Madam Secretary

I sent this letter to Hillary Clinton tonight. 

I can’t wait for tomorrow.

 

Madam Secretary,
It started about a week ago. Well, it’s been happening in bits and spurts all year, but it started happening all the time about a week ago.

The crying.

Every time I read an article. Or watched your closing week videos. Or saw your special, local fleur de lis signs throughout my neighborhood. Or read the stories on #pantsuitnation. I held it in when my kid told me she voted for you in school today, so casually, like it was no big thing and I should have assumed it all along, and don’t be all emotional about it anyway, gosh! And tonight, as I planned out what I would wear to go to the polls tomorrow, where I would go to watch the returns, and how I’d manage to get a hold of my internationally jet-setting, 78-yr-old, early-voting mom once the returns come in…

I’m crying. All the time. And I’m not ashamed. Because these are bad-ass tears of joy. For a barrier broken. For ceiling shattered. For our first woman president. And I’ll be crying all the way to the polls. Big, bad-ass tears of joy.

When I was a little girl, I told my dad I was going to be the first woman president. It was 1980-something, and my dad told me I’d never be the first woman president. Because surely a woman would be president before I grew up.

As a teenager, my mother told me, and I can only assume my four sisters too, “Honey, you can be absolutely anything you want to be. You’re just going to have to work harder at it because you’re a girl.”

When I was 18, I cast my very first vote for a presidential candidate for your husband, and at the time, I told my friends, “I wish I could vote for Hillary instead.”

Twenty years later, on the eve of the day when I will get to vote for you for the third time, even though I live in a state that will not turn your way, I will take my kid with me, so she can see me check that box and be a part of electing the first woman president. So she can be a part of electing the first woman president.

Big, bad ass tears of joy.

This election cycle has been brutal. And for a while now, I’ve just been praying for it to end. But now, it’s the night before the day, THE DAY WHEN WE ELECT THE FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and I almost don’t want it to end. Almost.

I hope, in the middle of all of this, all the hype and the press, the events and the polls, those horrible debates, the rallies and meetings, and the fundraisers, oh my word the fundraisers, I hope that here and there, in tiny moments and ways, in the middle of all of this, you’ve been able to make space to hear all of us little girls and grown women, shouting THANK YOU! And I hope you’ve been able to sneak in just a few big, bad-ass tears of joy of your own.

Go get ’em, Hillary.
We are with you.
I am with you. With my bad-ass tears of joy. And my pantsuit, too.

With gratitude,
Erin

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NaBloPoMo: Day 3

Today, because more than 500 of my colleagues were standing with the many, many water protectors who have been standing for justice and life along the Missouri River, I decided to be bold like them make my own stand for justice.

So, at dinner, I sat my kid down and tried to explain to her what’s happening with Standing Rock and #NoDAPL.

Now, we’ve moved a lot over the years. And she lived two different lives before she came to live with me. So I had no idea what she had been taught about our country’s history and the violence toward and oppression of native peoples.

Usually when I start to talk about these things, she rolls her eyes and grunts and makes some rather forceful suggestions that we maybe, might could change the conversation topic. (At least, that’s how I interpret, “Oh, shut up!”)

But today she listened. She heard the whole (well, actually very short version of the whole) story. Of hurting and stealing and taking over and shoving out and killing and making promises and breaking them and doing that over and over again and treaty lines and water access and holy grounds and spiritual space and discrimination and law breaking and sovereign nation violation and greed and hurt and injustice.

And she listened.

And for me, today, for us, that was a huge step toward justice. Because it happens that way too.

So we keep on…

NaBloPoMo

All the things happen in November and people make more plans and daily disciplines than they do at New Years and I grew worried that I might miss out on the fun so I decided to do NaBloMoPoCeeLoElEmEnOPeeYo. Or whatever. I’m gonna try to write a lot and blog a lot and share a bit get back into the habit.

So here it is.

