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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Power of Prayer

Much has been written about the power of prayer. Many who read this BLOG will have personal stories to tell about the power of prayer in their personal lives.

I, for one, will give personal testimony to the power of prayer in my own life as well as the lives of many, many others.

Most recently, a study at Johns Hopkins University indicated that those patients who knew that people were praying for them saw an impact on the process of healing and recovery.

But, what is the political power of prayer?

Suddenly, prayer is all the rage in the halls of Congress and in the White House. The lines between the separation of church and state, a foundational principal of this country, have become fuzzy in this administration.

Indeed, with the alliance of the so-called conservatives, fundamentals and evangelicals in The Episcopal Church who are more than adequately funded by the IRD (Institute for Religion and Democracy), a very lucrative deal seems to have been stuck with the devil to “return this country to its Christian founding principles.”

The boundaries of the First Amendment are being sorely tested in Sussex County, DE. As a home owner in this county, as well as one who is deeply committed to personal prayer, I’ve been following the most recent test of this question – much less the test of my faith – with no small amount of interest.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s the situation: The Indian River School District, comprised of the towns of Selbyville, Frankford, Dagsboro, Gumboro, Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach , Ocean View, Millsboro and Georgetown, DE, have been embroiled in a tense argument about prayer in schools.

It all happened, innocently enough, at the June, 2004 graduation ceremony at Sussex Central High School. One graduating senior, Samantha Dobrich, who ranked academically fifth in her class and earned a letter as a member of the cross country ski team, sat quietly at her graduation as she listened to the closing invocation offered by Jerry Fike, pastor at Mt. Oliver Brethren church in Georgetown: “We pray that you direct them into the truth, and eventually the truth that comes by knowing Jesus.”

In that moment, Samantha Dobrich responded the way most Christian fundamentalists would want – she sat quietly and said nothing. But, she couldn’t stop listening. And, what she heard made her turn to her mother, Mona Dobrich, for solace.

Here’s her mother’s testimony at the July 27, 2004 meeting of the Indian River Board of Education.: “This past June, I attended my daughter’s graduation from Sussex Central High School. I listened as the pastor led the crowd in prayer. I looked down to see my daughter searching for my face in the crowd. It was in her eyes, and I saw it: The pain that comes from being made to feel like an outsider.”

Mona, who also graduated from Sussex Central High School, and her husband, Marco, saw Fike’s prayer as part of a pattern of district support of Christianity. They and an anonymous family sued Indian River School District in U.S. District Court in Wilmington in February, 2005, eight months after the graduation ceremony and after, the lawsuit says, the district consistently refused to respond to their concerns.

Indeed, every indication is that the district continues to open each session with prayer – with specific references to Jesus and without apology – citing that all ten of the School Board members are Christian.

Included as plaintiffs in the suit are Samantha’s brother, Alexander “Alex” Dobrich, 13, who attended North Georgetown Elementary, also part of Indian River, and the anonymous family’s two children, both students in the district. According to Willmington Attorney Thomas Allingham, who is representing the families, the one couple chose to remain anonymous because they were afraid of reprisal from the community.

Apparently, with good cause.

That lawsuit and another lawsuit stemming from it are still pending. Those battles continue.

But, many residents of the Indian River School District are gearing up for an even longer and far-reaching battle, for what they see as the very soul of Sussex County. They see this as a battle for the survival, even, of the United States itself. (Sound even vaguely familiar?)

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says the Rev. David Bennett of the Church of Christ in Dagsboro, who has led the singing of hymns at school board meetings. (! ! !)

“There are a number of organizations out there, especially the American Civil Liberties Union, that are trying to change the American Christian view to an atheistic, godless world view. They don’t like Christians and they want to destroy Christianity.”

“We will not sit idly by and let this happen. The ACLU has had its best day.”

I could pull up quotes that would sound like verses three and four of the same hymn, written by the likes of David Anderson and Moderator Bob Duncan.

One verse begins: “Stand Firm.” The other begins: “Choose the day.”

It’s the dominant white, straight, Christian male paradigm writ large and it is feeling under attack by the progressive movement in this country. And, it is fighting back – well funded and well trained – armed and ready for a Christian jihad.

It is just as pernicious when applied to prayer in school as it is in the Episcopal Church in particular and the Anglican Communion in general.

Listen to this quote by Dr. Donald Hattier, a School Board member and chiropractor who answers “10-4!” when asked if he is a Christian, who often volunteers to offer the prayer at the start of School Board meetings.

“Praying is about giving yourself up, about saying, ‘I don’t know everything and please help me,’” he says. “It is about going above and beyond mere ego, about being willing to humble yourself.”

And, it works, he adds. “Look at the test scores in Indian River,” he says, “Look at the number of superior schools we have” – of the district’s 14 schools, 12 are rated superior, the state’s highest rating based on test scores; the other two are rated commendable, the second-highest rating – “and the number of Blue Ribbon schools” – schools recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for academic excellence or improvement. “We have done good, and part of that is because of prayer.”

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar to those of us who have been harangued by the “facts and figures” of the purported decline of membership in the Episcopal Church?

If I hear one more comment rubbing the face of the Episcopal Church in the “failure” of The Decade of Evangelism or 20/20, I think I’ll scream.

How could either of those two movements have found any success when there was a concerted effort to undermine or outright sabotage any success by the conservative-evangelical-orthodox group which is determined to destroy the Episcopal Church we know and love and turn it into the idol of their own worshipping?

As a poster I once saw in the early 80s proclaimed: Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” He didn’t say, “Count them.”

Since when does the efficacy of the Christian message need to be quantified?

Oh but wait! There’s more!

You’ll want to know about the Scripture wars. And, of course, there are Scriptural wars.

It’s not just about homosexuality, you know.

Bennett quotes Paul’s first letter to Timothy to prove his point: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of things, be made for all men; For kinds, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty . . . I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.”

But it is Tom Starnes of Rehoboth Beach, a retired United Methodist minister, who advised those who advocate public prayer to read Jesus’ Sermon on the mount according to Matthew: “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men . . . But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

“Public prayer in general bothers me,” says Starnes. “People feel that school prayer in particular has a magical quality, that it can lend dignity to any event. Folks who wear their religions on their sleeves should ask themselves, have they fed the hungry? Clothed the naked? Visited prisoners in jail? Those are the things Jesus wanted us to do.”

Public prayer in general does not bother me.

Bigotry and prejudice in the guise of prayer does.

Oppression masquerading as Christian triumphalism and chauvinism does.

Using the charade of pious humility (“Praying is about giving yourself up . ..” quote Dr. Hattier above ) and then saying, “well, if you don’t like it here, go someplace else” does.

Attacking civil rights, religious freedom and the separation of church and state guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States in the name of “the war against terrorism” does.

Likewise, I am deeply, deeply troubled by an attack on the unfolding and continual revelation of God’s presence in scripture in the name of a defense against heresy.

Throughout this entire ordeal, the Dobrich family became increasingly isolated, the suit says. People “told the Dobriches that Sussex County was a Christian community and that if they did not like it, they should just move away.” (Sound familiar? How about ‘walk together or walk apart’?)”

“Alex’s schoolmates openly teased him, calling him ‘Jew boy.’” (Don’t get me started.)

Alex became increasingly fearful, the suit says. “The slightest unfamiliar noise terrified him, “the suit alleges. “He began to sleep in his mother’s room. Although he wore his yarmulke in his mother’s car, he would snatch it off his head whenever he spotted a police officer for fear that the officer would see it and pull the car over.”

Late in the summer of 2004, 13 year old Alex Dobrich and his mother left their home in Sussex County and moved to a rented apartment in Willmington. Alex now attends a private school in Pennsylvania.

I’m going to give Alex the final word.

At the August 24, 2004 school board meeting, after his mother spoke, Alex stood up to address the board. A person in the crowd – a school board supporter – saw Alex standing and, according to the lawsuit, shouted at him, “Take your yarmulke off!”

Alex, “attempted to speak but could not,” the complaint continues. “Samantha stood up, put her arm around him and read his prepared statement to the board:

My name is Alex Dobrich. I am in the sixth grade. I have gone to Indian River School District all of my life. I like it here and I like my neighbors. They are from Italy. They do not care that I am different. When they were sick my mom made them chicken soup.”

“Everyone should just try and do what we do. Just be nice to each other. It is fun to learn how different people do things. Please think about this when you plan things at school. People pray at home and in their head. That is what I do. Please follow the law.”

Can I get an ‘Amen’?

