Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Underside of Christmas: Everyday

"When the Star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the WORK of Christmas begins. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to teach the nations, to bring Christ to all, to make music in the heart." Howard Thurman.

The underside of Chirstmas is now before us, everyday: to pray the grace of Christ's music play joyfully in our hearts as we come to deeper intimacy with Him going about his work in the world. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Underside of Christmas

Before the manger we kneel as the minutes of Christmas pass. Since John the Baptist first called us, all those weeks ago, to the turning of our hearts and minds away from all that would separate us from the love and forgiveness born this night, how have we allowed the Holy Spirit work within us so that Jesus is born not only into the world, but also into our hearts and minds and living ....? Let our Christmas prayer be that our hearts and minds are opened to these most precious gifts of Christmas. Amen.

Image: Hand sewn ornament by Mrs. Carl Stanley depicting the church of my childhood, the Kenilworth Union Church, Kenilworth, IL.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent from the Underside: The D Antiphon

¿Dónde está el Rey de los judíos que ha nacido? Porque vimos su estrella en el oriente y hemos venido a adorarle. (Mateo 2:2)

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos. We are using an interlinear Spanish/English, Nueva Testament/New Testament provided by the Gideons.  
My patient teacher makes me pronounce each word over and over until my pronunciation is correct enough.

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos. / ¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos. / ¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos. / ¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos. Porque vimos su estrella en el oriente y hemos venido a adorarle.

The D Antiphon?

Around us, there is lunch and improvising decorations, incredible grace and kindness.

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos.

I am grateful to see the old man in his grey maxi-skirt and dirty kicks. He taught High School mathematics for years before he lost the struggle to quiet the voices in his head with booze and when that stopped working, weed and stronger things. He somehow successfully dodged the draft and outwitted those sent to arrest him by coming north but President Carter’s pardon did not extend to schizophrenia. He is reading the New York Times and eating chocolate cake.

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos.

Table decorations are being made from a discarded gift bag and silver and red garland from the pre-Christmas sale bin at Walgreens. They will stay in the kitchen, I am told because the weekend office worker spent her entire shift last Sunday hand making ornaments for the little artificial tree in the living room. It would be wrong to detract from her gracious gift by adding to it.

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos.

 On the ground floor are five parents, four mothers and a father with young children. They travel from church to church every night so that they do not have to sleep outside. During the day, they can stay here. A board, slouch postured young teen watches something on the TV I don’t quite understand. There are no beds or couches. A preschooler girl sleeps hard on the tile floor wrapped in an old comforter, another in a long discarded stroller. There is a beautiful boy, about a second grader, with long wild curly hair telling his father numbers from a book. The women, I’ve been told, have been asking for blankets for the children.

¿Dónde. Está. el Rey. de los. judíos.

When the Spanish lesson and our kitchen decorations are done, I retrieve the bag of blankets I have in the car.

Porque vimos su estrella en el oriente y hemos venido a adorarle.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Underside of Advent: Longest Night

From the Underside of Advent, the Longest Night, sharing prayer, hymn, meditation and Eucharist with Episcopal friends and neighbors, bringing strips cloth, upon which we've written our deepest longings for the frail, vulnerable God who we will welcome soon, laying them upon the empty, waiting manger.  We prepare for Him a place amid the only gifts we possess this night, or any other, our own sufferings and trials. They must suffice.

The bread, His body, is broken. The wine, His blood, is poured. His frailty and suffering, His vulnerability and trials are before us; they are for ours, if only we bring them. He is with us this long night, real, risen among us, in the bread and wine, in the Word, in our offering poor gifts, in the gathering of faithful, hopeful hearts gone now home each their own way into the cold and deep darkness our way perhaps a little better prepared to welcome the One who is to come.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent from the Underside: "Mary and the Midwives"

Advent 2011
from the Feminism and Religion blog

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Romans 8:22 (NIV)

Ancestral midwives kneel in shadows

bringing aid and comfort
witness giving
to the pains and crying out and pushing,

...prepare the way,

For birthing
in a gushing
mess with cries of gratitude and joy,

As water holy turned
to blood in breaking open paths and sacks
that spill out life
and milk and bread
from deepest springs of hope ferocious.

Beyond the burning ropes
and rapes
and silence, neglect and jailings all of them passed over
stories buried
never heard of more nor seen nor named for eons
but now we care and picture them and her with them and us.

And tell how even Sister-Mother-Midwife Allah
gave a tree bent down to shake
to give her fruit
and water in a rivulet
to bathe her tears and terrors.

And now we know that tales of her alone with no one near
are told from fear of what might be
with women’s arms around her.

