Thursday, November 6, 2014

Just say "Thank You"

One time, in my life before being a clergy person, I was working at Large International Non-Profit, training to be a fundraiser. A corporation had called, wanting to know if someone could help set up online giving to our organization. Because no one thought anything much would come from it, I was assigned as their relationship manager, and worked with them to get the paperwork straightened out.

Well, disaster strikes as it always will again, and in response, this corporation calls their contact -- me -- and informs me they will be donating (literally) a million dollars. I remember getting the phone call, being absolutely shocked, covering the phone, and mouthing to my coworkers "They want to give us a million dollars! What do I do?"

To which my lovely co-workers replied, "SAY THANK YOU!"

Oh! Say thank you.

Sometimes, the only response is "Thank you."

I've been feeling like that a lot lately. My life has been very full with different life events, family weddings, church work, friends, family visiting from Seattle, and big life changes for Husband and myself, and yet in all of the chaos, it's been really, really good. Not always easy, but good. And the only thing to say in response has been "Thank you."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Practical A/Theism

A piece for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's blog, in which I contemplate the power of the alpha privative. (Just kidding. No one would read that.) Really, I'm asking the question,  "If someone cannot discern your beliefs out of your actions, do you really believe your beliefs?"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What have I been doing with my life?

On October 6th, I had a 9:00am meeting in Northern Virginia, and I offered to drop Husband off at work on my way by. We were passing a federal courthouse when all of a sudden I saw something that made me question what I had been doing with my life for the last seven years. 

In 2007-2008, I spent a year closely connected with a non-profit called Torture Abolition and Survivors' Support Coalition International -- TASSC, for short. And TASSC was closely aligned with both the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House, located in Petworth, and another small intentional Christian community called the Assisi House. The people who lived in these houses were teachers or activists, some in religious orders, some not, but all saw the world differently from most people, and for that matter, most Christians. It was here I was introduced to William Stringfellow, to Dorothy Day, to the Berrigan brothers, to Peter Maurin -- a strain of Christianity singing a countermelody to the sleepy protestant mainstream I grew up with. Those who lived in these houses were transformed by the witness of these authors, and they lived lives of witness. 

I loved those quirky folks, and those authors inspired me, too. But after a year of witnessing with them through TASSC, I felt compelled to effect, to plan, to change the world through my own sheer will. In other words, I felt called to do, while their mode of life is organic, to be. I went on to learn fundraising at top ten charity, the most planning-oriented and "effective" mode of helping that I could figure to do. You can't feed or shelter people without resources, or planning, or support staff. You can't make real change without worldly influence. In a nutshell, I was here to do what nearly everyone in Washington comes here to do -- to be smart and to change the world. So I better go about doing it. And I worked my small part. 

But on that Monday morning on October 6th at 8:45am, when I saw that group of Catholic Workers and TASSC people standing outside of the Federal Courthouse, all of that work seemed to be dross. Here they were, this ragtag crew of ten folks or so, holding anti-torture signs long after the national debate about "enhanced interrogation" has moved on. Seven years later, I recognized almost all of them. One wore a "Shut Down Guantanamo" t-shirt. I have that one, too. It's in my drawer, still bright orange. His was faded to the point it wasn't orange anymore, and kind of hard to read. By the way, if you were wondering, we still have prisoners in Guantanamo. 

Seven years of faithfulness. Seven years of steadfastness in the face of the world who at best doesn't care, and at worst despises them. And seven years was the only seven years that I saw -- the Catholic Workers of DC have been at it much, much longer than that. I've been thinking about them for weeks now, what it must take to do the same actions over and over again, never seeing substantial change. At the moment I drove by, I thought to myself, "That's what faithfulness looks like." And then I thought, "What have I been doing with my life?" 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Outbreak



I've got a friend who writes really good books about really interesting topics -- his name is Kerry Walters, he teaches at Gettysburg College, he pastors in Central Pennsylvania, and he writes prolifically. From time to time he also kindly puts up with my crazy in person or over Facebook (and to his eternal credit, he has been doing so patiently for over ten years now).

Anyway, Kerry just wrote a book about something local and pertinent: local, because Kerry writes about DC in the 1850's; pertinent, because it's about the National Hotel Epidemic and the panic that ensued. With the first patient to contract Ebola on US soil up the road at NIH,  epidemics and how we react to them are top of mind lately. 

But more than that, as this Post article by Clinton Yates points out, Kerry speaks thoughtfully about what really hasn't changed since 1857 in DC. Unfortunately, that includes gentrification, law enforcement issues, and racial injustice. If you're interested in thoughtful reflection about these topics, it will be a book worth delving into, especially if you live in DC. The book comes out October 21 -- I've just ordered a copy, and you should too. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Creation!

October 1, 2014 -- Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, Memphis
Photo by the Rev. John Burruss, who takes good pictures even if he's in a bee keeping suit.


Usually I try to avoid posts that are about church itself, but I'm going to break my own rule for just one post. But with all of the noise about "the end of theological education as we know it" because of the crisis at General Theological Seminary (if you haven't heard about this, good for you!) and the fact that I've been in contact with dozens of my classmates over the last two weeks, I feel like I need to say something a little more pointedly church-oriented. So, if you're brave, keep reading. If you're smart, tune in next week.

There's a narrative about mainstream Protestant churches which claims that the churches are slowly dying. Churches are merging, or being closed down, and selling their buildings. Millennials are suspicious of institutions, the median age of church goers is older than ever, and more people than ever before don't affiliate with any religion at all. I understand that.  But that's not what I'm actually hearing from my friends who are one or two years out of seminary.

A friend who graduated with me is starting an ecology initiative with the church's land that will eventually support ministry to sex-traffiked women in Memphis. This year, they had their first crop of honey, and are working on preparing the soil for planting a huge garden that will grow herbs for tea and herb rubs. The community took what had been a burden to them -- acres of land to keep -- and made it into an asset for good. Now they stand for something. The church had been shrinking, but it's growing now.

Another priest friend is starting a print shop with his church community in Kentucky that will teach printmaking skills to those in hallway houses and prison, and will be a place where those people can be employed until they can find other employment. This project is in its very beginning stages, but it's exciting to see it get put into motion.

Another friend moved to Texas, and is teaching American Civics classes in Spanish at his church, to help immigrants pass the citizenship test. That church is growing, too.

I heard story after story from friend after friend -- and even if people weren't working on entrepreneurial and self-sustaining projects, they told stories about neighborhoods coming back to life in Baltimore, of growing youth groups in South Carolina, of creating safe havens for the LGBT community in Arkansas, of dinner churches for young adults being established in Southern Maryland, of public and liturgical witness all over the country, of laundromat ministry in DC, and some really amazing outreach in bars and coffee shops.

We choose the stories we tell, and I choose these stories over the narrative of the decline and death of the church. When we allow these sort of creative ministries to happen, even if it means having priests who don't look or act like the parish priests of the past, or priests who are one foot in the secular world and one foot in the church world, we tell the story of our faith in a way that speaks to others. In the news the past few weeks, and from the older seminary alums I was working with in meetings this week, I heard the death and dying narrative repeatedly. But what others see as death and dying, I see as an opportunity to prune back the branches, and to allow new growth to flourish.  Besides, it's already happening.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

God Doesn't Want You to be Happy

Two Saturdays ago, I was invited to plan and facilitate a retreat -- I love this sort of work, so I gladly accepted. The theme of the retreat was finding a way through the tension that is inherent in being both a young professional (perhaps especially in DC) and a Christian. Anyway, deep in one of our discussions, we were talking about hopes -- and what God hopes for us.  The first thing someone shouted out from the back of the room was that "God wants us to be happy."

