Grieving in Community

My mom died 7 months ago.

It was a long old haul. Five years, really, but last winter and spring were incredibly hard. I moved churches again to a place I love, but my first 10 months were constantly interrupted by Mom’s sickness. I made 4 emergency flights to PEI (in addition to scheduled trips) for a week to a month each. Not that I minded, or the church minded. As someone in my church said to me, this really only happens once or twice in a lifetime, so everyone understands. I actually got word of Mom’s death during a church council meeting. Talk about grieving in community.

As a person with a public persona (I’m a medium fish in a really small pond) how I grieve has a whole other element to it. I struggle with the pressure to set an example of “good mourning”. But good mourning also means acknowledging my depression and struggles, so that is harder in public.

I haven’t figured out all the perfect ways to grieve in the midst of family, friends, church and online community. Here are a few things that helped me. Maybe they can help you, too. I’d love to hear more from you in the comments.

1. I cultivate my life online because I do not subject my pain to public scrutiny

There is a lot online these days, especially for teenagers, about how we cultivate our online personae. We have super-parents who post all the awesome ways they are winning at parenting. In my circles clergy celebrate the awesome little details of ministry. We clergy have perfected the humble brag. We all post selfies of our best made up selves. We don’t post that gross white pimple or when our eyes are black and bagged with exhaustion.

It’s good to remember that no person’s whole self is online. I admire and appreciate my friends who live with all kinds of hardship and are honest about the tough days. They rant and cry or show pictures of their bloody wounds. It’s hard to see but I am grateful they fill my timeline with some balance. Other friends are very public about their grief, posting memorials, memes, or “I just can’t…” posts.

I couldn’t do that. Of course some days are very, very hard. But on those days I personally didn’t want a bunch of sympathetic messages. I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. If I had posted on those days, it would have been something like this:

I just want to crawl back into bed and sleep for 14 hours. I have not been working hard. I’m just depressed and I want everyone to leave me the *F* alone. Stop being nice. Just bring me food and leave it at my door. I really don’t want to hear from you or see you. Don’t respond to this post. I don’t want your advice.

I have good friends and an amazing spouse who are very good at hearing and responding to that. My hundreds of followers? Not necessarily. So that didn’t go online. I was not being dishonest. I knew how I was feeling. So did my family, close friends and therapist. But I still like to post my beautiful selfies and amazing accomplishments for everyone.

So, a general rule with anyone, not just those who are grieving. Remember that no one is obligated to share their life with you, especially online. Everyone has the right to share what they want with whomever they want and that may not include you. Don’t assume you know how anyone is doing based on their social media. If you want to know, reach out.

And you, my mourning friend, are not a journalist, reporting on your grief. Post whatever you like. Or don’t.

2. Asking for what I need is much easier than waiting for people to figure it out

There are a lot of articles and memes out there about empathy which, I think, put a ton of pressure on people to the point they are paralysed into not reaching out at all to those who are hurting. Empathy is amazing but, you know, sympathy is not that bad, either.

In a world that is advocating for more empathy there is this idea that if we are simply empathetic we will know what the grieving or hurting person will need and then we can give it. That usually ends up in me saying, down the road, “Gosh. I wish I had known. I could have made that easier for you.” Maybe I’m just bad at empathy.

During one of those trips back to PEI when Mom was sick, I had coffee with an old friend. She reached out and we made a date. She was very frank with me. She said, “We want to help, but we don’t know what you need. So, if you need anything, even just a 20 minute coffee, let us know.”

And I realised that this was a beautiful act of empathy. She knew there were a lot of things I needed, but I didn’t want to ask. If I’m being honest, I felt that I shouldn’t have to ask, that if people were really paying attention to me, they would know what I needed.

So, I started asking. I didn’t put out massive calls on social media, but I started being specific with friends and family about what exactly we needed and when. One afternoon I just needed a bed to sleep in before a long drive back to the hospital. Of course, I got dinner and a glass of wine out of the request, too. I asked my cousins to help Mom move into a new apartment. One day I reached out to two friends to say I didn’t even have the energy to order groceries online. So one of them spent 3 hours on public transit to bring me beef stew.

Which leads me to my next point.

3. More people are supportive and empathetic than are not supportive and empathetic

Again, if you believe everything you read on the internet, people are real jerks when it comes to death and dying. They say things like, “I’m sorry your baby died. But you still have time to have another one,” or “Well, he was old so there is nothing to be sorry about,” or “It was God’s will” or “God needed another angel”. I heard some of that. But, actually, I heard and read a lot more really awesome things full of hope and love and prayer.

I wasn’t with Mom the night she died. I had been with her through so many crises except that last one. I wasn’t even in the same province, so it all felt very surreal. When I posted the news, the messages started pouring in. Each message helped me feel her death more viscerally, and, I was surrounded by friends. One friend actually composed a poem and sent it by text.

