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

Monday, July 09, 2018

Keep It Simple: Faith and Prayer.

A Sermon Preached for Pentecost Pentecost VII
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
July 8, 2018

Have you ever read the Gospel passage for Sunday and have a single word or sentence hit you smack between the eyes like a two-by-four?

These words slapped me right up side my head:
He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
Right! You guessed it.

I'm an inveterate over-packer. It's all about having options! I need options!

I am not my father's daughter who was all about having "the essentials, the basics". 

That included his use of words.

Every Saturday morning, my father would drive my mother around town to "pay the bills".

My mother believed in seeing the person to whom you owed money and looking them in the eye as you paid them.

She did this with her utility bills, her pharmacy bill, and the clothing she bought for us on layaway at Robert Hall Family Clothing Store.

As soon as they returned home, my father would disappear into the garage.

He had work to do.

For years, every time I asked him what he was doing, it always had something to do with the distributor cap.

It either had to be tightened or cleaned or replaced.

I had no idea what a distributor cap is or does but I knew my father was always working on one.

Years later he bought a new car and I leaned that it did not have a distributor cap.

I couldn't wait for that Saturday afternoon to visit my father in the garage. There he was, car hood open, his body hunched over the engine, a wrench in his hand.

"Hi dad. (A silent nod of the head) Dad? I read that this car doesn't have a distributor cap."

Another silent nod of the head. "Then, Dad? What are you doing?"

Without looking up, my dad said, "Things get loose. Gotta tighten 'em up."

This was his philosophy in life.

I've leaned, over the years, that he was right.

The quality of life is greatly improved by preventive maintenance - regular exercise, a balanced  diet, a good night's sleep.

It also requires disciplined vigilance, a watchful eye. This translates into an annual physical and appropriate diagnostic lab tests and momograms and pap smears for women and prostate screening for prostate cancer for men. And, of course, colonoscopies as advised for men and women.  

And, because of his philosophy of prevantative maintenance, my dad had two simple remedies.

Long before the T-shirts declared it and computer memes shared it, my father's solutions were:

Duck tape and WD40.

If it moves and it shouldn't, DUCK TAPE.

If it should move and it doesn't: WD40.

My theological adaptation of my father's philosophy in life and, in following the admonitions of Jesus, I've determined that that, besides economy in packing, there really are only two things one needs to take on one's spiritual journey.

FAITH and PRAYER.

If your life is chaotic, if things are moving and swirling about, FAITH is the stuff that will give you something to hold onto.

FAITH is spiritual Duck Tape.

If you feel stuck by fear or anxiety or perhaps some situational depression, PRAYER is the stuff that, scripture tells us, moves mountains.

PRAYER is spiritual WD40.

Now, I know. It's a very simplistic approach to life. But, I think I'm on pretty solid ground following the simplicity of Jesus and my father.

And, every now and again, it's nice to hear a simple - and short - message on a gospel that preaches simplicity.

Because, as my father always said,  "Things get loose. Gotta tighten 'em up."

And, when that happens in your spiritual life, all you need is two things:

Faith - to hold you steady.

And, prayer to move mountains.

Amen.

PS: Sometimes, a preacher has to preach sermons like this. Typically this happens on a hot summer Sunday. In a church with no air conditioning. And, no breeze. From the center aisle. Interacting with the congregation by looking everyone in the eye to make sure no one drowses off from the heat..

Sometimes, it's just too hot to preach anything more complicated than a simple message of faith and prayer. And so, that's what I did.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Compassion and Freedom


Pentecost VI – Proper 8
The Episcopal Church of St. Phillip, Laurel, DE
July 1, 2018
Please pray with me:

*Abraham journeyed to a new country;
Sarah went with him, journeying too.
Slaves down in Egypt fled Pharaoh's army;
Ruth left the home and people she knew.

*Mary and Joseph feared Herod's order;
Soldiers were coming! They had to flee.
Taking young Jesus, they crossed the border;
So was our Lord a young refugee.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts find favor in your sight, O God, our rock and our salvation.  Amen.

There is an admonition some preachers heed which is to “preach the gospel with a bible in one hand and the NY Times in the other”.

These days, I feel like the dog in the cartoon I saw recently in a humorous exchange with his fellow canine companion. He was holding his smart phone in one … um, paw … and he was wearing his Thunder shirt. He said, “These days, I can’t read the newspaper without wearing my Thunder shirt.

I am keenly aware that this weekend – and, probably next – we will be celebrating the Fourth of July. Independence Day. Since July 4th is on a Wednesday this year, some will continue the celebration straight through the week and into next weekend.

Which means, with all of the displays of fireworks, I’m going to have to have the Thunder shirts at the ready for my three pups. (Pray for us.)

It also means that we are invited to view this morning’s lessons from scripture – especially the Gospel lesson from Mark – through the lens of our so-called “independence”.

