Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Al Gino's Five Ravioli Life

Albert "Al" Peter Gino

NB: This was the eulogy I preached today at the Memorial Service of my dear friend, Al Gino.

If you were FB friends with Al Gino, one of the things you looked forward to – well, besides his occasional political ‘rants’ about justice – was his movie reviews.

They were, in a word, fabulous.  He had a system of “Raviolis” – from one to five – five raviolis being the very best (which he gave, on occasion) and one ravioli being the absolute worst (Or, as Al would say, “Into the ocean!”)

In keeping with that, I want to talk for a few moments about the Five Ravioli Life of Al Gino. He gets five ravioli – one each for costume, set design, acting, directing, and, of course, musical score. 

Al was an artist. He had an eye for elegance and composition. No princess – not Grace or Diana or Katherine – could have been more beautifully dressed for her wedding day had she worn Vintage Haute Couture from the House of Gino. He made this stole and the Oasis banner which I found tucked away in the stored treasures of the diocesan offices. 

Simple. Elegant. Lovely. That was Al Gino.

When there was an Oasis event – especially here at All Saints, Hoboken, his spiritual home as well as the home of the Oasis – everything was absolute perfection. He would have been really pleased with the job his sister Janet and sister in law Wanda, their friends, and the Altar Guild here did today. It couldn’t be more lovely. 

The chalice and paten on the altar are also from The Oasis as are the candle holders on the altar.

From a Christmas card from Al to Michael
I can almost hear him barking orders – well, not exactly barking. Al was never mean. He was just . . . how shall we say? . . .. Emphatic. Passionate.  Clear. Very, very clear. 

And, anxious only about one thing, “Do you think we’ll have enough food?” 

There would be mounds of food everywhere -  enough to feed a small village in the Global South.  Still, he would worry and fuss.

I would say, “Al! Really?” 

And he would say, “Look, I’m fluent in three languages: English. Italian. And, food. This is how I let people know they are loved and welcome. And, who needs to know that more than lesbians and gay men? Don’t start with me,” he’d huff and walk off.

I chose this gospel passage today for Al – especially these words: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Al was passionate about the inclusion of absolutely everyone. The Eucharist was important to him because he knew gay folk – especially at the height of the AIDS crisis – that were denied the sacrament because of their sexual orientation. 

I remember him saying to me, “When they get to the pearly gates, Jesus is going to give them such a slap, they will be knocked into next week.” 

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Al resonated deeply with these words of Jesus. They became his ‘lines’ in life – his greatest role – in bringing others back to the Church through The Oasis. 

He liked to call The Oasis "The Ellis Island for LGBT people". If they had been in a congregation which had been too painful and had left, The Oasis was a way for them to find healing and hope, a place where they could process and assimilate, before finding a welcoming community again.

Ah, but it was the music that pushed him from four and a half raviolis to a full five ravioli life. Opera was the sound track of his life. He adored opera. 

Me? Not so much. I love baseball. Red Sox. I know. Sorry. A Yankee fan - even though he lived in South Carolina - it made Al crazy. 

He'd say, "But, you're not in Boston anymore!" I guess, after he lived in South Carolina but remained loyal to the Yankees, he understood a little better.

Wait. Who am I kidding? No, he didn't. What he didn't understand is why EVERYONE didn't love the Yankees.

I used to remind him that H.L. Mencken once said that opera in English is about as sensible as baseball in Italian. Al's response was, “What? You don’t know Joe DiMaggio?”

The libretto from The Pearl Fishers  ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (At the back of the holy temple) was Al’s favorite. It is sung by the characters Nadir and Zurga. Like all operas, the story line is complex, but let me give you the set up for this scene:

The beautiful duet comes after a self-imposed absence, when Nadir returns to the shores of Ceylon, where his friend Zurga has just been elected Fisher King by the local pearl fishermen. The two had once fallen in love with the same woman, but then vowed to each other to renounce that love and remain true to each other. 

The obvious situation at this point is that males will value their relationship higher than a heterosexual relationship. On meeting again, they sing this duet which ends with these words.

Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!

Yes, it is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day.

And, faithful to my promise,

I wish to cherish you like a brother!

It is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day!

Yes, let us share the same fate,

let us be united until death!

On August 16th, Al posted one last time on FB. It was a quote from George Takei: “I already want to take a nap tomorrow.” 

Al commented, “I totally get this.” 

A few hours later, Al was dead.

Michael and Al
I still can’t believe he’s gone from our sight. His poor body was too tired to continue his time with us on earth. He went to his bed only to awaken to the Light Eternal as he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd among the voices of the angels singing “Au fond du temple saint” (At the back of the holy temple.).

The goddess has come to unite us this day. We will always remain friends, Al. We know that we will be united again, for death will never really separate us. 

It can’t. The bond of our love for you – and yours for us – is too strong. Death cannot contain it. 

The promise of the Good Shepherd is secure. 

We know – not just with our minds but deep in our hearts – that life is changed, not ended.

Even so, we will miss you, dear friend. You were gone too soon. Too soon. 

We will care for each other and your Michael and your sister Janet whose grief is almost inconsolable. 