When I went home to PEI, everybody was sad. Mom was a big fish in a very, very small pond. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone expressing their sadness at Mom’s death. One day I went to the store to buy a loaf of bread and I still hadn’t cashed out an hour later as people stopped me to talk about Mom. It sounds stressful and annoying but, mostly, it was very healing. I heard very few of the dumb things and lots of great memories of Mom, validating my own feelings of loss.

So, I would say, don’t go into mourning on the defensive. Take it from me, being on the defensive takes a lot of energy you don’t have. Some people will be insensitive and make it all about them. Feel free to ignore them or tell them off. But there are lots of others who are genuinely sad for you and will do just about anything you ask of them (see point 2) because, chances are, they have lost someone before. They are waiting to do for you all the things they wish others had done for them.

4. Pay attention to the Grief Circles or Ring Theory

Dr. Susan Silk and her partner, Barry Goldman, wrote a piece in 2013 called How Not to Say the Wrong Thing about how to express grief and comfort our loved ones.  The person who is sick or grieving is in the centre of a circle. In the next concentric circle are her immediate family. Concentric circles keep growing with people who are impacted by the illness or grief, depending on their closeness or distance to the person in the centre. When you are in a conversation, consider where you are in the circles of grief. Are you at the centre? Then you get to say or do whatever you want to whomever you want. Seriously (see next point).

This is my circle.

Circles of Grief
My Circles of Grief. Fred is my older brother. Marc and Giovanni are our partners.

Let me talk about Team Carol. These are Mom’s dearest friends who were there for her and us in so many ways. Their grief is very, very significant. They each had friends and family they could lean on, their own outer circles. I was Mom’s primary caregiver and one way they took care of Mom was to take care of me and Fred. Your location in the circle does not necessarily signify your own grief or your love for the person in the centre.

If you are not in the centre rings, your grief is not insignificant, you just have to think about who you express your grief with. The trick with the circles is “Comfort in, Dump out.” Are you talking with someone who is closer to the inner circle than you? Your job is to comfort. Are you talking to someone on a circle surrounding yours? Then you are free to seek whatever comfort you need.

And if people are not respecting your space in the circle, you can leave them. For now. You can reconnect when you are feeling stronger. Which leads to point 5.

5. You are not obligated to anyone right now

When you are experiencing a significant loss,  you don’t owe anyone anything. That’s not to say it is in your best interest to be selfish. It really isn’t. Being there for others in their difficulties can help you find your way out of the dark places of grief. But you don’t have to. You do not have to visit. You do not have to provide. You do not have to enjoy. You can say no. You can back out at the last minute. Surviving grief depends on you taking care of yourself.

In the weeks around Mom’s death, a lot was happening in my community and with a few friends. Normally I would have jumped in to advocate and support. But I just couldn’t do it. I’m sure it would have been appreciated if I had, but frankly there were lots of other people advocating and supporting those folks and no one was saying, “Gosh. Why hasn’t Dawn responded to this? I guess she just doesn’t care.” They probably didn’t even say, “I wish Dawn could support me right now.” What they likely said was, “Dawn has enough going on right now,” or, more likely “*crickets*”. Nothing. Because there were lots of others who could make all that happen while I was grieving and planning and flying back and forth.

6. Take advantage of the privileges of mourning

Finally, as much as you can, surround yourself with people who get all this. There will be those who will try to make this all about them. You may not be able to escape them all the time. But spending time taking care of yourself and being with people who do get you will give you the strength to deal with the insensitive folks.

I am getting through this. You will, too. Whether you need people around you or prefer to be alone, lean on your circles. Grief does not get easier by cutting ourselves off. It is important to experience friendship, beauty, love, even laughter, for our own health.

Once upon a time, there were privileges for those in mourning. It’s why we wore black, so others would know to be gentle. We don’t wear black anymore, so we need to reach out more to our community when we can. Reaching out is always a risk. When we are grieving, being misunderstood is even more painful than usual. Try to remember that almost everyone you reach out to has lost someone they love, and they remember what they needed, and what was painful. They want to do their best for you. Whether you reach out through a phone call, or a facebook post, you will at least find someone who cares about you. And that is a start.

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Mom

On June 14, my mom, Carol Jean Fraser, died after a brave, tough, five year struggle with multiple myeloma.

I wanted to post this 3 days ago, on the 6 month anniversary of her death. But I just couldn’t. Tonight, I can.

Below is the eulogy I shared with our beloved friends and family at her funeral at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Belfast, PEI on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

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I was 15 the first time I learned that there were people who would hate me just because I was a girl. It was December 4, 1989. A man walked into an engineering class at l’Ecole Polytechinque in Montreal and said he was there to kill all the women.

How had I lived for 15 years and never knew that being a woman would be harder than being a man? Well. I was raised by Carol Fraser.

Mom was…fierce. I love that word. It is a word of pride, and lioness mothers, and determination, sheer survival and fight matched with a hunger for everything life had to offer.

