they have been articulated as vows beginning with the mendicant orders in the twelfth century: poverty, chastity, and obedience.

As a parish priest, husband, father, and ever aspiring pianist, the one counsel that has captivated me most recently has been the vow of chastity. It has spoken most deeply to my perfectionistic desire to control outcomes in every relationship in my life -- far beyond its often narrow interpretation regarding fidelity in sexual conduct.

Chastity means setting aside dominance and control and seeking instead a new way to relate to the world and to God.

Having spent an increasing amount of time in conversation with married couples in recent years, the most commonly destructive dynamic in any relationship I have found has to do with a failure of chastity. But I don't mean sex outside the marriage. By chastity in marriage I mean the challenge of setting aside the stubborn drive to control or change person we most cherish. When couples learn this, the effect in their relationship and family is simply astonishing. Anxiety and anger levels drop almost immediately. There is a renewed simultaneous sense of freedom and connection. Spouses allow their partners to grow. Parents allow their children to seek accountable maturity. Needs are articulated. Resentments are set aside. Rather than using or abusing the relationship to change others, the relationships by themselves become transformative. Everyone is changed.

I've discovered the same truth in my walk with the congregation I serve. When I began viewing parish ministry through the lens of chastity, I soon felt far less anxious about outcomes of our various forms of service and worship. I was able to let our lay leadership step forward and engage more creatively in ministry at every level. I was less apt to get tangled up in the inevitable power games that all communities encounter. I was able to better articulate my own perspectives without expecting simple assent or agreement. I was able to hold my precious agendas more lightly. I was able to more clearly see and exercise pastoral authority when the community needed it. Frankly, I am less interested in numbers for the parochial report and parish programs for my resume than I ever have been. Chastity in this ministry is, for me at least, a spiritually life-saving discovery.

Chaste leadership serves and seeks to set example rather than manipulate or control. Chaste leadership is honest about the power it holds and seeks to exercise it with transparency, deliberation, clarity and the good of others first and foremost in mind. And chaste leadership learns to live with the reality that we are never in full control of outcomes, that consequences bad and good flow from every action, and that ends rarely if ever justify means.

Chastity deserves a thorough study by everyone presently involved in the tired crisis of the Anglican Communion. The desire to manipulate outcomes, to control others, to dominate an otherwise messy situation inherited from our colonial, modern past is all about unchaste approaches to relationship. And our late great crisis is rife with unchastity. We see it a lot in bishops and clergy attempting to manipulate the situation to their own ends. We see it in the floundering of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury attempting to control through appeasement and veiled threats. We see it in the unwillingness to acknowledge our actions within our own Church have unforeseen consequences for everyone -- both good and bad. We see it in the grasping and grandstanding at many levels. We have already seen the failed outcomes of dishonest ecclesiastical legislating that is inherently unchaste for its attempt to placate rather than humbly hold the truth. And we know too well the abuse of reports and non-binding councils as instruments of shadow law, and the potential of distorting covenant into a tool of manipulation. Finally, we see clergy and laity alike standing behind all of these efforts aiming for a piece of the action -- following the siren call of our conflicting visions of what a church "should" be: one that is made in our image rather than God's. I'm as guilty of this form of unchastity as anyone.

But there is good news. Chastity has been in evidence in the increasing number of voices of those who recognize our disagreements as a Communion, but yet insist that costly communion in Christ is far more valuable than agreement.

Chastity has long been in evidence by those courageous, oft-threatened "firsts" of our faith who inhabit dangerous positions not for power or the quixotic pursuit of perfection, but simply by being who they are and following God's call as best they can. The consecrations in the Diocese of Los Angeles are some of the most recent examples of this form of chastity.

Chaste behavior has been in the quiet but transformative story-telling and building up
of authentic relationships across the divides of gender, class, race, culture, sexuality, and ideology all across the Communion recently. Chastity allows us to be ourselves by allowing others to be themselves. Chastity makes it known when we are encountering oppression and articulates our needs as they arise. Chastity seeks honest accountability. Chastity sets aside the weapons and metaphors of war for an honest, authentic justice. Chastity endeavors to shed the harbored resentments and unmet wants of our brief lives and move forward in renewed relationship.

Ultimately, chastity is about humility and seeing the reality that people around us are not means to an end, whether ours or anyone else's. For years, the Church stressed chastity in sexual terms for a number of reasons. Perhaps the greatest among them was that sex in patriarchal societies was often about dominance and objectification: a means to an heir or means to gratification, economic improvement, or status. We might claim we are beyond this today in some ways, but in contemporary Western culture we have perpetuated this lack of chastity in new ways: through commercialism, through sound-byte politics, through commodification of just about everyone and everything. The lesson is that the Church still has a great deal to learn and teach about chastity in our own day.

Chastity demands we return to what is real, setting aside the spectacles of objectification, and learn again to see ourselves, others, and the world through Christ's loving eyes. Chastity calls us to embrace our humility and acknowledge our lack of control -- to some degree over ourselves, and to an even greater degree over others. Chastity asks us to hope rather than to expect, to forgive rather than to condemn, to cultivate rather than destroy. Perhaps most importantly, chastity insists that God be God, not a projection of our own desires. Chastity towards the divine is captured in that critical turn of phrase in the Lord's prayer: "thy will be done..."

No one ever said chastity is easy. Yet our attempt to tame it by confining it to monasticism or sex ignores its enormous potential for transformation in our everyday lives as a Christian people. For at the end of the day, chastity calls us to live more into the love with which God loves us: a chaste love that frees and empowers us to be who we were made to be -- a people of and for our loving God.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer is rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons and reflections have been published widely online, and he blogs about spirituality, ministry, Anglicanism, church politics, music, and the misadventures of young parenthood at Caught by the Light.

Mutual hospitality

By Leo Campos

What is the basis for any community to be considered a community at all? In my own family, for example, is it sufficient that we all inhabit the same house? As it is with different schedules (after school activities, church activities, personal pursuits, chores, and what not) the amount of time we spend together as a unit is very limited indeed. Even the ideal of sharing a meal is not always possible - sorry can't stay for dinner gotta go to church for the 630p Healing Service. Sorry can't stay - yoga class starting in 15 minutes. Sorry can't stay, drumming lessons begin at 7 p.m. And so on.

But still we would consider ourselves a family or no more so than the vast majority of families these days. We have to fight for every scrap of time available. Without a doubt a community, be it a family or a larger organization is more than a collective of individuals. A community is a flexible and dynamic set of relationships. These relationships themselves are driven by the attitudes and behavior of its members, but they are themselves fed by and altered by the other attitudes and behaviors.

So what constitutes a family or a community? First of all a community is artificial. There is no such thing as "community," it is a construct which delineates, more or less arbitrarily, a space for relationships. This much is obvious. Even the "nuclear family" so beloved a myth in America is artificial. Growing up in Brazil I tell you that my "nuclear family" was way larger than what Americans consider their nucleus. It is inconceivable for me that the nucleus of the family should stop at one generation. In our family we make concerted effort to make sure that grandparents are involved in the children's lives. We also want to include cousins, aunts and friends into the mix.

Second thing to keep in mind is that what motivates individuals is not what affects communities. The community as an artificial phenomenon has a life of its own. There will be as varied reasons for members of a community to be together as there are members.

