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

Friday, June 24, 2022

Roe v Wade: In Memory of Her


She had a name, but we always called her "The New Girl".

It was a few weeks into the new school year when she came into the senior class in high school. She and her parents had moved to our small town from another state. That just didn't happen in our town. Nobody ever moved into our town. Or out of, as a matter of fact. You were born or died.

So, to come to us from away and in your senior year was just enough fuel to start the rumor machine to work overtime.
She was also beautiful. Deep, green eyes. Lush, lovelyl, long, flowing brown hair. A perfectly perfect figure. A woman's body, really. One of the first rumors was that she was not really 17 going on 18. Probably more like 19 going on 20. 
She also had nice clothes, clearly not bought at Arlans Factory Store Outlet - the precursor to Walmart - like the rest of us. And, she didn't live on a farm or in one of those ranch houses off the highway built after WWII. No, she lived in a large home with a lovely lawn and garden. Someone said her dad was a lawyer with an office in Boston. 
She was an only child - a very rare status in our little town.
The second rumor that started was that she was "boy crazy". That's what the kids in my town said which was really code for "slut". Someone said she had gotten into "some trouble" in her old high school and that her parents wanted her to have a "fresh start". 
She made the cheerleading squad and was instantly popular - especially with the boys. The girls were jealous so no one was really her friend, but they had a grudging respect for the power she seemed to have with the boys who, of course, had all the power. 
It also didn't take long for the rumors to swirl that she was "making it" - the 70s equivalent to "hooking up" - with the captain of the football team. 
It was a cold day in the middle of February when we got the word that she was found dead in her bathtub. The "official word" was that she had fallen asleep and accidentally drowned.
It was just before graduation that the truth had come out. She was pregnant. She wanted an abortion. Her parents refused. It was illegal. Her father was a lawyer. What was she thinking? They would move her temporarily with an aunt in another state. She would have the baby and put it up for adoption. 
That was not okay with her. She found someone, somewhere (locally, it was said), and had the abortion. 
And, it was botched. Of course. She had bled to death in her bed but her mother had moved her body to the bathtub, cleaned her up, and said she had drowned. 
The autopsy, of course, proved that to be wrong but because her father was a lawyer and her family had standing and status in the community, the "official" word was that she had drowned. 
Her parents preferred the rumors of suicide rather than death from a botched abortion.
That young woman and her story changed my life. I was enraged. I grew up in a community of good, Roman Catholic women who used Lysol douches as birth control because The Church said that "The Pill" was immoral, as were condoms. But, no one said anything about Lysol douches so that's what they used.

And, when Lysol failed, well, there were lots of kids in my town who were jokingly referred to as "The Mistake". Except, the joke wasn't funny. 
On this day when Roe v. Wade has been overturned, I am remembering that girl from high school. Yes, I know her name. It seems important to give her anonymity in this. 
I say her name to myself and keep her face in front of me every time I go about my work on the board of RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). 
I know this much to be true: Overturning Roe v. Wade will not stop abortion. It will just stop legal abortions. 
But, here's the other thing I know for certain: This ruling and the state-level laws don’t stand alone—they are entrenched in a white Christian nationalist, patriarchal political agenda that has targeted voting rights, trans rights, immigration, education, and more. 
It’s never just been about abortion; it’s about the control of women's bodies. Truth is, everyone’s bodily autonomy and freedom are at risk. And, as always, marginalized and low-income people are the most harmed.
So, today, I'm calling on my "vital inner life force" to help get me through this day. In China, it's known as "Chi". In Egypt, it's known as "Ka". I'm calling on that energy to make itself manifest in myself and all women today.
Make no mistake: denying someone the inherent right to exercise their divinely-given moral agency and bodily autonomy, and to make decisions about their family and future is a violation of both human rights and religious freedom.
The only way to overturn that is to strengthen ourselves so we can help others strengthen themselves. We will get through this. It will take a long, long time. Decades. But we will overturn this. 
I can not believe that my granddaughters will grow up with fewer constitutional rights than I did.
There are a lot of women today without hope. Share some of yours with them. 
There are a lot of women today who are filled with fear. Help them to know that courage is just fear that has said its prayers.
There are lots of women today who are filled with rage. Help them to find a way to harness and channel that energy for good, to bring about change, to help others help themselves.
But first, build up your own vital inner life force. Because you can't give away what you don't have. 
We will get through this. Together. I only wish "The New Girl" in high school had known that. 
I say these things in memory of her.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Love That Never Lets You Go


St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and broadcast on Facebook, Sirach 26:10 
Pentecost II - June 19, 2022


There is a story I once heard preached about a rare act of generosity in the otherwise harsh life of a slave on the Southern Plantation. Apparently, it became something of a tradition for the plantation owners to allow the slaves to cut down a tree at Christmastime and burn it. As long as the tree was burning, they didn’t have to work.


Well, slaves may have been uneducated and overworked but that didn’t make them stupid. Weeks before Christmas, they would cut down a tree and soak it in water and then allow it to dry off just enough so it would still light and burn, but because it was still wet, it would burn more slowly. This, of course, meant that the slower the tree burned, the longer they didn’t have to do the hard work on the plantation.


The preacher compared this to hesed, which is the Hebrew word for the steadfast, loving kindness of God. We first hear about hesed in today’s collect. We pray, “O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­-kindness . . . “


We are set upon the sure foundation of hesed – loving kindness. It is hesed – God’s mercy, God’s compassion, grace, love and God’s faithfulness – that is set in the foundation of the world. Hesed, found some 250 times in Hebrew Scripture, expresses an essential part of God’s character. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person.


Hesed has been described as 'the love that never lets you go.'


But, God’s mercy and compassion often surprises us – or disappoints us – because it doesn’t meet our expectations. Or, manifests itself in a way that is confusing or confounding to us.