And at that moment, I realized that I believe that God does not want us to be happy.

Now, I'm not saying that God wants us to be miserable, or to suffer, or to cause pain -- I believe God redeems misery, suffering, and pain, not causes them -- but I am saying that happiness, our cultural chimera, doesn't seem to be one of God's projects. First of all, there's not a lot of God making people "happy" in Scripture. Show me a prophet, and I'll show you someone who is fundamentally unhappy. God doesn't call Samuel to be the last judge to make him happy, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly had some very bad days. More recently, I wouldn't claim that MLK Jr, Oscar Romero, or Dorothy Day were particularly happy folks, either.

Secularly, I see this played out as well. Doing meaningful work often means doing sacrificial and hard work, which automatically disbars what we think of as "happiness." For instance, when I worked at the Red Cross and disasters would hit, we were working twelve hour days and weekends, were exhausted and were so stressed we were either gaining or losing weight, but the meaningfulness of the work was somehow so much more than "happy." (This description of disaster work also seems to apply to parenting.)

Anyway, provoked by this thought, I did a little digging -- and "happiness" comes from the root word, "hap," which means "luck." So someone who is "hapless" is literally "luckless" and "happenstance" is a mashup of "lucky circumstance." So, happiness is nice, but it's something fleeting that happens randomly -- nothing you can control.

Joy, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. And those folks I mentioned above? While they weren't necessarily happy, they were joyous. Joy is an inward disposition, rooted in knowing who you are and whose you are, and living in faith and trust. Joy grows if you cultivate it, if you can clear out enough of the gunk stuck to your soul so that joy can flourish. Joy is more than happiness, joy is more than luck. I can't help but think that God wants so much more for us than just "happy."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Fall!

September 21, 2014

Snapped this pic on my way to church on Sunday. Happy first week of fall!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wedding Time

I love weddings, which is good, because I'm up to my eyeballs in them. In the last few weeks, I've done premarital counseling for two couples, attended a bridal shower, navigated the protocol for a same-gendered blessing from a different diocese, and helped out as a liturgical deacon* during a high mass wedding; in the next few weeks I'm officiating at two weddings, and tonight I'm going wedding dress shopping with my future sister-in-law.

Like I said, it's a good thing I love weddings.

But what is it about them? Well, first of all, you've got the regular reasons -- weddings feel hopeful, and full of love. But more than that, weddings are a liminal time, and everything that happens around them feels meaningful. In the time between being single people and being married people, there's a feeling a movement, transition and living with deliberateness. Loved ones take time to say things that go usually go unsaid, and to tell family stories that haven't been told in years. Loved ones who are gone are remembered, and their impact on the lives of those gathered are marked in formal and informal ways. Overall, weddings are one of the few times that sincerity is welcomed in our irony-laden culture, and I find that refreshing.

Being a priest at wedding is a unique experience -- you get brought into the sphere of the family, and you have a specific task before you. Not only do you teach the couple the rituals to becoming married, and guide them through it, prompting vows and the taking of one another's hands, but you have the privilege and the terror of saying something meaningful about it all, how God is working in the lives of the couple, and the lives of the families gathered.

The other piece, though, is often navigating through a whole wedding full of people you've never met before. Some people really hate this part, but once I get my feet under me, I enjoy it. Even though at the last wedding I was at, I had an animated ten minute discussion with a six-term retired senator before he had to spell out that he was a senator, after I asked what projects he was working on, oh, running a hugely influential lobbying firm... even though he had told me who he name, and I really, truly, should have connected his name to the senate. (Seriously, as an avid NPR listener, I'm still appalled at myself, but I wasn't really looking for a senator to pop up, you know? I thought he was a great uncle or something. I had been talking to his wife all afternoon. She was lovely.) But despite that huge failure as a Washingtonian, I still managed to have some other really meaningful conversations with people, the down-in-the-trenches-I've-never-talked-to-a-professionally-religious-person-before sort of conversations.  I love the curiosity and the diversity of world views, and the willingness of people to step up and talk to a stranger. If you're one of those people who talks to the officiant at a wedding, thank you.

And today I'm gearing up for the next wedding, with a rehearsal tomorrow and the wedding itself on Saturday, getting ready to dive into a time of sincerity and love, with all the privilege (and, sometimes terror) that entails.

I love weddings.




*liturgical deacon: a priest that does what a deacon does during a specific service, which for a wedding means, read the Gospel lesson, pray the prayers, and help out during communion.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back to School

It's been a crazy few weeks for me; there's been lots of family stuff going on, and I've been flying solo at St. Thomas's since August 3rd. I haven't been as diligent as I should have been getting posts up, but that should change soon since my boss is back in the office today, and I'll be handing over the fire extinguisher.

A few weeks ago I did two Easter People podcasts with the delightful Easter People out of the CMT at Virginia Theological Seminary, and late last week, the second podcast dropped. It's about back to school, school rituals, and our favorite educational programs. I hope you'll listen, even if it means that all of your suspicions about just how nerdy I really am will likely be confirmed (my favorite back to school ritual: buying a planner and putting in the assignments. Enough said.) but you'll also get to hear from some really amazing and smart folks that I was lucky enough to talk about joke around with for 45 minutes.

You can listen to Easter People 21: The Back to School Extravaganza here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Easter People

From the Sony Bravia campaign, mentioned in Episode 20. 

Last week I received a surprise invitation to be a guest on the Easter People Podcast. I've been listening to Easter People since their very first podcast, so even though I was a little trepidatious because of an unsuccessful freshman year radio show (me, the one who can talk for hours, clammed up when there was broadcasting involved) I decided to go ahead and do it. And I'm so glad I did, because it was a great way to spend the afternoon -- reflecting on religious experiences and laughing with friends.

You can listen to Episode Twenty here, and I hope that you will add Easter People to your podcast rotation -- it's a thoughtful and fun time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Free Learning, Free Fun

A few months ago, I wrote a post about a Knowledge Commons DC class and the act of re-creation and recreation. I really enjoyed the class that I took, and the more that I looked into the organization, the more that I discovered that I shared a common philosophy with KCDC: everyone is a student, everyone is a teacher, and everywhere is a classroom.

So I decided that if they took my proposal, I'd teach at the next batch of classes. Happily, they did, and Discovering and Writing the Spiritual Memoir is going to happen at St. Thomas' Dupont Circle on September 15th, at 6:30. If you're interested, I hope you can make it. If you're not interested in that particularly, hopefully you'll take a class on how to photograph airplanes at Gravelly Point, learn some Welsh, or take an abandoned schoolhouse bike tour, among dozens of other classes. More classes will be posted soon for the September session, so be sure to check back.

Another quick note: KCDC is always looking for places to hold classes, so if you belong to (or run) a church or another public space, and are interested in sharing, let me know. St. Thomas' Dupont Circle and St. George's U Street are already in on the action and are getting ready to welcome new friends through their doors.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thoughts on Suicide

The first time I brushed up against suicide, I was fifteen years old. His name was Adam; it was the last day of our sophomore year of high school. Adam was intelligent, funny, well-liked, and deeply sad. And these kind words aren't a reflection of the white-washing that happens after a death -- Adam was in the gifted program, he could make an entire class go off track for five minutes laughing, and he was a member of the group I called "The Actual Popular Kids" in my head because unlike the "Popular Kids" they were actually well-regarded by nearly everyone and not feared.

