Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sports on Sunday

I don't know about you, but in my community of faith, there are more and more things competing for time on Sunday morning.

To many, the fall season means football, and that no longer means a liesurely Saturday or Sunday afternoon visit with relatives or doing chores around the house. In Chatham, the sports leagues begin in the fifth grade (but in some communities as soon as the fourth grade), fall = football, hockey and soccer.

I'm told there used to be an unwritten rule that no children's sports games ever began before 1 PM on Sunday. Fair enough. Neither do major league games.

When I started here, a little over four years ago, kick off was at noon. This year, the games begin at 10 AM on Sunday. And, if there's an away game, it may mean that the children must be on the field no later than 45 minutes before.

That means, of course, that if a faithful (and courageous) family chooses to come to the 8 AM service, they would not have much family time together before racing to the field to get their kid on the bus.

After several complaints from parents whose kids want to play sports, and, after consultation with my Wardens, Vestry and parents who have coached teams, I wrote an open letter to the Chatham Recreation Center. That letter is posted below.

The email carring that letter was still hot off my computer keys and racing its way over to the email of the Chatham Municiple Building when the Director called me.

She sited three considerations:

1. The schedule is "only" from September to the end of October - "just" 6-8 weeks.
2. The League, not the Chatham Recreation Center, sets the time of the games.
3. The coaches are sternly reminded of the rule that if a child chooses to go to church and is late for the game, they are not to be penalized.

Well, "only" from September to the end of October is really the first week of November, and we all know that this is the beginning of the Program Year for Church School. If a child misses the first eight weeks, s/he's essentially missed most of the first sememster of Christian education.

Would we sanction the same of any subject on school curricula?

"The League" is not them. The League is us. The rules are not the rules unless we assent to them. I'm willing to bet a whole wack of money that if Chatham stood up and said, "We will not discriminate against those who choose to observe their Sabbath. We will not play a game before 1 PM," you would be able to hear the collective sighs of relief of all of the parents in a variety of towns who feel the same way. And, it would change.

The power of one is a formidible force for change.

I applaud the conviction and the commitment of the Recreation Directors and Coaches to make certain that our children are not prejudiced in any way because of their choice to attend church on Sunday - and, we all know that's not the problem. The problem is not on Sunday morning, but Wednesday afternoon in the boys room when some wisenheimer says to the kid, "You GIRL! (which we all know is the MOST offensive thing for a fifth grade boy to call another). You go to church! What a wuz!"

Do we really want to put that kind of additional pressure on our children?

It appears that this is a much bigger kettle of fish than any of us first thought. I'll be talking with my Vestry about the next steps, but I'm thinking that the best way to begin is to call together a group of concerned parents, the Recreational Directors and Coaches, along with League Officials. While we're at it, we might as well invite the Ice Hockey and Soccer officials.

Please leave your comments or contact me at "StPaulsChurch at StPaulsChatham dot com" (I'm told that if I write this in its correct form, I'll be spammed!) if you have had any experience or knowledge that will assist us in this effort. If you are a Chatham Borough or Township resident and want to help organize a community conversation about Sports on Sunday, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Meanwhile, keep us in your prayers.

An Open Letter to the Chatham Board of Recreation

Dear Friends,
I am writing to you as one who shares your concern and the privilege of caring for the health and wellbeing of the residents of the Chathams. As your website states:

“Chatham Recreation is committed to develop, promote, organize, implement and maintain a variety of programs for its residents. They also administer and schedule those programs striving to be the best they can be without compromising other programs in achieving that goal. Goals are achieved through open communication, the establishment of policies, the time hundreds of volunteers share with the communities and the cooperation of the Chatham Borough Council, the Chatham Township Committee and the School District of the Chatham's”

I wish to address your stated goal and responsibility to “administer and schedule” the Sunday morning recreational program for children. I wish to speak specifically to your statement that these programs be conducted “without compromising other programs in achieving that goal.”

I trust we can agree that religious and spiritual education, experience and expression are part of what help to form a whole, healthy human being. Team sports, such as football or soccer, can teach children how to apply their religious values, in whatever particular denomination or expression – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. Values such as respecting the dignity of every human being, peace and justice, as well as fair play, generosity and graciousness – especially in the midst of fierce athletic competition – can find invaluable application in the sports arena.

I fear, however, that your Sunday morning schedule has had a negative effect on our religious schedule. When games and practices are scheduled for 10 AM on Sunday morning (or, for that matter, before 1 PM), it has the effect of prohibiting a large number of children from attending religious education as well as experiencing the worship of God with the rest of their family and faith community.

We talk a great deal, these days and in this country, about “family values” and being “one nation, under God,” but children need the support and modeling of their community in order for these fundamental values to have any authenticity or carry any moral weight.

I am urging you to consider rescheduling our recreational program in such a way that it lives out our own stated goals and does not compromise the religious education and expression of a significant portion of the residents of Chatham.

I believe important lessons of religious tolerance and respectful embrace of the great diversity of our pluralistic culture are best learned by role modeling and applied practice.