The wonderful memories you left us will always be a blessing. 

We will never forget your acts of kindness and generosity, your passion for justice and your sense of humor, and your love for opera – and, for us.

Sleep well, our dear, sweet Italian prince. 

You have united us in love as you are now united in Divine, Wondrous Love with Jesus.                                                                     

Tributes to Al from a Bishop and a Quean

"Al Gino was an inspiration to know and a relentless advocate for justice. He was also a man of deep compassion. He helped to change the Diocese of Newark by both his witness and his energy.  I was blessed to know him.”            
                                                                                   John Shelby Spong, VIII Bishop of Newark.
One of my earliest memories of living as an Alabama transplant in New Jersey was being invited to dinner at Al's home. Our friendship was love at first sight. What a joyful evening! 

Al lived grandly but never pretentiously. He understood fully how to respect not just the dignity but the delight of every human being — well almost every human being. Meanness perplexed him, much as it perplexes Jesus.  

Al was a consummate decorator:  there is camouflage for meanness but never decoration.

And Al understood joy and play as spiritual gifts. 

Al, sugar, please help God find the sapphire throne. I look forward to your giving me a sneak preview after you have gussied it up.   

                                                                                Love,   Louie Crew Clay , founder, Integrity

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

100,000 Angels

NB: This is the meditation I gave this morning for the Hospice Team

Yesterday, a few of us met with some folks from DelTec to plan our staff development day. One of the questions we were asked was to name some positive outcomes we'd like to see at the end of our time together.

We immediately began ticking off the negatives. It took some work to switch to positive thought, which, I think, said something significant about our current state of being and why we really, really need this staff development day.

I starting talking about "changing the environment" and "creating different workplace climate". One of the consultants smiled and said, "I think what you mean is, 'culture'. I think what I'm hearing you all say is that you want to begin to create a corporate culture in this particular part of this company."


Which got me thinking about the interplay between culture and customs.

In South Africa, there is this idea they call "Ubuntu." Roughly translated it means, "human kindness" but it is a philosophy which is described: "A person is not a person without another person." Or, to put it even more simply, "I am because you are."

In other words, individual identity is not shaped and formed in isolation. We are members of community and that community conspires to shape our identity.

The way that gets acted out in a cultural custom can be easily seen in the way South Africans greet each other. One says, "I see you." The other responds, "Here I am."

It's a powerful custom which acknowledges each other's existence while reinforcing the cultural ideology of Ubuntu: "I am because you are."

When I was working in the Metropolitan NY area, I had the privilege of working with a group of Rabbis. Through them, I learned of the Hassidic teachings that, walking in front of every human being are 100,000 angels who cry out, "Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God."

If we believed that - even if we couldn't imagine each other surrounded by angels, but that we are made in the image of God -  how might that change the way we relate to each other?

If we believed that our most difficult patient or family member were made in the image of God, how might that affect the care we provide for them?

If we were able to believe that we, ourselves, were made in the image of God, how would that change the image we have of ourselves? The way we are in the world? The way we are with each other?

How would imagining that there are 100,000 angels surrounding each and every one of us change the corporate culture of this Hospice organization?

Ubuntu. I am because you are.

Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God!


Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Personal IS Political

Pope Francis breaks bread with the homeless in DC

Well, it's been "all-Pope-Francis-all-the-time" this week, which culminates in a Papal Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philly.

Frankly, I am absolutely delighted that the first miracle he seems to have performed is that the media has become mercifully - if not mysteriously - silent on The Donald.

The second is that he seems to have awakened a latent spirituality in the soul of the Speaker of the House who promptly resigned his position and his seat the next day.

Soli deo gloria!

No, the Pope's visit is not going to radically change either Roman Catholic theology, policy or practice but it may just get many of those "liberal Roman Catholics" back into church where the push from the grassroots may actually, over time, bring about some theological and policy changes.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

What's been fascinating to me is that the criticism of the Pope's message during his historic visit to the joint session of Congress is that it was . . . .  ready?  . . . . political.

Not "too political". Just flat out political. (Gasp!)

Because, you know, he talked about five things:
Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That's now political, apparently.

Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political?

Serving as good stewards of the environment. Outrageously political, right?

Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Political?

Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. 
And that's political?  Turns out, that was on the agenda of Jesus, as well.

Honestly! What else do you expect to hear from the world leader of billions of Roman Catholics who believe that the Pope walks in the Shoes of the Fisherman?

Of course he's going to be concerned about protecting those who need help, urging us to bring in refugees who have no place to live because of war and violence and terrorism.

And, even if he wasn't the Pope, much less a Roman Catholic, it seems like it is a universal truth that we should be good to others who have less than we do, and that we should give shelter to those who don't have it.

You know.  The Golden Rule, and all that.

I heard Catholic priest Jonathan Morris on NPR explaining that global warming is an international phenomenon that will predominantly hurt poor countries. If wealthy countries don't step up on climate change, they will doom poor nations who simply can't afford to adapt to the chaos that will ensue. So tackling global warming is really about taking care of the environment to help the world's poor — something that seems very much in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Oh, wait. All these things are also on the President's agenda. And, we know he's a Muslim, right? Not even American. Born in Kenya.