In the first scriptural passage we heard this morning, Elijah, alone on Mount Horeb after fleeing for his life from the rage of Queen Jezebel for his uncompromising denunciation of idolatry and injustice, encounters a series of awe-inspiring events—a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire—but each time, we are told, God was not in the particular force of nature. And then, after the fire, in the words of the New Revised Standard Version, comes “sheer silence.”


The narrative goes on to say that at this point Elijah “wrapped his face in his mantle” and went out from where he had been hiding. Then he hears a voice that speaks to him, asks him a question, and gives him direction about what his next move should be.


That is most assuredly not the Hollywood version of an appearance by God. No burning bush. No dramatic entrance. Just “sheer silence” which is also translated in the King James Version as “a still small voice”.  

What’s going on here? Was God just clearing God’s throat the other times? It’s not that God isn’t present in the chaotic times of our lives. It’s just that such moments may not be the most optimal times for discerning how God’s call is beckoning us forward.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, made a similar point when he suggested that moments of crisis are not the best times for making important decisions.

For example, when a marriage hits a rough spot, the temptation to bail out can be powerful. But Ignatius would counsel patience precisely at such a time. Wait until things have calmed down, and then listen for the voice of God. Careful spiritual discernment should be about mindfully weighing options, not putting out fires (or surviving storms and earthquakes).


That is because like a slow burning tree in the slave quarters of a Southern Plantation, God’s hesed, God’s loving kindness, is at the foundation of our relationship with God and others.It's the love that never lets you go.


However, if you want God in the dramatic, in the unexpected, in the spectacular, you’ve got it in spades when Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac. I mean, the demons were TALKING, for goodness sakes. That’s right out of a Hollywood movie like The Exorcist. And then, Jesus casts those demons into a herd of swine who then throw themselves off a cliff and into the abyss.


Surely, we have seen the hand of God! But, when the people in country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Jesus’ hometown of Galilee, saw their neighbor, fully healed and learned his story, they were afraid.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”


And so, Jesus got back in his boat and left. The man he had healed begged to go with Jesus and his disciples, but Jesus, filled with hesed, told the man to go back to his home and tell the people what had happened to him. And that’s exactly what the man did.


In the absence of the voice of Jesus, his miraculous works of healing were amplified for everyone to hear. Anyway. Like that Christmas log in the slave quarters of the Southern Plantation, the hesed of God is the sure foundation of our relationship with God and others.

It surprises us, continuing to burn long past our expectations or anticipations.


Today is Father’s Day, when we honor or at least remember the biological person in our lives who we call “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Pop” or “The Old Man.” We also honor those in our lives who have been for us that strong, steady parental presence, teaching us life’s lessons about honor and duty while providing guidance and protection, love and nurturance.   


Today is also Juneteenth, the day the U.S. Army took possession of Galveston Island, a barrier island just off the Texas coast that guards the entrance to Galveston Bay, and began a late-arriving, long-lasting war against slavery in Texas.


This struggle, pitting Texas freedpeople and loyalists and the U.S. Army against stubborn defenders of slavery, would become the basis for the increasingly popular celebrations of Juneteenth, a predominantly African-American holiday celebrating emancipation on or about June 19th every year.

We long to be able to live into the high calling of which Paul wrote in his letter to the people of Gallatia, which we know today as Turkey. Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

May we all, one day, soon be free of prejudice and oppression – and the impulse to treat others who are different from us as ‘lesser than’ or unworthy.


Our hearts are also broken as we learn about yet another mass shooting, this time, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, an affluent suburban church outside of Birmingham, Alabama during a “Boomer’s Potluck”.


The shooter was in his 70s as was one of his victims, a woman; the other two were octogenarian men. No motive is yet known.


With all of the insanity in this world, it may seem to some as if God has abandoned us, walked away from us in complete and utter disgust and anger.

And, no one could blame God, really.

We seem to look for ways to fight with each other, to separate ourselves from one another, to be discourteous and disrespectful to one another. It is not uncommon to see flags flying from people’s homes or vehicles with obscenities – or coded obscenities – written on them.

We separate ourselves by colors – red people over here on the right, blue people over there on the left – like little children in the school yard or primitive tribes in some undeveloped country.  


But, on this second Sunday in the long, green season of Pentecost, we are reminded of what is at the very foundation of our relationship with God and with each other: Hesed.


Hesed surpasses ordinary kindness and friendship. It is the inclination of the heart to show “amazing grace” to the other. Hesed runs deeper than social expectations, responsibilities, fluctuating emotions, or what is deserved or earned by the recipient. Hesed finds its home in committed, familial or neighborly love, and it comes to life in actions.


Hesed is the love that never lets you go.


We see the hesed of God in the striking and dramatic, but mostly we see hesed in small, every day acts of kindness. The recognition of service. A small word of thanks. The simple adherence to the vows we took at baptism: To seek and serve Christ in others and to respect the dignity of every human being.


If I can leave you with any image of the hesed of God – the loving kindness at the very foundation of our relationship with God and the kind of relationship God wants us to have with each other – may it be that image of the slow-burning Christmas tree set by the slaves on that Southern Plantation.


May we, like them, find creativity and ingenuity even in the midst of injustice and oppression and violence. May the waters of our baptism give us the endurance to continue to burn with the passion of the gospel.

May we be so SOAKED and water-logged with the waters of baptism that the gospel will burn in us and surpass even our expectation or anticipation. 

And may our emancipation and liberation in Christ Jesus set us free to love one another as He loved us so that the world may be a better place for us and our children and our children’s children, from generation to generation.


May the foundation of hesed on which God has set us, burn slowly and strongly in our hearts forever.   


May we know the hesed of God which will never let us go. 


May it be so.



Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Purpose of Life


So, I have a very dear friend I dearly love and admire. I stop by now and again for a cup of tea (or, depending on the weather, a glass of ice tea) and conversation in which we generally try to solve one of the problems of the world, the human race, and the church.

Oh, you think I'm kidding. I am not.

