Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Never on Sunday (but maybe in heaven)

I went to an organ recital and reception at church last night. It was well attended by members of the parish and the community at large, including the Sisters from the local convent(Sisters of St. Margaret).

Not many Episcopalians know that there are Episcopalian nuns (and virtually no one else does, either -- try telling a Roman Catholic that there are any other kind but theirs!). But the Sisters have played an important role in the history of our parish and community ministries going way back. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling and their ages increasing, but they continue to enrich the lives of all they encounter.

Sister Jane Margaret, well into her 80's, is currently the oldest residing at St. Margaret's House. She's a tiny woman, frail, and in increasingly poor health, but she has the kind of fiery energy that seems to burn brighter the more her body fails her.

Last night at the reception, she drew me aside, having heard that my daughter was going to be playing in a regional soccer tournament, now that her team has won the State Cup championship. Her eyes were aglow with excitement. She told me how much she loved playing lacrosse when she was young (and how they allowed girls to play the "real" game back in 1940, whereas today she knows that checking is no longer allowed -- at least it's not legal -- for girls). Apparently lacrosse was something she missed very much when she first entered the convent. She said she was glad my daughter was able to play as she did and wished her the best of luck.

Then she drew me closer and told me, with a twinkle in her eye, that if by some chance she made it to heaven, she said she'd be playing lacrosse there. She also said that just last week, she spoke to the bishop after some ordinations and he told her he loved lacrosse as well. She asked the bishop if he'd play on her team with her in heaven, and he said yes, he'd be happy to.

So, somehow, some day, God willing, the two of them will be playing in heaven, men and women alike, bishops, nuns, and whoever else may love the sport. Blessed be Jane Margaret and all the Sisters.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Father's Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States. For some it was a day to truly honor a beloved parent and to gather the extended family. For others, it was a reminder of how the cult of Family is sometimes exalted over the reality of human lives, a painful jab at those who were born and raised outside the cookie cutter model of the late 20th century, Western, intact and supposedly nurturing, nuclear family.

Elizabeth Kaeton has done a masterful job of bringing both perspectives to light, serendipitously with the Lectionary’s Old Testament and Gospel readings. I recommend her sermon it in its entirety, but the following excerpt is what, for me, hit the ball out of the ballpark:

Today is Father’s Day. For some, this is a day filled with exquisite pain, and this morning is filled with dreaded expectations of the same things which, for others, will be nothing less than pure delight. For still others, it will be a day filled with loss and grief, regret and remorse. Why? Because we are human. We make a mess of our lives as easily as drawing a breath. We hurt the ones we love. We are David and take what is not ours. We are Simon and resent what others are able to give.

Today is Father’s Day and it is no coincidence that the scriptural message is about love and forgiveness. We all need to hear about love and forgiveness, but especially parents who, even the best among us, mess up from time to time – some, even more than their share. Today, especially today, many need to hear a word about love and forgiveness. For ourselves. For the ones who are or were our parents, especially our fathers. For the fathers we are. For the fathers we never were. For the fathers we’ll never be.

Love, Forgiveness and Father's Day at Telling Secrets. (Do go there and read the rest).

Elizabeth's words speak to the kind of experience most of us have lived in a variety of circumstances. Those of who find ourselves parents, in whatever kind of family we may end up raising children, face no easy task. We let ourselves and them down day in an day out, as we often feverishly try to do our best, papering over our flaws and weaknesses, all the while demanding more of them than we managed ourselves, or demanding something very different, some things that might have been beneficial for us when we were growing up, but may be of little or no use to them. Being a child of a flawed human being is not easy either. We don’t know what to make of the many mixed messages we get as our parent(s) inevitably preach some of what they do not practice and are sometimes blinded by the lenses by which they perceive us, our futures, and their pasts.

Learning to love and forgive each other is something that may take a lifetime to get nearly right, if ever. Sometimes it is harder with family than with friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, but, almost inevitably, it is where we all start. Family isn’t everything, and some families are so broken and hurtful that some bonds are best left loose. Yet whether we are born into them, find our own parents and children to honor and nurture, families are where we begin to learn to need and serve others, with love, compassion, and care, the best we can, with God's grace and the example of perfect love God has given us in his Son.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Church v. Soccer

As many people know, youth soccer plays a big role in my life. It takes a lot of time, effort, and some money. It's not always worth it. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's just plain ugly. But it is something I and my family have made a big commitment to because we have a child who not only has some talent for the game, but has dreamed of playing it competitively since she was 7 years old. She's worked hard and given up a lot to do it, but it's her passion, one which she freely chooses, with a good understanding of the sacrifices we make so she can pursue it. And while it does require much of us, both she and the rest of the family have much more in our lives than just soccer. She's a serious student and musician, participates in Model U.N. (United Nations) Club and debates, and believe or not, has a busy social life and a number of close girlfriends. I work full-time, my husband has his many church and diocesan activities, and our at-home son goes to school, works part-time, runs cross-country and track, and has various activities of his own.

