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June 03, 2013

Fear Looking for Comfort

Suzanne Stabile

 It is a beautiful morning!  I'm sitting on our patio with my second cup of coffee.  The birds are all singing but the one sound I find myself listening for is the cooing of a neighborhood dove.  In my litany of gratitude I am thankful for the wisdom that identified the dove as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  She has cooed her way into my consciousness since I was a child.  Fear longs for comforting memories.

Joe left early for the yearly gathering of the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Surrounded by fellow clergy he will have one vote of many regarding the business of Methodism in our area and the future of our denomination at large.  In a text he shares that he has been warmly greeted by friends and colleagues who are praying for his healing.  I am filled with unsettled curiosity as I watch life go on as usual … even when things are not at all the way they usually are.

I decided against a third cup of coffee and put on the kettle for tea.  I don’t really like tea.  Perhaps it's an intuitive way of trying to settle my anxiety rather than exacerbate it with caffeine. We're anxious to get the call naming the time for our appointment with the Precision Medical Team.  Feeling unusually disorganized, I read a chapter from each of the four books on my desk.  I suppose I was looking for something that would carry me through the morning while I wait for the phone to ring.  It seems that numbing and distraction are the most elusive when my desire for either is great.

I certainly can make no claim to being fully present in the moment … “present to the now” as many say.  However, I am usually content to deal with what is happening right in front of me.  But things are different these days.  We are, without much warning, living our life in two worlds.  One is familiar.  Joe and I navigate it in tandem and know it well.  The other has a foreign feel and a vocabulary made up of words like bullous pemphigoid, autoimmune disease, dangerously low oxygenation, met hemoglobin anemia, and precision medical teams.  I feel needy but I am never sure what I need … true of all Enneagram TWOs.  I think I need a connection between these two worlds; the one where Joe is sick with a very rare disease, and the one we lived in prior to now.  And I need a connection that is not embodied in Joe. 

There are many moments in this unfamiliar but seemingly sacred space when I long for things to be the way they used to be.  If that is selfish then I am.  If it is foolish then I am that too.  If it is possible … I would love it!  

Posted June 03, 2013    |    View

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May 09, 2013

Dancing in the Kitchen

Suzanne Stabile

Dancing in the Kitchen 

Joe had a heart attack last Saturday!  All the things I had imagined feeling if something like this ever happened were minimal compared to the reality of the experience in real, unimagined time.  I was teaching in Austin when the call came that he was in the ER, having driven himself there from a morning of horseback riding, barbeque and a few of his other favorite things.  The drive from Austin to Dallas was filled with promises on my part to a God who doesn’t need me to promise anything in exchange for faithfulness.
 
At one point I thought my own heart might be breaking since the one I have often described as “my every other heart beat” was in surgery and I was miles away.  Our daughters were with me.  They offered themselves to me in ways a mother would never know possible without a traumatic event.  After thirty-four and thirty-two years of holding them in the center of my life I found they had a place within themselves waiting for this time and for me.  Their over-arching embrace of my whole being felt familiar.  Their eyes were fixed on mine and I was reminded of the way they held me in their gaze as babies, trusting my care for them and offering indescribable acceptance and love in return.
 
We have a journey ahead of us that includes cardiac rehab, new recipes with ingredients like Smart Balance instead of butter and plants instead of animals.  We are both shaken and thankful.  Newly conscious of the depth of our love, we are holding each other a lot and crying at unexpected times.  It feels right.  Last night I prayed for some sign that all would be well.
This morning Joe and I danced in the kitchen to one of our favorite Merle Haggard songs.
Grateful!

