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Friday, August 04, 2006

Bottom Feeding

I’m officially on vacation here in our wee cottage we call “Llangollen” on Rehoboth Bay, but that doesn’t mean my mind is on the fritz. Even in the midst of this oppressive heat (110 degrees Fahrenheit), I’ve been doing a great deal of walking and thinking and writing.

There is vacation, but there’s no escape.

The nightly news – CNN, NBC as well as the BBC – carry horrifying news of wars and pestilence and famine around the globe. And then, there’s cyberspace. And, email. And now the suddenly ubiquitous and wildly popular “Blogs” – including, it would seem, my own. There is really no escape.

Into this came the news of the birth of our fourth grandchild. What a wonderful, miraculous gift is this new life – a blessed respite from heady thoughts and tragic news! Thank you to every one who wrote such lovely notes.

Well, imagine my absolute astonished amazement when this came on my diocesan listserv in response to the announcement of Abigael’s birth:

“Miss Kaeton’s recent ‘notices’ on the diocesan websites and others often leave me with mixed feelings. She is perceived as something like a name brand for crusades the wider communion as a whole does not agree with, things like stop-and-shop abortions, controversial bishops, euthanasia, gay marriage, life-trivializing scientific research, etc. Large corporations often do the same thing. The example which first springs to mind is McDonald’s. Salads there may be; but cheap, unhealthy junk food is still what lifts their profits. Doubtless, most of the readers at the three web-sites Miss Kaeton has addressed would agree with her outrage at the indiscriminate killing and maiming of children in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and The Lebanon. What then of the killing of children in the womb in abortion? What of the death penalty?”

Excuse me? “Stop and shop abortions?” Guess I must have missed my own memo on that – along with “euthanasia,” and “life-trivializing (stem cell, I’m assuming) scientific research”

Oh, but wait! There’s more . . . .

“Yesterday, in ******** (the city where he lives)’s intense heat, I struggled to read to six Hispanic children in English. Where was the affinity notice-board that might have put them in the limelight for the joyous events in their parents’ lives? And, if they had had one, would they have used it to promote the only food they can afford, junk food?”

Why he doesn’t start his own Blog for this purpose, I’m sure I don’t know. I’ll spare you the incoherency of the next paragraph and leave you with his final salvo . . .

“Dearly beloved Abigael Sophia, I hope there are no wars when you grow up; I hope the entire church is united and at peace with itself; I hope our bishops will defer more and more to Canterbury as their spiritual head and that congregations will move from their present decline to identifiable real development; (Note: Get ready for this REALLY BIG CLUE) I hope the Holy Spirit will lead many more young men (Gottcha!) to lifelong careers as priests in our diocese, hearing our confessions and absolving us when we go astray.”

Okay, my blood started to boil when he called my new grandbaby “Dearly beloved.”

So, after I took a long ride on my bike, and an equally long shower, I went out with a dear friend and had a fabulous dinner, came home, read for a bit and slept, as they say in Ghana, “like a foolish man.” I got up this morning and did what I always do when I get a mean-spirited salvo like this. I write. A lot. A whole lot.

It was not the first mean spirited attack of the week. The snarky, badly behaved kids over at conservative/orthodox/neoPuritan Episcopal Blogs were having a field day with my essay, “After Columbus.”

You know, I just gotta tell ya. These are the very folk who cause some of us to think that the term, ‘Thinking Evangelical’ is an oxymoron. It’s not true, of course. I am a radical Anglo-Catholic, Orthodox Christian with a joyful Evangelical spirit. I have a brain and a heart and a body and I’m not afraid to use them – sometimes, all at the same time!

There are lots of Evangelicals who know how to use their intellect. Where are they, you ask? These days, I think most of them are lying pretty low. Embarrassed, is my guess.

This current new breed of Evangelicals is born of a particularly mean-spirited viral strain. Unless theology is served up plain, no fancy gravy, no meat touching the potatoes or rice and no vegetables touching ANYthing, and everything cut up into nice, equal, bite size portions, AND (this is the most important part) made in exact accordance with the old, old family recipe, there arises such an ungodly howl as to raise the dead, and the theology is immediately dismissed as so much garbage.

The current mean-spirited tactic du jour is that one of them trolls the progressive Episcopal websites, especially the Comments Section, looking for tidbits to feed their voracious appetite for turmoil and mayhem. They need it, you see, to support their fervently held claims that The Episcopal Church is going to hell in a hand basket.

These folk can create an entire banquet out of the tiniest little morsel of confusion – and, they are confused by anything that isn’t writ very, very large and plain – no subtly or innuendo, thank you very much.

When they find one – no matter how tiny the scrap – they drag it back over to their websites and suddenly, a throw away line becomes bold-face headline. Within minutes, a veritable feeding frenzy ensues. It is the most amazing phenomenon I have ever observed in my life.

For the past week a term I used has absolutely captivated them (What do they do for a living, I wonder, these people who have so much time for the internet?).

I referred to this practice of trolling for a little speck of dirt to stir up ecclesiastical sand storms of chaos and controversy as “Bottom Feeders.”

Oh, Lord have mercy! Like sharks that smelled blood on the water, they were off!

You know what I mean by bottom feeders, yes? From: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.

NOUN: 1. A fish or other animal that feeds on the bottom of a body of water. 2. One that feeds low on the food chain; a scavenger. 3. Slang a. An opportunist who profits from the misfortunes of others OTHER FORMS: bottom feeding —NOUN bottom-feeding (btm-fdng) —ADJECTIVE
“Bottom feeding.”

Let me be very clear. I’m not name-calling. Indeed, I’m now more convinced than ever that this is precisely the appropriate term for the dynamic which is currently at work in the church – especially in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

I’m naming that dynamic and exposing it for what it is: “Bottom feeding.”

“Bottom feeding” is the operating principle which has given birth to the present schism in the church today. Some folks have been working very, very, very EXTRA hard to make this a reality. Stir up enough controversy, create a few calamities and, voila! It has happened. We now have a church is schism.

“Bottom feeding” is the dynamic which passes for dialogue and conversation. It’s what allows someone to look at a “label” like LGBT and see a “junk food brand” as did my brother in Newark. It’s what made him see “controversial opinion masquerading as information” as he wrote to someone who complained about his mean spirited letter to me. He really thought I had an ulterior motive in sending out that announcement.

I suppose that by offering this “good salad” of my granddaughter’s birth, I’m still “pushing the junk food” of my “controversial opinions.” If you are looking for scum on the bottom of the fish tank, that’s what you’ll find.

“Bottom feeding” is what allows my conservative, orthodox and neo-Puritan friends from other Blogs to write to me in all sincerity, and say, “I really just want to engage you in conversation. I sincerely want to understand. Tell me, please, where it is in scripture that God blesses homosexual sex?”

When I point them to theological texts and essays which have been written, only for oh, for the past THIRTY YEARS, they act surprised and don’t understand my frustrated response. “St. Elizabeth of the Perpetually Huffy,” one called me.

One woman made a sexual innuendo about “Bottom feeding” that made even me blush. Another was convinced that in using the term “Bottom feeding” that I was name-calling so he called me (Ready?) “Lizzy the Lezzie.” I mean, I haven’t been taunted with that since I was in the sixth grade. How old are these people?

So, I refer them to a marvelous essay, written in February of this year by my sister in Christ, the fabulous, Susan Russell.

In that essay, she rightly says that no where in scripture does God bless things like: the ordination of women, interracial marriage, opposition to the death penalty, or the abolition of slavery.


Swear to God! You just can’t make this stuff up.

That’s because, “bottom feeding” does not allow you to like anything. If all you are trolling for is the bad stuff, you’ll never find the good stuff.

One person did write that some of the tastiest creatures in the water are bottom feeders: lobsters, crab, catfish, and eel. I suppose that’s true. But, what makes them so good is the care with which they are prepared and served. Eating that stuff raw or from polluted waters can make you sick.

If you are specifically looking to benefit from others, you are eating raw fish which has been made rancid by some very polluted waters.

I have some ideas about the reason “Bottom feeding” is the dynamic du jour, but that’s another essay for another day. Abigael is coming home from the hospital today. Her mother says she smiles a lot and moves her mouth when she sleeps. Must be gas, she says. My grandmother would say she’s getting last minute instructions from the angels.

If you pick up your heads\ from what you are doing, hush the noise in your life, and keep your mind still, you can hear them, too. The angels, that is. Tonight, a young family is bonding together and growing in love. There is great rejoicing in heaven.

Shield the joyous, Lord. There are so many who simply lie in wait to snatch away joy. Now, more than ever before, pray fervently to God to shield the joyous.



"Shield the joyous" indeed ... and give thanks for the willing-to-tell-it-like-it-is-even-on-vacation ... (she said from her vacation! :)

Cat_and_mouse59 said...

Mother Elizabeth,

I am hoping that you wrote this piece before you received my explanation of my post, which you have now misrepresented twice on your blog.

I explained earlier that my response had nothing to do with the reference to "bottom feeding", and if you blushed it was because you took it out of context. I was responding to Lisa's request for some Biblical reference to God's blessing of heterosexual sex (I guess in response to Phil's request about the blessing of homosexual sex), and I referred to 1 Corinthians 7.

