Life Lessons c/o Public Transit
By Trish Johnston
Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, and going to college in rural upstate New York, public transit wasn’t a part of my life until I moved to Philadelphia in August. I made the conscious decision to not bring my car with me to the city as a way to get me out of my comfort zone and really force myself to embrace city living. And so for the past six months, I have spent countless hours on SEPTA buses, trains and trolleys. A lot of people living in Philadelphia hate on SEPTA, but I’ve found that (most of the time) it’s not that bad. Many of the experiences I’ve had on public transit serve as reminder of life’s lessons. They may seem like little things, but you can learn a lot from a simple train ride.
You can roll your eyes and harmph at the guy who brought a full sized boom box onto the train and is playing loud music, or you smile when you look around an realize almost everyone in the car is dancing a little in their seats.
The world around you is what you choose to see, and your day is going to be a whole lot better if you choose to see the happy, the good.
Sometimes the bus driver doesn’t see you standing at the back door of the bus, and to get off at your stop you might need to scream ‘back door!’
Being assertive to get what you need is ok, as long as you’re polite while doing it.
The train is going to come at the same time whether you stand anxiously at the edge of the platform looking for it, or whether you take a minute to sit down on the bench.
Be patient. Trust the journey. God has a plan for you. You can keep yourself up at night worrying or you can sit back, take a breath, and enjoy.
If you see someone with a desperate look on their face running to catch the train you’re already on, you stick your leg out between the closing doors for them, no matter the bruising consequences.
You never know when you may need someone to hold that door for you.
A SEPTA worker lets you on the train for $2.00 instead of $2.25 because you don’t have a quarter on you. A bus driver stops mid-intersection because he sees a kid running to catch up. A group of people helps a mom get her stroller up a flight of stairs. A young man offers an elbow to a woman struggling to step up onto the bus. A guy gets out of his seat for you, not because you’re elderly or pregnant, but because you’re carrying a full bag, a yoga mat, a lunchbox, and are flushed from the trip up the stairs.
Goodness, kindness, and compassion are all around. You just have to take out your headphones, open your eyes, and see it.
Trish serves as Volunteer Coordinator at Seamen's Church Institute (SCI).
Show Up. Be Seen. Live Brave.
By The Rev. Callie Swanlund
Show up. Be Seen. Live Brave. This was the tagline of the training I completed with Brené Brown this past week in Texas. I spent a week with Brené and her team in order to become certified as a facilitator of the Daring Way, which is based on her research. You may know Brené from her TED talks or from her books; she is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.
This week, I learned a great deal about vulnerability. Many of us might think of vulnerability as weakness, but Brené argues that vulnerability is in fact our best measure of courage. In her research, Brené collects data by listening to people’s stories. She asked people to finish the sentence, “Vulnerability is [blank.]” And here’s how people responded: Vulnerability is calling a friend whose child just died. Vulnerability is the first date after my divorce. Vulnerability is getting pregnant after three miscarriages. Vulnerability is waiting for the biopsy to come back. Vulnerability is bringing my new boyfriend home. Vulnerability is starting my own business. Vulnerability is signing up my mom for hospice care. Vulnerability is hearing how much my son wants to make first chair in the orchestra and encouraging him while knowing it's probably not going to happen. Vulnerability is falling in love.
Contrary to our first reaction that vulnerability is weakness, not a single one of these responses sounds weak, does it? No, it takes great courage to do that which God calls us to and to let others see our true selves, created in the image of God.
In our tradition, we have the perfect model of vulnerability: Jesus. Jesus opens himself up to love even when it means getting hurt. Jesus shares his truth even when he knows it’ll make others angry. Jesus gives of himself even when it might mean having nothing left. Then today, we hear of Jesus letting his light shine, even in the midst of darkness.
