Sermon on Masculinity

Here’s the sermon I preached today. Hopefully video will follow (if my Shang singing is on point).

 

 

What does the word “masculine” conjure up for you?

How about the phrase “be a man”?

I have to give a hat tip to my friend and colleague, Niala, for this one. She pointed out the best way to describe what it meant to “be a man” came from the Disney movie Mulan.

You must be swift as a coursing river,

With all the force of a great typhoon,

With all the strength of a raging fire,

Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

That is some pretty big expectation, Shang (singing voice by Donny Osmond). Not bad, just really high bar when you’re competing with the forces of nature.

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Vigil for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

I was honored to speak at the 20th annual Good Friday vigil for alternatives to the death penalty. Here’s my homily:

We gather here to raise our voices for life. For mercy. In belief that a more humble way will lead to something better. It takes humility to know life is not for us to end, and strength in holding our systems to a more even and measured standard when it is difficult for our emotional, human selves to pause.

I am here because I know the fallible nature of being human. My heart aches when I really allow myself to feel the impact of our need to dole out harsh punishment to one another. Is this who are we when we stop being able to see ourselves in others? When we stop being able to see that we are each beloved and dear to God?

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I woke up like this. Reflections.

I can feel the potential stirring, rearranging.

I’ve been feeling the aches, stabs, sloth, sleep, anxiety of growth.

Mariposa Ave beckoned to me as much as I decided to live here.

Maybe I should have understood the foreboding, the gentle warning. But I was eager to grow.

Transformation doesn’t come without discomfort. Without confronting the hard places of the heart, or habits. Thank goodness for redemption. For neuroplasticity.

I’m feeling ready to live somewhere else. To live into something else. To test the changes. To switch metaphors even. Find a nice street named after a tree. Or the ocean. Something dynamic but with a longer lifespan. Something more still to the flitting eye. I know the stresses and tests and growth don’t end until life ends,  but it can come in waves of stability and upheaval.

Before they are butterflies, they are disassembled and rebuilt. I knew this year would be something like that, maybe I looked for it a little, but life caught me unawares and The Universe had other plans. Hitting me from behind with death. Catching me flatfooted with surgery (pun intended?). I’ve trained for this. Little did I know. All my life has led me here, through my own stumbling and bold decisions. My life, and what I call God, has been pulling me to grow and evolve.

Mariposa Ave, you have been a good chrysalis.

 

 

 

Blessings and gratitude.

Beauty Will Save the World

I wrote the following as one of the weekly reflections I’m responsible for sending out to the entire staff of the hospital I work for. I wrote it in response to different shootings. Different violence. But the same need for hope.

From A Heedful Idiot : Authentic beauty, however, asserts Pope Benedict, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are part; from this Mystery we can draw fullness, happiness, the passion to engage with it every day.”

beauty

(Dostoevsky, “The Idiot”, image from http://www.thehabitofseeing.com/blog/2014/4/18/beauty-will-save-the-world)

“Some soldiers were in tears, some shop owners were in tears. Some people were confused,” Wasfi remembers. “I was connecting everything: death, spirits, bodies, life. People were supportive. They were appreciating the fact that someone can still at least lead their emotions and spirits towards something beautiful, to rise above the intimidation of improvised death.” –(Cellist Karim Wasfi on playing music in Iraqi neighborhoods NPR story dated June 2015)

“On May 27, 1992, a long line of people had queued up at one of the still-functioning bakeries. A mortar shell fell into the middle of the line, killing 22 people and creating a bloody mess of body parts and rubble. Smajlović lived close to the bakery and was appalled by what he saw as he helped the wounded. He felt powerless as he was neither a politician nor a soldier—he was a musician, who could speak truth to the heart beyond any language.” – From Daniel Buttry’s “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” an excerpt on cellist Vedran Smajlovic who played in bombed areas of Sarajevo)

 

 

May we bring the beauty of ourselves and engage with the beauty of the world. In music, friendship, art, nature, love, healing, being present. May we risk beauty even when it is difficult or confusing. And may our hearts be filled by it, and remind us of what is possible.

Blessings,

Chaplain Sarah

Death, grief, I can’t think my way out.

