Crumbs

I’m amused/perplexed/concerned by the thing that my old church did after communion. All heavily liturgical churches do this.

Anything that was consecrated had to be consumed, locked away, or specially disposed of. Drops of wine and specks of communion wafers had to be dealt with.

After everybody had taken communion, the chalice bearers would do a little pre-cleaning while still at the altar. At this church they did it with their backs to everybody, in part to not be in the way of the priest and the crucifer who took on a quasi-deacon role. Of course, it didn’t matter that their backs were to everybody. They were standing at least 20 feet away from the first pew, and nobody sits in the first pew anyway. So it wasn’t like what we were doing was secret, but in a way it was.

Yes. I said we. I was one of them. I became a chalice bearer in part because I wanted to know what was going on up there. I love ritual. I love symbolism. And I love being on the inside of things. For some things you have to be “in” to get all the layers of meaning.

Plus, they were chronically short on chalice bearers. I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn as much as I did so early in my membership. It was so big at my old church in Chattanooga that there was no way I could have made a place for myself up at the altar. They were full up on helpers.

But I should have thought about the fact that they had so few people who were able or willing to do that task at this church. I feel it speaks to a certain lack of activity, or a certain fear of it.

Plenty people don’t feel “worthy” to be a chalice bearer. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to touch the chalice to help the chalice bearer guide it to their lips so they don’t get wine spilled on them. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to take communion at all. This is worth a whole post on its own.

But some don’t even want to participate, not really. They want to show up and get a sticker for being there and go home. They’ve done their duty for the week.

Back to the clean up part. The chalice bearers drink whatever is left of the wine in their chalices. Then they pour a little water in the chalice and a little water on the paten (the plate for the wafers). They swish it around to catch any crumbs. Then they pour the water from the paten into the chalice, swirl it around, and drink it too. They will use their linen napkins (called purificators) to wipe up anything left and put them in the chalice.

There is a special order to how the whole assembly is put together to be put back on the shelf for the altar guild.

The next place it goes is to the piscina.

The piscina is a special place that the communion ware goes after the chalice bearers are done with their bit. It is a special sink that is not connected to the sewer system. The drain goes directly to the ground. This way no unintentional bits of consecrated elements go into the sewer system.

To me, this seems all a bit excessive. Even if a crumb is dropped, it has to be eaten or disposed of outside on the ground. It can’t be vacuumed up. It can’t be stepped on and ground into the carpet.

Funny how the ministers care so much about the crumbs and they miss the people who are leaving.

I’m still a bit angry about the fact that I’ve been gone from that church for almost a year now and it was as if I never went. I went almost every Sunday for three years. I was up front serving, as a chalice bearer, a lector, or an acolyte – or all three, for the majority of that time. I wasn’t just a pew warmer. I was up and working. I was visible. My name was in the order of service. Because I was part of the deacon discernment process I was even being prayed for by name as part of the Prayers of the People.

But none of that means anything. I left, and it is just like I went off the radar and nobody noticed. I’ve seen a few people from that church in the library or at the Y and they act like nothing has happened. It is all very weird. It makes me think that I made the right decision – that they were all asleep all along.

Sure, some are awake and present. Some asked what was going on. Some took the time to listen to my concerns. But not nearly the amount I would expect, given my activity level. Surely some of them would wonder if I was OK. Surely some of them would call or email to see if I was sick, or hurt. The fact that a handful of people cared enough to talk with me about why I left just lets me know I was in the wrong place all along.

I feel like I wasted three years of my life. And I’m wary of committing to another church organization, of any form. I’m wary of getting sucked in only to get spit out all over again.

I’m wary of finding out once again that the crumbs are more important than the people.

Stamp of approval.

It benefits the Episcopal Church that I’m not going to get its stamp of approval. I’m pretty out there for them. I actually talk about hearing from God. I am very vocal about radical inclusion. I’m pro- everybody rights. I’m so far out there that they didn’t know what to do with me.

Part of the process of seeing if you are called to be a deacon is seeing if you are willing to submit to their rules and their timetables.