But we must be careful not to take this idea too far and end up thinking a community is some sort of Frankenstein's Monster - an artificial being with a life of its own. We cannot either assume or give what are human characteristics to a non-human thing. For example, while it makes sense to say that a my cats have a family, it is dangerous to think that way because "family" is a human construct. Cats most certainly do not see their own associations with each other and with non-felines in that way. Anyone else here who has ever watched the Dog Whisperer show on TV knows what I am talking about. The same way a community (or a family) is not a creature: it is an abstract entity which "moves" and "behaves" responding to different forces than the creatures that make it.

Some questions which arise when I think of communities: what is it that holds a community together? How is interdependence achieved, fostered, cultivated?

Without good answers for these questions I am afraid we spend a lot of time worrying about things which are less important, things like numbers. How many conversations have I had or heard where the defining characteristic of a church was its size. Sure it is by far the easiest thing to measure: one head=one person. But study after study of mega-churches has shown that the quality, the depth, and the impact of the church on the individual is in no way related to the size of the church. I would probably venture to say that it is in small churches is where you find the true disciples - after all the 5 people that show up for a Wednesday night Healing Service really want to be there.

I have no particular secret advanced monastic technique to increase community. But I can tell you what we do to try and foster a communal environment. First, everyone rows. There cannot be (especially in small groups) any tourists. I remember some time ago a wise priest pointing to me a horrible truth about the church: there are no volunteers in church. It is true! Everyone who calls himself a Christian is a disciple - who is obligated by evangelical commands to roll up their sleeves and work. Volunteering is a secular thing, for those who are idle and searching for something meaningful to fill up the time between lunch with friends and bridge club later that night. So at our Community, from day one, we talk about everyone being responsible for the whole. Second, we throw away rules. I do not mean that anything goes, but rather we try to do away with regulated and regimented verse-and-response communications, and instead hope to foster a more tenuous, sometimes embarrassing, often funny, informal dialog. This allows everyone to talk in their own way, in their own voice. Finally, we are rabid defenders of each other's individual and unique call. By destroying all cookie-cutters, we hope to emphasize to everyone that they are held in unique respect by all of us.

By keeping these three aspects in creative tension we have been able, so far, to maintain both a healthy interest in the global community as well as excitement about each individual's call. Surely there must be a way to do so in the church as well?

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Managing anxiety in times of stress

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Mark Twain said: “I’ve had many troubles in my life and most of them never happened.”
Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. … Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6: 25)

If this is true, then why did God create his creatures great and small to constantly anticipate danger in preparation for fight or flight? A childhood friend grew up in a family where her mother and grandmother lived by the mantra: “Look out ahead of yourself to name the possible catastrophes, worry, and prepare for the worst yet to come.” This focus on future doom never got to the real cause of their terrors, nor did it give them strategies to face life more calmly and faithfully. It was chronic anxiety, which differs from the acute anxiety we rely on to get us out of harm’s way. (“Oops, that truck running a red light would have crushed me if I hadn’t jumped back on the curb!”)

Over time, her family’s general anxiety spread like the flu to my young friend, who by osmotic absorption of fear seemed to attract bad luck – frequent accidents, illnesses and troubles in school. She became a timid adult and indeed her misfortunes followed her.

Her only son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and the early death of her husband strengthened her resolve never to stray far from home in order to protect her son and herself. So she religiously tended her garden, invited a few people over from time to time, and gradually lost touch with her church community, insisting it couldn’t meet her needs. Since it takes a community to raise a child, her son suffered as much as she from her alienation. She saw doctors with expert opinions and took many medications, but she simply became more reclusive. One of her remaining friends remarked that she could have gone for a brisk walk in the time it took her to swallow the enormous number of pills she consumed each day.

In her mid 50s she was poisoned by arsenic from chemical toxins left in her garden’s soil by live WWI bombs buried for safety in her neighborhood. She had never truly lived. Avoiding danger was no safer in the long run than exposure to risk.

All of us bear the brunt of some familial anxiety, and searching for its real cause can be of great benefit. But the best way to reduce anxiety is often to increase one’s basic level of differentiation. How might my friend’s life have been different if she had worked more at being an individual and less at perfectly pleasing her family?

The following three questions have saved many a life from fear and anxiety paralysis:

• Where do I begin and end and where does another begin?

One of the most challenging and defining things you – or anyone – can do is to work on being clear about your beliefs and then having the courage to say “No.” No to family or friend when their expectations differ from your life goals. No to situations at work that don’t allow you to use your strengths. No to children when their demands are excessive or contrary to your principles.

• How can I stay connected with my family and others when their disapproval of my
opinions and choices makes it tempting to cut them out of my life?

Though they may not like your decisions, people appreciate clarity of belief and someone who is willing to take a stand when it is clearly, calmly articulated using “I statements.” Even so, it’s human nature to strive for “togetherness” and to resist another’s clarity. Learning to plan for that resistance and contain your reactivity to it is the true mark of progress. (Hint: more playfulness and less seriousness are essential to persistence when it seems easier to give in to another’s complaints.)

• Is all this worth it to grow up?

If your answer is “Yes,” you will have embarked on a lifetime process with a goal that mortals can never fully achieve, although Jesus provides us a model to reach for.
Differentiation is thoughtfully taking responsibility for your emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others and your lot in life. This means forgiving others for trying to fix us and forgiving ourselves for never measuring up. If we decide to welcome God’s presence on our journey and draw on our faith, we’ll have a better chance of moving toward the wholeness and maturity that is God’s wish for each of us.

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

Halloween and the masks of marriage

By Jean Fitzpatrick

The bride in a black cocktail dress with a black veil, carrying a flower bouquet adorned with miniature skulls. The groom in dark slacks, a pirate shirt and a top hat. Theme music from The Addams Family and The Munsters. Guests in costume. That's what Lisa Panensky and Jim Nieves had in mind when they booked their Halloween 2009 wedding at Westchester County's Old Dutch Church, built in 1697 and cited by Washington Irving in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." "Sleepy Hollow is the Halloween capital of the world," Nieves told the local Journal News explaining the couple's eagerness to be married there. "It's a landmark."

But the Rev. Jeff Gargano, pastor of the Old Dutch Church, nixed the plan. Gargano did offer to perform the ceremony outside in the church's historic "Burying Ground" (where, it is said, Irving's Headless Horseman tethers his horse nightly among the graves) but Nieves and Panensky declined. The wedding will reportedly take place -- Munsters music and all -- at their home in nearby Elmsford.

But the couple remained disappointed and puzzled by the minister's objections. (This is, after all, a church where Irving's ghoulish story is read aloud every year in the sanctuary.) "I don't know where he [Gargano] got this idea of burning crosses and killing babies," said the bride-to-be. I guess the pastor worried that darker forces might be involved in the Halloween wedding, he perhaps not subscribing fully to the engraving on the 1685 Old Dutch Church bell: "If God Be For Us Who Can Be Against Us?"

I'll admit that I'm partial to the long white wedding dress. But let me tell you what really upset me about this story, and it had nothing to do with the Addams Family. According to local news reports, the church had decided to waive its requirement that the couple participate in premarital counseling.

Now, that's scary.

You've heard the statistics. And with or without a pirate shirt and skulls, today's couples -- so often lacking role models for how to sustain a marriage through crises and everyday conflicts -- benefit enormously from the opportunity to reflect on their union and learn practical relationship skills. Sadly, many are so busy with work and wedding plans that they are hard pressed to find time to lay the groundwork for their relationship without encouragement. Even if they've had some previous therapy, as a couple prepares to walk down the aisle, it is essential that they talk together about the meaning of marriage, their own experiences of relationship, their struggles and hopes and dreams.

