First Assignment – Spiritual Journey

So the discernment trainer, Archdeacon of Montana, said my first assignment was to complete the spiritual journey statement.  Did that, back in November, so here it is here.

My childhood was great, and filled with the knowledge of God. I am one of the fortunate few who was provided with the absolute knowledge and trust that God exists, and to see everything within the world as connected to the Divine. My parents taught me to recognize God in people, in nature, and as the voice to whom I could talk at any time of the day or night. They also taught me that my responsibility was to help others recognize the same things. Early on, my mother learned that if I couldn’t be convinced otherwise, my desire to not disappoint God was huge, and the concept that something I was doing would disappoint Him wasn’t something I could stand. As a child, I was one of those painfully shy creatures, much more comfortable fading into the woodwork than ever calling attention to myself. I loved to read, and the army schools didn’t know what to do with me from 2nd through 5th grade (mom didn’t believe in allowing children to skip grades), so I got sent to the library most of the time. I was quite happy there, helping the librarian re-shelve books, and working my way through the various sections as I went. Learning became a part of life at that point — not necessarily to put the knowledge to any particular use, but simply to learn because it was there. Mom would throw my younger brother and I out of the house to get fresh air, and I’d take a book, climb a tree (kept me away from my brother), and read.

So, that gives you a pretty clear picture of me — bookworm, wallflower shy, quiet. Like most Irish redheads, however, I also inherited the temper, and occasionally shocked people when angry enough.

I got to high school (my 4th one) and my mother decided to try taking on my shyness. Being in a DoDDS school system, new people were arriving all the time, of course, and my mom told me that I was being selfish in being shy. These new kids didn’t know anyone at the school, and I should introduce myself and help them, and I wouldn’t disappoint God by mistreating His creation. I’d actually learned what she was doing by that point, but still couldn’t stop myself from doing as she said — she never pulled the “God card” unless she felt it was important. So, I learned to introduce myself, see where they’d come from, what kind of interests they had, and then I’d introduce them to people with similar interests — went back into the woodworks after that, my “job” being finished, of making sure that they were not lonely or left out. That was the pattern I had throughout my last 2 years, and unbeknownst to me, people that I considered merely acquaintances actually looked at me as a friend. (German has a better word for it — Bekannte — people you know more than an acquaintance, but they weren’t quite on the same level as friends.) As time went on, I apparently knew most of the school, and the getting to know people when they arrived was fun, so I started my high school newspaper. Not many people actually knew *me*, but I knew them, and they felt that I’d taken an interest in them, so …

It was also during this time that I seriously contemplated becoming a nun. The concept of constantly being in service to God truly appealed to me. My father had always taught us that you never say anything at church by rote. You may memorize it, but it was a disservice to God and disrespectful if you said it by rote, without thinking about what you were saying. My family was very active in every church we attended, starting with Lutheran when I was 4, changing to Episcopal when I was 12, and Catholic when I was 16. I always intended to be a teacher, and knew that I could go that route through the convent. I talked with nuns and the priest about the process, read books about priests, monks, nuns, etc. And in the middle of my senior year, I began babysitting a 2-week old baby. She was priceless, red hair, blue eyes, and sometimes I’d get her at really odd times of day, so she went along with my family wherever we were going. I had a boyfriend (also Catholic, and expected to go into the priesthood by his family, so I wasn’t particularly popular with them ), with blond hair and blue eyes, and when you’re attending a military chapel, we could easily pass for a young married couple with the baby with us. I liked that feeling, and decided that while I’d still become a teacher, I wouldn’t go the route of the convent. I still had (and always have had) a strong desire to serve