They don’t check to see if you are willing to submit to God’s rules and God’s timetable, which to me seems more relevant. They have confused their paperwork and bureaucracy with God’s power. They’ve substituted themselves for God. This is very dangerous.

I was very angry that I was made to wait three years before the process even began. I wasn’t angry that I was put on hold, for my sake. I get that they need to make sure that someone is suitable before they put their stamp on them. You don’t want some wacko embarrassing the church, after all. You also don’t want someone trying to do something that they aren’t suited to do. It is like affixing a garden hose to a fire hydrant. The force of the water will blow that hose to pieces.

The same thing can happen with people who aren’t called.

I am angry at an institution that doesn’t seem to know how to build up the Body and therefore the Kingdom.

If someone comes to you and says they want to help, and you make them wait three years before you even begin to see if they are suitable in your eyes, then you have wasted a resource. You have wasted a lot of time, and you run the risk of discouraging someone.

Jesus tells us in Luke 10:2 that “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” There are a lot of broken, hungry, hurting people in the world, who need love and care. Why would you make them wait, by putting a worker on hold?

There are so many sleeping people in church. There are so many people who show up every Sunday and don’t even do anything. They passively listen and they get a warm feeling of smugness or perhaps of assuaging of guilt that they have gone to church and done their duty, and that is all.

It would be so much better if they all took that hour and a half and skipped church and went to serve food in a homeless shelter. Or manned the local crisis line. Or walked to raise money for AIDs patients. Or visited people in hospice care.

Or did any number of things other than sitting on their butts, listening to someone say how awesome God used to be way back when in Biblical times.

God is awesome now, and is real, now. And Jesus isn’t here anymore to heal us. That is our job now. We are to pick up where Jesus left off. We are to get up and be Jesus in the world.

The purpose of church needs to be to train the workers. Church needs to be more like a mobile command unit for a war, because it is a war we are fighting. We are fighting a war against depression and hunger and poverty and abuse. We are fighting for all that is good and right. We are fighting because that is what we were made for.

That is why God put us here, to be God in this world.

Instead of saying “How could God let this terrible tragedy happen?” we really need to say “What are we, the children of God, going to do about it?”

I miss church.

I miss going to church. It has been 8 months since I have been to church. I miss church in the same way I miss my family. When holidays roll around I miss the warm fuzzy feeling of family that I never had. It is part of why Mother’s Day hurts so much. I miss the never-was, or the might-have-been. When the holidays roll around I miss going to church even more. I feel like I’m missing out.

I think a lot of people go to church because of those very same feelings. I think that church fills a hole in them that family couldn’t. It provides a sense of belonging. It is an artificial construction, but a good one, usually. Family is an accident. Friendships are chosen. Church, being (hopefully) a conscious choice, is more like the latter. It provides some of the same kind of support that family should provide but often doesn’t.

The problem is that I can’t go back to my old church. Even if the priest there leaves, I can’t go back. I’ve seen behind the curtain. I know too much. The magic spell has faded away to tinsel and mirrors.

I can’t go back to church as it is, because it isn’t what Jesus meant for us to be doing. But every now and then I have a hankering to go back.

I know three families who left that church before me (because of the same priest) and attend another one of the same denomination. I know that the priest of church A has called the priest of church B to tell him about those families. She told me this back when I was still on her side. She thinks she was “smoothing the path” and “building bridges.” If she was so good at doing that, then how come she couldn’t do that at her church with these families? Now I wonder if she has called the priests at the other local Episcopal churches to warn them about me? I wouldn’t put it past her.

I went to a “Lay Ministry Appreciation Day” at the Cathedral last year. It was the second one they had. I went to the first one too. I felt that something was wrong when I went to the first one, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After the second one I figured it out. At the end we were asked to write our impressions. I wrote that I was very sad to find that we’d spent the whole day learning how to “do church” and not learning how to be better Christians.