As for the Old Dutch Church couple, what a missed opportunity that was to make a real connection with them. I can't think of anything more telling than to ask an engaged couple about their masks and disguises. The costumes we choose, like Venetian carnival masks, conceal our identities...but they also reveal our deepest yearnings and fantasies. What do those skulls mean to Lisa, anyway? And why did Jim the groom decide to don a pirate hat? How do their two "characters" relate to each other? Sounds like the start of a rich and interesting conversation.

Through the years, those identities and yearnings often evolve. With each new life stage we deepen certain aspects of ourselves, discard others, discover new ones. I can't count how many times a husband or wife has sat in my office and told a partner, "I don't know you anymore," or "This is not the person I married." At times like these we feel as gloomy and bedraggled as trick-or-treaters on a rainy night. The beauty is that if you're willing to keep on stumbling along in the dark, sooner or later a door opens, you wind up at a house that's all lit up and warm, and a friendly face is inviting you in.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Hitting The Wall in your marriage

By Jean Fitzpatrick

A man in his late thirties sits across from me in my office, tapping a nervous drumroll on the coffee table between us with his fingertips. "We used to think we were the world's greatest couple. Our friends would tell us they envied us. But now" -- he sighs and slaps the tabletop -- "this isn't what I signed on for."

June may or may not be the most popular wedding month (a recent web search suggests it's second now to August) but it's a good time for a heads-up to anyone engaged to be married: the beloved person you have promised to spend your life with -- the one who will stand so regally beside you at the altar among the orange-blossoms and peonies, who will hold you so close as you cross the floor to "The Power of Love" or "From This Moment On" -- will one day frustrate you more than you can imagine.

People come to my office every day with the same story: For years they were amazed at how blessed or how lucky they were to have found "The One," a spouse who shared their hopes and dreams and values, who loved scuba diving or the opera or church as much as they do, who finished their sentences. Gone are those fairy-tale days. Mealtimes are strained, date nights have disappeared, sex is a distant memory. "He's changed," they tell me. "This is not the person I fell in love with." "If I had to choose her all over again, I wouldn't." "The One" now seems selfish, dull, annoying or all of the above at the same time. Too wrapped up with the children, too busy going out with friends, too involved with work. Too needy.

When that day comes, you have hit The Wall. You may start coming home late, going to bed early, anything to avoid each other. Hurtful things you never believed you could utter will come out of your mouth. You may be tempted to get involved with someone else, or just to give up.

What if, instead, you were to trust that hitting The Wall means your relationship is on the brink of something wonderful? Change is inevitable. "Like any living organism, a relationship must grow or it dies," I tell people who fear that the best days of their marriage are behind them. Or I offer another metaphor: "You didn't marry a snapshot, you married a movie." When we fall in love, the usual walls that separate us from other people go down. We're all tangled up with one another, like the sheets and blankets around our legs the morning after, and nothing could feel more delicious or amazing It seems as though this blissful time could last forever.

But it's only a moment. In the course of a lifelong relationship, we need to come untangled, to define ourselves as separate individuals while remaining in loving connection. For most of us, that's quite a trick. My partner is not me. We are two different people. Sounds obvious in theory, doesn't it? There's nothing like banging your head against The Wall to learn it in practice. Letting those walls down once felt so good. But The Wall is too high to climb over, too thick to knock down, and so painful we suspect it's guarded with barbed wire. When we finally stop the head-banging we discover that The Wall has its pluses: it gives us privacy and freedom, as well as space to reflect on what's really important to us and on the kind of marriage we wish to create.

Those lessons are the hardest part. Happily -- although wistful single people often believe the stars will need to align before they find "The One" -- fixing a marriage isn't very mysterious or magical. It requires that we learn a few important skills -- or take skills we already have plenty of practice with, at work and with friends, and start to use them with the person who knows our tender spots better than anyone. Listening is one of these skills. Even though it scares us half to death, we need to start paying close attention when our partner talks, without interrupting. (How else will we find out what's happening on the other side of The Wall?) Perspective-taking and negotiating are other essential skills. We need to start looking at our relationship from a broader perspective, moving past our own frustrations and thinking in terms of how to nurture the marriage with time and tenderness and artful negotiation. In using these skills, we create a richer marriage. No longer all tangled up with each other; we're two strong, interdependent people consciously creating a relationship that, in turn, nurtures the two of us.

Now, that's what I call happy ever after.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Coping with hard economic times

By Margaret Treadwell

Our family has a history of making lemonade out of lemons during hard financial times. Thinking about our ancestors who found unexpected blessings during the adversity of job loss is one way we deal with the current economic crisis; after all, it is the way we THINK about a situation that makes a difference in the outcome.

My husband’s grandfather lost his job as a bridge engineer during the Great Depression and had to draw on all of his creative skills to support his wife and three daughters. He became an entrepreneur using his talents to build and sell window fans from which he created a good enough business to see the family through. Imagination and perseverance are his legacies to us.

My father used to say about the Depression, “We were all in it together; not two nickels to rub together.” He and Mother had to postpone their wedding for several years, and Dad moved far from their families to a town where he could join a surviving law practice. Mom tells the story of their honeymoon when they were able to take a night away at an hour’s drive to another town in a borrowed car with a broken door handle which required tying the passenger door shut. She says, “We didn’t think much about it because nobody had anything for years; I believe that made our friendships stronger.” My parents worked together to build Dad’s practice and gave us the twin gifts of endurance and faith triumphing over fear.

During my husband’s job loss in the 1983 recession, we learned useful lessons that we put into our “ NOWork Workshop” for families who wanted to survive and even thrive during those scary years. We based our coaching on a team approach to job loss that stressed the importance of maintaining one’s individuality without becoming a victim or allowing the crisis to consume the family. Now twenty-six years later, we remember how applying our research to ourselves helped us grow up, especially with the following three healing experiences important to our family’s well being:

1) Family financial inventory: Assess and budget spouse’s income, unemployment benefits (Yes! Sign up for them ASAP) and any other family resources. Questions: How can you enjoy a simpler life? Cut all non-essentials from the budget? Involve children who are old enough in these discussions and encourage them to take some responsibility in positive ways and certainly with home chores necessary for family functioning. Talking calmly and openly about financial issues can be a freeing, new experience.

2) Grieve: Job loss is like a death, especially when it represents the family’s community and social life as well as income. Couples move through the stages of grief at different times and in different ways – a healthy response when acknowledged and one that frees families to focus on practical day-to-day functioning.

3) Time Discipline:
• The job seeker is not out of work; it takes hours everyday to market oneself – networking, assessing strengths and weaknesses, rewriting resumes, follow-up. If an unemployment support group would be a benefit, start one, check local churches or on line. Volunteer in your career field or simply help others.
•. Set aside a specific daily limited time with your spouse to discuss the loss and how you are coping and moving forward. Could this be your prayer and faith time as well? Occasionally share this time with children who are old enough to understand. Very young children sense when something is wrong, and they “get it” when a parent explains that he/she will have more time to spend with them while searching for meaningful new work. Extend this to relaxing family time when a) spouses are alone or b) the children are involved. Laugh. Exercise. Appreciate leisure time, especially in the Washington area where there are so many free cultural and recreational opportunities. Unemployed parents say that more nurturing time with children turned out to be their greatest blessing.
• Take time to be with friends. A few want to know the details of your search and how they can help. For others, a brief, carefully chosen sentence that doesn’t focus on the past (ex. “I lost my job.”), but rather helps define what you are moving toward (“I’m looking at several opportunities to tell you about later.”) suffices to open other topics of conversation.

