Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


DIY: A to-do list for what-to-do when the world falls apart (sort of.)

Recently I got hit by a tsunami. I thought I might drown. Good news! I did not. Though I am still getting knocked over by stray waves, I am getting my land-legs back. And I am getting back up to my usual hypomanic magnificent speed. Down but never out. God be praised!

The nature of my personal tsunami does not matter. It needs no explanation. We all know what it feels like when the earth beneath our feet disappears. To lose all control. To gasp for air. To struggle to find a port in the storm.

Navigator, navigator, please tell me what to do. And the navigator said, Look within yourself and see. Your creator created you with all that you need. Pick up pen and paper. Write it down and make a list!

So I did and this is mine. A work in progress, not totally done.

A to-do-list for what-to-do when the world falls apart (sort of.)

  1. Sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
  2. Dress up weekdays in your Sunday best.
  3. Call your loved ones.
  4. Eat dinner with friends.
  5. Write a snail-mail letter or two.
  6. Rattle some rosary beads.
  7. Go to church.
  8. Write a sermon or two.
  9. Ride your bicycle.
  10. Jump in the pool.
  11. Get your hair cut; polish your nails.
  12. Put a peacock feather behind your ear.
  13. Tell some stories.
  14. Perform on stage.
  15. Check in at the office.
  16. Volunteer.
  17. Pass on those fabulous frocks that no longer fit.
  18. Buy some more. (Hello, Anthropologie!)
  19. Weed your books and color code your shelves.
  20. Reorganize your underwear drawer.
  21. Sort through your socks.
  22. Vacay on a staycation.
  23. Get out of town.
  24. Clean that oven which you hardly ever use. (Baking soda and vinegar!)
  25. Deep clean your toaster. (Shake upside down for 10 minutes. Wash the crumbs down the drain!)
  26. Declutter your kitchen counters from all that kitsch.
  27. Alphabetize your spices.
  28. Retire dusty photos and frame a few more.
  29. Remove sticky tape from stainless steel fridge. (Equal parts vinegar/ dish soap!)
  30. Rearrange the art on the door.
  31. Shred all that stuff that needs to be shredded.
  32. Shampoo your clean hair.
  33. Pop that short story (to yet another publisher) into the mail.
  34. Rehab your (35-year-old) daughter’s doll house.
  35. Scrub the miniature floors.
  36. Wash the tiny clothes.
  37. Play with your cats.
  38. Read some trash.
  39. Binge watch whatever you want.
  40. Eat some chocolate cake.
  41. Shed the shame.
  42. Refrain from blame.
  43. Talk about it.
  44. Cry about it.
  45. Laugh about it.
  46. Go to therapy — as much as you can afford!
  47. Hand out $20 bills to homeless folks.
  48. Donate to your favorite lost cause.
  49. Be god-damned grateful for your 23,145 days on earth!
  50. Dance like no one is looking and shout for joy!

As I said, this is a work in progress. Never ever really done — but I am feeling my soul restored — more and more — with each and every item I check off.

So, dear readers, when the tsunami hits and your world falls apart, take a look within and make a list.

Healing is a DIY project. God built into your body and soul all the tools that you will need.


Thirst Quenching Waters

In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters and the universe was born (13.5 billion years ago or so.) Alpha. Genesis. Birth. And here as scripture comes to an end, Christ pours us a bracing cup of living water. Omega. Revelation. Rebirth. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.

In the beginning, we all get our start in water: safely tucked inside the womb, cramped and cradled until it is time, until the contractions start and the water breaks. Out we come on a wave of living water, squirming and screaming full throttle into God’s crazy world.  A beautiful mess.

The rhythm of life begins and its pretty good. You eat. You sleep. People carry you around and sing to you, play peek-a-boo with you. Everything is just great until someone gives you that first bath. Have you ever given a baby their first bath? They wriggle and squirm. It is beyond their comprehension why you would subject them to this torture. Babies do not realize that there is dried milk behind their ears and dirt between their toes and they don’t care. But their parental units do care, and they are going to give that baby a bath because they know what is good for them.

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of baptizing seven of God’s children on a single Sunday morning: one adult, four babies and two toddlers. There was a little three-year-old named Eric who was not too keen on this baptism thing. At the class the day before, Eric hung back not wanting to “play baptism” with me. Very cautious, very skeptical, very astute for a three-year-old. 

On Sunday morning, poor little guy reeled in agony as his mom lifted him up and leaned in over the font. He waved his metal truck wildly screaming NOOOOOOOOOO!!I ducked but managed to dribble a little water on his frantic forehead. 

Eric, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Eric, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. 

