Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day Forty Nine: The Cathedral

My camera broke on this visit, which caused me heart palpitations.  It still isn't working quite right and I'm looking forward to getting it to the camera shop so that I can let my heart go back to its normal frantic beating.

This is the only ambient shot I got at the Jacksonville cathedral before she went haywire on me.  

Day Forty Eight: hands

Everyone has their own way of receiving the Eucharist.  I think this one, take at St. Peter's Cathedral in Jacksonville, made a great shot. I look forward to sharing this man's story.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Forty Something: addendum

And I just discovered that my counting is waaaay off.  Today is actually Day Forty Seven.  This makes me anxious because I am now past the halfway mark.  And I didn't even realize it!

Day Forty Three: The Cathedral

I had the pleasure of visiting the fine folks at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville this morning.  The service was beautiful as was the building.  It was packed to the hilt.  I almost didn't get a seat!

The people were very hospitable and really helpful.  I had a chance to visit with the lovely Kate Moorehead, their dean, whom I had met previously at a conference on parish communications in the 21st century.  Awesome Kate scored me nine pairs of hands to photograph, all with great stories attached to them.  Thanks Kate!

Unfortunately, I had a moment of total, unadulterated panic when my camera stopped working for no discernable reason.  I don't have any pictures of the cathedral because of this.  A lovely member of the congregation managed to get it limping along again, but it still isn't right.  As soon as I track down my card reader (stashed in a suitcase somewhere, natch') I will offer some of the photos of this morning's willing participants.

What a great morning!

Day Forty Two: shady theology

Driving along the highway in Florida yesterday, I saw a sign in front of a large church that read:

"America has blessed God!  God has blessed America!  The tides are turning!"

My political leanings are no secret, nor are my theological understandings.  I'm pretty comfortable talking about both and pretty confident in the grounding for my opinions on both.  (Note: I could be dangerous at dinner parties.)

Even despite my clear political and religious foundations, I try really hard to remain open minded.  I really do believe that God created all sorts and conditions, that it takes all kinds of people to make the world spin properly.  I am respectful of different understandings of God and I am am completely comfortable with the fact that not everyone thinks the way that I think.  I do believe this is a good thing.


The notion that America, or any country, corporation, denomination or individual for that matter, can bless God sets my teeth on edge.  To bless something or someone is to pronounce it holy, to sanctify it.  So not only is this a complete nightmare of semantics (that the one who makes all things holy would need to be made holy??), it is also presumptuous to the point of being offensive.  And yes, I am offended by it.

We are blessed by God (I'm taking a believer's point of view, here.  Sorry, atheists.).  The simple fact of our continued existence points to this.  But to presume that there is anything that we, as small and insignificant as we are in light of the sheer incalculable magnitude that is the Divine, can do to bless God is laughable.  We can thank God, we can humble ourselves before God, we can ask for forgiveness, we can praise God.  But we can't bless God.  And don't get me started on using God to further political messages.  Ach.

Clearly this has gotten under my skin.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day Forty One: Numbers

It is really easy to get seduced by a number on the scale. Seduced into thinking first that this number means anything significant and second that this number is is some sort of measure of worth.

I am tall and have a good metabolism. I like to be active. Genetics have treated me fairly well. My body can, has and will do amazing things. The greatest of these things, hands down, has been bringing two perfect kids into the world. I do not underestimate the priviledge that that experience is. I am humbled by the opportunity and amazed at my own ability.


But it changed, this body of mine. And on my bad days (I have bad days just like everybody else) I wonder despairingly if I will ever be happy with my shape and size again. I know I am not the only woman who plays these sort of mind games. It seems to be and unfortunate blight on the female brain to be perpetually unhappy with the state of our physiques. And that blight is nurtured, magnified and fed by the images we see all around us, reminding us over and over again that our numbers, no matter what they are, are wrong.

