My Left Foot

Me, not going very far.

Me, not going very far.

These are my feet. I’m standing on Russell Avenue. But I won’t be walking up the sidewalk very far any time soon. No long walks by the river. No hikes to enjoy the fall leaves changing. Three more weeks of an ankle brace, elevating the leg, and some ice packs. Rats.

It could be worse. Really. Everything will heal. But navigating the world more slowly and carefully since my injury has sharpened my awareness of how much I take for granted. Mobility is an amazing blessing, and for most of my life I’ve just tooled around, unaware of how lucky I am. I’ve advocated for those living with disabilities, but I’ve never been the one who needed the elevator or the ramp myself. I’m learning a little now about the small inconveniences that impede many people on their daily round. I just need a quart of milk, and I have to walk all the way to the back corner of the supermarket?!

I’ve revised my fitness goals for the fall. I’m trying pilates. I’m focusing on eating well, rather than walking miles. And as I travel at a slower pace, I’m stopping to talk with people who are also taking the elevator or the ramp. I’m holding doors open for those whose mobility is even more limited than mine. I’m giving thanks that one of my ankles works fine, so I can, indeed, keep walking.

What is changing your perspective these days?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Depression and Christian Practice: A Sermon following Robin Williams’ death

I rarely publish my sermons, and I rarely preach a sermon as long as this one, but some folks convinced me it might be helpful to put this one out there. The gospel for the day was Matthew 15: 21-28, which reads…. 

Jesus & Canaanite Woman (Augsburg Press)

Jesus & Canaanite Woman (Augsburg Press)

   Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The news of Robin Williams’ death was very hard. He was a comic genius and a fine actor. By all reports he was also an amazingly generous man. I grew up watching Mork & Mindy. I was Mork for Halloween one year. “Good Morning Vietnam” is number two on my list of favorite movies.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

The news of his suicide was hard, but it was especially hard for those suffering with depression. To be clear, this is a lot of people. According to the CDC, about 10% of Americans say they are depressed at least occasionally, and about 3.4% are clinically depressed.

It has been said many times this week that comic genius and depression often accompany one another. It is also true that faith and depression accompany one another. From John of the Cross to Thomas Merton to Barbara Crafton, some of the most insightful and eloquent spiritual teaching and writing has come to us from those who were living the dark night of the soul.

Robin Williams grew up Episcopalian and is known for his “Top Ten reasons to be an Episcopalian.” Although as an adult he wasn’t a member of a congregation, to anyone’s knowledge, he did speak in interviews about the role of his faith in his recovery from addiction. And his extensive work raising money for good causes and entertaining troops serving abroad show someone determined to help others, someone with a calling to self-giving, even while carrying a good bit of suffering himself.

So what happened? Did he not have “enough faith”? Is he the negative example to contrast with the positive example of the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel, whose faith was so strong that she got her daughter healed?

Certainly some in the media think that is the case. Robin Williams was called a coward by a Fox News commentator shortly after the news of his death was announced. Some Christian bloggers dismissed him as not having tried hard enough, not having turned to God fully, some even opining about his fate after death.

In light of all that racket, I want to say very firmly and clearly today that I do not believe Robin Williams’ death was a failure of faith. It was not a moral failure of any sort. Depression is not a moral failure or a result of personal or spiritual weakness. God does not judge those who are depressed or expect them to “snap out of it,” or “try harder to be happy,” and neither should we. Wherever and whenever there is mental or emotional anguish, God’s heart is breaking, too.

And if we believe that God’s son was sentenced and killed by a distorted and oppressive regime where a kingdom of love could not be tolerated, then surely God is welcoming home someone whose brilliance and wit was so often directed at the distortions and oppressions of our own age.

The woman in today’s gospel whom Jesus commends for her faith was not depressed. She was well enough to advocate for someone else who was ill – someone ill with “a demon,” which could mean any number of things, including mental illness. The Canaanite woman was persistent in the face of the prejudices and barriers of that day in changing hearts and minds, including Jesus’s. Any Israelite of that time would have referred to Gentiles as dogs. It’s just what people said; it’s how they were taught to see the world. Of course, they thought, she and her daughter don’t deserve help from a Jewish healer. The Canaanites are our ancient enemies. They aren’t good enough. They are, in fact, a threat. They don’t follow the Torah; they don’t worship our God.

But this woman persists. Her love for her daughter and her vision of a different future, her sense that this Jesus might be persuaded to bring them into fullness of life, too, keeps her going. And so there she is, on behalf of her daughter, who isn’t well enough to be there.

Might she be a role model for all of us? The fight for mental health services is on, in our country, at a time when access is very limited and lots of forces conspire to keep those who need therapy, medication, and group support from getting them. Ignorance and fear, some of it fueled by bad theology, continue to perpetuate stigma around depression, anxiety, addiction, and other conditions, which so isolates those who need support.