Most of you didn’t know Mom when Fred and I met her. She was a vibrant, lively city woman with a job she adored. She was a Block Parent. She was involved in local politics. Fred and I would sneak out of bed and hide at the top of the stairs while Mom hosted parties for friends and neighbours. As she told me once, “Dear, you were practically breastfed on Abba.”

Our Father’s alcoholism and sobriety was all wrapped up with Mom doing her level best to raise us the best she could. As she said, “All sobriety means is he put the cork back in the bottle. It didn’t mean he changed.” To both their credits, but especially Mom’s, our parents never put us in the middle after the divorce. Mom always gave us time with Dad no matter how she was feeling. Dad had enormous respect for Mom as a mother despite his neglect in many ways. There was a lot to forgive from their marriage.

Of everything Mom accomplished, there is one thing that moves me the most. Before Dad died 5 years ago, Mom told me she had forgiven him. She was too sick to travel to Toronto for his funeral, but I know she would have, because he was her children’s father and she would have never wanted us to go through that without her.

People have asked if it was hard moving to PEI when we were kids. In other words, was it hard to move from our brick house in Toronto where we had friends next door and we walked to school and the park, to a trailer in the woods on an island? Hmmmmm…… Mom wanted her children to have more than a city single parents life. She married Edwin, who I know did his best. But no one loved one another like Mom, Fred and I did. In many ways, he never had a chance.

One night she bundled us up in the truck and took us to the top of Spider Hill to see Northern Lights. After I fell asleep, she said to Fred, “I know this is not what you want. But. One day. You will look back and you will understand why I brought you here.” She reminded me of that night years later when I was in university, so homesick I could hardly breathe. We had lost Toronto, but she gave us a beautiful island. She gave us aunts and uncles and cousins. She gave us roots of blood, faith, sweat, water, trees, sand and clay. And those roots run deep.

I remember the day Mom got the job at Keenans that gave her such pride for 23 years. I was in the dressing room getting ready for dance class. She poked through the curtain and asked me to come out. She could not contain her excitement. “Dawn,” she whispered loudly. “I got a job doing exactly what I want to do. They are sooooo nice. I think, finally, I will have this job for a very long time.” She watched Keenans grow into Rollo Bay Holdings, watched the Keenan children grow up, made wonderful, life long friends from the warehouse to the offices of accountants, politicians and lawyers. After her retirement, she continued to work with the migrant workers to get their tax refunds. Even when she was so sick. Well, she always loved a fight, especially with the government!

Mom has left a great legacy on this island through her volunteer work. She volunteered for years with Laubach Literacy, an organization that trained volunteers to teach their neighbours how to read. The motto was “Each One, Teach One.” Mom believed every single person, no matter where they come from or what life they lived had something to offer to others. After Fred told us he was gay, Mom became a vital support for many people and their families as they began to navigate life out of the closet, especially those living in small towns and rural areas. Family to Mom always came first. And she loved welcoming Giovanni and Marc into ours. They don’t call her Mom, but she was as proud of them as she was of us. And she was always so, so proud of us.

As the preacher in the family, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Mom’s faith. Now, Mom was always very clear that I was NOT her minister! However, we could talk church politics for HOURS on the phone! But aside from the work of church to which she was devoted, Mom took the Golden Rule as her rule of life. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. She never hesitated to drop whatever she was doing when someone needed her help. She modeled that for us, especially when we were too young to leave home alone. She would take us with her as she sat at kitchen tables while friends cried and tried to figure out what to do next. She read the Scriptures with great curiousity-which is exactly how they should be read. She prayed over her prayer shawls. But if what she did with her private faith didn’t match her actions, then, as far as she was concerned, that was no faith at all. Mom believed in the God who loves. Unconditionally. Period. And that’s the God who guided her actions and was with her in her darkest moments. Always.

Mom’s travels are her greatest rewards of this life. Proud as punch of her chef son, Fred, she kept the phone lines of Eastern Kings abuzz with Fred’s adventures around the UK and Italy. If she wasn’t remembering a trip she had taken with him and her friends, she was looking forward to the next one. She was always surrounded by souvenirs of those journeys and I know, in her quiet moments, she would go back to London, or Bari or Bath or Capri or Florida. But not the Isle of Skye! Despite it being her ancestral home that was a disastrous family vacation of epic proportions as she drove a huge Mercedes Benz along tiny sheep filled trails and we got kicked out of a 4 star hotel! But the other places-the sun, the romance, the history and beauty, being with Fred and G, that’s where she went in her quiet moments. She proudly made the vestments I wear every Sunday. And she always had a quick solution! One year I was home for vacation and the mother of one of my childhood friends died. He asked me to do her funeral. Mom hauled out her sewing machine and whipped me up a collar to wear so I would look official.