There were classes on how to be an acolyte, a chalice bearer, a person who administers home Communion, a lector, and an altar guild member. There wasn’t a single one on how to serve Jesus outside the church. There wasn’t anything about building up the Body. If you wanted to know how to wear vestments or hold a candle or prepare enough Communion wafers for a crowd, they had a class for it. Everything else, forget it.

Here are some examples of things I saw at the Cathedral that opened my eyes.

These are kneelers at the altar rail.
6

I wonder how much time was spent needlepointing them. Wouldn’t it be more Christ-like to spend that time visiting the sick and those in prison?

This column is one of many. The marble is imported from Scotland. They are at least twenty feet high, by my estimation.
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I wonder how much that cost? Wouldn’t it have been more Christ-like to spend that money housing the homeless?

Check out the stained glass window and the pipe organ.
8

There are stained glass windows throughout the building. One is from Louis Comfort Tiffany. The tour guide says that the Cathedral paid for none of them – they were donations. He’s missing the point. If someone can donate 5 to 10 thousand dollars for stained glass, they can donate the same amount to feed the hungry and clothe the naked instead – you know, the stuff Jesus tells us to do?

God didn’t come down to Earth for us to spend time and money prettifying a building. Jesus didn’t die for us to debate over where to keep the reserved sacrament. The more I went to church, the more I realized that I wasn’t serving Jesus at all. I was serving the administration. I was serving the institution.

Sadly, there are a lot of us who are stuck in this hamster wheel. There are a lot of people who go to church who have invested a lot of their lives and their egos in what they thought was being a good Christian, and what they are doing isn’t Christ-like at all.

It isn’t un-Christian. It just isn’t what Jesus would do.

Breaking out of this mindset is very hard, especially for people who have spent a lot of their time and money in and on the institution that is church. It is especially hard for those who get paid to lead. They have the most to lose. Yet, the way I’m seeing it, they have even more to lose if they keep on following the wrong master. We can follow only one master – make sure it is God, and not the institution.

So yes, I miss church, but it is more like I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I can’t miss what I never had. There are a couple of options I’m looking at that have a lot of the qualities I feel Jesus meant. I think they are a good start. But I’m wary. I’m wary of getting sucked in and fooled again, like I was last time. I’m wary of letting down my guard and getting really hurt.

“Post Secret” God

Remember those “Post Secret” books? You’d read them, and feel like you weren’t alone. That somebody else was having that very same experience as you.

I remember feeling very alone as an adolescent. I remember hearing lyrics in songs by the Police and Styx that gave me hope that perhaps I wasn’t as far out there as I felt. Perhaps there were other people who had an “other” sense of knowing, who were “weird” but in a good way. When I moved to Virginia for a summer, I lived with a lady who also had that sense, and she talked to me about it. It was refreshing to hear that this sense wasn’t odd or weird, but shared.

It is like having an extra sense of color – say it is color that is somewhere between pink and orange. There is a stone called “padparashca” that names that color. But say you haven’t heard of that stone. You can see and identify that color, but nobody else sees it as different. They call it pink, or salmon, or orange, but you know it is not any of those, but it is more than those.

I have that with God. I’ve always known of God. I’ve always felt God. And I’ve heard from God since I was 12.

The problem is that in our society, we don’t talk about God like this. Lilly Tomlin said “If you are talking to God, you are praying. If God is talking to you, you are crazy.” This may not be the exact quote, but you get the idea. Is God the elephant in the room?

However, we are told in our religious institutions to pray to God. We read about people who talked directly with God. Yet if we say we hear from God today, we are shunned and silenced. Perhaps this isn’t the way in all denominations, but it sure was in mine.

Hearing from God is a normal part, is a desired part, of being a human. It is our birthright. Sadly, we’ve forgotten how to make this connection.

I’ve always felt different. I keep having these experiences. I’ve already begun writing them down and sharing them here. I first started writing this post a year ago. I was trying to warm up to the idea of sharing what I now have in my “Strange but true” section.