Honest to Ethel!

Here's what we learned way back in the 60s, and it still is true today: "The Personal is Political"
We said it back in the day about women and feminism, but it is also true about homelessness, hunger, poverty, economic injustice, un/underemployment, freedom of religious expression, immigration, and climate change.

The personal is political.

No, Jesus didn't say that, but his life and teachings and ministry are shot through and through with that which is political.

Have you ever really paid close attention to the words of the "Lord's Prayer"?

Just what do you think Jesus meant when he said stuff like "Give us this day our daily bread"? Or "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? Or, "Deliver us from evil"?

The personal is political.

The Episcopal Church has its share of people who get a bit squirrely when it comes to politics in the pulpit. Indeed, I have been guest preacher in several churches where the rector urged me, "Please, don't be political in the pulpit, Elizabeth. I'll never hear the end of it from my congregation."

I'm convinced I haven't been invited back to one congregation because of just that. Not that I said anything 'political'. I just stood in the pulpit and preached and behind the altar and presided.

Apparently my reputation had preceded me.  It appears that I, in fact,  was the 'political statement'.

What these people on the 'hard right' don't know is how transparent they are. They really think the way to shut up a clergy person is to complain that they are being "too political". Or, women are 'angry'. Or 'have no sense of humor'.

And, some of the time with certain clergy, they would be right.

But, with the Pope? This Pope?

Those on the 'hard right' really think they're going to silence him by saying he's being 'political'?

Not. Gonna Happen.

Because, the personal is political and religion is very, very personal. So is hunger. And, poverty. And, climate change. And immigration.

And, oh, by the way, Pope Francis? So is reproductive justice.

And, the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood - and, yes as bishops and cardinals and yes, even Pope.

He'll get there. Eventually. As we used to say in the 60s, he's educable. Meanwhile, let's cheer him on as he paves the way that brings us closer to the Realm of God.

Which means that sometimes you need to pray with your sleeves rolled up and your boots on.

As Desmond Tutu says, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

This Pope has proven himself to be far from neutral.

He also knows that to get closer to the Realm of God you have to get personal.

And, political.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Be Opened

Be Opened: Breaking boundaries and finding compassion
Pentecost XV - Proper 18B - September 6, 2015
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: On June 17, nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot and killed by an attacker expressing reasons for the murders connected with race. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination has asked all churches in this country to join in a “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” The leadership of The Episcopal Church and Bishop Wayne here in DE have encouraged all parishes to participate. We will say a special prayer during the Prayers of the People and the Eucharist will be offered in thanksgiving for the lives of those nine members who died. I will address aspects of racism in this sermon.

This is a sermon about boundaries and compassion. This morning’s gospel from Mark ( 7:24-37) provides us with two stories, both of which teach us something about Jesus and boundaries and how compassion breaks them down.

This is as timely a message for us today as it was for those who first heard the words of Jesus. 

I don’t know about you but, these days, I hate to turn the television. Have you noticed? Suddenly, there are more ads for political causes than there are for Year End Sales Events and Victoria’s Secret! And, most of the political cause have to do with boundaries – if not with the Iran Peace Agreement then between Israel and Palestine. 

Got a problem? Build a wall! Real or legal!

The news carries the ongoing struggle over the issue of immigration in this country and terrible refugee situation in Europe, culminating this week with the horrifying images of the tiny body of a three-year old Syrian boy that washed up on the beach in Turkey.

And aren’t you just tired of the endless news cycle of that clerk in a small town in Kentucky who refused to do her job and is now in jail crying that her religious freedom has been compromised? 

All the political pundits are lining up on either side of the issue, drawing lines in the sand while they declare that anyone on this side of the line is a real Christian and anyone on that side of the line is not. How dare they!

Where are the boundaries? Who makes them? Who decides who stays on what side?

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus ventures outside of his boundaries into the region of Tyre. Up north. He’s apparently trying to travel incognito. No such luck. “He could not escape notice,” we’re told. 

In the first story, we learn that word travels that he’s in town. A Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is very ill comes to ask him to have mercy and please heal her.

Now, what you need to know about this woman is that first, she’s a woman. In ancient Israel – and, indeed, in some branches of Hassidic Judaism – it is not ‘kosher’ for women to speak with men. 

The second thing is that she is not Jewish, so she has absolutely no right to speak with a Rabbi. 

The third thing is that, as a Syrophoenician, she is of mixed racial origin. Indeed, Syrophoenicians were considered “mongrels” or “dogs” because of their racial impurity and religious irregularities.

But the woman does not back down and, in fact, stands up to Jesus, turning his rather cruel statement about “feeding the dogs” upside down in an intelligent rejoinder about how even dogs get “the crumbs from under their master’s table”.

So impressed is Jesus with this woman’s persistence and intelligence that he gets caught short. Theologian Letty Russell writes that, “Jesus got caught with his compassion down.” 

In one holy moment, Jesus dissolves three boundaries which had become barriers to his compassion: her gender, her race and her religion. 