Turning the crisis of job loss into opportunity involves slowing life’s fast pace to stay awake for serendipity. Otherwise, you might miss the dormant skills that need space to bloom, the basic values that give sustenance, and the truth that your job is not you. Our God is a God of surprises.

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

Taking the parable of the talents literally

By Sam Candler

Christians in the developed world usually forget that so many of the parables of Jesus deal with money. The usual suspects for our parish theological discussions are topics like church structure, or sex, or the general matters of biblical authority. We tend to consider what Jesus said about money only during stewardship or fund-raising times.

However, during these last two months of global financial anxiety, suddenly the way Jesus talks about money has some striking application. “You cannot serve God and Mammon” has become self-evident. The parable of the “unjust steward” who “made friends for himself with unrighteous mammon” also makes a lot of sense when assets in our own time have been de-valued (Luke 16:1-13).

It is the parable of the talents that I am fascinated with today. Again, during usual economic times, Christians tend to interpret that parable figuratively, so that “talents” are our God-given gifts and abilities. The lesson is that we are to use those for greater glory and the kingdom of heaven.

But what if the parable of the talents is really about literal finance and economics, after all? I think it is. We all remember the story. A wealthy master went on a long journey and left one asset manager with five talents, another asset manager with two talents, and a third asset manager with one talent. When he returned, the manager with five talents had traded and made five more. The manager with two talents had traded and made two more. The timid and fearful third manager, with one talent, said, “I knew you to be a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow; so I was afraid and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matthew 25:14-30).

Today, maybe the first thing to admit is that if this scenario had been played out in the last six months of the United States, the manager who hid his talent in the ground would probably be the only one ahead right now!

But the power of this Jesus story is that the managers traded; they engaged others. They risked relationship and trust. According to my meager financial expertise, one of the primary problems in our time is that banks and businesses are too scared to offer loans, not confident enough to trade. With no credit and no trust, economic transaction is paralyzed.

This parable of Jesus is about overcoming fear and taking the risk to grow and to invest. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, but he is also talking about building up the economy in general! In fact, the word for “economy” in the Greek Bible means the management of a household; it means “stewardship!” Our economy should be the way we manage our cultural and political and financial household.

The key word in Jesus’ parable is “trade.” The asset managers had the courage to go out and trade with what had been entrusted to them. They took risks. They engaged in relationships. Good business, and good economy, is always about good relationships, not about money, or the “mammon god.” Good economy is always about trusting relationships. In Jesus’ parable, the asset manager who loses out is the one who was afraid, so afraid that he was unable to take the risk of economic relationship.

In the uncertain situation of our present time, Jesus’ parable reminds us to engage in relationships – not just our domestic or familial or friendly relationships—but our business and financial relationships, too. Maybe especially our financial relationships! This is not the time to hide our talent in the ground. This is the time to use whatever we have, no matter how great or small, to build up trusting and trading relationships. Jesus said this would be like the kingdom of heaven.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. He is also inspired by playing jazz piano, hunting, astronomy, and poetry. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Mother in Heaven

By Luiz Coelho

A few months ago, after Evensong, I decided to do one of my “favorite” Sunday night activities – grocery shopping. There I was in one of Midtown Atlanta’s supermarkets strolling my buggy, drinking my latte and trying to get everything I needed as fast as I could. Until, at a certain moment, my eyes were attracted to a cute little girl, with a big smile and curly hair, who was fascinated with a basket full of multicolored tie-dye balls in front of her.

As I contemplated in awe the beauty of innocence, a horrifying thought suddenly came to my mind: “where are this girl's parents?” I was not the only one to wonder where they were; within seconds the little child also realized that she was alone in the midst of strangers. Immediately her smile was erased from her face, and my heart started aching as I heard her begin to yell desperately, “Mommy, Mommy!”

Thankfully, within seconds a young woman came from behind a pile of products and hugged the frightened girl. Everything was alright; Mommy was there. My heart settled in peace as that same wide smile that had first caught my attention came back to the child's face as she was embraced by the one who has loved her for her whole life. Since that Sunday night, I have not been able to erase that scene from my mind; and, the reason, I believe, is because through it God has been speaking to me.

That scene speaks a prophetic message to me and to all of us ‘adults’ that even when we pretend to believe we are strong and self-sufficient, we know deep down that we are as lonely, frighened, and vulnerable as that little lost girl. There are moments when we walk away from God and think we can live our lives apart from God; yet, even in those moments when we think we are capable of controling our own lives, our hearts are crying and we too are yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, where are you?”

It happened to me; I can still remember it vividly. I was serving in the Brazilain Army and was on a flight from Manaus, in the Amazon, to Brasília, in order to take part in a “War Games” symposium. I boarded the plane, confident in the power of humankind, knowing that it would arrive to its destination safely, since it was a safe aircraft and the weather was wonderful. That's not what happened, though. As the plane flew through the Amazon forest, it found itself being sucked by an unpredictable low-pressure zone, and went deeply into freefall. Passengers screamed; dishes, bags and even a baby were flying around us. A woman on my right side held my arm so tightly that it hurt. I knew that there was no way of surviving. Even if we landed in the forest, it would still be in the middle of nowhere and our chances of surviving in the wild were nearly impossible. At that moment, I knew that nothing that human beings had ever developed or created would be able to save me. All of the things in which I had placed my trust were powerless to help me. I was defenseless and scared.

And then I decided to pray. It was nothing more than a simple sentence: “God, into your hands I commend my life.” It was my first prayer in years, as I had given up on “church” and walked away from God. But, I can say those words were probably the deepest and truest ones my mouth had ever said. Only God knows why, but the plane shook hard, and found its track back on course. Everybody was safe again. Even the baby who was flying over our heads was rescued and restored to his mother. My life (and probably the other passengers' lives too) would never be the same, though.
I think most of us have been through similar situations. An accident, a disease, the death of a loved one – each of these moments, and other tragic moments like them, remind us that we are nothing but children running around carelessly, until we find ourselves apparently lost, and begin to scream for our parents. The pain of human impotence and the realization that we human beings are powerless towards such situations bring us the scariest, deepest fears. Even our Lord Jesus in the fulness of his human nature, felt the fear and pain of his abandonment and loneliness on the cross and he too screamed to God in agony.

The good news, however, is that it does not end there. We are not left in our despair, and neither was Our Lord Jesus. As we go through Eastertide, let us not forget that the greatest rescue took place in Jesus Christ's Resurrection. God did not forsake the forsaken One on the cross; God heard the cries of agony, and raised Jesus Christ on the third day. Christ is risen indeed, and the power of sin and death is no longer upon us. We, who were lost, are now found; as the mother was at there in the supermarket to rescue her child, so God is always present to rescue us to new life.

After that moment in the airplane, I knew there was someone who really cared about me. Soon, I began to view all of those Christian beliefs and Biblical stories that I had been taught in my youth and had cast aside as a set of irrational children's tales in a new light. I began to relaize that they meant something; and I rediscovered truths that I will never forget.
Throughout my life, I have seen the Risen Christ with his message of hope even in the midst of despair. He has been there through the prayers of friends, through the tears in the eyes of my family, through the intercession of his Blessed Mother, though hymns, icons and scripture verses... and in my heart, always giving me a reason to live and have hope that in the end, all will be well. I can not say my life is perfect, but I know, now, that I have a “mother in Heaven” who will always come to me with a healing embrace when I cry out in moments of despair.

Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.

I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal.

With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.

And all this we shall see it in God eternally.

