Thursday, June 22, 2006

God is in the roses...

I’m struck again at the ways that God provides for us… Back in ’87 when I first learned about my familial hyperlipidemia, I learned that the prayers and concerns of a wider community make a huge difference. I have certainly felt that over the last months as my parents journey through hospice proceeded. Thank you to all who sent prayers our ways.

Another wonderful blessing during these difficult days has been re-connecting with family, some of whom I haven’t seen in decades. We left my mother’s funeral with commitments to connect under more joyful circumstances. I hope we’re able to keep those commitments but even if we don’t, it was wonderful to be together.

A third piece took place that was entirely unexpected and grace filled. When we arrived in Pittsburgh, my brother-in-law told me that the Three Rivers Arts Festival was taking place and that on Saturday evening, Rosanne Cash was performing a free concert. I think Rosanne Cash is a wonderful songwriter and I really appreciate her work but hadn’t heard anything from her most recent CD – Black Cadillac.
Cheryl and I took a picnic and went to the Point to eat and hear the concert. Rosanne took the stage and played the title tune, Black Cadillac, and then announced that much of the material they would perform would be from that CD… a recording about loss and transformation inspired by the deaths of her parents. The lyrics spoke to me exactly where I was and gave voice to feelings that I wasn’t able to speak yet. Thank you Rosanne Cash for helping me in my journey to healing. As I write these words, I’m listening to the CD…

God is in the roses
the petals and the thorns
storms out on the oceans
the souls who will be born
and every drop of rain that falls
falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses
and the thorns

The sun is on the cemetery
leaves are on the stones
there never was a place on earth
that felt so much like home
we're falling like the velvet petals
we're bleeding and we're torn
but God is in the roses
and the thorns

I certainly feel both bleeding and torn, but God is here in both the roses and the thorns… And when she sang House on the Lake I couldn’t help but realize I will never visit Pittsburgh to see my parents again and my ties to the steel city are forever changed. I know the feeling that “it’s a lonely world…” but I also know what it feels like to never really be alone.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

in memoriam, Beverly Jean Donkin

On 6/14 at about 2:00 in the afternoon, my mother died. The hospice nurse was with her at the time. That was good as her deepest fear was of being alone. For about a week prior, she was slipping in and out of consciousness so I hadn't spoken to her in over a week. I didn't have the opportunity to have one of my sisters hold a phone to her ear while I talked to her.

It was a difficult time as mother had a lot of unresolved issues... more than I realized. There were tensions with my sisters. Mom did get to ask one of them for forgiveness and received it but she never got there with my other sister. She never came to terms with the death of my biological father, Barney, and so her relationship with George Donkin was never quite what it could have been. That played itself out in the family in many ways both obvious and not. The pastor did a wonderful job in the service of acknowledging those issues while still offering us hope and calling us to forgiveness and grace.

I loved my mother in spite of those issues and I am thankful that she did her best to be a good and loving mother. I'm sorry that we weren't able to share more deeply and find closure but I can forgive her and hope that she can forgive me even now. Most of all, I hope I will learn and do a better job of sharing with those whom I love.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

on the web... finally

The church we're part of has just put a web site up on the web. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Friday, June 09, 2006

going to the chapel...

I've had some feelings of discomfort for a number of years now whenever I sign a wedding license. I find myself feeling odd about being an agent of the state when I am supposed to be representing a community of faith. At the same time, it is wonderful to be a part of two people declaring their love and their commitment in the context of their faith community and before God... which brings me to the issue of the so-called "marriage amendment."

First off I am disgusted by the Republicans for introducing this issue when they know it will not pass (and likely don't want it to!). It seems nothing more than a cynical attempt to mobilize a part of the their constituency.

Second, the arguments used are almost always religious ones and this dances very close to impinging on my freedom of religion.

Third, what business does the state have dictating religious issues?

So what should we do? I think the state should do away with marriage as a legal category completely. Let it do what it does - recognize a contract between two people that includes rules about how property is divided and defines a number of responsibilities that they share including medical care for one another, child rearing issues, etc. Call it what it is - a civil union. The state has no role in marriage as a religious/moral institution. Frankly I don't care what gender the parties are when they enter into this contract.

Communities of faith would then perform weddings as what they are - a covenant between two people in the context of their faith community before God, using whatever criteria that community deems appropriate. Clergy would no longer be a part of the legal contract, only the moral/religious one.

Many folk would do both, go to the courthouse and enter into a civil union and then have a wedding in their community of faith. Many others would skip the wedding because it would hold little meaning for them and would be seen as unnecessary. In my estimation this would strengthen marriage as those who entered into it would be truly committed to it. Those not so committed could still enjoy the benefits of a legal relationship with the protections it affords.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Entropy, Evolution, & ABC

Back in high school I had a good friend with whom I had lots of philosophical discussions (hey, we were in high school!) We would sit and talk for hours. One of his favorite topics was "why evolution overcomes entropy." Of course, some folk argue that it doesn't. Recently I've been thinking about how this applies to theology and to life in the Church.