Jesus sees this woman for who she is: a mother – not unlike his own – who simply loves her daughter and even more simply, wants her to be healed.

In the next story, Jesus is back in the Decapolis region of the Sea of Galilee and some of the folks brought before him a man who could neither hear nor speak. They begged Jesus to heal him. 

This time, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd and, in private, crosses some personal boundaries. He sticks his fingers into the man’s ears and spits on the ground and touches his tongue. 

And then, looking up to heaven, he says, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened.” 

Of course, the man was healed and could hear and speak clearly. Of course, Jesus told him and those who brought the man to him to say nothing. And, of course, they did nothing of the sort, proclaiming this great miracle to everyone they saw.

Ephphathat! Be opened! That’s what Jesus said to the deaf man. Be opened!

Do you think maybe, just maybe, Jesus had learned something about his own ways of being closed to the Syrophoenician woman? Be opened! 

Do you think her openness to him – even though he was as much a foreigner to her as she was to him – also opened Jesus to a new way of understanding his ministry which included Gentiles? Be opened!   
Do you think there’s a message in the midst of these two stories for the people of God today?

Now, if you think I have some wise answer for you that will settle the immigration problem in this country and the refugee problem in Europe and solve the problem of civil rights vs. religious freedom while bringing peace to the Middle East, much less how to end racism and gun violence – well, I’ve got news for you. I don’t. I’m a priest not a magician.

I do think there is something to these words of Jesus to “be opened”. Here’s the thing: I don’t know how to be compassionate without having my heart opened to the suffering of others. 

I don’t know how to be compassionate without removing whatever protective barriers I have put up so as to not see the needs of another person – to be able to see them as a whole human being.

What I’ve learned from my hospice patients is that compassion is a verb. It means I first have to stick my fingers into my own ears to unblock them. And then I’ve got to move past the barriers of my own sense of what’s proper and do something. Even something I’m not included to do. Like spit. 

Finally, I have to touch my own tongue, not to loosen it so much as to still it.

I’ve learned over the years a simple truth: Your ears don’t work well if your mouth is moving. I don't always do it well, but I've learned it to be true.

You can’t listen and hear if you don’t stop talking.  My grandmother used to have a little poem she often recited to me:   
“The wise old owl sat on the oak
the more he listened, the less he spoke
the less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can’t I be like that wise old bird?”
What I’ve learned about compassion and boundaries is very much what Jesus learned from his encounters with the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man. 

I have learned that I have to be opened to that which is beyond my own carefully constructed boundaries.  Because, just beyond those boundaries is compassion. And, inside of compassion is love. 

And love, I have learned, may not change the world, but it changes me to be a better person who can do small things, which, over time, make the world a better place.

Like, for example, being opened. 


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Rhythm of Hospice

NB - This is the essence of the opening meditation I gave at today's Hospice IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) meeting.

There is a rhythm to Hospice.  

You go along in your day or your week, doing your work, seeing a patient and then the next patient and then the next. 

You show up. You are present. You represent. 

You listen to stories. You offer some help - some of it actually works. You hold a few hands. You bring some comfort.

You hit a few bumps. A family member has a melt down. Someone dies sooner than you expected. You get thrown off a bit. You find your grove again and continue.

And then, one day, you have that patient. The one who, when you weren't looking, tangles him or her self right around your heartstrings. 

It could be something about their story - the courage, the creativity, the resilience. Or, it's something about the essence of their spirit.  Or, both.

You suddenly know, deep in your heart that, when this soul leaves this earth, the world will be a little darker - a little poorer - for their absence. 

And, you begin a process of your own anticipatory grief. 

Despite your own best efforts to avoid it. Despite the pride you have in your years of experience. Your "professionalism". 

It throws off your rhythm. You find yourself a little off balance. You are more emotional. Perhaps your thinking isn't quite as sharp and clear as it normally. 

You find yourself going over things a few more times, just to make sure you're right. 

And, when you get home at night, your walk from the car to the front door takes a bit longer. Your step is a little slower. Your energy level is lower. 

You don't really want to cook. You really don't have an appetite. 

Ice cream sounds like a good supper. A whole container. With some dark chocolate. And, maybe you'll wash it all down with a glass of wine. 

A big glass of wine. 

Sometimes, I can't even pray. Words simply fail. I just let my heart open and hope God can read the jumble of words and feelings that are all mixed together in there. 

At some point in the midst of this time, you may even find yourself questioning why you do this work. This work called Hospice. 

In times such as this, I find myself turning to poetry. I love the way the poet can move me to the essence of emotion, directly to the heart of the matter. 

One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver. Her words, the choice, the arrangement and rhythm of her words, have a way of helping me find my own rhythm and get back into the groove of my life and my work.

If what I've said has any resonance with what you may be feeling now or have felt before - if you can relate to what I'm saying - I offer these words from Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Messenger, for your consideration.
The Messenger
Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth

and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Allow me to lift up these words, especially, for your consideration:
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

By any other name . . .

This is a blog about how we self-identify and express ourselves - the essence of who we are and how it is we want to be known in the world. 

So, the first thing I want to say is, "Relax!"