I have a beautiful little daughter who is every inch of perfect. And I know that it won't be very long before she starts dissecting herself into numbers, too, and using them to measure her self worth. I am working hard to make sure she doesn't see that sort of mindset modeled at home, and that every opportunity I get, I am working to counter the message that measures her as anything other than perfectly formed in the image of God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day Forty: hands

I met the Rev'd Petero Sabune at 815 2nd Avenue in New York.  He is the Africa Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day Thirty Eight: Unfamiliar ground

I used to be fearless

There's a lot in that statement that isn't really quite true, but that is how I remember it.

"Fearless" in a twenty two year old looks a lot like "stupidity" in those of us sailing rapidly toward our wiser years.

Despite the misery of my year in New York, I did a lot of exploring. I have great photographs from that time because I went places in the city that were slightly unsavory. Hey, I lived and worked in places that were slightly unsavory! And my old lovely analog Nikon F went with me most everywhere, even as heavy and unwieldy as it was. I fancied myself tough for riding the subway at odd hours. I took boxing lessons for cheap at a sketchy gym and taught writing to grade schoolers in a notoriously dangerous housing project. Was fearless. Or stupid. Either way, I lived to tell the tale.

This morning, I ran across the Williamsburg bridge then ran back. I went looking for another good running spot but everywhere I went, everything looked dangerous, dark, drippy, barbed-wired. So I wove around pedestrian-clogged streets and gave up after 45 minutes.

The concierge at my hotel told me when I got back that I was just three blocks from a fantastic running trail along the East River. He gave me a funny look when I told him the route had looked a little rough. "it isn't rough. It is really popular with folks on bikes and runners."

Apparently I'm not tough anymore. This realization has made me feel kind of like one of the folks my husband and I secretly snicker at as they drive through our own urban neighborhood on their way to the zoo, locking their doors against the fear of tangling with the wrong sort of folks.

I'm those folks in someone else's neighborhood. It is a classic response to the unknown, a (long awaited) touch of self-preservation but I'm still bothered when I see it in myself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day Thirty Seven: If I can make it there...

I lived in New York once. I was twenty two, fresh out of college and looking for a year-long adventure with friends before we all packed up and headed into "real life". It was a miserable year. I worked two jobs to stay afloat, rode the subway home from Brooklyn at 2 am from waiting tables in Soho, drank too much, ate too little, didn't have health insurance. I didn't make enough money to have any fun or adventure.

It was the sort of year I hope my kids experience that I do not want to know about.

But I did it. I survived a year in New York and it gave me enough confidence to know that I can survive just about anything. It was an invaluable learning year. And I couldn't wait to get the hell out of dodge. Ugh. The grime, the snow, the traffic, the attitude. Gray and rude. That is how I experienced New York City. It was a Spiritless year for me: while God was certainly at work, it was not daily evident and it remains to this day the lowest point in my spiritual life and development. I was in survival mode. Going to seminary there was totally out of the question.

I'm in New York now, twelve years later, staying in a sweet little boutique hotel in the lower east side, with fluffy towels and someone else's hot water bill. I walked sixty blocks up the east side just for fun this afternoon in the lovely sunshine, watching the neighborhoods change as the street numbers got higher. I shared a bottle of wine with an old friend and we ate good food and talked for four hours. Tomorrow morning I'm going for a run and eating a bagel and tomorrow night I'm going to see a show on Broadway.

This New York I could get used to: taxis and sun and food. Leisure time and a bit of money to spend. Not a lot of either, but just enough extra to have some fun.

I do not at all regret the year I spent here, though I do not look back on it with fondness. A good friend of mine likes to joke that "suffering builds character" and in this case, he is right. I am stronger, more self-assured, a little tougher and more worldly for a year doing battle with this city.

I do, however, deeply appreciate this time spent actually enjoying this city that has so much to offer. It is from a place of privilege that I am here now, no longer living hand-to-mouth, not in any kind of hurry. I get it now. I'm not nearly so worried or harried. The architecture is beautiful, the neighborhoods are fascinating, the food is phenomenal. I can see how this is a place full of opportunity and promise, funk and mystery.