After all, the founders of this nation were greatly influenced by the writings of philosophers who had, for centuries, expounded on the ideas of liberty and justice.

And, whether or not they were members of a Christian denomination, they were also influenced by the teachings of Jesus, who tempered all of those lofty philosophical ideas with direct acts of compassion.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we meet two social outcasts – an older woman who had been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years. It was bad enough that she was a woman and therefore inferior – never mind being unable to bear a child – but she had been bleeding for twelve years and was, therefore, considered “unclean”.

The other is a girl child who is sick unto death. She is just twelve years old and has been alive as long as this woman has not been able to conceive a child. Normally, such a child – a girl child – would not have any worth except for the dowry she might be able to fetch for her father at her betrothal.
 
I'm sure he loved her and I suppose it is cynical to suggest that, at age 12, she is very close to getting a return on her father’s investment for her family.

But, she is the daughter of Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue. I guess, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is a truth as old as time.

Jesus heals them both, of course. Not happily, it would seem. The healing of the little girl seemed something of a dare or a duty and the healing of the woman seemed to have been done serendipitously. No matter. That’s probably more a reflection of the of Mark’s storytelling than the compassion of Jesus.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but compassion is a natural default setting for Jesus. If the choice is between healing someone or feeding the hungry or tending to those who are considered less-than or unclean or not having any value – OR the rules of the synagogue or the Levitical Codes of Torah, Jesus always leads with his heart.

I think that’s an important lesson for us to remember in these days when the very definition of Christian as well as what it means to be American seems to be up for grabs.

I’ve been hearing folks who look at what’s going on at our southern border and decry, “That’s not who we are.”

Well, our American history has a different story to tell, doesn’t it? We have separated family right from the founding of this country with our treatment of Native Americans. We’ve done the same with African slaves.

The battle for voting rights was hard-fought and well won but voting for minorities remains under attack. I can’t believe that I have to continue to explain to well-intentioned, intelligent people that the saying “Black Lives Matter” does NOT mean that other lives don’t matter as well. Or, that “taking a knee” in silent protest is as American as the National Anthem.

It was in 1920 – only 98 years ago – that women were allowed to vote. The Equal Rights Amendment for Women still languishes in Congress, needing one more vote from one more state for ratification. And, for the life of me, I can’t believe that in the year of our Lord, 2018, we are still talking about women having access to birth control.

Okay, somebody get me a Thundershirt!

The truth of it is that we are all immigrants in this land. Everybody came here from some place else. Many of us claim our ethnic roots in the United Kingdom and places in Western Europe, others from Asia and the South Pacific, and still others from the Caribbean, South and Central America and Africa.

The only ones who are native to this land are the indigenous First People who were here when the Pilgrims landed on the Mayflower.  There’s a reason that it says on the bottom of the dollar bill. “E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One.”

Seriously, friends, I think it’s time we get back to the basic principles of the faith which gave shape and form to the principles of this great country.

This holiday weekend, as we talk about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” let the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus be never far from our thoughts.

As we sing, “My Country 'Tis of Thee,” let the song of our faith be always on our lips, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

As we place our hand over our heart to salute the flag, let it beat with the compassion of Jesus.

*God, our own families came here from far lands;
We have been strangers, "aliens" too.
May we reach out and offer a welcome
As we have all been welcomed by you.

Amen.

*Abraham Journeyed to a New Country
BUNESSAN 5.5.5.4 D ("Morning Has Broken")

Copyright: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, 2010. Tune: Traditional Gaelic Melody.

Text: Throughout the Bible, we see stories of immigrants — people called to settle in new lands and begin new lives for a variety of reasons, people who trusted in God's protection along the way. Abraham and Sarah heard God's promise of a new land. Exodus is the story of God's people being led from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land. 

Later, Ruth went with Naomi, her mother-in-law, because her love of family led her to take risks and leave the home she knew for a new home. 

Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt when his parents had to flee from Herod for his safety. Jesus taught that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbors; these neighbors include foreigners (Luke 10:25-37 with references to Leviticus 19:18, 33-34). He also taught that all people will be judged on their compassion for those in need and their welcome of strangers (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Today, people are immigrants for many of the same reasons that these biblical people were. The Church is called to follow the Bible's teachings by welcoming and supporting immigrants today.

The hymn tune, Bunessan, is a traditional Gaelic melody that was originally associated with the 19th century Christmas carol "Child in a Manger," by Mary Macdonald. When Lachlan Macbean translated the Gaelic hymn to English, he named the melody after the small village on the Scottish island of Mull. Eleanor Farjeon wrote a new hymn to this tune, "Morning Has Broken," that was published in 1931.