Later in my 20s, I discovered the Baha’i Faith. There’s a lot to that particular story, but probably what applies here is the concept that work performed in the spirit of service to God’s creation (man, individually or as a whole), was worship. This was obviously the perfect religion for me. It recognized the various paths to God as all heading to the same place. It allowed and expected service — there is no clergy in the Faith. And there was so much to learn! There was a list given to me by the wife of the first Baha’i I’d met — she had two sons, close to my son’s age, and that list was probably what kept me from becoming a Baha’i for almost 2 years — I didn’t feel I could live up to the expectations. The list is called “To Live the Life”, and in the same way Christians look to Christ as their exemplar on how they should behave, Baha’is look to Abdu’l Baha (literally translated “Servant of the Glory”), who created the list. The first thing on the list probably gave me the most problem — “To be the cause of grief to no one.” Just by becoming a Baha’i, I would cause a terrific amount of grief to my parents. The other one that gave me fits was “To be servants of each other, and to know that we are less than anyone else.” Being a servant was the easy part. But to consciously consider myself less than someone else? Until I learned from a very old Baha’i that everyone has something to teach, and to know that they have knowledge you do not allows you to be less, to always learn, and to always honor the divinity within their spirit. That, I could live with. Later on, learning that there were a couple of limitations that I couldn’t live with and continue to actively promote myself as a Baha’i (for I have no desire to harm the Faith), I withdrew from the Baha’is.

Moving forward again, on the death of my husband, I moved to Troy. Since the first time I visited, I have described it as feeling as if you’re surrounded by God here. It has the typical small town feel to it, but also the very neighborly people that you don’t see in “normal” cities. This town of less than 1,000 people has 10 Christian churches (and 3 bars – something I’m told is an inverse ratio to most of Montana). I was slightly disappointed in the lack of religious diversity, but absolutely astounded at the way the churches here work together – because they are all brothers in Christ. Pastor sick at one church? Let’s make sure services and visitations are covered by the other churches. One church needs a projection system for worship – several take up a collection to help out. Apartment building in town burns down – Baptists will handle donations, they’ve got the most room; Methodists and Episcopals will cover short-term housing and food through vouchers; non-denominational will organize rounding up donations and picking things up where people can’t get to town, as well as making sure those who ended up in the hospital, families are taken care of and meals are made and passed around to those who need them. Troy is a truly unique town, and living here is a tremendous blessing.

I began attending Holy Trinity because they welcomed me, despite my very weird background, and I rapidly became part of the Episcopal community, serving where I could. I learned how to be a Eucharistic minister, and lay minister for leading morning prayer; I’m a really slow organist (thank goodness for programming that speeds it up to the right tempo), and I make the quarterly schedule of who has what job on Sundays. I was the only non-clergy to attend a seminar on Pastoral Crisis Intervention that was offered at the hospital in Libby; I felt my background as a mediator would likely serve me well there. Holy Trinity now has a web presence, and while the blog is only regularly updated during Advent and Lent, it does get sporadically updated throughout the rest of the year.

The Bishop’s news about online classes being available to become a priest immediately caught my attention. This could be something I could do to serve the community I love, and while being in front of people is not my favorite place to be, I am relatively good at it. Our little church has every marker for being a growing church, but something holds us back from growing. I think part of that is lack of a regular pastor – because people tend to want to know there’s a shepard guiding the way. The people who are in the church know that our Shepard has been guiding us all along, and His Words will always lead us, even if they’re said by lay ministers. But still, to see the church grow would allow us to better serve our own community, as well as the larger Episcopal community in Montana. There is much that can be done, and a sermon I heard today reminded me: we aren’t here to settle for “okay”. We are here to do the best that we can in service to God. Sitting back and waiting for someone else to take up the reins is not the right way to go.

I know that I can be a good pastor. I also know that no matter what happens, I’m always going to serve in some capacity or another.

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Last of Discernment Q&A

What happens when this person prays?  I tend to calm down and realize that God’s got it all covered.  I remember how very blessed I am, and that I have submitted my will to God – all I have to do is trust that it’s all part of the plan and serve to the best of my ability.