All the same, I'm glad this is just a visit!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Thirty Six: Friend

Elizabeth has been one of my best friends for over half my life.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day Thirty Four: photography fear

My friend Dustin is an amazing photographer.  Really amazing.  Check him out here.  We were in a group that went to Brazil together and the photographs that he came home with were really stunning.  One thing that Dustin seems to have no fear of is taking pictures of people.  His shots of life out in the real world is so beautiful, even when the subject isn't beautiful in any classic sense, mostly because of the way he captures people in vulnerable and natural ways.

I would love to take a page from that book.  I am terrified of taking pictures of people.  I'm not sure why.  Some of it is permission.  It doesn't seem like a thing that a "nice" girl would do to take pictures of a stranger without asking.  Some of it is not quite knowing what to take.  Some of it is not knowing what to keep after I've taken it.

In any case, I'm ending up with a lot of lovely pictures of my kids and some great still lifes.  Not sure how to overcome this fear, but in the mean time, I'll just enjoy Dustin's work!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day Thirty Three: My other other other hobby

I am a woman of many hobbies.  You will note I did not say "many talents" because I don't really do any of them well or thoroughly, I just putter around and enjoy all of these little projects.  Jane of all trades and all that...


This is my pond.  It has been an extensive work in progress.  I dug it by hand in the spring of 2010 and finished it a few months later.  Then last winter a tree company dropped a big limb in and poked a hole in the liner.  So I dismantled and started over.  I would have preferred NOT to have to do that because it is really time consuming and exhausting work but in the end the pond is even prettier than ever.

This was this morning's project, a new fountain!  I made it from Salvation Army finds.  The fish and I love it.  The orange cup doesn't to much for me, the color isn't quite right, but it was the right size and, at $.99, I can always trade it out later.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day Thirty Two

Jim is a retired lawyer in Bristol who has become a "tinkerer".  He makes the church's candles using a mold he created himself, mixing old candle stumps and a special blend of paraffin and beeswax.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day Thirty One: A strange feeling

This morning, I woke up when my daughter called me from her crib.  We ate some toast for breakfast and read some books.  I gave her a cup of juice and put her in the stroller and went for a run.  We ended up at the neighborhood farmers market, ran into friends, bought some peaches, played on the swings.  Then we went home and had lunch.

This is boring, Noelle, why are you telling us this?

Because it is Sunday.  I'm not supposed to be at the swingset on Sunday morning.

I have had the occasional Sunday off.  I have been on vacation and not gone to church.

But for some reason, this particular Sunday felt strange.  Maybe because I was in my "normal" habitat.  I didn't take the opportunity of a Sunday off to fly the coop, to get out of dodge.  It was strange to see my neighborhood on Sunday morning.  It pretty much looks the same as Friday mornings.  Except that it is Sunday.

Sundays are, by and large, the anchor of my week.  There is a myth among some factions in the Christian world that ministers only work on Sundays and spend the rest of the week sitting around praying or writing sermons or twiddling our thumbs.  This is, of course, not true.  We work pretty darn hard the rest of the week.  But Sundays can be particularly intense.

Removing that bubble of intensity from my week is, admittedly, kind of nice.  Relaxing.  Restful.  But it is also unnerving.  I can't shake that funny feeling that I'm supposed to be somewhere or that I'll get found out as a fraud (She's not supposed to be buying peaches!  She's a priest!).  There is also that unsettling feeling that...well... I'm missing church, which is something that I love, not just as my vocation, but as my faith practice, my grounding.  I've had the opportunity to worship in a few different places since beginning my sabbatical.  These new places are partially filling the hole, but it is a little hard to be a religious vagabond.  My faith is deeply rooted in community and, as a visitor, I am by definition not rooted in that community.

It is possible that I'll get used to relaxing Sunday mornings.  I doubt it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day Thirty: One Month Down

It is hard to believe my sabbatical is one-third over.  One one hand, I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of rest and renewal, that I have no rhythm for this, that I have so much of my project left to do.  On the other hand, I've already been a few places, have a good library of photos and experiences to write about and I have all of my future travel plans made, details taken care of.

I'm in a good place.  I am resting. Though, as I've mentioned before, "resting" doesn't mean what it used to. Vacation used to be a time when I'd shed whatever was clogging my brain in favor of a pile of books and naps on the beach.

