The Church of England and British plumbing have a lot in common. They were both invented a long time ago, barely function at all and resolutely refuse to be updated. OK, I'll grant that mixer taps are not frowned upon any more, but that concession was hard won. Maybe sometime in the next century Brits will be able to have electrical outlets in their bathrooms, or, God forbid, light switches that are inside the room and not pull-cords. Well, let's not go crazy.
The one thing we can rely on though, is that the Church of England won't have moved an inch, even as the walls crumble around it and British society finds it less and less relevant. Now relevant is a bit of a charged word. To be a relevant church these days is to be hip, cool, with it, and the C of E resists that mightily. And there are some bad things about being too "relevant". But to be irrelevant is ultimately fatal because you have absolutely nothing to offer the world at large.
The ongoing furore in England over the possible, sometime, maybe in the future possibility of the consecration of a female bishop is painful to watch. The hand-wringing, the endless concessions to those in the church who resolutely refuse to move into the latter half of the second millennium AD (or should that be the more PC CE?) makes me want to stab myself with a fork. Well, maybe not, but it is annoying.
Having come from my own Diocesan convention, where we began the process of saying goodbye to Bishop Nedi Rivera as she retires over the next few months, put the issue into focus for me. Nedi was the 12th female bishop consecrated in the Episcopal Church, the 1001st overall. I like to think of her kicking off that second thousand in fine style. I have worked closely and personally with Nedi in our youth program over the last four years and she is a fantastic colleague. Like most of us in youth work, she does whatever is necessary, regardless of whether it is a suitable job for a bishop or not. I've seen her flip viewfoils for the band when we were singing, all the way through liturgical development to deep small group discussions up to the official bishoply business of confirmation. She's a very capable leader, and there is no question that she can do the job of bishop extremely well.
I guess I just don't understand the objection to female bishops in this day and age. The argument is never that they can't do the job, of course. It's that the Bible says they just can't be a bishop (even though it doesn't) or tradition says they can't, which becomes rather a circular argument. Of course, advocates of tradition rarely eschew the use of cars, planes, trains, indoor plumbing, central heating (*), television, radio and all those other innovations that have come along in the last couple of centuries. (* OK - I'll grant that the Romans had a form of central heating way back when, but it got lost somewhere along the way, and anyway, I don't see the traditionalists advocating rebuilding Hadrian's Wall - yet...)
The church is the last bastion of patriarchy. For the traditionalists it all started going to hell when women got the vote. Then they got jobs, then they got elected to public office, then the boardroom. the only safe place through much of that has been the church, led, of course, by the Roman Catholic church worldwide. So it's no shock maybe that Rome is attempting to lure some traditionalist Anglicans into the fold. They do have rather a lot of job openings - celibate males aren't flocking to holy orders in quite the numbers they used to. There is no finer summation of that situation than that of the inestimable AKMA.
To wrap up a rather long-winded and rambling post, let me compare two approaches to the role of clergy in funerals in the UK. First, via Maggi, the views of an insensitive clod who somehow stumbled into holy orders:
"...the best our secularist friends (and those
they dupe) can hope for is a poem from nan combined with a saccharine
message from a pop star before being popped in the oven with no hope of
One parishioner, Amy Griggs, 34, said she was appalled by Father Tomlinson’s
opinion. “That means he stands at funerals pitying and effectively mocking
people who have poems read or put on their loved one’s favourite song,” she
said. “He is there to try to help people through, and if that means
listening to Tina Turner or James Blunt then so be it. We’re not living in
the past. If he doesn’t move on how can the Church be expected to survive?”
This ministry is so very precious.
Even amid the current tide of deaths, I need to pause to note the
privilege of standing beside so many people as I try to remind them
that God is with them too.
Having been through the loss of my lovely wife two years ago, I know which one of these I would want by my side in the midst of grief (and indeed I had my fantastic parish priest who takes her vocation as seriously and as beautifully as Kathryn does.)
Last year I began writing down what happened on that fateful weekend two years ago. I'm not sure why - but at least partly because it's one way to process emotions. The sensory overload at the time everything happened was off the charts, so it was really hard to figure things out even months later. So I sat down and began to write what I could remember. The very act of writing also surfaced memories of things I'd forgotten about. Another benefit was the ability to reflect on the very real support I had from those both far and near. To every one of you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart - you can not imagine how much you meant to me then and continue to do so today.