At this point, indignant little Eric is wiping his face with the little linen towel. I knelt down to half apologize. Sorry little guy. Baths aren’t always fun. But that was God’s love, the water of life, raining down on your head. 

Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let everyone who wishes, take this water of life as a gift.

Deep in the first century on the Island of Patmos a man named John (no, not the apostle John, a different John) wrote down his wild and wooly visions. Vivid fantastical pictures of his community’s struggle under the persecution of Rome. The visions are at times violent and terrifying, filled with beasts and dragons. Allegorical and symbolic, the powers of good battle the powers of evil. Neither really wins but hope literally springs eternal. The water of life soaks the soil sprouting seeds and drenching roots. Maybe there can be a new heaven and a new earth. Maybe life really can rise out of death.

20 centuries on, we live in an equally thirsty world. Peruse the news and lots of it is not so good. Division reigns. Tribalism rules. We seem endlessly locked in a struggle of us versus them. We cling to power rather than pursue the common good. Entrenched in our bubbles and bunkers, we demonize those who disagree with us, those who do not believe like us, and those who do not love, like us. Beasts and dragons, one and all, we cast them out. We fight a futile scorched earth offensive, where living water is hard to find.

Once upon a time, there was a little parish tucked on the side of a hill struggling on their own little Island of Patmos. The parish had a strong tradition of outreach to the community. Their neighbors were both poor and without a roof over their heads. So, they organized a soup kitchen and an overnight shelter. They hammered nails repairing houses and they sat bedside with the sick. But there was another thirst in the community — just as deep — hoping to be quenched. 

The apartments around the church were home to a host of Ethiopians, many of whom had fled the oppressive government of the late Haili Sallassi – and most of these Ethiopians were Christians. But adrift in Northern Virginia, they had no spiritual home, no literal House of God to call their own. So, the people of this little parish flung wide their doors and welcomed their neighbors in. They decided to share their worship space and birthed a new congregation: The Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation, Noah’s Ark, Holy Mother Church. (Yes, that really was its name!)

On Saturday afternoons, this little Episcopal Church was transformed. Icons were propped up in every window. The priest swung the thurible; incense rose to the skies. A hundred praying people huddled in the pews. Living water flowed and Christ was worshipped anew.

So, Emmanuel, turn your eyes toward heaven. Look up into the ceiling of the sanctuary. The wooden scaffolding resembles the ribs of an upside-down ship. Now, we Episcopalians have nerdy words for everything and we call the sanctuary the nave. Literally a Latin naval word for ship – nave was an early icon of the church. Hop aboard the ark. The waves of life may be rough but Christ captains the boat.

This holy water sloshes and splashes over, above and around. Remember Matthew 25: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink? With every item dropped into the ALIVE Food Pantry basket, with every juice box packed into lunch bags for the homeless, with every cup of Saturday morning coffee poured at Carpenter’s Shelter; with every Sunday morning sip from the communion cup, Emmanuel’s water breaks, and Christ quenches a thirsty world.

Come, let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.


Christening & Coloring Outside the Lines

Clergy love baptizing babies. It is our favorite thing under the sun to do. At Emmanuel over the past five years, umpteen new little people have been welcomed into the family of God. This coming Sunday we are welcoming two more!

Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer begins with these familiar words:

There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.

These words are ancient and deep and recognized by Anglicans all over the world. But the only thing required for a “valid” baptism, a baptism that will be recognized by the vast majority of Christians, is that when you pour the water over the baby’s head, you pour the water in the name of the Trinity.

While baptisms in the Episcopal Church are Sunday morning affairs, there are exceptions to the rule. Pastorally, the priest may make accommodations for unorthodox circumstances.

I have done baptisms in the great outdoors. I have twice baptized babies at home and once in the hospital. I even once baptized a nervous young groom who was about to be married at my kitchen table. Each has its own story.

These are the Christenings, as a liturgist, where I have colored outside the lines.

This summer I have the great joy of baptizing a new little family member. This little one will be baptized in her parents’ living room surrounded by family and friends. Family and friends who come from a variety of Christian traditions or no tradition at all.

Baptism is about welcome and inclusion, not who is in and who is out. There is room for EVERYBODY at God’s table. So for this occasion, I crafted the following liturgy — freely and wildly adapted from the United Church of Christ.

As an Episcopal priest, I can’t use this service on Sunday mornings but it’s a great baptism-on-the-go for those occasions outside of the traditions and trappings of church.

So, here you go!

Opening Hymn    Morning has broken (Everybody can sing the Cat Steven’s hymn!)