Note: Various local Delaware and Sussex County newspaper articles from a wide variety of sources were used in this essay.

Monday, August 28, 2006


When maintaining a spiritual discipline of daily prayer, it is important that the prayers remain fresh and from the heart, rather than stale and rote.

While I love the Book of Common Prayer, the Daily Offices can get dry and dull after a few years. So, I use a variety of sources, including the Roman Breviary, the Taize Office, and Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours."

My beloved, who is even more deeply committed to daily prayer than I, has been using "Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community."

She came to me this morning, and said: You have to read this. She is almost always right (but please, please, please don't tell her I said that).

And so I did. And so she was.

Here, read this:

Celtic Daily Prayer
Pelagius (c. 350 – 418): August 28, 2006

(NOTE: This can also be appropriately entitled: “How history repeats itself because people forget their own history and because history is written by the victors.”)

We have chosen to mark Pelagius’ memory on the feast day normally assigned to Augustine of Hippo, who did so much to malign Pelagius and who is the source of many erroneous teachings and emphases that still dog Christian thinking today.

Pelagius was a British theologian, teacher, writer and soul-friend who settled in Rome. He was highly spoken of at first – even by Augustine. He taught about the value of soul-friendship. He celebrated the fact that the goodness of God cries out through all of creation, for ‘narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth.’

But soon he was criticized for teaching women to read Scripture, and for believing that the image of God is present in every new-born child, and that sex is a God-given aspect of our essential creation. He did not deny the reality of evil or its assault on the human soul, or the habitual nature of sin. Augustine’s own peculiar ideas were in stark contrast, seeing humanity as essentially evil, and polluted by the sexual activity which causes conception to occur.

Augustine tried twice in 415 to have him convicted of heresy – on both occasions Pelagius was exonerated in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops convened two diocesan councils to condemn him and Celestius, another Celt. In 417 the Bishop of Rome called a synod to consider the conflict, and declared Pelagius’ teaching entirely true, and urged the African bishops to love peace, prize love, and seek after harmony.

They ignored this, and in 418 they persuaded the State to intervene and banish Pelagius from Rome for disturbing the peace. The Church then was obliged to uphold the Emperor’s judgment, and excommunicated and banished him, though no reasons were made clear. He returned to Wales, probably to the monastery of Bangor.

Two centuries later all the same ideas were still to be found in Celtic Christianity. History is written by the victors, so most reports of what Pelagius said are given from Augustine’s viewpoint, not in his own balanced and sensible words. He was also criticized for being a big, enthusiastic man, stupid from eating porridge and over-confident in his own strength, and for wearing his hair in an inappropriate style!

Psalm 148:9-14 Daniel 3:19-25 Luke 6:20-23

O ye larks that carol in the heavens,
O ye blackbirds that pipe at the dawning,
O ye pipits and wheatears,
O ye warblers and wrens that make
The glens joyful with song,
O ye bees that love the heather,
Bless ye the Lord.
O ye primroses and bluebells,
O ye flowerets that gem the marsh with colour
O ye golden flags that deck Columba’s
Bay with glory, bless ye the Lord.
O ye piled rocks fashioned by Nature’s
Might thro’ myriad ages,
O ye majestic Bens of Mull,
O ye white sands and emerald shallows
O ye blue and purple deeps of ocean,
O ye winds and clouds, bless ye the Lord.
O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the
Lord, praise (Her) and magnify (Her)
for ever.
E.D. Sedding

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Earth Moving Day

The New York Times (08 26 06) headline read: CLERGY WOMEN FIND HARD PATH TO BIGGER PULPIT

It was, of course, no surprise, but it was still startling. Earlier that morning, a friend had tipped me off to a very conservative Episcopal blogsite which had posted the service of celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women which Marge Christie, Janet Brocklesby and I had put together for the Diocese of Newark.

It had been posted on the EWC (Episcopal Women's Caucus) web page and "discovered" by one of their members who often 'troll' (see my essay "Bottom Feeding") for whatever they consider fodder to fuel their distress and as evidence that the progressive path being followed by The Episcopal Church is "walking away" from the rest of the Anglican Communion.

It should probably come as a surprise that the person who "found" the liturgy which was excoriated on that blogsite as something close to neo-pagan, was a woman. Indeed, while the overwhelming majority of the commentators were men who oppose the ordination of women, there were several other women whose anger was palpable.

It's called "oppression sickness." It's a bit like "Stockholm syndrome" wherein the survivor begins to have a close bond with their captors.

It all reminded me of an essay I wrote about my own path to ordination, and what I have learned, on my journey, about oppression and how it makes us all sick.

Here it is.

On July 29, the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany, Episcopalians will note - some with great joy and a small remnant with chagrin - the thirtieth anniversary of the ordination of women. It was, as one of the eleven women "irregularly" ordained that day called it, "an earth-moving day." As memories of that day surface, it continues to be so.

On July 28, 1974, the news came to me as if from outer space. There, on the front page of the New York Times, the headlines called to me from the steps of my comfortable suburban home. Eleven women had been ordained by three retired bishops at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. I remember reading the story with a mixture of intense curiosity and foreboding. Women? Priests? Impossible! Foolish! I crumpled up the paper and threw it in the trash.

When I had finished reading the story I remember feeling inexplicably but undeniably angry. I was a very unhappy housewife, mother of two small children, and a miserably lapsed, spiritually malnourished Roman Catholic. On the surface, the story had nothing to do with my reality. So, why was I so angry? I wouldn't know the answer to that question until I, myself, was preparing to preside at my first Eucharist as a woman ordained priest.

I was six or seven years old when Sr. Mary Augustine, asked the First Communion Class of St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, what we wanted to be when we grew up. She was "fishing for vocations," as I later learned it was called, looking to find the boy she could refer to "Father" and the girl she could recommend to "Mother" to begin cultivating them as the priests and nuns of the future.

It was the fifties and gender role stereotypes were already firmly embedded in our cultural psyche. All the boys wanted to be doctors and lawyers, and all the girls wanted to be nurses and teachers. Except me. I knew clearly what I wanted to be and said so boldly and clearly when it came my turn to be asked.

"I'm going to be a priest!" I said, distressed at the wave of giggles that seemed to set off among my peers. Sr. Augustine joined them in the way adults laugh and you know it really isn't funny. "No, dear," she said gently but in an undeniably condescending way, "Only boys can become priests. Girls become nuns."

"But, I want to be a priest," I insisted. Sister began to look annoyed, which was blood on the water to the shark children in my class. "No, no." Sister intoned as if to a small child, incapable of understanding the simplest concepts. "Boys are priests. Girls are nuns."

"But, I'm going to be a priest," I said, with the resolve of innocence born of belief in possibility. Sister's face turned red with anger and the class fell suddenly silent. Wagging her finger inches from my face, she said forcefully, "You are never to say that again! You will NOT become a priest." Then, moving her face close to mine she raised her voice and said, "Do you understand?"

I do not know where the words came from, but as they made their way out of my mouth, they strengthened my body to stand firm, and locked my eyes to hers as I said, slowly and clearly, "You. Can't. Stop. Me." The response was swift and wordless. Whap! Sister slapped me across the face. Hard. And that was the end of that.

I went home and told my mother who shrugged and said, "Well, what did you expect? Never disobey Sister, ever again." And, I never did.

I didn't remember that experience until years later. I was ordained to the priesthood on the Feast of St. Luke, October 18, 1986. The next day, I was to complete my ordination by presiding at my very first Mass at the Church of St. John the Evangelist on Bowdoin Street in Boston where I had been seminarian and deacon. It was the custom in that church that, at the passing of the Peace, the priest, deacon and altar party went down both sides of the aisle to greet people, ending at the back of the church where they then lead the Offertory procession back to the altar.

As I turned around and made ready to make my way to the altar to preside at my first Eucharist, the memory of that encounter came cascading in front of my eyes like the flipping pages of a photograph album. I had a crystal clear image of Sr. Mary Augustine's face, red with anger, just inches from my own. And, I heard myself say, "You can't stop me."

If there was a moment of victory, it was so fleeting that I missed it completely. Instead, another image intruded on the scene. There I was, an unhappy, spiritually depleted young woman, reacting in anger to the ordination of the women who became known as "The Philadelphia Eleven." I began to weep as my heart flooded with understanding - and forgiveness.

