A Parting Reflection
My All Souls Journey
When I signed on to be acquiring editor for spirituality and religion at a San Francisco-based publisher in 1999, I didn’t know that it would open long-closed questions of faith and identity. I had walked away from my devout Mormon upbringing in my twenties thinking I was done for good with anything remotely Christian. But I apparently still had that “God-sized hole” in my heart, so I set about exploring different alternative spiritualities, from Gaia-goddess to Native American to Buddhism and several other idiosyncratic paths. There were good things in all of them, but they never quite took. As I started to work with writers like Parker J. Palmer, Dorothy Bass, James Loder, and other thinkers and practitioners, it was as though a seed planted years before began to sprout and struggle to the surface in questions about God and faith and what it all had to do with me. I wasn’t sure where I might fit—or how—but I had heard Episcopal churches were progressive and accepting of LGBTQ people, so I started visiting them. Everyone in these congregations seemed mildly pleased that I had shown up but not enough to talk to me beyond a smiley hello. It felt like being the awkward new kid on her first day at school. And it was all new. Liturgy? Litany? Nicene Creed? Stand up, sit down, juggle bulletin, BCP, and hymnal? Nothing in Mormonism prepared me for this kind of church
At the recommendation of a co-worker who was attending All Souls, I walked through the big copper doors one spring morning and was greeted warmly by Dave Roberts, Sharon Roberts’ beloved husband. That was the first of many expressions of hospitality and welcome that kept me coming back. In Lent 2001 I joined the Catechumenate class (led by Gert Allen and Alan Schut) along with several others who are still stalwart members and was baptized at the following Holy Easter Vigil and confirmed at Grace Cathedral by Bishop Bill Swing. I wanted it all: candles, incense, liturgy, clergy drama, parish politics, eccentric parishioners, stewardship campaigns, antique hymns, all of it.
So I am very sad to say that my last Sunday at All Souls will be May 12. I am grateful for these almost 20 years, despite my tendency to wander off and general crankiness and more than occasional lack of participation. Yet I have always returned because my heart is here. I have been having dinner with a small group of All Souls women all this time—we don’t always sound very godly but our laughter and love have held each other up through many crises and sorrows, including the deaths of two of our members. I lived through the remodel of the sanctuary (which to me looked like Christians behaving badly a lot of the time), a time of alienation that ending in loving reconciliation, the departure of Andrew Walmisley and Kristin Krantz and the arrival of Phil and Liz, the move to three services and elimination of coffee hour, and many other times of celebration (and struggle) in this parish. The conversations have been deep and vital, the soup and stories nourishing, the preaching outstanding, the liturgy and music lively and increasingly diverse, the formation classes thought (and soul) provoking, the pastoral care so vital when I needed it most. You have held me up through your communal prayers and brought me hot meals during my injuries and illnesses. I have watched toddlers turn into college students, friends leave (and sometimes return), laughed at the antics of the sometimes unruly children, tasted champagne at a Holy Easter Vigil. We are so wonderful in our perfect imperfection, so much the Body of Christ. I will miss you terribly. But this is not the end, just a new beginning. I am pretty much hooked on parish life, so I will look for a new community to join in Portland, one I hope is as lively and welcoming as All Souls. And you all will of course sail on, innovating, welcoming, learning together, listening for the Holy Spirit’s promptings, accepting all who come, reaching out to those who are not yet with you, eating lavishly abundant meals, singing lustily, and caring for one another and for those on the margins. Because there is indeed a “sweet sweet spirit in this place” at the corner of Cedar and Spruce.
— Sheryl Fullerton
PLANNING FOR HEALTHY AGING
We’ll have Barbara Williams, a social worker with Berkeley Continuum, with us to teach about this new program for Berkeley Seniors, offer resources, and engage us in conversation. This will be a time to consider your goals, needs and challenges and let us help you or a loved one plan those next steps for a positive aging experience. Gateway offers ideas, information and linkages to existing resources in the community. Come join the conversation and learn about the Gateway Pilot Project and, if interested, you can sign up for a free visit from the prorgram. Please RSVP on this form so we can be prepared for the right number of people! Questions? Contact Liz Tichenor: firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-848-1755×3
HOLY REFLECTIONS FROM A HOLY WEEK
On Good Friday afternoon, seven wise and brave souls shared how their own stories connected with the Stations of the Cross. Today and in coming weeks, we will be offering some of those reflections, in no particular order, but with much gratitude.