Blessed Julian of Norwich

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

"The bonds of affection", and the wreck of the SS Tennessee

By Donald Schell

Like many Anglicans I’ve got the Windsor Report’s phrase, ‘Bonds of Affection’ rolling round in my head like a melody from the radio that won’t be dismissed. I think about affection and whether it makes relationship or just happens sometimes in it. What sense do we make of people who say affection is fleeting? Does good affection bind? That gets more wondering about choices and how we make them, and how bonds and choices live together. And that brings an old personal story to mind.

For eighteen months after she got her R.N. my wife Ellen worked nights caring for sleeping and sleepless patients at teaching hospital near our home. When she was on, I’d walk her over to the hospital, leaving our children sleeping for ten minutes. There had been some late night muggings in our neighborhood and I didn’t want her walking over alone. Ten minutes to eleven I’d steal a good-night kiss from my lovely nurse in uniform and walk home to sleep alone while she worked the shift that hospitals don’t call ‘graveyard.’ Next morning at 7:15 while I was making the kids’ breakfast, we’d listen for her key in the door and her weary "Good morning." Then it was breakfast together and, if it was a weekday, I’d deliver the children to school and child care while Ellen slept.

Regular weekdays I plunged into the priestly and missionary tasks I’d taken founding a new congregation from the ground up, leaving the house to Ellen as a temple of silence. With earplugs and a sleeping mask, she could sleep, more or less, and be ready to greet us in the late afternoon for tea and dinner together before my evening church meetings. Whenever Ellen had a week night off work, I’d take off the following day (with the children off at school) and we’d do something outdoors in the daylight (rain or shine) and enjoy lunch together.

On the weekends that Ellen worked, my task was to keep an intense three-year old son and our more contemplative seven-year old daughter happily occupied away from home so she could sleep. Wherever I took the children on Saturday, our company was divorced dads, men and their children haunting the hands-on Exploratorium, the zoo, the beach, the park. Ellen would make herself stay up for church if she’d worked Saturday night, so on Sundays, our outings were in the afternoon.

Night shift made Ellen’s weekends off important events to us. The Saturday I’m remembering we’d planned a hike and picnic to Tennessee Beach, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just north of San Francisco. It’s a beautiful place and the long gentle hike to Tennessee Beach was a favorite for us and the children.

I can’t remember how the morning went wrong except that something Ellen said as we were packing the picnic angered me. I made a tentative statement of what bugged me and why and quickly decided she wasn’t listening. So I decided to sit on my anger and say nothing about it. Of course, I was absolutely certain I was right, that Ellen was wrong, and furthermore that by not listening to me she essentially conceding that I was Right about The Very Important Point I Was Making. Happily casting myself as a righteous victim, I concluded that her evident wrong-headedness gave me no choice but to claim the intellectual and moral high ground and hold it in silence. I didn’t say, "Fine, have it your way," but I thought it.

However, not wanting to be a jerk, I decided to pity her for a long week of working nights, by doing my duty as a dad and father in every particular, being exquisitely nice and helpful as I did it. I agreed with absolutely everything she said, and I smiled a lot and kept busy. I felt Ellen picking up on my rage as we were walking from the ridge down to the beach where the Gold Rush era S.S. Tennessee was wrecked in 1853. My first indication was a look from her – angry, hurt, reproachful, and questioning all at once. The children seemed to be enjoying dad’s catering to them and had a great time. Since I wasn’t making conversation but only responding to Ellen’s or the children’s questions, I had some quiet time during the picnic to think about the early steamship whose wreck had given the beach its name.

Coming up from Panama finding the Golden Gate enshrouded in heavy fog, the Captain was counting on dead reckoning to establish his position. He knew there was land just to the north of him and thought he was entering into the Golden Gate to make anchor in San Francisco Bay, but the sound of waves breaking directly ahead told him his navigation calculations had been disastrously wrong. Through the mists a high cliff appeared, now directly astern. Turning the ship hard away from the cliff and driving the big steam-driven sidewheels full speed he struggled against waves and current and until he saw the other cliff that defined the little cove directly ahead. No way forward and no way back, each succeeding wave drove the ship closer to the beach until finally the sand caught it broadside. More than five hundred passengers and all the U.S. mail were successfully brought ashore. The Tennessee’s owners came out to find their ship beached, but still sound. Soon they had tugs and cables and workmen on the shore trying to re-float the ship, but a couple of days after the Tennessee was beached, a big storm blew in from the Pacific and fierce waves pounded it to pieces.

Three hours or so into my folly of forced niceness, fake smiles and cold helpfulness, I thought I was as trapped as the S.S. Tennessee had been, a nearly new ship, best technology of its era, now little left but rusty boilers buried beneath this beach. As the kids explored the quiet beach and played at the sea’s edge, Ellen asked what was going on. "Nothing," I insisted with all the warmth of an airline steward. Did I actually think I could fool her? Probably not. "Everything" was what I really meant, and she heard me.

We packed our picnic and hiked back to the car. I was impeccably helpful, showily available to the children, excruciatingly respectful and solicitous of my wife. And I knew as I did all this that I was trapped in my own folly and doing us serious damage. All the work of parenting had Ellen stranded too - baffled and frustrated with her incommunicative husband.

Finally, after a dinner at which I tried to channel Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, and then cheerily took dish duty while Ellen put the children to bed, she came back to the kitchen, stood looking at me for a fierce, loving moment and said, "We don’t do it this way. Tell me what’s wrong."

Words of a response lined up in my head, ‘Well, this is how we do it now!’ but I hated those words and knew I’d regret them for ever, so I left them unspoken. She had me. I was immediately embarrassed to recognize that I’d long since lost track of the fine points from our morning’s conflict, but knowing I was as trapped as the captain of the doomed steamship, I welcomed her direct appeal to unbreakable bonds of affection. I’d never heard us say it before, but she was stating an immediately evident fact – we had tried to shape the course of our life together from a steady intention to grow in love and truth. She was offering us what the S.S. Tennessee could not find, a way forward.

I told her what remained from our conversation that morning, how I’d felt unheard and not taken seriously. She replied describing the scene I’d actually witnessed that morning – her very steady focus on all it took to get the picnic made and us out the door and in the car.

What generated the strain of that day was real bonds of affection we’d forged in the eight years before. I felt the painful bind with which wisdom and the force of my loving her cramped my self-righteousness. Like St. Paul in Acts (26:14) I was straining against the constraints of love. Real bonds of affection are like the muscles and sinews of our bodies, and like those living bonds, practicing relationship makes the bonds more flexible and effective through the strain of use.

Taking ‘bonds of affection’ seriously gives the lie to the old, neat distinction between agape and eros—Christian love and erotic love. Ellen was calling on our established practice of disciplined affection. Letting her touch me with that reminder validated our history together, good memories, and hopes we’d shaped over some years. Her demand rested in the delight in each other’s presence and voice and yes, in the flesh she knew I treasured. She was asking me to use the blessed, powerful bond we’d forged together to break the bind I’d created that morning. We needed to talk. She appealed to what we knew but had never declared before. This new phrase, "How we do it," refused to accept that there were any disagreements we couldn’t talk about.