My embarrassment might be your awakening. And that is fine with me. I don’t share what I share to build myself up. I share it because it may help others who feel like I do. I share it because I know there are other people who hear from God but have been silenced or intimidated.

I prayed at Cursillo to not cry at the final event. I had been crying happy, overwhelmed tears a lot that weekend. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or my group in the final event. But then part of praying is that you have to be willing to accept God’s answer. I said if I can’t stop crying, let it be that my tears help others. Sometimes folks need to see someone else cry to let them know it is ok to cry. They want to – but it is socially unacceptable. You cry – and it is a release for them. It as if it gives them permission to cry, to let it out. That is healing.

So I’m giving you permission to speak your truth. I’m letting myself be open so that you can be open. Let us strengthen each other with our stories, in the same way we help each other with our tears.

On self-sufficiency and faith.

When I was young my Mom taught me how to sew using the sewing machine. It was a finicky one and the bobbin kept messing up, or the feed dog would get jammed, or the thread would break. I would ask for help and my Mom would fix the problem. The bad part however is that she didn’t show me how to fix the problem myself.

Years later, after she had died, I wanted to sew something and I still didn’t know how to fix it when something didn’t work right. I fooled around with the machine but it wasn’t budging. I decided to buy a used machine that was simple to operate and had an instruction manual with pictures. I learned how to use it and wondered why my Mom never thought to teach me how to do this myself. It was really easy to do. By hiding it from me, she made it seem like it was something special that only she could do.

It seems to me that part of the job of being a parent is to teach their children to be self sufficient. If they still needing your help to fix things when they are adults then that is a bad reflection on the parent.

I’ve encountered the same attitude from church. I’m hopeful that all churches aren’t like this, in the same way that all parents aren’t like mine. But my experience over all of my life has been that in every church I’ve gone to, the minister has treated me as a passive observer in my faith life. They have acted as if the life of faith is something that happens to you, rather than something you do.

Then I started going to a spiritual director. She has been to seminary, but she isn’t ordained. She is like a personal trainer for the soul. If the journey of faith uses a car, not only is she teaching me to drive, she is teaching me how to find the tools and repair it myself. Meanwhile, all the ministers I’ve ever been lead by have treated me like I was a passenger. They didn’t teach me how to drive. They didn’t even let me know I could.

It is a little overwhelming. I feel like I’m late to the party. I feel like I should have known this all along. This is part of the purpose of my blog – to let you know that you too have the right to drive this car of faith. I describe tools to you as I come across them.

Imagine how powerful the body of Christ will be when we all wake up to our true potential and realize we aren’t passive observers.

Exodus

I’ve found that more people are leaving my old church. These are people who have gone there much longer than I have, and have worked in lay ministry much longer than I have. These are people who are essential to the running of the church. These are people who are also waking up to the fact that church should be more than margarita karaoke and a night out watching the local baseball team.

Those things are fun, sure. But they aren’t the purpose of a church. Church is meant to build up the Body of Christ. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make the world a better place. Together, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Together we can do what Jesus did.

I haven’t told them to leave. They haven’t read my blog. They don’t know why I’ve left. But they too are leaving.

I’m not the first to leave. There were others before me. Others with children, who were dismayed by how the priest handled a change in how Communion was distributed to children. They were the first of the group of active members to leave. They were acolytes and chalice bearers and readers. The problem is, the membership wasn’t that big to start with, and of that number, there were even fewer who were willing and able to serve in liturgical roles. That is the thing with liturgical churches – you have to have worker bees. It can’t all be done by the queen.

It shouldn’t be done all by one person. That is the purpose of church. Church should be training ground for the rest of the week. In church we should learn about how to work together to build something amazing. In church we should learn about our own unique gifts and talents, and learn how to use them to serve God. We do it through the simple actions of preparing the worship space and time. We do it by polishing the silverware like we are preparing for a special guest (we are). We do it by assigning readers for that week’s lessons. We do it by practicing those readings, so that people can hear the Word of God clearly.