To this very day they warn “You dare not, Women,
think of that. She’s not like you for were she that

God would never come through you.”

But sister, mother, holy one, around you waiting now as then
we sisters, mothers, holy ones are here with you to aid and comfort
wait with you and witness to
the work and spirit in you ready here and now is God.

And when we breath with you and help you with the birth
we bring it all
to life among us
all a’groaning to be saved and free
and all in all, Good Women,
in you, with you, for you all
in God’s good healing time.


Featured image: "Mary and the Midwives." " by artist Janet McKenzie. commissioned by Barbara Marian.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent from the Underside: 3rd Sunday in Advent, Longing for Light

The land in deep darkness. There seems none among us not seeking Light with at least some small sense of desperation.  With horaó, inward spiritual perception, the ancient Magi followed the light mile after mile, through untold nights of deep darkness to the Light which shines in the deep darkness which the darkness cannot overcome.  From this dark underside of Advent may we all glimpse the Light.  

Advent from the Underside: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent

The only words, "I'm sorry." The only thing shared grief in silence, "so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. " (2 Corinthians 1:4b)

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, 
and with fear and trembling stand;”

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:22)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent from the Underside: Saturday before the 3rd Sunday in Advent

“Sin pan.” “El ruido.” My patient teacher, who does not do art, articulates carefully and slowly. I write in Spanish and in English in blue paint upon the news print sheet employed to make clean up go faster. And upon careful questioning, he tells of his child’s long desert journey with his father and the coyote towards the promise of a better life.  

German constriction paper Christmas Bells remembered from a 5th grade teacher. The grateful story of a  6th grade teacher who could see the considerable gifts of intellect and empathy in the shy, quiet girl; the same teacher who struggled to maintain order with the active, talkative boys. Hot dogs and diet coke along the third baseline at Wrigley.

A mixed-media Santa with a white glitter nose and matching left thumb sliding down a pink and purple crayon chimney carrying in his acrylic paint sack a purple teddy bear.

“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

Advent fragments gathered the Saturday before the 3rd Sunday in Advent:   Advent from the Underside. 

Advent from the Underside 1

A rosary ? Why, yes. Despite my deep Protestant roots, literally centuries deep, decades of chaplain training have made certain I always have a few in the glove box in the car. 

What exactly does a Menorah look like? Let me google it on my phone and we can look at a picture together.... Half an hour or so and several sheets of construction paper later- an almost perfect representation if the Wikipedia pic. 

The hope of divine compassion real in human life. Light overcoming darkness. The comfort of familiar ritual- centuries proved. Human suffering knows no bounds, cares not for doctrine or belief. It seeks only the blessing of relief, the strength beyond strength of hope amid overwhelming grief, suffering and unrelenting pain. 

At a shelter for the homeless, unmedicated mentally ill: Advent from the underside. Come Emmanuel, come soon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bring People Back To Church

I've known this truth a long time, however this week it seems to be all I've done: the church is not losing people because it does not have rock bands, visibly tattooed preachers, Disney-esque youth pavilions. It is not failing to attract people because it has strayed from orthodoxy or because every sermon is not focused on our dependence on substitutionary atonement. 

I can tell you from
 my group room that the church is failing to attract the very people it is called into being to serve because it is not meeting them at the point of their greatest need. Honestly, the road to Emmaus is a true story, one that is not contained in the Gospel of Luke, but one that is lived out every day, a thousand/million times. I think that when we in the church can open ourselves to the real grace of our risen Lord, alive and well, touching our deepest needs, deepest pains and fears, sufferings and despair then we can live a church which will do the same for God’s hurting, suffering, longing people.

Image to the right is "Dinner at Emmaus," Mondrian.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Powerful Women Empowering

I am currently attending the Nigerian Women Empowerment Award Dinner and Leadership Workshop Conference at the Mid-America Club on the 80th floor of the Aon Building in Chicago--the view is amazing and today was a prefect day for it.

Many things about the day impressed me, but perhaps most was the preamble to the oath of office the new leadership one of the host organizations, the National Councils of Women's Societies of Nigeria in the Diaspora. It went something like this, "We in Nigeria are a very religious people. So now, whatever religion you are, whatever God you pray to; if you take this oath, know that God will hold you responsible. We are not playing at this, the lives of our children depend on what you do..."

Let us come this week to prayer. Let us come from the diaspora of our living--the scatteredness of our stress-full, hectic, demanding lives before that which Unites us and Endures. Let us ask that we are given all good strength and focus of compassion for our living such that all that we do might be presented as an offering worthy to lay before the feel of whatever God we pray to. And, that always in our hearts and in our minds is some glimpse of the vision of the impact of who we are and what we are doing on the world we are building for the children of us all. Amen. 