I came to understand something about the nature of oppression. Rather than extending invitation, it creates wedges. Frustration and anger are the forces that drive the victim down into the apex of its cuneiform shape, dividing and ultimately conquering any who challenge the status quo. My anger had been no different than that of Sr. Augustine, and I was compelled to forgive her if I was going to find forgiveness for myself. That forgiveness led me to an important insight: my ordination would never be complete as long as any woman anywhere was being denied the opportunity to fulfill her vocational call in the institutional church.

It is said that whenever a decision is made to end violence, something in the cosmos shifts. On July 29, 1974, Alla Renee Bozarth, one of the eleven women ordained that day wrote, "The earth-moving day is here." A generation and a half of women who have followed her live and know that to be true.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Root of War is Fear

This essay from Sojourner’s Magazine is about the war in the Middle East.

It seems to me that the root of all wars - including the the present theological wars in the Anglican Communion - is the same.

'Fear Not!' for 'The Root of War Is Fear'
by Timothy Seidel (8-23-2006)

Every Thursday at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, staff members hold a simple communion service. During this service, instead of delivering a sermon, Sabeel's director Rev. Naim Ateek offers a few reflections on the day's texts and encourages the rest of us to do the same. Specifically, Ateek challenges us to reflect on scripture in the context of the situation that surrounds us, seeking to hear the word that God has for those suffering under the weight of violence, oppression, and injustice.

One of the texts read this past Thursday was from the gospel of Mark. In it, Jesus goes to meet his disciples on the Sea of Galilee, offering the words of comfort that are repeated time and time again in the gospels: "Do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50).
"Do not be afraid." How appropriate right now. These words brought me immediately to another reflection that is all too relevant. It was written by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, many years ago and titled "The Root of War Is Fear" (from New Seeds of Contemplation). Merton wrote: "At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. ... They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God."

The allusions to idolatry are all too clear. This conclusion for Merton means that we no longer are able to take a look at our own selves, at the evil in our own hearts, and instead project out onto those "others" all the evil that we cannot honestly deal with. Merton says we begin to obsess with evil and drive ourselves mad to the point where "there is no outlet left but violence." "By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomentor of all conflict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war."

This fear prevents us from grasping the realization that we all have sins in need of atonement, faults and limitations, greed and self-righteousness. Realizing the subjective demands that are placed squarely on our shoulders should also move us to the realization that any prayer for peace must be consistent with our actions toward peace. Again, Merton: "It does not even seem to enter our minds that there might be some incongruity in praying to the God of peace, the God Who told us to love one another as He had loved us, Who warned us that they who take the sword will perish by it, and at the same time planning to annihilate not thousands but millions of civilians, soldiers, men, women, and children, without discrimination, even with the almost infallible certainty of inviting the same annihilation for ourselves!"

These words are a sharp indictment, especially for those of us from the U.S. where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year on the weapons of war and destruction, and from where billions of dollars are sent to the state of Israel for the same purpose - including a recent shipment of arms from the U.S. to Israel at the height of Israel's offensives into Gaza and Lebanon (see "U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis").

In this part of the world, Merton's words about the root of war take on an especially deeper meaning. The British journalist Robert Fisk, who has lived in and reported from the Middle East for more than 20 years, talks about war in a similar vein as "the total failure of the human spirit":

"If you go to war, you realize it is not primarily about victory or defeat, it is about death and the infliction of death and suffering on as large a scale as you can make it. It is about the total failure of the human spirit. We don't show that because we don't want to. And in this sense journalists, television reporting, television cameras are lethal. They collude with governments to allow you to have more wars because if they showed you the truth, you wouldn't allow any more wars."
The words of Jesus to "not be afraid" are always challenging. Perhaps they seem most difficult because at their core, they form a call to repentance, a call to turn away from the illusions of self-sustainability and self-righteousness, the idolatry of war and violence, to hear the gospel's call to conversion to a life modeled by the self-giving love of Jesus.

It is a subjective demand calling us, as Merton tells it, to a love and a humility that "can exorcise the fear which is at the root of all war."
"So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorders in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another."

Earlier this week, at an Ecumenical Service of Prayer in Jerusalem that was sponsored by Sabeel and included representatives from a number of the church traditions in Palestine, we gathered to remember and to pray for all those suffering during this difficult time. For the gospel reading, we heard from John and again I heard the challenging yet comforting words of Jesus:

"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 " (John 14:27).

"Do not let them be afraid." As the situation worsens in Lebanon, northern Israel, and in Gaza - a place many have forgotten - may we examine our own lives and seek the humility and the love "that casts out fear" (1 John 4:18) and continue to pray for the displaced, the injured, and the mourning who are living in areas that are being subjected daily to heavy shelling and experiencing great fear.

Timothy Seidel is a peace development worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where he has lived for the past two years.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Myth of Common Prayer

This essay was originally published in The Witness Online Magazine ( on March 17, 2005.

As I continue to reflect on the vast differences between those who sit on the Left and Right side of the pews in The Episcopal Church - it occurs to me that this little essay is still very timely.

By the way, while strolling down memory lane, I happened on this picture of me presiding at Eucharist at King's College in London at the "Not-yet-ready-for-Lambeth" Conference sponsored by LGCM.

This photo was from the London paper, THE GUARDIAN. Finally, they had a face to put on a label, and they just didn't know what to do with me. ("Have a look at this, Madge. She looks rather normal, doesn't she? Two eyes, one nose . . . Fancy that!")

You can just imagine the headlines! Imagine! Little me, part of a "vast Left wing sinsiter plot" to bring down the Church of England.

The British don't get their knickers in a bind very often, so when they do, they don't do it well at all.

The year was 1998. The next Lambeth Conference is scheduled for 2008 - to which we may or may not be invited.

We still may not yet be ready for Lambeth. Or, more specifically, they for us.

As my friend and brother, Louie Crew, always says, "Joy Anyway!"

I've been beside myself trying to figure out why the primates of the Global South do not understand our position in the Episcopal Church (USA). For the life of me, I'm certain that I do not understand their position.

Definitions of "conservative" vs. "liberal," "orthodox" vs. "progressive," and "moderate" vs. "everything else" are also part of it, but of all the various and sundry components, this simply fails to take in the scope of the difficulty.

Part of it is, to be sure, the vast, almost cavernous differences in various social structures. One part is the enormous difference in our polity. Another part is the sharp differences in our cultures, and as much as the evangelicals lament of this (they who have "praise music" which sounds like modern, cultural music with religious lyrics), how that informs our understanding of church.

This Lent, as I've used Rite I at the 8 a.m. and Rite II at 10 a.m. services in my parish, I've come to understand what I've begun to call the myth of common prayer, which, I believe is at the core of all of that which confuses and complicates the tension in our church.

To understand this, we need to return to General Convention, 1949. A clerical deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem presented a resolution asking the national church to design a church sign which would help new post-World War II families -- rugged individuals enthusiastically developing the new frontier of suburbia and planned communities -- to find a local Episcopal Church.

The resolution passed handily and by 1951, the now recognizable signs, bearing the Episcopal Shield, began to make their appearance on Main Streets and neighborhoods across the country. The slogan, of course: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!"
It's been a slippery slope ever since.

By the late 1960s, a cartoon appeared in The New Yorker magazine. The Rev'd Very Dignified is standing in front of Church of the Fashionable Redeemer greeting two "Bluehairs." The caption read: "But, Sir, anyone who NEEDS to be an Episcopalian already IS!"

The church was not untouched by the various revolutions -- cultural, sexual, racial, gender, political and liturgical -- swirling about during those years. Flags and draft cards and bras burned while tempers flared. By the late '60s and into the mid-'70s we had "experimental" books of fairly uncommon prayer -- all of which seemed to express liturgically what our church signs proclaimed.

The Two Great Sacraments -- Baptism and Eucharist -- were restored to primacy in the "new" 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which also featured the return of the Great Vigil of Easter. The priest was to face the people during the Eucharistic Prayer -- of which there were now six: Prayer I and II in Rite I and in Rite II, Prayers A (most like the 1928 BCP version), B (most like the Roman Catholic rite), C (most liked by evangelicals) and D (most like the Orthodox rite) -- insuring that the Episcopal Church, in word and deed, welcomed YOU -- from wherever you had ventured in to find us.

There were other significant changes -- including the radical notion of italicizing pronoun usage for humankind, suggesting the even more radical notion that women were actually present in the community and that God (and they) might actually be pleased to have women addressed with pronouns of corresponding gender assignment -- but for the sake of brevity, I'll end the discussion here.

Suffice it to say, I now understand the hue and cry from the folks who wanted to keep their liturgy straight-up 1928 BCP. We were not only shifting our images of God, but our understanding of our relationship with each other and God through Christ Jesus.