Who is Jesus for this person?  The human manifestation and son of God on Earth who died for the sins of all men, including me personally, so that we might all live an everlasting life.  If the question is one of “Who is Christ?” then the answer would include that Christ is One in the three of the Trinity, the presence of God Himself on Earth.

*In what ways does this person channel God’s love? How have you experienced God’s love through this person?  This one is an evaluation question for the committee.

How does this person distinguish and/or meld God’s voice from other persistent voices such as culture, peer pressure, career, ego, self-interest? (see Listening Hearts, p. 24)  Practice.  God’s voice provides a different feeling than my own inner voice, or the outer voices of society.  God’s always made Himself pretty clear to me, whether it’s grabbing my attention by sending a series of messengers to the point I can’t ignore it, or providing me with a much needed attitude adjustment.  I’ve found it’s easier, and in the long run much better, for me to listen the first time.

*Describe this person’s listening skills. Does s/he listen carefully, not at all, selectively?  This one is an evaluation question for the committee.

*How does this person answer: What is the next step God wants me to take? (see Listening Hearts, p. 26)  This community needs a servant to help it grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding, to challenge those seeking to find their path (hopefully but not necessarily with us).  The next logical step is to get the training needed to be a good servant, to provide the church with a figurehead that can help draw people to the church.  For me, it means my hobby will become my vocation, I can serve in a wider capacity in the church and in the community.

*Does this person have the resources in time and funds to pursue the Diaconate or Priesthood?  The parish is providing the funds and I am creating the time.  I will work out a method of paying the church back the funds for the training once complete.

*Is this person able to recognize and live with appropriate boundaries in areas such as leadership, finances, sexuality, and sense of responsibility?  Yes.

Academic Writing Sample

I just discovered that one of the requirements for getting into Nashotah House is an academic writing sample. It’s been 25 years since I’ve done one of those, so now I need to come up with a topic, and figure out just how long this needs to be (one source recommends 2-5 pages). One potential topic is part of something I wrote about 4 years ago:

Is morality declining? There’s an interesting quote I read recently from Orson Scott Card: “Tolerance implies disagreement — it means that even though we don’t agree with or approve of each others beliefs or actions, we can still live together amicably. When we agree, we aren’t being tolerant, we’re being uniform.” And in America, everyone tends to want to be considered “tolerant” of everyone else, but of late, disagreement is what is being stifled. If you don’t agree with what is currently politically correct, you’re a bigot, racist, intolerant, phobe of some sort — rather than simply having a different opinion, and each allowing the other to live their lives as they choose. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to teach my children that what you’re doing is okay — my job is to teach my child what I believe to be correct. I would be derelict in my duty and raising an *amoral* person. Not immoral, but simply without morals. And I think that’s where the problem is coming from.

We’re no longer allowed to teach our children that disagreement is okay, that thinking differently from the PC crowd is not a bad thing. If they don’t comply, we’ll send you to training programs, diversity programs, tolerance programs, etc. until you will quote the PC line chapter and verse, even if you don’t agree with it — because you can be sued, lose your job, lose your house, lose your business, be defamed in the press, etc. otherwise.

So I don’t think morality is declining — I think it’s being caused to disappear, and we are starting when our kids are very young in the school system, and continuing through their formative years through college. If it’s not PC, it’s not okay to express, and we’re getting uniformly *amoral* people. That’s actually a rather scary thought.

Another topic not yet written about is persecution of minority religions in the Middle East. My father’s suggestion was actually persecution of Christians.  I pointed out that it wasn’t just Christians being persecuted, that ISIS/ISIL had destroyed an entire town of Zoroastrians (which I didn’t know there even were any anymore!), and has continued their persecution of Jews and Baha’is as well (entire National Spiritual Assembly of Iran has been in jail for over 7 years now). The oddity is that the Koran actually considers Christians and Jews as people of the Book and therefore they *should* hold a protected status under Islamic law. These people are going against their own teachings, so you really can’t predict anything but the fact they’re out for power.