Don't believe me? Just watch.
Yesterday, my friend told me that she and her daughter were having a conversation over dinner about "The purpose of life". (See what I mean?). 
Her daughter remembered one of her college classes in which someone asked, "What is the purpose of life?" 
And the professor answered, "The purpose of life is procreation." 
My friend thought that was spot on and expounded on how every single form of life on planet earth - not just humans - had the ability to reproduce itself. 
What about those humans who are unable to reproduce, I asked. Well, she said, the rest of the tribe makes up for that. 
Yeah, I didn't find that a satisfactory answer. There may have been more - probably was - but I confess that's all I heard because I was flipping through the dictionary in my head to try to understand what she and her daughter and her professor meant by "purpose". And, actually, "life". 
Let's just say that my understanding is broader - less restrictive, more expansive - than the basis from which her daughter's professor started, which seemed to me to be (too) narrowly focused on biology.
I can't do that. I can't separate my gonads from my brain or my heart or my soul. 
So, since about 6:30 this morning I've been hanging out in my library on the shelf where I store my OED (Old English Dictionary), looking up words. 
You may know that I am a self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing Inkheart.
Before I can even begin to respond to a statement like that, I have to look up and unpack a few words like "purpose" and "life" and settle on a definition that works for me.
I think life is so much more than biology and therefore, the definition of the purpose of life can not be narrowly restricted to biology. 
And, because of who I am, it includes an understanding of God's action/interaction in the world, and God's purpose for creating humankind. 
I don't know how we can talk about the purpose of life without at least some postulation about why God created us. (I know, I know, my soul and my mind have probably been permanently scarred by the Baltimore Catechism.)
I also want to say that my definition includes, to a greater or lesser degree, all of life - all the various forms of creation that the professor included: humans, plants, animals, etc.
Here's what I'm willing to say, at least as a start: The purpose of life is to be a co-creator with God. This includes pro-creation, re-creation, and creativity. (The root of the word 'creation' (Proto-Indo-European) 'ker' means 'to grow'). 
So, at a very basic minimum - by which I mean, taking God out of the equation - the purpose of life is to grow - which includes growing others (procreation), continuing creation (re-creation), and mimicking or imitating (and therefore compliment) the source/creator of life which is creativity. 
This, for me, anyway, has resonance with the Ancient Creation Stories in many different cultures: Hebrew Scripture, the Greek story of Gaia, the various Indigenous or First People stories (Hopi, Seneca, Wichita, Apache, etc.), the Norse people, or the stories of the creation of Japan and China. 
That said, one of the major themes of the purpose of life in most of the ancient stories of creation is HOME - to make (create) or find a home and/or to find or build (create or re-create) a pathway back home to God/the Gods. 
It is in/from this HOME that one procreates and re-creates, engages in generativity (to ensure a personal legacy and the promotion of the species), and expresses creativity. 
Ram Dass said, "We're all just walking each other home." 
I love that. He was talking about finding our wholeness – knowing who we are at the deepest and most profound levels of our being and building our lives upon that foundation (i.e. the purpose of life).
We're all just walking each other home. We need each other.
So, yeah, I tackled all of that while making the coffee and doing the laundry and making my bed, and putting some spit and polish on my sermon while sitting out on the deck, watching the morning come into itself. 
You know - being right smack dab in the midst of the purpose of life. 
Don't I have fabulous friends? And don't we just have marvelous conversations as we're walking each other home?
So, now I'm off to spend some time on other Really Big Thoughts. I'm doing Monday's meditation for my Hospice Team and I want to hang out with Ram Dass and other gurus 
There is a tradition of spiritual teachers planning their last words. Zen masters compose a poem.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, "Never forget how swiftly this life will be over - like a flash of summer lightning or the wave of a hand." 
Ramakrishna said, "O mind, do not worry about the body. Let the body and its pain take care of each other. Think of the Holy Mother and be happy." 
The Buddha said, "'Everything is subject to change. Remember to practice the teachings earnestly." 
The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, said about death, "Nothing happens."
Ram Dass said, "I think, first, if you have something important to say, say it now. Say you love someone now. Forgive someone now. Don't wait."
"Second, live in the moment. Know that moments are not in time. They are not in the world of the clock, the changing seasons, the process of growing old. Moments are in soul time. Live in the soul. Then you'll be ready for the moment of death." 
"As you get closer to death, your intuition gets stronger. You'll know when you are getting closer. Forgive yourself and others. When Christ says, 'I am making all things new,' it's the same as living in the here and now and starting fresh in every moment. When you are really in this moment, everything is new, and the moment of death is just another moment." 
Which leads me to believe that the real purpose of life is to love one another and eat each other's cooking and say it was good. 
So, I might have to bake something this afternoon. But first, another load of laundry. Because it's Saturday and the purpose of life on a Saturday is laundry. 
Have a great Saturday, everybody. Enjoy your life this day, however you understand its purpose.


Happy birthday, Jack

On this day, the 16th of June, in the year 1931, in Charlotte, NC, Jack Spong was born. 
His father, an alcoholic, died when Jack was but 12 years old. He and his brother were raised by his mother in a working-class neighborhood in the segregated South. 
Jack speaks warmly and gratefully of the priest in his Episcopal church, Robert Crandall. I love the story Jack tells of his childhood when he would get up before dawn - and before breakfast - to deliver newspapers on his bike to make a little money for the family. He would then rush over to church to assist with daily mass. 
One morning, all that activity on an empty stomach caught up with him and he "clean passed out" right there in the middle of the service. His priest took him out for breakfast which soon became their routine when Jack was scheduled to assist at daily mass. In the midst of those early morning conversations his priest became for him a role model, a surrogate father, and the inspiration for his own vocation. 
Jack completed his bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in three years and became the first in his family to be a college graduate. He went on to Virginia Theological Seminary where he earned his M.Div and was ordained in 1955 at the age of 24. 
Jack served churches in Durham, NC, Tarboro, in east NC, as well as churches in Lynchburg and Richmond, VA. Jack always found himself on the front lines of the work of justice, first as pastor of a church in a small tobacco town in east NC only a few years after schools were desegregated. 
Ordained bishop of Newark in 1976, Jack immersed himself in the ongoing struggles against racism in the church and in the world, as well as being an ardent supporter of the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church, and a leader in the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in all aspects of the church and the world, including ordained leadership in the church. 
But, it was his deep commitment, as a liberal, progressive Christian, to call for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines that made him controversial and a target of hate and violence. 
In each and every one of the 25 books he has written, he stretches traditional theological thinking, challenging assumptions and insisting that we pay attention to the words of Jesus in John's Gospel, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." (Jn. 16:12). 
Taking Jesus at his word, Jack sought to articulate the ways the story of God's love for the people of God continues to be revealed in "the word of God in scripture, in the word of God among us, and in the word of God within us" (Iona community). 
My favorite Jack Spong quote, of many: "The church will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy."
Called a "maverick" and a "nightmare to conservative Anglicans," as well as a "heretic" by none other than Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jack Spong was also a wonderful pastor to his priests. When my father died, Jack called me from New Zealand where he had been invited to lecture. 
He knew of the tensions in my family and, concerned that they would surface during a time of intense grief, he offered to come home early to escort me and my beloved Ms. Conroy to my father's funeral. My heart was so filled with gratitude and love, I could not contain my tears. I told him how much I loved him and that he would be the first person I saw when I returned from my father's funeral. And, he was. 
Jack Spong retired as bishop of Newark in 2000. When I last spoke with him on his birthday in 2021, he was living in retirement with his beloved Christine Mary Spong in Richmond, VA. He had recovered remarkably well from the stroke he suffered while in Michigan in 2016. His mind was clear and sharp and his sense of humor had never been more delightful. 
He told me that he and Christine attended St. Paul's where he was once rector and proudly pointed out that the present rector is a married gay man. Jack also told me with obvious joy in his voice that he saw his children and grandchildren "four or five times a week."
Jack died peacefully in his sleep on September 12, 2021, in Richmond, VA
On the occasion of the 91st anniversary of his birth, please join me in celebrating this man who is a gift of and to the church. 
You may not like him, you may, in fact, hate him, but you can not deny that the church in general and The Episcopal Church, in particular, may have decreased in numbers but has matured in spirituality and expanded in theological generosity. It certainly has not died of the controversy which Jack engaged with courage and authenticity. 
Happy birthday in heaven, Jack.




It has happened again. 
Last night, another incident of the insanity of gun violence gripped this nation.
This time, the attack occurred at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills. At this writing, two are reported dead. One has been seriously injured. 
Today is the seventh anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
There was a deadly mass shooting last month at a Taiwanese church service in Southern California -- along with mass shootings at an elementary school in Texas and a New York supermarket.
The shooter is in custody and it is reported that he is described as being a "lone suspect" so the rest of the community is, as the police are reporting, "safe." 
"Lone shooter" of course, is code for a Caucasian male who - we have absolutely no doubt - suffers from mental illness.
In the infamous words of Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears of Virginia, in her speech at last month's NRA Convention, there is a range of social factors to explain why young white men are mass murderers, from lack of prayer in schools to “emasculated” men and pandemic safety protocols.
Anything but guns. Because, you know, guns don't kill people, people kill people. 
At that same convention, before speaking to the N.R.A., Ted Cruz said schools should have only one entry point, with an armed guard. 
Guns don’t kill people. Doors do. 
Want to know why this keeps happening? That's why. It's the If/then of the "transitive law of logic". “If a is equal to b and b is equal to c, then a is equal to c.” 
Which works in some relationships but not all, because if Mary is the daughter of Jane and Jane is the daughter of Alice, Mary cannot be the daughter of Alice. 
But, that kind of logic escapes those who, when challenged, will just smile and say, "Second amendment, baby!'
Well, FFS, the founders were talking about musket balls while Ben Franklin was just "discovering" electricity and no one had indoor plumbing. They were not talking about 13.3 damn bullets per second or AR-15s that are capable of decapitating a 10-year-old body being shot by an 18-year-old boy. 
It also keeps happening because we have elected jellyfish to represent us in Congress - on both sides of the aisle. 
Maureen Dowd recently wrote: "The political debates here are empty and soulless, with Democrats dodging the issue and Republicans hardening even on mild proposals like requiring universal background checks, which has overwhelming public approval."
She also wrote: "The Republicans are doing everything they can to stop women from having control over their own bodies and doing nothing to stop the carnage against kids; they may as well change the party symbol from an elephant to an AR-15".
It breaks every law of logic because it's not about reason or public safety. It's about greed and power. 
When this nation is determined to become 'pro life' instead of 'pro fetus' and 'pro guns' we may be able to stop the carnage.
As for me and my house of worship, we are hosting an Active Shooter Session right after church on Sunday, June 26th. 
Officer Tyndale of the Georgetown Police Department is coming to help us understand what we can do to protect ourselves and each other should anything like that happen in our church. Or a local supermarket. 
Or in a parking lot. 
Or any place else a "lone shooter" might decide to unleash the insanity caused by his emasculation which had been driven to the breaking point by COVID protocols. 
Or, doors. 
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Pray for those who have died and pray for all those who grieve. 
And then, let us pray for the spirit of Mother Jones to infect our hearts with her words, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."
It's the only logic that makes sense to me.


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

June 14: Flag Day

Today is Flag Day.

It's also Mary Bothelo's birthday.

Mary and I were in Elementary School together from first grade to fifth grade. Mary's father was a truck driver and she missed him a lot. Her father was Roman Catholic but her mother was a Jehovah's Witness.

She hated that, mostly because, since her father was away a lot, she couldn't celebrate her birthday OR Flag Day. AND she had to leave the classroom whenever we said the Pledge of Allegiance. She also could not salute a picture of the POTUS (Eisenhower, at the time), with our carton of room-temperature milk. She just stood at her desk, eyes down at her feet, a carton of milk next to the graham cracker snack on her desk.

She, like me, was also a first-generation Portuguese American. Sometimes, we spoke Portuguese to each other on the playground. We made sure the other kids couldn't hear us, of course, but the "double deception" made us giggle.

In the summer before the 6th grade, my family moved to the suburbs to start living "The Great American Dream" in our Very Own House. I haven't seen or heard from Mary Bothelo since.

But, I don't think I'll ever forget her or the sadness on her face when she had to leave the room every morning. I remember that when she put her hand on the doorknob, she always looked back at us. I always gave her a very small wave. She always responded by looking tough and nodding her head slightly to acknowledge my small act of friendship.

As I think about it now, I think that made us more American than any pledge we could recite or any carton of milk we could raise to honor a President. Defiant compliance and friendship in the face of tensions between church and state.

We've always been a nation of Outsiders. Are now. Always will be. Everyone in America came here from a different place. We all have roots in other lands. We are all transplants.


The sooner we understand that the better we'll embody the real Spirit of America, which an unfurled flag - stars and stripes and a variety of colors coexisting together and snapping at the wind - can't even begin to capture.


By Jacqueline Woodson

When the kids in my class ask why

I am not allowed to pledge to the flag

I tell them It's against my religion but don't say,

I am in the world but not of the world. This,

they would not understand.

Even though my mother's not a Jehovah's Witness,

she makes us follow their rules and

leave the classroom when the pledge is being said.

Every morning, I walk out with Gina and Alina

the two other Witnesses in my class.

Sometimes, Gina says,

Maybe we should pray for the kids inside

who don't know that God said

"No other idols before me." That our God

is a jealous God.

Gina is a true believer. Her Bible open

during reading time. But Alina and I walk through

our roles as Witnesses as though this is the part

we've been given in a play

and once offstage, we run free, sing

"America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner"

far away from our families—knowing every word.

Alina and I want

more than anything to walk back into our classroom

press our hands against our hearts. Say,

"I pledge allegiance . . ." loud

without our jealous God looking down on us.

Without our parents finding out.

Without our mothers' voices

in our heads saying, You are different.






When the pledge is over, we walk single file

back into the classroom, take our separate seats

Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina

always looks back at us—as if to say,

I'm watching you. As if to say,

I know.


Jacqueline Woodson, "flag" from Brown Girl Dreaming. Copyright © 2014 by Jacqueline Woodson. Used by permission of Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Source: Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014)

Sunday, June 05, 2022

The Fiftieth Day of Easter


St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Livestreamed on Facebook at Sirach 26:10 
Pentecost - June 5, 2022

Today is Pentecost, the 50th day of Easter, sometimes known as the birthday of the church. It is the day when we celebrate the gift of the Resurrection. On this day, we were given The Holy Spirit, sent by God in the name of Jesus, to be the advocate to teach us everything, and to remind us of all Jesus has said and taught to his disciples.


It’s also the day of the redemption for The Tower of Babel – the ancient story told to explain the many different languages of humankind. We are told that the tower was built by Nimrod, son of Kush, the oldest son of Ham and the grandson of Noah, the same man who built the ark and was part of the faithful remnant to re-establish the earth after the devastating flood.


Nimrod built the tower as a refuge should God flood the earth again. Problem is, God promised never to destroy the earth ever again. God even put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of God’s covenant with us. Apparently, Nimrod forgot that promise. God didn’t.

Indeed, when God came to visit earth and saw what they had done, well, God got a little annoyed. God said, well, you know, they all have one language and there’s no telling what they’ll be able to do in the future. According to the story, God said, "Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech."


Now, that all got redeemed on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down and even though everyone was speaking in their own language, everyone understood. There was unity. And, there was peace. Because there was trust in God.


Well, almost everyone trusted in God. The scene from ACTS tells us that some sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." Still the Holy Spirit came down. Because, you know, God works through amazement and wonder but God can also work through skepticism and disbelief.


You know, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. My heart has been especially heavy. I know many of you are also feeling helpless and hopeless as gun violence rips through the very fabric of this nation again and again. I think it’s time for a story, don’t you? Right? Of course, right. This is a story about how the Spirit works though different languages and customs to provide us with the experiences and lessons we need to know and learn to live together in unity and peace.

It was 1986. I was a newly ordained priest, a Chaplain at the University of Lowell in MA. It was also the first five years of what was to become the AIDS pandemic. I was part of an Ecumenical AIDS Task Force, teaming up with a Jesuit priest to provide education to churches in the area.

It was in that capacity that I first met Fr. Koumranian, the pastor at the Armenian Orthodox Church in Lowell.  For some reason unknown to me, Fr. Koumranian took a liking to me – or, was intrigued by a “woman priest” – and decided that I should learn the “real” liturgy of the church.  So, he took me under his wing in one of the most delightful mentor relationship I have ever known.

He was called “Father” so I, of course, became known as “Mother”. He would call me and, in his heavy Armenian accent, begin, “Mother? Dees is Father. We are having baptism at church. It would be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It would be good for my people to see woman priest. You come.” (You didn’t know I could speak Armenian, did you? Step aside, Meryl Streep.)

Mind you, that wasn’t so much an invitation as an expectation. I was thrilled. I went. Every time.  One evening, he called. “Mother? Dees is Father. Der is funeral Wednesday. It would be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It would be good for my people to see woman priest. You come.”

Nothing was so important that couldn’t be rearranged so that I could be there. There was smoke. There were bells. There was chanting. I admit that I loved it all in that beautiful mosaic tile sanctuary.

When it came time for the eulogy, I looked around the church and saw that it was filled with lots of old Armenian men and women, all dressed in black. I thought sure the eulogy would be spoken in Armenian and I could meditate quietly while he preached. To my surprise, Fr. Koumranian walked into the aisle, near the casket as he began the euology.

“Der are people in dees world,” he said, “who are always making you happy. You see dem walking on de street and your heart leaps for joy, for dey are always making you so happy.”

He put his hand reverently on the casket and said solemnly, “Dees . . . is not one of dos people.”

I was, in a word, stunned. I shut my eyes tight. All I could think was, “Don’t let my face show what I’m thinking.” Which was, “What in the heck is he doing?” When I opened my eyes, I could see the front row of women, including the man’s widow. They were all nodding their heads in agreement.

Fr. Koumranian continued, “But, isn’t God – our own God – so wonderful, dat now – even now – even one such as dees is resting eternally in de arms of Jesus? Because, you know, eets true (Wait for it. Ready?): People is people. And, God is God.”

And then he said, “Ah-min,” and sat down.

One of these days I'm going to learn to just say what I have to say, say, "Amen!", shut up and sit down. (Umm . . . but this would not be one of those days.)

Isn’t that wonderful? ‘People is people and God is God’.

That pretty much sums up just about everything Jesus ever said. These are seven words that sum up the message of all four gospels. ‘People is people and God is God’. That’s really the message of this morning’s gospel.


Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."


Because, you see, Fr. Koumranian is right: People are people. And God, is God.

Here’s the really Good News: No matter how foolish, no matter how unkind or mean-spirited or even despicable our behavior, God is always ready to forgive. We may not be able to forgive, but what we know of God in Christ Jesus is love and forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

That is the life we were baptized into. The life of Jesus is a life of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. And, here’s the secret to the miracle of Life: The more of yourself you give away, the more of yourself you will have and the more joy you will know.


Not just superficial happiness. Joy. Deep, inexplicable joy – even when your heart is heavy and breaking with sadness. I don’t know how that works. I only know it to be true.


Here’s what else I know to be true: We are here on this fragile earth, our island home, just a very short time. If we’re lucky, some of us will live a little less than 100 years. Even though that’s a great, long life, it’s a little, tiny blip in the history of time. I also know that each one of us is hardwired to be compassionate. It’s in our DNA. We were created for unity – to be one in the Spirit – even as we were uniquely and wondrously made.


When we act out of our compassion, when we help others in their time of need, even if that is at personal cost or sacrifice, we are living into and out of our baptismal vows. And that, my friends, is the source of joy and peace and hope.


Part of the reason Deacon Pete is here with us is to do what Deacons do: They are to bring the needs of the world to the church and the goodness of the church back out into the world. They are to edify and empower the laity – the priesthood of all believers – to find the compassion that is in each of our hearts and be in service to others. Deacons often do that by stirring things up, challenging the status quo. Deacon Pete has already shown us he can do that.

There is something in this world that only you can do. This is the reason you were put on this earth. This is the reason, ultimately, for your baptism – so you can do something wonderful in this world for others in the name of Jesus. Deacon Pete and I are both here to help you find that out about yourself and to do that very thing you were called to do.

And, even if you fall short – even if you miss the mark – when it is time for your time on this earth to end, by the power of the Spirit, you are promised to rest eternally in the arms of God.


Why? How does that happen? Honest? I’m not exactly certain. I only know the revelation of truth I learned from a man whose culture and language and style of worship were very different from mine and yet he gave to me a message of the timeless truth the disciples learned at Pentecost: 

People are people and God is God. Amen.

The Last of Her Tribe

My dear Aunt Alice died on Thursday, June 2nd, at the age of 96. 
For the past several years her residence had been in an Assisted Living Facility. She suffered from a ruthlessly advancing form of dementia which bore holes in and finally destroyed all barriers that would enable polite social exchange. 
She was the youngest child of 15 living children of Maria and August Lima Medeiros. At a young age, she left home and eloped with a handsome young sailor of Sweedish extraction named Dale, and moved with him across the country to settle in one of the small towns outside of Seattle, Washington. 
She was trying to escape the often brutal realities and challenges of being a woman in a strict Roman Catholic, immigrant Portuguese culture where she was expected to marry "a nice, local Portuguese boy from a good family, settle down and have lots of babies."
She did the exact opposite and thus became a hero in my eyes.
By every account, she and her husband and their two daughters were thriving in Washington State. When viewed through my immigrant eyes, she might as well have been living in a foreign country. She came to visit us, once when I was about 6 or 7 years old, she and her husband and the two fair-skinned girls who were my cousins. 
Well, the eldest daughter looked more like a fair-skinned version of us, except her eyes were hazel, as are my own. The youngest looked like she had been cut from a batch of Swedish butter cookie dough, complete with blond-blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Interestingly enough, while her husband had blue eyes, my Aunt Alice had piercing blue eyes, which was not uncommon on my Grandmother's side of the family. 
Their lack of New England accent was probably as jarring to us as our accent was to them. We drank "soda". They drank "pop". We ate any kind of fish. They ate any kind of salmon. (well, mostly Fresh Pacific salmon - some smoked and dried. Ours came out of the Atlantic and mostly from a can.) We ate a clam boil with potatoes and Portuguese sausage and hot dogs. They ate raw oysters. On the half-shell. With a little cocktail sauce. 
They traveled by RV which they set up in the side yard of my grandparent's tenement house. I could be mistaken but my memory is that they arrived in the early days of summer vacation. "But, an RV!" my aunts and uncles whispered, "Do you know how much one of those things costs?" they gasped. "The gas alone. . . ." said one of my uncles, half admiringly, half green with envy. 
My aunt was "slim and trim" as her sisters said with no small amount of envy, wore form-fitting dresses, and smoked cigarettes with her feet up. She didn't drink wine like my aunts but, instead, drank actual alcohol - brown liquid in a bottle that came from "the package store" and not homemade beer or whiskey/rum (Cacha├ža or Aguardente - Portuguese for "burning water") - in a proper glass that clinked with ice cubes when she held it to her lips, deep red with lipstick. 
I remember finding her half-filled lipstick-stained glass on an end table once when no one was around. I put my lips on the exact place of her lips, but the smell of the alcohol was more than my young nose could tolerate so I put it down quickly. 
So, let me state the obvious: Mother-daughter relationships are complex and complicated. If we don't work through them, we often become what we reject.
I've been reflecting on this since my cousin called with the news of my Aunt's death - especially since it was my Aunt who inspired my journey to "run away from home" so I could escape the oppressive expectations of behavior and become more of who I was understanding myself to be. 
It occurred to me that my grandmother moved from the Azores to Fall River, MA. That's approximately 2, 403 miles. 
When I checked the distance from Fall River to Seattle, it was 3,044 miles. That's a difference of a little over 600 miles. 
One journey was over the seas, the other over the land. One journey was from one continent to another, the other journey was across an entire continent. One was to flee the ghost of her mother, the other was to flee the reality of her mother.
And yet, when I saw my Aunt last year, there was absolutely no doubt that, with filters off, she had become more of what she had rejected. There was a moment when I gasped at something she did and said and realized that those were my grandmother's exact words and behavior.
No matter the quality or content, mother-daughter relationships are fraught with complex and complicated emotions. I know I'm still sorting through my mother-daughter relationship - and my mother died in 2008 - even as I try to figure out my relationships with my own daughters.
What I fear most is that the patterns will repeat themselves, despite my best efforts to avoid them. Indeed, some are already well-established, which causes me to grieve more than the loss of my mother or grandmother, or aunts. 
I'm told that my aunt left very explicit instructions in her will. There is to be no viewing, no funeral. Gawd, no. That would be "too Fall River immigrant" for her. However, she did allow that there could be a "gathering for lunch and storytelling" which my cousins are planning later this summer. Ms. Conroy and I are planning to attend. 
For whatever else she was, she was the youngest and The Last of Her Tribe. She was fierce and feisty and often impossible and iracible. As she got older and her brain no longer served her as it should, she became increasingly cantankerous, fractious, and uncontrollable. 
She also became, more and more, what she had rejected. I shouldn't be surprised. It's a rule of the cosmos: That which we reject, we become. 
Which is why I so admire my cousins. They have been able to recognize, name, and work through their issues - and continue to do so. They are who they are and I detect little danger of either of them becoming their mother. Or, my mother. Or their grandmother.
She was the Last of Her Tribe. That's a special kind of grief, all its own, especially for an immigrant family. 
I shall miss her dearly. 
And, if I'm honest, I'll miss all that she represents, because it's also a rule of the cosmos: We miss most what we can no longer have, even if we didn't want it when we had it.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Dear Jesus,


Esmeralda Bravo, sheds tears while holding a photo of her granddaughter, Nevaeh, one of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims, during a prayer vigil in Uvalde, TX, (AP photo)

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Simultaneously broadcast on Facebook, Sirach 26:10 
Easter VII - The Sunday after the Ascension
March 29, 2022

Many years ago, I was given some excellent advice: When you are angry with someone or about something, write it all down in a letter. And then, put the letter in an envelope and tuck it away in a drawer for a few days. Then, take the letter out and re-read it. If you still feel the same way, send it. If you need to modify it, do so and sit on that for a few days. If you are uncomfortable with anything you’ve said, rip up the letter and throw it away.


Well, I went through this exercise on Thursday, the Feast of the Ascension of the Christ, two days after the hideous slaughter of 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers. When I went to bed Tuesday night, there were 15 children dead. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I learned that four more children had died.


And, just like that, my sadness turned to anger – the white-hot, blinding kind of anger that wants to lash out and pin the blame on someone or something. This had to be someone’s fault. Lots of someones fault, I thought. I probably don’t need to share the litany that has been repeated over and over again in various news outlets. It’s tempting, but I won’t.


I knew where to take my complaints and anger and anxiety and fear. I took them straight to Jesus. And, I did what I often do: I wrote him a letter. On Thursday. The Feast of the Ascension. I’m going to share parts of it with you this morning.


Dear Jesus,


Oh, my dear, sweet Jesus. You’ve no doubt heard that it’s happened again. Last week it was 10 people of color in Buffalo, NY. Now, it’s 19 elementary school kids and two of their teachers in Uvalde, Texas. So, I’m coming to you on the day you left us. The Feast of the Ascension. And, I’m mad as hell at you for leaving.


I mean, was that totally necessary? Seriously? Just to fulfill the prophecy of Daniel? Everything theologically neat and tidy? It's just compulsively neat and tidy, in my experience. This was done to "fulfill" That. That was said to "fulfill" this. And "all things are being brought to their perfection". No ragged edges. No incomplete thoughts. Everything tucked in nice and tight, like sheets in a hospital corner on a bed. If you tried, I'd bet you could even bounce a quarter off these theological sheets.


Except, why was it necessary? I mean, why did you have to leave? You could have completed the work just as well – probably better – right from here on earth. I'm really angry because I'm quite sure we wouldn't have half the religious squabbles we have today if you were actually around to say, "Umm . . . no, actually, I didn't say that." And, "Uh . . . you know, you are really playing fast and loose with my words there."  And, "Okay, you lazy buggers, let's go. We've got people to feed, houses to build, prisoners to set free from their chains."


I'm quite certain you would never have allowed the lurid murder of George Floyd or the shooting of Travon Martin or Breonna Taylor or India Kager.  I have no doubt – absolutely no doubt whatsoever – that there would never have been a Columbine, or a Sandy Hook, or Parkland, much less an Uvalde Massacre of the Innocents if you were still here.


So, yeah. I’m angry that you "ascended into heaven and (is) sitting at the right hand of the Father," apparently, just so human logic would reign supreme - or, at least, make it nice and tidy. How nice for you!  Not so for us. Problem is:  It. Makes. No. Sense.


Not today. Especially not today. When the shock has started to wear off and the endless cycle has begun: Thoughts and prayers, Facebook debates and Twitter wars, Congressional inaction, and crickets chirping as everyone moves on until the next Mass Shooting.