These are literal yet symbolic actions. They pale in comparison to what we are supposed to do outside of church, but they are still important. But when the people who do these things are leaving, it is a sign that something very deeply wrong is going on. It is a sign that needs aren’t being met.

I wrote the Bishop to let him know my concerns. I let him know about my concerns with that parish specifically, and of the Episcopal Church, and of Church in general. I wrote to tell him that I feel that we are doing it wrong, that Jesus didn’t mean for us to have church buildings and ordained ministers. Our tithe was meant to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – not pay for minister salaries and a mortgage. He told me thanks for writing, but he doesn’t see any problem. Of course he doesn’t. His job would disappear.

The more I read of what Jesus said, the more I see that His words don’t synch up with what we do. A person cannot serve two masters, after all. I can either serve Jesus, or I can serve the church, which often seems to be going in an entirely different direction.

I don’t want it to. I don’t want people to leave. I want this thing to work. I’m deeply concerned and sad about the state of things. I want church to be about healing and reconciliation and love. I don’t want it to be about chili cookoffs and ice cream socials. I don’t want it to become another social club.

Church isn’t the building, but we’ve spent so much money and time and energy on it that it has become the building. Church isn’t about ordained ministers either. Jesus told us not to have any. Yet we’ve given them money and time and energy too and we’ve gotten distracted. We’ve forgotten that WE are the Body of Christ. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ones who build up. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ministers, every one of us.

Some churches get it. Some churches understand the healing power of having many hands make light work in doing the work of Jesus. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people who need help. There are some churches that get that we can’t waste our time just hanging out together – we need to hang out while we are doing this work.

Meanwhile people are leaving. It is an Exodus, a leaving. They are escaping a bad situation, and looking for what they are being called to. They are leaving to try to find another place that gets it. They are frustrated. They haven’t left entirely. They are there half the time. The other half the time they are church shopping. They go to other area churches of the same denomination. They go in a group. Twice a month they are gone.

They haven’t come to the conclusion that I have. I don’t expect them to. My leaving was radical. While I’m sad that something that I’d come to see as the center of my life is gone, I’m also glad. I’m glad that the leaving wasn’t drawn out. It was a clean break. The words of the priest were so severe when she read my concerns about church that I had to leave. There is a bit of mourning, sure. I miss going to church. But what I really miss is that church never was what Jesus wanted it to be. I think I miss the never-was more.

Playing chicken with God, and being a spiritual vagabond.

You can’t play chicken with God. Say you have a specific task that you were put on this earth to do, and you are one of the rare ones who knows what it is. To delay doing it to buy more time won’t work. God will just take it from you and give it to someone else to do. I’ve lost track of the number of times this happens in the Bible.

Even questioning God can get you in trouble, if you do it too much. Moses questioned God four times, when God called him to go to Pharaoh to get the Israelites freed from slavery. He didn’t think he was able to do it. He kept coming up with excuses and God kept coming up with workarounds for him. At the end, God sent an angel to kill him, and it was only the intervention of Moses’ wife that saved him. Kind of a crazy story. The Bible is full of them.

My theory? If God calls you to do something, it means that you have the ability to do it. God knows you better than you know yourself. God made you. The problem? Knowing that it is an actual call from God.

You are a tool. The pot cannot tell the potter how to use it. The car does not matter to the driver. If the car breaks down, the driver will just get another car. So questioning God and coming up with reasons you can’t do it won’t help you at all.

But what if you don’t know what your calling is? What if you have no idea why God put you on this Earth? Then it is good to not fight it either. Be OK with being a block in the building. Be OK with being a puzzle piece, and not seeing the big picture.

My problem, well, one of many, is that there are a lot of things that I would like to write about that I think are of significance. There are things I’ve come to understand through my prayer life that I feel would be helpful. There are insights I get from reading scripture that I think are new takes on old words. But I don’t feel that my writing is good enough, or that I have the time to dedicate to it to do it justice. I find that I only have time to write for about thirty minutes at a time, and for some reason I feel I have to create a completed post in that time.