It seems to me that a big piece of the conflict in the church and certainly in my denomination is not really about authority of scripture but about whether one adhers to entropy or evolution in their theology. Let me characature the two understandings...

Those who favor entropy see a world that was created perfect and has been winding down ever since the fall. Everything was complete on the 6th day and the sinfulness of humanity has been dragging things down further and further every day since. Technology is suspect because it always takes us further away from what was. Social change is suspect for the same reason. Any new discoveries or understandings have to be shoe-horned into a static theology or they are discarded. God never does anything new because on the 6th day, God was finished and God never does anything outside of a completed revelation. We must seek to be like the earliest churches as they were closer to the "true" church.

Those who favor evolution see that creation was not complete and that God is still at work. New things are waiting to be discovered and new understandings will be revealed. The perfect creation is not at the beginning, it is at the end and we, in partnership with God, are working our way towards it. Theology is always "written in pencil" as God comes to us from the future and surprises us. Social change is not only good, it is required. Technologic change is to be embraced. The church changes as its context changes and the "true" church is one that is faithful in its context.

It seems to me that there are good supports for both understandings in scripture and few if any people really sit at the extremes. Most of us hold some of both views. Which one understands to be dominant is the key. Those who voted for PSW to withdraw from ABCUSA hold to entropy. Personally, I embrace evolution. How about you?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Iraq & murder

I've been thinking a lot about the situation in Haditha... Let me begin with my usual disclaimer. I am a pacifist and I believe that there is no justification for a Christian to engage in war.

Now... thinking about the situation in Iraq, what would one expect? We have leaders from the President to the Attorney General telling us that the Geneva Convention no longer applies. A war was begun under what look to be either false pretenses or gross incompetence and lots of people have died for what? We have 20 year olds with automatic weapons risking their lives daily and always unsure who the enemy is, after all, they aren't fighting an army, it is more like fighting a bunch of street gangs. We have a moral situation where Iraqi deaths aren't even counted and "collateral damage" is greeted with a shrug. We drop bombs on villages knowing full well that bombs don't discriminate in who they kill and that is OK. We have kids who either just want to get home alive and are frightened all of the time. We have others who have developed a taste for the thrill of playing God. We have leaders with compromised moral understandings and a Marist-like commitment that allows any means if it leads to the end they desire. And when things go wrong, even though the troups have pretty much followed the messages they've been getting from the top, they get blamed and end up in jail (see Abu Ghraib in light of the administrations discussions on torture).

Given all of this, what would we expect to happen? Some good kids have been stuck in a terrible situation with contradictory "moral" messages and we expect them to know when a killing is "good" and not? And if a mistake is made...

The bottom line is that war is horrible. Period. This one in particular - and probably all modern wars - has no justification. And any blame for the actions of those soldiers must be shared with those in leadership who sent them into this terrible and unnecessary situation. The lives of these soldiers may be ruined as they possibly end up spending the rest of their lives in jail. They will carry guilt and the scars of their actions whatever happens. There is a way to stop this from happening again. Bring them home as soon as possible.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

different vantage points

Funeral practices differ from place to place, ethnic background to ethnic background, and probably even by class. That said, the practices we had for dad were pretty typical blue collar, anglo, Pittsburgh. That meant that we began with a viewing at the funeral home. I was not looking forward to the viewing. I pictured standing around near an open casket with a parade of folk coming by saying "I'm so sorry for your loss. Doesn't he look natural?"

Well... he didn't look natural so that part was gone. We did get lots of "sorry"s but the piece that I wasn't expecting and really appreciated was the stories. People shared short stories about dad that showed the different way they had experienced him. One jumped out. Dad had a twin - Dave - and together they worked at a local grocery store while in their teens. The owner lived across the street from dad as he grew up. The grocer had two sons - Dave and Wayne. I never paid any attention until Dave told me that Wayne's first name was George and that they were named after dad and his twin. Then Dave told me stories of dad babysitting for him and his brother and even going on vacation with them. I never pictured dad babysitting. I could only imagine the impression he and Uncle Dave had made that got two children named after them.

Another piece that was wonderful was to see who showed up. Towards the end of his working, dad worked for a large construction company. The retired owner showed up at the funeral home and spoke about what a dependable and good worker dad had been.

After the service we had a luncheon and told more stories. A cousin sand an off-color song that dad taught him as a child. A second cousin shared that she was 15 before she realized that his name wasn't "Uncle Sausage" - dad liked to come up with names for everyone and when nothing else came to mind - sausage was the fall back.

Add to that just connecting with family and friends and while there were tears, it was also a good time together. Still, it feels odd to begin to realize that very soon my generation will be the old ones. It is already true on the Donkin side.

Mom is not doing well and I doubt that it will be long before we have another viewing and funeral... When I left, it was pretty obvious that it would be the final time we'd be together. That was very difficult for her and for me.

Friday, June 02, 2006

we're back

We're back in town now after a whirlwind trip that was filled with grace and difficulty... Thank all of you who have sent your prayers and your good thoughts our way. I learned long ago that prayers from all quarters become a net of support that can see a person through the most difficult of times. We felt that net.
I'll write some more as soon as I get caught up a bit... but again, thank you all.