Kids changed that.  I remember my first vacation with our now four-year-old was so frustrating.  My brain hadn't yet made the switch:  I hadn't realized that just as he had changed our sleep patters, our eating patterns, my personal relationships, my work schedule, he would also be changing my vacations.

I've got my mind wrapped around that concept now and I don't get resentful or frustrated anymore (mostly).  Sabbatical (like vacations) has been more about slowing down the breakneck pace at which we are normally operate.  I'm sitting on the front porch, playing with the garden hose, eating pb&j, going for bike rides in the neighborhood.  It isn't profound, it is just different, different from how we usually operate and also different from how a sabbatical might look at another time in my life.  To some folks, a "normal" day around here might sound exhausting: Breakfast, run, trip to the children's museum, snack, plant herbs, lunch, nap time (my work time), off to the pool for swim lessons, meet kid friends for dinner out, baths, bedtime, work a little more...  But this is a really fun way to be together.  My kids and I are exploring all kinds of things together, and at a pace that is new to us: slow.  I haven't worn a watch in... hmmm... thirty days.  Usually, there's nowhere more important to be.  A bit of Carpe Diem, I suppose.

I ran into another local priest the other day when I was having lunch with my husband (another sabbatical treat!).  "So what, you're not spending a month in Asia learning Tibetan chant in a monastery?" he asked with a grin.  "No," I replied, "I'm travelling a little bit, but mostly, I'm learning what it feels like to just slow down for a little while."  So far, it feels good.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day Twenty Nine: Sea Ranch Chapel

When in Sea Ranch, California, with my girlfriends, we visited this tiny little chapel that is shaped, as my friend Elizabeth puts it, "like Gandolf's hat".  It is so lovely inside, with amazing shapes and natural materials.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day Twenty Seven: Nobody gonna break-a my stride

I started running in earnest after I had graduated from seminary and moved my newly-wed self with my husband to Nashville.  As is often the case with freshly-married (unemployed!) couples, we were on a really tight budget, so no gym, and we didn't really know anyone, so no pick-up sports or leads on the local softball league.

Life has its stressors and a new house, new city, and miserable failure of a job search were mine at the time.  With as many sports as I have played in my life, I had never really done any running, other than limping along with training runs for high school soccer.  Running, I figured, was not my "thing."

But being stressed out and on a budget will make people do strange things.  Like lace up and get going.  In that first 6 months in Nashville, I was stung by a bee (I'm allergic), lost (more than once), caught in a tornado warning (stupid, stupid, stupid), and chased by angry neighborhood dogs whose rotten owners do not believe in fences or leashes.  But I also achieved my goal: 3 miles of uninterrupted running.  Woot!

Since then, running has become my "thing".  There are lots of other "things" that I love to do in my spare time, but few other things have served me as consistently and faithfully as running.  I have taken breaks for injuries and pregnancies but I always manage to come back to it, sometimes in earnest, like now, and sometimes just for low-grade maintenance.

I'm not a great runner.  Hell, I'm not even a good runner.  I'm really (really really) slow.  But I am a runner.  I wake up early.  I take care of my shoes.  I drink a lot of water.  I log my miles and sometimes I even brag about them.  But I am happiest when I'm running regularly and will often make some moderate sacrifices to make sure that happens.  Once, in Runner's World magazine, I saw an advertisement for some product that bragged that their product was so cool it was for "real runners, not people who push jogging strollers."  I assure you, having pushed both my children (separately) on training runs up and down the hills of Atlanta, that ad creator has no idea what he is talking about.  I'm a runner, dammit, baby jogger or not.

I ran 18 miles this morning and I'm really proud of myself.  This is the farthest I've ever run and I ended strong, feeling really good.  