The point is that the guiding principal of our Anglican liturgy has done its work. "Lex orendi, lex credendi." "We pray what we believe." And, we have come to know what we believe by what we pray.

I think it's a safe bet to say that we know our Baptismal Covenant better than other denomination. As I look around my congregation, I can attest to the fact that we are becoming the variety of our Eucharistic Prayers. We are the incarnation of our slogan: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Well, at least liturgically -- and in some places.

So, here's my question (well, it's not "mine" actually. I seem to remember Bishop Barbara Harris asking it at Lambeth 1998): What did YOU do with all your 1928 prayer books when we made the switch way back in 1979? I'm willing to bet that some of you sent yours to places in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, last time I was in England, they didn't use the American BCP. And, when I was in Ghana, they used their own "common prayer" book.

Think about that for one red-hot second, and tell me again why you are surprised that other parts of the Anglican Communion, who don't pray as we do, also don't understand what we did at General Convention 2003. Why am I surprised that I don't understand the primates?

Despite the cultural and linguistic differences which divide us -- and they are significant -- there are even more significant theological differences which undermine our unity. Not only do we have different ways of interpreting scripture, here's the truth of it, straight away: We do not worship the same images of God.

Read the Eucharistic Prayers in Rite I and then consider the image of God to whom you are praying. Now read the Eucharistic Prayers in Rite II and consider the image of God reflected in those prayers. Now, compare Rite I and II.

Got the picture? Do the same with prayer books from other countries and you begin to catch a glimmer of how deeply we have already been divided.

Homosexuality is not the issue. Authority is not the issue. The difference in our interpretation of scripture is not even the issue. Like the aftermath of an earthquake, these are simply the visible eruptions -- the fault lines -- of the shifts in the foundational strata in the depths of our denominational underground.

The most serious threat to the unity of the Anglican Communion is not "the homosexual menace." Rather it is this: the myth of common prayer. Explore that myth, and we may have a chance of explaining -- and understanding -- each other when the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) gathers together in June.

Even so, at the end of a long day tenaciously held together by a string of uncommon, individual prayers, I still believe that what unites us is greater than that which divides us.

And that one great instrument of unity would by Christ Jesus.

Published by The Witness (, March 17, 2005.
Original article | Contents

Monday, August 21, 2006

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love

Not long before Abigayle arrived, Mackenna Jane said to me, “Nana, if Mommy has a boy, his name will be Liam or Jake. But, if she has a girl, her name is going to be Abigayle.”

“Ah,” I said, “And what do you think of those names?”

“Well,” she considered carefully, “I like Jake better than Liam.” “Mm hmm,” I said, trying to sound non-committal, although I tended to agree with her.

Hearing that, she rushed to add, “But, I could live with either one.” “Right, of course you could,” I said, adding, “Both names are really lovely, don’t you think?”

“But, Nana,” she breathed all excited, “Don’t you think Abigayle is the most BE-YOUTIFUL name in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD?”

Something in her voice told me that this almost 5 year old was setting me up.

Sibling rivalry, I’m convinced, begins in the womb. There’s a reason we all laughed at Tommy Smothers’ lament. No matter the circumstance, his reliable retort would always be: “Yeah . . . Well . . . Mom always liked you best!” Like Jacob and Esau, one sibling seems always to be grabbing the heel of the other in order to be first, despite the birth order.

Psychologists and social scientists have recently claimed that, even more so than parents, it is our relationship with our siblings that has the most influence on our development as whole human beings. Indeed, birth order in relationship to our siblings seems to exert a greater impact on the formation of our personalities – and that continues to influence everything from the life partners we choose, to the career choices we make.

In an odd sort of way, my grandmother had the most influence on my development as a child precisely because of this. We lived on the second floor of a tenement house owned by my grandparents. My parents were married two months before my father went off to fight in the Pacific Front in World War II, which delayed the start of their family by three years.

When he returned from The Great War, my parents set out to achieve their share of The Great American Dream. Life then seemed to be lived in chapters which began with titles like that. There was time to “Start your family,” and “Get a car” so you could “Move to the suburbs.”

My parents lived fully into those chapters of life. I was the first born – the mild disappointment that the first was not a male (which was how it was supposed to be) was overcome by the very fact of my healthy birth.

My mother’s first pregnancy was, tragically, stillborn. This was quickly followed by a miscarriage. The doctor advised my parents to wait a year before attempting another pregnancy, which they did reluctantly. There was now a five year delay in this chapter of their life. You can still hear the anxiety in my mother’s eighty-two year old voice when she retells the story.

When I was born, there was great rejoicing in the small Portuguese-American community where I lived. Everyone, I’m told, had joined in a weekly novena to the Blessed Mother as well as St. Joseph, the patron saint of families, and St. Gerard, the patron saint of infertility. The effect was like an all-points bulletin to the cosmos to bring a healthy child to this couple. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was wanted and loved and prayed into being even before I was conceived.

I’ve always loved that story. For me, it is a story of being loved unconditionally. It is a story of how we live out and into God’s unconditional love for us. Years later, when I felt like a motherless child and a childless mother, I clung to that story. Indeed, I do believe that story saved my life.

Having achieved success, my parents wasted no time in living into the next chapter of their life by creating their “Perfect Family: Four Wonderful Children.” Well, there’s a story in that chapter I’ll save for another time. Needless to say, my parents had three more children, each approximately 22 months apart.

With each birth, each one of us felt the sting of sibling rivalry – each in our own way. My sister Madeline held the spotlight for 22 months, but I retained a share of it as “The Big Sister.” We both lost it, oh cruel fate, to the birth of my brother, John. “The Little Prince,” we called him through clenched teeth, which you can faintly detect when you look at family photographs.

We never had a chance to shine in the enormous shadow cast by this firstborn son. You might have thought the heir of Jesus had arrived to usher in the Second Coming. You can imagine my sister’s and my delight when our “Baby Sister,” Diane arrived, right on schedule, 22 months later.

What rapidly developed was a pecking order of distinction. I was “The Oldest.” John was “The Son/Sun.” And, Diane was “The Baby,” (who still bears that distinction even now, in her 50s). The only one who really suffered was my sister, Madeline, who seemed to glory (still, to this day), in whatever attention she could get, which was mostly negative.

This did not escape the attention of my grandmother who lived just downstairs. She had had twenty pregnancies and twenty-two children, having seen fifteen to adulthood, earning her no small amount of expertise in sibling rivalry, among other important matters, to be sure.

Seeing that the rivalry was most intense between my sister Madeline and me, my grandmother took to inviting me downstairs to be with her. This suited us just fine. I gloried in my time alone with her and my sister became, in my absence, “The Big Sister.”

I arose at the crack of dawn to be with my VaVoa (Portuguese for Grandmother), usually in time to find her sitting at the kitchen table, still in her nightgown, combing out her waist-length hair, and then braiding it into a long strand which she wrapped expertly around and around at the back of her head until a beautiful braided bun appeared. I studied her carefully as her fingers moved quickly and expertly, but watching that braided bun appear will always be my first experience of magic and mystery.

It was then off to daily mass and communion where I had already memorized the Latin. While other little girls set up their dolls for Tea Parties, I set up altars and fed them communion from the crust saved from my morning toast. My mother says I knew every word in Latin. You can still hear the pride in her voice when she says that.

It was my grandmother who loved me unconditionally. She was a source of solace and strength to me. When Mother was busy with the little ones, I could always rely on a hug from my VaVoa, or an assignment that she had saved just for me, that only I could do, which made me feel useful and productive and important.

My grandmother was my first understanding of God – of God’s unconditional love. Of God’s unique vocational call which is individual and distinct. Of the solace and strength which we derive from our relationship with God.

I think Carter Heyward is absolutely right: Our most intimate relationships are a reflection of our relationship with God. And, our relationship with God is reflected in our most intimate relationships.

I suppose I had all this in mind in my conversation with my firstborn Granddaughter.

“Abigayle is a beautiful name,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s the most beautiful name in the whole world.”

“Really?” she asked, a note of genuine surprise in her voice. “What is the most beautiful name in the whole world, Nana.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” I said, “The first time I heard it, I knew it was the most beautiful name that made the most beautiful sound in the whole wide world. Do you know what that name is?”

She shook her head, her eyes wide with expectation.

“MacKenna Jane,” I said truthfully. I said it again, savoring the sound, remembering the first time I heard it and understanding.

“Really?” asked MacKenna.