I’ve been reflecting on forgiveness. I sought to think about the times when I had needed or asked for forgiveness or when I had forgiven someone. Nothing leaped to mind. I asked my wife to remind me about times I had been involved in forgiveness.
And my wife, who loves me more than I deserve, laughed. “Forgiveness? Do you remember when you got fired?” She teased, “Are you sure it wouldn’t be easier to talk about the benefits of holding a grudge?”
So, my forgiveness account appears to be a bit low. I looked inward and did not find inspiring moments of offering or receiving forgiveness. I remembered Emily Hansen-Curran and her November 2016 sermon on belief with the story of her grandfather forgiving the man who accidentally put out his eye. Instead, for me, I found a moment that gave, (gives?) me a thirst for vengeance – Old Testament vengeance.
I do remember the day I got fired. It was in Fairfield just up I-80 in early June, 2004. I had been hired to work with the founder of a small consulting firm to replace him as he transitioned to being a real estate developer. This was my first job since the first internet bubble collapsed and I had been un/under employed for 2 years. I was grateful to have that job.
In my five months there I was developing relationships with the staff and clients, and sketching out plans for how I would move us forward when that oddly elusive transition came. And I was planning to ask Liz to marry me in the coming weeks. Now that I had the stability and credibility of a job, I could plan a life with the woman I had been wanting to marry since she first met my self-consciously unemployed self.
The wanna-be developer walked into my office and closed the door. We discussed my work load and calendar in oddly specific detail, me thinking we were finding time to start a new project. And then he said, “This is the last day of our employment relationship. You are terminated effective immediately.” There were other words, but I didn’t hear them. Within 30 minutes I was being walked past the entire staff carrying my file box, detouring to the refrigerator to get my lunch. And then I was gone.
When I got to the hot, hot car I shook with rage. There was a searing clarity – I was in the right and he was in the wrong. He can’t do this to me. I don’t deserve this. I did everything he asked. I was making the company better. He’s an idiot. He can’t take this away from me. I need this. I wanted vengeance. And I wanted it Old Testament – I wanted/want to grind the bones of his children into dust and sow it into the fields.
Fifteen years later, I still hold that moment. Why have I been unable to let it go, to forgive him?
On a superficial level it was/is that I was blameless, I think. I was right; I had been wronged here and I was not going to take it. Not so long as there were bones to grind. I was without, well, “sin.” There. I think. Surely no one who had ever been so badly treated could forgive, not look for some revenge, some justice.
This is Good Friday.
And I am standing under a cross.
I think about Jesus’ words from the cross, “Forgive them … ” and I pause. I am not doing a good job of forgiving here – not on the terms offered by Jesus, not on a scale measured by the guidance I give my kids, not on any scale. I try to dig deeper and there I am still holding on to my righteous anger and I can’t forgive.
As I kept rolling this “stuckness” over in my head, I kept coming back to Emily’s sermon when she told the man who had blinded her grandfather that her grandfather had forgiven him years ago. One of the most inspiring insights from that sermon is that the forgiveness the man “sought had been there all along for the taking.”
It suddenly clicked for me. I don’t want forgiveness waiting for my ex-boss. I want him to have to earn his forgiveness. I want him to apologize before I forgive him.
Which is very clearly not the loving forgiveness that Jesus on the cross seeks from God on our behalf. I am thankful to receive that embracing, full-of-grace forgiveness.
In contrast, it is grace-less, in the literal sense, that I hold on to this anger, failing to catch the spark of inspiration in Emily’s sermon and a thousand other times I see genuine forgiveness in others.
It would be great to tell you that looking at the cross, I can draw inspiration from the place of the skull and could step into a place of forgiveness, like Jesus’ forgiveness. But I am not there. Now. That righteous anger runs deep in me. But I hope with the inspiration of today that it’s not as deep as it was last week and it is deeper now than it will be next week.
While I was preparing this reflection I realized I still, at that moment, felt the disorienting rage I had felt 15 years ago. While writing, I looked up an old email from my ex-boss and immediately felt a pit in my stomach. As I finished writing I hoped that, inspired by the cross, my refusal to forgive would erode slowly.
And then I stood up and told 50 strangers and friends about my embarrassment, my righteousness, my anger and my refusal to forgive. And the pit in my stomach has relaxed. In the immediate wake of sharing my dark angels with, of confessing my stubbornness to, a community I value and respect, they receded. I no longer have the pit in my stomach when I think about getting fired. I am grateful to our community for receiving my confession and allowing me to put down much of the weight I had been carrying.