This is not a manifesto. This is a blog which contains my personal reflections. These are my thoughts. This is not my advice or direction.  Don't give me authority - or ascribe to me motives - I don't have.

I'm just . . . to sound like a totally California-Sunshine-girl . . . . sharing.  Well, not "just". I'm sharing in the hopes to stimulate some thought and start a conversation. Not a debate. Not WWIII.  A conversation.  You know, where people agree to disagree. Like mature adults.

So, the next thing I want to say is that I have evolved on this position. I didn't arrive here today. And, I've probably been exactly where you are - at least two or three times - on this journey I'm calling "naming my own reality".

There were two prompts to this evolution. The first came after someone - some cheery, positive-sounding, all-inclusive, relentlessly liberal - called me a "cis-gender woman".

What the heck is THAT? I asked.

Cis-gender, I was told, means that the gender assignment given me at birth matches the way I understand myself and self-identify. It was developed by some trans-women and their allies to soften the harshness of not being considered a "woman" but a "trans-woman".

You get a modifier to your gender, I'll get one, too.

So, the way it works, apparently, in this perfect world, is that no one gets their feelings hurt because they feel excluded or categorized.  There are no more women and men, just trans-women and trans men and cis-gender women and cis-gender men.  See?

I sat uncomfortably with that for a while and then heard myself say, Hey, wait a minute! If self-identification is my right, and I can name my own reality, why can't I say that I'm a 'woman' rather than a 'cis-gender woman'?

Why do I have to accept yet another label someone has assigned to me, albeit out of a spirit of generosity and inclusivity?

I mean, who sent - much less wrote - that memo?

Answer? I got Bambi in the headlines looking back at me, surrounded by radio silence.

Look, I said, you want to refer to the general demographic of non-trans women as cis-gender? Fine. Or, if you are talking about me, specifically, in my absence, to a group of people and feel the need to identify me as a cis-gender woman? Fine.

You're a trans woman who wants to simply identify as a woman? That's fine with me, too. 

All I ask is for the same respect I extend to others who have the right to name their own reality. My reality is that I am a woman. Who lives in America. In the Year of Our Lord 2015.

That means that I am constantly pushing against expectations of how a woman - especially a woman who is a woman 'of a certain age' -  is supposed to behave.

So, I get raised eyebrows because I drive an "Omaha Orange" Jeep Trail Hawk - not exactly a 'chick car' (whatever that is).  Which has a bumper sticker that reads, "Silly Boys, Jeeps are for Girls" and another that reads, "God is Not a Boy's Name."

And, I'm an Episcopal priest who occasionally wears a black shirt with a starched white collar around my neck (in the style of an 18th century gentleman of financial means) and, when I'm in church, I wear a long white dress but I'm in traditional men's liturgical clothing.

That means that my reality as a post-modern, American woman is . . .well . . .  complicated.

To be honest, I am not comfortable with the cultural expectations placed upon me as a woman. And, as a woman of a certain age. And, as a woman who is in what was, for centuries, a traditionally male profession, wearing the patriarchal garb that has been assigned to men.

So, I'm not exactly 'cis-gender', you see.

At least, not as I understand the word. Meaning that, in the opinion of many, many men and women in this country, I have utterly failed to live up to the expectations of the the gender assigned to me at birth. And, it is certainly not the way I understand myself and self-identify.

Anyway, it's a bit ironic to me. That people who argue against 'the binary' go right ahead and create another. All in a spirit of "inclusivity" to "Leave No Classification of People Behind."

So, once I got over that, I settled down to enjoy watching the movement of Marriage Equality sweeping over this country. And then, the Supreme Court decision just overwhelmed me with joy.

I listened with interest - if not slight amusement - to people on the BBC and CNN and NPR carefully - if not occasionally awkwardly - enunciate every letter in the "L . . . G . . . B . . .T  . . . community". It sounded like they were trying especially hard to get it right and not offend anyone. I mean, now that we were 'official citizens' with actual civil rights.

And, thus began the second prompt.

It seemed to me - and, I'm just reflecting on my own experience here - that, if we were really a "community," we wouldn't need to insist on a letter for every single member.

Which, in the end, we don't do, anyway. Have a letter for every single member, I mean. For example, there are members of the trans-community who are more nuanced in their identification.

Some are "I" which stands for "Intersex" (which, as I understand it, is the medical term that has replaced 'hermaprodite').

Other terms used are "genderqueer," "bigender," "pangender," or "agender". 

Other terms include "third gender" and, in what I understand is the Native American tradition, "Two spirit".

Some "trans people" prefer male pronouns. Others prefer female pronouns. Others, prefer "they".

Which may be why I've been seeing, more and more, a "Q" added to the end of LGBT and before the word "community".

However, it's not entirely clear whether it means "Queer" or "Questioning". Or, both.

Neither is it clear - as I understand it - what "trans" means, exactly. It can mean both Transgender as well as Transsexual.

So, if you're paying attention, what we've got - so far - is:

L,G,B,T, I TS, TG, TS, GQ, BG, PG, AG, Q, Q,

Seriously? Seriously. At least, those are the ones I know. There may be more. Probably are.