Image: Her Excellency Dame Patience Jonathan Goodluck,First Lady, Federal Republic of Nigeria patron of sponsoring societies: the The Association of Nigerian Women Leaders In Diaspora and the National Council of Nigerian  Women's Societies. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Love is Patient

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Because such gifts are so rare, in this world where death and violence often seem unremitting, this week, let us pray for patience and kindness and grace. Let us ask to be filled with such trust in the deep and abiding beauty of our own natures and in the nature’s of those who we love that our greatest joy is in the simple truth of them. Let us pray to hold and believe and hope and be sustained in all that we are and all that we do and, most especially, in our love for any who would come our way. Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I don’t know about you, but when Sunday’s violence just up the road in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was occurring I was sitting safely in my pew next to a good friend who is worried about her father’s progressing Alzheimer’s and in front of a lovely older couple who are worried about some of the declines in health that you might imagine. As the events in the Sikh Gurdwaw (meaning the Gateway to the Guru), or temple, were reaching their horrific climax, our congregation was singing:

O for a world where everyone/Respects each other's ways,/Where love is lived and all is done/With justice and with praiseO for a world preparing for/God's glorious reign of peace,/Where time and tears will be no more,/And all but love will cease.

Our pastor had just finished preaching a sermon titled, “When our Theology Goes on Tilt,” responding to the horrific events of the previous week in Colorado. She was trying to help us all begin to right ourselves, make some meaning amid news stories that filled our struggling hearts and minds with the awful and the evil (the official definition of evil being, simply, the absence of good). She told us what she admitted she needed to hear; it was what we all needed to hear. It is what, I confess to you, I need to hear once again in these days…

She reminded us how unhelpful it can be when other people offer consolation to us by defining God’s will in the face of horrible tragedy, and of how our greatest and most certain consolation is always that God is with us during these times, so closely, that it often quite hard for us to see him. She affirmed that God was most tenderly with all who died and with all who are suffering and grieving. That God is most tenderly with us and our loved ones right now as we are trying to right ourselves once again in the wake of more senseless violence, death and loss; and that God is with each of us in all our times of grief and pain, uncertainty and fear. She affirmed that, despite our inclinations towards believing all the evidence to the contrariety, God is with each of us as we struggle to pick up the pieces of our shattered world views, our broken hearts and souls.

In an interview with Sojourners Magazine, responding to the events in Wisconsin, Ralph Singh, an international Sikh leader, offered these words: “A Sikh, wherever they go in the world, is committed to building community a community of peace, an inclusive community to stand as an affirmation of what we now call pluralism," and asks that we join the Sikh community in sharing our stories, personal and those of our faith traditions so that we all might work toward the goal of Sikh communities which is working toward building a more compassionate and inclusive society.
To my ear, our stories sound quite alike.

Let us pray this week to see more clearly God with us, whatever the circumstance might be and for the deep consolation and profound comfort that our hearts need. Let us ask for the grace to become partners with God, and with one another, in creating a more compassionate and inclusive community. Let us pray for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways, a world where all that we do seeks justice and love, and in sings praise to God. May all that we are and all that do sing of our prayer for a world of peace and unceasing love. Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jesus is Out of The Church

Here is what I learned today: 

The old Haitian woman is brown, and bent and slight as her walking stick. I was so glad to see her. I had worried in all this heat. In the past, she has told me that she has many years since made peace with the voices in her head and her need for Jesus. With Jesus, she told me, she has a happy life off her meds which often seemed to make things worse. It was not always thus; a jagged life she is glad she is long past.

She came to join us today carrying a bouquet of wild flowers, all green and yellow and sienna and orange. They were beautiful. Finding no vase, she took a can out of the recycling and left them for everyone to enjoy.

She told me, through long missing teeth, to go to the local village fest. It features the music from many cultures, it is important for all of us to try to increase our understanding of other people if we are going to live well with one another. I must go too because they have a gospel tent. They are bringing Jesus to the people.

Jesus, she says, is locked up these days in the churches. It wasn’t always thus. She tells me of  her childhood in a poor mountain town where the RC church was so far away that they could only go twice a year. The Pentecostals were out among all the small villages. All the Catholic parents would send their children to the Pentecostal bible school and worship services held in tents so they could learn about Jesus. All carried strict instructions no to go down to the Alter Call. Many did, though, and later brought their parents.