Introduction
Following the tradition of Jesus who welcomed children into his arms, we welcome NAME into the World.

Fully respecting the diversity of all gathered here, we affirm the love of God made known in him/her and the sacredness of the covenant shared between this child, his/her parents, grandparents, godparents, family and friends, to support him/her as she grows in hope and love.

Questions of the Parents/Family
Do you desire to have NAME baptized?  We do. 


Will you encourage NAME to learn from the wisdom of the prophets; doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with him/her God? We will.


Will you foster in NAME both a love of God and love of neighbor, that he/she may seek and serve the good in all people? We will.


Will you nurture his/her enquiring and discerning heart through all of the seasons of his/her life? We will.


Will you journey with him/her to discover all the wonders of God’s work found in Mother Earth? We will.

A Promise of Assent
Jesus calls us to welcome children into the full life of connection and community, opening our table and hearts to those most vulnerable, offering the wisdom of the ages to all who hunger for truth.

Do you, who witness and celebrate with NAME today
promise your love, support, and care?

We promise our love, support and care.

Affirmation of Faith

Do you believe in God
the Source, the fountain of life?
I believe in God.

Do you believe in Christ
the Servant, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth?
I believe in Christ.

Do you believe in the Spirit
the Guide, the liberating wellspring of life?
I believe in the Spirit.

Prayer Over the Water & Baptism
We thank you, God, for the gift of creation made known to us in water and word.
Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life.
In the time of Moses, your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land.
You have come to us through water in the stories of Jesus who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb, baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, and became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and sent them forth to baptize with water and spirit.
Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water. With this living water, bless all refreshed, quenched and renewed here with the gift of new and resurrected life. Amen

By what name will this child be called?
NAME.

I baptize you NAME with faith in the living God,
Source, Servant and Guide.

May the Spirit be upon you,
child of God,
son/daughter of Love. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication
God of wonder, we give thanks for the open-hearted and generous spirit of all, parents, family and friends, who provide a safe harbor and a loving home where NAME may explore, learn, play and grow in to the full stature of your compassion and grace. Amen.

Celtic Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you NAME. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of her hand. Amen.

Freely and wildly adapted from the Baptism liturgy of the United Church of Christ and other sources.


The Parish Priest & the Manic Maid of Orleans

I believe in reincarnation. At least professionally I do. Career wise I have been reborn three times. My first incarnation was in the education field as a Montessori schoolteacher. My second incarnation was in the business world as a Systems Development Manager. And my third is an ecclesiastical calling as a parish priest. Three times seems to be a charm or maybe just good karma. I am now into my 25th year as a parish priest.

For those of you who may not know, the priestly vocation is one of the last generalist professions around. We are according to the Book of Common Prayer supposed to “share in the renewal of the world as pastor, priest and teacher.” Pretty heady stuff on a cosmic level. But down here on earth, we get to work with people of all ages and at every stage of the faith. We get to celebrate life’s greatest joys and to be present at life’s greatest sorrows. And we change hats. We change hats a lot. Pastor, priest and teacher are just three of them.

There is also administrator, supervisor, coach, cheerleader, truth teller, tear dryer, master of ceremonies, volunteer coordinator, choreographer, confessor, bartender, party planner, mediator, crisis counselor, shepherd, building manager, parking lot attendant, babysitter, coffee maker, janitor, plumber, secretary, editor, publisher, facilitator, fundraiser, community organizer, liturgist, preacher, chaplain, wedding coordinator, funeral director and bandleader.

Give me a little more time and I can think of some more.

Bandleader is really the best metaphor for what a parish priest does. The priest doesn’t make the music, the parishioners do. But the priest makes damn sure the music gets made. And to be a good bandleader — with God’s help — you sometimes have to do a little bit  or a lot of all of the above.

On a day to day basis, this calling can be head-spinning-hectic. But I can also honestly tell you it is never boring. Sundays come round and round but no two days are ever alike. And I get bored very easily.

So twenty-eight years ago, as a Systems Development Manager, I called my staff into a meeting to announce my departure. But before I tell you about the meeting, let me tell you a little bit about my second profession. I worked for Freddie Mac in the IT department, back when IT meant mainframes and COBOL and Fortran and JCL (and no, I will not explain these terms, you can Google them.) My team of a dozen programmers supported the financial systems of this Secondary Mortgage Giant. General Ledger. Budget. Payroll. And I was their bandleader — Joani who didn’t even balance her own checkbook.