“Really!” I said. “It’s the name that told me that I was really a ‘Nana’. It’s the name that told me that, as much as I loved your mother, there was room in my heart to love someone I hadn’t even met. It’s the name that told me that one circle of life had closed so another circle could begin.”

MacKenna looked deep into my eyes and, not really understanding everything I had said, but seeing the unconditional love there, melted into my arms as she said, ““Oh, Nana! I love you!”

You know, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

BTW: That picture is of MacKenna Jane in her "wight up Cindawewwa cwown." You can't see it, but she also has on her "wight up Cindawewwa neckwace."

Yeah, well, get over it! Haven't you heard? Grandmothers are naturally obnoxious.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sweet Woman

I have come to know that circles define the spiritual path of my life.

To be even more precise, as I look over the landscape of my life and plot it out, it begins to look more and more like a DNA molecule: circles folding in on itself, making it difficult to know where one begins and where the other ends, but with a logic and a pattern all its own, progressing always to new life, new growth, with an evolution of an “intelligent design” all its own..

Friday night at the Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was one of those spiritual circles that closed in on itself even as it began another concentric circle with an energy all its own, and yet, part of the energy of the w/hole/y.

On the evening of August 18th, part of our family – two of our daughters, Ms. Conroy and I – attended the 30th Anniversary tour of “The Changer and The Changed” by Cris Williamson.

I can hear those of you who know Cris’ music cheering wildly – and, understanding deeply.

Those of you who don’t: pay attention. What follows is one part history lesson in feminism, one part feminist spiritual narration, and one part family memoir.

The first time I heard Cris Williamson I actually got weak in the knees. It was 1976. Her music was playing on radio station WBZ in Boston, MA, and the DJ said that they were going to play the song, “Sweet Woman” despite the protests they had been getting from the heavily Roman Catholic population of Boston.

The words, a poem written by Jennifer Wysong, were simple enough:

“Sweet woman, risin’ inside my glow I think I’m missin’ you / Sing to me them soft words, takin’ me to your secret / Letting me know, taking me in, you let it all go.

Oh the warmth, surrounding me / This night is starin’ at me / Oh the warmth, surrounding me / It just won’t let me be, just won’t let me be.

A little passage of time ‘till I hold you and you’ll be mine

Sweet woman, risin’ so fine.”

Nothing risqué. Just a beautiful love song to a woman, right?

Except, the lyrics were written by a woman, and the music was written and sung with exquisite beauty by another woman, one Ms. Cris Williamson.


It was the shot not heard round the world which erupted in another circle of the revolution that was the Feminist Movement which had begun in the late 50’s with the publication of “The Feminist Mystique” by Betty Freidan.

We had all been previously warned by Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me roar!” This was, however, not a roar. It was decidedly sensuous and sensual and . . . well, as you can tell, elegantly, delicately, exquisitely sexual.

‘Roar’ they could take. “I am woman, hear me purr,” was way too hot – most especially for cool New England sensibilities – and neo-Puritanical susceptibilities everywhere.

Cris’ music was banned from radio stations from Boston to Baton Rouge. We’ll have none of that “Femi-Nazi” stuff polluting our airways and influencing our children, thank you very much.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I remember when the Everly Brothers, “Wake up a little Suzy” was banned from the airways for being “too suggestive.”

These were the offending lyrics:

“The movie wasn’t so hot / It didn’t have much of a plot / Wake up a little Suzy /It’s four o’clock and our reputation is shot / Wake up a little Suzy.”

It was a wake up call, not just for “a little Suzy” but for an entire generation of people who had previously equated the sexually suggestive music known as “rock ‘n roll” with people of color.

It was one thing for sexuality to be encapsulated in racism. In this moment of time, it was exploding into the mainstream. With the music of Chris Williamson, Margie Adams, and Meg Christianson, now playing on the airways, it was being relocated in sexism and heterosexism.

And, the world, much to the chagrin of the dominant male paradigm, didn’t like it.

And, it would never be the same.

It needs to be said, however, that the power of Cris Williamson’s music was – and remains, thirty years later – not about sexuality.

‘Lest you dismiss it, let me hasten to say that it isn’t just about being a lesbian. Cris’ music and words are about the essence of what it means to be woman.

It is about the power of the voice of women. It is about the soul of women – our unique voice, our distinctive perspective, our inimitable style.

Finally, finally, with Cris’ music, someone has given voice to our view of the world and it is – even thirty years later – essentially different. It is radically relational. And it is deeply, deeply spiritual.

Listen to her words from “One of the Light”:

“Wandering around in my feelings, so many ties to my heart / So many things I care for, so many left behind.

Watching for phantom travelers / Finding my way in the night / Oh tell me, what is the name of this place / and where is the one of the light? / Where is the one of the light?

Where is the light, oh where is the light? / Where is the light, have you seen the light? / Where is the light, the one of the light? / Where is the light?

Magnetic true-north, show me your face / It’s only the shadows I’m sure of / It’s been so long now, and I’ve lost my place / And there’s still no sign of the dove / Where can she be, where can she be, where can she be?

Wandering around in my feelings, so many ties to my heart / So many things I care for, so many left behind, so many left behind.”

The healing balm came unexpectedly, however, in the second set, dedicated in its entire to the music of that first album, “The Changer and the Changed.”

We have, my daughters, Ms. Conroy and I, been deeply grieving the loss of our daughter and sister, Jaime who died December 2, 2004, too soon, too soon, at the age of 33. Her loss has framed our lives and many of the choices we’ve made – and several we haven’t – ever since. The edges of our lives have been ragged and raw. Essential, deep conversations have been stunted and stilled. We have been on “pause” – waiting for the healing necessary to take another deep breath, so necessary for the continuity of the circle of life.

It came in the midst of the last song: “Song of the Soul,” which we sang together from depths of our souls we didn’t even know existed:

“Open mine eyes that I may see / Glimpses of truth thou hast for me / Open mine eyes, illumine me / Spirit divine.

Love of my life, I am crying, I am not dying, I am dancing / Dancing along in the madness, there is no sadness / Only a song of the soul

And we’ll sing this song, why don’t you sing along / And we can sing for a long, long time. / Why don’t you sing this song, why don’t you sing along / And we can sing for a long, long time.

What do you do for a living? / Are you forgiving, giving shelter? / Follow your heart, love will find you, truth will unbind you / Sing out a song of the soul

(Chorus) Come to your life like a warrior, nothin’ will bore yer / You can be happy / Let in the light it will heal you, and you can feel you / And sing out a song of the soul"

And we did – sing out a song of the soul from the broken, sad places of our souls, crying tears of healing waters and hope for the future without the light of her life shining in our lives.

Later, Julie took a picture of “our family” with Cris, who kept looking at us with an amused but confused smile, saying, “That’s my family. Didn’t we do a good job raising them?”

Oh, my dear, Sister, Cris, you’ll never know. You’ll never know.

A circle of our life completed itself that night. Like a strand of DNA, life began calling to life.

In the words of the Psalmist: “One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts;”

Or, as the Psalmist, Cris Williamson, would sing,

“Sometimes, it takes a rainy day / Just to let you know everything’s gonna be alright.

When you open your life to the living, all things come spilling in on you And you’re flowing like a river, the Changer and the Changed / You got to spill some over, spill some over, spill some over, over all.

Filling up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall / Filling up and spilling over, over all / Filling up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall / Filling up and spilling over, over all.”

Amen. Amen, my sister. And again, I say, I Amen.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Abigail Painter Hamilton

I was “fighting the good fight” in Columbus and missed the retirement party for Abby Hamilton. Had I been there, I would have said this:

You only had to be with Abby a few minutes before her eyes would sparkle.

Before the sparkle, however, came the scrutiny.

She has this way of looking deep into your eyes which is momentarily disconcerting. ‘That look’, combined with her razor sharp wit and distinctive voice gone all gravely from years of “I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think-I-enjoy” smoking could wilt the knees of lesser beings in a flash. The encounter is made even more intense by the fact that she stands just a bit more than four foot something (okay, maybe five feet even).

The over-all effect is like standing in the presence of a small, tightly packed stick of TNT. You don't want to light a match or do anything to ignite a spark in her presence. But, in that moment of your vulnerability, she saw something about you – something real, something true – which was what she had been looking for in the first place. And then, her eyes would sparkle and you knew that she had seen the Christ in you and you were being bathed in the light of Christ in her.

Her pulpit told another story about Abby. Stuffed animals were stuffed to the brim on the shelf just below the surface of the pulpit. She used them to illustrate gospel stories for the children, but children of all ages came to understand the good news in a deeper way because of her creativity.