This hymn is part of "In the Beginning: Genesis in Scripture, Prayer and Song", a service patterned after the Service of Lessons and Carols for Christmas and based on the stories of Genesis (Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and his wife, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Women and Joseph). This creative service is a great resource for a lay Sunday or instead of a guest preacher. http://www.carolynshymns.com/genesis_service.html

Nine more hymns to support immigrants and refugees are available at http://www.carolynshymns.com/topical_index.html#sublist_I




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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Deja vu all over again.


Well, it's that time again, folks.

General Convention resumes after three years of the Executive Council, acting on its behalf, has discussed and attempted to implement the resolutions passed during General Convention 2015.

There are lots of hot-button issues, but none so 'hot' as the whispers of "Prayer Book Revision" have become complete, loud sentences which have found their way into print in the form of resolutions.

Stir in a resolution or two of the red hot chili pepper issue of Marriage Rites and, eh, voila! There are volcanic eruptions and seismic earthquakes to be found wherever Episcopalians gather on social media.

There are two pretty complex and layered resolutions under particular discussion, A085 and  B012

Some background information might be helpful to you who are not General Convention nerds like me.  Because, you know, context is important.

Resolutions are classified according to their origin:
A Resolutions are those submitted by Interim Bodies in the report to General Convention or during General Convention.

B Resolutions are those submitted by bishops

C Resolutions are those submitted by Provinces or Diocese

D Resolutions are those submitted by Deputies.
There's a lot more to it than that but that's just for context. You can find these and all of the resolutions to General Convention here in the Virtual Binder of the 79th General Convention.

So, resolution A085 Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies was proposed and submitted by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage - the Interim Body which has been studying the issue for the past three years - and it is exactly what you'd expect from the title and its source.

In addition to proposed additional liturgical rites and changing one rubric, the language in the marital rite and the BCP catechism would be changed to be "gender neutral", as in "two people" vs. "man and woman". (Note: The term "gender neutral" is causing folks a bit of apoplexy - even some gay men who obviously haven't bothered to read the resolution and are clutching their pearls because "I'm marrying a person not a gender neutral thing." Mere, pul-ese! Get a grip and read the resolution.)

It should be noted that the other part of the apoplexy is that this resolution assumes that the process of revising the BCP is underway (GASP! How DARE they?!?!) and proposes that these changes be incorporated in the revision.

Again, deep breaths, people. Saying - or writing down on paper - that it's time to revise the 1979 BCP does not mean that it magically happens. It simply begins the process, which takes almost a decade.

Which would make it available by, oh, say, 2029. There, feel better now? (Pssst . . . don't anybody tell them that the 2029 BCP would probably not be an actual book and it will be out of date the minute it makes its official debut, just like all the other BCPs before it.)

A085 also tries to calm the fears and anxieties of the purple-shirts and their fans who worry themselves into a lather about their "episcopal authority" by stating, "This resolution requires bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority (or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision) to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial liturgies," and urging "pastoral generosity".

This means that they, themselves, don't have to compromise either their conscience or authority but must not compromise the conscience or authority of their clergy and laity who wish to avail themselves of this liturgical-sacramental rite.

Well, that's what we said in 2015. And, there are a handful - okay 8 bishops - who will not allow Marriage Equality in their diocese. Most are simply sending them to other dioceses. Which means, of course, that a couple may not be married in their diocese, in their church, in the midst of their worshiping community of faith.

I see no compulsion in this resolution for them to do otherwise.

Neither, apparently, did Bishop Provenzano of Long Island, who, together with the bishops of Pittsburgh and Rhode Island, submitted resolution B012 "Marriage Rites for the Whole Church."

The resolution seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop. Resolution B012 continues to authorize the two Trial Use Marriage Rites first authorized in 2015 without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

However, this resolution proposes that access to these trial use liturgies now be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop.

It does that by requiring delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) of congregations who wish to celebrate same-sex marriages, but where the bishop’s position is not to permit them in congregations under his or her care.

You can read the Bishops' report on this resolution by clicking on this link.

Okay, so now we've got a spicy stew of Liturgy, Rubrics, and Authority all served over a steaming hot bowl of the rice of Marriage Equality.

See what I mean?

Or as my friend Susan Russell asks, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Well, these three good men, the bishops of Long Island, Rhode Island and Pittsburgh, see this as the "via media" - the "middle way" - to move the church forward through the volcanic eruptions and tsunamis and earthquakes.

I applaud them for their efforts to be pastoral while also being mindful of the "unity" of the church, which, admittedly, is part of the vows they took at their consecration as bishops.

Here's my take on all this.

DEPO?

Flying bishops?

Haven't we been here before? Why yes, yes, in fact, we have. 

To quote Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again."

This is exactly the "process" we went through with the ordination of women. In July 1974, eleven women deacons were ordained to the priesthood.

In October of 1974, HOB ruled the ordinations "invalid".