Someone is bound to write me an angry note calling my attention to some particular demographic I've omitted.

Now, mind you, there is no "Homosexual Central" where these things are decided. No memos are sent out. No enforcement officers sent out to make sure everyone minds his or her or "their" .... um..... "P's and Q's" (Sorry, I couldn't resist.).

It's a wonder we were able to accomplish achieving the civil rights of Marriage Equality.

So, here's where I've evolved. I've decided that I am Queer. That's how I want to be known. That's the term I will use to describe the "community" to which I belong.


I know. I know. It's a word that comes with a whole lot of baggage. It is still listed in the dictionary as a 'pejorative term'.  It is, for many people, right up - or, down - there with the "N-word". It often elicits the same response that "faggot" does for gay men and "dyke" does for lesbian woman.

As I say, I've evolved in terms of my position on this word. Here's why.

In addition to the point I've made about "community," I especially like it because it's easier to say and all-inclusive in nature. Queer.

It's an umbrella term which covers all the letters of the alphabet soup of "God's Rainbow Tribe."

Not only that, it includes "heterosexual" or so-called "straight" people who also don't fit into the dominant cultural paradigm of either gender identity or sexual orientation. Some are divorced. Some are celibate. Others practice serial monogamy or polygamy.

And, some are happily married to people of opposite gender who regularly subvert the dominant cultural paradigm by standing in solidarity with Queer people.

Indeed, some of them have been amazing activists. If it weren't for them, I am convinced we would not have Marriage Equality.

Finally, I think using Queer joins the movement that began in the late-1980s.

Queer scholars began to reclaim the word to establish community. At that time, we began to see the emergence of Queer studies and Queer Theology.

Activist, especially, sought to assert Queer as a politicized identity distinct from the gay - or LGBTQ, etc. - political identity.

I remember when a dear friend returned from a high school reunion in her native Alabama. She said, in her lovely Southern drawl, "Honey, we all knew there were homosexuals in town. They were the antique dealers and the art collectors and the designers and hair stylists. But, nobody was 'gay'. And, there certainly weren't any 'lesbians'. They were 'sistahs'. Or,  they were women who had a 'Boston marriage', but that was only said in whispers in the ladies room or over the bridge table, "

When I asked her why this was so she smiled and said, "Well, sugar, you see, homosexuals knew their place and everyone got along. You start talkin' 'gay' and 'lesbian' and, well, now you're talkin' politics and religion and everyone knows that's just scratchin' for a fight."

Then she smiled and said, "Besides, you wouldn't want to scare the horses, now would you?"

Yeah, well, I guess I'm thinking that's a problem for the owner of the horses.

So, for me, anyway, it's buh-bye "lesbian," a term I've never really liked since the first time I saw it in a book in a library along side pictures of women who were either dressed as men or in a hospital gown looking like a zombie after having had a pre-frontal lobotomy to "correct her behavior".

I totally get why Ellen preferred to call herself "gay" vs. "lesbian" when she first came out. 

I'm also old enough to remember one of the first Gay Pride Parades in Baltimore, MD. We were stopped as sometimes happens in parades. One of my female colleagues decided we needed to fill the 'dead space' and fell back into her cheerleader days.

"Gimme an L," she yelled. And the crowd yelled, "LLLLLLLLL!"

"Gimme an E," she continued.  And the crowd yelled back, "EEEEEEE!"

"Gimme an S," she yelled, kicking up her leg and clapping her hands under her knee.

But, suddenly, the crowd began to get where she was going. "SSSssssssss . . . . ." came the response, which was decidedly less enthusiastic.

By the time she got to the last three letters, heads in the crowd were actually turning to look up or down the street or up the street, praying for the parade to start again.

That's why it's known as "The 'L' Word." In some places, it's worse than being a "Liberal".

Yet, I know I'm not 'gay'. That has a very different meaning than 'lesbian'. Very. Different.

And, adios and chao baby to "bisexual" which some have insisted I am because I was once - in another planet on another galaxy far, far away - married. To a man. And had children. Two. With him. Which I don't regret.

This woman is naming and claiming her own identity.

I am a Queer woman.

Don't like it? Don't have to. Tell me what you want to be called and I'll use that word just for you. I promise. Even if you want to be called a "cis-gender pansexual woman." Fine with me.

As Shakespeare once said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

At the end of the day, I'm still just Elizabeth, child of God, citizen of the universe, lover of mercy, doer of justice and someone who seeks always to walk attentively with God.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Queen Cersie's "Walk of Atonement"
The season finale of Season Five, Episode 10 of the HBO Special, "Game of Thrones" was entitled, "Cersei's Walk of Atonement". It was, in a word, riveting.

You don't really need to have seen the earlier seasons or previous episodes or even have read the book to appreciate the fine acting and directing of this episode, which made crystal clear the religious interpretation of shame as the atonement for sin. 

