November 29, 2014

Arm’s Length Generosity

Filed under: Children and Families,Social Gospel,Time and Talent,Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:56 pm

My latest inner journey began quite innocently. There was nothing particularly unusual about the Sunday morning: I settled into my pew, opened the bulletin, and began to sift through the various inserts that would shape a good portion of my calendar for the next few weeks. The announcements were things I already knew about, but a special green half-sheet offered something new, “Sign Up for Christmas Giving Opportunities.”

It’s been quite a while since we have been part of a congregation that had an active Angel Tree sort of ministry. This is going to be fun!

There were two invitations to choose from: We could provide gifts for a family in need through our relationship with one of the local food pantries, or we could provide gifts for children of incarcerated people as an extension of our parish jail ministry. Aside from some differences in the details, the guidelines were pretty standard for this sort of outreach…until it came to the delivery instructions:

Gifts are to be wrapped and returned to the church office by Wednesday, December 10th. Please put the recipient’s first name on the gift and use the Family # in place of the last name.

Pretty standard. I can do that.

Gifts are to be wrapped and delivered to the children’s families several days prior to Christmas. If you prefer not to deliver the gifts yourself, we can arrange delivery for you.

Are you kidding me?! My reaction was immediate and visceral: Not. gonna. happen.

I would love to be high-minded and claim that I was living into the tzedakah, the Jewish practice of generosity that places a higher value on situations in which the giver and the recipient are unknown to one another. But that’s not my truth this time.

I could also claim that it’s somehow more “Christmas-y” for the recipients to receive anonymous gifts. It’s a little more magical, and it preserves the recipients’ dignity. But, again, it’s not the truth.

No, it’s not the face of poverty that’s the problem here. It’s the face of generosity. The real reason that I recoil from the notion of personally delivering gifts to the homes of children whose parents are incarcerated is not because of their situation; it’s because of mine. Abundance is embarrassing. Admitting to my share in Lady Bountiful Syndrome is simply too big a risk, too raw a truth, too real in its disparity. I drop gifts off in the church office for the same reason that I buy neatly wrapped cuts of beef from the grocery store—it tidies up the reality.

Perhaps it would be appropriate, therefore, on this First Sunday in Advent, to make a New Liturgical Year’s Resolution: I am challenging myself to live openly as a generous person, in spirit and in practice. I will learn to put a face on loving my neighbor as myself, to stop hiding from the light of genuine engagement. Will I be ready to deliver the gifts myself next year? I don’t know. I can’t promise that. I can only promise that I will, somehow, be changed.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy “Jenny, Family #16” that sturdy lidded stock pot she’s wishing for.


April 18, 2013

Trivial Pursuit

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 5:36 pm

My day was not off to a good start.

I had taken my car in for a routine oil change and tune-up. Something unrelated had gone wrong in the process and now it refused to let the mechanic make it happy. It was entirely possible that I would be shopping for a new car before the week was out.

I needed to clear my head and do something positive, so I jumped in my loaner car and headed for the gym. I checked in, headed for the locker room, started to change…there were no socks in my bag. Seriously? No socks.

I’ll walk the dog instead. That will be good for both of us.

By the time I got home it had started to rain.

Now I’m really feeling sorry for myself.

And guilty.

I’m feeling guilty about every stupid little thing that’s going wrong because this particular bad day happens to be Tuesday, the morning after the Boston Marathon.

In the midst of it a wise friend said, “The relatively small problems of our lives don’t pause when there are these big tragedies going on.”

She reminded me that the very fact that I had these little inconveniences was a sign that life goes on. Life is always, on some level, still normal, even in the storms that rage.

This brings to mind a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Time in which the writers lay out a method, complete with diagram, on How Not to Say the Wrong Thing. It turns out that not saying something stupid around the ill, the aggrieved, the bereaved, and others who rely on us for offerings of presence comes down to one simple rule: comfort in, dump out.

Here is how clinical psychologist Susan Silk describes what she calls her “ring theory,” which, she points out, works for any kind of crisis: medical, legal, financial, romantic, you name it. [i]

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma….Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order….

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens…. That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours,…listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it….

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are,…that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort in, dump out.