Just stop right there for a minute and take that into your heart and your soul and get your mind wrapped around the fact that a group of men had ruled that the call you had experienced to be of God and had risked your spiritual, emotional and professional life to be obedient to have called it "invalid."

Okay, let me continue.

After bringing clergy and bishops to trial for their participation and/or support of ordained women, in 1975 the HOB censured the ordaining bishops and decried the ordination of the Washington Four and the ordination of Ellen Barrett. In September of 1976, General Convention changed the canons to allow the ordination of women, the first of which began in January of 1977.

Less than a year later, in October of 1977, the HOB offered a "Consciousness Clause" which protected any bishop who, in good conscience, could not ordain or allow the ministry of ordained women in their diocese. Since this was an action of only one House and not agreed to by the House of Deputies the decision had no canonical authority and yet a handful of bishops used the HOB decision to prohibit women from the priesthood for 33 more years.

The 1997 General Convention revised the canons to prevent any diocese from denying access to the ordination process, or refusing to license a member of the clergy to officiate, solely on the grounds of gender.

I'm going to beg your indulgence and ask you to pause again and take that in. Set your gender aside for half a heartbeat and imagine you are a person with a valid call to ordination which could be approved by all but a small handful of bishops in the church. You do not have the luxury of geographical mobility - your family is and has been in that diocese for as long as anyone can remember and this is where you feel called to serve. You can not ask your family to make one more sacrifice for your vocation.

Imagine it.

Now, imagine you feel called to the vocation of family life with another person. And, this person is a member of the same sex. You have entered into a legal contract of marriage with this person and now you want the churches blessing on the covenant of your marriage. In your diocese. In your family church. With your priest and community of faith - all of whom are wonderfully, wildly supportive.

And, your bishop says no. Because of HIS conscience. Not yours. Not your family. Not your deacon or priest. Not your community of faith.

HIS.

Imagine that. 


This is a process known as "compassion". This is exactly what Jesus did. He imagined and then took on the pain of others and then, he took a stand. Even though it was against the "canon law" of his time.
 

Resolution A085 proposes to make all the sacraments and sacramental rites available to all of God's people. Full stop.

Let's not make God's people wait 33 more years for what we ALL know is inevitable.


Here's the thing - the bottom line for me, in the words of my colleague Juan Oliver:

T
he conscience of individual bishop does not go beyond the individual. It may not be used to refuse their diocese what the assembled Church has decided.  


 Which means, at least in part, that B012 would be strengthened by removing DEPO and clarified so that everyone - especially bishops - understand that Marriage Equality is, in fact, the way it is in The Episcopal Church. 

And, the language of A085 needs to have everything about Prayer Book Revision removed. Yes, of course, the writers wanted to put their toe in the water. Thing of it is, if the standard practice of the church - the whole church - is Marriage Equality, then these liturgies WILL be included in the revised Prayer Book.

There will no doubt be more discussion on this the closer we get to General Convention in Austin.


As Rachel Maddow says, "Watch this space."

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Unforgiveable Sin? Blasphemy!

Pentecost III – June 10, 2018 – St Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
(Lectionary Lessons appointed for Pentecost II I can be found here.) 

They thought he was crazy! His family thought he had lost his mind!

Jesus had been working hard – healing many sick people – and the word about him quickly spread. People came from Judea and Jerusalem and the regions around the Jordan, from Tyre and Sidon, just to be healed by Jesus.

There were so many people pressing around Jesus that he ordered his disciples to get a small boat to be set in the Lake so that all the people might not crowd him. He healed many of them with many different diseases and those possessed of “impure spirits” fell down before him and proclaimed him the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone.

He left the lake and went up to the mountainside where he called the 12 to be his disciples, changing Simon’s name to Peter and calling brothers James and John the Sons of Thunder. And, among them was Judas Iscariot, who would betray him.

After that, they came down off the mountainside and entered the house where they might have something to eat, but again the crowds surrounded them and begged for mercy and healing. And Jesus, of course, healed them. We can only imagine the scene.

When his family heard about it they were worried and went to “take charge of him”. 

They were afraid he was out of his mind. 

The teachers of the Law who had come down from Jerusalem said Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons, had possessed him. 

Imagine! Saying THAT to Jesus!

But, Jesus dismissed them with parables – one of which is deeply disturbing. Well, it is, at least, to me. He says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness. Never. Guilty of an eternal sin.

Has he lost his mind? Jesus has preached that God is love, and that God’s forgiveness and mercy are unending. Are we now to believe that this same God withholds forgiveness for this one sin? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean?

Different branches of Christianity have different responses to that. Augustine of Hippo said this was the most difficult passages from scripture. Thomas Aquinas listed six sins against the Holy Spirit, including despair, presumption and envy.