To be clear, Queen Cersei (brilliantly portrayed by Lena Henley) has much for which to atone. Cersei is the widow of King Robert Baratheon and Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms. She is the twin sister of Lord Jaime Lannister and the elder sister of of Lord Tywin Lannister, (who is a 'little person" whom she detests). She has an incestuous sexual relationship with her twin, Jaime, who is secretly the father of her three children.

She is scheming, cold and cruel and very, very ambitious - for herself and her children, whom she adores, to a fault. Long (and very bloody) story short, she tries to secure her role as Queen by restoring the ancient religious order known as Faith Militant (Think: Nazis mixed with the Taliban) which swiftly begins imposing their puritanical views upon King's Landing.

This initially achieves Queen Cersei's goals - until, of course, they begin to turn on her.  And then, it's all over but the atonement and the Walk of Shame.

It is breathtaking. Here. (I tried to embed it but it wasn't allowed. You'll have to click on the link.)

Watch. I'll wait.

I think we're talking Emmy here, right?

But, I digress. 

Although this HBO series is all part of an amazing fantasy, an adaptation of of "Song of Fire and Ice" by George RR Martin, this scene is not unknown in reality.

Apparently Martin drew this scene from ones in Medieval history where the institutional church imposed the Walk of Shame as atonement for sins such as adultery or incest or homosexuality, and especially for women guilty of "whoring".

The institutional church has often used guilt and shame to control behavior. Well, some parts of the "church catholic" have been better at it than others - even those that would never consider themselves part of the "church catholic". (Think: Puritan public stockades and the Scarlet Letter)

The shaming continues, even today. It has made a disturbing appearance on the Internet, on Social Media Sites like group FaceBook pages and Twitter accounts - and even more disturbing on Episcopal pages.

To be clear: Public shaming is not just a religious vehicle of atonement, but, like many other things in life, the institutional church provides a pretty effective cover for the shameful act of imposing shame on others who have been judged - fairly or unfairly.

NY Times: Nishant Choksi
"So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson chronicles this phenomenon. He must be striking a familiar cord because his book has actually spent some significant time on the NY Times bestseller list.

Ronson's writing style is not the most pleasant to read - more of a blog style 'flow-of-thought' which is fine for short blog posts but I found somewhat tiresome in book form - but what he has to say is a disturbing look into human behavior when there are no rules and no one to hold anyone accountable.

Ronson uses terms of physical violence to describe public shaming. Tweeters are “a pitchfork mob,” They are both “the hanging judge” and “the people in the lithographs being ribald at whippings.”

People are "stabbed" and then, in an act not of mercy but sarcasm, entreated to, "Stop stabbing because the (victim) is dead” Twitter users have “taken a lot of scalps,” Ronson writes. “We were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws.”

This includes the sad story of Justine Sacco, a marketing executive, who tweeted her friends a Very Bad joke about something that is not a laughing matter - AIDS in Africa.  But, the tweet was to her friends. Who supposedly understood her weird sense of humor. Well, as "friends" go on the Internet.

She tweeted this Very Bad joke as her plane was leaving for South Africa. As she flew, she was completely unaware of the crapstorm that was happening in cyberspace. A friend had re-tweeted her tweet (Am I really talking like this? Yes, I am.) who re-tweeted it to others. Her tweet had been re-tweeted so many times it almost "broke the Internet," creating international outrage.

One of the first messages she retrieved when she landed in South Africa was the notification from her boss that she was fired.  For making an admittedly Very Bad joke. To her friends. On Twitter.

But then, she was hounded. On the internet. For months. It was impossible for her to find work in her chosen field. Her career was ruined. She was shamed into oblivion.

This is just one story. There are, shockingly enough, many, many more.

It's difficult enough to see these undeniable acts of violence taking place on the Internet - most of which are anonymous, making them cowards, as well. It is painful - really, really, painful - to see Christians engaging in this behavior.

I find myself becoming physically ill when I find pages and pages of Episcopalians acting like people in a scene from the 1931 Frankenstein movie, complete with pitchforks, torches and baying hounds.

Indeed, there are FaceBook groups established specifically as places where people are actually encouraged to vent their spleen and spew their venom while crying for "JUSTICE!" for the ones they feel have been treated unjustly.

And, granted, some of them have been treated unjustly. At least, if one listens to one side of the narrative. The problem is, that's the only side allowed to be heard in some of these places on the Internet. Raise a question or express some doubt and expect the mob to turn on you.

Trust me. I know of what I speak.

It's like watching a dramatic illustration of the Reptilian Brain - complete with acts of aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays.

The snarling and snapping over the tiniest infraction of the unspoken but very clear 'Mob Rule' is quite amazing. It's not just that the gloves come off. All rules - all bets, all expectations for decency or good old Anglican tolerance - are off.

Statements made or questions raised that are considered an affront to the prevailing narrative are dragged over from one FB page to another like so much raw meat where the snapping and snarling over it can continue for days.

An appeal to decency - especially one that is somewhat effective - is booed as "condescending" (GASP!) and, if from a clergy person, "clericalism" designed to "shut down conversation" in the worst of the old "father/mother knows best" attitude that once dominated the church.

A (completely false) narrative is then created about that person. And, a small, side mob is formed to try and push that person off the cliff and onto the rocky shoals of the ocean depths of cyberspace.