Leading up to this morning’s gospel passage, Jesus has just told his disciples that he will experience great suffering, including being rejected by those in power and being killed, only to rise again three days later. His disciple Peter doesn’t want to believe it could be true, so Jesus in turn spells out the potential cost of discipleship, which may include death to those who follow him. It is following this shocking revelation that Jesus takes Peter and James and John on a mountain top hike.
As Jesus is transfigured, he is the ultimate example of vulnerability. He takes trusted friends along and peels back the layers of himself to show his full, true identity. Standing on that mountain top, shining as the brightest light the world has ever seen, Jesus shows great authenticity and courage. In allowing his light to shine, Jesus’ friends - who in Mark’s gospel can be quite bumbling and daft - are finally certain that he is who who says he is: God’s son, the Beloved.
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, how do we show up, be seen, and live brave? How do we begin to practice vulnerability? It’s a process to be sure. But there are steps we can take. When Brené compiled her data, she noticed a pattern among men and women who were fully living and truly loving life. The faithful Episcopalian that she is, she borrowed a phrase from the confession in our Book of Common Prayer, in which we say “we have not loved you with our whole hearts.” The people loving with their whole hearts she labeled Wholehearted. “Wholehearted living,” Brené says, “is about . . . cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning thinking, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”1
One of the ways she suggests living into wholeheartedness is cultivating laughter, song, and dance as an antidote to the need to be “cool” and always in control. It is said that shamans, or medicine people, who were sought out when someone was feeling out of sorts or depressed or dispirited, would often ask one of these questions of the person: When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop singing? When did you stop dancing?2
During my training, Brené had us laugh, sing, and finally dance together as a group to fully experience the increasing vulnerability of each action. She names dancing as full body vulnerability, claiming that the only thing more vulnerable would be to be naked. When we dance, there’s a fear that we might be perceived as uncool or out of control. I totally resonate with this fear - I could never be one of those people who is hired to dance around with a sign at a busy intersection in order to draw in business, even if it came with a million dollar paycheck. I am an uncomfortable dancer, feeling very uncoordinated and self-conscious. And yet, that said, there are few things better in life than a family dance party in my living room. Yesterday my 4-year-old taught me a dance move she’s calling the Volcano, and we both rocked out to it until we collapsed into giggles. In these moments, the fear of being out of control or looking ridiculous dissipates and it is this lack of control and care-freeness that I love most. Think of those moments when you overhear a stranger with a laugh so hearty and genuine that you can’t help but join her in laughter. Or when you pull up to a stoplight and notice that the driver next to you is singing at the top of his lungs and using the steering wheel as a drum set, and you can’t help but grin. In embracing their vulnerability, they endear themselves to you, and you are emboldened to be more courageous in your own life.
Since the season of Lent begins this Wednesday, I will share with you that my Lenten discipline this year is to dance every day. I know we often think of Lenten disciplines as stripping away, as fasting from something we enjoy. But what if this year, we were to choose something that would help us become more vulnerable, more courageous? Something that would help us show up, be seen, and live brave. Something that would remind us that we are God’s beloved children and so, so worthy of love.
As you experience the joy of this Sunday Gras, wherein we feast before the fast, [with music, and food, and conversation], pay attention to the feeling of your heart opening more fully and think about how you might cultivate wholeheartedness and vulnerability through laughter, song, and dance this Lent.
May we imagine ourselves on that mountain top, Jesus dazzling us with his brightness, his authenticity, his true self. And may we also let our inner light shine. Let us show up, be seen, and live brave.
1. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
2. The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary
The Reverend Callie Swanlund Serves as Associate for Formation and Family Ministry at Servant Year Supporting Congregation Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and as a Servant Year Mentor.
The Myth of Authority
Sermon preached at Christ Church Cathedral for the 2015 Forma Conference, January 30, 2105.
Andrew Kellner, Canon for Family & Young Adult Ministries
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania
“The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority...”
In the name of our God, Father; Son; and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why is it that today the Church is increasingly not seen, as a true and good discussion partner in asking and answering some of life’s most important questions? For that matter, why are we not asking them?