Adam's death was shocking, and sad. At that point, I couldn't understand how someone could do this to themselves, but as I've gotten older and had more experience, I understand better now. Suicide is not and never has been a logical choice, because when depression gets deep enough, it takes away your ability to choose. Depression gets you in its clutches, and you are no longer your own.

Robin William's death yesterday seems to have everyone talking openly about depression and suicide, and for that, I'm grateful. The more people understand that depression is a disease, and not a moral failing, the more likely they are to seek help before their actions become irrevocable. There's also been an outpouring of love and admiration for a man who deserves this love and admiration, after devoting so much of his life to making others happy.

However, one comment caught my eye, and this is the comment made me feel as though I had to respond. This is the comment: "Not to be completely callous, but if Robin Williams committed suicide, how can he be in heaven?"

It is true that throughout church history, there has been the overwhelming consensus among Christian theologians that suicide will lead to condemnation by God. For the church fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Augustine, it seemed to be a mostly cut-and-dry issue. Suicide violates the commandment 'You shall not kill,' is a rejection of God's gift of life and grace, and the act of suicide itself leaves no time for a person to be forgiven for their final act of sin. Dante, writing from a medieval milieu, places those who commit self-murder in the seventh circle of hell.

But the church, especially the Episcopal church, of which Robin Williams was a faithful member, has evolved on this issue. We understand more than we ever have about depression and other mental illnesses, the intense suffering involved and how rational choice is muted or taken away entirely. In our chaotic world, we understand better about how morality is not always cut and dry. The church has humbled itself on many fronts, including the predilection to say how God might judge the actions of a person which were committed in a place of intense pain. In practice, especially by allowing funerals of suicide victims, the church has turned toward the grace of God and away from our own judgment. Thank goodness.

My own view is this: because of the Incarnation, which is the Christian belief that God came to dwell among us as a person, God knows from personal experience the limitation of our brains -- that brains break down, and souls become weary. God knows suffering, and if God knows suffering, then God, who is compassionate, knows what is possible and impossible for humans to bear. I think about Paul's claim that "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ" (Rom. 8:38) and the vision that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Rev. 21) I also am reminded of this stanza, taken from the Episcopal burial rite:

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.

Suicide isn't the answer, and it leaves a wake of despair and desolation. But I refuse to believe that God condemns people because they succumbed to it.



(And this is the place I leave the DC suicide hotline number: 703-527-4077. Also here is Allie Brosh's beautiful and helpful account of depression, part one and two.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

DCPS Beautification Day!


August 23rd is DCPS's Beautification Day -- I'll be at Miner Elementary School, come join me!

No seriously. If you don't have plans and you'd like to sign up, you can do so here, and if you want to walk over together, message me. Maybe we'll all go get lunch afterwards.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Forty Years

The Rev. Allison Cheek after the first public celebration of the Eucharist by a woman
Nov. 10, 1974 at St. Stephen's and the Incarnation, NW DC
Photo by the Washington Post

Today is a big deal, at least for me, anyway. Today is a big deal, because forty years ago, the first women priests in the Episcopal Church, the Philadelphia Eleven, were ordained at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, PA. They were irregularly ordained, which means they were ordained outside of church law, which only caught up with them two years later. These women, and the male bishops who ordained them, risked their vocations (and, I'm assuming for the bishops, their pensions) in order to live out what they believed to be true -- that God does not discriminate by gender when God calls someone into the sacramental priesthood, and that God was calling each of these women to serve God as a priest in God's church. It's beautiful, and it's true.

I love these stories, these stories about the first women priests in the church. I love hearing about them, I love to read about them. (If you are interested, Grace in Motion by the Rev. Dr. Judith Maxwell McDaniel is a great place to start.) I love these stories because I feel like they are my stories, and because even though I was born eleven years after the Philadelphia Eleven, and even though I began to seek ordination thirty-one years after the Philadelphia Eleven, I was told, when I began my process, that my priest would not be supporting me for ordination because I was a woman, and he did not believe that woman should be priests. This set off a series of chain reactions in my process.

It took me nine years to be ordained to the priesthood.

There are many things I could say about that experience, but what I'm thinking about today is the enormity of the courage, effort, prayer, persistence, tenacity and sheer grit it takes to make a change toward justice in an unjust system. Women and their male allies had been fighting for decades before 1974 to see this change happen, and when women finally were ordained, they had to find jobs that would hire them, deal with belittling, sexual assault, physical violence, death threats, the never-ending balance between family expectations and work, and not to mention the nearly inevitable sacking after becoming pregnant, at least in the early days. I've heard these stories from some of the women who have experienced them.

What astounds me now is how easy it was for all of those decades to be flippantly dismissed with a few offhanded words from one person in authority.  But do you know what? That didn't stop the Eleven. It didn't stop women from becoming professors and deans of schools or cathedrals, from raising families while running churches, from serving the poor or the sick, or from becoming authors and world-renowned preachers and not least, bishops. And with their help, it didn't stop me.

So, today is a big deal. I'm so grateful for those women, and all that they've done, and continue to do. I can't wait to see what the next forty years has in store.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Holy Curiosity

I wrote a piece for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's blog about Holy Curiosity. In it, I talk about how curiosity might help churchgoers rekindle their interest in Christian formation. 

But when I think about the same topic from a perspective outside of the organized church, I think about curiosity as one of the sole reasons that secular adults turn to faith. There's a curiosity within them that wonders what is out there in the wild universe, a curiosity about what is within one's self, and a curiosity about the possibility of a new sort of hope, a new way to be. This curiosity can be  prompted by a crisis or an inexplicable experience, but more often, it is a slow process, a little pique of interest there, a ever-growing hunger to get another glimpse of what is mesmerizing and mysterious, an unfolding invitation to go deeper. It's a beckoning, really. But it starts with the capacity to wonder. And to me, that is a wondrous thing. 

What do you wonder about?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Linden Place Cleanup

Tomorrow is Linden Place Cleanup, organized by our neighborhood association.  We'll be sweeping, pulling weeds, cleaning out drains, and if I get to Home Depot this afternoon, I'll be replanting the flowers from this post. (I did mention that they might die... well, the heat last week finished them off.)

9:00am-2:00pm, drop in, drop out. If you have them, bring gloves and tools. The more, the merrier, and it's fun to work together. I'll be doing this sort of workout in lieu of yoga. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Favors

I've been doing some thinking about the Post's coverage of a recent study on civic health in the District. Some of the indices bemuse me, such as the 72.4% of Washingtonians who have "some or a great deal of confidence in the media," because, I'm presuming, 72.4% of the District works in Media, or the 46% who "talk about politics frequently."  One in five Washingtonians have contacted a public official. Yup, that's kind of what we do here in Washington.

But some of the data, as the Post points out, is troubling. There's a lot of distrust -- only one in three people trust some or all of their neighbors, as well as a lot of reticence to ask for help, as only one in ten people regularly exchange favors with their neighbors.

I'm not going to turn this into a preachy post about how we should all get to know our neighbors, and actually talk to them, and if we did this, everything would be awesome. Nope. I understand high turnover in buildings and neighborhoods, the transitoriness of your twenties, the busyness of your thirties, and the ever-present crush of work that tends to overrule our lives here. Keeping up with all of your neighbors, only to have them move in three months, is exhausting and unfeasible. Should you know and trust at least some of them? Absolutely. But all of them? No, that's a superhuman effort. Instead, I'm more interested in the other part -- regularly exchanging favors with a neighbor. And not for the reason you might think.