I’ve never been clinically depressed, but I have suffered from anxiety, so I know something of what it feels like to have well-meaning friends tell you to “just read this book” or assume you’re not taking your day off. My anxiety came on after my twins were born, and even with access to good medical care and with a great husband and other great resources, it was very, very hard. Fortunately, I dealt with this just after a wave of books came out about post-partum depression and anxiety, so there was a growing sense that this was a “thing” that we could discuss and that wasn’t so rare. I am so thankful for those who were advocating for greater understanding, compassion, and support for new mothers – they were the Canaanite women who paved a path to healing for me.

Their work isn’t done, and neither is ours. Here are some next steps:

  1. Continue learning about mental illness, and find out how to support those who are ill, as well as their family members and caretakers. Here is a good place to start. And here is a beautiful resource from within the Christian tradition.
  1. Consider how our own parish might be even more helpful to those suffering from depression and anxiety. I think we do a lot of things well already, and I am so thankful for the ways in which all of you “take what you need and offer what you have” as people struggle with various challenges. But perhaps the Spirit has a word for us about next steps. Let’s listen for that.

Anna Voskamp – one of the best-known Christian bloggers out there, encourages parishes to recognize that lament and darkness and confusion are part of our spiritual heritage — right there in the Bible in lots of places, and God invites us to name that. She writes, “Don’t only turn up the praise songs but turn to Lamentations and Job and be a place of lament and tenderly unveil the God who does just that — who wears the scars of the singe. A God who bares His scars and reaches through the fire to grab us and hold tight to us.”

  1. Work for greater access to mental health resources. Many people in this parish do this every day, or know a lot about what the specific legislation is that’s on the docket at any moment in time due to their work as nurses, social workers, crisis intervention specialists, special education advocates, or teachers. Let the parish know. Bring in the petitions. Call on us to picket or write letters.
  1. Speak out when you hear people say shaming or dismissive things. Here’s a beautiful example: The organization Planting Peace heard that Westboro Baptist Church was going to protest at Robin Williams’ funeral, they decided to counteract that message of hate with a work of love. They are raising money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, a cause Robin Williams supported for years. You can join the campaign here.
  1. Finally, we can keep praying with those suffering with depression and for them. We can keep checking in with them, keep inviting them out for dinner or for a walk. We can persist in letting them know they are beloved. This is holy work — Sometimes, livesaving work.

Finally, today, I want to celebrate some signs of hope:

I celebrate that thousands of people spoke out against the comments by the Fox news reporter who used the word “coward” in regard to Robin Williams’ death.

I celebrate that a friend who wrestled with depression all through seminary has gone on to a thriving, healthy ministry and marriage.

And finally, I celebrate that Jesus, after voicing the assumptions of his society about gentiles being dogs, goes on in the next chapter of Matthew’s gospel to feed 4,000 gentiles. Jesus’s ministry transforms from one directed to a bounded group, of which he is a member, to one of outreach and border-crossing and transgression of givens. Here is the Lord we are called to follow. Let us do so with thanksgiving and hope.

Posted in Churchy Stuff, Health, Parenting & Spiritual Life | Tagged , , , ,

Good Food. Good Summer Vacation.

A beautiful lunch prepared by the Youth Crew

A beautiful lunch prepared by the Youth Crew

I tried hard to concentrate this morning, but it was hard. The Watertown Community Gardens Youth Crew was cooking in the kitchen next to my office, and the fragrance of garlic, onions, collard greens and oregano was wafting through the air. Laughter was also wafting through the air, as the young cooks enjoyed the work of chopping, frying, and kababing (Is “kababing” a word?).

All of this was the culmination of a beautiful program in Watertown this summer, through which a group of young people, ages 11 to 17, spent two mornings a week for six weeks, learning about and growing good food. They gathered at the Grove St. Community Garden to learn how to plant, what “organic” means and why it matters, how to tend and harvest vegetables and herbs.

Roger Dubuque and Meghan O’Connell, who led the program, made the most of rainy days with the students, too. They would gather them at the Watertown Library to do some research on pesticides, food justice, and other issues.

One of the teens in the program told me, with a big smile, that she loved getting up early and having something productive to do right away. Another said she loved the spirit of the group, the laughter, and that she learned a lot.

One of my favorite prayers in our prayerbook is the “prayer for leisure.” Summer vacation could be spent watching YouTube videos, hanging out on the beach or at the pool, or snacking on Fruit Loops and soda. I give thanks that this group of young people chose a different path.

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation. -- BCP

 

 

Posted in Churchy Stuff, Community, Gardening, Prayer, Watertown | Tagged , , , , ,
Holding hands on the way to hear a sacred story

Holding hands on the way to hear a sacred story

Perhaps nothing is more important than knowing we are not alone. Companionship is a fundamental need From the moment we arrive on the planet to the moment we exit, the presence of caring others is essential.

I was blessed to spend this week in the company of 29 children at our Vacation Garden School. We pair up each of the younger children with one of the older children — our “junior counselors.” They travel together throughout the week, and the older child has the ministry of helping the younger one be safe, learn, and have fun. This is hard and holy work, and the junior counselors do it beautifully.

The sight of children holding hands as they walk warms my heart. Overhearing one ask their buddy, “Do you have everything you need?” or “Do you want more watermelon?” is a gift. Because of the good work of the junior counselors, the smaller children — many of whom have never before spent time away from their parents — feel OK from the get-go and are able to revel in the singing, gardening, and storytelling.