Yes, I realize these are all excuses. I don’t have to post something every day. I’m not being paid for this. Nobody would notice if I didn’t post for a few days, so I could work on something bigger. But I know me – if I get out of the habit of posting, then I’ll take more time off, and then I won’t post at all. There is something about making a routine of it that is forcing me to write, and writing is helping me figure things out.

I’m reminded of the last meeting I had with my former priest. She said that my spiritual insights were immature. She said that she often had to bite her tongue to not say “I figured that out years ago!” The fact that she told me that erased all the tongue-biting she had done.

This is harmful, and hurtful, and not Christ-like.

This is part of why I had to leave.

Maybe my insights are simple. Maybe they are things she figured out years ago. But making fun of someone else’s spiritual journey isn’t the mark of a religious leader.

Perhaps I shared those insights with her because deep down I didn’t think she knew them. I’m not sure which ones she was talking about. Obviously at one point she thought I was onto something because she was the one who proposed that I enter the deacon discernment program.

Ugh. I’m still bitter about that whole thing. I’m trying to process this. I don’t want to be stuck here angry with it, but turning away from it is not a good idea.

There is a sense of abandonment, of being hung out to dry. There is also a sense of freedom in leaving. I feel that in a way she did me a favor by being so over-the-top in our last meeting. It provided a clean break with no turning back. I knew when I first started going back to church that the Episcopal Church was as close as I could get at the time. I’d prayed about it, and that was the reply. So I knew going into it that there was going to be an end to it. I knew I was going to leave.

I was hoping for more of a dove-tail leaving than a severing, but it wasn’t up to me.

And that too is part of the process. It is about trusting God, however I’m led. It is about following, and trying not to get in the way. It is about trying to be a worthy vessel.

I feel alone in the wilderness, yet right at home.

The escape artist.

It was a very hard time when my Mom was sick. There were a lot of very difficult things that needed to be done, and only me to do them. I was in my early twenties and my family and friends had bailed on me.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this. My Mom wasn’t supposed to die at 53. I didn’t know how to deal with chest tubes or administering medicine every four hours for months at at a time. Just because I’m a daughter doesn’t mean I’m a competent caregiver.

So I separated myself. I believe it is called dissociation. I was there, sort of. I did all the stuff that had to be done, but I didn’t think about it. My mind wasn’t there. It was too hard to deal with but I couldn’t run away from it like my brother and father did. So I ran away in my mind. It was kind of being like an escape artist, like Houdini. I smoked a little pot to take the edge off. Years later when I had the time I went a little crazy because I’d not had the ability or time to grieve. There is nothing like learning how to deal with grief like being in a mental hospital.

There isn’t any training for this. It is hard enough to watch your mother die. It is hard to be a caregiver for someone who is dying. It is impossible when the dying person is your Mom.

It is very intimate caring for someone who is dying. It is very intimate to be with them in the middle of the night when they start freaking out about all the things they haven’t done, or about the afterlife. It is very intimate dealing with bodily fluids and pain.

In a way it was my gift to her. She gave birth to me. I helped her die. There is a strange balance here.

She didn’t die well. She had spent most of her life avoiding thinking about the future or anything really important. She didn’t plan ahead. She had no retirement fund. She didn’t take care of her health. She never got any education past high school. As for her soul, she ended up getting her religious education from me.

It is very weird being your mother’s teacher. I had read quite a bit about religious matters in the previous years, and had returned to church at 20. It was the same church where she was married, but hadn’t gone to since. The minister I found for her was from the Episcopal student ministry I was part of. He didn’t know much about how to prepare someone for death, so I got to do it. Something was better than nothing. At one point I gave her a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s “The Gospel According to Jesus.” The priest thought it was watered down. He didn’t approve of that translation. He wanted her to read the Bible. I pointed out that she didn’t have time to read the original. Sometimes you aren’t able to eat big meals, and all you can handle is baby food. This was the Gospel in a distilled version, just the words of Jesus. Easy to digest. Baby food. It got the point across in a way she could handle.