My friend and I were able to talk about my anxiety and frustration because we were in the same ring—we both live at a distance from Boston, and we had both quickly confirmed that the Marathon runners and volunteers we knew were safe. Kvetching about something else, something that was trivial in the grand scheme of things yet a real and present stress to me, didn’t take away from our equally real and present concern for those in closer rings. This was where we were; it was OK to meet each other there.

In her gift of just a few supportive words, my friend freed me to unapologetically pray to St. Eligius, the patron saint of car mechanics, and to pray for those in any kind of sorrow or danger, for victims of terrorism, for first responders, and for those who do great harm.[ii] She freed me to appreciate the trivial inconvenience of everyday life.

July 19, 2012

Ramadan Mubarak

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 7:42 pm

There are times when feeling homesick takes me by surprise—a familiar sound, a smell, a long-forgotten memory awakened by a random remark.

Then there are the predictable moments—a special event, an anniversary, a milestone.

The beginning of the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, a day or two after the astronomical new moon, is one time when I can count on a sense of longing for the life of my South African village. It’s a day that one can only roughly predict. And because of that, there is something thrilling about hearing the news that the crescent has been visually confirmed, the observance of Ramadan has begun.

Why is this so exciting for me? First of all, I love the inherent contradiction in fasting to celebrate abundance. I love the notion of abstaining for the purpose of making oneself aware of how much one has as a person of faith, of recalibrating one’s appreciation of that which sustains. The inner worked that Ramadan demands is substantial. I want to learn from that in my own spiritual practice.

Second, I love it that Ramadan is lived out loud. It’s transparent, communal, and has its own rhythm. The cycle of daily fasting, prayer, reading and study is, again, demanding. But it’s not burdensome; it’s joyful. Shopkeepers close early to pray, read, and study together before the sun goes down. When the fast is broken each night, it’s broken together, in homes, in extended families, in neighborhoods and community centers. Abundance is present in the physical sharing of food and in the attitude of plenty and blessing that invites the poor, the stranger, the lonely to the feast.

The third thing that I love about Ramadan is that, while it does demand a great deal of inner awareness, it also insists on an external engagement that brings word and prayer to life. Zakat, the obligatory proportional giving that is one of the pillars of Islam, is ramped up even more during Ramadan. In this month, the faithful typically give both a larger portion, if not all, of the required zakat, as well as a voluntary offering of sadaqa, an amount above and beyond their proportional obligation. Sharing from a place of abundance is not limited to money; it includes offerings of food, clothing, and other essential items in the belief that good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in other months and that both parties receive a blessing when one helps another break his fast.

And then, of course, there’s Eid. Eid ul-Fitr is the feast that marks the end of Ramadan. It is a joyful, colorful, exuberant time of gifts, and sweets, and banquets, and new clothes. It is forbidden to fast on Eid—having gone to that inner place of fasting and prayer, there is a balance in permitting oneself to receive abundance as well. I loved seeing the obvious pleasure that families took in marking this festal day, in balancing their fast with representations of God’s lavish generosity.

And so tonight when I take the dog out one last time before bed, I will look to the sky. I will notice the moon. I will remember the friends and neighbors who await the sighting of the crescent. I will think of the things their faith has taught me, the ways in which I’m stronger in my faith for having lived side by side with theirs. I will silently wish them Ramadan Mubarak.

September 27, 2011

Shana Tova!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 3:19 pm

On the first Sunday after I arrived in our South African village, I got up, motivated the family, and headed out to the local parish church, naïve to the challenges of worshiping as an Episcopalian in the Anglican Communion. They had a supply priest that Sunday; he was great. We went back the next Sunday; not so great.

But it was only July; there was still plenty of Ordinary Time remaining. Surely we would be settled in somewhere in time for Advent. I proceeded confidently to the internet café, looked up all of the parishes in our area and noted the service times for those offering Eucharist in English. It was a short list. A few more tries and we realized that if we were going to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers, we were going to have to be creative.

If you’ve never been in this particular wilderness, let me tell you: Christmas without Advent is just plain weird. First there is the simple issue of timing and preparedness: I literally forgot to start shopping and nearly missed getting parcels in the mail on time, all because I didn’t have those four candles pacing my preparations each week. My heart was untethered as well: How would I welcome the Christ Child if Mary didn’t journey to Bethlehem? How would Emmanuel come if John didn’t prepare the way?