So I called a meeting of my dozen disciples.  All of them nerdy, techie wizards. I told them how  gratified I was to have been their manager. I applauded all their hard work and thanked them for all they had taught me. But it was time for me to go. I would be leaving at the end of summer to start seminary in the fall. Most of my staff, knowing of my churchy involvement, congratulated me and wished me well. But Julie, the newest member of my staff was silent. Perplexed she paused for a moment. And then she asked me this question.

“Joani, do you hear voices?” A bit taken aback, I too paused and then I answered her. “No, Julie, I don’t hear voices. Do you?”

Joan of Arc in the Cathedral at Reims

Now my namesake, of course, is Joan of Arc. In fact, a WWI poster of Joan of Arc hangs on the wall behind my desk in my Emmanuel office. Mounted on a white stallion, banner furling, sword drawn, Joan is beautifully decked out in shining armor. The poster boasts “Joan of Arc saved her country, so can you.” Well, Uncle Sam, eat your heart out. Who better to lead the charge than the Maid of Orleans.

The Maid of Orleans who heard voices.

Joan heard voices — the voices of angels, the voices of saints, the voice of God. At least that is what she proclaimed. And these voices led her at the tender age of 17 to leave her tiny village. So Joan followed the voices all the way to the court of the defeated Dauphin. And there in King Charles’ court she proclaimed herself a soldier and the savior of his kingdom. The voices gave her the balls to demand an army and the king was so desperate he agreed.

Led by voices, saintly and angelic, Joan did win a glorious battle or two. The glory quickly faded. Captured by the English, Joan was abandoned on the battlefield and crowned a heretic.  And we all know what happens to heretics.

Burned at the stake.

Now the truth be told all of us hear voices. We all have voices in our heads prodding, reminding, encouraging, calming, chastising, urging — lots of voices clamoring for our attention. And it’s a spiritual matter, discerning these voices. Which ones should we pay attention to? Which ones are on our side? Which ones are making any sense? Discerning voices is something all of us do just about all of the time.

The only problem is when the voices seem not your own. Joan of Arc heard heavenly voices — St Margaret and St Catherine and the Archangel Michael. She said this is not me talking, I take my orders straight from God. And in the Middle Ages only crazy people heard voices. In the Middle Ages only the possessed heard voices. Crazy, possessed heretics were burned in the Middle Ages.

So it was a very long time, centuries in fact, before a reluctant church placed a halo on Joan’s head. In fact,  Joan was added to Holy Women, Holy Men, the Episcopal calendar of saints, just a decade ago.

It’s dangerous to tell people you hear voices.

But now twenty-eight years on, I need to change my answer to Julie’s question from a “no” to a a qualified “yes”. Yes, I have heard voices not my own. Tuned into the universe, riding wave after wave of manic bliss I have been convinced that God has important things to tell me. There is no booming voice from heaven. It’s more like God and I are on the same page. Lit up inside — as if by fireflies –my fingers fly like lightning on my keyboard. The Creator of the Cosmos inspires my every word.

One summer I wrote twelve sermons in ten days. Brilliant. Profound. Quotable. Publishable. For twelve Saturdays, I pulled them out one at a time before climbing into the pulpit each Sunday. Some of them were damn good indeed. Some of them not so much.

The bipolar brain does not walk in straight lines. The bipolar brain, at its manic best, zigzags and spirals. This brain is like a blender on max combining the most unusual things in the most unusual ways. “Touched with fire” bipolar folks have quite a history of being marvelously creative. Kay Redfied Jamison’s fabulous book “Touched with Fire”  is a veritable who’s who of poets, sculptors, writers, painters, musicians, composers — all of a manic-depressive temperament.

Where would all the art galleries and concert halls be if all this madness had been medicated away?

Emptier maybe but on second thought maybe not. Leave that blender on too long and the bipolar brain breaks. It splinters into a bazillion little pieces. Concentration shatters. You’re no longer sure just whose voices you’re hearing in your head. And whoever they are, they all seem to be clamoring for your attention. So instead of great art pouring out of your brain, out comes the ravings of a lunatic.

So yes, Julie, I have heard voices. Sometimes the voices are my own. Sometimes not. Sometimes maybe the voices of saints and angels. Sometimes maybe — I dare say — even the voice of God. The wisdom of course is learning to discern the difference.

This gift of discernment is by definition pharmaceutical and therapeutic. It is a gift best practiced at the psychiatrist office and on the therapist’s couch. It’s a gift best practiced with friends and family. It’s a gift best practiced each morning when you face yourself in the mirror. It’s a spiritual gift, given by the grace of God.

And for this gift, I am deeply grateful each and every day.

So friends, do you hear voices?


Nothing but cats. You’re welcome.

Have you read the news today? Not so good, right? How’s your love life? Nonexistent? And your bank balance? Kind of low?