She was one of the first women to be ‘regularly’ ordained in the Diocese of Newark – I believe she was the third, being preceded by Nancy Wittig (one of the Philadelphia Eleven) and Martha Blacklock. When I asked her if she would preach for the 25th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women, she not only agreed, insisting that we invite Nancy and Martha to con-celebrate, but also invited everyone to come to the church where she was rector, Holy Innocents, in West Orange, where the gracious hospitality of her congregation was exceeded only by their fabulous cooking.

I had come to know that hospitality and cuisine when we worked together on the Search Committee to elect the 9th Bishop of Newark. Meeting weekly, the committee was, without fail, welcomed to a room filled with tables properly covered with table cloths, each adorned with a small vase of fresh cut flowers. No plastic for us, we were served properly with china and cutlery, each table complete with a carafe each of white and red wine, as well as water and soda.

So it was when the Women’s Commission gathered to celebrate the brave and bold event when eleven women, already ordained deacons in the church, gathered together at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia to be “irregularly” ordained as priests on July 29, 1974.

I have the Religion Section of the Washington Post, dated February 22, 1977, given to me by Kay and Joe Liedy, which hangs framed on my wall here at Llangollen. It was the year I was officially received as an Episcopalian at the Cathedral of St. Luke, Portland, Maine.

The headlines report the climate of those years far better than I ever could: “Hans Kung Says Christianity Obscures Christ.” “Catholic Bishops to Study Change in Communion.” “Evangelical Christians Claim Vast Growth in Numbers, Income.” “Nude Therapy Sessions Put (United Methodist) Minister on Leave of Absence.”

At the bottom of the page is a picture of a rather frail-looking Negro woman (as she preferred to be called). The headline reads: “First Negro Woman Priest Holds Service in N.C.” The story goes on to say that the Rev’d Dr. Pauli Murray had presided at worship and Service of Holy Communion in the very chapel where her grandmother had been a baptized as a slave in 1854.

It was then that I knew I had to be an Episcopalian. It was at such a time that Abby was ordained.

The institutional church had chosen to mark the anniversary of the ordination of women in accordance with when it begun to "regularly" ordain women in 1977 (General Convention had officially "regularized" the ordination of women at General Convention, September, 1976).

Not so in the Diocese of Newark where many of the ‘foremothers’ like Fran Trott, Marge Christie, and Page Bigalow, along with men like Bill Coats, Joe Liedy and a whole host of others whose identity escapes me now but whose names are written in the palm of God’s hand had labored long and hard to make the 1974 ordinations in Philadelphia become a reality.

When God calls you to labor in the vineyards of justice, you know when to celebrate.

Abby’s sermon that night was, simply, amazing. Her entire countenance sparkled with wisdom and wit as she spoke in that marvelous gravely voice – without notes, as I recall (always miraculous to me) – about how hard it had been to work for the ‘uniform’ of alb and stole and collar, as she slowly, carefully, reverently, as she spoke, took each one off, revealing the most important thing we bring to ministry: our baptized selves.

Of course, she had it right. I have come to know that Abby most always has it right.

Abby was one of my role models in urban ministry, she, like me, having been assigned in the early years of her ordination to a small inner city congregation which had fallen on hard times and where hers was often the only white face in a sea of color from Africa, the Caribbean, West Indies, and those African-Americans who had tenaciously survived the Newark Riots.

She didn’t do it the way the ‘boys’ did at the time – all vigorous program development through large church and government grants. She did congregational development the old fashioned way. She loved her people. And they loved her back. It’s a model I followed when God called me to work in Newark. I have found that it works well in the serious suburbs, as well. Miss this piece, and all the fancy congregational development programs in the world won’t do you a bit of good.

I don’t know that the Diocese of Newark yet understands the loss of Abby Hamilton in active, full time parochial ministry. These are rather strange times for us, intensified by a time of transition when we are, seven years later, in the process of electing the 10th Bishop of Newark.

Great hymns of praise will be sung about our departing bishop as well as the newly elected incoming bishop. And that will be as it should. Before I can add my voice to that great celebration, I need to sing the praises of a faithful daughter of the church and this diocese, who worked quietly and compassionately in the fields of justice – in the inner city of Newark as well as in the serious suburbs in the “church on the golf course.” She served the Diocese of Newark as well as the National Church, having been elected to serve on the Executive Council with then Presiding Bishop Ed Browning (who, like me, remains a loyal fan).

The Diocese of Newark will be a bit less bright without the constant presence of that sparkle in her eye. And yet, as she preached to us that night, it is the light of Christ which will continue to shine in and through her that will quietly and effectively carry on the important work of drawing people to come to know the Good News of Christ Jesus wherever she may be – and whatever new work of ministry she chooses in her. . . (ahem) . . . “retirement.” (If you're thinking Abby will simply fade away into the woods of Western NJ, well, think again.)

Thank you, Abby. From my heart, I thank you.

Let us join with God and Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all the angels and archangels, and the entire communion of saints who have been, are now and are yet to come, who sing their songs of praise and thanksgiving:

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight

Word has been received of the death of the Rev'd Dana Rose, first (and to my knowledge only, to date) honestly Gay Black man to be ordained priest in the Diocese of Newark, Saturday afternoon, August 12, 2006, at Mountainside Hospital, Glen Ridge, NJ, where he had been hospitalized for some time with complications due to hypertension and kidney failure.

It is reported that a memorial service will be held at Trinity and St. Phillips Cathedral in Newark, most likely in September.

Ms. Lyn Headley-Deavours and Deacon Cy Deavours, who have been ministering to Dana, are working with Dana's family, all of whom live out of town, to arrange a date.

It was my honor and privilege to sponsor Dana for ordination when I was Priest in Charge of House of Prayer in Newark, NJ. He had tried to be ordained in two diocese prior to Newark, but had been turned down. No one wanted to deal with an 'out gay' priest - much less an 'out gay' Black man in the late '70s. The paucity of Black priests in the Episcopal Church, much less honestly gay Black priests, would cause one to believe that we have not made the progress we'd like to think we have.

He did not wait for the church to provide him with a ministry or sanction his vocation. For many years, he did important works of ministry as an Counselor and Educator working with people with addictions and HIV/AIDS and later, as Multicultural and Diversity Trainer at the LGBT Center in New York City.

Dana and I worked together when I was Canon Missioner to The Oasis, doing Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Training. He picked up a lot of flack from both the Black and Progressive community for not doing "just" Anti-Racism training.

He remained firmly convinced that racism could not be effectively dismantled unless you started where people lived AND placed it within the spectrum of prejudice and oppression.

It was he who first said to me, "There is no hierarchy of prejudice and oppression."

He also coined the phrase, "Foot-on-neck-disease," in speaking about the dynamic of the interrelated nature of prejudice and oppression. "In climbing up the ladder of success," he taught, "it is important to keep one foot on the rung above you and one foot on the neck of the person just below you."

Dana was a poet and also wrote short stories. Anyone who knew Dana also knew that he kept a journal in his backpack in which he recorded his reflections and thoughts, his hopes and prayers.

He had the voice of a very angel. I will never forget his singing Aaron Neville's lyrics "Good night, my brother," to the tune of a traditional Bahamian gospel song, at the bedside of the Rev'd Bernie Healy in my home just hours before he died of AIDS.

He also sang that same song at Bernie's Celebratory Wake and Visitation at House of Prayer in Newark, where Bernie had been a most beloved rector and pastor. I have included the lyrics of that song as a tribute to Dana.

I learned so much from our brother, Dana. By his life and his bold, brave witness, he made the path easier for those who follow in his footsteps.

I shall miss him, but he will be missed by many, many more whose lives he touched.

He told the truth and lived the truth, and paid dearly for both.

May his soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

I bid you goodnight, Dana. Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.