I am grateful for every liberal and every conservative in our Anglican Communion who is saying now, "That’s not how we do it." With cliffs behind ahead of our ship, there’s no way forward in the righteous certainty than "I’m right" or "She’s wrong." Genuine bonds of affection demand what forged them, the commitment to keep talking, graceful conversation, through whatever conflict we face.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company, working for community development in congregational life focusing on sharing leadership, welcoming creativity, building community through music, and making liturgical architecture a win/win for building and congregation. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

Match meeting

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When my husband failed to meet my expectations many Valentine’s Days ago, he cynically dubbed Feb. 14 “The Hallmark Holiday.” In the aftermath of a fabulous fight that left no doubt where each of us stood on the importance of the day, we created a ritual that takes the pressure off.

Each Feb. 14, we go to the local card shop, position ourselves at opposite ends of the Valentine’s rack, and proceed to read love messages as we move toward the middle. When we meet, we hand each other the card of our choice, read it, laugh, hug, kiss and put the cards back in their places. This year, the sentiment that captured our best laugh read, “Grab me, hold me, carry me and caress me. Just pretend I’m a football.”

We then return home, cook our favorite dinner and remember our own love story: We met through our passion for travel in our first jobs out of college while we were both working for Pan American Airways. We each have different perspectives about the spark that first attracted us, but we end up in the same playful place in the telling.

We adore love stories, our own or others, so this year we reminisced about how our children first met their spouses. When our son house-sat for neighbors, our daughter-in-law-to-be, the family’s au pair from Denmark, returned unexpectedly from a weekend away to her home-for-a-year. Imagine their surprise when they met as they both got up to answer an early morning knock at the front door!

Our daughter and son-in-law met on the fourth grade playground at Somerset Elementary School in Chevy Chase and soon discovered that they were born in the same New York City hospital with the same doctor delivering. That year he gave her the biggest Valentine’s heart box of candy he could find.

We talked about how many friends met because they were living their passions, either through jobs or hobbies they pursued – swing dancing, amateur acting, playing tennis, taking a class, joining a church singles group, singing in a choir or playing in a band. Friendships based on common interests led to good marriages where couples still keep that first spark of attraction alive.

Recently, I have had the privilege of working with couples in pre-marital counseling who met through Match.com or other online dating services, rather than through more traditional means. Some of my parents’ generation are astonished that people would dare risk meeting this way, but their stories demystify the process.

For a fee of about $100 for six months (with a six-month re-up at no charge if you haven’t met anyone), the Match subscriber submits a written profile, specifying personal characteristics and traits they cherish in themselves as well as what they seek in a committed relationship. One woman said that writing her profile with a friend helped her distill the qualities others admire about her and gave her the courage to speak up about her heart’s desire and the things she passionately enjoys. She believes being open and honest attracts similar responses from others.

The safety factor causes some hesitation, but many people said that their first meetings were in a public place for coffee or lunch. During this initial exploration phase, some rely on the company to monitor the meeting process, while others prefer to set up their own correspondence with like-minded others.

One gentleman summed up the positive aspects of Internet connections thus: “I was looking for a lasting relationship but tired of random encounters. On Match.com I discovered an intelligently written profile by a woman who was tired of her career focus and wanted to meet someone who was fun. All of her suitors were men interested in her money, but that was my least concern. We didn’t fall in love on the Internet, but we had a great level of communication on the Internet for two months before we ever met. People rush into relationships quite rapidly, but Match.com helped us slowly develop a rapport that led to friendship, and our marriage of five years is better for it.”

The best advice from pros is to stay open, because sometimes the very person you think won’t match actually does. One woman said, “Through Match.com I met and married the man who not every other woman in Washington was looking for.”

For those who don’t meet their match? Said one, “During the year of defining myself – my wants, desires and vision for my life – I grew in self-confidence and integrity. The process prepared me for more authentic relationships in the future.”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Failure, forgiveness, re-marriage

By Donald Schell

A note from a younger priest stirred up a lot of memories for me:

A couple I met on Thursday are getting married two weeks from today. He's been married before and needs some kind of sense of closure from his previous marriage. I think he wants some kind of ceremony that will help him leave it behind. The new wife doesn't want the old wife to be involved...

Do you have any suggestions about what to do here?

What had I actually learned from my own divorce and remarriage almost a third of a century ago? Memories flooded in, a strange mix of crippling grief, guilt and exhilarating hope.

Thirty-three years ago, I was a divorced priest with a five year old daughter. I was engaged to be married but felt shaky accepting the happiness of new love. Though I trusted my fiancée and everything I saw and felt about how we were with each other, the promises I’d made in my first marriage haunted me. I had failed a good human being to whom I had promised lifelong committed love. Could I make the same promise again in good faith? When an evangelical friend demanded I tell him who was at fault, I knew in that moment that neither blame nor self-accusation would serve the truth. But when I told him I couldn’t reply, it cost me the friendship.

Questions of fault or blame, and just plain ‘what happened?’ filled pages of my journal and months of conversation with my spiritual director/confessor. Gradually my director, my bishop and the priest who pastored my fiancée and me, helped me find a balanced story of the first marriage’s failure, a story of two people trying hard in some ways, failing one another in other ways, sometimes even trying hard to hold together in ways that actually hurt and divided.

Seeing mutual failure in the divorce sowed the seeds of forgiveness and gave me hope that my ex-wife and I could learn to make the new relationship we’d need to raise our daughter in two households after the divorce. As our daughter grew up, our working together, much to our surprise I think, renewed friendship and deep respect.

But look, there I am trying to leap out of the uncertainty. My colleague’s question wasn’t about later. What transpires in that confused, uncertain time before making new vows? When I examined those memories directly—without filtering them through the lens of the good things that happened later on—I finally saw how much of my dilemma lay in my fiancée’s deep trust for me. Partly Ellen’s trust healed, but it also stung. A shadow in me brooded over her readiness to stand with me and make promises asking family and friends to bless the joy we felt God inviting us into. Reluctant as I was to admit it, my gut said it would easier somehow if Ellen had also been divorced. Illusions of balance or fairness (justice) and some share of guilt got me thinking that if we had divorces behind us, my conscience would rest and let me make new promises. Was I really wishing the loss and suffering of divorce on Ellen?

Conscience can be a trickster. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn to show a good-hearted boy’s struggle with his damaged conscience. Huck feels guilty helping Jim escape slavery. Like Huck Finn, the best I could do was tell my troubled conscience to be still. But when that accusing voice was quiet, I heard another – what if Ellen’s hopes and trust in me were naïve? Her hope looked so much purer than mine. Could such seemingly pure hope live with my dark memories of failure and loss? How many months after our vows would she be waking in the night as I was now, wondering who this man really was?

Especially at the beginning divorce hangs its quarantine sign on memories as if they could infect those who heard them. Some memories feel burdensome, embarrassing or shameful. Others treacherously turn accusing and vindictive. The good memories may not be quarantined, but they’re orphaned. The couple who birthed all those good memories died.

Time does change and heal some of that. Present trust can make even old memories trustworthy. Over some years Ellen came to know the boy I had been growing up, the kid I was in college, and the young man I was in my first marriage. Now when that younger me shows up in our children, we can love, trust and forgive him. Other relationships grow and heal too. My daughter is the big sister in two families. Her four parents have come to respect each other. Ellen and my children are friends with their sister’s other sister.

But my mind is rushing ahead again. When the confusion was still fresh in Ellen’s and my first year together, she and my dad were talking, and he stopped, something crossed his face, and he said, 'We're really glad Donald found you, but his mother and I only wish he'd met you first.' Though she felt the welcome he intended, his words left her speechless. Regret simply made no sense. Ellen knew I was a different man for my failed first marriage. And none of us – not Ellen the new stepmother, nor either parent, nor the grandfather who was speaking regretted our daughter, his grand-daughter What was he saying? What could he really mean?