I can’t end without saying a word about those I have affectionately come to call *fistbump* Team Carol. Mab, Betsy and Bev, you are the co-captains, but there are so many others. These past 5 years have been so hard, on Mom, on all of us. Through it all, even when we and even her doctors doubted, she was determined to milk the very last bits life had to give her. She didn’t want to miss a single lobster dinner, concert, drive, church service or get together that she didn’t have to. And you, her dearest friends, made that possible. You have taken care of me and Fred, but you also took care of Mom. You gave her reasons to fight back again and again. You gave her life. You gave Fred and I more time with her and we can never, ever repay you for that gift.

Mom will be buried here, with her parents and her sister, Joyce. Her tombstone will read, “Be good to each other.” That’s all there is to say, really. That is a kind of eternal life, whenever we are kind, we remember Carol, and she lives.

Being a healing community-7 ways to heal without your healer

I am currently between parishes, having returned to Toronto after 8 1/2 months serving in Nova Scotia. I was responsible for 6 churches grouped into three parishes. In my last sermons, I offered ways for each congregation to continue to be Church while they wait for their new priest coming this winter. While I don’t have the whole text, I made 7 suggestions on how to remain a healing community. They were inspired by our lectionary readings from the book of James in year B.

The New Testament contains stories of and instructions for healing carried out by all who call themselves Christians. When James speaks of “the elders” to whom members of the congregation are to go for healing, he is not speaking of a professional leader or healer (deacon, priest, pastoral visitor, parish nurse) but of those who are mature in the faith. That means most of us who are Christians.

Over the past 50 to 100 years the vocation of priesthood has become synonymous with the administrative role of running a legal entity and a community organization. With this, the vows we have taken have become, to a degree, professionalized, and this is no more evident than in the ministry of healing. Who do we call when someone gets a diagnosis, or is rushed to hospital? Who visits those in long-term care on a schedule that treats all as equally as possible? Who is called on to pray and counsel in times of distress? The priest.

The ministry of healing is a sensitive and difficult thing, not to be taken lightly. So, how do we continue to be a healing community when we do not have our priest (professional healer)?

  1. Be kind It’s so simple. We were taught as children, we teach our children and grandchildren, and, yet, we neglect this simple act every day. Kindness is a choice. It rarely comes naturally. It requires being aware of the needs of others, sometimes as simple as the words we say. We have all had a day where one kind word or action has completely transformed us. Always accept the invitation to be kind.
  2. Be reconcilers In the Canadian church as we come to terms with our history with the residential schools, we are learning the depths and power of reconciliation. First, to be reconcilers, we must acknowledge pain-the pain we have inflicted on others and the pain inflicted on us. We can not pretend the pain never existed, as it never goes away. Second, we must forgive. We often reserve talk about forgiveness to the big hurts. There are little annoyances and betrayals every day that we should also forgive. Forgive the coworker who spilled coffee on your keyboard. Forgive the woman at the coffee counter for taking a long time with her order. Forgive your kids for making a mess at dinner. Finally, we need to apologize fully. An apology is a statement that says, “I recognize my actions have hurt you and I will do my best not to hurt you in this way again.”
  3. Be bold Reach out, make a call. They may tell you they don’t want to talk about it. That’s ok. Some choose to endure distress alone or may have others on whom they lean for support. In Christian community, no one should ever feel they must suffer alone. Pray with people. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I screw up prayers all the time. God is patient. Even bring a prayer book along and read it. I have messed up any prayers but every time I have prayed with someone it has brought them comfort, even to recite the Lord’s Prayer together. I promise you it means so much.
  4. Be silent This seems like the opposite of no. 3, but it also requires the courage that you need to be bold. Wait on the Lord. Healing is God’s work, not yours. Keeping someone company does not mean talking to fill space. Sometimes a person needs permission and support to be silent. Don’t answer every question. Instead, accompany someone in the face of mystery.
  5. Be hopeful Healing happens when the afflicted person can see God’s own healing action in their own lives. It is not to us to offer an easy answer, simply to trust in hope. The first person I knew who was ever hospitalized for depression was an extremely faithful person. One day, a friend came to visit. The patient said, “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t pray. I can’t believe. I have no faith left.” The friend responded, “That’s alright. That is why we are here, to have enough faith for ourselves and you.” Our hope-not in a solution or cure, but in the sustaining comfort, strength and love of God-is far more than solutions.
  6. Be healed We are so generous when it comes to others who are sick, but how hard it is to ask for prayer and help when we are in distress. To ask for healing as well as offering it is critical. We are all vulnerable, and we can not bear witness to the healing power of God unless we have experienced it. We will not experience it fully until we ask.
  7. Embrace mortality Cure is but one form of healing. Death is also a form of healing. Recovering with or living with a disability is a form of healing. The gift of mortality offers us the chance to live each day fully, as if it were our last. In this interview, the Rev. Dan Graves, editor of  Prayers for Healing from the Anglican Tradition says, “Hope comes when we, in all our brokenness and pain say, “whether I live, I live unto the Lord, whether I die, I die unto the Lord; whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.”  I am the Lord’s if I am sick or well.  What I acquire and achieve in this life is no more my story than cancer or a terminal illness.  Jesus Christ is my story, and his love for me.  This is healing.