I hope this is of use to those of you who ever have to help someone through anything similar.
So here's part one of the story. It may not be for everyone, so read cautiously if you're at all squeamish. I tried not to gloss over any of the really difficult parts. It's not short - I have a few thousand words and I'm done writing yet by a long way. I'll post more over the next few days.
Sometimes it's hard to know what to think or feel. There really are no words to untangle the jumbled emotions of the weekend I went through exactly two years ago. Losing a lifetime friend, companion, wife in the space of a few hours is unbearably cruel, but the love and care of friends and relatives was also amazing.
Last Saturday the local organ transplant organization, Lifecenter Northwest, held its annual donor appreciation event. I wasn't able to make it last year, and so was eager and curious to see what it was like this year. As it happens, a friend of mine from church who lost her husband three months after I lost Sue was also going to be attending, as her late husband had been a donor too. The event was quite fabulous - a truly meaningful way to honor those who gave and the families that remain behind and grieve their loss. The event was held at the old Seattle Town Hall. The auditorium was set up like this:
Both the national and local transplant organizations encourage donor families to make quilt squares in honor of their loved donors, and what you see flanking the screen above are two of the quilts made up from those squares. The ceremony included speeches by a recipient mom, a donor wife, a college professor who teaches on grief and loss, a quilt square pinning ceremony, a candle lighting ceremony and a slide show honoring the donors. The latter two were particularly meaningful for me and are depicted below. The next picture is of my candle being lit in honor of Sue.
This last picture is of the slide of Sue that was in the donor
tribute. It's a fabulous picture that remains the quintessential
picture of her.
As many religious bloggers have noted, it's Easter Sunday today. The last three days have marked the pinnacle of the Christian year - the tipping point of the whole faith. As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus it's all too easy to look past what resurrection means in our own lives. Eighteen months ago, more or less, I was in church the day after I got the awful news about Sue, and kneeling at the altar rail I imagined I knew what Gethsemane must have been like for Jesus. There is an enormous amount of hurt and despair in grief.
And yet, if we truly believe in the resurrection, then we must also believe that the separation from our loved ones is only temporary. That is perhaps some comfort, but today was one of those days where the sharpness of the loss was so pointed. I guess it's partly because Easter was Sue's favorite season, and partly because I received a lovely email this morning from a friend reminding me of that.
It did get me thinking about the afterlife, too, triggered by some comments on a post Maggi Dawn wrote a few days ago. She blogged about World Autism Day and her son's Asperger's Syndrome, and he wrote a post himself, then she followed up with a question - would you want to be cured if you could? Several commenters noted that their own differences (for that is what they are - not necessarily disabilities) are what makes them unique, and more importantly, that they would hope to retain those distinctions in an afterlife, whatever form that takes, because those are the things that make them who they are.
But all of us have imperfections (and talents too) large and small that make us unique. For example, Sue had an underactive thyroid. She took synthetic thyroid medication every day since her late 30's. A big deal? Probably not, but it's the kind of thing that's a daily reminder of our mortality. Our bodies require a fine balance of chemicals to be maintained or we get sick and even die in short order if things aren't righted quickly. Right now my knee is a daily reminder of that, too, although the infirmity will fade with time it will always be with me.
We each carry hundreds of these distinguishing features - some of them big, some little, but together they shape us internally and form how we react with the world. For the rest of this week I'm going to try to focus on what makes all the people I meet unique, and I pray we keep our uniqueness intact when we finally make it to heaven...
One last thought - one of the trees I bought and planted last year was a coral bark maple. Bright coral bark with brilliant green leaves. It struggled after planting and shed its leaves early, so I have been worried about it coming back this spring. It hadn't shown any signs of life until this week when - ta-da!
Four days to go, and Palm Sunday will be a big anniversary of sorts. It will be exactly 18 months since Sue collapsed. It's hard to believe, really. The past year has been so full of unusual events that I sometimes feel I barely had a chance to draw breath. It has been fabulous in many ways, but in other ways it has been a way to keep the reality of what happened at bay for a while so I could process it. I think there's only so much pain we can stand at one time and I believe I hit my limit early on.