He was wishing for what couldn’t be – no divorce, no pain, no confusion. But wishing a more perfect and orderly life for me – not divorced – missed new life and blessing that was already showing up like fresh growth after a forest fire. Dad’s affectionate welcome to family risked rewriting the past, erasing real people, my ex-, our daughter (his grand-daughter!), and me.

Yes new life did happen, but how did we carry ambiguity and memory of failed promise into a whole-hearted, unambiguous commitment to new promise?

A month or so before the wedding, David Boulton, the priest who married Ellen and me, said he wanted to talk with me alone. I was afraid he’d seen how little I trusted myself. Would he try to talk me out of the wedding? No, David simply but forcefully told me I had to GIVE UP my pretense that I knew more any about marriage than Ellen. 'Your failed first marriage doesn't make you an expert,' he told me. ‘Offer your best to Ellen and learn from her while she learns from you.’ David’s words complemented what my spiritual director was doing.

David, Fr. Paul, and a handful of trusted listeners cleansed my memory and heart, letting me forgive myself and my ex-, reflect on a past that was ending, and let it go. Letting go, I entered a living future, a real marriage with Ellen.

Thirty-three years later I look back with gratitude at how the church – a bishop, two priests, and some very good friends – offered penance, counsel, challenge, and encouraging words that made me trust myself (and God’s grace) enough to make the promises I so wanted to make and live with a partner I love.

So now, pastorally what do I offer someone still raw from divorce and mistrusting himself/herself, but wanting to make new promises? I use the Prayer Book Rite of Reconciliation (penance or confession) or some informal approximation of it. Penance offers the release and simplicity of acknowledging promises made and not lived out. Penance and reflective counseling invite letting go of both blame and accusation. New life begins as the divorced partner makes confession and we talk, sometimes deflecting blame, sometimes probing for honest statement of failure. We can pray together for the person, and also for the ex-partner.

This pastoral work and ritual of penance make most sense to me by working with the divorced partner alone. or each alone If both partners are recently divorced. So many of the stories we tell ourselves as we come to marriage vows are burdensome illusions. Penance is a place to lay the burden down.

Broken promises demand the strange work of learning to find one’s self trustworthy all over again. I’ve often told people in their relationships (and their workplace) that ‘shattered trust’ can be rebuilt. Trust isn’t a commodity or a fixed state, it’s the unfolding experience of finding yourself or another person trustworthy. That’s as true trusting ourselves as it is trusting another.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is Creative Director of All Saints Company working for community development in congregational life. He wrote My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago.

The discipline of thanksgiving

By Jean Fitzpatrick

Rutting season has arrived in the Hudson Valley, and police are warning drivers to keep an eye out for deer who are crazier than usual. Frantic to breed, they chase one another through woods and across meadows, darting out from stands of golden birches, sprinting across winding roads. If you spot a doe, you'd better brake for a stag in hot pursuit. It's a glorious time. We're living in a wonderland straight out of Bambi, love busting out all over the forest, the whole leafy world gone goofy.

Remember those days? Remember when you first fell in love and felt an irresistible pull toward your partner, who was surely the most wonderful and amazing creature God ever created? And yet almost as irresistibly, somewhere along the way you came to recognize his or her flaws -- the annoying tendency to leave underwear on the floor, to arrive late, to hog the remote. At that point, it can feel as though an early winter has descended on the relationship.

Not so fast. That's where Thanksgiving comes in. Thanking our partner is one of the most powerful ways to restore joy and closeness in a marriage. I know, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about thanking God: isn't that the easy part sometimes? Thanking God seems to enlarge us, to remind us we're blessed. Thanking our spouse, on the other hand, is another story. Lacking a special occasion -- a clean garage, a perfect roast turkey, a gift -- we often assume our appreciation is unnecessary, or obvious. Or, worse, we keep score: Why should I think my partner? Look at all the thankless tasks I do! Nobody thanks me. Besides, look at all the annoying things my partner does, not to mention the chores he or she doesn't accomplish. And so on. It's exhausting. What happened to the breathless joy of the chase?

Well, it's over. Marriage, like any spiritual path, demands a willingness to open our hearts and the discipline to move beyond instant gratification. The good news is that, like any spiritual path, it rewards us with deep sustenance. Understood from this perspective, thanking our partner becomes a daily practice, a response to ordinary things -- for putting in a day's work, for picking up the kids, for giving a back rub, for buying the groceries, for taking out the garbage, for doing the laundry. We can't express our thanks enough. Over time, we discover we're growing closer. Our partner feels special, important to us. We're filling up a reservoir of good will for the times when we do want to raise concerns. Say thank you several times a day, and there's no telling what might happen. The two of you might even feel young and goofy again.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

The Sandcastle Lady

By Margaret M. Treadwell

When Daniel from Dover, Del. wanted a romantic way to propose to his love, Lily, he remembered his favorite childhood summer building sandcastles. He googled “Sandcastle Lady” and found his teacher, Lynn McKeown, who was still at work in Lewes. Together they created a plan: He and Lily would take a sunset walk from the Lewes Public Beach to nearby Market Beach, where Lynn promised to have built a castle to fulfill his dreams.

Lynn spent two days crafting the enormous sandcastle, complete with distinct, clear lettering across the base – “Lily will you marry me? Love, Dan.” Spectators who had watched the creation gathered at sunset to enjoy the drama from a distance while an exhausted Lynn went home for dinner. Later that evening, Daniel got down on one knee, Lily gave him a big kiss, his parents emerged from the dunes with their cameras, and the witnesses gathered around with much rejoicing.

Lynn, a born artist, started building sandcastles when her children were young and the family was searching for something they all could do together that didn’t cost any money. Soon other kids along Lewes Beach began to join them. Lynn says, “I’m not all that altruistic, but became a teacher out of self defense because I wanted to make them creators rather than destroyers. Soon I was collecting and giving away sand toys so others could play and spread the joy. Like dropping pebbles in the water to see the ripples expand out, you never know how far they’ll go!”

These days, Lynn spends the entire month of August in the sand at Lewes, building, teaching, meeting and talking with people who stop by in large numbers to sign her logbook. They return summer after summer, and she is thrilled when people visit from miles away – most recently a family of four from Minnesota she met six years ago who thought she wouldn’t remember them. An older woman asked if she had an age limit when she invited “children of all ages.” When Lynn advised her that “they have to be old enough to be away from their parents and able to listen,” she replied, “I’m talking about myself, and I’m 85!”

“How did you learn?” is often the first question asked as onlookers marvel at the intricate details on walls, roofs and steps and the animals that guard the mote. Lynn says, “I look and listen to what the sand wants to do. This just happens to be my gift, but everyone has them. Don’t hide your gift under a basket. Give it away!” At night she ropes off the day’s creation with signs that read, “Sandcastles, Sculptures in Progress. Teaching Techniques and Sharing Tools. July 31-Sept. 2. Sandcastle Lady.”

Lynn often is asked to join competitions in Rehoboth. “Why would I want to do that?” she wonders. “I need serenity with the sound of birds and the sea to get into the zone. Here I can go slowly, practice, develop patience and be positive. Besides, I love to talk. If I could play in the sand all the time I probably wouldn’t have high blood pressure.”

Raised an Episcopalian, Lynn believes faith is all about the way you live your life as a witness to God’s love, and that it’s good for children to experience that from an adult other than their parents.

While she and the children work, she calmly explains, “Never dig a hole for your castle. First put water on flat sand to make a solid base. Then scoop your sand. Pack it hard to make the foundation strong, like the man who built his house on a rock.”