Because of this teaching, the church - meaning all churches - saw suicide as a sin of despair and thought it unforgiveable.  Those  who had committed suicide were not granted a Christian funeral or burial in a Christian graveyard. The Roman Catholic Church was one of the last ones to hang onto this belief.

That has changed, of course - including Rome - and we now understand suicide to be the result of the mental illness of depression. There have been two celebrities – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – who have committed suicide this past week which has, once again, since the suicide of Robin Williams, raised the conversation about despair and forgiveness and suicide.

I want to be very clear with you this morning: Suicide is not a sin. Suicide is the direct result of depression – an emotional pain so severe that the only way a person can see to end the pain is through death. Suicide can strike when it is least expected – when everyone thinks the cloud of darkness has lifted and everything is going alright.

I had a dear friend, Eileen Gallagher, who was a nurse. She worked in the cardiac intensive care unit and was an excellent nurse – highly skilled and deeply compassionate. Eileen had battled depression all her life. She was Irish so we teased her about being “from the North” – sometimes called the “Black Irish” –where the Irish had married the Normans, from France, as well as the Spanish traders and sailors and had darker hair and complexion to match their darker moods.

Indeed, she would tell us that the translation of Gallagher from the Celtic means “foreign help”. 

I remember her saying once that perhaps the fact that she never felt she fit in anywhere and always felt like an outsider was “just in her blood”.

There came a time, however, when despite her ethnic heritage, the cloud of darkness which seemed always to follow Eileen dispersed and she seemed to be doing well. We were all relieved. And, happy that she seemed finally and for whatever reason, to be happy

Well, that was until one morning, several weeks later, when Eileen didn’t show up for work. One of her friends went to her apartment and found her dead. She was sitting up in her chair, facing the window which looked out on the city.

We later learned that she had been saving up the cardiac drug Digoxin which she could have easily taken out of the hospital pill supply without anyone noticing. She apparently took a heavy overdose of the drug which caused her heart to immediately stop beating.

Eileen’s death was the first I had experienced of a person close to my own age. Her death was also the first suicide I had experienced. It was, in a word, devastating. I was simply devastated. And, confused. And, anxious. I was also afraid that she had committed the “unforgiveable sin” of despair and worried that she might not get into heaven.

I found myself overwhelmed by a strong desire to go to church – to attend Mass and receive communion. In my mind – or, more accurately, out of my mind with grief – I thought I might intercede with Jesus for my friend Eileen, and beg that she be forgiven.

I was doing well until we came to the part when the priest breaks the bread. I don’t know about you, but that’s always a very powerful moment for me – whether I’m sitting in the pew or privileged to be at the altar, breaking the bread as a priest in the church.

In that moment, something in me broke and I wept and wept and wept. I wept not because I thought Eileen was going to hell but because I knew she was safe, now, in the arms of Jesus. I wept not because she needed me to intercede for her – how arrogant of me to even think that – but  because I realized that Eileen knew something about God’s love and forgiveness that I obviously didn’t. Indeed, I think she risked her very life on it.

To understand this, we need to listen to these words of Jesus about blasphemy and remember to whom he directed them. Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees who seemed to know a lot about rules and how to enforce them, but seemed not know anything about the power of God’s love and forgiveness. They did not believe that Jesus was the most precious part of that same God. Indeed, I’m sure Jesus already knew that they were plotting with the Herodians to kill him.

Over the years of studying this text, I have come to believe that Jesus intentionally used the theological word “blasphemy” because he knew it would get the attention of the Pharisees. He turned their harness of heart against them, essentially saying, “You want to dictate who is forgiven and who isn’t? Consider this: YOU won’t be forgiven because YOU have said that I have an unclean spirit.”

I think he might have gotten their attention, don’t you? And, I think it’s pretty clear that he was Very Angry. Sometimes, anger can lead us to overstate the point. 

I know that happens to me when I'm angry. My kids remind me that I used to send them off to their room for punishment, saying at the top of my voice, "And, you'll be grounded until you're 35!"

I say that he said those words in anger, directed at the Pharisees, because the very next words out of his mouth to the crowd are ones of expansive love. The mother and brothers of Jesus have come to him because they are worried about him. One of the disciples tells him that his family wishes to see him, and Jesus responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister and mother.”

Has he lost his mind? Can you imagine how hurt his family must have been? Well, Jesus says that not to hurt his family but to underscore the amazing love and grace and forgiveness of God which breaks down barriers and makes us one in the Love of God. 

That love changes and transforms us and the things we once thought were important are no longer relevant.

These are not light thoughts or easy concepts to get our heads wrapped around. Indeed, I tend to agree with Augustine of Hippo and say, “Yep, this is the most difficult passage in all of scripture.”

In fact, if you said them out loud in most places, people would think that you are crazy! That you have lost your mind!

And to that I’d say, well, people – even his family – thought the same thing of Jesus.

So, I guess you’re in good company.

Amen. 