Giving favors is great. You feel good about yourself, and you feel useful. But I think it's incredibly important to ask for favors. Apart from the political sort, it seems to me that Washington hates asking for favors. (And not even much of that's being done these days.) Asking for help, even for little things, is hard, because it implies that you aren't entirely in control of your life. It implies that you can't do it all yourself, that beneath your professional and polished veneer, you are human. And to be human means that we need to be vulnerable and ask for help sometimes. And that's not only okay, it's actually a good thing.

This spring, I was walking my dog when I discovered that I had locked myself out of the house. Husband wouldn't be home for at least another hour, maybe more. Okay, I thought, I'll just hang out here on the stoop. But then it started to rain. And it was getting kind of cold. So I called one of my neighbors that I sort of knew well, and I awkwardly explained what happened. "Come over, and bring the dog!" he said. So I did. And we drank a bottle of wine, and we laughed, and I got to know him even better, and now we're real friends, because instead of sitting outside in the rain, shivering, I owned up to what a dork I actually was and asked for a favor.

If not many people in Washington are exchanging favors, it means that not many people are asking for them. And that's too bad, because who knows what can grow if we could all started showing a little bit more of our human side.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Beautifying God's Earth

Trinidad --  July 11, 2014

While I don't agree with "Get a life loser" the sentiment is otherwise lovely.

[Text: Whoever keeps stealing my plants / you will not stop me from beautifying God's earth. Get a life, loser!]

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving

The worst part about living permanently in DC is dealing with the fact that inevitably most, if not all, of the friends you make will move away. It's part of the fabric of the city -- people come to DC for education, for an administration, for government or non-profit work, but then move on.  Most of the reasons to move to DC have a natural conclusion, either graduation, a lost election, or gaining enough job experience to make good back home. Some not-so-natural conclusions are job cuts or just simply getting fed up and leaving, but they happen, too.

And for me, the DC cycle continues. This month has been particularly hard, with two very dear friends departing to go do really exciting work in the Southwest and Midwest, another beloved friend taking a new job in Philly, and the whole batch of seniors who have left VTS, scattered over the country and globe. I have been a little mopey lately, which must be getting on Husband's nerves, because I'm starting to get on my own nerves. I know no one is further away than a phone call, and the ties we've made won't unravel, but it's not quite the same as melodramatically flopping on someone's couch when you've had a bad day.

But one thing I've learned about living in DC is that while everyone inevitably moves away, every day more people are brought to DC for their own reasons. Those very wonderful friends? I met every single one of them because I moved here, and they moved here. While they have moved on, I'll stay and see who else comes my way.

Fabulous and Fun Clergy Friends -- (I get to keep one of them in NoVA!)
Fourth of July, 2013

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Later, Gators

I just wanted to say thank you for all of the support over the last few months as I've got my blog up and running, I've really enjoyed interacting with everyone here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

I'll be out the rest of this week and next, as Husband and Dog and I are leaving for our long-awaited beach vacation after a few weeks of nutty work travel. We're getting everything together -- a house sitter/plant waterer (my poor garden would perish), the beach towels, some sunscreen, an extra journal, and soon we'll be setting off. I'm looking forward to being refueled and rejuvenated, ready to spend the rest of the summer in DC, come hell or high humidity.

See you all at the end of June!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hmmm...

13 & H NE -- June 11, 2014

It seems as though DDOT Urban Forestry is a little off their game. The sign seems to be doing well, though. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

DC Pride and Parenting

This weekend was DC Pride. St. Thomas' had a picnic, and afterwards we went to a parishioner's front porch to drink sangria and watch the parade. The sheer length and volume were astounding. The parade lasted from 4:30 until after 7:00, with every sort of float imaginable. It seemed like every politician in the city had marchers, as well as every major Christian denomination, some rogue Mormons, and some Jewish marchers. (My favorite sign of the entire religious contingent: Shabbat Shalom, Queers!) The spirit of campy irreverence and love reigned. The parade was also surprisingly commercial, with banks and hotels sponsoring floats. Chipotle won hands down for best corporate float, with a cowboy riding on a bucking burrito. Usually I don't like seeing a lot of corporate sponsorship in a community event like this, but it was a sign of just how far the gay rights movement has come. Everybody had a good time, except for maybe the protesters, who had to have a police escort for their own safety.

This weekend was also a baptism for a baby in our congregation, a beautiful little girl adopted by a married gay couple. Both parents are pillars in our community, part of who we are, and it was a joy to be a part of that baptism, knowing full well that child will grow to maturity in grace and love within a Christian community. And is she ever loved!

Now, I could write a book about everything that St. Thomas' has taught me, but perhaps the most surprising and lovely lesson of all has been about what it means to be a parent. This lesson began two years ago with one of our first gay adoptions, as I watched two men raise a baby up close for the first time. And it blew my little Central Pennsylvania mind.

First of all, in a same-gendered parenting team, there's no "default" parent. If the baby starts crying, in church or in the middle of the night, it's not automatically handed off to the mother. These parents actually have a conversation about it, and work out a plan. Over and over again, I've seen them take turns and work together to solve the problem. It seems simple, but it makes all the difference in the world. And for same-gendered parents, nothing about parenting seems to be taken for granted. Every child in each of these relationships has been longed for, waited on, hoped for, greeted with tears and joy. This isn't always the case on the other side of the fence, as babies of straight couples sometimes accidentally make their way into the world, unplanned and taken on a burden instead of a blessing. Lastly, I've seen a great deal of imagination and humor in the act of parenting. It's almost as if the joy spilled out and into creativity and laughter.

I'm not saying gay parenting is intrinsically better, or that straight parents can't also be parents who are great at communicating and who are excited and ready to be creative parents. But I know when it's time for us to start thinking that direction, I'll be thinking about my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and taking a page out of their parenting book.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bomb Threats

It was an interesting morning for H Street. While I had left the apartment at 7:30 to get to Alexandria by 8:00, I got a text at 8:00 or so from Husband. "Bomb threat on H, whole street closed between 13th and Maryland." Oh. Ok.

You haven't heard anything about it on the news, because it wasn't covered by the news. Twitter users, mostly @dcvet and @azarrella as well as the @DCPoliceDept, were the only sources of information. Several businesses were evacuated, including AtlasVet (who continued to see patients even though they couldn't get into their building.) The bomb squad was called, and the package cleared. Thankfully, other than a few flashing lights and inconvenient rush hour detour for some, the morning passed uneventfully. Better safe than sorry.

But it's one of those moments that makes you reflect on the risks of living in DC, in the shadow of the Capitol building. I thought about those risks a lot the week of the Navy Yard shootings, too.  It's just that when there's a bomb threat, or an active shooter, or the Capitol is evacuated because of a car chase, you are acutely aware of how much trust it requires to live where we live. It's an act of trust to believe that first responders will respond, an act of trust that your neighbors will help you if you need them, an act of trust that people won't go around blowing things up or gassing us, an act of trust that you won't get caught in the crossfire of DC's gun violence problem. Even if it's an unthinking trust, it's still an act of trust. We depend on each other more than we know, and for the most part, we live up to the trust placed in us. I take heart in that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Listening is Loving

By nature, I'm a solution-oriented person. When I come across a problem, my Pennsylvania German genes go into overdrive and I analyze, assess and then make a plan. Then I organize resources and people and execute the plan; if it doesn't work, I re-analyze, re-assess, and re-plan, and go at it again. I love this sort of work, and I share that love with my father and three brothers, who, all four of them, are engineers and builders. We're just a solution-oriented family.