I am not in the habit of making "snarky" comments, nor did my response have ANYTHING to do with "bottom feeding".

I also went on to disparage the habit, on both sides of this "controversy" (or whatever we call it this week) of name-calling, belittling, and generally dismissing eachother with sweeping epithets. I also posted this comment on StandFirm, and told the participants that I was ashamed of all of us.

If you haven't deleted my comment, I invite you to re-read it, and try to stop misrepresenting my motives, of which you obviously have no idea. I clearly marked the first section (which had the "sexual innuendo" that you spoke of), to Lisa. I unfortunately do not have a copy, and I am assuming you deleted it.

Thank you for the opportunity to make my position known.

I would be happy to exchange e-mail addresses, if you would like further explanation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay. I'm about to allow a comment from "Cat 'n Mouse." She has written me twice to protest. I think her email "tag" says it all.

In my Roman Catholic youth, they would consider this a "corporal act of mercy."

I forget how many indulgence this would earn me.

No matter. I think the woman is sincere - for whatever that's worth to anyone who is still listening.

Unknown said...

... no where in scripture does God bless things like:

interracial marriage Ruth 1:3

opposition to the death penalty John 8:3-11

the abolition of slavery Philemon 1:10-17

the ordination of women OK, she's batting .250 ...

Sincerity said...

Thank you for allowing my response to be posted, and your gracious opinion of my sincerity.

Cat and Mouse is an old family joke, not a description of my motives. I'll find another monniker, since this one seems to be misunderstood.

Thanks again, and God bless you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Craig -

That's it? Those little scraps are your best shot at an argument?

Here's my best advice: Don't quit your day job, my dear.

I suggest a little light remedial summer reading - it's not heavy or scholarly and although he didn't go to Trinity, the author does have Harvard credentials.

THE GOOD BOOK by Peter Gomes.

As he says, one can use scripture to make a better case in support of the oppression of women and people of color than LGBT people.

FAIR WARNING: I'm not going to get into a debate with you, Craig - or anyone else, for that matter, so y'all can wipe the saliva from your little conservative, orthodox neo-Puritan mouths and save your excitement for some place on the internet where they love to play that little game: "Who can quote scripture and verse?"

I love Holy Writ but Scriptural Gymnastics is just not my sport.

But, this is my Blog so I will say this to you:

The Congregssional debate in support of slavery, which was based solidly on the abundance of scriptural evidence, was eventually overturned by one line from scripture.

Ever wonder what that scripture was? I can tell you that it was NOT Philomon - which was argued that this was Paul talking about a specific man and not ALL slaves.

It was the New Commandment of Jesus. (I know you know this, but for those who may be reading this and don't: See John 14:33-35.)

The argument (led by the Quaker's BTW, not Episcopalians - especially some bishops who owned slaves and argued passionately FOR slavery) was that one could not be a follower of Christ and keep this commandment and own people as property.

And, that's the point, Craig. We are followers of Jesus.

We call ourselves CHRISTians, not "SCRIPTURians."

Yes, of course, I believe that the scriptures contain everything necessary for salvation.

I believe that the progressive, unfolding story of God's presence and action in the world with God's people is necessary for my salvation.

It is important to know what happened in Eden to better appreciate and more fully understand what happened in Gethsemane.

However, we don't follow Adam. We follow Jesus.

Besides, if homosexuality were so all fired important to God, why didn't God have the two great prophets, Moses and Jesus, say something about homosexuality when the commandments - the Old 10 or the New one - were being 'dictated and transcribed'?

Use your brain for more than memororization, Craig. Use the power of thought and imagination.

Don't be afraid of them. They are gifts from God, blessed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the gift from Jesus himself to guide us into all truth.

Well, that's my sermon for this morning, boys and girls.

I'm off to the beach.

Marie said...


You are a brave woman to engage this on your vacation. Love our prose, lover your courage, love your blog. Thanks for your voice.

Unknown said...

That's it? Those little scraps are your best shot at an argument?

Nope. But I'm not arguing, I'm answering a question. I didn't think you wanted an argument (and apparently I was right).

... we don't follow Adam. We follow Jesus.

If we weren't born followers of Adam, Jesus wouldn't have been necessary.

Have fun at the beach. I remember many years ago some lovely times at Asbury Park and somewhat later at Cape May; delightful places this time of year to get away from the heat wave.

Suzer said...

Rev. Keaton -- thank you so much for your offerings here. It's nice to read uplifting and affirming material, when there is so much out there that is from - yes - the "bottom feeders." Congratulations on your new granddaughter!

Suzer said...

Ooops. I'm sorry -- that was supposed to be "Kaeton." My embarrassed apologies -- I type too fast sometimes and fail to catch the mistakes!