It was hard.

While all of this was unfolding within me and in my home, I was also learning to navigate the village. I was figuring out which shops were closed from 12-2 on Fridays while their proprietors attended prayer. I was accepting that “sundown” was a moving target. And I was getting over my disappointment that in our little pocket of the country Sunday was the quietest day of the week—in my mother and father in law’s neighborhood the singing went through the streets for hours; I missed that.

It was in my second year that I finally learned the deeper lesson that for this time, my sense of groundedness would come not from the colors on the altar or the progression of liturgical seasons. It would come from a little deeper inside me, and a little further down in the Baptismal Covenant, where I vowed to love my neighbor as myself, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

Here’s what happened.

I bumped into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a few weeks. The last time I had talked with her, she was really excited about going home for Dewali, so I asked after her holiday. She glowed with the joy of time with family, then touched me lightly on the arm, “And you’re next! Will you travel for Christmas? It must be hard to be so far away. What are your plans?”

In that simple and heartfelt gesture, she opened my eyes to a change that I hadn’t even realized I had absorbed. I had learned to move through a different unfolding of seasons. Instead of a liturgical calendar, I rode a wave of faith and family that began with the solemnity of Ramadan and the lavish delight of Eid Al-Fitr. The High Holy Days marked a time of renewal and reflection…and before we knew it the fabric merchants had moved bolts and bolts of fabulous sari fabrics to the front of the store for Dewali.

Then it was my turn. And when it was my turn, I had a new understanding of my faith in context, a new way of seeing my traditions and celebrations. When my colleague said, “You’re next!,” she was loving her neighbor as herself. She was practicing stewardship of otherness. She was encouraging me to be myself. From that awakening, I really did have a Christmas unlike any other—as we moved through our celebrations, my imagination danced with other families, celebrating other holidays, each just as happy in their moment as mine was in ours.

I’ve been thinking about my neighbors a lot this week, with the approach of Rosh Hoshanna and Yom Kippur. Whether by faith or in some other aspect of self, each of us is other. Each of us is bound, whether by baptism or by another rite, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Look around. Enjoy one another. Shana tova; gmar chatima tova

April 26, 2011

The Steward Ship

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 10:51 pm

In the summer of 2006 a dozen or so clergy and laypersons gathered at a retreat center outside St. Louis to spend a few days identifying emerging issues in the church and the society, and to work together on ideas for addressing these issues from the vantage point of stewardship, spiritual health, and baptismal ministry.

One of the less realistic, and more enthusiastic, ideas to come out of our discussion was the notion of The Steward Ship. This would be our response to the geographic challenges associated with holding stewardship days or stewardship conferences at the Province level. The Steward Ship would start in, say, San Diego. As it made its way up the Pacific Coast, we would offer on-board discussion sessions, workshops, and seminars. We would stop in ports along the way and people would be invited to come aboard for day sessions or to sail with us for as long or short a time as they were able. While this was of course a blatant attempt to justify a Hawaiian cruise, the rules of brainstorming do specify that all suggestions have merit and must be considered for at least preliminary discussion!

The Steward Ship was sure to be a smashing success. When it finished it’s Pacific Coast debut, it would most certainly be in high demand around the Gulf Coast, up the Eastern Seaboard, and through the Chesapeake region. It would most certainly be welcomed from New York to the Gulf of Maine, and we wouldn’t think of neglecting the Mississippi River corridor! We could pretty much eat, drink, sleep, and sail through our commitment to all aspects of stewardship through our Baptismal Covenant 24/7.  Bliss. Pure bliss.

Alas, as I have noted, this was one of our less realistic ideas. In these last weeks, however, as I pondered the launch of the mainestewards blog, I revisited the idea of The Steward Ship in a more metaphoric way. My hope is that the subscribers to this blog will find it to be a place where they can join in, spend as much time as they like, leave when they need to, and be nourished from our time aboard together. My goal is to address stewardship in all of its many aspects, sometimes in the context of the week’s lectionary reaadings; sometimes in the context of our Diocesan Cycle of Prayer; and sometimes in response to our lives together.

Thank you for being part of this journey.

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