Some people, who obviously consider themselves quite clever, post photo-shopped image after photo-shopped image mocking the statement or question. Everyone applauds or otherwise encourages the poor soul who then sends forth another flurry of really bad images which, when mild objection is raised, is defended as "gallows humor".

It's like watching a very bad interpretation of Medieval street theater, except these are educated people who would never, ever behave this way in public (much less tolerate this behavior from others in church) but somehow feel that they can say and do these things with absolute impunity from behind the safety of their computer or laptop screen.

Did I mention? These are Christians. Who are Episcopalians.

Near as I can tell, these Internet Vigilantes are low, broad and high-church, conservative, moderate and liberal, and (help me, Jesus) Republican and Democrat.  A truly 'diverse, inclusive' lot.

Those who have been hung out in the public stockades of cyberspace include a certain Episcopal bishop suffragan who was accused of vehicular homicide, two deans of two different Episcopal seminaries, the Board of Trustees - and especially the President of the Board - of one Episcopal seminary, a certain seminary professor who was hired at a prestigious seminary some like to think as 'liberal' with (gasp!) ties to the ACNA (Anglican Church of North America), a certain bishop on the Left Coast who is in dispute with a certain troubled congregation, as well as a certain prestigious Episcopal boarding school in New England.

Whenever the story breaks - even before it can be whispered about in the church parking lot or queried of the rector during coffee hour - you can be certain that the same names will appear both in the posting - as well as the discussion - of the event.

You can almost feel their glee in the posting of yet another "stain" on The Episcopal Church (That's a favorite word. "Stain". They also like "Tarnished".)

It would appear we even have our own Episcopal "ambulance chasers" who, I imagine, must sit with the modern equivalent of the old police radio, ready to pounce on the next breaking scandal.

Who are these people, anyway?  (To use a question asked by a certain bishop about a certain mob in a NY Times article and was endlessly pilloried by that mob for asking it.)

As I said, these are people who self-identify as Christians who are Episcopalians.

Why do they do what they do?

Boredom? Perhaps. Because they can? Probably.

Here's what I've noticed: Almost to a person, they are people who have been hurt by the institutional church - or an "institution" like a university or a hospital. One person talks freely about the Title IV charges s/he has filed against a certain clergy person which were dismissed (Surprise! Surprise!). Several people have been turned down in the ordination process.

Some are laity who are classic "antagonists" and "clergy killers". Some are ordained whose stories of mistreatment by congregations with antagonists and clergy killers and bishops who have severe allergies to conflict are heartbreaking. Some are Queer. Several more have not achieved the more elevated status in the institutional church which they feel they deserve.

Some are an explosive, toxic mixture of all of the above.

Something gets sparked in the psyches and souls of these otherwise good Christians who are Episcopalians and the firestorm is almost uncontrollable.

It's like watching the first few minutes of Queen Cersie's Walk of Shame. Once you get used to the fact that she is standing naked in the public square, her beautiful golden locks roughly chopped and matted with blood, there is a silence that falls over you and the crowd.

And then, you hear it. The "nun" walking behind her, ringing her bell, crying, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" keeping an eerie, clean, crisp cadence.

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" she calls, her voice rich and full as if she were chanting the refrain of a sacred psalm. The voice of Faith Militant. The voice of the church. The voice of God.

Shame! Permission granted.

The people in the crowd begin to call at Cersie. "Slut!" "Whore!" This verbal garbage is underscored when people throw the contents of their waste bins and chamber pots at her or spit on her.

And, from out of the blue, you find yourself musing, "Well, she did have an unrepentant sexual relationship with her twin brother, from which she had three children, for God's sake! ( . . .for God's sake!). And, she did, herself, bring back the Faith Militant and now that the tables have turned . . . ."

And, you gasp and think to yourself, "Oh, my God! This is so easy! It's dangerously easy!"

I should add that it has occurred to me that, perhaps - just perhaps - I am being condescending. Perhaps my expectations and standards are too high. Perhaps I expect different behavior from people who, week after week, recite the words of the General Confession and reaffirm their identity with millions of Christians throughout the world and across all time in the words of the Nicene Creed.

Perhaps my expectations of people who believe that, through Jesus, we "are made worthy to stand before God" are too high.

I don't think so.  I could be wrong. I hope I'm not.

I'm not trying to shut down conversation. I'm trying to raise the level of it. I think we're entirely capable of having intelligent conversations about difficult subjects. I don't think we need to be reduced to drive-by insults and tsk-tsk or tut-tuts.

I happen to believe we can do better.

Shame on me, right?

I'm not saying that shame isn't sometimes an effective way to change behavior. Some behavior is shameful. I suppose it's logical to think that a dose of the same medicine provides the cure.

The movement "Occupy Wall Street" was designed to shame the rich who take from the poor - and, not only get away with it, they get government support for it.

Some people, apparently, need to be shamed before there can be any change in behavior.

Even St. Paul was knocked down from his high horse.

Then again, it was God who did that. Not 'mob justice'.

Then again, I did write this blog.

Didn't I?