"I Bid You Goodnight"

Aaron Neville lyrics
(traditional bahamian gospel song)

Lay down my dear brother, lay down and take your rest
I want to lay your head upon your saviorÂ’s breast
I love you, but jesus loves you best
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight

Lay down my dear brother, lay down and take your rest
I want to lay your head upon your saviorÂ’s breast
I love you, but jesus loves you best
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight

One of these mornings bright and early and soon, goodnight
Now theyÂ’re pickinÂ’ up the spirit to the shore beyond, goodnight
Go walking in the valley of the shadow of death, goodnight
HeÂ’s riding a staff, gonna comfort me, goodnight
Join the wise, thereÂ’s a soul to find, goodnight
Lord send a fire, not a flood next time, goodnight
To leave for the ark, that wonderful boat, goodnight
She really loaded down, getting water to float, goodnight
Now pray for the beast at the ending of the world, goodnight
He loved the children that would not be good, goodnight
I remember rather well, I remember right well, goodnight
I went walking to jerusalem just like john
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight
Lay down my dear brother, lay down and take your rest
I wanna lay your head upon your saviors breast
I love you, but jesus loves you best
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight
I bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight

Five year old wisdom

I asked MacKenna what was the one thing that was different in the 10 days since Abi arrived.

She took a deep Sarah Bernhardt sigh and said, "Well, life, Nana."

Working hard to suppress a giggle, I said, "Well, Mackie, it's supposed to."

"Oh," said she, "I guess you forgot to mention that part."

"Mm hm," I said. "I suppose I did."

Still working hard at not giggling, I asked, "How old are you, MacKenna?"

"Five," she said, "I'm five years old. And, that's no excuse, Nana."

She was already on to me.

Do you suppose all grandchildren are this smart, or is it just this amazing child?

Don't answer that. I think I already know.

Ta Da!

Here she is: Abigayle (note the spelling change) Sophia.

And, her very proud Nana.

Asleep, but getting her last minute instructions from the angels.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sea Shells

My children have always maintained that I need a minimum of two weeks – preferably four – as a vacation. They say that it takes the first 5 days of my vacation before I’m absolutely convinced that it’s okay with God that I’m not working. It takes the next five days for me to finally relax.

I have discovered that they are absolutely correct. And, very, very wise.

If you haven’t already guessed by the paucity of my posting, I’ve really begun my vacation – sleeping late, not writing a whole lot, reading TONS, and picking up little things on the beach, like broken sea shells, and adding them to my collection for consideration.

Like the above picture. It is the cover for the spare tire on a jeep I’ve seen around town. I finally took out the camera on my cell phone and snapped a picture of it.

It seems like such a wonderful message – an important reminder in the midst of newspaper headlines that scream about war and poverty and disease.

I’m thinking that if more churches had messages like that in front of the church, we might actually interest some folk to make their way in to visit us.

Instead of the code language recognized only by the cognoscenti: “Sunday Services 8 AM Rite I, 10 AM, Rite II” what if our sign simply said:

“Life is good.”

Or, “God’s love is unconditional.”

Or, “The Episcopal Church: It’s a come as you are party.”

Maybe we’d get a few more folk who’d wander in through those imposing red doors.

A few more sea shells of observation:

Music: It may just be what catches my attention, but the music blaring from the car radios is decidedly retro this summer. Instead of rap music, I’m hearing lots of the Beach Boys (“Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Baberann”), The Tempations (“My Girl”), The Beatles (“She Loves You, Ya, Ya, Ya”), Sam and Dave (“Hold On, I’m Comin’), Elvis (“You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog”), and a whole lot of other stuff that was popular when I was in high school and in the midst of the endless days of summer.

I’m not certain what this means, and I’m afraid to speculate. Let’s just leave this little sea shell on the shelf for now and come back to it another time. Or, not.

Bathing Suits: There are still two basic styles for women, one- piece and two-piece, but the variations are amazing. There are one-piece suits that are so skimpy they leave nothing to the imagination. Absolutely. Nothing. It’s one piece of very thin cloth and God only knows how it stays on the body, and S/he ain’t saying.

There are the one-piece suits with the neckline that plunges and the leg line that soars, exposing the exact place where the leg actually attaches itself into the hip socket – not exactly the most flattering part of the body, in my estimation, but I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, there’s what my partner calls the ‘old lady’ suits – you know: the ones with the wild print and the demure skirt that is “flattering for the fuller figure.” I mean really, who is kidding whom? A bathing suit is a bathing suit – it’s not supposed to cover up too much – and if your figure is ‘fuller’ well, ain’t no bathing suit gonna be too ‘flattering.’ Skirt or no skirt.

Two-piece suits come in the same variety – camisole and bikini pants, skimpy bikini, and thong. I don’t think I’ve ever been more envious than watching an 18 year old body walk by in a skimpy bikini or a thong – not a scintilla of evidence of a stretch mark or cellulite – eating an extra large container of Thrasher’s French Fries. It’s all I can do not to wrestle her to the sand and steal her French Fries.

Fair’s fair. If I can’t have her body, she can’t have French Fries.

Don’t try to unpack the logic of that. You could hurt yourself trying.

Men seem to have a variation on the same two styles they have in under ware: boxer or brief. The boxers are mostly very, very baggy and the briefs are very, very . . . oh, my goodness gracious!

Men who obviously spend time in the gym look good in either. It’s the Canadian and European men who wear the Speedo suits who really shouldn’t. Too little time in the gym combined with lifting way too many brewski’s results in a “bay window” effect to the abdominal area that is not, shall we say, esthetically pleasing. What’s really remarkable is that they seem not to care – what I or anyone else thinks.

Come to think of it, it’s the “more mature, fuller figure” Canadian and European women in the skimpy bikinis and thongs who really shouldn’t, either, but they do – and with great panache. Truth be told I think I’m more envious of the fuller-figure with panache than the well-toned bodies with the large container of French Fries.

Tee-Shirts: I have seen some that have made me laugh right out loud. Some favorites:

“I wish I could just quit you!” (The famous line from Broke Back Mountain)

“Don’t make me send out the flying monkeys” (quote: The Wicked Witch of the West)

01 20 09 (Bush’s Last Day in Office)

“Vegetarian” is Native American for “lousy hunter.”

“Sorry I missed church on Sunday, Mom, but I was attending a Wiccan, Lesbian, New Age, Nude Good Vibe Circle.” (Talk about pushing every mother’s button.)

“Get Real! Like Jesus would ever own a gun and vote Republican.”

There are others I simply wouldn’t print here, but my all-time favorite is this:

“End Gay Oppression: Spay and neuter all Fundamentalists.”

Life is good.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Ladies of Llangollen

It’s a rainy day here at Llangollen on Rehoboth Bay. A gentle, warm rain started about 6 AM, interrupting my Morning Prayer on the deck. The ‘laughing gulls’ gave warning just before the thunder rolled in from the Southwest, so I had time to spare my prayer book and deck chairs from the soaking rains which quickly followed.

It promises to be like this – ‘scattered showers and thunderstorms off and on throughout the day’ drones the local NPR announcer, in the measured, unexcitable, dispassionate tones seemingly required of this medium, which also announce the time and temperature, as well as the next deeply passionate piano concerto.

The discount malls on Route One (all five of them) will be jam packed with people who would otherwise be on the beach – which will still have more than a few diehard children and adults who figure that, well, water is water and the point of being at the beach is to get wet. And so, they do, one way or the other. Sometimes, both.

The movie theaters will also be packed with kids who will engage in the seemingly prerequisite summer ritual of a sugar-feeding frenzy with a deadly concoction of Junior Mints, Tootsie Rolls and JuJu Bees, unsupervised by their normally nutritionally conscious parental units. It would seem that all bets – and gloves – are off on vacation.

All of this is more than ample reason to stay close to home today. I may even watch a movie this afternoon – something on DVD from the comfort of my overstuffed chair, snacking on melon wedges, grapes and cheese – in our dear, wee cottage we call Llangollen.

Several of you have written, asking about the name of this place. We have called it Llangollen, in honor of "The Ladies of Llangollen."

The source is the enchanting story of The Rt. Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby who, in the Spring of 1778, ran away from their Irish homes in Kilkenny and Inistiogue, respectively, and settled in Llangollen in Wales where, in an idyllic cottage, they created what some historians have called "a living legend" - in part, because of the intellectual and creative talent (Darwin, Wordsworth, etc.) they attracted there, in part because of the beautiful estate and gardens they created, but mainly because of the exact uncertainty of their relationship.

I “discovered” the Ladies years ago as a seminarian in Cambridge, MA. Another gray, rainy afternoon long ago led to a foray to the Houghton Library at Harvard where my curiosity was stirred by a line drawing I saw there of Plas Newydd, the newly christened name given for the “. . . .mean cottage . . . having only four rooms” as one of them wrote before extensive renovations began to transform “this awful scenery” into what remains this day as a place of beauty and grace, still visited by tourists from around the world.