I have spent the past seven year ministering in and with the Episcopal Church. I even joined up! Prior to this however I had grown up and moved through communities of faith where certainty was the goal and the object of that faith, much as Brene Brown described yesterday morning. Some of you, I am sure had similar experiences. My teachers, mentors, pastors, priests and parents all served as authorities, providing certainty in the midst of an uncertain world.
Then at the age of twenty-two, I packed my belongings and moved from Northern Michigan to Lackawanna, New York,a small steel mill town that shares a border with Buffalo, along the shores of Lake Erie. I had been hired to work at Baker Victory Services, a Roman Catholic residential facility for adolescents with multiple psychological diagnoses. I began to lead a local youth group, and would often take young people from Baker with me to the group. It was not at church or in that youth group, but rather in the cottages at Baker, that over the course of the next two and a half years, that all the certainty that I had been given and latched onto for so long, began to melt away.
You see the platitudes and slogans of certainty, are not helpful when you hold a teenager in your arms as they wrestle with the value of their own life. Words provide no certainty in the midst of deep heartache and pain, but rather melt away leaving one’s own soul bare and broken. The certainty of doing, being and saying the right thing crumble, and you are left to face your naked self, with the baggage of shame, so closely linked with certainty. And yet time and time again we reach back, putting back together the rubble of our certainty, trying to protect ourselves and fearing to grieve; to forgive and to let go.
The desire and pull towards certainty is so often misconstrued today as authority. To teach with authority is seen as providing certainty and being concrete. As a culture we have trusted that concrete certainty makes for the very best or perhaps even the only foundation for life and for faith. Perhaps we have the scriptural children’s song all wrong:
“The wise man built his house upon the rock… the wise man built his house upon the rock… the wise man built his house upon the rock and the rains came tumbling down.”
Concrete certainty, is not the rock to which the song refers, but so very often it takes its place. And this false rock of concrete certainty provides little foundation for a dynamic and living faith shaped by the experience of encountering God. For the idea of Jesus is not the same as the living Jesus. And yet the idea of Jesus or ideas about Jesus, so often serve as the touchpoints and fabric of religious formation and education. Often times without our even acknowledging it.
Many of us, especially we Episcopalians, tend to shy away from the idea and reality of teaching with authority, as we have gotten bogged down in the Myth of Authority.
This Myth of Authority says that:
This is the Myth of Authority, the myth that authority equals certainty. And in places where this myth has become reality, authority constricts and confines, rather than its rightful acts of setting right, setting free, healing, and bonding together relationships.
You see there is not only the danger of giving life and reality to the Myth of Authority; there is also the danger of failing to act and teach with authority, because of the fear of this myth.
But when we teach with true authority we provide relationships in which to wrestle with the questions of our deepest meaning. Places where we hold up principles and ideals, for each person to grapple with and live into. We challenge assumptions, including our own; for true authority comes from living a life of integrity; allowing for yourself to be wrong; allowing yourself to grieve your errors so that you can forgive yourself for being what we all are: a fallible human-being.
I grew up going fishing with my dad. A man who was and at times still is, one of the most concretely certain individuals I know. We have not always seen things eye to eye, dad and I, not gotten along. But we talk, and we talk a lot. Even as an adult, I speak with my parents at least 5 times a week. And so when one day four years ago my dad asked me to go Walleye fishing with him in Canada, I gladly accepted, even if it was with a bit of trepidation.
You see, I knew my dad was not quite happy with me, even if it was a topic we did not talk about. We are both good Midwesterners afterall. The issue was, that I had married my husband a year earlier and my father had refused to come to the blessing of our marriage at the Cathedral Church of our Saviour, in Philadelphia. But dad and I were going to go fishing.