Suicide Prevention Hotline
1.800.273.8255

Saturday, June 09, 2018

It is well with my soul


Photo credit: Christopher Waddell 

 Yesterday afternoon, St. John's Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School was deconsecrated.  

The picture above is of former Dean Frank Fornaro and Alumnus Harry Walton carrying out the "Philadelphia Cross" from the newly deonsecrated chapel.  

For those of us who were shaped and formed theologically and liturgically in that sacred place, the image is almost too much to bear.  It is tempting to see it as a manifestation of a line in the Gospel lesson appointed for tomorrow. (Mark 3:29)

This morning, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. A thunderstorm is predicted this afternoon. The laundry is getting done, the floors are being mopped, and later in the day - hopefully before the rain and thunder and lightening begin - the marketing will be done. 

Life does, in fact, go on. 

So does the heart, as the theme from the Titanic sings to us in impossible, soaring notes. 

It is important, however, between the death and the days before the resurrection, to spend at least a few quiet days in the Upper Room with other disciples.

Statue in tribute to Jonathan Daniel ouside St. John's Chapel
 A long, long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, a bishop once said to me, "It is better to have people say 'Bad decision' than 'Bad process'".

I think - from everything I've been able to glean- that his was the right - not good, but correct, albeit painful - decision. (* See note below.)

But, holy boy-howdy, was that a doozie of a bad process.

Indeed, the process was so bad that those of us who come from formative process that were built on a framework of shame and blame have been handed a veritable toxic feast on which to dine for at least a few decades.


The bulk of the 'shame and blame' has been assigned, of course, to the decision-makers. I did read a posting on FB from one alumus (who has always been a jackass so I don't know why I would expect anything different from him) who blamed it on the alums. 

I laughed right out loud when I read that. Could there seriously be a more blatant example of the need to 'shame and blame'?

The particulars and details of the decision-making process are not known to me - and, at this point, they don't even matter - but even from my distant vantange point of Rehoboth Bay, DE, there can be no other conclusion drawn from the events in Cambridge, MA than this body of "TRUST-ees" betrayed every single last damn operating principle that shaped and formed the scholars and students of the academic community known as The Episcopal Divinity School. 

And, and, and, and AND, it doesn't take a genius to understand what might have been the myriad of reasons to throw one's hands up in the air and decide that closing the school in its present incarnation was the only reasonable, sensible thing to do.

I have absolutely no doubt that the cost of rehabing the buildings - just the asbestos removal alone - would have financially bankrupted the school the nanosecond after the buildings stood there, all shiny and newly rehabed until the next 200 years took their eventual toll.

It's easy to play all sorts of mind-games around this. The "What if's" and the "Yes, buts" and the "What abouts". 

And, there will always be 'that person' who knows someone who knows someone who was in the room when it happened who reports, with absolute confidence, some piece of information which s/he thinks would have made all the difference it the world had it been made more widely known.

It doesn't. Not now. Not to the pain. Not to the grief.

It reminds me of what medical intuitive Caroline Myss calls "The Judas Effect".
She says that whenever we place our trust in the institution rather than the Divinity, it will drive us to madness which leads to a kind of 'spiritual suicide', resulting in killing off some vital, important part of ourselves.

In my more generous moments, I'd like to think that the Board of TRUST-ees chose to put their trust in the Divine than the institution. That would help explain their decision to sell off the buildings in Cambridge and take the endowment to the Upper West Side of New York City where The Episcopal Divinity School will start the manifestation of a new life there with the venerable Union Theological School and be known as "EDS@Union".

That's not so unlike what Berkely Divinity School did with Yale. Or,  the merger in 2012 of Bexley Hall Seminary in Ohio with Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago to become, creatively enough, "Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Federation (or just "Bexley Seabury)".

Other Episcopal Seminaries are already taking note. Which is wise. Some put on a brave public face but the whispers of life support grow stronger by the day.

What is happening at seminaries is a reflection of what has been happening for some decades now in parishes and congregations around the country.

You know exactly what I'm talking about. Perhaps it has happened to you in your church. I know some folks who have moved from one closed church only to find that the one they moved to also closed after five years. 

And, not just in The Episcopal Church. The Institutional Church is shrinking. That ought not come as a surprise to anyone.

It has become its own enemy, existing to support itself and not the mission of Jesus, feeding on its own mediocrity and not striving for excellence, investing more in hierarchy than the people in the pews, following its own mind and not quieting its own mind and rather, seeking the mind of Christ.

The Body of Christ, however, is alive and well. It is resurrecting itself in new ways. We are here - out in the world. We are alive and well and living in ecumenical and interfaith movements like "Repairers of the Breach" and "The Poor People's Campaign," "Black Lives Matter Movement" and "The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence", "The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" and "The National Alliance to End Homelessness."

I could name more - lots more - but you get the gist. 