Okay, here’s another idea (editing this entry, just to keep it all in one place). One of my old bosses is currently defending the JONAH program which actually deals with programs that assist homosexuals who are uncomfortable with their sexuality and want to find a way to change it. This goes to freedom of choice, which the PC crowd is objecting to. I could write to L to see if he would be willing to outline the program he went through in order to become Mormon, and how he felt about both the program and his current place in life. I’m not sure it would be limited to 5 pages, but potentially I could do it. These programs are not designed to force homosexuals into changing, but rather people who already want to change, but need some help with it. This one may be the topic… Or it may fit into the morality one above.

The school itself would actually be in favor of programs like JONAH. They differ from the Episcopal church in their support of same-gender marriage. What I’m looking at is that it could show the thesis – God granted free will, and it’s not up to the government or society to take that away. If someone is truly uncomfortable with their sexuality and *wants* to conform to the more gender normative relationships (I say normative in the sense that only 4% of the population identifies as preferring same or both genders as sexual partners), and *wants* assistance with that, should we not allow them to explore that choice – which is as much of a choice as homosexuality sometimes can be. Hence, why I chose L as a potential resource, given that he came to the conclusion that he made the choice to be a homosexual so that he could never have a child and would therefore never treat a child as he was treated (D was quite abusive before M entered his life). Once he understood that he wanted children, and felt that he could be a good father – well, within the confines of the religion he was exploring (Mormon), he would have to figure out how to also have a wife. He and T have been married for 20 years now. So, he has now spent as long married to a woman of the opposite sex as he was in a relationship with a man of the same gender.

I’m not saying that in every instance it is a choice, but in thinking about the lesbians I know, and how many of them chose that lifestyle because of molestation or harm caused by men, how many of them would have made that choice had circumstances been different and they were not driven by fear?

{{{Sigh}}} I’ve gone too broad in topic. Nature v. nurture on the whole choice concept in homosexuality is a book all by itself. Free will v. societal mores; tolerance v. uniformity; morality v. amorality.  I’ve only got 5 pages, double spaced, max.

To my lovely sister, if you have suggestions, I’m open!

June 4

Proverbs 31:7-9

Scripture:  7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.  8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.  9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

Observations:  This particular section seems to point out that those who have turned to alcohol are unable to face reality, and that part of the duty of the King is to speak for them to incite God’s compassion.  It would seem to support that alcoholism is a disease,  affecting one’s memory, sense of reality, speech and judgment.  The fact that the King would need to intercede would imply that the only cure here would be Divine intervention.  That’s rather fascinating.  I wonder if AA uses this…

Applications:  While we’re not kings, I’m thinking that we, and our sons and daughters, should certainly aspire to the kingly power of prayer for those who cannot or who are unable to pray for themselves.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for the divine gifts of reason, reality and eloquent speech.  While our sense of reality can be skewed by mind altering substances, we appreciate you watching over our own sense of moderation to maintain reason and speech.  May we find compassion for those seeking to flee reality, knowing that they are beyond reason and human help.  We ask that you guide them back to reality, giving them strength to bear their burdens and find their way back to your path.

June 3

Proverbs 31:5-6

Scripture:  5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.  6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Observations:  Likely what is most important here is the lesson from Genesis and Noah – that drinking is not a bad thing, but drunkenness (mentioned in Verse 4) causes us to sin in horrible ways, forgetting the law, and perverting our own judgment.  Baha’is don’t drink as they believe in moderation, but when drinking, one’s idea of moderation becomes skewed, so it is better not to start.  I think Verse 6 might actually be more along the lines of our modern-day palliative care for those who are terminal – helping to make someone comfortable as they wait to die – and wine should hopefully not contain enough alcohol to make one drunk, but would have a more soporific effect on someone who mostly needs to sleep and wake up to a new day.  Although on that latter point, I’d probably give someone beer because of the soporific effects of hops.