Who will you companion today? How might you extend a hand to someone who is feeling bereft or sidelined? Know that even if you feel inadequate to the task, you will be a blessing.

Posted in Community, Gardening, Parenting & Spiritual Life | Tagged , , , , ,

Prayerful Corn Shucking

 

Corn shucking at Russo's

Corn shucking at Russo’s

The brightness of mid-summer takes my breath away. Russo’s is on fire with shockingly vivid fruits, neon pink flowers, the early cherries from Michigan and the Northwest, and gorgeous mounds of corn.

I asked my daughter to select four ears of corn and shucking them. I didn’t conceive of this as part of my spiritual practice, but I ended up connecting some spiritual dots as she went about doing this.

First — turns out she didn’t know how to do it. So I taught her and we practiced together. I thought about my grandmother (her great-grandmother) and many other of our ancestors, who would have learned this skill very early in life and been part of the harvesting, preparing, preserving of corn on a farm in southern Ohio or Indiana. An essential skill for them, shucking, and each part of the ear of corn a gift put to good use. They would have prayed for the harvest every day, sung hymns while they shucked, and given thanks to God once the harvest was gathered.

Then — as we stood there shucking corn, surrounded the verdancy and variety of a wonderful store, I became deeply aware of how outrageously fortunate we are. All over the world on that day, so many children would have been so thankful for just one ear of corn. So many children have so little choice, about produce or anything else. So many of my daughter’s age-mates face seemingly outrageous odds against violence, poverty, and oppression.

As we prepare to help 28 children claim their role as stewards of the earth at Vacation Garden School next week, I recommit myself to praying and acting for a better future for all of them, filled not only with corn, but with freedom of choice, peace, and justice. And I pray that the formation we offer at VGS helps my daughter and her fellow campers claim their role as ministers of reconciliation and hope, too.

Posted in Churchy Stuff, Parenting & Spiritual Life, Prayer | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weed is a subjective term

Not a weed

Not a weed

Here’s our lovely food pantry plot at the Nichols Ave. Community Garden. Officially, we are growing basil, beans, tomatoes, japaleno peppers, and oregano. Unofficially, but very providentially, we are growing purslane. It’s in this photo — It looks like a weed, and to most American gardeners, it is treated like a weed. Pulled out as fast as you can say, “Get away from my precious tomatoes!”

But it turns out the purslane, which “volunteered” its way into our plot, has a long and noble history as a delicious edible. I just finished a book (great book, by the way) of historical fiction, in which Henry VIII and his court are munching on purslane all the time. Folks in Haiti and lots of other countries today enjoy it on a regular basis. Tasty and delicious, and good for you, too (as Sal Paradise says of his apple pie, in “On the Road”). Read more about purslane here.

Here’s a recipe for purslane, which my fellow gardener Carol found. There are other good recipes out there. Think again about what you toss from your garden. As with our own lives, that which we perceive as a nuisance, a mistake, or a blot often turns out to be gift and grace. Happy munching.

Purslane Basil Pesto

4 c. purslane
2 c. fresh basil
1 c. roasted pine nuts
0.5 c, olive oil
8 garlic cloves
0.5 t. kosher salt
0.5 t. honey
0.25 t. fresh ground pepper

Place everything in food processor and pulse till smooth. Enjoy!

Posted in Community, Uncategorized, Watertown | Tagged , , , ,

School’s Out; Screen’s On

Exploring biomes at the WPL

Exploring biomes at the WPL

Ah, the joys of summer! The kids are out of school and they can’t wait to…..

  • a. splash in the waves at the beach
  • b. catch fireflies in the back yard
  • c. go for long bike rides
  • d. sit in front of a computer screen for unlimited hours playing Minecraft.

At the Watertown Library yesterday, the joys of Minecraft were winning the day. Every seat was occupied in the computer area of the children’s room, and there was much rejoicing. Kids were building new worlds, comparing the benefits of various building materials, and showing their creativity to one another. My child was also playing Minecraft, on his iPod Touch, although I forced him to stop and read a book for 20 minutes.

Much has been written about whether Minecraft is a net good in the real world. Some folks say it is. Some say it isn’t. Based on our experience in my family, I would say that it’s a wash. On the one hand, it allows for amazing creativity and self-expression. We are created to participate in the generative work of God, and here’s a game that opens the door to thinking up new things. On the other hand, it required a good bit of parental oversight and is yet another screen-based activity. If we are to see the face of Christ in one another, we need to spend time looking in one another’s face, rather than at a screen.

Everything in moderation, as they say. And in it’s place, I say. I don’t want to see the Girl Scouts develop a Minecraft badge. Nor do I want kids in Sunday School crafting Solomon’s Temple on Minecraft. I want lots of space for touching real materials, talking to real people who are really in the room with you, and learning the physical, emotional, and spiritual skills that can take the creativity one might “mine” online and put it to good use in the service of others.

How about you?

 

Posted in Parenting & Spiritual Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment