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Friday, May 20, 2016

A Litany of Praise and Thanks for Political Correctness


For those of you who are enviably, blissfully unaware of the goings on of The Episcopal Church and the seemingly incessant natter in our corners of Social Media, well, kudos to you. 

Over at the General Convention FaceBook page, there is a discussion about being 'politically correct' which was prompted, believe it or not, by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Yes, that Clarence Thomas. You remember. The one appointed to the SCOTUS when Anita Hill should be serving in his place.  

Yes, that Clarence Thomas. 

The usually Silent One on the bench speaks. 

And now we know why he usually keeps his head down and his mouth shut. 


Justice Thomas was the speaker at the Commencement Ceremony at Hillsdale College where he was roundly quoted by Fox News media outlets as having said this: 
“I admit to being unapologetically Catholic, unapologetically patriotic and unapologetically a Constitutionalist.”

 “Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness.”
Well . . . .!

There is an angry troll (isn't there always an angry troll?) who reports that he was, "for 50 years an Episcopalian" (isn't that always the case with angry trolls on Episcopal social media) who is now a member of a conservative mega-church (of course) which has . . . wait for it ... "changed his life". 

Right?

He loves nothing more than to stir up negative conversation and derision among Episcopalians (Because, you know, his life has been changed. Imagine what he was like before he knew Jesus!).

He says he's "moved on" from The Episcopal Church but all the evidence points to the contrary. 

Anyway, he posted a meme of Clarence Thomas and his quote and, well, the conversation has been, shall we say, "interesting".

Of course, there was push back. And, of course, there was push back against the push back.

Which, of course, led to many verses of the predictable sad chorus of "The church shouldn't be in politics."

Yes, some Episcopalians said that.

Which, for some, translates to mean: "This conversation really makes me uncomfortable."

Truth is, there has been some interesting - if not unintentional - distinctions made between being "political" and "politics" and the role of each in public service, public discourse and religion.

So, after lots of back and forthing and forthing and backing, I felt called to write this Litany of Praise and thanksgiving for Political Correctness.

I share it with you now and ask that you join me in prayer.
A Litany of Praise and Thanks for Political Correctness in The Episcopal Church
I give thanks and praise to God for all of the  Episcopalian Presidents of the United States who have put their faith into political action and service to this country, including George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Chester Arthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

I give thanks and praise to God for all of the incumbent Episcopalians who presently put their faith into political action and service to this country as US Senators, including Angus King (I-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as well as now retired John Danforth, (R-MO) who also served TEC as deputy to General Convention.

I give thanks and praise to God for the political action of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose sacrificial witness and work helped to bring an end to Apartheid in South Africa.

I give thanks and praise to God for the political action of Baptist Minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose leadership brought thousands of clergy and laity from thousands of churches of various denomination - including The Episcopal Church - to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and the desegregation of schools. His words continue to inspire many Episcopalians to dismantle racism and end prejudice and oppression in the name of Jesus.

I give thanks and praise to God for the many Episcopalians - lay and ordained - who marched and protested and participated in political street theater and testified before congress to pass legislation to get treatment and research for People with AIDS.

I give thanks and praise to God for the many, many bishops and priests and deacons and laity in The Episcopal Church who stood up against religious organizations like The Mormon Church and the Roman Catholic Church who contributed millions of dollars to prevent the civil right of Marriage Equality in this country.

I give thanks and praise to God for the group Bishops Against Gun Violence who bring the force of the moral authority of their religious beliefs to bear in the efforts to control gun violence.

I give thanks and praise to God for the work and witness of The Episcopal Church with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) which insures that a calm, confident, moral voice of religion is heard in the vitriolic, hateful, violent battle of the arena of women's reproductive health.

I give thanks and praise to God for the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) for working to keep Episcopalians informed of the ways in which they can put their faith into action - directly as individuals or with other groups and organizations and congregations as well as indirectly through political action - in issues of social justice like poverty, hunger, immigration and peace.

I give thanks and praise to God for all of the independent justice organizations in The Episcopal Church which bring the needs of the world to the church and the care and concern of the church to the world, including Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Advocates, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Episcopal Urban Caucus, Episcopal Women's Caucus, Integrity, TransEpiscopal, and the Union of Black Episcopalians.

I give thanks and praise to God for all of the elected deputies - past and present - who put their faith into the political action and the legislative process of General Convention.

May God continue to bless the sacrifices they make to be a witness and serve God's people in the world through The Episcopal Church.

I give thanks and praise to God for all Episcopalians who put their faith into action in daily acts of mercy and justice and kindness, without fanfare or recognition, apart from any political party or political affiliation or what they consider politics, and all in the name of Jesus.

I pray that we may all continue to put our faith into action in whatever ways we feel called to do, and that we may continue to have conversations, even when they make us uncomfortable or upset or frustrated or angry, secure in the knowledge that it is always correct political action to take the risks of our faith and honor the Christ in each of us by serving the Christ in others.

Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost: The Body Electric

Pentecost. The day Jesus sent the gift of his Spirit. Tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the disciples. Everyone spoke in his own language and yet everyone understood.

The birthday of the church.

Yes, yes, yes, and Yes.

I remember sitting in a class on John's Gospel at Weston School of Theology - which, at the time, shared faculty, classroom space and a fabulous library with the Episcopal Divinity School - with a wonderful Jesuit scholar and one of the authors published in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.

Near the end of the very last of his wonderful lectures, he asked us to turn off all our tape recorders (Do people still use them?). Then, he asked us to put down our pens and pencils (A few of us had computers. No one had laptops. Yet.) and close our notebooks. He took a deep breath, put his glasses on the end of his nose and said, "You never heard me say this . . . .".

Which, of course, insured that we'd never forget what he was about to say.

He took another deep breath and said, "From everything I've studied, I do believe that Jesus knew - in the very center of the intersection of his humanity and divinity - that his life and ministry, his death, ascension and resurrection, had all been so that the Holy Spirit could come."

"Yes," he said, "to answer the question that is dancing around in your heads, I'm saying that, as important as the gift of Jesus was, he was not as important as the Holy Spirit. Just as John the Baptist knew that he must "decrease" so Jesus could "increase," (Jn 3:30), Jesus knew that he must do the same for the Holy Spirit."

He quoted Jesus in John's Gospel to further support his claim: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." (Jn 16:12-13). 

"The church has got it all wrong," he said. "It's not about Jesus. It's about the Holy Spirit." 

"If you want proof of that, just take a look at some of the hymns the church sings about the Holy Spirit.  Music that sounds more like lullabies and speak of the Holy Spirit as a 'murmur of dove's wings' so miss the mark."

"If we paid any attention at all to what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, we'd be spending less time in church looking at the cross and more time dancing in the wind."

I remember the room being really, really quiet as we let that revelation sink in. 
The Episcopal version of 'speaking in tongues'

After more than forty years of Pentecost celebrations in the Church - red balloons, red dresses, red ties, red socks, strawberry shortcake and red Kool Aid at coffee hour and all that perfectly dreadful, practically anesthetic music - I think that Jesuit professor was right. 

Indeed, experiencing Episcopal liturgies on Pentecost remind me of what Jack Spong once said: 
"The Episcopal Church will not die of controversy. The Episcopal Church will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy."
Indeed.

The more I think about the significance of The Holy Spirit, the more I think about the fact that every time Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit it was always in connection to two things: on-going revelation and eternal life. 

It was never about his body. It was always about the Spirit. 

The body is the vehicle. The Spirit is about what was, what is, and what will be. 

The body is what is - flesh and spirit. 

The Spirit is about revolution and new life which leads us to and prepares us for Life Eternal, which is the gift of the life, death, ascension and resurrection of Jesus.  

Pentecost is more of a mystery than the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus combined. 

It is also the point of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 

Because it's all about The Trinity and The Trinity is all about relationship with God and each other in Christ, empowered by The Spirit. 

If asked to point to one song that captures the essence of the mystery and meaning of Pentecost, I wouldn't be able to name anything in the 1989 hymnal of The Episcopal Church - or, in fact, any hymnal authorized by The Episcopal Church. Yes, I'm including "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

If asked, I would most assuredly point to the final song in the film "Fame". 

Inspired by Walt Whitman's  1855 poem, "I sing the body electric," Whitman asks, "And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?" 

It's the question at the heart of the mystery of Pentecost.  I don't think the song directly answers the question, but it points us closer to an answer than anything the church does on Pentecost. 

So, on this Feast of The Pentecost when we celebrate in great thanksgiving the gift of the Spirit, which is the gift of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, I offer this song. 

Try to remember and never forget:
We are the emperors now
And we are the czars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars
 Happy Pentecost!



I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the sun

And I'll look back on Venus
I'll look back on Mars
And I'll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

I sing the body electric
I glory in the glow of rebirth
Creating my own tomorrow
When I shall embody the earth

And I'll serenade Venus
I'll serenade Mars
And I'll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

We are the emperors now
And we are the czars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars

I sing the body Electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion (my own reunion)
When I become one with the stars

And I'll Look back on Venus
(I'll look back on vanity)
I'll look back on Mars
(Ill at this path)
I'll burn with the fire
(burn)
Of 10 million stars
(fire inside)
And in time (And in time)
And in time
And in time (and in time)
And in time
And in time (and in time)
And in time
WE WILL ALL BE STARS

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Ordinary Resurrections

John 14:23-29. Easter VI Year C May 1, 2016
The Episcopal Church of St. George, Harbeson, DE

The gospels in this Easter seasons always seem to work especially hard to “prove” the resurrection. See?  Jesus not only appeared to the disciples, Thomas actually put his hand into his wounds. See? Jesus is not just walking on the road to Emmaus, he’s on the beach, actually eating actual fish with his disciples. See?

Last week and this week find us back in the Upper Room with Jesus and his disciples, reliving some of what Jesus is reported to have said and done. This portion of John’s gospel ends with these words, “I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.”

The lectionary readings from the Acts of the Apostles are a wonderful response to the Gospel readings in Easter season. Whether or not you believe in the actual, physical resurrection the disciples were so eager to prove, it’s hard to deny that something was happening – some spirit was on the move – in those early days and months and years after The Resurrection.

This morning, we meet Lydia, the merchant of purple cloth.  She had been sitting with a few other women, outside the gate of the Greek city of Philippi, down by the river, at a place of prayer.

She had been listening to Paul, Silas and Timothy talking about Jesus and, Paul says, “The Lord opened her heart.” 

She and her household were baptized right then and there – probably right in the waters of the river. After her baptism, she “prevailed” upon Paul and the other disciples to come and stay at her house.  Later, we hear she also gives them shelter after they are released from prison.

I want to stay for just a little bit on this image of Lydia from the Book of Acts because I think it “proves” more about the power of The Resurrection of Jesus than any physical evidence.

The first thing I want to point out is that this woman, Lydia, has a name. That ought not be a huge distinction but, well, how many women are actually named in Scripture – Hebrew or Christian? Not many.

After The Resurrection, women’s names pop up around every corner. The gospels name several women at the empty tomb: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome,  and Mary, the mother of James, as well as the unnamed “others who accompanied them" (Luke 24:10 - no doubt a few other 'Mary's' and probably Susanna) . All four gospels report that women were the first to discover the empty tomb.

In the Book of Acts and some of the Epistles, there’s Lydia, Phoebe, the deaconess, and Junia, a fellow prisoner with Paul. There’s Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila, Paul’s "helpers in Christ", and Tabitha, also called Dorcas, whom Peter raised from the dead.

There’s Sapphira who, with her husband Ananias, is not exactly a role model of Christian behavior. (Read about them in Acts 5:1-11) There’s also Rhoda, a young girl of the house of Mary, who was first to recognize Peter after his release from jail, Damaris (“a believer”), and Persis, an early Christian, much beloved of Paul, along with Julia, Olympas, Chloe, Lois, and Eunice.

That there are so many women named - by name and not just profession or social status – especially given the low estate of women in antiquity – says to my mind that something is happening – some Spirit is moving – something is changing hearts and minds and transforming lives.

As I reflect on John’s gospel, it is Lydia - this merchant of purple cloth, noted to be the first European convert to Christianity, who listened to and considered carefully what Paul and the disciples were saying about this Jesus and his Resurrection who -  captures my attention.

It is entirely possible that her name was not actually “Lydia”. Rather, she may be so named because she was from the province of Lydia. So “the woman from Lydia” became “Lydia”. It’s also not clear if she was a businesswoman or an simply an agent (a “buyer”) and whether or not she was a former slave, a widow or an independent woman.

No mater her social location, what is clear is that she was smart and accomplished. 

Which means she took some risks in choosing to be baptized and follow Jesus. 

Which begs the question: Why?

Why, when you are successful and fairly comfortable, would you risk all of that to follow the teachings of a Rabbi who got himself crucified?

Why, when you are a woman of precarious social standing in a patriarchal culture, would you give shelter in your own home to men like Paul, Silas and Timothy after they had been jailed?   

She was neither a Jew nor Roman. She had never met Jesus, much less heard before of his story.

What compelled a successful, intelligent, savvy businesswoman to believe, sight unseen?

What compels you, sight unseen, to believe in Jesus?

What, if not the power of The Resurrection? What, if not evidence, sight unseen, of the full and real presence of Jesus as made manifest in the Holy Spirit, moving and changing hearts and minds and transforming lives?   

Sometimes, it is the little, seemingly insignificant things that are most compelling.

I confess that it is the story of these women – witnesses to the Resurrection, some of them sight unseen – who strengthen my spirit and my faith in the power of The Resurrection. 

None of them really accomplished much - well, except, of course, that a woman actually getting named in ancient scripture is not exactly insignificant.

A few of them went to prison with Paul. Most of them are simply noted for their generosity and hospitality, their strong faith and willingness to risk – to speak out and tell the truth: 

Yes, I have seen the Lord. 

Yes, it IS Peter at the gate, back from prison. 

Yes, I will give you shelter after you have been released from prison.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need hard, cold, physical evidence of The Resurrection to believe in the power of The Resurrection, the power of the spirit of Jesus to change and transform lives. 

It really doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus rose physically, bodily from the dead. I don’t need to put my hands in his side or eat fish with him on the beach.

Neither do I need grand acts of generosity or daring risk of life to believe that you believe. 

Sometimes, it is enough just to get up every morning and do what needs to be done and live into our lives despite all challenges that await us.

These are the “ordinary resurrections” of life. “Anastasis” is the Greek word for resurrection. It means, literally, “standing up again.” 

If you pay attention, you’ll find that life is filled with “ordinary resurrections”. 

There are times when just getting out of bed in the morning and standing up again is a miraculous ordinary resurrection. Anyone who has struggled with depression - or, financial difficulties, or unemployment, or chronic family illness, or death - can tell you that this is true.

Thomas Merton writes of the first chirps of the waking birds at dawn outside the widows of his hermitage. “They begin to speak,” he says, “not with a fluent song” but “with an awakening question” that is their state at dawn. 

They ask God “if it is time for them to ‘be.’” God, says Merton, answers, “yes.” Then, “one by one,” they wake up to be birds.”

Sometimes, our faith is like that: Just a few chirps in the early morning darkness of the day. Sometimes, our one act of faith is to ask God if it’s okay to be, if it’s okay to trust in the power of The Resurrection. 

And, then, trust that God will say “yes”. 

And then, it will be time for us to wake up and be all that we were created to be, trusting in the power of The Resurrection – sight unseen – to risk and dare our way through the challenges of this day and dream a dream of our way into the next.

Or, as Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.”    

Amen. 

PS - I'm very grateful for the work done by Lindsay Hardin Freemen, whose study and writing on Women in Scripture grounds me even as it inspires my curiosity and delight.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Where I am going, you can not come



St. Philips, Laurel, DE.

What happens after we die?

It’s a question that has been asked by human beings, probably since the first human sat with a loved one who died. It has probably followed the questions, “Where do we come from?” And, “Why am I here?” And, “Why do we die?” It’s a question little children ask after they see a dead bird or after the death of a family pet. 

What happens after we die? 

In today’s Gospel lesson from St. John, we are returned to the scene in that Upper Room. Judas has just betrayed Jesus and has left the room in a huff. Jesus turns to his disciples – “little children,” he calls them – and tells them that he is not going to be with them for much longer. And then, he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  John 13:31-35 
 
I suspect Jesus was not saying to them that they can’t go to heaven. I think Jesus was telling them that he has to make this final piece of the journey by himself. 

He’s talking about the betrayal and the trial, the scourging and the mocking, the crucifixion and the death. I suspect that the writers of John’s Gospel are saying that Jesus had to do these things first before they could have life eternal with him and join him in heaven. 

Jesus has to make that journey of redemption first before we can follow.

The image from the second reading from Revelations gives us a glimmer of that place which Jesus has made possible for us to enter. We hear the words that have comforted so many centuries of people during funeral services, that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

Chinese symbol for Eternal Life
In the first reading, from the Book of Acts – the chronicle of the earliest, developmental forms of the church – we see one manifestation of the declaration and prophecy of The Revelation “See, I am making all things new.” 

All the old Levitical Purity Codes about what and who is clean no longer define what it is to be a member of this new Christian community.

And those who heard Peter’s vision of this new Way of Jesus were radically changed and transformed and were never again the same. They praised God, saying a most radical thing: "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."

Whoa! That is pretty revolutionary stuff! Even the Gentiles have been given the path to new life! That was as radical a statement at that time and in that place as the abolition of slavery was in that day, or suffrage for women, or marriage equality in our time.

It is fulfillment of the commandment Jesus gave his disciples – and so, to us – that “you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Lovely, right? Of course, right. Easier said than done, right? Absolutely right.

We have been hearing lots of political rhetoric this election cycle from people who call themselves Christians which sounds anything but lovely. It certainly doesn’t praise God, much less represent any teaching of Jesus I ever read or studied. I don’t know about you, but I am sooOOoo over this political election season! I have rolled my eyes so often at things that have been said that I’m sure I’m going to need eye surgery by November.

Here’s the thing: I think we would all be better Christians if we stopped worrying so much about where we – or “they” – are going to go after we die and concentrate on living the best of this amazing life we’ve been given, the world would be a better place.

I mean, that’s the real crux of the matter, isn’t it? All this anxiety about what’s going to happen after we leave this earth, our island home? All this stuff about Judgment Day? 

It's all about "saving" ourselves from "them". Or saving them from themselves. Thing of it is that Jesus already saved us. Even from ourselves. 

Except we spend so much time deflecting our anxiety by judging other people in this life that we forget that it is we, ourselves, who will be judged in the next. 

Not anyone else’s opinions about us. Just how the One who Created us, the One who has walked with us in this life, and the One who calls us home will understand all of what we’ve done within the context of our whole lives.

And, here’s my best hunch: God will be a lot more forgiving to us than we are to ourselves. Or, each other. God will love us beyond anything we are able to imagine, no matter what we’ve done – or left undone.

I had a Hospice patient a few years back whose death taught me a great deal about this. I had been seeing him and his wife for a few months. His decline was slow but at the point of inevitability. Even so, the end came so swiftly both his wife and I were totally unprepared when it came.

They were a lovely couple. Kind. Generous. Loving. A good, solid marriage.

She had led me into the bedroom to talk with her husband and then asked if there was anything she could get for us. Her husband asked if she might fix us all a cup of tea. She was happy to oblige. I later figured out why he did that. He wanted some time to talk with me alone.

“Listen,” he said, as his wife rattled around in the kitchen, putting the kettle on and getting out a try of teacups and saucers. “I have to ask you to promise me something.”

“Well,” I said, “I never make a promise I don’t know I can’t keep.”

“This is very important,” he said, “I want you to promise me, after I die, that you tell my wife that I’m so very sorry for that affair I had with that woman 30 years ago.”

“And does your wife know about this affair?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “I’ve never told her. But, you must tell her that I never meant for it to happen. That, I knew it was wrong. That I cut it off because I didn’t want to hurt her and never told her because I never wanted to hurt her. You have to promise me that you’ll tell her that.”

I sighed and said, “The only way I could possibly make that promise would be after YOU tell her about the affair. And then, I’ll reinforce what you’ve said to me. About your love for her and how you didn’t want to hurt her. That, I can do. But first, YOU have to tell her yourself.”

He sighed deeply and shook his head sadly. Just at that point, I could hear his wife in the kitchen. She seemed to be having difficulty carrying the tray so I left the bedside and went in to help her. 

As I was leaving the room, I turned back to see my patient. He smiled wryly and put his thumb up, as if to say that it was okay – that it would all, somehow, be okay.

When his wife and I returned to the bedroom a few minutes later, we found him lying very still, his eyes closed, his chest not moving. His wife gasped. 

I put the tray down and went to his bedside. I could not find a pulse. I could not hear a breath. It was pretty clear that, while we were in the kitchen, he had passed away.

I got up, went to his wife and held her in my arms as she cried and then, she gathered herself up and went to his bedside and sat next to him. She kissed him lightly on the forehead and then said, “Damn fool! You left before I had the chance to say I have forgiven you for that stupid affair you had 30 years ago. I know you loved me. I hope you know how much I loved you.”

It was my turn to gasp quietly. In that moment, and many moments since, I’ve wondered how much time – how much precious time – both of them had wasted worrying about this moment. How many hours had he wasted in guilt and she in anger? How many times had he rehearsed what she might say to her? How much time had she spent wrestling with forgiveness? How much of the contours and content of their lives had been shaped by silent regret?

No one knows what happens after we die – much less at the moment of death, when it will come and what will happen. No one knows where we go when we die. We do have this promise of life eternal from Jesus. And, we do have this commandment to love one another as he loved us.

The two are intimately intertwined – following his commandment and claiming his promise. The promise of life eternal is ours, even if we don’t live our lives perfectly. Even if our loving one another is deeply flawed. I believe in God’s two precious gifts of free will and grace, one making the other a richer experience. I believe that God does, indeed, make all things new.

I suspect our life and our love would be vastly improved if we stopped worrying so much about what was going to happen after we die and put more energy into living the life we’ve been given.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if you haven't experienced love and loved in return, if you haven't messed up and hurt someone you love or been hurt by someone you love, if you haven't forgiven or experienced someone's forgiveness, then you really haven't lived the fullness of the life that God has given you. 

Jesus said to his disciples during their Passover meal, “Where I am going, you can not come.” They didn’t know it at the time, but he was their Pascal Lamb. He became the blood on the lintels of the doorway to our hearts, which allows the deadly plagues of life to pass over and lead us into life abundant, life eternal. No one could have made that first journey but Him.

Henri Nouwen wrote: We seldom realise fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we have to choose how, where, and with whom to live. We act as if we were simply plopped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.”

Each one of us is here for a purpose. Each one of is here to accomplish something no one else can achieve. 

Sometimes, that simply means loving one another and forgive one another when we fail. Practicing that unconditional love that we will experience one day. Not judging ourselves or others.

No matter how old or young, each one of us is here to make this world a better place to live – for ourselves and for each other.  Let’s get on with it. Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Hot Fat Blue Crab Spirituality

Yesterday was my birthday. As part of the birthday celebration, I had lunch at one of my favorite seafood restaurants - Crab Alley in West Ocean City, MD. It's about an hour from home. THE BEST crab cakes. Anywhere. Bar none. Ever. In the history of crab cakes.

Seriously.

Then again, just about anything on the menu is amazing.  I mean, you really can't mess up when you start with "right out of the ocean". As long as you don't over cook it or over season it, you're golden.

They are. Golden.

The prediction has been that there will be such a bountiful crop of Blue Crabs this year that, where they usually, "catch and release" the females, they are  hauling in the females and males. If they don't, we may have 'overpopulation' next year. And, really, how awful would that be? (/sarcasm)

Ever since I heard about a week or so ago that the Blue Crabs are running, I've been hankering for a half dozen of them, steamed in Old Bay. With a crisp, cold class of Chardonnay. Or, two. And, lots of ice water with lemon.

There's just nothing in the world like poundin' and pickin' and suckin' on a half dozen or so of hot, fat Blue Crabs steamed in Old Bay that have been unceremoniously dumped on your  covered-with-thick-brown paper table and given a wooden mallet a paring knife and a fork and butter knife as your only utensils.

I know this is going to sound like an exaggeration but it really is a "thin-place" moment - a time when you so lose yourself in the ecstasy of a primal sensory experience that you feel this - THIS! - must be a glimpse into heaven.

So, I got to thinking about the spirituality of hot, fat, Blue Crabs. I'm not sure anyone has ever put this into words but I have absolutely no doubt that those of you who know what I'm talking about will . . . well . . .  know exactly what I'm talking about.

Like spirituality, eating hot, fat Blue Crabs is a holistic experience, involving your body, mind and spirit. And, it is messy.  No joke.  The crabs come to your table steaming hot and covered with Old Bay seasoning piled high on a plastic tray - often similar to the ones some of us will remember from high school cafeteria - and then dumped, unceremoniously but usually with a huge silly grin on the face of your server - onto the table which was previously spread with heavy brown paper.

There are rituals in life that must be observed. This is one of them.

The second is like unto it: The only utensils allowed are a wooden mallet, a paring knife, a butter knife and a fork. The butter knife and fork are not for the crabs. They are for "The Sides". Two, usually. Like baked potato and coleslaw. Or, French fries and side salad. Which you won't be able to finish. Not unless you are ravenous.

Sometimes, applesauce will be offered as a "side". I have no idea what that's all about.

The central ritual is the actual Eating of the Crabs. Some people start with the two side claws. Others dive right into the belly of the crab. Other people will start with the legs.

The side claws can often be broken off at the joint and, sometimes, the meat will slide right out with it. Other times, you have to take your wooden mallet and crack it open and scoop out the meat with your finger or pairing knife. If the meat comes out with the joint, it can be dragged through some melted butter. Or, more Old Bay. Or, both.

Some folk here do like Old Bay with their Old Bay.  But, that's real hard core Eastern Shore.

The belly of the crab is where the "lump" meat is. It's the richest, sweetest meat. Which means, of course, you have to work hardest for it.

You have to "flip the top" and then crack into it. The meat is deep in the crevices of the cartilage.

Depending on how "fat" the crab is, you may be able to simply "pop" it out with your thumb or fingers. In any event, you'll want to make sue to explore every single crevice.

Mmm, mmm, mmm. That's some good eatin' right there.

And, yes, I eat the "stuff" in the shell. I don't care what it is or the way it looks. The taste is pretty amazing.

The legs are best broken off at the joint and then put up to your mouth where the meat can be sucked out.

Yes, that's right. You break it off at the joint and then suck. Don't worry if you make noise. Everyone does. It's part of the deal. No getting around it.

This is one of those times when to "suck" is a good thing.

Or, you can take out your trusty wooden mallet and crack it open. Then, take your pairing knife or thumb and scoop the meat out from the shell.

It's just as messy but not as noisy as the "sucking" method.

After you finish one crab, you start on the next one. Toward the end of the pile, you may sigh or allow a burp to escape before starting on your next crab. You may even have to get up and walk around.

Don't worry. You'll look at that pile and you'll think to yourself, "Good Lord, I can't eat all of that!" You'll be surprised how much you can eat. 

That's part of the joy of eating crabs.

You just take your time. Well, it takes a lot of time to eat a single steamed crab. Some people don't think the amount of time and work is worth it. Obviously, I disagree.

Take your time. Talk. Laugh. Take a drink. Burp. Get up, walk around. Start in again.

Be warned, however, that if you have a small paper cut or if one of the pointy ends on the claw or shell nicks one of your fingers and some of that Old Bay gets in there, it can sting like a son-of-a-gun. No joke.

So, don't go licking your fingers.

Most crab houses provide you with a plastic bucket for the "carnage" and a whole roll of paper towels.

Don't hesitate to use them. As many as you need.  As often as you need them.

Oh, and BTW, most crab houses count 13 as a dozen and 7 as a half dozen.

My kinda math.

So, I can hear your question: What has this got to do with spirituality?

Spirituality is not a spectator sport. It takes more than mere "active participation". It takes diving into the hot, steaming pile that life occasionally dumps on your plate and poundin' and pickin' and suckin' your way through it.

You have to have confidence and courage to be absolutely shameless about diving in. Shamelessness is a requirement. You dive in, naked and unafraid because you know people have been doing this the beginning of time and that this amazing feast is a gift directly from the bounty of God's creation. 

You'll find your own rituals to help you get through. You'll find that you pray what you believe and those rituals will further shape and form what you believe.

There's no right way or wrong way to do your rituals. Just your way. 

At some point, you'll think to yourself, "Dear God, there's no way I'm going to be able to get through this." But, you will.

You'll take your time, going through the pile, one by one. You'll talk to other folks. Laugh with them. Get up, walk around. Take a drink. Burp. Start in again.

Sometimes, some of the very things that make life tastier and interesting will get under your skin and sting.

Not hurt, really. Just an annoying, sharp sting that then throbs a bit before it suddenly disappears. You learn to move through that, too.

And you learn that the sweetest rewards are often buried deep in crevices and just around corners. Right there, hiding in plane site.  It takes some effort to get to them but, once you do, you know how to do it, the journey become part of the reward itself.

And, throughout the whole process, you've lost sight of yourself - where you begin and where you end - and yet, never been more fully aware of who you are and where you are.

You can learn a lot about your interior, spiritual life by paying attention to the common, every day things in life. 

I happen to think that our five senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, smell - are pathways into the "sixth sense" - that intuitive ability to have awareness about things that evade "normal" perception.

Nothing can activate all five senses like sitting down to a meal. I think that's exactly why Jesus chose a meal with his friends as the one way he wanted to be remembered.

Indeed, our spirituality is a "table spirituality" where we gather 'round to tell the stories of Jesus and the way his teaching continues to shape and form our lives - spiritual and individual and corporate.

And, I have to tell you, there ain't nothing like a tray of hot, fat Blue Crabs to awaken all of your senses and move you to a place of deeper gratitude for the gifts of God's creation.

Hot Fat Blue Crab spirituality.  I recommend it highly to be experienced often.

Don't wait for a special event like your birthday or for the crabs to start running.

You may think it's too much work and effort for what you get out of it, but I recommend you dive in right now and lose yourself in a primal "thin place moment". 

It just may change your life.  I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that it just might extend it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

One person. One vote. Seriously.


The calendar says that Spring arrived weeks ago but you couldn't tell by the cool temperatures. Here in the Mid-Atlantic we had snow flurries on Palm Sunday and frost warnings just the other night.

The calendar also says that the election of the next President won't take place until November - seven months away - but you couldn't tell that by the temperature of the political climate.

The narrative being pressed by liberal and conservative media alike is that the American people are angry. What we're supposedly angry about differs, of course, based on the view from the Left or the Right or the Middle.

Or, male or female. Or, Caucasian, Black, Latino/a, Asian. Or, Christian - Evangelical or Roman Catholic - or Jewish, and maybe - maybe - a few Muslims. Or, of course, a member of either the GI, Silent, Boomer, Gen-X or the current media darling, the Millennial generation.

The media outlets - who are the most direct beneficiaries of SuperPac money as well as private donations - are spinning 24/7, offering "analysis" of various aspects of American anger and how it will affect their support of various candidates, and inadvertently justifying - and feeding - the anger. Well, I hope it's inadvertent. I won't speculate on intention. That would make me too angry.

This anger, they say, is why we have extreme candidates on both sides of the political spectrum. Trump on one side and Sanders on the other.

I think that's a simplistic, stick-figure picture of reality.

The other Republican candidates are pretty "extreme" for me and, in fact, for many Republicans. While Sanders talks a lot about "revolution", most of his ideas are far from "extreme".  Indeed, he has pushed Clinton and the Democratic platform more to the Left.  For which I am grateful.

I'm not going to offer a counter-analysis about why "everyone" in America is so angry.

And, I'm not going to talk about the pro's and con's of each candidate - especially the Democrats. 

I simply want to talk about one very angry response I've been hearing with alarming frequency.

More and more, I'm hearing supporters of Bernie Sanders say that, if Bernie doesn't get the nomination, they aren't going to vote. For anyone. Period.

And, I'm hearing - not that I have heard it myself but I'm hearing that it's being said - that Hillary supporters are responding that, if Hillary doesn't get the nomination, they aren't going to vote. For anyone. Period. 

Now, that makes me angry. Very angry.

That's the thing about anger. It has the potential to destroy brain cells. Suddenly, mature, seasoned, responsible adults begin to sound like petulant, pouty four year olds. 

Look, I don't care if you don't like Hillary. You don't have to. And, I really don't particularly care if you don't like Bernie.

This is not a popularity contest. It's an election process for the President of the United States of America.

And, the stakes are very, very high. Pick an issue, any issue. Now, think of one of the three candidates from the GOP as President of the United States.

If you can recover from that image, stop and ask yourself:

Do I really want to throw my vote away?

Because, that's what you'll be doing if you stay home on election day and don't cast your ballot.

Every vote that isn't cast for the Democratic nominee strengthens the vote for the batshit crazy "conservative" candidate who may become the GOP nominee.

When I hear - or hear of - someone huffing that if their candidate doesn't get the nomination, they are not going to vote, I want to sit them down and tell them the story of the battle women had to wage in order to get the right to vote.

Take four minutes and give yourself the gift of enlightening yourself on the Suffragist Movement. 



If you've got a bit more time, watch the movie Iron-Jawed Angels. 

In case you didn't know, the 19th Amendment to The Constitution giving women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920.  Yes, women have only been allowed to vote for less than 100 years. Yes, it took an amendment to The Constitution in order to achieve it.

And, it didn't happen easily. Watch the movie. Seriously.  You can watch Iron Jawed Angels on YouTube in its entirety here,

Just a warning, it's not easy to watch.  You'll see how women were beaten and jailed and placed in psychiatric hospitals and force-fed (strapped down and a tube put down their throats) because they were possessed of this radical idea that the Constitution of the United States of America provided them with the right to vote. Which they were being denied. And, they wanted that changed.

And then, we'll talk about the voter registration efforts that were part of the Civil Rights Movement, and I'll tell you the story of Episcopalian Jonathan Daniels who was jailed and then shot to death for helping people of color register to vote.

And then, we'll talk about the 1965 Voter Rights Act and how voter registration efforts continue today in places where there is an ongoing effort to erode voter rights.

And then, we'll talk about how the Supreme Court, by a unanimous vote, recently rejected a challenge to the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote.

And then, hopefully, you'll have a better understanding of just how important your vote is.

Yes, I know. Hillary has her faults.

So does Bernie.

See also: Not a popularity contest.

See also: The stakes are very high.

Yes, I know, the system is corrupt. I know the system needs to be changed.  I know, I know, we need a revolution.

"You say you want a revolution /Well you know /We all want to change the world." So sang revolutionary John Lennon.

And, everybody knows Les Miz: "Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men?"

It's hardly a new concept.

You think it's bad now? You should have seen it when the previous generation handed it over to us.  Or the one before that handed it over to them. Or the one before that . . . well, you get the idea.

So, now it's this generation's turn. And, unless you skipped Civics Class in the sixth grade, you know that the way stuff gets changed in a democracy is . . . wait for it . . . yes, you guess it . . . Vote.

You vote to elect people who think like you to re-present you in the highest levels of government.

And, if you don't vote, you not only don't use your civil right, you lose the right to complain.

I know. You're angry. Pissed.  I get it. I can't tell you how pissed I was when "hanging chads" resulted in Gore's loss to Bush. I can't even begin to explain my rage when the SCOTUS got involved and handed the election to The Shrub.

You get over it. You work harder for what it is you believe in.

And, you learn that while the pendulum swings both ways over time and that MLK was right that the arc of history bends toward justice, you also learn that you can help to push it there.

And, that the force that helps to change things in a democracy is your vote. Not political rhetoric, no matter how passionate. Not platitudes. Not anger. Not even a  'revolution' - not without a plan that includes the voice of the people through the democratic process of voting.

There is a lot of merit in the old saying: "Don't get mad, get organized!" 

So, here's my plea: Get angry. Don't get angry.

Your choice.

Your anger, in an of itself, isn't the point.

Here's what is: Don't get apathetic.

Please vote.

Hold your nose, if you have to, but vote.

One person. One vote.  That's how it works.

Because, no matter what the calendar says, the elements of the climate of this country - including the poor, and women, and people of color, and children, and immigrants and the environment and the economy and education and gun control and war and who gets elected to the SCOTUS - are depending on you and your vote.

If you think the weather is unseasonable now, things could get worse. Much, much worse.

My name is Elizabeth Kaeton and I approve this message.

NB: Please do take note that I did not say anything, one way or the other, about either HRC or BS. Those of you who simply can not help yourself and want to bash either candidate will find that your comment will be deleted.

Never confuse a blog with a democracy. You don't get a vote here.

See how that works?

You're welcome. 

Thursday, April 07, 2016

What my heart knows about life and death



Recently, a friend of mine wrote to tell me of the death of one of her adult children. She included a copy of the homily she was going to give at his service so that I might know more about him.

One of the things she said in that homily is that she was struck by something he had said to a doctor during one of his struggles. "My imagination quit," he said. And, this mother wondered how it is that one "fixes" a sense of the loss of imagination.

In looking for ways to write some words of comfort to my friend, I found myself writing about my own imagination about death and new life.

In the past, I have said these words softly to grieving people - mostly parents - and only when I thought they could tolerate these imaginative ideas in the the way in which they were intended: for comfort and solace and not as religious nonsensical mumbo-jumbo or simple platitudes that don't make any sense like*:

"God never gives you more than you can bear." (from I Corinthians 10:13)

Or, "She was such a good person, God wanted her home with Him."

Or, "He did what he came here to do and it was his time to go."

Or, my least favorite: "This was just part of God's plan (or God's will)".

I don't think it's so much the words or even the thought - in and of itself - that are necessarily harmful.

It's that simple statements like these are made without any other pastoral thought or theological container.

As if the simple sentence, tossed out naked and alone, is the answer to the complicated and complex realities of life and the mystery of death as well as a balm to the enormous pain of grief.

Nonsensical religious mumbo-jumbo and platitudes, in my experience, can cause more harm than the good that was originally intended.

They speak more about the inadequacies experienced by the pastor than they do about the reality of grieving. Better to keep your mouth shut, I've learned, and hold a hand, nod your head silently, give a warm hug even shed a quiet tear than say something "well intentioned".

And, most of the time, that's exactly what I do.

All that said, I felt strangely moved in this particular instance and with this particular person to write down my thoughts to her. I know to some, they will sound well-intentioned but still nonsensical.

To the delight of my heart, she wrote back to say that she felt moved to share them as part of the program with family and friends who gathered to celebrate his life.

I am emboldened, now, to share them with you. Please hear that I am not claiming this to be an "original thought". You will see the influence of Celtic spirituality on my thinking, but I have no doubt that many of these thoughts are fairly universal.

A variety of ancient religions and cultures have considered various aspects of my particular thoughts on life and death.

Perhaps Jung is right. Perhaps his imaginative idea of the "collective unconscious" is more of a reality than we know.

In any event, I have come to understand that the concept of "original thought" is a little trick arrogance plays on the mind.

The expression of these thoughts and their synthesis, however, are mine, gleaned from a lifetime of ministry with others as well as my own attempts to come to terms with the losses in my own life.

So, here's part of what I wrote:
What an amazing lifeforce that was in him! When that sort of power leaves this world, I imagine that it leaves a pretty big tear in the veil - the thin place - between this world and the next. The one redeeming quality about that, near as I can figure, is that it allows some of the souls in the next life to reenter this world.

In my imagination, those worlds work like this:

We know from medical research that a fetus, floating around in the placental waters of its mothers womb at about 25-28 weeks, can hear muted voices and sounds and detect changes in the light and temperature outside the womb. It can not connect the voices to people - or yet understand the concept of another person much less its own personhood - or connect sounds to things or comprehend what IS much less what is changing.

As soon as it is born, however, the newborn turns to the voice of its mother because the baby recognizes the sound of her voice which she has vaguely heard through layers of tissue and water. Reality suddenly rushes in and that which was a mystery is now something to be entered into and be held by and loved deeply.

In my imagination, that's what happens at death.

This earth is our womb. This is part of why we call it "Mother Earth".

At the moment of death, we are "born into new life" and that which was vague is now clear and lightness and darkness will be the same and we will recognize and understand and comprehend and live into all that has been Mystery and become more deeply an interconnected part of Mystery and love more fully, more mysteriously, in return.

I believe your son is in that new reality. He is living in the fullness of that Mystery. He is held in Love and is able to love more fully in return. And, mysteriously, his wildest imagination is set free to live and thrive beyond anything he could have imagined while he was here.

I can't prove it with a shred of credible evidence, but I know it in my heart to be true. 
I suspect it is a death of sorts to feel that one's imagination has "quit". I know the quality of my life would be seriously compromised not to be able to imagine something more, something beyond, something greater than what is here and now and who I am in this time and place.

If that doesn't work for you, that's fine by me. Use whatever works for you.

The thing about grieving is that there is no right way or wrong way. There's just your way.

No one can do it for you. You've got to "walk that lonesome valley, you've got to walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you. You've got to walk it by yourself." The words to Woody Guthrie's song not only apply to death, but they apply to the process of grieving, as well.

Family and friends and professionals can help guide you and assist you and comfort you along the way.

In your dying, there's hospice. In your grieving there's hospice bereavement as well as grief counseling and support groups.

But, no one can do your dying or your grieving for you.

It is also a true saying and worthy to be received: "The only cure for grief is grieving."

I offer the words and thoughts of my imagination to stimulate your own, that, if you are grieving a loss of any kind, you may find a source of comfort and solace and peace for yourself.

As Michelangelo is quoted as saying, "I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free."

My imagination helps me to carve out the angels I have set in the tomb of my ideas of death.

Setting them free allows me to soar with them.

I can't prove any of that with a shred of credible evidence, but I know it in my heart to be true.



*PS: If you'd like a good, concise summary of things to say and things NOT to say to someone who is grieving, check out "Ten Best and Worst Things To Say"