We drove together in my dad’s pick-up truck to the Northern shore of Lake Superior some 10 hours from my childhood home. We settled in to our small cabin and got in two wonderful days of fishing from our small aluminum boat. There were a lot of close quarters on this trip. But it was on the night of our third day, after dinner while playing cards, that all that togetherness must have gotten to my dad. He looked up from the cards in his hand and said, “Your mother told me not to say anything, but I can’t take it any longer.” Though I knew what was coming next, I remember asking him “It’s okay, what’s on your mind?”
“I can’t accept your lifestyle.” he said to me. Though I had not been prepared for this conversation, I quickly responded with a question, trying not to sound too much like a smartalic. “What part of my lifestyle?”
“You know what part.” was his reply.
I responded and said “I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about. Is it the part where I work for the Church? Is it the part where I teach young people about the love of God and how they can find a relationship with Jesus? Is it the part where I helped to start a school of under-resourced families? Is it the part where I tithe and go to church? I am not really sure what you cannot accept.”
“You know what part.” Dad was becoming more frustrated.
“No I don’t.” I replied “Is it the part where I have found someone who loves me and who I love? Is it the part where we have worked hard to make our relationship work? Is it the part where we have made sacrifices for each other, just like you and mom taught me to do? I am just doing what you have taught me to do.”
“You shouldn’t be having sex.” And there it was.
“Dad there are lot of things I shouldn’t be doing. But I’m trying my very best to be the man you taught me to be; to live my life as faithfully as I can. And to model my relationship with Dave after, your relationship with mom. We work hard at making it work. We make sacrifices to make it work. And most of the time we are not having sex. I am just doing what you taught me to do.”
At this point my dad left the cabin, only to return after some time had passed. We promptly continued playing cards, as though nothing had happen.
But a few months later, my parents came to visit Dave and I, on vacation. We were staying at our favorite place, Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. I told Dave that as soon as my parents arrived my dad would want to go swimming and to just be ready for it. And like clockwork when they walked through the door, my dad said “Lets go take a swim.” Dave declined not wanting to push anything and said, “It will be good father-son time.” My dad looked at him and said “Well then come on son.”
When we teach with authority we must allow the teaching to be lived into. It may not look the way we thought it would, but teaching with authority allows room for individuals to be as faithful as they can be, and allows for a broader understanding of the principles and ideals we hold most dear. Authority does not fear difference, but embraces and challenges us all.
And they said “What’s this? A new teaching with authority!”
Our organization, our community, our family, has seen much change since I was elected to the board 4 years ago.
We changed our name, becoming Forma. Becoming something new and yet remaining true to who we were. We have reached out in intentional ways to broaden our community of Christian formation leaders. We have leaned into our understanding and commitment to the Charter for Lifelong Christian formation by inviting in youth, campus and young adult ministers, expanding our membership to 446. We have developed stronger connections and collaboration with our denominational formation office, even establishing a liaison with our board. We have birthed our dreams into reality with the successful launch of two certificate programs, to raise up and strengthen leaders in our field. And we have taken strategic moves to remain the nimble and responsive organization that we always have been by restructuring our board, and taking on the task of raising funds to hire our first executive director.
Our community has changed but our shared commitment to the ministry of Christian formation remains stronger than ever. Our commitment to each other and the unique gifts and energies that we each bring calls us to continue to be a grassroots organization in support of individual formation leaders. All while strengthen the role and quality of the ministry of formation in the life of the Church.
Our board cannot do any of this alone. We are each called and challenged to teach this truth with authority. Being lived out in the reality of the smallest parish to the largest. Being supported and connected across dioceses and provinces. Each and every members’ voice and ministry comes together to produce a great tapestry of diverse expressions of our shared faith.
My friends as we take our leave one from another, may your voices be strong, your resolves firm and your hearts stirred to daily take up the task of teaching our Church with authority. Amen.
Andrew oversees the Servant Year program as part of the Office of Family & Young Adult Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. He also is a member of the Episcopal Service Corps Board.
By James Roll
Love lost yesterday’s war the day that I was compelled to leave a church that I loved because of my sexuality. I lost a place that I called home. One thousand and sixty four tears fell on that day when silence fell. I remember numbly walking out into the cold that I had been cast into, leaving behind everything that I once had surefire faith in. I dodged the sincere loving embraces offered by friends because my heart failed to remember how to let love reign supreme. An unrelenting wave of suspicion and mistrust came to rule in my disquieted soul. Fleeting memories which had been the basis of my faith were reduced to meaningless specks of dust that irritatingly flew into my eye. I vaguely remember going on a mission trip to Hamlin, West Virginia to work on a house belonging to Ardella, a lovely old lady who had lost her husband a few weeks before we arrived. Despite her loss, Ardella surprised all of us with her compassion and willingness to engage us in conversation while sharing a cup of her wonderful sweet tea. On the last day, I found myself sitting in the kitchen when Ardella’s daughter wandered in while on the phone organizing the details of the grave headstone for Ardella’s recently departed husband. I reached out to hold Ardella’s hand. In response, Ardella uttered a barely audible “thank you.” In that brief moment, Ardella unknowingly ordained me to go out into a hurting world to build relationships with people through love, service, and compassion through a simple but powerful act that influenced the person I was in what seems a lifetime ago. Today, I simply rub my eyes--and the irritating little speck of dust that holds the distant memory is gone. I sigh as I remind myself that I blame the church for rescinding my ordination when I was cast out into the wilderness.I remember believing wholeheartedly that leaving the Church behind altogether should have set me free--free to soar on eagles wings with nothing left to hold me back from living my life. My chains should have been broken--but I--I felt a part of myself wither in the boundless silence. Something was missing. I had realized that somewhere along the way I had tossed a precious relationship with God carelessly into a rubbish bin.
I arrived at St. Mark’s as the faithless wanderer, seeking a place where I reignite the doused flame of my soul. I intentionally chose to come here to join a wonderful faith community because throughout the sojourns in the wilderness that I have endured--however lonely--I have clung to the hope that someday I will find peace with all that has happened. Engaging in ministry while struggling with the concept of faith has proved to be challenging, thought provoking, yet exciting within an intense Anglo-Catholic community here at St. Mark’s. One of my myriad responsibilities is to lead the daily office; however, I have come to the unsettling realization that merely saying the opening words of the Venite leaves me with an empty feeling. Each time I utter the words, “Come let us sing to the Lord; * Let us shout for joy to the Rock of Our Salvation”, the awareness that I thoroughly lack the desire to shout for joy to the Lord has become increasingly stark. It doesn’t matter how many times I say the Daily Office or how many times I attend a mass here because that sinking feeling of hollowness returns each time. I take solace in the knowledge that I have thrown myself into this community with the understanding that my soul shall continue to be at peace with patiently waiting for the day that faith returns.
At complete odds with the aforementioned void is the complete excitement that consumes my soul when I throw myself into my ministry at the Soup Bowl and at the Food Cupboard. I have graciously been constantly reminded of the joy of building relationships with others simply by being present in a wonderful community. My heart goes out to the gentleman who shared the story of being excommunicated by his family. I leaps for joy when I hear about the blessings that friends at the Food Cupboard experienced at Thanksgiving with the Turkeys that we gave out. I laugh at the memories I have created amidst the bustle of the Soup Bowl alongside an incredible group of volunteers. My thoughts go out to the man who asked me to pray for him about his addictions. I am given peace when a good Samaritan says that it’s okay to be honest about where I am in my relationship with God--even if that means admitting to others that I don’t believe in God. I often catch myself feeling like Martha, bustling from one task to another, because I strive to ensure that the ministries I am a part of continue to be vibrant, loving, and places where people can go to find either their spiritual or tangible food. On the other hand, even amidst the action, I can’t help but feel that I am continually watching, waiting, and listening for God wherever he may be.
James Serves as Ministry Resident at St. Mark's Church.