Applications:  Personally, I don’t like the taste of alcohol, but I think that even if I did, I don’t like the concept of losing control of myself to the extent that I am not acting at full capacity.  Same thing goes with drugs.  The advice of Lemuel’s mother here is that a man should be in control of himself, so that he may not sin against God or man.  There is a time and place for alcohol – and those times and places are very limited.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the excellent examples you provide to us, to help teach us right and wrong.  May we respect ourselves enough to know that alcohol or other mind-altering substances affect our judgment and cause us to make poor choices.  May you guide us to make good choices that will honor your laws.

Behind Already

Ignominious start.  Okay, so, 6/1 and 6/2 will be today.  Quick reminder:  SOAP – Scripture, Observations, Applications, Prayer.

Proverbs 31:1-2

Scripture:  1 The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.  2 What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?

Observations:  Interestingly, there is apparently some disagreement as to who wrote this chapter – some say King Lemuel wrote down the words of his mother; some say it was written as the rest of the Proverbs, by King Solomon and “Lemuel” was a nickname, whether by his wife or someone else.  Most agree that the words are those of a mother to her son – as remembered by that son, whoever he might be.  However, the book I’ve been reading, Bible Women:  All Their Words and Why They Matter, doesn’t list this chapter as having any words by a woman – which now makes me wonder what her premise was for counting the words of women in the Bible.  In any case, there’s a good discussion of these two verses at that link.  There’s a good video overview of the entire chapter done by the woman sponsoring this study.  There are other commentaries, of course, but those seemed the most comprehensive.

Applications:  Well, as a mother with two sons, I have a feeling that this was probably something I should have gotten through to both of them, but one of them has already been paying attention. 🙂  The other would likely have heard the words and then done the exact opposite, as that is his character.  Application as a priest would hopefully be able to provide guidance to any young men who might actually come to me for advice – or any mothers who come wanting advice on how to advise their own sons.

Prayer:  Thank you for the words of guidance you provide to us, for the teachers and guidance so many share in our walk to be closer with you.  May your wisdom guide me to say the right things, so that the “burden” of words reflects the lightness of your yoke as we strive to follow the guidance you provide to us within your Holy Book.

Proverbs 31:3-4

Scripture:  3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.  4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

Observations:  Again, the discussion on Verse 3 is rather enlightening.  I actually had a similar discussion with my father the other day.  He wrote to find out why some Episcopals wanted to change the gender of God to name God “Mother”.  My opinion has always been that God is likely genderless – “parent.”  However, at the time anything was written down, there was male and female – Hebrew does not have a neuter concept. The parent who provided, directed, nurtured, loved, disciplined, etc. filled both roles, but was labeled “He” for simplicity’s sake as well as given the social and historical conditions. In the same way that “mankind” means all of humanity, male, female and otherwise. I’ve had priests use the term “Mother/Father/God” – it actually sounds rather like Teal’c from StarGate who ran everyone’s names together into one. Slightly ridiculous, but at the same time, an effort to make sure it is understood that God includes the Divine Feminine as well as the Divine Masculine.  Among Baha’is, it is understood that the mother is the first educator of the next generation, and thus the mother, herself, should be educated so that she may rightly guide her children.  Verse 4, I think begins to get into the specifics of what’s referred to in Verse 3, as discussed at the discussion mentioned.  Kings may be better educated, hopefully more enlightened beings – but they are still at heart men, with the same temptations and foibles other men experience.  But because they are leaders, they must be guarded against those things that would destroy them.

Applications:  I think I’ll mention here that in all instances of this chapter, the applications come down to being mom to two sons, and wanting them to live well, make fine choices and live in service to God.  Encouraging them to do the very best they can in God’s sight is part of my job as a mother – which includes reminding them that they are the heads of their own households, and as such, need to be good leaders, strong in the ways God would have them to be.

Prayer:  God, may your will be done.