Posted May 09, 2013    |    View

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March 19, 2012

Dancing with Sara Miles

Suzanne Stabile

     Joe and I have been on two trips in as many weeks.  We spent a few days with a dear friend in San Francisco and then we spent some time in Santa Fe.  I experienced so many new things in both cities it has been a challenge for me to process it all.  However, following some journaling time, I am ready to begin to unpackage what I might be learning.
     When I read Jesus Freak and TakeThis Bread, both written by Sara Miles, I hoped that one day we would meet.  Her work speaks to my heart in many ways and there are times when reading Sara's words that I find her love for Jesus and the people she serves in His name, to be very challenging.  It happens that our friend in San Francisco is the editor of Jesus Freak and she took us to worship at St. Gregory's where Sara was preaching.
     This beautiful church, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal, has a dome ceiling that is ringed with Mark Duke's icons of Dancing Saints.  These men and women are painted in majestic and brilliant colors and they are obviously engaged in a well choreographed dance one with the other.  I was immediately reminded of the image Joe uses when teaching about the Holy Trinity as he describes the dance of the Three.  The choir was practicing when we arrived.  Their voices complimented the reality that they were singing acapella and my heart was full as I anticipated the beginning of worship.
     As I stood beneath the ring of saints and among those who were there to worship, I wondered what it would be like to dance among the holy ones.  Just then the worship leader started giving us instructions for worship; walking us through the worship guide, explaining our procession into the sanctuary and informing us that we would be dancing during the service
WHAT ?!?
       
      I don't even know these people!  I don't know the dance!  I don't want this nice lady to stand between Joe and me so we can
"follow!"  Then the not so "quiet" voice within said ....  "Suzanne, I thought you were interested in dancing with the holy ones."
When I am extremely nervous my heart beats in the hollow of my neck and I feel my face flush and I find it hard to be attentive.  Why the sudden change in me?  Why the fear of the dance?  (Joe and I are actually quite good dancers.)  Why would any of us decline to join Sara and the others?
     Those questions fill my journal.  I will begin to answer them as the week progresses.

Posted March 19, 2012    |    View

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February 27, 2012

Vulnerability

Suzanne Stabile

     Joe and I are speakers on a panel tonight at Brite School of Divinity.  The topic is "Re-thinking Sexuality, Theology and Healing" and we are two of five who will discuss "reparative therapy."
    Those who are there will have the opportunity to participate in a conversation with three theologians, a professor from the TCU school of social work and a mom.  I'm the mom.  We are blessed to be the parents of four children.  Our youngest son is smart, talented, loving, gay, courageous, forgiving and wounded.
     Given the reality that I have been a United Methodist all of my life except for the ten years that I wandered through the mystical world of the Roman Catholic church, I have never really been taught about Mary, the mother of God.  And yet every year during Lent I find myself drawn to stories that are about her and her place in the life of Jesus.  We are only five days into Lent and I am thinking of her once again, wondering what she would say to me today if we shared some time and a cup of tea.  I am somewhat reticent to confess that I envy Mary's time with Simeon in the Temple when he told her that the sword of sorrow would pierce her heart.  When our son was an infant no one warned me that such pain would come my way.
     For this moment at least I am planning to be quite vulnerable tonight.  I am going to tell the story of a deeply loved adolescent boy who tried with all of his strength to allow himself to be changed from gay to straight.  Against our wishes he sought "reparative therapy" seeking to "fix" or repair what many in our culture have labeled as sinful, wrong, shameful, disgusting, against God's will, an aberration and evil.  I am choosing vulnerability as opposed to a more intellectual telling of the story because Mary and Jesus and our son B.J. had the courage to be vulnerable.  I'm not really that courageous.  It is simply the only way I know to be honoring of the three of them.   

Posted February 27, 2012    |    View

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February 25, 2012

A Secret

Suzanne Stabile

C.S. Lewis said, "In speaking of this desire ... I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you ... the secret which hurts so much that you take revenge on it by calling it names like nostalgia and romanticism and adolescence, the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that, when, in every intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves, the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell."

This quote is from a sermon Lewis preached in 1941 titled  "The Weight of Glory.  In my journey today the quote represents the unbelievable, undeniable, unrelenting, unwavering love that I experience in God's faithfullness to me.  I don't know how to speak of this love accurately so I sound like an adolescent when I try.  I cannot conjour up these feelings whenever I want to ___ they are just present on days like today and I had no idea to expect them.  When my heart is this full I do remember the last time I felt this way and I am curious about how long it has been and what has occurred in my life since.  

Joe knows something is up today.  He can see it in my eyes and sense it in my laugh.  It is the secret we cannot hide, this feeling of being deeply loved in some mystical way.  And yet, when asked about it we cannot tell because all language is woefully insufficient.  

I suppose this is one reason why I need Christian community.  It is where I meet people who share the secret and who know not to ask the questions that cannot be answered. 

