Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Gift of Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

This is one of my favorite Bible passages. Jesus is giving final instructions to his disciples the night before he is arrested and lead to his death. He is reminding them that he will die and come back, and he knows they are going to face some rough days ahead.

This verse is in the Gospel reading this coming Sunday, and we talked about it in Bible study this week. When I told our group this is a meaningful verse for me, Fr. Charlie asked me why. The reason isn't so much that Jesus is giving peace, an inner peace that heals and gives us strength, it's that he gives it NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES.

That passage gets me. When I think about how the world gives, a lot of things come to mind. There are presents, like the Tiffany boxes above, that we expect on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. But Jesus gives his gift of peace at a time when the disciples are not really ready for it. They have had an interesting night of having their feet washed by their leader, been told that people in their own group will deny they know Jesus and even turn against him. I'm not sure they're in the best mind-set for this gift, as much as they may need it. Are we ready to accept the peace Jesus gives us, that w3e already have inside at the times we need it most?

Then there are the gifts that are given with the expectation of reciprocation. My mom wouldn't let me accept expensive gifts from boys when I was in high school. She had good reason for that. Sometimes it happens at work when someone "helps" take a shift or work on a project with the understanding that the help will mean a day off later. But Jesus didn't expect his followers, or any of us, to give him something in return. What could they, or we, possibly give in return?

There are also the supposed gifts that we have to give back. Emily Post tells all brides who don't go through with their weddings that they should return the ring and any gifts, unless the ring was given as a birthday or holiday gift, but even then, it's tacky to keep it. There are the uncomfortable times we might be given something that we thought was  gift, only to be asked to return it. Jesus' peace is always with us; there's no way to return it, and I don't think he'd want it back.

Probably the biggest way I see what are called "gifts" in our modern world is in the area of commerce. We get money for work, give that money in exchange for food and clothes and DVDs and phone service. We get discounts for being loyal shoppers, or for being thrifty. Even some of the items we pay for are like gifts. My massage therapist's work on my shoulders is a gift, but I pay her. "Nothing in life is free," is a cliche, but it rings true in our world. But that is exactly what Jesus meant when he said NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES. There is no exchange here. No amount of money, or work, or volunteering, or anything, will buy this peace. There is nothing we can exchange for it.

It's hard to wrap my head around this verse. "My peace I give to you; my peace I leave with you." This isn't just any peace. It's not a greeting from Sunday services. It's not a wave of two fingers, or a circle with a bird foot thingy in it. It's not an image or a word at all. It is an all-encompassing feeling of inner wellness and calm and love. It's Jesus' presence in our very selves. He gave it to us. He left it in safekeeping with us.

He doesn't expect anything in return. There is no blushing and saying, "Oh you shouldn't have. I can't accept this." It's not returnable, and not exchangeable. It's already in us. It's the right size. It's the perfect color. It may not be wrapped up, but sometimes we have to look for it a little, like its hidden. But it's there. All we have to do is open ourselves to it. We are part of the gift, after all.

Friday, April 30, 2010

April was National Poetry Month

I keep a lot of the parts of my life pretty separate. I teach, and I have a work account and webpages that I use to communicate with students and colleagues. For church, I have this blog and an email account, which I also use for family and friends. I'm a poet, and I have a separate email and webpage for that. This past month has been National Poetry Month, and I helped plan a whole bunch of events at school for students and faculty. And I've been writing a brand-new poem every day all month. They haven't all been good, and all of them will need either to be revised or just forgotten. But, since it's the last day of the month, I'll post one of the new ones here. Several of the poems I have written this month relate to the Bible study I've been doing every week at church, or to the season of Lent and Easter. This was one of them.


He did not face death alone.
His last sight of his beloved sisters' faces
the crows feet around their green eyes,
their dark hair braided--
his last breath inhaled into their chests
still connected to them.
His naked body feather light under their touch
as they bathed him, perfumed him,
wrapped him in the ivory linen.

Imagine his surprise!

His eyes flitting open in the cave,
feeling the cold
around his warming skin
the hard stone under his shoulder blades.
The pain not just vanished
but the feeling of a new heartbeat
the stale air of the cave swirling
in the clean pockets of his lungs.
To get up and walk was nothing.
For the rest of his life
he would dance.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

AZ SB1070

Like most Americans, my family came from other countries. On my mother's side, from England and Eastern Europe. On my dad's, from Germany, and from Mexico. When some of them came, there was no such thing as legal or illegal immigrants. You just got a ticket and came, or in my Mexican grandmother's case, land changed hands, and people went from being Spanish to being Americans. Family was spread on both sides of the borders, and people traveled on both sides, speaking two languages.

I don't look Hispanic. My dad does, a little. With Arizona's new SB10170, which will allow police to stop people they "reasonably suspect" of being illegal immigrants, and prosecuting them. Being able arrest illegal immigrants isn't new. What is, is that all it takes to be stopped and asked for id, is for the police to think a person might not be legal by the way that person looks.