Today was my first day back after taking 10 days off to be with family after the death of my dear aunt Melissa. Well, it was kind of my first day back. After we flew in yesterday, and I got the kid to school, and I got the dog from the doggie hotel, and I got pulled over by a cop, and I cleaned up the dog puke when we got back home, then I worked 7 hours. But today was my first FULL day back.

I had grand plans of course. I was going to return all the emails, organize all the upcoming things, visit all the home visits, prepare all the worships, order all the advent materials, and read a whole book for this week’s book club. Oh, and don’t forget that meeting with the Chief of Police and the church neighborhood outreach event tonight. Good thing I’m not too ambitious or anything.

But as I attacked that list, my heart was still a bit broken. And my ministry muscles were sore. And the right words wouldn’t come. And I just simply couldn’t face the Chief today.

So instead, I let myself sit in the office all alone. I worked on one thing for worship on Sunday. Just one thing. One creative piece. One moment for reflection. One opportunity for engagement in prayer and tradition and loved ones and God’s love. If I’m honest, I think I spent a little too long on that one thing. But also, it helped me return. To this space. To my job. To my community.

It’s only been a bit more than two years for me, doing this ministry stuff full time. I can’t seem to figure out how to pace it. How do you get it all done and also rest in God? How do you make space for all the spaces and stuff and visits and study and getting out and being present and writing the stinking newsletter articles? And how do you do all that when your own heart is broken or your own faith is tested?

Well, I’m working on that. And I’m surrounding myself with solid mentors who’ve been doing just that, or who are striving to do that, and keep filling me up with tips. When I get it all down, I’ll let you know.

Until then, you may occasionally find me alone in the building, locked behind my office door, shoving aside a massive and ambitious to-do list, coloring pictures of the saints in my life.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

image

A coloring for an idea for our All Saints Worship this Sunday at OHPC. It’s okay. I know. I’m an excellent colorer. Thanks. 

 

 

Cheers.

Four years ago today, our little family was created. I didn’t have words to share what was happening publicly at the time, and over the years I haven’t gotten much better at explaining how I went from aunt to “parent-like-thingy” and she dropped niece to become “my kid.” People don’t throw showers and photo shoots when families are created by tragedy, loss, or conflict. It’s not really something to celebrate. It’s complicated and messy and painful for everyone involved. But it was also our beginning. Together. So Tegan and I do celebrate this day. (Usually with ice cream.) We celebrate because we know there is love and hope and beauty and fun even in the most complicated mess of life. Even on really hard and painful days. Even when scars and wounds are still healing. Even when relationships remain broken. Even when you don’t know how you’re gonna get through tomorrow. Or today.
So, we sneak a moment to celebrate. And we hope that you, wherever and however you are doing right now, find your own moments to celebrate, too.
Cheers!

image

 

Hockeypuck Rattlesnake Monkey Monkey Underpants


I have so much writing to do.
I am past deadline on two projects. Plus all the normal worship bulletin, sermon, newsletter, bible study stuff. But every time I sit down to type, I get about 4 sentences in and hate myself and every word ever created. That story is boring and that joke isn’t the right kind of funny. And forget about trying to be smart or useful or on point or even making complete sentences. BLERG. I loathe all the word things fumbling around in my brain. Monkey. Monkey. Underpants.

So friends, how to do get over your no-good ick gross pathetic writing days? No, I mean, really….

 

The day I bought that car.