Posted February 25, 2012    |    View

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February 23, 2012

Grieving

Suzanne Stabile

     Mardi Gras has come and gone.  Joe and I went to Pappadeaux that day for a meal hoping, I suppose, that it would bring back the feelngs of the parties and parades of our times together in New Orleans.   But the Cresent City is unique, our experiences there are unrepeatable and our expectations were unrealistic.  Perhaps in our culture of muchness and manyness "Fat Tuesday" is too much like every other day.  
     Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, is for me a day like no other.  I don't like fasting.  I do like ashes.  I never quite know what to "give up" and I usually feel like I am about to head out on a long hike with a pack that is very heavy and a heart that feels too vulnerable.
     For some reason Lent has often been a time of grieving for me.  I could understand it if the grieving was just about my own sinfulness but it is much more than that.  My journey during these forty days has, in recent years, been filled with memories of those who no longer recognize or engage me along the way.  What is it that causes us to break away from those we said we loved?  Why do differences so often end in leaving?  Is it that we cannot accept the way someone else's life unfolds?  
     It seems to me that it takes the same kind and amount of energy to leave as would be required to stay.  In the coming days we will be reminded in the Scriptures about those who could not remain with Jesus.  Whether it was the in the garden, along the via Dolorosa, or at the foot of the cross staying was evidently enormously challenging.  I want to listen carefully so that I might figure out how to better understand these losses that I grieve.

Posted February 23, 2012    |    View

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September 01, 2011

Emerging Christianity by Rev. Robyn Michalove

Robyn Michalove

Whatever may be true about the overly-used and highly-nuanced term “postmodernity,” there is no doubt - that that in some way or another - we have all experienced a paradigm shift in our culture and, in particular, in our churches. Whether the impetus of its arrival is overcompensation for rational modernity, or the advent of technological advances, or the September 11 attack, and/or a combination of all of the above, times have changed.

From the way we get information (instant technology) to who has access to information (no longer accessible to experts only), to the way that information is processed (pluralistic tensions and paradoxes), a new day has arrived. Where we work (virtually, globally) and our social interactions through new mediums (chat rooms and Facebook) cause us to reconfigure life in the 21st century world.

What does this mean for our Christian faith and how we express in the local church? Is it simply moving in couches and beaming up PowerPoint and twittering our prayers? How do we hold on to the holy when ‘life as we knew it’ feels threatened and unstable? What do ancient Christian practices like spiritual disciplines and social compassion to the least show us about contemporary discipleship? How can understanding Jesus in his 1st century context help us navigate our times? How does engaging in authentic Christian community as the body of Christ encourage us to live into all that God calls us to be?

Join the hopeful conversation with fellow pilgrims as we explore the four cornerstones of our emerging faith at the upcoming conference on September 30-October 1.

Posted September 01, 2011    |    View

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July 29, 2011

Liminal Christianity: The Sacred Place In Between

Suzanne Stabile

In an era of curt sound bites, too many catch phrases and a plethora of options, why would you choose a word like liminal to entice people to give up a Saturday in the Texas summer heat to be with people they don't know to discuss something they never heard of?

The answer:  Because it is one of the best words we can find to describe the status of mainline denominational churches. 

Author Phyllis Tickle, speaking at the Associated Church Press Convention in 2008, described the cyclical upheaval of the church as a "semi-millennial giant rummage sale."

"About every 500 years, the Christian church feels inclined to throw everyting up in the air and see what happens," she said.  Those of us who are in ministry in mainline denominational churches, both lay and clergy, know that we are not what we were.  According to William Willimon, a UMC Bishop in Alabama, the average age of both a United Methodist and UMC clergy is older than the national average and our denomination has been decreasing in size for 40 years.  The question is, will we lament or will we labor?  And if we labor, where do we begin?

For me, I had to begin by defining where we find ourselves.  I needed a word, an idea or a theory that could become a foundation for me, and I wanted it to represent hope.  Liminality is my choice.

The Latin word limina means threshold.  Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M., defines liminality as "a special psychic and spiritual space where all trasformation happens."
It is when we are betwixt and between, when we are not in control, a place where quesions are plentiful and answers elusive.  Some have said liminality is the most teachable space and othes say it seems that God intentionally led people, one after another, to similar threshold experiences.

If what is taking shape is going to endure into the next 500 years, we would be wise to get together form time to time to talk about it.  That includes those active in church and those who aren't, as well as those who are hopeful and those who aren't, to discuss our faith, and our fear, our dreams and our emptiness, our past, present and future.

Please join us.  You can register on the home page by choosing "Liminal Christianity ....." on the right.