The governor says that police will not racially profile the people they stop. But I wonder who will be stopped? Will I when I go to visit my Dad in Tucson? Probably not. I'm too pale, and I don't speak Spanish. But I think about some of the people I grew up with, people who do look more Hispanic, who have Spanish names, who are bi-lingual. What if they forget their id when they go to a festival downtown? This reminds me of other times in history when groups of people were designated as suspicious and asked to carry identification papers proving they were who they said they were. I saw some pictures of protesters on Flickr, one of a person carrying a sign calling the governor a  "Nazi." I'm wary of name-calling, and of using powerful language like that, but really, I can see where someone would feel the need to say that.

As a college professor, my closest issue with illegal immigration is education. I struggle with who is to blame when kids get to be college-age and can't go because their parents brought them here when they were very young, but they never became citizens. They have great grades, perfect English, and no way to get financial aid. They almost never blame their parents, not in the stories I read or the interviews I hear. They get angry that they have to go to Mexico to go to college, and the schools aren't as good as ours. Or they have to go back to a country they have never lived in and apply for student visas, then explain why they have U.S. high school diplomas. The kids had no choice in where they grew up, but they are mad at our government for not accepting them. 

I'm mad at my government too. For decades we've looked the other way with illegal immigration as opportunity dwindled in Mexico and grew like dandelions here. Why haven't we done something to change immigration rules, or stop it, or give amnesty, or something? Anything?

Part of what's missing from discussion about illegal immigration is the reasoning behind it. What would cause people to risk their lives, spend all their hard-earned savings, and put their lives into the hands of smugglers who will force them to walk miles without water, to stand in vans without air circulation or a way to relieve themselves for hours, to hide in trunks or undercarriages, or wherever they can. They leave their families for a chance at making enough money to pay rent and feed themselves, and send money home. These people live more or less in hiding, trying not to break any additional laws so they can keep working. The few who do commit crimes are held up as the standard of their community.

I pray  that the legislation in Arizona will help our national government to bring up immigration reform. I pray that Mexico and South American countries will be able to revive their economies and schools and governments so that people aren't compelled to leave their homelands. I pray that the people of the U.S. can be empathetic to the plight of people who come here illegally, and that whatever their feeling about immigration are, that they don't fall into the trap of hate and racism. 

Friday, April 16, 2010


It's getting close to the end of my semester. The last day to drop is next Tuesday. Research papers are due for my 102 students next Wednesday. My 101 students only have one paper left to write. Finals are just three short weeks away. All hell is breaking loose.

My class sizes have dropped from the beginning of the semester, so I'm left with the people who are dedicated to getting their work done and completing the class. Some of them have let go of dreams of getting As and are feeling like they are earning their Bs or Cs on their papers. I'm still praying for some who dropped long ago for personal reasons or financial reasons. I have one student who will be getting an incomplete to finish her course because she broke her back in a car accident over spring break. I have another who was in tears this week when she came to meet with me. She said there shouldn't be anything to cry about. She's only taking my course and working part time. She lives at home, so she doesn't have much to worry about in the way of bills. "So why," I asked her, "are you upset?" It's the second anniversary of her sister's death. She would have been 22 this year. Her whole family is grieving again, and she's struggling to keep up with life in general.

This is a typical semester. People who don't teach might think my job is easy. I get big breaks during the summer and over holidays. I teach the same classes over and over so I know what I'm doing every semester. How bad can grading be when I only have to be in class 12 hours a week and in my office for 5? That leaves a lot of time to work on my own wherever I please. All those things are true, but I end up doing more than just teaching writing. I cajole, encourage and challenge my students. I counsel them, not just with their assignments, but with future education choices, careers, and family issues. I have had to refer them to professional counseling at times when things got really rough.

When I started my discernment for being a deacon, a friend of mine from another church asked me, "What will your ministry be?" "I'm a teacher," I said. "Oh, we'll see," was his reply, as if a teacher couldn't do enough. As a community college teacher, I am on the front lines of people who are very fragile. The kids who weren't good enough out of high school to get into, or get scholarships for, universities and 4 year colleges. The adults who didn't succeed in school and didn't go to college, only to realize years later they want or need a degree, but have doubts they will be able to do the work and finish a degree. The students who didn't get enough education in high school to get into college and now are working their way through developmental classes. And students who work full time and go to school full time and have children or parents to care for during their "free time." Teaching writing is a small, small part of my work. I am a minister.

I am reminding myself of that today as I respond to emails with my student who's at home still recovering from her back injury over a month ago. I have to remind myself of that when students don't show up when I have conference time to help them with their writing. I could choose to think they don't care about getting good grades on their last papers, that they just signed up to take extra hours at their jobs when they could have come to see me. But they have families to feed and choices to make. Money to pay for books for summer school might come at the cost of driving over to see me for five minutes making sure their grammar is perfect.

I am praying often for my students, and all students who are trying to make it to the end of the semester in one piece. I need some too, probably!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Holier than Thou...

Paul, my husband, reads all my blog entries. He has his own blog, Beneath This Dirty Hood, which I also read. We usually comment to each other on what we've read with little, "I liked your links," or "Nice lead," comments. He also points out my spelling errors. He's a better proofreader than I am.