But the significance of Palm Sunday in my life goes back further than that.
As I've written before, I only came to faith and the church when I met Sue, and was confirmed in Manchester Cathedral at age 22 in 1978 on Palm Sunday. Then in 1982 when Sue and I left England for Canada it was a couple of days after Palm Sunday. After moving to Montreal it actually took us a while to find a church. In fact, given all the disruption of moving country, we didn't even think about church for a year. It was coming up to Easter 1983 when Sue decided she wanted to go to church, so we ended up finding the nearest Anglican Church and found a wonderful faith community at St Barnabas in Dollard-des-Ormeaux (which, despite the French name, was firmly lodged in the Anglophone ghetto of the west island). Looking back, Sue and I were members of half a dozen vibrant faith communities, all different, but all fabulous in their own way.
Other notable memories of Palm Sunday consist mostly of just how awkward it is to process around a church with palms while singing a processional hymn (always All Glory Laud and Hono(u)r). The time lag between the leaders and the tail end is always a problem, as is the fact of being outside where sound dissipates so easily, and the lack of instrumentation. I think one time a couple of years ago a couple of us tried to use guitars to keep things going, but I think it ended up worse than ever.
So there will be some sadness, some gladness and some wry smiles this coming weekend.
Being stuck at home the last three weeks mostly on my own has been a bit of a blessing and a curse. The rest has been nice, and a welcome change of pace from the mad whirl of the last 17 months. Looking back, it doesn't seem like I stopped to draw breath for much of the time since Sue died. Having this much time mostly to myself has also forced a lot more introspection than I'm accustomed to, which can be a bit difficult at times, hence the curse part.
The past week especially, add in the plane crash in Amsterdam and on a more personal level, the fact that I finally took a look at the photos copied from slides that an old college friend sent me this past Christmas from 1977 - particularly shots of Sue and I before we were married, it's been a lot to deal with. Many of the photos are intimately familiar, as we used to have slide shows and reminisce every time we got together for much of the 80s and 90s. Having these reminders permanently on my hard drive has been wonderful, albeit a bit tear-jerking.
Here's a lovely perky one of Sue from the year before we were married:
This one is somewhat unusual, as Sue hated to have her picture taken, and 99% of the time would hide. On this particular occasion she decided to pull the most fake smile she could manage, but it just turned out sort of cute.
My friend was very much into natural light shots, and this next one was sort of the definitive romantic shot of Sue and I from that era:
The warm, out of focus feel to it just made it all the more special, I think. Then there was the classic beach silhouette shot at Blackpool:
The wide flared trousers show up particularly well on Sue, and the handbag...
Meantime, for a picture that reminds me of what it used to be like to be 147 lbs...
The weight loss program is going pretty well, but I'm not quite half way to getting back to that weight...
One last shot, from a mystery train trip that ended up in Bognor Regis - a scene of relatively domestic tranquility - Sue and I reading and chatting on the train:
Yes, it's Friday the Thirteenth. And not just this month, but next month too.
It won't be a particularly happy one round these parts, but not for what you might think is the obvious reason. This evening at church we have a memorial service for a parishioner, John, who succumbed to brain cancer three weeks ago after a long battle. He leaves a widow and two young daughters. Our contemporary band at church - Radiance - is playing all the music for the service, something that is both a great honor and a great responsibility. With my surgery and other people's schedules we have had a hard time finding time to rehearse, but last night everything came together nicely, so I think we're ready. It's weird playing guitar sitting down - well, not weird, but as I haven't played that way much it is more awkward than I'd like. The hand angles are all slightly different, for example.
We have quite a bit of music, and the offertory song is one that I first heard during the weekend Sue died. I was driving from a friend's house back to mine on the morning of the day they did the organ transplants and turned on the radio, decided for once to listen to the local Christian station, and tuned into the middle of How You Live. The line that caught my ear right away was, "So go to the ball games and go to the ballet...". We had season tickets for both. It was too late to try to use it for Sue's service, but we have some great singers who can pull this off so we'll be playing it tonight.