Participating in the healing power of God is a privilege of the Christian life. Being part of a Christian community is meant to root us in a context of healing that pervades every area of our lives. It is not a gift set aside with special hands or gifts, but an act that is ongoing in which we all participate by acknowledging that, whatever happens in our mortal life, it belongs to God.

Welcome does not equal naivete. On the refugee crisis.

This morning alone I have participated in 4 facebook conversations about the refugee crisis in Europe. They are really important conversations, but I have to get to work, so I am going to post a few thoughts here so I can feel like I have said what I need to say and try and get some work done.
Note: when I use ‘we’ and ‘us’ I mean those of us privileged to leave in Europe and North America and the governments we have elected.
1. I do not doubt there are fraudulent refugee claimants in Europe and all over the world. When we keep our borders closed for years until a flood comes and we open them all at once in a way that overwhelms our systems, we have left the door wide open (pun intended) for fraud. That’s our doing.
2. I will not judge all refugees on the actions of a few. Just because one group of refugees cramming themselves into leaky tents in the pouring rain stand in the mud behind barbed wire and send fully armed police away with boxes printed with a red cross on them-a sign to many of western oppression-does not mean we stop providing for or caring about all refugees.
Also, if I had just left a civil war by boat to make it to land and abandoned my family and friends and was then faced with barbed wire behind which people live in lavish safety and privilege, I may find it hard to express appropriate gratitude. I won’t judge all refugees because some of them, even many of them, may be “rude”.
3. Like most crisis moments, this should be opening our eyes to the fact that Syrians are not the only refugees in the world. The fact that other refugees are taking advantage of this crisis is a message to all of us that we have rejected refugees for way way too long.
4. We all have to open our borders and we have to help relieve the pressure on Syria’s border countries or we will have more conflict and refugees to deal with. Canada and many countries refused boatloads of Jews before WWII. We have capacity. Our security is enough. I was a child when we took in 70,000 Vietnamese refugees in less than 5 years. We did it. No one blew up our country. We have the security in place. We can do so much more.
If you want to hear more from me on this, here is a post I wrote two years about about the civil war in Syria when Canada was beginning our military intervention. As world powers we can stop jumping from crisis to crisis. If we voters stopped focussing on what we can get this election cycle and start demanding a stronger arc of justice, we might be just create the political will we need to end these crises.

Stephen Colbert and why I am uncomfortable with full communion with the Roman Catholic Church

150909075125-late-show-colbert-0909-super-169Let me start by saying I adore Stephen Colbert. I really do. I watch the Late Show now, which I never did. My heart grows 2 sizes when he says, “Nation…”, even though I am Canadian. I also deeply admire his public statements of faith, and how he talks about his faith wherever he is because it is so ingrained in his life that it can’t help but be visible.

There. Have I disqualified myself as a Colbert hater?

On Sunday night (September 13, 2015) Witness on Salt + Light aired an interview with Stephen Colbert and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. It was clearly pre-Late Show airing because of the Santa beard. He does a beautiful piece around minute 6 about the difference between an idiot and a fool. He also quotes CS Lewis on humour.

One portion was posted on Sojourners under the headline Stephen Colbert, LIfelong Catholic, on Hearing a Female Priest Celebrate the Eucharist. In this particular portion, he describes a time when the Eucharist “was most real to me…a time I didn’t receive it.”. He describes a high Anglican mass celebrated by a woman where, for him, hearing the words of consecration from a female voice opened up yet another perspective through which to view the action of the Eucharist, that all of our bodies are included in the Body of Christ, and we all give our bodies to the Body as Christ gave His. The fact that it was a woman made it more obvious to him because the words were clearly being said by someone who he did not perceive as a priest.

I am an ecumenist, and I firmly believe that, when we come to the table, we can not respect difference if we are all trying to be the same. I grew up Baptist in a Baptist-Roman Catholic community. The rules for going to a Catholic church, according to my mother, were “When they stand, you stand, when they kneel, you sit, and when they go up for communion, YOU STAY PUT.” As an Anglican, I kneel now, and I go up to receive a blessing rather than staying put. I respect the boundaries as much as I am able.

When Stephen Colbert said, “someone I don’t perceive as a priest”, it hurt. I know it is true for him. I know why it is true for him. I can not be dogmatically academic about it. Being a priest and being a woman is who I am. It is who God created and called me to be. He is not, as some are saying, promoting woman priests, or even questioning the Roman Catholic doctrine on ordination and the place of women in the church. So, I feel it is important to point out, when someone like Stephen Colbert, such a witness of the social gospel, makes that distinction, because we are quick to align him with equality under Christ. And that is not where he is.

I respect that. We are separate churches. My husband’s family is Roman Catholic so sometimes, in my life, the two churches intersect, but otherwise, for most of us, they are two different expressions of the same faith in Christ.