But there was nobody there to train me. There was nobody around to tell me how to deal with the heaviness of my Mom dying and the heaviness of dealing with the strangeness of dealing with the very real and very gross nature of dealing with someone who is terminally ill. I prayed a lot. God helped.

One “friend” wrote to me to tell me how sad she was that my mother was dying. Her advice to me was to “let Jesus into my heart”. I can’t stand Christians sometimes, and I am Christian. I was really angry when I read that letter. She didn’t know that I’d gotten confirmed years earlier. She didn’t know that I went to church every week on my own. She didn’t know that I’d helped create the Episcopal student ministry. She didn’t know because she didn’t ask. She’d been a friend in high school but we’d grown apart. She assumed that the answer to my problem was Jesus, not knowing that I was already a Christian. She would have taught me more about Jesus if she had shown up and helped. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t get the laundry done or the groceries bought. “Letting Jesus into my heart” didn’t help when my Mom needed more pain medicine or a Valium at four in the morning.

Houdini died from being punched in the stomach. He had a trick that he did where you could punch him in the stomach as hard as you wanted and he wouldn’t be hurt. The deal was that he had to prepare for it first. He had to know it was coming. The person who punched him the last time didn’t know about that and just hit him.

We are like this. We need time to prepare for heavy things. We can handle quite a bit if we have some warning and training. But when we get blindsided, we can get really hurt.

This experience didn’t kill me, but it did teach me a lot. It taught me about my own strength. It taught me that there were a lot of people I couldn’t depend on. It made me grow up fast, a little faster than I was ready for.

On going to a spiritual director and not an ordained minister.

I’m always a little anxious before I go to see my spiritual director. I had to start seeing one when I was in the process to discern if I was being called to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church. That process was put on hold by the priest in charge when I came back from Cursillo a little more Pentecostal than she could handle. Then I wrote a blog post where I feel that Jesus meant for the Church to be a) not buildings but people and b) not ordained ministers, but everybody, and c) more social outreach than social club. That ticked her off a lot. So I no longer go to church, but I still go to my spiritual director. This was my choice. I get a lot from going.

There wasn’t any help on what to expect when I first went. It is kind of like going to a psychotherapist, but weirder. We talk about my relationship with God and Jesus by talking about my relationship with my husband and friends and job. I’m not sure where we are going sometimes, and I’m not sure I see the connection. But I am sure that every time I finish a session with her I want to come back the next day even though the next meeting is in a month. She manages to uncover things that I didn’t even know were hidden.

Having a spiritual director is weird coming from a faith community that has a hard time saying “I’ll pray for you.” I’m more comfortable hanging out with my Pentecostal friends than my Episcopal friends when I’m in the mood to talk about God’s interaction with my life.

This is a little weird. Supposedly I was part of a Christian church, but we would talk about God and Jesus in the abstract. We didn’t talk about God and Jesus right here, right now. They were characters in a book, not real presences in our lives. They were ideas and archetypes.

My spiritual director is part of this faith tradition, but she says things like “Invite Jesus into this situation” and “Jesus wants to be your closest friend.” She asks questions like “Where is Jesus in this moment?” This is some pretty foreign stuff. I feel like I’m doing it wrong. I feel like I should already know how to do this, how to answer these questions. I feel like I’ve been duped by priests all these years, who have kept all the good bits for themselves and left the scraps for me. I feel like I’m adult trying to learn how to ride a bicycle for the first time, when I should already know how.

I’m grateful for this time with her, and grateful to find someone who can help me. The goal in spiritual direction is “intimacy with Jesus”. This is a foreign concept to me. This isn’t something that I was ever taught in any church I’ve ever gone to. It sounds like a good idea though. It sounds like something I should already be familiar with. It sounds like the whole point of being a Christian – how can you obey God’s will if you don’t know it? How can you know it if you don’t hear it?

The funny part is that the closer I got to this idea of hearing from God, of intimacy with Jesus, the further I had to get from church. The more I talked to the priest about God talking to me, the more she thought I was crazy. The more I go to the spiritual director, the more she wants to hear about these stories and cheers me on. I’ve written about some of these stories in my “Strange but True” section.