It's all the ways EDS taught us to be The Body of Christ in the wold.

That picture of two men carrying the cross out of the deconsecrated chapel would be absolutely devastating if that cross ends up gathering dust in some storeage unit somewhere. 

If, however, that cross is being taken out into the world to proclaim the promise of hope in the face of despair, well, it would be well with my soul to know that faith in the Resurrection lives on. 

Meanwhile, there are more than a few faithful who are milling around in the Upper Room, nursing our hurts, subduing our anxieites and fears, trying to figure out what to to do next, what to make of it all, what it all means for us and for our future. 


Here's what I know to be true about grief, these two things:
(1) There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is just your way.

(2) The only "cure" for grief is to grieve.

And, those two things affect: 
(1) Your perspective of what once was

(2) Your vision of what might be.


In times of grief and sorrow, it's important for me to remind myself of these things and to know that I am not alone in that Upper Room.

And, as hokey as it sounds, it is nevertheless true: The heart will go on.
The heart of EDS lives in my heart. 


It may be EDS@Union, but it is also EDS@me.

As Bishop Carol Gallagher sang at the end of her brilliant and pastoral sermon for The Service of Deconsecration of St. John's Chapel, The Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well

With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

And,  let the church, the Body of Christ which lives in the world and lives in me, say

Amen.

You might be interested to read a wee bit of the history of St. John's Chapel. 

And, here are a few more pictures of that amazing place from "Boston's Hidden Sacred Spaces"

You might also find this essay by Caroline Myss helpful: "The First Mystical Law: There Is Only Now." in which, among other gems, she notes:
"The consciousness of present time allows you to keep your memories, but they can no longer hold you hostage, so they can no longer drain you of your energy, which inevitably drains you of your health. The need to let others know you feel entitled to attention because of your pain and suffering is very seductive and releasing the entitlement of the suffering self is more a battle with the shadow of your own pride that it is with anyone else."
* One of the questions on my GOE exams what "What is the difference between the right and the good". I wrote for pages and pages and pages. One of my classmates wrote, simply, "God is good and the bishop is right."

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

"It's Complicated"



Will I get there, she asked,

her eyes wide with anxiety,

in her wizened, cachectic face?



It’s not for me, she said.

     Heaven. Clouds. Harps. Angels. Wings.

Those things are not important.



I really don’t care where I go,

      . . . . after . . . .

So long as I know I’ll be

with my beloved

     . . . .one day . . .



She rushes to say, “It’s complicated.”


Jewish father, so “not really Jewish.”

Roman Catholic mother, but “never baptized.”



Will God let me in?



Oh, how I long for religious conversations

that do not center around questions like this.


Questions that do not rest on

assumptions of 

     a stingy God

     a punitive God

     a God who thinks more highly

     of the rules people created

     than the people She created.



For now, all I can do

is search for the place in

the center of my soul

     which is holy.

     which is truth.

     which is love

and let all my words come from there.



Because …. “after”. . .  is complicated

And, . . . “one day”. . . is not now.



All I can do is live within the

tension of the dots

of complicated conversations.                                                             

c  Elizabeth Kaeton 2016
Hospice Chaplain

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

Obedience

Pentecost II - June 3, 2013 - Proper 4, Year B, Track I
The Episcopal Church of St. Phillip, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

How do you know if you’re doing the right thing? If you’re making the right choice? That you’re doing what God wants you to do? Even if it means you have to break a rule?

The first lesson from the first book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) is one of discernment. Samuel hears the voice of God calling him, but thinks it is Eli. Three times, Eli sends him back to his bed. And finally, in the morning, Samuel tells Eli what he has heard and Eli confirms for Samuel that it was the voice of God.

In Mark’s Gospel (Mark 2:23-3:6), we are presented with two instances when Jesus defends his disciples when the Pharisees charge that they have broken Sabbath law. In the first case, the disciples, walking through a grain field begin to pluck the heads of grain. In the second case, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand.

In both instances, Jesus calls the Pharisees on their own ignorance and hypocrisy.  He calls them to observe the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. When Jesus confronts them on plucking wheat on the Sabbath, he says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;” And, when he confronts them about healing the man with the withered hand, he asks, ““Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

Sometimes, discernment is pretty cut and dry. Other times, it is more complicated. Sometimes we need to confer with a trusted person, as Samuel did with Eli. Other times, we have to trust our own authority. Just as Jesus did we must take the risk and trust our ability to discern the spirit of the law over the letter of the law.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we face these kinds of decisions. If you think back over your life, I’m sure you will be able to tell the story of a time when you had to take a stand for what was morally right, what was decent and kind, what was just the right thing to do, even though it went against what was expected, what was easier or more convenient, even what was ‘the rule’.