The Anglican Communion around the world is in the midst of discerning the work of the Spirit around a few things. It causes conflict and, sometimes, it puts us out of joint with our ecumenical partners. Sometimes, when we make a controversial move, we receive a letter from one of our partners, including the Roman Catholic church, warning us that, if we proceed, it will damage our relationship and force the other to create more boundaries.

Now, first of all, these kinds of pre-emptive strikes are harmful to dialogue that is truly based in discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit. As long as we are working things out, the role of our partners is to pray for us, offer us insight and then, when our decision is made, to enter into prayer about their relationship with us.

But every once in a while, when we get one of these pre-emptive strikes from the Roman Catholic Church, some of us respond with regret; “We are now further away from full communion with the Roman Catholic Church”. For many, the goal of our dialogue with Roman Catholics is to enter into a fullness of unity which includes the Eucharist. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholicism and Anglicanism, there are many doctrines we need to reconcile before that can happen. How do we do that when the Roman Catholic church denies the possibility of women presiding over the Eucharist? Do we then make women priests simply an addendum?

I can not not take that personally as an affront to the work that God is doing in and through me. Being a woman and being a priest are not separate beings. I realized this when I was first in discernment and I received an email from a dear friend who did not believe in the ordination of women. He wrote, “I do not doubt your call, but I can not find support for the ordination of women”. Until that moment, I didn’t think about how I would be a woman and a priest. I was just going to be a priest. But the logical disconnect of my friend’s words made me reconsider. I responded that he could not believe what he stated. He was either denying my womanhood or stating unequivocally that I was mistaken in my call because God simply does not call women to the ministry.

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I am not going to use historic examples of discrimination to express the disconnect of full communion with a church that denies the ordination of women. Let me try a new one. Let’s take the Church of Cheetahs (CC), and the Church of Elephants and Cheetahs. These churches want to work more closely together. The CC invites the CEC into a deeper relationship that means working together in all things (full communion is a little more complicated than this but bear with me). But the CC does not believe the elephants can participate in church leadership.  Imagine a presentation of the CC/CEC delegation to the elephants.

Cheetah: We will be stronger together, and able to create a more co-operative system, in the unity that Christ wants for the church.

Elephant 1: Wonderful. But the CC doesn’t have elephants in its leadership. Will we be included in the leadership?

Cheetah: Oh yes.. You can remain in leadership in the CEC, and you can be part of committees. You can write letters and even submit your thoughts online. And you can pray for us.

Elephant 1: But the final decisions will be made by Cheetahs…

Cheetah: Well…yes…but we will need your input. And you can always influence the Cheetahs behind the scenes. Remember, those who are least are the greatest.

Elephant 2: Cheetahs from the CC will be able to lead us in worship. Will we be able to lead worship in the CC church?

Cheetah: The CCs believe that elephants can not be called by God to lead in worship because Jesus didn’t name elephants as his disciples, so you can continue to lead worship in the CEC but not in the CC.

Elephant 3: But…we are called by God to lead worship. The CEC has affirmed our call to lead worship. Is the CEC changing it’s decision about elephants leading worship?

Cheetah: Uh…no. Of course not.

Elephant 1: When we meet together, does that mean only cheetahs can lead worship because the CC won’t accept our leadership?

Cheetah: Well…yes…The CC accepts elephants, just not in leadership.

Elephant 3: But I am an elephant, and a leader. God created both in me. How do I accept one and deny the other?

Cheetah: …well…pray about it…

Elephant 2: And if the CEC agrees to this, you are asking us to choose between being elephants and being worship leaders. Except, for us, they are one and the same. That is unity.*chalice

God created me woman. God called me to be a priest. God’s call was affirmed by my local parish, two bishops, professors, supervisors, classmates, a panel of examiners, my national church, many churches around the world and continues to be affirmed by my parishioners and, yes, it is Biblical.

As a Christian for whom the Eucharist has a profound place in my life, I am moved by Stephen Colbert’s revelation about his part in the Eucharist. As a woman priest, I feel diminished. His revelation was not because of a woman priest, but because hearing a woman separated the words from the office of priest and he was able to internalize the consecration in a new way. So, while significant and beautiful, his revelation also diminishes my vocation, that I am the same as him. And I am not. I am not above, but I am set apart.

Why does this distinction matter? Because, in many parts of the world, women are excluded from ordained ministry. We are also excluded in the midst of a national (Anglican Church of Canada) and international church (Worldwide Anglican Communion) whose canon laws state that women are also called by God and yet tolerate those who do not believe this. In many places, I am expected to step aside from celebrating at the altar for the comfort of those who theologically disagree with my ordination. Point being, equality is not universal. It is only visible where it does not make people uncomfortable. We mustn’t assume there is equality when there is not.