Today? Today I'm pissed off. And, quite conveniently, it's the Feast of the Ascension so I get to express all my abandonment issues and sense of betrayal and outrage on you. It's YOUR fault. You left. You should have stayed. Then, stuff like this wouldn't happen. See?


I know. I know. You sent your Holy Spirit to counsel and advise and guide us. Well, guess what? That’s not working out so well. It hasn’t for a long time. You may have noticed. Okay, okay. Fair enough. Not a lot of people listened to you while you were here. Still don’t. Or, maybe they did listen and they didn’t like what you said. I mean, you did get crucified for it, after all.


Okay, so, here’s the thing – here’s what I really need help with: Just what am I supposed to do now? I’ve already had several phone calls from parishioners. They want to know what to do. Should they go to their grandson’s graduation in that big auditorium? Did you hear what I told her? I said yes, but make sure you sit next to an exit. In the first three rows.


I learned that from the Active Shooter Training Courses I’ve had in the past, when these kinds of things have happened before. You know I’ve spoken with the Wardens and two members of our congregation who are elected members of the Town Council. One of them is arranging with the Police Department to have an Active Shooter Training Course for the church. We’re just waiting for a date. I did that last week. You know, after Buffalo. I mean, I AM doing stuff. See?


And, that’s another thing I really need help with: Why does this keep happening? I need to know. We need to know. Because if we knew, then we could take measures to prevent it from happening again. I’m not talking about the lame excuses people keep making which is really just a cruel blame game. The end result of that game is that it leads nowhere, accomplishes nothing.


So, I have sat with the scriptures for this week – this Ascension Sunday – to look for some clues from the things you reportedly said before you left us. I’ve been sitting with these words:


"Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."


I’m sitting with the last couple of words: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Well, that’s been a colossal failure, hasn’t it? We could never be accused of having God’s love in us, much less any evidence of you being in us, despite baptism.


Why is that? Why is it so much easier to hate than to love? Why is it that we are quick to raise a fist when extending an open hand is just as easy? Might it be that we act too soon on anger and fear? Might it be that we jump to conclusions? Rush to judgment? Settle for easy answers?


Sometimes I think we’re afraid to just sit with our feelings. Or, perhaps, it’s difficult to sort through them all. Or, maybe it’s just that it’s really hard to sit with our pain, much less anyone else’s pain. But, that’s exactly what you did, isn’t it? You were there for people. You showed up where they were. You listened to them. You used what you had to comfort and heal and teach them: Dirt. Spit. Humor. Even when you were annoyed or distracted or sad, you still healed the persistent woman, and the daughter of the Roman soldier, and raised Lazarus from the dead.


So, perhaps that’s what I should do? Just be with people? Help them to sort through their feelings and then feel the feelings they are feeling? Instead of rushing through with “thoughts and prayers”? Because, when we don’t feel the feelings, when we don’t sit with each other and dig down deep to find the love and compassion that is there, we run the risk of numbing ourselves by moving on too fast, and then wonder why nothing ever gets done.


So, okay. I’ll start this Sunday, Jesus. I’ll start by reading the names of those who have died and are now with you. And, I’ll ask that, as each name is read, we stop and think of that person, and feel the feelings, and sit with our feelings and feel the feelings of others around us. And then, maybe, in the midst of our deepest feelings, when we feel most weak and most vulnerable, you will come to us as you always do, when we need you most, and inspire us to do the one thing we can do to make a difference. To create change. To help the world be a better place.


Even if that means that I need to search my own heart and seek forgiveness or allow my anger and resentment to be transformed into reconciliation and peace in my own life. What’s the wonderful old song? “Let there be peace in the world, and let it begin with me.” That’s so much easier to sing than to live, isn’t it?


Before you left, your prayer to God was that we would know God better “so that the love with which (God) loved (You) may be in (us), and (You) in (us).” Help me help your people, Jesus. Help me to help them know that prayer is not a platitude but a vehicle for transformation. That even anger is a prayer – the ‘holy rage’ of the prophets that spoke truth to power, your wrath that turned over tables of corruption and greed in the Temple – that can be transformed and used for good. And that our tears and anguish are the prayers most cherished in your heart.


Help me, Jesus. Help me lead your people to see you more clearly, follow you more nearly, love your more dearly, day by day.  Because, even though you physically left us and went to heaven, you are still here with us, in each other, and you are known by the love we have for each other.


And so, we begin – first the 10 who were slaughtered in Buffalo, NY.


Roberta A. Drury, 32

Margus D. Morrison, 52

Andre Mackneil, age 53

Aaron Salter, 55

Geraldine Talley, 62

Celestine Chaney, 65

Heyward Patterson, 67

Katherine Massey, 72

Pearl Young, 77

Ruth Whitfield, 86


And now, those children and their teachers who were gunned down in Uvalde, TX


Nevaeh Bravo, 10

Jacklyn Cazares, 9

Makenna Lee Elrod, 10

Jose Flores, 10

Ellihana Garcia, 10

Irma Garcia, 48

Uziyah Garcia, 10

Amerie Jo Garza, 10

Xavier Lopez, 10

Jayce Luevanos, 10

Tess Mata, 10

Miranda Mathis, 11

Eva Mireles, 44

Alithia Ramirez, 10

Annabell Rodriguez, 10

Maite Rodriguez, 10

Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, 10

Layla Salazar, 11

Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10

Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10

Rojelio Torres, 10

Let us pray: O God our Father, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust your beloved children of Uvalde and Buffalo to your everlasting care and love, and bring them fully into your heavenly kingdom. Pour out your grace and loving-kindness on all who grieve; surround them with your love; and restore their trust in your goodness. We lift up to you our weary, wounded souls and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to transform the anger and violence that infects our hearts, and make us instruments of your peace and children of the light. In the Name of Christ who is our hope, we pray. Amen. (Adapted from a prayer by Bishop David Reed, Episcopal Bishop of West Texas)