Well, you’ve come to the right place! Nothing but cats. Take a stroll through mindless bliss. Scroll through pictures of nothing but happy cats. Let me introduce you to the two drunk acrobats who share my space: Cheshire and Charlie.

They just turned two. And they have crazily done me a lot of good. Maybe they can do the same for you.

So….

Morning yoga.

Nap.

More napping.

Afternoon yoga.

Cat in a box.

Table cloth tunneler.

Toilet paper thief.

Cheshire Cat.

Trash Can Cat.

China Cat.

Cat who can’t get down.

Triangulated Cat.

Cat’s in the bag.

Cats in cahoots.

Dragon slayer.

Scaredy Cat.

Toilet Paper Thief, the Movie.

Litter mates.

Nothing but cats. You’re welcome!


Pajamas, a Personal Manifesto

I am addicted to pajamas.

I recently invested in a Pier One wicker dresser just for my pajamas. I have over a dozen pairs: short, long, cotton & comfy. I even have a linen red polka dot night shirt. Nobody ever really sees me in them but that does not matter. I collect them for myself and recently from my favorite store Bloomers — I brought home a brand new pair.

Sometimes spelled “pyjamas” and nicknamed “PJ’s, jimjams, and jammies”,  pajamas derives from the Hindustani word for lightweight drawstring trousers traditionally worn by Islamic Continental Indians.  Perfect for lounging.  Perfect for sleeping. Perfect for so much more.

Like interchangeable monastic robes,  each pair I wear depends upon my manic-depressive mood.

Mostly manic and  mostly mystical, in the sanctity of  my sacred space, I call home.

Yoga stretching.

TV watching.

Blog blogging.

Day dreaming.

Coffee drinking.

Netflix binging.

Life contemplating.

Psyche orienting.

Decompressing.

Soul relaxing.

Head raising.

Life strategizing.

Event planning.

MAC typing.

Day scheduling.

Church organizing.

Kid connecting.

Friend texting.

Book reading.

Breakfast eating.

iPhone tapping.

News consuming.

Pillow hugging.

Couch surfing.

Spotify hopping.

Coffee drinking (Yes, again, coffee drinking.)

Mood mellowing.

Evening praying.

Inward looking.

Brain cycling.

Tightrope balancing.

Politics pumping.

Crazy resisting.

Fire dreaming.

Self affirming.

Spirit restoring.

World saving.

All in my pajamas: fleece, flannel, cotton, short and long, worn through and brand new.

All in my pajamas, in an hour or two, I collect my thoughts and reconfigure my gut, at least for the next day or so.

I recommend it most highly  — in these exceedingly strange and stressful times.

Pajamas, my personal manifesto. A way of life.


Linger Among the Alleluias

Dear Lord,

Let me linger among the alleluias,

at least for a little while.

It is Easter Tuesday and I am much hungover from Holy Week.

I am a very sleepy preacher.

Bells are still ringing.

Choirs are still singing.

And I am still sneezing.

Allergic to pink flowers you know.

Bundles (and bundles) of bulletin pages fall to the floor,

swept up and recycled.

A cacophony of alleluias collect in my soul.

I covet them there.

“Alleluia” by Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931)

But tears still fall for prodigal children lonely and lost.

And tears still fall for love that may not live to see the light of day.

Little liquid pools of lonely, I do confess well up,

as I celebrate the resurrection day.

Lord, let me wander among the alleluias,

searching for the living among the dead,

where your body still lies torn.

Interceding for lives lost,

in the mosques of New Zealand,

in a synagogue of the City of Brotherly Love,

in the Easter Sunday churches of Sri Lanka.

Weeping for the fallen in foreign wars.

Aching for the fallen in our own backyards.

Breathe life into all those hateful empty places.

Breathe life into the darkest space that haunts the human heart.

Stumble Jesus — please — from your empty tomb.

Lord, let me find you among the alleluias,

living with the people on the streets,

lurking behind the most unlikely faces,

tripping up the hypocrites who take your name in vain,

my myopic self included.

Holy One, please,

catch me in my petty sinfulness,

my self centered ungraciousness.

Remind me still that I am a child of God,

grateful to be a laborer in your vineyard,

grateful to be a celebrant of these holy days.

Lord, let me live among the alleluias,

where the “green blade riseth,”

where the “strife is o’er,”

where the stone is ever rolled away.

Each and every day I pray, feed me this Risen Bread,

that I may become that which I eat.

Healing holy visceral tissue to mend this broken world.

Lord, let us linger among the alleluias,

a resurrected people,

at least for a little while.