We experience celebrity in a dichotomy. They are either completely awesome and always to be followed/retweeted/shared, or they are completely reprehensible and must never be uttered or shown or even considered for debate. Stephen Colbert is well loved, as is Pope Francis, and for good reason. They also believe in doctrines that, despite their affection and respect for women, keep women in a subservient relationship to men. And I don’t raise this because I want all feminists and those who love women to boycott Stephen Colbert or to reject Pope Francis. I raise it so we do not neglect the complexity and inequality that exists within our churches and in our relationship with other churches.

There is no need for us to sweep our disagreements under the rug in order to work towards unity. Our unity already exists in our faith in Christ. Colbert and Francis are no more or less my brothers than the men I lead, follow and work alongside. We are unique, and the Holy Spirit moves in and among us and expresses Herself in various ways to various peoples and places. Dialogue should enrich our faith by being exposed to more expressions of the Holy Spirit, not to limit the work of the Spirit to something that can be agreed to and published.

So I continue to serve in this complex institution. I stay not because we have it all figured out, but because none of us do, so I stay to work it out with my friends and sisters and brothers and, yes, even enemies. I’m glad Stephen Colbert is in the work with me.

*Please accept this ridiculous scenario as an oversimplification of ecumenical dialogue to make a point.

Spoiling the spoilers

spoiler_alert_300_w2This post is not my usual theological fare but it is a question that is annoying me. What constitutes a spoiler?

There is a general social rule that says don’t talk about what happens in a TV show until a week has passed, in order to give those of us, like me, who watch shows online (legally, thank you very much) or who record it to watch it later enough time to watch. I am ok with that although I won’t insist on it. I’m not talking about timing.

I mean, what can we talk about?

I’ll start by saying I don’t mind spoilers. I don’t mind knowing the ending. I’m one of those who believe the getting there is all the fun. Walter died at the end? OK. Even if I know that, I can still enjoy watching the events leading up to that death. Will everything be resolved? Will he make peace with his family? Is he leaving someone holding the bag? How will the other characters respond? See, there is still a lot to enjoy when you know the main event.

I appreciate that others are not like me and the element of surprise is a critical element to a good ending. So we don’t reveal those. We learned our lesson from “Saving Private Ryan”, didn’t we?

I want to know what we can talk about. I want to talk to people on facebook without big capital letter warnings. I like live tweeting with friends across Canada and the US to discuss the finer points in real time.

Let me give you two examples of conversations that are not, in my opinion, spoilers.

1. At the beginning of last season’s The Walking Dead, I posted a facebook status about Rick’s beard. A friend freaked out. Said he was only at season 2 and not to spoil anything. Really? A change in hairstyle is a spoiler? What about the plot arc of that season of The Walking Dead did I reveal by making a note soliciting conversation about Rick’s beard? Anything you read that season about The Walking Dead had a picture of bearded Rick. So, in my books, not a spoiler.

2. This one is a bit more slippery because it is a bit more detailed and is about this past Sunday’s True Detective. Here is the dialogue I am participating in on a friend’s facebook wall. Does this constitute spoiler?

Friend: So……….four episodes in……it’s not quite as dark nor organic as season 1 but True Detective’s got me interested…..I also will be tracking down that song from the dive bar when it arrives on iTunes…I dig the melancholy 🙂

Me: Oh yeah. New episode. I think I will bring that to bed with me. The first 5 minutes of last week totally messed with my head.

Friend of friend: So good, eh. Last episode was awesome.

Now, clearly, no debate about spoilers here. We have not revealed anything about any events of the show. Simply aesthetics and reaction. We continue the following day–

Me: So somehow last night I fell asleep during that whole mess at the end. I watched it this afternoon. How strange it was to actually see remorse and trauma after something like that. Well, for some. We never see that. That last moment was beautifully done.

Friend of friend: I was thinking the same thing. Like, they look in shock and definitely afraid of the consequences. I was thinking, in other shows the cops look completely fine, just sorta tired. I was trying to think of CSI or something and how they look when guns go off. This was so different.

Me: Exactly. It is always treated as another day at the office. Definitely afraid of the consequences, but the shock was powerful.
Except for Paul. That was just plain chilling. Wow. And I loved how they made it a still at the end, as if to say, these are images that will never leave them. Just amazing.

Spoiler? Yes or No?

Many would say yes. We have revealed there is a “mess” at the end, probably something loud since I am surprised I slept through it, likely something violent since we talk about the trauma. Friend of friend mentions guns going off.

I say not a spoiler. Here’s why.

There is nothing surprising about the fact that something violent and traumatic happens in an HBO show about detectives. Or any HBO show for that matter. That is to be expected. If you haven’t figured that out by now you need to watch more HBO. And you should. Because their productions are amazing.

How can there be spoilers when we aren’t even halfway through the story? This is a 10 part story, not self-contained episode stories. When we are discussing a book events in the first half are fair game, aren’t they? We are still building the plot. None of us know where this is going so how can we be spoiling anything yet? When the direction towards the ending becomes clear, say episodes 7-9 then, I promise, I will be more careful, but at episode 4? Come on. Trust me, I have read George R.R. Martin’s books and didn’t spoil the Red Wedding for anyone and I managed to keep Joffrey’s death a secret from a friend for 2 years.