Theologian Roberta Bondi talks about "praying the crossword puzzle", her way of explaining how she prays while she does normal, everyday tasks.  Well, I pray while I'm running.  Not the whole time, not even every time, but when I'm running, I'm thinking about everything that is going on in my life and in the lives of the people I'm connected to.  And as I'm thinking, I'm praying, for healing, for redemption, in thanksgiving, in sadness.  Prayers when I run come as naturally as the rhythm of my footfalls.  When I finish my run, even if I am physically spent, I often feel spiritually refreshed, having offered the worries and stresses of my life up to the only One who really has any power to do anything about it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day Twenty Six: St. Andrew's

The day I visited St. Andrew's, Norfolk, was the day of the parish picnic.  There was such a wonderful, happy spirit in the air, a spirit (or perhaps Spirit?) that their rector, my dear friend John Rohrs, says is pretty much a way of life for the century-old parish.  My family and I were warmly welcomed at the picnic, which was a marvelous spread of potluck goodness.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day Twenty Five: Flying

We have been in Norfolk visiting good friends including our beautiful three year old goddaughter and her twin baby brothers. I had the opportunity to preach at St. Andrew's in the neighborhood of West Ghent.

Here's the sermon that I preached.

I recently took a digital photography class at a local college near where I live in Atlanta. It was a great class, I learned a lot, building quite a bit on my previous knowledge of analog photography, learning about how to stretch the limits of the medium using new technology.

On of the best parts of the class, like any class in the visual arts, were the homework assignments. We were instructed to go out and… you guessed it… take pictures. We had assignments to take close ups, to capture movement, to highlight repeating patterns, to play with light. Each week was a new challenge to help us get comfortable behind the lens. The assignments were pretty straightforward and mostly singly-focused, helping us to hone one skill at a time like metering or shutter speed.

And then we came to the final assignment: we had to use all of our newly-acquired skills to create a dream sequence. We had to play with all of those tricks we had learned, tricks of light and focus, of speed and perspective, to recreate something that lived only inside our heads, at night, when we were asleep.

I wrestled with the assignment conceptually for weeks before I started to shoot. The majority of my memorable dreams are anxiety nightmares about church, if you can believe that, and that sounded kind of boring.

Instead, I chose to shoot a dream about flying. In this dream, I wake up early for my morning run, but about a block away, my feet lift off the ground and I am running through the air getting higher and higher over my neighborhood as the sun rises. Every time I've had the dream, it feels very, very real. And every time, I am torn between conflicting feelings of exhilaration—wanting to fly forever—and sadness for everything on the ground behind me. The pull of the real world saves me every time: I always wake up before I'm forced into making a decision.

Because of the photography project, this dream has been on my mind a lot recently. And then-- wouldn't you know—I've been presented with the Ascension.

In our reading from Acts of the Apostles this morning, we are offered the story of the ascension of Jesus Christ. This is the very beginning of Acts and the author was probably the same person who wrote the Gospel of Luke. Acts is more or less meant to be read as an extension of that Gospel.

But instead of an accounting of the life and teachings of Jesus, Acts of the Apostles is exactly that: it is an accounting of the life and teachings of Jesus' apostles who were left on earth after his resurrection and ascension. So it is fitting that the book should open with Jesus' departure.

“You have no idea what is coming next: that's my job, not yours. But with the Holy spirit, you have everything you need to preach and teach, to love and to live fully.”

And then he's gone, leaving all the messiness and pain and heartbreak behind for the apostles to deal with. Wouldn't it be nice?

Though my family would probably tell you I can get a bit of a martyr complex, I am certainly no Christ. But who among us has never dreamed of rising above it all, either figuratively or literally? From the character Jenny in Forrest Gump praying, “Dear God make me a bird so I can fly far far away,” to the old gospel favorite, “Some bright mornin' when this life is over, I'll fly away,” there are times in our lives when even the strongest among us wish that we could just rise up and go.

Wouldn't it be nice to say a little prayer and be lifted up, away from what plagues us? Away from the economy and the wars and the earthquakes and floods? Away from loss and hurt? We could just leave it all behind and never again have to deal with the muck that are part and parcel of our lot as humans.

But here is the thing: we are equipped. We are equipped by learning and by faith and by sheer force of the will of God that inhabits each of us, to make it through these things, whatever they are. Jesus did not ascend to escape. Jesus ascended in order that we, the disciples here on earth, might spread out, take charge and work with our hands and with our hearts to bring the kingdom of God closer.