When a little boy complains, “Freddy’s copying me!” Lynn is quick to respond. “I’ll teach you all to be master castle builders with no envy,” she says. “I just ask that you share the techniques with your families and other people you love.”

When I remarked that we all need joy and christened her a “joy spreader,” she began singing a rendition of the St. Francis Prayer: “Make me a channel of your peace. Where there is despair in life let me bring hope. Where there is darkness only light and where there is doubt true faith in you. Oh Master, grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all my soul.”

Then with a twinkle she added, “Grant that I shall not so much teach as be taught!”

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. She teaches a course on congregational leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary, creates and leads conferences across the country for bishops, clergy and church lay leaders, helping them to apply family systems concepts to their leadership in diocesan and parish ministry.

Starving our relationships

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

Sometimes couples come into my office playing a blame game. “He leaves his underwear on the floor.” “She’s too wrapped up with the kids.” “He never wants sex.” Often they even blame themselves: “I can’t express my feelings and that’s why she cheated.” “I’m too needy.” Their focus is on individual shortcomings, on personal sin, although they rarely use that phrase. I try to offer a broader perspective.

Couple problems are just that, I tell them: couple problems. “In here, the relationship” -- I slice the air between them with one hand, as though delineating an invisible presence sitting there on the loveseat -- "is the patient.” After that we often end up talking about how busy they are. Two partners are working three jobs, one just to pay for health insurance. A mother has quit her job because child care is too costly or her job too inflexible, and her husband spends long hours away at the office to make up for the lost income. Survivors of multiple layoffs, working late nights in companies where employee morale has plummeted, come home stressed out and short-tempered. Under so much pressure, it’s easy for couples to back-burner their relationship. Without realizing it, partners lose touch with each other, neglecting the time for fun and intimacy and even the spicy disagreements that keep a marriage lively and strong. Continuing the metaphor, I tell them, "The patient is starving to death.”

Therapy isn’t usually about moments of dramatic recognition, but people’s eyes widen when they hear those words, and then they nod and we are ready to get to work.

Recently, on a trip to Ireland, I found a sculpture that instantly reminded me of the starving patient: Rowan Gillespie’s “Famine,” in Dublin. A dramatic installation on Custom House Quay beside the Liffey, this group of bronze figures – life-sized but stooped and achingly thin – appear to be taking halting steps toward emigration ships. Hollow-eyed, some carrying bundles, one a weary child, the figures stand together; yet in their misery each one looks withdrawn, utterly alone.

I have a picture of the bronze statues in my office now, and it’s not only their desperate starvation that draws me to them. It’s the story they tell. Most of us learned in school that a potato blight caused the Irish famine. But the Irish will inform you that even during the worst years of the Great Hunger, wealthy Anglo-Irish landowners were exporting oats, barley, butter and livestock overseas. Various charitable organizations, most notably the Society of Friends, spoke out against the government’s laissez faire policies, setting up soup kitchens, offering American grains, teaching the farmers to replant their fields, and supporting fishermen, and yet in only six years a million people died while another million left the country. The Great Hunger is one of history’s chilling examples of structural sin, the injustice built into a society’s underpinnings that, though often invisible to its victims, inflicts suffering on a mass scale.

That’s why the picture of the famine memorial seems so appropriate in my office. Here in an affluent area of a wealthy nation I sit and listen to people whose struggles to cover the cost of health insurance, child care, and retirement too often deplete the time and energy they need to relate to those they love. This is life, they tell themselves, and try to make the best of it.

They are trapped in an ethic of individualism that leaves them alone and exhausted. Working so hard at getting through the day, they scarcely have time to consider the possibility that many of their most intimate problems are directly linked to public policy. In a country where health care is not a guaranteed human right, where parental leave and vacation time are shorter than in other industrial societies, where child care is inadequate and expensive, and where the gap between rich and poor is bigger than it’s been since the Gilded Age, ordinary people are suffering at their kitchen tables and in their beds.

Many of us in front-line ministries can do our best, like the Quakers in the Irish famine, to offer comfort and nurture, one person at a time. But it’s time to talk more about structural sin. Until our national policies prioritize the support of families and individuals, our relationships will too often be starving to death.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Monogamy, the game

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

Okay, I admit it. I’m addicted to Altarcations, Gawker’s tongue-in-cheek ratings for the marriage and commitment announcements in The New York Times Sunday Styles section. Gawker’s elaborate tally system (the brainchild of one “Intern Alexis”) tallies up status markers -- Ivy degrees, Mayflower pedigrees, high-powered careers -- to decide on the week’s winning couple: Add 2 points if a partner works as a management consultant, 3 if both work at jobs involving the word "banker" or "investment." Magna cum laude? Add 2 points. Bride or groom from New Jersey? Minus 1. Married by a cantor or an Episcopal priest, plus 1. No other clergy merit extra credit. (Who knew?) I got to thinking that summer wedding season is the perfect time to devise our own competition. But how would it work?

Well, nobody’s mentioned anything about interns here at the Episcopal Café, so I invented my own points system. After years as a relationship therapist and a partner in my own marriage, I knew couples wouldn’t win based on what they’ve accomplished prior to their wedding day. Instead, like a shoe or thimble hopping around a board acquiring houses or hotels during a game of Monopoly, the idea would be to earn points over a lifetime in a relationship.

I figured we’d call this game – what else? -- Monogamy. You and your partner wouldn’t compete against each other; you’re on the same team. And unlike the Altarcations couples, in Monogamy you’re only playing against yourselves.

To decide on the rules, I took out my prayer book and turned to the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. Lifting quotes from the beautiful prayer on page 429 is tacky, I know, but it’s for a good cause. Newlyweds – and the rest of us – can take a long, hard look at the prayer, racking up points with Monogamy’s rating system, and your partnership will emerge a winner.

The prayer says: Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.

Your move: Accept that bad things happen. You’ll both face challenges – jobs lost, kids in trouble, illness, boredom. 10 points every time you help your partner get through a rough time without blaming, rushing to impose solutions, or giving up.

The prayer says: Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.

Your move: Know that a relationship, like everything in creation, either grows or dies. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil affects the weather in Texas, one partner making a tiny change can have a huge impact on the whole relationship. 10 points every time you listen to the still, small voice inside you, the deeper wisdom that can guide you forward as individuals and partners.

The prayer says: Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.

Your move: Remember “It takes a village…”? You two are the village. Your partnership exists not just to accumulate retirement assets and drive kids to soccer games, but to work together to make the world around you a better place. 10 points every time the two of you give your time, talent or money to someone who needs your help.

The prayer says: Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.

Your move: Recognize that nobody’s perfect, including you. Conflict between partners is a given. You resolve some of it and just manage the rest. The ability to admit you’re wrong is one of the most powerful glues in a marriage. 20 points every time you tell your partner you know you’ve blown it and you’re ready to work together to find a better way.

The prayer says: Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.

Your move: Realize that you, like every couple who walk down the aisle, are a living expression of hope for the future. Yet chances are that, sooner or later, the day will come when you look at your partner and wonder why in the world the two of you ever got together. That’s the day when the real work of marriage begins. 50 points when you’re willing to discover how you can heal from pain, overcome disappointment, and forge a bond that’s stronger than ever.

That’s it. Five rules. Truth is, tough as it is to earn points in Gawker’s mock-elitist Altarcations competition, it’s even harder to win at Monogamy. The good news is…you get better at it with practice, and you have your whole lives together to play.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

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