— Richard Lynch
Today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)
I was eight. I was sitting in church with my parents and my brother. And beings that I could only call angels appeared. One stayed in front of the cross while the others flew around her. She told me she was my guardian angel and asked if I wanted to fly with her and the others. I said no thank you, and shortly after, they went away.
I spent a while after that wondering about that morning. I know how far-fetched it sounds, but I wasn’t playing a game. And the part that stuck with me the most, the part that even my over-active childhood imagination couldn’t fabricate, was the all-encompassing sense of joy and bliss I felt while they were there. It was pure, and it washed away everything else. It felt the way I’ve heard grace described: unmerited, no strings attached or fine print. A gift.
To me, that feeling and paradise go hand in hand. I think that’s what Jesus promised to those nailed on crosses next to him in this reading from the book of Luke. And I think that’s what he still promises us today.
I haven’t been good at holding onto that sense of paradise on earth. But looking back, I can see times that I’ve been cared for and protected.
The September after I graduated from college, I moved to Davis for an Episcopal Service Corps program. With that move, pretty much everything about my life changed—and change has always been hard for me. My day-to-day-schedule was completely different— instead of going to class, I went to an office and tried to run a children, youth, and family ministry at a small church.
I dealt with more culture-shock moving to Davis than I did studying abroad in England. The air, architecture, plants, and food were all different. I was living somewhere with a drought and earthquakes instead of hurricanes and thunderstorms. Work schedules and attire were more casual than I had expected.
More than that, all of my relationships changed. I was thousands of miles from almost everyone and everything I’d ever known. I was the youngest person in my house and at my office. When I landed at the Sacramento airport, I hadn’t met anyone in person. I’d had phone and Skype interviews, but that was it. And my work didn’t go the way anyone had hoped it would. I did everything I could think of to do what the church wanted me to (namely, get more youth and families to participate in church events), but it didn’t work.
That experience was worth it, and I have no regrets about doing that ESC year, but it was really hard. Most of it felt very, very far from paradise. But looking back, I can see how God supported me. There were moments of happiness—singing familiar camp songs at a retreat in Santa Cruz, and hours of life chats with my housemates. Those women and I built relationships that I still treasure today. I didn’t lose my close friends and family back east—we just relied more heavily on phone calls and FaceTime. Even though my world felt like it was turned inside out and upside down, and even though I was pretty miserable sometimes, I was okay. I was safe, and I wasn’t alone.
I wish I’d thought of the angels more that year. I wish I’d used that experience to help me through my time in Davis, but it’s fun to look back on both times and remember the joy of that Sunday morning and everything that I’ve gained from my Episcopal Service Corps year.
THE GOOD BOOK
The Berkeley Rep has offered us discounted tickets to see their new play The Good Book, running through June 9th. The Good Book weaves together three distinct yet connected stories: a devout young man struggling to reconcile his belief with his identity; an atheist biblical scholar trying to find meaning as she faces her own mortality; and the creative journey of the Bible itself—from ancient Mesopotamia to medieval Ireland to suburban America—through the many hands, minds, hearts, and circumstances that molded this incredibly potent testament to the human spirit. Our promo code is: ALLSOULS for these dates: Friday, May 10 at 8pm, Friday, May 17 at 8pm, Sunday, May 19 at 7pm, Thursday, May 30 at 8pm, Friday, May 31 at 8pm. Feel free to use it and pass it on to others!
Did you know that we have an online directory? If you or your family are not yet in our directory, please see Emily Hansen Curran or Mardie Becker to add your name and your picture! Or, if you do not currently have a picture associated with your name, please see Mardie to have your picture taken.
CAMP ALL SOULS — Sign up soon!
This summer we are bringing back Camp All Souls, a week-long day camp for kids to adventure, connect, explore, learn, play, create, question and more, all right here at All Souls. This year the camp will be August 12 – 16. It runs from 9 am to 3 pm and is for kids ages 5 to 11, who have completed kindergarten through fifth grade. Cost is $150, and scholarships are available. Once again, we will be welcoming middle and high school students to help lead the week, as well as adults who want to pitch in — it is a whole community affair! Please email Liz if you want to help volunteer and/or lead. You can learn more and register online here!