The people need Jesus today, she tells, me. He needs to be brought out of the churches and back to the poor, hurting, struggling people.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Edge of Glory

I spent last Friday at a ministry conference at the University of Chicago. It’s an annual event sponsored by the Divinity School. Lady GaGa fans will recognize this right away, this Chaplain was a bit slower off the mark, the title of the conference was Edge of Glory. For the postlude to the noon worship service the Sr. Organist for the University Organ, played… Lady GaGa’s “Edge of Glory.”
The conference was a mix of some very scary statistics from Duke's Mark
Chaves, Professor of Sociology and Religion about the shifting demographic trends in American religious affiliation away from institutional denominationlism, along with some truly awe-inspiring and innovative ministries which are responding to those scary shifts in the religious landscape; including the Rev Rick Hudgens, from Evanston, Il's Reba Place, Pastor Phil Jackson and Spiritual Transformation Through Hip Hop, Rev Nanet Sawyer from Chicago's Grace Commons and the Rev, Dr Shanta Premawardhana, President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago..

I’d gone hoping to get some new information or insight which might improve my evidence based practice of ministry with our patients and their families and our Associates in the hospital where I work.

And, I know that I my time there was well spent and that my reflection on my work as a Chaplain in your midst has deepened. This, alone, will improve my practice. But, what I realized by the afternoon workshop I attended, led my an internationally known leader in the area of interdenominational and inter-faith cooperation in ministry, is that, perhaps, next year’s conference ought to feature the truly awe-inspiring and innovative ministry of anyone who works healthcare—Chaplain, nurse, doctor, counselor, tech, administrator, maintenance person, housekeeping person, medical imaging or lab tech… Any one of us.

For, the thing that unites persons who find sustenance and hope in an organized religious faith and those who would tell you that they are “spiritual but not religious” and those who claim atheist or agnostic or secular humanist or whatever is that when they walk through our doors they come as suffering sharers of our common humanity. They come to us our suffering brothers and sisters.

No matter what our role or discipline among the members of the multidiciplinary healthcare team, we are all committed to serve in our healthcare system with genuine respect, a joyful spirit and passionate caring. And, no matter what our role or discipline we share the common purpose of offering healing and wholeness and hope to any who come here. The word patient has its origin in the Greek, pathos, suffering. We share a common commitment to meet our patients, our suffering brothers and sisters, at the deepest point of our humanity—compassion. To understand this is to understand the central truth of the commonality of our human journey—the thing which unites those of diverse faith and no faith. The compassion you live in your daily life, and especially in your work, is service with ultimate genuine respect, spirit-filled joy, and with the deepest passion of caring. To work here with compassion, is to, literally, from the Latin, suffer with another. It is to feel for your patients, if we are to take seriously the ancient Hebrew scripture which unites the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam— the same great swell of love and concern with a mother feels for her newborn baby.

So perhaps, standing on the Edge of Glory belting out the chorus to a Lady GaGa song is not such a bad idea in this place that gathers our sisters and brothers, sufferers of every sort, from this world of truly scary statistics:

I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment of truth
Out on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge,
I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge with you.
I'm on the edge with you
I'm on the edge with you
(You, you, you...)

 Let us come to prayer this week. Let us come with all that we are, all that we have, and in everything that we do. Let us bring our compassionate hearts before the throne of Glory, praying that we might bring them to anyone who comes to us in this place, this place on the edge of glory; praying that we might offer them to anyone hanging on in a moment, a moment of truth—of diagnosis or prognosis, of accident or circumstance, of worry or concern. Let our prayerful, compassion-filled hearts join this week with our suffering sisters and brothers singing: “I am standing on the edge of glory with you, hanging on, hanging on. I’m on the edge with you. I’m on the edge with you. I’m on the edge with you….”Amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Original Poem by Julie Ann Monroe, HUC, CADC,PSC


By: Julie Ann Monroe, HUC, CADC,PSC


The morning is dark and cold

The rain has turned to ice

The golden arches of McDonalds

are like a sunrise to me.

Warm coffee and Spanish music for my drive.

The hospital stands above the other buildings as a wary

beacon of sorts

it's lights are always on

someone is always home.

I tiptoe across the sidewalk and enter

the quiet warmth

The elevator hums and stops at each floor and

I pause...

Whatever my problems are I am reminded to

bring my heart into this day.

There are visitors and families in huddles as each door opens

for a brief second

I can see the grief on their faces

the worry

the wrinkled clothes from yesterday.

Their lives, like mine are suspended in a state of change.

Still, here in this place, we are all human,

there is no hierarchy for pain

there is no prize for suffering

and there is no status that serves

that is better than the human heart...

and love is the language

that I hope can jump the chasm

my eyes to your eyes quickly

before the door closes again.

Poet and Author Julie Ann Monroe has been working n healthcare for over twenty years. It is my great preasure to have worked with her for the past nine.