Which is why pastoral care, the part of my job where my job is to just be present, is the hardest part of my job. Yesterday morning I found myself sitting across from a woman at a free breakfast in a church basement on Capitol Hill. I was introduced to her as a pastor, and within seconds words started tumbling out of her. I sat and listened to her pain, confusion, her story of abuse and neglect, her anguish as to why a God who was supposed to love her would let what happened to her happen, and witnessed the tears streaming down her face. And her story was truly horrible, a story of evil come to wreak havoc in the world by people who should have loved and protected her. I spent a year at a torture abolition non-profit; I've heard horrific stories. This was up there, and this was a story of SE DC.

As a priest, there is nothing you can do in the face of that sort of pain. There is no plan that can fix the past. You can't repair a broken human soul. There are no action items, there is nothing that you can say, and nothing that can be done. And so, you sit. And pray. And listen. And hope, that in the listening, that you are some sort of representative for the part of humanity that promises not to neglect, abuse, betray or berate, and that you are some sort of representative of a flicker of divine love somewhere, although in this moment, it seems very, very far away.

The only thing that gives me comfort in this situation is something that I heard a few weeks ago at a conference, something that I've been thinking about over and over again, is this claim by pastor Frank Thomas: it's almost impossible to tell the difference between loving and listening. What you do when you listen is so close to that act of loving that the person being listened to can't tell the difference.

I hope that's true, because it's all I've got.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Expectation


The Vicar's Garden -- May 28, 2014

This is what hopefulness looks like, at least today.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hidden Life

Although it's been a very busy week, I've been thinking about what is seen and what is unseen in our daily life. It started with finding this guy upon my arrival home from Brooklyn:


 H & 13th NE - May 20, 2014


I almost stepped on him, but luckily I didn't. Although he did make me shudder a little bit, mostly I was just impressed.  I had no idea slugs that large even existed on the East Coast. Where I'm from, we have snails and slugs but they top out at a few centimeters. Here's a metro card for scale. 


H & 13th NE -- May 20, 2014


I was less excited when I found that slugs had been making their way up to my second-floor balcony garden. Maybe this had been going on for a while, and I had never noticed, but knowing that there were slugs around made me look a little harder for evidence of them. The next morning, I found that my Johnny Jump-up seedlings had been slimed. 

Vicar's "Garden" -- May 21, 2014

There are other things that exist at night in the alley that ordinarily go unseen. Husband and I once saw a raccoon, nonchalantly walking the top of the fence, all the way down the alley. I've spotted a possum under a car -- I thought it was a cat at first. Definitely not a cat. There are at least two cats back there, big roaming tom cats, who work at catching the rats that scurry, and now and then people, looking for a late-night place to tryst, to fight, or (sadly) to shoot up. 

What I've seen, I'm sure, is just a sliver of what actually happens around me in my neighborhood. I just found an entire species that I didn't know existed here. How much more is hidden?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Greetings from Bushwick!

The Vicar went to visit the very awesome St. Lydia's Dinner Church in Brooklyn, and is spending the day wandering around Bushwick until she gets back on her Megabus to DC. She feels a little out of place because she doesn't have high-waisted acid-washed skinny jeans or an overly graphic t-shirt, but she's going to be okay.

Anyway, St. Lydia's was found to be a beautiful expression of what the church outside of church walls can become: a group of people, some churched, and some not, who come together over a meal to bless the meal, each other, and their time. There was beautiful singing, prayer, storytelling, good food, conversation and laughter. Who could ask for anything more? 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Recreational Recreation

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or know me personally, you know that words are a source of endless fascination for me. The word that I've been playing with since I got home from my very awesome Knowledge Commons DC class at SCRAP DC last night is "recreation."

SCRAP DC is a non-profit organization up in Brookland that takes donations of creative materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill and provides them to artists and other members of the community at very low cost. There are stacks of vintage wrapping paper, unwanted fabric, bags of bottle caps and buttons, piles of old costume jewelry, a metric ton of crayons, and balls and balls of yarn, not to mention some of the more interesting one-off pieces. Walking into the SCRAP store is like walking into an I SPY book: controlled chaos, stuff everywhere, but it's all very interesting to look at, and everything has the potential to be turned into something else. 

Which brings me back to "recreation." Recreation, as a noun, has two basic meanings: the first is that of an activity done for enjoyment, while the second is the act of creating something again. In the act of taking something that would have become part of the landfill and making it into something new, I was fusing the two meanings and participating in recreational recreation. In my case, the act of recreational recreation was making a basket out of vintage wrapping paper and some old fabric ribbon. Others in my class made baskets out of office paper, VHS tape, 8mm film, shopping bags, yarn, old maps, food wrappers, and receipts. 

KCDC's "Basketweaving from Scratch with Scraps" Basket
May 14, 2014 -- Not too shabby for a first try, huh?

Out of a bunch of trash came a bunch of things if not useful, then beautiful. And it was fun. 

I left the evening with my basket in hand, a few new acquaintances that I hope to see again, and thinking about how I could bring more recreational recreation into my life and relationships.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Worst

Don't let his excessive cuteness fool you.
The Vicar's Dog - Fall 2013

My dog is consistently the worst dog at the dog park.

This is true for a variety of reasons: he's possessive, he's territorial, he's aggressive towards bigger dogs, he tries to dominate same-sized or smaller dogs, he's not particularly interested in being social, and he doesn't understand when other dogs are trying to play with him. He doesn't chase or wrestle, he just stares at them. I figured out that he was going to be a handful when at four months and maybe fifteen pounds we went to a nearby dog park and he took a chunk of fur out of a full-grown husky's neck. With this sort of bravery/idiocy, I fully expect this dog to go out in a blaze of glory, saving us from a bear or a cougar on a camping trip. Or not even saving us, really, probably just feeling like that bear was in his personal space.

My dog is consistently the worst dog on the block.

He always wants to urinate at exactly the wrong time and at the wrong places, even as we're pulling him away from the "please curb your dog" signs. We can't let kids pet him, or dogs larger than him sniff him, because he's unpredictable. He barks every single time a FedEx or UPS truck pulls up, which is several times a day. He goes nuts when the mail carrier comes up our street, and he goes absolutely bananas when the mail goes in the slot. Part of the problem here is that he is so over-excited about guarding our house from mail that he gets hit in the face with the mail everyday, which probably feeds the cycle of him hating the mail and then barking aggressive at the mail slot. And then he barks at the mail carrier for another five minutes when he sees her across the street. 

He's just the worst. 

I don't want it to sound like he has zero redeeming qualities, but living in a neighborhood is more difficult for us because of this unfriendly dog. Part of the problem is that it can be hard to get a conversation going because he's going nuts at the end of his leash, which kind of deadens the mood. I know he must be obnoxious as our neighbors walk by the house. We have to lock him in the bedroom when people come over.  We leave the dog park as soon as he becomes problematic, which can be less than ten minutes, depending on his level of anxiety that day.