So last week, he read my Palm Sunday reflection. I came home from a meeting or get-together I had been at, and his first comment when I walked into the living room was, "You're trying to take Fr. Charlie's job, aren't you? You want to be a priest now, or something?" This led to my denying that those were my goals, and asking Paul where his inferences were coming from. "Your last blog. You didn't used to be like this."

He's right. I didn't used to be "like" I am now. We talked about how I've changed. Ever since we've met, I've gone to Episcopal churches. He was there when I was received into the church in 1995, and he remembers my teaching Sunday School at St. Paul's in Duluth in the mid-1990s. I also served on a discernment committee for a friend who was seeking answers about becoming a deacon. Paul and I were married there in 1997. When we moved to Colorado, we worked on Sundays, and worked so many hours I couldn't get involved in a church. But when we moved to Texas, I got involved again at St. Martin's. And again, when we moved to Chicago-land, I tried a few churches before finding my home at Trinity, so I had about a year away from church.

So he's always known me to be a person who goes to church and volunteers her time. Now, I'm not doing any more than I have done before. I'm on the vestry, leading Bible Study, and lectoring. That's about it other than little things here and there. So what's different? Well, I can point to when things changed with my discernment for the deaconate, but this blog has been a big change.

I've never had a pubic place to share my spiritual beliefs, reactions, and stories. And I come from a Catholic background, as does Paul, where spiritual things are not spoken of, even at home. Neither of our families, or any of our friends, talked about our prayer lives, or what we thought about sermons or readings on Sundays. We didn't go around humming hymns until Wednesday. And we certainly didn't tell everyone our inner feelings about God, the Holy Spirit, or the Eucharist.

But here I am, telling everyone looking around cyberspace, about how I feel about Jesus and Easter and everything else that comes into my heart and head. It's not that I didn't have these feelings my whole life, or while Paul and I have been together, but I just didn't talk about them. So putting those ideas and feelings into printed words is new, the ideas and feelings aren't.

I told Fr. Charlie about Paul's reaction, that I might be taking over his job. He asked if that might be a sign for me to be thinking again about Holy Orders. I don't know. I'm feeling good where I'm at. I feel closer to the Bible since I've had regular Bible Study this year, but it's only been a few months. I feel like I'm finding my way into serving without burning out, which is also good. I don't know. I can say that it is something that I continue to pray about, that I continue to talk to my mentors about. We'll see where the spirit leads.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A poem for Easter

Easter Wings by George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,

Decaying more and more,

Till he became

Most poore:

With thee

O let me rise

As larks, harmoniously,

And sing this day thy victories:

Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne

And still with sicknesses and shame.

Thou didst so punish sinne,

That I became

Most thinne.

With thee

Let me combine,

And feel thy victorie:

For, if I imp my wing on thine,

Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Would you take a bullet for me? Thanks!

I’ve heard that question before, and I’m sure you have, too. It’s a measuring stick of how much we love someone, or something. I wouldn’t take a bullet for, say, the student who bad-mouths me in front of a class, but I would for my husband or even my dog. I’d probably want to know how badly I’d be shot. If it’s in the foot I might answer differently than if it was a direct hit in my chest. Hopefully, I’ll never be faced with having to answer this question as anything more than a hypothetical, philosophical conundrum.

But, the question came into my head this past Sunday, Palm Sunday. I got to be Jesus during our church’s reading of the Passion. I’ve been the narrator before, and the girl who questions Peter, but not Jesus. All jokes aside about my being female, I took my role seriously and actually read over the script before Sunday’s service, even though I know the plot and dialog almost by heart from all the Palm Sundays I’ve attended. Participating keeps me from drifting off hearing it again, but it also makes it more present to me.

So, as Jesus, I stood in front of the congregation as we read the play. I was figuratively given the kiss of death, questioned, questioned again, and again. I stood through the ridicule, the mocking, the dressing up, the beatings, and then through my fellow parishioners calling out, “Crucify him!” Wait, it wasn’t the parishioners, it was the “crowd” that said that. But really, Jesus stood as people who knew him, who went to worship with him, who listened to him, cried out for his death. I imagined that as I stood there in my slacks and sweater, looking back at my friends standing in the pews. Imagine them yelling out for me to be put to death because it was easier than putting up with what I had to say, because I was a rebel, because I made them uncomfortable in calling them to change their lives.

Would I go to my death for people who I knew were wrong? Would I allow myself to be humiliated and tortured for a bunch of people who wouldn’t stand up for me? For friends who abandoned me? For people I didn’t know, and who wouldn’t listen to me? I don’t think I would. But Jesus did. He took on what to me is unimaginable pain and humiliation not just for those people calling for his death, but for every generation of people who would come after them.

For Jesus, the question, “Would you take a bullet for me,” probably wouldn’t even make him blink. A bullet is quick and deadly. Death comes fast. But all that is saved is a physical life in this case. He said yes to a death that was slow, drawn out, and embarrassing, and for strangers and people who don’t like him or think what he had to say makes any sense so that they can enter Heaven and spend eternity with him.

I pray that we all have a meaningful Holy Week, and that more people come to know the man who did more than take a bullet for us to keep us physically alive. He died a terrible death so that we can die, but keep living in Him.