I remember years ago – in the early 80s – in the early years of the AIDS pandemic. I was in Boston at the time and I had been working with a young man in his mid-twenties. His name was Jimmy Mac and he was a popular radio personality. He was also a gay man who had AIDS.

Jimmy and I worked tirelessly on the Ecumenical AIDS Task Force, doing educational seminars at churches and schools and civic clubs – anywhere anyone would have us. He was bright and funny and a very effective teacher. And, he became very sick very quickly.

I learned that he was in the hospital and went to see him. In those days, what we didn’t know about AIDS was even more terrifying that what we knew about how it affected the body, much less how it was transmitted. People with AIDS who were in hospital were treated like modern-day lepers. It was not uncommon to see a full tray of food outside someone’s hospital room because no one would dare go into the patient’s room.

And, when you did go into the room, you were required to wear a paper gown, mask, gloves, shoe coverings and to cover your head. That was the hospital rule. When I went to see Jimmy, I dutifully got “dressed” before I entered his room.

Jimmy was so thin and so frail he could barely lift his head up off the pillow to say hello. Still, he managed a brave smile and to crack a joke. “Well, look at you, Ms. Thing” he snickered, “You know, your gloves don’t match your shoes.” And then he coughed so hard his poor frail body shook violently.

I went over to the bed and held his hand, trying to soothe him. “What can I get for you, Jimmy?” I asked. “Tell me what to do to help and it’s as good as done.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Elizabeth, I’ve been here for almost two weeks and, in all that time, no one has touched me. Oh,” he said, “they have with gloves on, but I haven’t felt human skin – haven’t seen a full human face – haven’t heard a human voice that wasn’t muffled behind a mask in all that time.”

“Look,” he said, “I know what the rules are. But, I also know that I’m dying. Please, Elizabeth, would you take off your mask so I can see you one more time? Would you take off your gloves so I can feel you one more time? Would you hold me, one last time, before I go? I know I’m going to a better place, but I sure am going to miss some parts of being human. Would you do that for me? Please?”

And, even though I knew it was against the rules, even though I knew that because his immune system was so compromised, I was putting him at greater risk than I was putting myself, I pulled off my mask. I pulled off my gloves. And, I looked him right in the eye as we both filled up with tears, cleared my throat and said, “Well then, push over. If you want me to hold you, you better move over and make some room.”

And, he did. And I held him. And we cried. In the midst of it, a nurse came into the room, saw us both, smiled and nodded her head. And then, she did something I’ll never forget. It was a simple act of human kindness – her stamp of approval on our breaking the rules. She closed the door.

I guess I stayed with Jimmy for about an hour. The next day, his mother called to say that he had died and asked if I would preside at his funeral. Of course, I said. It would be one of the great privileges of my life. And, it was.

St. Paul says in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “But, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-12)

I believe that “treasure” we each have within us is the love of God. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached at the Royal Wedding:  There's power in love. There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There's power in love to show us the way to live.”

That power in love is stronger than any man-made law or well-intended rule. 

As Bishop Michael preached, “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”

The thing of it is that love didn’t change or save Jimmy – he died the next day. And it sure didn’t change the world – it was then and remains now an often dark and broken place. But it changed me. That hour with Jimmy Mac in that hospital room in Boston where I made a small sacrifice for love changed and transformed and redeemed me and I’ve never again been the same. 

Now, my friends, I told you all of that to say this: In churches all over the country this morning many people are wearing orange to bring attention to the crisis of gun violence. Clergy are wearing orange stoles. I don’t have an orange stole but you may notice that I’m wearing orange sandals. And, under my vestments, I’m wearing an orange scarf.

In the 80s, the epidemic was AIDS. Today, the epidemic is gun violence. Our children are dying in schools, on playgrounds, on the streets where they live. Somehow, in the midst of all of this madness, we Christians have to discern what it is God is calling us to do. 

We’ve got to examine the law and move above and beyond the letter of the law to find the spirit of the law. Somehow, we’ve got to find a way forward that does not compromise the rights of others while making good on the foundational principles of this country of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for ALL of God’s children.

We may, like Samuel before us, need the help of a trusted person to discern what God is calling us to do. We may, like Jesus, find the means to trust our own authority to discern what is right and what is good, to find the path to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God, of neighbor and self.

St. Paul reminds us that we have “this treasure in clay jars”. He said, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

Here's your homework assignment this week: Take home the scriptural insert in your bulletin. Read over the lessons, espeically Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. 

Ask your self, in the midst of all of the chaos in the world today, how am I making Jesus visible in my mortal flesh? 

Christ lives in me. How will people know Jesus through me? 

I have this "treasure in the clay jar" that is my body. How am I sharing the treasure of God's love with others?

The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."

I believe the treasure we have within us of which St. Paul speaks is the love of God. May we discover the power of that love so that we may be changed and transformed. And, when we do that, we will change the world.

Amen. 

Track 1

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6


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