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


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 I would love to hear from you!