We are charged with begin witnesses to the ends of the earth. We are equipped with the tools to do it. Tools of scripture, community, belief, love.

That doesn't mean it will be easy. “Easy” has never been a promise to the faithful. Some days, just keeping ourselves upright against the onslaught of negativity, anger, apathy, doubt and fear is all we can manage. But that's okay. Those days will pass. There will be other days, days when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the kingdom is near and our hands brought it so.

And here, I have to disagree with those men robed in white who chastised the apostles in our reading from Acts. I see no problem with looking up toward heaven, if that is from where you draw strength, if that is how you remind yourself of that which is of ultimate worth. I do however, think it is problematic to look toward heaven if you are seeking an escape route, a way to avoid the hard work at hand. Heaven is not a hideout. The ascension is not an eject button.

My dream sequence never really gives me the opportunity to choose whether to go back or to fly away. I wake up in my bed with the duties of motherhood, priesthood, citizenship and friendship all pressing in around me. Sometimes I wake up scared, sometimes relieved. But every time, I wake up here, now. Because that is where my work is. Here. Now. Having looked heavenward, I'm ready to start a new day, apprehensive but assured.

Stay the course, friends. You are perfectly equipped. Look to heaven when you need to be reminded of why we are here, but look to one another to see the face of Christ urging you onward, ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day Twenty Four: Deer me

We woke up after a luxurious Sea Ranch afternoon nap to these guys hanging our outside the bay window.  Hello there, gentlemen.

Day Twenty-Two: Grace abundant

When I first arrived in San Francisco (after spending a third of my natural lifespan in line at the car rental agency), I had a couple of hours to kill so I headed straight to Grace Cathedral.  It is SO beautiful there.  I had been once before for a few minutes but never had a chance to spend time exploring all by myself.

I didn't know if I was going to have enough time to visit here, so I didn't make any hands appointments, but I did take time to walk the labyrinth.   It was a wonderful holy time of prayer, unexpected in its depth.  There was a moment during my meditative walk when I felt absolutely sure that I was supposed to be there, right then.  That feeling helped me give up a lot of my anxiety about traveling, about sabbatical, about plans made and lost.  It was serendipitous and divinely purposeful, all at the same time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Days Eighteen through Twenty-One: En Vacance

I posted the last post, "Brazilian Hands", from an airplane.  That fact alone is kind of amazing, that one can have complete internet access from 30,000 feet.  Even so far removed from the earth's crust, I can still communicate, surf, fritter time away on these here interwebs.

Even more amazing is the fact that when I arrived at my destination, there was NO internet access.  I spent three days with my closest girl friends at a place called Sea Ranch in northern California, overlooking the Pacific coast.  Check out what the NYT has to say about it here.  It was a much-anticipated Girls Weekend for four friends of over 20 years who live very far away from one another.

I didn't realize we wouldn't have internet access.  Frankly, it never occurred to me.  And, in many ways, I am really glad it didn't.  If I had known, I would have spent time researching the nearest coffee shop with wifi, worrying about whether I could keep up my blog discipline.  Instead, I just shrugged my shoulders-- whatev-- and didn't even bother, concentrating instead on the faces and voices of the beloved women in my company.

I can't remember the last time I went three days without checking email, Facebook, or my favorite blogs.  I'm not quite a technology addict.  I think internet is a great tool but I am totally capable to going without it for a few hours.  But I like being connected because of exactly that: I feel connected to the people I love and the world that I love being a part of.   I genuinely feel that these tools have helped me stay in touch in meaningful (and frivolous) ways with people that are far from me.  I can keep them close in my mind and heart even when they are not close at hand.

It was nice to have some unanticipated unplugged time, though, time to concentrate of continuing to build community with women with whom I have shared many many many important life moments: relationships, schooling, weddings, births, deaths, loves found and lost.  All of those things happened face to face, with fleshly hands to hold and arms to hug, with real tears and copious laughter.  Interwebs are useful but they can't replicate the real thing.  Ever.  so it is nice to turn them off in order to pay attention to that real thing when it is happening in front of you.

For the next couple of days, I'll post about the Sea Ranch adventure and some of my shots from Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.  Stay tuned...