For the last few weeks (since Jan 7th, with a couple exceptions), I’ve been co-facilitating a bereavement group with another chaplain at the hospital. It’s given me a way to focus on my role as a chaplain that allows me to feel that my grad school wasn’t a waste (which sometimes it can when I’m spending my days being an empathetic ear and not engaging all my abilities or visions as a religious leader).  My manager is an open minded and compassionate hearted man who was happy to give me the power to set this group up, gave me the materials from groups at another hospital, and let me run with it.  I updated the materials, reached out to people who had recently lost loved ones in our hospital, and asked Chaplain T to join me as a co-facilitator (she’d been dropping heavy hints of her interest).

The second week, we had a solid group of four women who gelled really well. The other 6 who had RSVPed had various needs to address, and it was really a gift to have a smaller group for the trial run.  We sang, prayed, meditated, wrote letters, and are planning to collage for our last meeting.  I love small group ministry.

Then, Baba died. The provost of my school who lead the immersion class in Turkey that opened my mystical heart up to knowing God loved me more than I’d ever experienced before. His own heart arrested several times and he was in the hospital for nearly a month before his physical body died.

Separated from the community of people who know and love Baba as I do, away from the school filled with mourners. I’d compartmentalized his hospitalization, only crying a few times.  The morning after Baba died, a dear and insightful friend called and told me her spare room was available if I needed to just get in my car and drive.

Amazingly, I had the ability to get my cat to my sister’s and pack clothing for the week.

I was supposed to go to a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) meeting to give feedback on the first two units (6 months! what?!) of this residency.  I told my supervisor I was running late trying to get things together to go to Berkeley for a death, and she told me to take my time and be safe.  Once I finally got to the hospital, Father M asked me how I was doing and I broke down for the first time since I read the news of Baba’s death.

Father M took me to a private room and talked and prayed with me, got my site manager and they assured me it was okay if I just left after I was breathing normally and rehydrated.  What kind of job do I have that I’m able to just leave like that? I’m growing more and more grateful for the slower pace of my smaller community hospital, and less jealous of the trauma hospital chaplains who don’t get enough sleep.

I spend Tuesday night-Saturday morning in community that didn’t need any explaining as to why I was adrift.  We were all lost in grief together, crying, reminiscing, laughing, praying.  I needed it.

I came back to the hospital Monday morning, not really connected to the work, but trying.  Thursday, the bereavement group met and I told them I was in the beginning of my own grief.  I was careful not to use the group as my support when I updated them and started using parts of my own story while we went over the materials–it’s a difficult balance to strike.

I’m still in a transitionary stage of life–about to graduate from seminary (no more class requirements as of Dec 2015!), finishing CPE, looking for a job, in a new relationship, applying to the Army Chaplain Candidate Program after the Navy said that while I’m not yet ordained my MDiv stops me from qualifying as a Candidate with them and I need another year of ministry plus ordination and endorsement to be a Chaplain with them (the Army allows Candidates with at least a year til ordination).

I have no idea where I will be this time next year (again).  Exciting, terrifying, and something I just have to do.  No amount of list making, reasoning, or planning will make it clearer.  I live on Mariposa Avenue, and I really feel like I’m turning to goo in a chrysalis sometimes.  I have deep love and gratitude for my workplace and my support networks.

 

Blessings and compassion to you.

Don’t Should On Yourself, bro.

Following the cut is the text and audio from a sermon I gave at the UU Community Church of Santa Monica on Dec 27th, 2015.  I was received so warmly and worked with a great team!  This sermon had been brewing for a year, it seems. I wrote a lot of the text on resolutions for a cross-cultural preaching class and replaced the biblical text with reference to Buddhism and present day.  The guided meditation portion was inspired by many talks by Tara Brach, a Buddhist teacher whom I greatly respect and recommend to people.

Be Lamps Unto Yourselves
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Does this work toughen you up?

Absolutely not. Quite the opposite. I get asked if I become used to what I see in the hospital, and yes, there’s some normalizing of illness and death (to the point where I’m surprised to read/hear how uncommon the things I see often are on the grand scale). But, I feel it all. I’m able to let go and to be present, but the more I do the work the softer I get. All my scaly armor falls away. Bit by painful, glorious bit.

I’m so humbled and honored to be allowed to do this work.

May I keep softening up and being resilient amidst it all.