There's much I could say about youth soccer, pro and con, and many stories that I could tell about our experiences. But, on the whole, I would say it has been a good thing for all of us. It's not for everyone, and it certainly can be destructive, as can be just about any "serious," competitive youth activity, whether it be sports, music, dance, art, debate, etc. But it also offers much that is valuable as well, not only the friendships we have formed across two states, but a realm in which discipline, hard work, and life lessons, some kind and some not, predominate.

Maybe someday I can write further about these things (it's time to get ready for church now!), but for the moment, I'll simply share the following (for background, go to the Café):

Posted at Episcopal Café Soccer v. Church,

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Jennifer wrote about tournament play, which typically schedules games on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning, and often schedules semi-finals and finals on Sunday afternoon. The issue, therefore, is not about Sunday morning league play or practices, but tournaments, which only happen a few times a year, which, at the height of outdoor soccer season in June and July, are the culmination of an entire year’s worth of training, practices, and league play. Father’s Day is not a religious holiday, not a holy day, but is a secular observance. Many people participate in sports and other activities, are faithful members of church communities, and do not attend church services at their home church every Sunday morning 52 weeks out of the year.

Soccer, music, and other activities can bring children and adults together, foster a sense of community, nurture friendship and trust, instill Christian values – or not. Church can foster community, nurture and strengthen faith, instill Christian values – or not. Sports and Faith are not opposed to one another. Faith should be part of our lives 24/7, and neither faith nor religious practices are limited to Sunday mornings between 8 and noon.

Recently the Café published an article on how our culture tends to isolate youth and prolong their adolescence. This does not happen in the realm of competitive sports. Youth sports, for better or for worse, is not only run by adults, they are involved in just about every aspect of the game. Team parents form an extended family, and each player must respect and deal with all of them, as well as the coaches, managers, referees, and league officials. Unlike their peers, athletes cannot do whatever they want, when they want. They must miss parties, sleepovers, dances, and much “hanging out,” while they train, practice, and compete. If they miss key team events or if their performance is hampered by not getting enough sleep, the right food, or taking drugs or alcohol, their behavior impacts not only their own lives and their fellow players, but many adults as well.

Athletes have to grow up early, arguably even too early. They do not get to be “kids” in the same way as many of their peers. They have responsibilities, they are subject to rules, and they must work and get along with adults in often very difficult, emotion-charged situations. They have to deal with many “unfair” decisions and rules, first and foremost referee calls, rough behavior and taunts from the opposing team, sometimes verbal abuse from spectators on the sidelines, and political maneuvering from those who want to exert power and influence. (Kind of like Episcopal politics?). They need to stay cool under pressure, deal with anger and frustration constructively, establish and stick by their own personal values of fair play and consideration for others.

Of course sports are not more “important” than faith or even religious practices. Conflicts arise not because sports are more highly valued than religion but because some people choose to do other things on Sunday mornings – not just sports, but also staying home to watch t.v, playing golf, working in the yard, going shopping. (Let’s also not forget those who have little or no choice, those who are compelled to work in low-paying service sector jobs and must work on Sundays). Sports is not the culprit, and not all sports or teams have WEEKLY activities scheduled for Sunday mornings.

Clergy who decide to use sports as a scapegoat and penalize parents or children who participate are, I believe, shooting themselves in the foot. Any activity that prevents regular participation in worship and community fellowship and mission is, clearly, something to be discouraged. And for those who are on the Catholic side of the Catholic/Protestant spectrum, regular (at least weekly) partaking of the Eucharist needs to be taught and practiced as essential. But none of that precludes sports.

Our daughter is a PK and currently a member of a soccer team that is a three time State Champion. We are very proud of her and the team, and we do not apologize or defend her participation to anyone in our parish. My husband, the rector, while not a sports fan himself, helps other parents with serious conflicts with sports activities. While he, like most of his colleagues, has no patience with people who drop in and out of activities that require long-term commitment at a moment’s notice, he does work with, for examples, members of confirmation classes so that they can makeup classes or assignments when a major conflict is foreseen (whether it be sports, music, or school) and it is clear that the parents and children are making every effort to comply with the requirements. He also does his best to provide as many weekday masses as possible (on general principles, of course). Nearby parishes, like our many Roman Catholic neighbors, offer early Saturday evening masses, some for the summer months, some year-round.

I understand and appreciate those who feel overwhelmed by popular culture and the pressure we and our children face from those who have no experience with, let alone commitment to, religious life. But too often our response is to retreat and try to insulate ourselves to the point where we sometimes don’t know or understand what is going on the Outside and simplify or demonize what we take at face value as contrary to our beliefs. The Church, apostolic and universal, will not prevail if we confine it to our buildings and monuments and rigid timetables. God is present both within His houses and on the fields of dreams. It’s not where we are on every Sunday morning that counts, it’s whether we do our best to not only keep God in our daily lives but foster church communities that welcome the full breadth of human experience, that do not take attendance rolls, but rather tell people they are missed when they are not present, and give people good reasons for coming back and being there often.