Let’s talk about the word, “spoiler”. It means something that spoiled the surprise. But does it really spoil your entire enjoyment of the show? If the only quality of the show is in the surprise and plot twists then I would argue the writing is poor (Which may be the case. Does anyone want to discuss that car scene between Paul and Velcoro? Good grief that was terrible!) and this show may not be worthy of your time and space in your brain.

Another thing. The conversation we are having on my friend’s wall is not exclusive to those who watch True Detective. We’ve opened it up. This scene leads us to discuss something much broader, the lack of traumatic or emotional response in police characters following a violent scene. And how Nic Pizzolatto manages to throw a critique at the whole genre of police drama in those last 20 seconds. You don’t have to know the show to engage in this conversation.

So, friends, if you are going to follow me on social media, you need to know I do not consider the following things “spoilers”:

  • Most events that happen before the halfway point of the series. There is usually a turning point which is obvious beyond which the conclusion of the narrative begins. It’s not necessarily the climax, but it rarely happens too early in the series. Anything before this is plot development is fair game, with a few exceptions.
  • Dialogue regarding topics other than events that push the plot forward. There is much that happens in a good story that does not directly push the plot along. And it is intriguing. We get to talk about this in real time.
  • Wardrobe and appearance. See above.
  • Anything based on historical fact. Discussing Alan Turing’s suicide does not spoil The Imitation Game. In fact, it is an important conversation that began long before the movie came out by people who were actually paying attention.

Finally, you get a year. If you haven’t watched a season before the next season begins, I won’t intentionally tell you the ending, but I am not going to keep it off my wall, either. The same goes for films. A year gives you enough time to see it in theatre or, if you missed it, to rent or buy a copy. If it takes you a year, were you really that invested in it?

You are the one who decides what spoils a show, but I would urge you not to disregard an entire season because you now know one event. Any good story is so much more than the ending.

What do you think? How do you determine what makes a spoiler?

Not giving up-Lent 2015

lentAh Lent. No matter where you fall in the Christian year, you are always too soon. This year we have good cause after only 5 weeks of Epiphany to have neglected your arrival, but we always find cause, and for that, I am sorry.

I have always benefitted from our time together. Many years ago when I gave up meat for Lent, I stayed vegetarian for about 4 years. And I learned a lot about the impact of our ridiculous consumption on the rest of the world. And then, remember last year, when I gave up complaining? Yeah, that was hard. You got a kick out of that one. But you know what? Now, when I start down that griping road, a little buzzer goes off in my head. That didn’t happen before, so thanks for that.

And even when I have failed, that has always been cause for reflection. You really are quite forgiving, which shouldn’t surprise me since that is one of the big themes of the season.

And none of this, “Don’t give something up, take something on” stuff. No, no, not for us. Because the taking something on is already part of the whole journey. It’s “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.” And, not or. Oh yeah. You and me, Lent, we know what we are doing.

So, it is with regret that I need to ask you for a pass this year. Not on the almsgiving and prayer and lent-symbol-blkself-examination and study. I’ve got that. I really need a pass on the fasting.

I’ve tried to come up with something to give up. I’ve prayed. I’ve thought. I’ve read the ideas of others. And last night, as I was lying in bed trying to figure out what it would be this year, I realized something. The figuring out was making me tired, and the idea of giving anything up made me sad.

Tired. Sad. Two things I do not need to nurture in my life right now.

I have given up a lot these past few months. I gave up a community I love from the pressure of a few and sacrificed my mental health in hopes of reconciliation which never happened. I moved away from my amazing husband to take care of my mother. I gave up my own recovery time to take care of her. I am giving up significant income and social interaction with people who have seen me through a lot of shit.

And I regret nothing. God has guided me through it all, sustained me and been faithful to me even when I couldn’t be faithful to Her.

I just can’t give up anything else.

I need my comforts. I need the anticipation of a warm cup of coffee in my hands to get me out of bed. I need TV to keep me from ruminating on my loneliness in my cozy but cold house. I need the occasional sweet treat to remind me that I deserve to enjoy special things. I need facebook and twitter to stay connected with those I love.

I know there are others who have soldiered through worse and still done their Lenten fast. But I’m not them. Maybe the fasting would bless me more, reminding me that it is in my absolute weakest moments that God is strongest (2 Corinthians 12:9). You know what, though? I’m figuring that one out right now. I don’t need to push it.

I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sitting here with ashes on my forehead remembering that I am but dust. And right now, a lot of the time, I don’t need that reminder, because dust is about all that is left of me.

Keep on being that beautiful season, reminding me of my beginnings, and how God forgives the absolute worst in me. Robe me in your rich purple and smells of smoke. Convict me with your Gospel and nurture my soul with your psalms.

But please, give me a pass on fasting. I’ve already given up too much, and I have to get it back.