There's only one good thing in all of this, and that is I get to see little pieces of grace strewn around. Every day, this dog, despite our best efforts, somehow or someway causes us to transgress via noise or other dog insanity against our neighbors. And we are indebted to them to forgive us our dog trespasses. For the most part, and I find this to be continually miraculous, they do. I'm very grateful. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yoga Time

I've recently started doing yoga down the street at Yoga District, and I was surprised at how easy it was to get back into classes. I'm looking forward to making time for not only the body work, but the inner work that happens when one practices yoga. We'll see if I can manage to make it a habit, but here's hoping.

Anyway, I wrote a reflection about my experience getting back into yoga classes, how the institutional church can learn from yoga studios, and the Millennial obsession with awkwardness for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's blog. You can find it here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

30 Days of Different

A friend of mine, who just so happens to also be a fine theologian and writer, is working on a written experience of mindfulness for the next thirty days. He's exploring DC and looking at the world he lives in with new eyes, and it's lovely to read. If you're looking for a daily little reflection on life and joy to replace a Lenten discipline, this might be just about perfect for you.

His name is Jeremy Ayers, and you should come along for the ride. You can find him at 30 Days of Different.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

On the Page and on the Stage


The Atlas Performing Arts Center - October 2013
I'm very excited to announce something very exciting!

A few weeks ago, I announced an upcoming feature of The Vicar of H Street: a (still) yet-to-be named oral history feature, in the style of Studs Terkel.  As grace would have it, word about this project made its way over to the Atlas Performing Arts Center, where it was brought to the attention of one of the artistic directors there, who contacted me about the project. We had a wonderful and fruitful conversation. If all goes well, the stories collected for the blog will be adapted into a theatrical performance for the Atlas's Intersections Festival in February of 2015! This is a great opportunity to help the stories of the neighborhood be preserved and (re)incorporated into the life of the community, especially as we stand at a juncture in the history of this neighborhood. I'm delighted to be included in their mission to "make the Atlas a center of community conversation."

During the last few weeks, when I haven't been running around with Holy Week or Easter, I've been working on getting the word out, finding participants, and arranging times for interviews. I still need many more people though, from a broader spectrum of the H Street experience. 

If you would like to participate, or have a lead (I would especially like to hear from some of our elderly neighbors -- a personal introduction to them would be irreplaceable) please contact me at vicarofhstreet@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Memento Mori

John Donne posing for a portrait in a burial shroud. 

There really is no good way to introduce this thought, so here it goes: I firmly believe that you can't live your life fully without coming to terms with your own death, and the death of those you love. I'm convinced that living well is a pre-requisite for dying well, and that dying well is the capstone of a life fully lived. Dying is part of living, and preparing for our death, owning it as ours uniquely, is the only way we can come to terms with the gravity of every day living. Life is finite, and what we do with it, every single livelong day, matters. When we remember that we will die, we are simultaneously reminded that now is the time to live.

I bring this up because of last week's This American Life episode, "Death and Taxes." The first part of the program, produced by Nancy Updike, was a deeply moving, semi-autobiographical story about just how hard it is to talk about death, and how unprepared we are to face it. The segment is about forty minutes long, but well worth your precious, precious time. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Inundation

Linden Place NE - April 25, 2014 

Late Friday afternoon, I skimmed the surface of the holy while walking to my car. You can call me crazy if you like, but it was sublime -- one of those moments when your senses are so completely overwhelmed they get scrambled.  Somehow, the air itself was shining, the light smelled fresh and clean, the rain felt like grace, and whatever lies beneath all of this was shimmering through to the barely perceptible.

I just stood there in the rain shower, umbrella open but at my side, soaking it all in, until I was honked at because someone wanted my parking spot. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Interrupted by Joy

Late night texts or calls always fill me with dread. Anytime the phone dings after 11:00pm, I'm immediately worried that something terrible or undoable has happened, and I'm being called to be informed with the news. 

I'm not sure why I always think this, because really, I haven't had that many late night disasters in my life. The few that were, were enough, I guess. My new life as priest to a parish of people that I'm starting to love in a way that I can't even begin to articulate, some of whom I worry about regularly, doesn't help my phone anxiety, either. So despite that most of my post-midnight calls are drunk dials, an insomniac friend who knows that I'm usually up reading because I can't sleep either, or my bank telling me my checking account is emptier than it should be, I have to will myself to see who or what it is. Despite the statistical probabilities for everything being just fine, I still reach for the phone with a quickened pulse and a knot in my stomach. 

On Wednesday at midnight, I got a late night text from a friend. "Can you call me? I need to talk to you." I said my favorite prayer (it has two words and it goes like this: "Fuck! Help!") and called her back immediately, fearing the worst. 

But instead of being ambushed by the catastrophe that I was certain was on the other line, my life was interrupted by joy. Yes, of course, I would love it more than anything I know to come to an ultrasound with you in the morning. 

And in the morning, I woke up early, dropped Husband off at work, and I went with her to see her joy. With fingers, and toes, and a heartbeat, and a nose, a beautiful, perfect little nose. And we laughed for delight and amazement, and for all of the goodness that we saw God working in her, and we even cried a little bit. That morning was bliss and blessing. Bliss and blessing I might have missed if I hadn't picked up the phone. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Heal H Street

Last night, I stood around with a gaggle of neighbors, friends, coworkers, and curious strangers on the corner of G&9th to watch the premiere of Heal H Street, a documentary short by H Street local Craig Corl. Because the permits hadn't been worked out with the Sherwood Rec Center, the film ended up being projected onto the side of a neighbor's house, lending a bit of novelty to the atmosphere.

G & 9th NE, April 22, 2014

The film covered the recent history of the neighborhood, beginning shortly before MLK's assassination through the aftermath of the riots and neighborhood neglect, to the start of gentrification and the ensuing cultural shifts.  The film also traces the filmmaker's personal growth as someone who was born a few years before the riots in an entirely different world, and who struggled to come to terms with his existence as a gentrifier on H Street. While perhaps the process of gentrification and H Street investors are portrayed as probably more deliberately hostile than they are, as I'm more inclined to see the small-stepped micro-decisions and individually-made logical decisions that make up a wave of neighborhood change, the documentary rings true about the relationships that need to be forged among new and old residents in whatever H Street is becoming, and the need to remember the past. 

Heal H Street is now available online for anyone who would like to view it -- and I would certainly recommend it. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring!

Spring is finally, finally here, despite the cold weather for the next few days. I'm ridiculously grateful, and spent last weekend sprucing up our very limited outside spaces: our balcony, and the little front lot.

And the front lot was disgusting. I wish I had remembered to take a "before" picture, but imagine a scraggly bunch of mostly dead ivy spilling out a foot onto the sidewalk. When I cut away the ivy, I had to scoop years worth of dead and decaying leaves which had turned into soil, and when I started digging up the dead roots, I found a beer bottle, a crushed aluminum can (for malt liquor), a small collection of plastic number stickers that used to adorn the front of our house, a little girl's hair barrette, some wire, and innumerable shards of window glass. I felt like a very short-term archaeologist, discovering pieces of the recent past.

After the ground was cleared, I mixed in some fertilizer, dug a few holes and put some pansies in, knowing that they're a hardy bunch and could probably handle whatever comes their way this summer, despite the damaged soil. The last step was mulching around them. Mulching is always really satisfying, not only because mulch keeps the moisture in when the weather gets hot, but because it always makes what you do look way more professional than it actually is, as in, look how much better these crappy pansies I bought for four dollars look now. (By the way, the garden center on West Virginia and New York is way cheaper than the Home Depot.)