I remember the embarrassment. Sitting in that glass room. The man in the khakis walking by, pacing by, every 2 minutes. Sitting there on the phone. Making call after call from his desk. He just walked by again. I remember the embarrassment. Having just quit my job and begging lender after lender to help me finance a $5000 car with nothing down. And having lender after lender turn me down because I was a broke grad student who had just quit her job. I remember the embarrassment sitting in that car salesman’s office. With my mother. Knowing I HAD to get that car. Because how do you raise a kid by yourself in suburban New Jersey without a car? Oh my God, I am going to raise a kid in New Jersey. I remember the embarrassment when they looked at the forms. When I didn’t have the right answers for a woman my age. I didn’t have very responsible answers, that’s for sure. I remember him asking me more questions. He really needed this sale. And he had to know what a hopeless embarrassing case I was. He had to wish I’d spare us all the embarrassment and claim to have left the oven on or say I needed to think about it some more or anything. Just leave. I remember my mother saying nothing. She was embarrassed for me. I remember her looking down at her hands in her lap as he spoke to me. I remember the embarrassment when I felt the tears welling up, knowing what the next answer and the next answer and the next answer would be. It wasn’t enough. But I remember, more than the embarrassment, I remember the fear. Of how I was going to do this. How I would bring home this child. To New Jersey. The busses didn’t even run on weekends. Also, where would she sleep and eat and go to school and make friends and would we really get housing and maybe I should consider dropping out of school like everyone says because single parents are supposed to work so they can pay for clothes and books and shoes and the doctor and dentist and oh my snakes, I’m the one who is going to have to take her to the dentist and I hate the dentist and I’m going to have to pay for the dentist and we HAVE TO HAVE A DAMN CAR TO GET TO THE DENTIST!!!!

That day in the used car dealership off Route 1 was one of so many days that year I was certain I’d die of embarrassment, fear and outright failure. Much of that summer when I first became a parent has been lost to the fog of my stress-memories. But I remember that day, desperately trying to buy a car, clear as ever. I remember feeling like it was the one key ingredient. If I could just pull that together the rest of it would line up or work out or at least wouldn’t seem so impossible. I mean, I’d be able to drive the kid to the dentist. Good parents do that. I could do that. I could…

And after a couple of hard hours burying my pride in a flurry of begging and promising and no shortage of sad-sad, single parent sob-story telling, I did manage to secure the financing and drove that beautiful, busted-up little Chevy with the weird brakes home. Home to the temporary place while I waited and fought and argued for housing. Which worked out. I stayed in school. I took out loans. I called people for help. Bit by bit and day by day we figured it out. It was really hard. It’s still really hard. All the time. I still find myself embarrassed and scared sometimes. Okay, maybe more than sometimes. But today, sitting in my office, where I work because I didn’t drop out, but I stuck with it and found a way to graduate and get a job and kept food on the table and the kid’s teeth relatively well cared for, today I sat in that office and made my final payment on that rusty, lovely 2006 Chevy.

And looking at my account online today, seeing it zero out, I wished I could drive back to New Jersey, to that dealership off Route 1, to that little glass office, and slam that last payment (in cash, all $1s for dramatic effect, preferably) on the khaki pants-guy’s desk, in front of my mom, with a smile on my face and say, “That’s my car, now.”

Because I did it. I did it. I bought that car. I made things work. I survived my own embarrassment, doubt and fear. And sure, there are still many other challenges and worries and struggles ahead and now and all around, but I bought that car. I did it. It is done and I did it and it is mine. And for today, for just a moment right now,  that feels damn good.

Holy Tuesday

I didn’t sleep last night. My mind wouldn’t rest. My worries wouldn’t lay down. My wonderings wouldn’t grow weary.

Sleepily, I went to be with a dear friend in the hospital this morning, as she waited through her husband’s surgery. As I walked in, police were walking a man out in shackles and chains. Real ones. The sound of it shook me.

I made it through the series of desks, hallways and elevators to the waiting room, only to be greeted by images of violence and death in Belgium on the tv screen.
There will be NO rushing to Easter this week. 
We will walk through every bit of the reality of our world this week. Every ugly moment of it. That seems certain.
Help us, O Lord, to not be afraid to look at this life we are living. To look at the systems we’ve created. To look into the belly of evil, death and hate. The evil, death and hate that only your love can conquer. And help us to cling to you while we walk and while we wait.
Amen.

When God’s People Cry Out, We Will Respond With Love
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by Rev. Erin Counihan on Sunday 8/9/15 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.