Oh – I get it. The priests don’t want you to hear it for yourself. They want to tell you what God says. They want you to be dependent on them. They don’t want to teach you how to hear from God.

It is this kind of control that Jesus came to remove. Jesus isn’t about hoarding power. He is about giving it away. Jesus is a radical. Jesus is a revolutionary. Jesus showed us in the loaves and fishes story that God’s rules aren’t like our rules. There is so much more to how God does things than we can ever imagine. God wants us all to connect to that power and be multiplied. God wants us all to be stronger, more alive. Then God wants us to use that vitality to help others. It isn’t about paying off our mortgages sooner, as one of the “prosperity gospel” liars says. It is about using that strength and power to help people who don’t have homes at all.

Lay vs. Ordained – power play

I once saw a photo of a lay person distributing the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Now, the lay person was Sara Miles, so there is that. She is part of an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco and she is a writer about religious matters. This congregation also distributes the sermons on podcasts, so I’ve learned that she has delivered many sermons.

Wait. A lay person, someone who isn’t ordained, distributing ashes, and delivering sermons? This is in a denomination that licenses people to be able to distribute the wine at communion. In order to distribute the wine at communion, you have to be an adult member in good standing. That translates to showing up for service weekly and paying tithes. Then the priest has to send a letter to the Bishop nominating you, and then you get a certificate signed by the Bishop to do this.

There are a lot of control issues in the Episcopal Church. I suspect the same is true in a lot of churches.

Note this is just for the wine. Regular, un-ordained people can’t distribute the bread unless there is something pretty severe going on like the priest has hurt his back. And they certainly can’t bless it. You have to go to seminary to learn that trick.

Jesus didn’t go to seminary, and neither did his disciples. And they weren’t ordained either.

There is definitely a hierarchy of “us and them:. The lay people are told that they are ministers too, but they certainly aren’t seen as equal, and they certainly aren’t encouraged or taught how to deepen their ministry.

So this lady, doing priest things, really woke me up. I first thought how dare she? I then thought, I wonder if the Bishop knows? Then I thought why not? Then I was jealous.

It reminded me of all the micro-managing that my old priest did. And that my old manager did. And it makes me wonder why I keep getting myself into situations with controlling supervisors.

And it makes me think that the worst kind of controlling person is one who acts like they aren’t controlling you at all.

We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been deceived. We’ve voluntarily given over the care and feeding of our souls to people we thought we could trust. Even if the priest / pastor / minister is a decent human being and not secretly embroiled in a scandal involving money or sex, we are still being led astray.

Consider a teacher. You’ll only learn what the teacher wants to show you. You won’t learn anything about what you are interested in. The teacher won’t be able to answer all your questions and if you ask a lot of questions (as I did) you’ll get some surly reactions from said teacher.

People in authority don’t like it when you ask questions. It undermines their authority. It reveals what they don’t know. It proves they are fallible. It unmasks the guy behind the curtain. You may learn it is all smoke and mirrors.

Don’t give them your power. Don’t entrust the care and feeding of your soul to another person. Question everything and everyone, and if they resist your questions, get as far away as you can. Worse, if they say they welcome your questions but distract you and don’t answer them or show you how to answer them for yourself, run.

I was lulled into a sense of complacency with the church I was in. It was pretty progressive. Big on women’s rights, gay rights, equality for all. Open to other faith traditions. But there is still that division of lay versus ordained. There is still the training that ordained people get that lay people don’t.

The priest can’t be everywhere. Remember the idea of don’t put all your eggs into one basket? Don’t put all of your ministry into the hands of one person.

What would it be like if Jesus had fed only his disciples with that bread and fish?

He didn’t. He gave thanks for it, and broke it, and it was distributed and fed thousands. This is what we are to do with everything. This isn’t just about food, or money, or power. Nothing is for keeping or hoarding. If we build up for ourselves treasures on earth, we are missing the point.