The Vicar's "front yard" April 12, 2014
The difference between what was once there, a scraggly, smelly mess, and what is now there, something that helps the neighborhood look and be better than what it was, is not in money (it cost less than $15 for the materials) or in time (it really only took two hours) or in talent (clearly, my flower bed design is lacking in genius). The difference is intentionality. Intentionality is greeting your neighbor when you see her in the street -- it doesn't cost money, and it doesn't take that much time. Intentionality is paying attention to how your actions affect those around you. Intentionality is seeing, with new eyes, the potential of what's in a person, not what's presenting on the surface, and interacting with that person based on their potential, not their ugliness. In the end, intentionality is the difference between a group of people who live in the same geographic area, and a community.

We'll see how this little flower bed grows. Maybe the frost, or the heat, or my dog, or something else will kill off the pansies. That would be too bad, but if they don't make it, that's okay. I'll just plant something else.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bones and Bodies

"Bone to bone. Sinew on the bone. Flesh on the sinew, skin on the flesh, breath in the body. God made our bodies to begin with, and someday, God will put them back together again. God takes bodies seriously, and so should we."

My friends over at The Daily Cake have posted a piece of mine, a reflection on the Hebrew Scripture reading from this Sunday, Ezekiel 37:1-14. The Daily Cake is an Episcopal online community focused on twenty-and-thirty-somethings, so it's a little more overtly religious than what usually gets posted on this blog, not that it should deter you.

You can find the whole piece here. I hope you check it, and The Daily Cake, out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago, yesterday, was the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. I was eight when it happened; I knew Africa existed, but only in a lion, zebra and elephant sort of way. Bill Clinton was the president. But this week, I just can't stop thinking about what happened twenty years ago.

You might not think that this has a lot to do with H Street, but it does. It does because the waves of suffering that systemic violence cause radiate to every corner of the world, and sets off ricochets of suffering for decades, perhaps centuries. So, even though I was an eight year old, blithely living my life when those atrocities happened, as an adult, I've seen the ricochets of the genocide slash through lives here in Washington. And while they are a pale shadow of the immediate violence, they weren't pretty.

After college I worked at an anti-torture non-profit which had two basic tasks: advocate against the use of political torture by the US government, and offer immediate help to survivors of torture. Often, people would just show up at our door with their every possession in a plastic shopping bag. It was a miracle they found us at all, tucked away in a hard to reach spot in NE DC, but they did. TASSC was and still is a small operation, but we did our best to help them find proper psychological care, pro bono lawyers, and a safe place to stay. Petitioning for political asylum is its own sort of hell, as it can take years, and involves telling your story over and over again -- the very story you are trying to move past. Not to mention the difficulties inherent in coming to a new country with nothing. All of a sudden you can't speak the language, the culture makes no sense, and you find yourself impoverished and disempowered, unable to work for fear of being deported back to the country that tortured you.

And so the survivors came, from all around the world. The old-timers who stopped by to check in from time to time were mostly Latin Americans, but we would get new survivors every week, often from different countries in Africa or the Middle East. Most plentiful were those from the horn of Africa, Ethiopians and Eritreans, well connected in DC, and often sent to us by their clergy. There were others from Cameroon, Mali, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, the Congo, the Sudan, speaking of TASSC by word of mouth, each connecting to one another when they somehow made it to DC. 

Every survivors has his or her own story, but each country's violence had its own distinctive stamp on the survivors. Those who shared the same language, who grew up in the same culture, and who endured similar treatment had a bond that went beyond even the deepest trust issues. Again and again I was amazed by the compassion and courage of survivors, especially as they worked to help each other out, listening to each other, offering space in their already crowded apartments. Despite the ugly reason that survivors found themselves at TASSC, the human spirit and grace was palpable. 

The exception to this rule were the Rwandans. Not that they didn't also evince spirit and grace in their own way, but because the violence came from within their own communities, and not from an outside force in the shape of a autocratic government, the devastation of the soul was far more complete. Instead of finding hope and solidarity, these survivors feared other people who shared their culture, who shared their language, who shared their identity. Not only did they have to deal with the "normal" issues survivors face, but they had to deal with that, too. The Rwandans broke my heart. At least to me -- and what do I know?-- it always seemed as though that the genocide survivors were the ones we were least able to help. And these people, and the children of these people, continue to live with the fallout of what happened twenty years ago. Because DC is a city of the world, they live here,  too, among us who never knew such trauma, bearing the scars on their hearts, living with the ricochets of the violence. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

G Street Bike Lanes

The mini stop signs have been up for months, but now they finally make sense. As of this week, the bike lanes have been painted on G Street.

G&13 St. NE, April 3, 2014

Drivers: Remember to watch out for cyclists.
Cyclists: Remember to watch out for drivers.

Be safe, everyone!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stories Matter

In a few weeks, I'm going to start a new feature on the blog: a yet-to-be-named weekly oral history of someone who lives or works on H Street. 

I'm starting this because of something I've noticed after six months of living here-- while H Street NE and its surroundings is a vibrant community, I'm noticing that H Street NE is actually the locality of vibrant communities, plural. These communities, while they add up to make H Street what it is as a whole, don't really overlap all that much. 

For me, the symbol of the community disjunction is how H Street itself changes from morning until evening. There only ever seems to be one type of person out on the street at any one time; I know this is a broad-sweeping generalization, but once I noticed this, I couldn't unsee it. And then it started to bother me. Maybe I'm wrong, but there's an alienation here that's unsettling, and can't be healthy for the community at large. If we don't know each other, we can't be good neighbors to each other. 

So, I'd like to gather the perspectives of all types of people who live or work here, and make these stories available for those who want to know more about their neighbors. Who are they? How did they get here? What does this community mean to them? What do they wish H Street could become?

If you'd like to volunteer to sit down for a 45 minute interview, or nominate someone who you think has a story that needs to be heard, contact me at vicarofhstreet@gmail.com. I would love to hear your story.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today is the day - Vote!

If you are a DC resident, here's a friendly reminder to participate in the democratic process today. If you're not sure where you can vote, you can find that information at DC's polling place locator. I'm headed over to the community center on G shortly to run the gauntlet of campaign signs. Hopefully, after today, the campaign signs, like the last bit of deicer left on the sidewalk, can be put to rest for a while.

G & 10 St. NE, April 1, 2014

G&10th St. NE, April 1, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heart and Hale

The Vicar of H Street has been much more about the Vicar and less about H Street lately, although there's been plenty of news to reflect upon: the victory (for now) for the community garden on Wylie Street, the Murry's and H Street Storage will likely be gone by summer, and the DC primary election is just days away. Soon I'll be back and blogging about neighborhood issues, and working to be not so caught up in myself. The last few weeks have been the chaos of travel and preparation for my ordination to the priesthood tomorrow evening at St. Thomas's Dupont Circle, and far, far too much about me. I'm finding that I'm feeling very much about my priestly ordination as I did about my wedding: I know it's a big deal, but this sort of attention is overwhelming in the most wonderful kind of way, but I'm just ready to be married/ordained, thank you.

As you might imagine, I've found myself reflecting on vocation lately, but oddly enough, the person who has helped me think most fruitfully about vocation in the last few weeks wasn't a monk, a priest, or a bishop, but rather a friend from my life before seminary. This friend left a job that was slowly killing her and was brave enough to start over in something entirely new: organic farming and animal husbandry. I visited her at her farmhouse after my silent retreat, and my time there was all joy. Catching up, being fed wonderfully delicious food she had raised herself, and seeing her happy, healthy, relaxed, and somehow more herself than I had ever seen her. As she showed me around the farm where she works, it was clear to me that she was becoming part of the community, and whole.