Texts:
FIRST READING EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2
SECOND READING 2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33


“Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother Amnon for fooling around with their sister, Tamar, and when the old war-horse Joab wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterward, he set fire to his hay field. All Israel found this kind of derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined up.

On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was the thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chiefs of staff till they were sick of hearing it that, if Absalom fell into their clutches, they must promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field, old Joab kept his fingers crossed, and when he found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that, and he cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son,” he said. “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).

He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes the King himself.”[1]

 

These words from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner paint the portrait our lectionary text only outlines today. Buechner fills in the missing parts of the story, but I think he also shades in the pain, the loss and the weeping of a grieving father.

This week, another grieving father painted a similar portrait of sadness, of crying out, when he spoke with CNN’s Moni Basu as the anniversary of his son’s death approached. With all of the political conversation, the differing viewpoints, the protests and marches, the vandalism, the organizing and the tweeting; with all of the controversy and turmoil in our city over the past year, the one thing that can and does get lost in the conversation is a family’s grief.  Basu explains…

He had stood waiting, numb, about half a mile from here on Canfield Drive, with his wife of three weeks, Calvina. He rushed there after the police called him and his son’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. They all stood before a body covered by a sheet, surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, yellow crime scene tape and a crowd that grew larger by the minute.

He was there for four hours and 32 minutes before the sheet was lifted and he saw his son, and what he did not want to believe was confirmed. His 18-year-old boy, named after him, had been shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson.

One year later, Brown utters the same words he uttered then: “I should have been there to protect him.”

From the afternoon of August 9 to the funeral of “Mike Mike” 16 days later, Brown felt as though he were in a trance. On the funeral program, he wrote:

“I think of you day and night and just wish I was there to save you from harm. I always told you I would never let anything happen to you. And that’s why it hurts sooooo much. I will never let you die in my heart.”[2]

 

I stood in that same spot this morning, just as the sun was rising, on that street in Ferguson, in a circle, holding hands with more than 100 clergy, to acknowledge those tears of a grieving father. To witness to that pain and emptiness. To remember that this isn’t just about statistics and hashtags, this is about a father’s lost son. A mother’s lost daughter. A sister, a brother, a niece, a nephew, a friend. And each day there is another new name to mourn. 705 names added just this year.[3] And every time a new name is added to the list, each time a new hashtag is trending, another parent is crying out: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O my son Mike Mike, O my daughter Renisha, O my son Tamir, O my son Walter, O my daughter Tanesha, my child, my child!

This morning, in that circle of faith, as we wept for and with the parents of lost children, as we prayed for God to protect all our children, one mother in the circle lamented that she could do nothing to take away that grief, to stop the tears of grieving parents, to but that she could work and pray that God might make something holy come from those tears.

Because that’s what we do, that’s all we can do when people are grieving, when our neighbors are weeping. We show up with love. God’s people show up with love. Usually with love and casseroles, but always with love. As imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us, God’s people show up at the worst of times, still, to witness to God’s love.

So, yes, sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of a frozen meal and a tray of cookies, and but also, at other times we show up with God’s love in our voices proclaiming, “That’s enough violence! Not one more!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love as flowers and condolence cards, and other times it’s with letters drafted to our elected officials saying, “We need better schools, more jobs, programs to keep kids off the streets and out of prisons and in school, we need opportunities for all!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of an embrace and a prayer, and other times it’s holding hands, marching down the street, promising not to forget, to keep asking the hard questions, and demand answers and changes.

God calls us to show up with love.

O Church-   fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, family and friends are weeping. Right now. More and more of them every day.

How might we show up with love? How will we witness to God’s love?

Amen.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

[1] “Absalom” by Frederick Buechner as posted to http://frederickbuechner.com/content/absalom-0 and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[2] Interview from “Michael Brown’s Father: ‘I think of him every single day’” as posted at http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/07/us/michael-brown-sr-interview-ferguson/ and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[3] As documented by http://killedbypolice.net/ on 8/9/2015.