Friday, May 3, 2013

The Great Leveling Table

I sat quietly after communion with tears filling my eyes and slipping down my face.  Today I had the sacred privilege of taking communion with a beautiful older woman suffering from dementia. I could not help but think of my father who died in 2006 after seven years of struggle with the disease. I never got to take communion with him after he became ill. I lived too far away to see him more than once or twice a year.  I wondered if anyone did—if after the onset of his dementia he was able to participate in the shared meal with other believers. I was brought to tears because I would have loved to experience that with him. I was brought to tears because I miss him.

But sharing communion alongside a beautiful older woman with dementia  brought me to tears for much more profound reasons than my own grief and loss. This experience of sharing the body and blood of Christ together from such different places in life was a powerful reminder to me of just how leveling the table is that Jesus set for us. At this table there are no titles, no credentials, no superior intelligence or any other hierarchy. There is only the table set for us with the gifts of God for all who are willing to come with nothing but their sin and gratefulness. And this reality—coming together with only our sin and our gratefulness—is what allows us to experience the presence of Christ in the deepest way.  With all our sin that stands against us, the emptiness of our hands, the utter bankruptcy of any of our earnings,  opens  our hearts and makes room for us to experience the fullness of Christ who is completely for us. An older woman being stripped of memory and a younger woman being stripped of pride together hearing the words, “the body of Christ given for you,” and “the blood of Christ poured out for you.” 

This precious woman could only express in minimal words her delight in participating in the meal but her serene face and her sweetness of spirit touched me deeply. And her willingness to go to the table with me—a stranger to her—was also humbling. She took my hand so willingly and so lovingly. Together we remembered—each as much as we were able—Christ’s death on our behalf. All my seminary education, all my years of preaching and teaching about the meaning and significance of the sacrament of communion and this beautiful sweet woman suffering from dementia taught me so much more.

The table that is Christ’s is the great leveler. Rich and poor, strong and weak, brilliant and simple, educated and uneducated, young and old, of every tribe and nation are all welcomed to the table because of who Christ is and what Christ has done for us.  Nothing more.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Letting Go: Email Loss

I have been blogger gone for the last few months. Changed ministries, changed houses (three times!) And now finally getting settled. So, I am returning to be an occasional blogger. Inspired by the change of email  from former ministry to this one I am contemplating loss and new beginnings. For a pastor it is more complicated. 

In days my email from my previous church will be taken down. After almost ten years there will be no more fpc.candie@. The “fpc” is for First Presbyterian Church of Downey, California. I finished this call the end of October 2012 and began a new call at San Clemente Presbyterian Church. For a variety of reasons it has taken almost five months to get to the place to shut the email down. I find myself a little sad about this. I know why. It is not about email. It is about deep relationships and dear people who I had the privilege of serving for almost ten years.

Professional pastoral ethics and just plain good ministry sense requires that when a pastor leaves a church they leave in such a way as to allow a new pastor to enter and begin to build relationships that will become deep and dear. It is clearly the ethical way and clearly good common sense. But that does not make it easy or any less of a loss for those who experience it. Good pastoral boundaries are easy to explain but very difficult to live out. Pastors are human. Pastors have needs. Pastors are invited into sacred and intimate places with people that bind in ways words can never adequately explain. When you have married and buried and baptized, laughed and cried at hospital bedsides and court-related proceeding you are joined with others in ways that can run much deeper than blood. And yet, in the beginning, we are invited because of a professional relationship that was established—called through a process to be a pastor. And at some point, long or short lived, we are called as a pastors to take leave—the professional relationship ends. A new one must begin. The relationships that run so deep must be given time and space to make room for another pastor to enter and thrive. The payroll and services provided end.  The advice and counsel ends. The officiating  of life events ends. The daily intersecting of lives ends. But the love and the deep connections do not end. Ever. They cannot because they are spiritually rooted and spiritually nurtured, and intended to build an eternal kingdom. It is just difficult navigating the “already but not yet” nature of these relationships that have a temporal beginning and ending, but are eternity bound.

This is my second time navigating these boundaries. The first time was easier because I moved 2000 miles away. This time I am only an hour away. It is more difficult. The Lord knows, I KNOW the principles! I am part of a group in our presbytery that provides oversight and support for these places in ministry. But as good boundary training teaches, boundaries are not always impenetrable brick walls. Sometimes they are more porous and more like bougainvillea bushes. I am grateful for the Presbyterian way of ministry that provides advice and counsel for pastors like me in these places. But I must switch roles from one who advises others to one who receives it. This, too, is not easy. Knowing it and living it are two very different realities.

As this old email shuts down, I am grateful I have a new email. I have a new ministry. I have new opportunities to grow deep and dear relationships in sacred spaces. All these, past and present, are gifts from above. Letting go means days of sadness, days of joy. There is sadness in the loss, but there is also joy in knowing these are friends forever. Just last week two couples from the very first congregation I served visited us here in Southern California. It was sweet reunion for sure. No brick walls. All bougainvillea! As the song by Michael W. Smith says, “Friends are friends forever/ If the Lord’s the Lord of them.”