Posted July 29, 2011    |    View

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May 28, 2011

The Death of a Hero

Suzanne Stabile


One of my heroes died quietly this morning in a hospital in central Texas. She is the loved one of two of my dearest friends and I’ve been praying for her for a long time now, even though we never met. The world will be less without her and yet one would describe her life as somewhat obscure. Auntie A, the affection obvious in the name, was gay, bi-polar, on dialysis, pitied, loving and someone’s beloved. In hearing the stories of her life it seems that sometimes Alix was out of touch with reality and at other times representative of a Reality that is too real for the rest of us to accommodate.

In a life where mania and depression are the parenthetical markers I wonder how one would describe the ordinary middle where most of us live our days. Perhaps as less than, or without texture; or maybe she would have said the place “in between” is peace-filled and quiet. Alix lived and shared life between those markers with her beloved partner for forty plus years. Susan’s love was big enough to accommodate the extremes of Auntie A’s moods and their shared commitment was strong enough to withstand the added polarization from a culture that is fixated on homosexuality.

It seems important to note that after these many years of love and care, the most significant person in Alix’s life is not the legal heir to their belongings, she is not the “next of kin,” and Susan’s deep and devastating pain will likely be camouflaged as something other so she can safely mourn.

Young gays and lesbians who are free to be “open” about who they are on college campuses today should know that Alix helped pave the way for their freedom. Her integrity combined with the love of good parents enabled her to be among the first to take a stand for gay rights.

Parents and families of bi-polar loved ones should know that Auntie A left a legacy that proves that mental illness does not necessarily exclude a life fully lived in relationship with another. Her ability to love well, in spite of her disorder, and to be loved deeply and honestly is a gift for all of us who hope and pray for the same for our children, siblings or close friends.
 
The wisdom teachers of our time say that the important lessons in life are learned either from immense suffering or from great love. To that I would say Billie Alexander Hargrave must indeed be wise. She suffered. She was loved. And she loved well in return. I believe, with all of my heart, in an all loving and all benevolent God. So today I can imagine that a gay, bi-polar, well loved and weary soul has fallen into the arms of that Benevolence and that she is at peace.

Auntie A left the world better than she found it. It is our task to do the same.

Posted May 28, 2011    |    View

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March 08, 2011

The Journey Downward

Joseph Stabile

The holy season of Lent begins tomorrow.  I know that doesn't mean a lot to very many persons these days but for those of us who are striving to follow in the path of the Lord Jesus it is a most important time.  This liturgical time in the church calls for us to give serious consideration to the direction of our lives.  We are invited to join the Lord on a journey of descent; a journey that is foreign to most persons in our first world culture.

Everything in the world around us is calling for us to journey upward.  How can I be successful?  How can I make a name for myself?  How can I achieve a reputation or greatness?  What will give me the most prestige or position?  All of the advertising that we take in through the media calls for us to have more, get the newest and best; it is all about power, possessions and prestige, the exact opposite of the temptations that Jesus faces in the desert during his forty days of ministerial preparation. 
The call of Lent is for us to journey downward.  And Jesus is the ultimate example of this journey.  Not grasping equality with God to held on to, He humbles himself in human form to come among us.  Born in a cattle feed trough, no place to lay his head while traveling in ministry and ultimately dying on a symbol of condemnation and punishment.  His entire life was lived as an example to us of "letting go" "less is more" "journeying downward".

The challenge before us during this season of Lent:  are we willing to walk this downward journey, which in reality is the journey upward to the Father?  What can we do to get our "ego" out of the way, for it is the "ego" that is always looking to move up higher.  The three suggestions of the scripture on Ash Wednesday give us a hint in the form of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Each of these call us out of ourselves to focus on something other than ourselves, other than continuing to shore up our own personal self.  In prayer we are asked to focus on God and God alone and surrender our will to His Will.  In almsgiving, we are challenged to stop thinking so much of ourselves and think more of our neighbor, particularly those with whom Jesus most identifies, the poor and the needy.  And in fasting we are called to think not so much of our own bodies and put our emphasis on anything that is other than the "self".  Each of these will become for us important tools on the downward journey.

May your season of lent be fruitful for your personal spiritual growth; may you know the joy of surrender and letting go; and may your soul be prepared to walk the way of suffering and death that leads to a joyous Resurrection.

Posted March 08, 2011    |    View

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