Intrigued, I set out to discover more about The Ladies. On a dusty library shelf, I was delighted to find the book “The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship,” by Elizabeth Mavor. I spent the rest of that rainy afternoon reading and taking copious notes. Eventually, I was able to purchase a paperback copy which currently resides on the nightstand in one of the bedrooms here for the edification of a curious guest.

I remain intrigued by the author’s notion of “romantic friendship,” which she steadfastly maintains as the more appropriate way to describe the multilayered, multidimensional, more complex nature of the relationships women have with each other. Mavor wrote:

“ . . . I have nevertheless chosen to portray the relationship between the two women in other terms than Freud’s. I have preferred the terms of romantic friendship (a once flourishing but now lost relationship) as more liberal and inclusive and better suited to the diffuse feminine nature. Edenic it seems such friendships could be before they were biologically and thus prejudicially defined. Depending as they did upon time and leisure, they were aristocratic; they were idealistic, blissfully free, allowing for a dimension of sympathy between women that would not now be possible outside an avowedly lesbian connection. Indeed, much that we would not associate solely with a sexual attachment was contained in romantic friendship: tenderness, loyalty, sensibility, shared beds, shared tastes, coquetry, even passion. Eleanor Butler’s and Sarah Ponsonby’s friendship was of this kind, and it was to be celebrated for over half a century . . .”

Mavor wrote these words when the book was published in 1971. That was just as the wave of the so-called “Feminist Movement” was a few years into its crest. The American Psychiatric Association was on the brink of removing homosexuality from the official list of psychiatric disorders. Class issues, as an operational dynamic, were not widely discussed apart from race and gender – although the Abolitionist movement included many feminists and the Suffragist movement included notable Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the nature of the “conversations” we’ve been called into by Lambeth and General Convention Resolutions of the past thirty years, along with the latest call for dialogues from The Windsor Report. What might we say to each other that has not already been said? At this point, I think we might even be able to write each other’s scripts.

Personally, I don’t think having a conversation with people who frame the discussion in terms of theological “reappraisers and reasserters” will do any good. These folks walked away from the conversation – if there were ever in it – years ago. No, this conversation must be had with those who earnestly desire to stay in the same church even with differently held opinions, theologies and political positions. These are, in my opinion, not only the “classic” Anglicans – they are also “classy.”

The new DVD, “Voices of Witness,” from Claiming the Blessing is certainly a good start, but it is only a beginning. It’s always good to begin a journey in faith with the Incarnation. There’s biblical precedent for it.

I am convinced, however, that if we are to have any meaningful conversation we need to “dive deep and resurface” as the early feminist writers called us to do in order to regain our spirituality in this time of transition in our church and in the world.

Sex is easy to talk about.

Relationships are a much more difficult issue.

Intimacy, especially in this current neo-Puritan climate, is a socially taboo conversation.

Even so, intimacy is an especially difficult discussion for those whose spiritual DNA matter includes words like “meet and proper,” “miserable offenders,” and “stiff upper lip.”

Just the other day, I was playing a song from the Broadway Musical, WICKED for a visiting friend. WICKED, on the surface, is all fast paced music, amazing costuming, lighting and set design, but it is really a morality play about good and evil and how they become so, all within the context of nature of women and their relationships.

I played for my friend the song “For Good,” a duet sung by Glinda, the Good Witch of the East and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The refrain is, “Who can say that I’ve changed for the better? But, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

At the end, wiping the tears from her eyes, my friend exclaimed, “That’s a love song!”

“No, no it’s not,” I said, “It’s the story of two women who are friends.”

My decidedly heterosexual friend (she was born that way, she can’t help it), not having seen the play but unconvinced by my argument, arched one eyebrow and said, “Elizabeth, it’s a love song between two women who are friends. But, it’s STILL a love song.”

She’s right. It’s about “romantic friendship.” Come to think of it, most of my friendships, male and female, are, in that sense, “romantic” and “quixotic.” (I can just see the badly behaved kids over at the conservative blogs drooling to quote that line out of context.)

As we try, once again, to begin these conversations as a church, I think we would do well to pick up again where Mavor left off and look seriously at the complex nature of intimate relationships.

Andrew Sullivan, in his own way, tried to do this in his book, “Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex and Survival.” Published in 1999, the book helps to establish that romantic friendships are not simply or solely in the psychic or emotional realm of women.

In the last chapter, entitled, “If Love Were Enough,” Sullivan relies heavily on the work of Renaissance scholar, Michel De Montaigne and his essay on the friendship he shared with Etienne de la Boetie, with whom he served in Parliament.

Both men were married with children and we are asked to assume that the nature of their relationship was not sexual – at least in the starkly medicinal terms of “genital expression” which is in such popular use these days.

Montaigne exalts friendship above familial and even romantic love, writing of Etienne, “ . . . at our first meeting . . . we found ourselves so taken with each other . . . that from that time on nothing was so close to us as each other.”

I wonder which it is, ultimately, that is more threatening to the status quo: This kind of intimacy shared by two people of the same gender or the “genital expression” of sex – between anyone “outside the bonds of marriage”?

Despite the genuinely respectful rhetoric of William F. Buckley who once said to Sullivan, “It’s not who you are, Andrew, it’s what you do,” which flows from the deeply flawed theology of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” I suspect it is more the former than the later.

Why else would granting the civil right of marriage to same sex couples inspire a constitutional amendment to prevent it?

Intimate relationships that “bless” anything but procreative sex is, for many people, beyond the pale and threaten everything they believe sacred about marriage – even if they, themselves, never intend to ‘procreate’.

Lady Eleanor and Miss Ponsonby, along with Montaigne and Etienne, call us from rainy days, long ago, to reconsider the depth and complexity of human relationships.

I think our church would be best served if we, like Mavor, placed Freud back on the shelf for a bit and give the poor man a well deserved rest. Let us properly acknowledge his brilliance and the enormity of his contribution in terms of giving us a language to discuss the complex mysteries of the human psyche.

That being done, we might then be able to boldly re-explore the landscape of same sex relationships, especially the depth of intimacy in the friendships experienced by people of the same gender.

Perhaps we could even come to reject the false dualism of ourselves as social and sexual beings and reclaim the whole/holiness of the mystery of our human being – the gift of a loving God in whose image we were created.

It would mean we’d have to resist the urge to snoop into the private bedrooms of others and stop judging people for what we think they do in bed with each other. This is not an impossible task. I believe mature adults can do this. Indeed, I know it to be so.

I know. That would take a direct challenge to the current fundamentalist movement which embraces Scripture as something “God said, man wrote, and I believe” – every word, comma and period.

That is, perhaps, the biggest stumbling block to intelligent conversation, much less dialogue which might lead to understanding, compassion or, even, God help us, the kind of change of heart which would call us into a deeper, more intimate sense of relationships in community.

For a powerful look at who benefits and who suffers from a strict interpretation and application of ‘holy writ’ to the law of the land, go see the movie WATER. If it’s not in a theater near you, rent or purchase it on DVD. It’s worth the investment. The feisty spirit of the little child Chuyia will warm your heart and challenge your thinking. And, lest you think “that was then and there, not now and here” . . . well, think again.

What the world - torn by the madness of war and senseless bloodshed, and this church – deeply wounded by constant gutter sniping and bottom feeding, are in desperate need of right now are friendships – call them whatever you will – which are marked by “tenderness, loyalty, sensibility, shared beds, shared tastes, coquetry, even passion.”

Are these not descriptive phrases of the relationships shared by the disciples and what we read of the relationships in the early church communities?

I believe such relationships are transformative. Indeed, I do believe that if we allow ourselves romantic friendships, we’ll be changed for the better. We may even be changed for good.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The award for the best sandcastle on Rehoboth Beach goes to . ..

These were taken with my cell phone. Isn't technology amazing?

And, the award for best sandsculpture on the beach goes to . ..

There was a sandscupture contest today at Rehoboth Beach. There were lots of sandcastle. This one caught my eye as the most original. It was entitled, "Scary Movies on TV."

The view from my pew

And, this is what I gaze upon as I venture out onto my deck to say Morning Prayer. This is Rehoboth Bay - looking toward Rehoboth Beach. The last view was from my bedroom window, looking toward Indian River where yesterday, someone caught a 20 something pound trout. It was probably more like 15 something pounds, but you know how fishermen are. A little like Christians. We "love to tell the old, old story."

Summertime - and the living is easy.

Some of you have expressed concern that my 'vacation' is not really a 'vacation. Okay, my dears. This is what I see every morning when I look out my bedroom window. The laughing gulls summon me to Morning Prayer every morning with their Alleluia's. Life is good - and so is God.

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.