"Health" and "whole" are etymological cousins dating back to Middle English, and this doesn't surprise me. They share an ancestor in "hal" (now "hale") which meant both wholeness and health. Incidentally, "hale" is also related to "holy." My friend, in the intervening year and a half since she's left DC, has been slowly becoming hale. It seems like sheer grace, redemption by mud and chicken scratch.

And it makes me wonder about those who haven't (not even beginning to think about those who can't for socio-economic reasons) been able to find what makes them hale. My hope is that if you seek it, you find it, and that if you find it, you have the courage to follow it. I wish that for myself, too.


Sheep at the Farm School, MA - March 17, 2014


Draft Horse at the Farm School, MA - March 17, 2014


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Real Conversations

"How did I forget the power of forgiveness? How did I forget that God is love? How did I forget, even though I knew all of these things, or thought I knew all of these things, that love liberates me to live deeper and deeper in love? This conversation reminded me of who I was, and why I was. In all of my years being raised in the church, working for the church, being formally educated by the church, and even ordained by the church, I have had many fine and life-altering conversations, but I have never had a conversation like this one. We spend so much of our time talking about the finer points of doctrine, or worship, or community politics, or arguing scriptural interpretation, or who is wrong and who is right, that we never get around to talking about love at its most very basic. We assume we know what’s important, but really, we don’t. We think we know God, or Jesus, or the Spirit, but really, we don’t. Not at all. Because if we did, we’d never speak about anything but the love of God and how that love holds us and feeds us and catches us when we fall."

Here's a post I wrote for The Pilgrim's Review, a webzine that a few of my friends back home in Central PA are involved in. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Now the Silence

Tomorrow morning, I'll be winging my way to the Emery House of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, to spend five days in what is essentially adult time-out. With the brothers at SSJE, I'll be entering into a daily rhythm of prayer and reflection, but mostly silence, in preparation for my upcoming ordination.

The first time I heard about a silent retreat, I thought that it would be my own personal version of hell. Silence is frightening -- it's the spiritual equivalent of wandering through a desert, deadly in the dehydration and derangement that descends. But if you can get through it, the starkness can change you, and your rough edges can be worn down. Slowly, I've grown to appreciate how silence can permeate down into the depths of your being and linger there. I've never done five days before, so I'm apprehensive. I won't be alone, though, and the brothers are good guides for this sort of journey.

This may strike some as an incredibly odd (and counter-cultural) thing to do, but regardless, here I go. I'll be out of digital contact entirely while I'm there. As such, I'll leave you with a blog post I wrote for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Dupont Circle South Metro Entrance, March 5, 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and a day that Christians have traditionally observed by going into church and having ashes smudged on their forehead to remind them of their own mortality. Today, though, I donned my cassock and joined many of my clergy friends in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in getting out of the church and going to where the people actually are: metro stops, busy sidewalks, coffee shops. I was graced with questions, conversations, tears, prayers, and real contact with real people, making their way in the world. 

Brushing the hair away from their forehead, and looking into their eyes, this is what we said: "You are a beloved child of God. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Simple. True. Lovely.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Twenty-Something Female-Clergy FAQ's

Life on H Street is a largely secular affair, and most of the people I run into and have conversations with aren't really familiar with the Episcopal church or clergy. Here's a list of the top ten questions I get on a regular basis in coffee shops, bars and cocktail parties in DC. I'm always open to questions, so ask away either online or in person, but I thought it would be interesting to a quick compendium of FAQs. 

So, what do you do, exactly?

So, I happen to think that clergy have the easiest and hardest job in the entire world. It's easiest, because your job is to be yourself. It's the hardest, because your job is to be yourself. What I mean by that is while a lot of my day is taken up with writing, studying, praying, preparing sermons, creating lesson plans, strategic planning, getting ready for Sunday worship and leading meetings, some of the most important work I do is just talking to people about how their life is going, listening, and being present and available. I am very much still learning.

What are you wearing?

So, I'm wearing an Anglican collar, which is basically a godforsaken piece of white plastic that wraps around my neck. I'm wearing it not because it's comfortable (believe me, it's not, and don't sneeze in one of the suckers without grabbing the front first) but because certain social situations dictate that I should be wearing it. I also wear it as a way to signal to other people that I represent the church in a special way. So, the collar is less like a black belt in martial arts and more like a firefighter uniform. We tell little kids if they get lost that they should speak to someone in a uniform, and that a person in a uniform can help them get un-lost. Well, the collar is exactly the same thing, except I'm probably just as lost as you. But I'll walk with you for a while if you like.

What should I call you?

Well, Becky's my name, so that will work nicely. Titles like "Father" and "Mother" or "Reverend" or "Pastor" or "Deacon" work well for some parishes and for some people, but I'd really rather just be called Becky. Besides, if we're having this conversation, you probably don't belong to my parish. But thanks for asking, because some people really do prefer to be called X, Y, or Z. That was kind of you.

Can you get married?

Yes, Episcopal clergy are permitted to marry, and I am married to a man with the patience of Job. 

Can you have kids?

I'm not really sure, we haven't intentionally tried.... seriously folks, I think that what's being asked is "Are you permitted by your vocation to start a family, unlike monks, nuns or Catholic priests?" but I've only been asked this as a follow up question to "Can you get married?" If you step back and think about it, it's actually a very personal question. I don't get upset, but it's super awkward if you think about what is actually being asked.

Can you drink?

I'm assuming you mean alcohol. Yes, please! Not too much though, everything in moderation. Just like the rest of the population, some Episcopal clergy choose to drink, and some choose to abstain. Whatever works for them. Personally, I prefer pilsners, lagers and koelsh year round, White Russians, tannic red wines and buttery Chards in the winter, and gin drinks in the summer. 

Oh my God, I can't believe I just said that in front of you. I'm so sorry, that word just slipped out.

Please! You would not believe what I said on the way here when that Maryland driver cut me off. But seriously, clergy are people who professionally listen to the breadth of human experience and all that entails, which includes whatever you need to say to express yourself. Don't worry about it. And yes, I have and do swear in church.

Episcopal...is that like Lutheran/Catholic/Methodist/Presbyterian?

Yes! I'll take any point of reference that you have. Different types of Christianity are way similar than we want to admit, for some reason. One thing that makes our church distinct is the acceptance and affirmation of LGBT folks as ordained leaders, although other mainline Protestants are (thankfully) catching up.

Hey, want to come to this party on Saturday? It starts at 9:00pm.

Thanks for the invitation! I can probably stop by and say hi, but I really can't stay, because Saturdays are a work night for me. No one wants a hungover priest, and nobody wants to be a hungover priest. I really do appreciate it. Also, Fridays, and basically any night that isn't Saturday, I'm up for anything.

I know these people who are getting married, can you marry them?

It depends. I'm restricted by what I am permitted and not permitted to do by the canons of the church, which is basically church law. The best case scenario is that the couple (by the way, this couple can be same-gendered or not) find a church community if they don't already have one, and get married in the context of that community because we believe that strong marriages are supported by being in a faith community. However, if the canonical requirements are met, then I look at weddings as a conversation starter, and a chance to show people that clergy aren't a bunch of lame haters. So, maybe. It depends.