I am quite certain that, while my Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, along with our Roman Catholic neighbors (who have alternative times/dates for weekend worship) may not be directly affected by the Sunday morning schedule, they would stand in solidarity with me and others who worship and believe along the broad spectrum of religious traditions.

Indeed, on behalf of the Wardens and Vestry of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul, I would be happy to invite you to an open community meeting to discuss this important issue.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mad About Mad Priest

There is a wonderful, if not absolutely zany, priest in England who keeps a Blog entitled, "Of course, I could be wrong"

But, he rarely is.

Calls himself, "Mad Priest."

And he is.

Quite Mad.

Delightfully so.

Indeed, I think I'm in love.

Mad Priest has a wonderful take on the Newark election:

If this link isn't "Hot", try to cut and paste this into your browser:

WARNING: Reading "Mad Priest" with food or liquid in your mouth may result in damage to your computer or laptop screen.

Whoever wants to be first must be last

XVI Pentecost – September 24, 2006 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
Text: Mark 9:30-37

Well, you may have already heard. The media have been all over the story. There was a whole bank of them with a very visible presence on Convention floor at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark. Even I was interviewed several times by members of the Associated Press, NPR, the NY Times, the Star Ledger and Reuters News Service. The story is in the NY Times this morning. It even made the 11 o’clock news last night on NBC. What’s the buzz about: The Diocese of Newark elected its 10th Bishop yesterday.

The election of Mark Beckwith on the third ballot was a strong mandate for him. I am delighted beyond the telling that my old friend and General Convention dance partner is our new bishop. Yes, of course, there’s a story, which I’ll tell you sometime which is about Mark’s sense of silliness and fun in the midst of the hard and often tedious work of our national church during its triennium convention gathering.

This morning’s gospel story calls with greater urgency to be told – a powerful story, as always, which serves as a cautionary tale for anyone seeking to follow the leadership of Jesus in Christian community.

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Capernaum, but first had to pass through his home town of Galilee. Some of you may know what it’s like to go back to your home town on a business trip, so you’ll understand that he didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Gosh, and if your mother ever found out you were in town and didn’t stop by for visit, well, there’d be hell to pay! (Can’t you just hear Mary saying to Jesus and the boys, “C’mon, sit down. You could have a sandwich, maybe a piece of fruit.”)

Yet again, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the real mission of his life and work. He is preparing them – yet again – for his death upon the cross. Apparently, they get it this time because – oblivious to the realities and the cost – they begin talking among themselves about who it might be who will replace Jesus as ‘the greatest’ among them.

When they get to Capernaum, Jesus calls them on their discussion, asking, “So, what were you boys arguing about on the way?” You can almost see their faces grow red with embarrassment. It was then that he called the twelve together and said, “Okay, boys, look, it’s like this: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

These are pretty daunting words which will greet the first morning of the newly elected 10th bishop of Newark. Indeed, they are fairly challenging words for anyone seeking to follow the leadership of Jesus. That style of leadership is one that is quite humble. Especially in our culture, “humble” and “leadership” are two words that seem so foreign to each other that they create an oxymoron. The challenge is not how to be ‘last of all and servant of all’. Actually, that’s the easy part. The hard part is to have the actions of this style of leadership come from a place of authenticity.

The set up for leadership in Christian community – especially in The Episcopal Church – is not one that exudes humility, exactly. We like our leaders to be, well, distinctive. They should dress nicely. Fashionably, if not nattily, and always, always in good taste. Button down collars, please. And, just in case they can’t, we dress them up the way we want them to look in church – with lovely, ornate vestments in classic design that never go out of fashion, and are always in the appropriate color for the season.

Of course, we color-code the ordained with colors appropriate to the order of ministry. While clergy shirts are a rather new innovation for those who are vocationally deacon (and, I think it’s a decided mistake for deacons to wear clergy collars), priests have traditionally worn black, although in the past ten years, we’ve branched out to other colors. But, we save purple – the color of royalty – for our bishops.

Indeed, yesterday, I wore a purple dress in honor of the election of a bishop and no less than three clergy said, “Hmm, you are brave wearing purple today.” As if wearing purple were an unconscious signal of my ‘true’ inner aspirations! Puullleeezzee! As my ordaining bishop used to say, “Anyone who actively seeks the office of the episcopacy deserves exactly what s/he gets.”
Authentic humility is not an easy achievement – especially in our culture or in the culture of leadership. It’s a difficult balance to be creative and gregarious enough to get people to follow you, and be authentically humble at the same time, but if one is to be a leader, one needs to have followers. As the old saying goes in community organizing: A leader without a following – is just a person out for a walk!”

I think we’re confused – especially in this culture and in this moment in our history – about Christian leadership which is marked by authentic humility. Say that phrase “authentic humility” and most of us call up an image of a humble monk, padding silently around the cloister doing corporal acts of mercy. Well, that can be one authentic model, but it’s not the only one.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my almost 20 years of leadership in the church: Leadership that is marked by authentic humility is not easy to achieve but it is one that has struggled with and embraced the truth. The truth will make you very, very humble. And, I’m not talking about just the bad stuff you know about yourself. That’s the easy part – to acknowledge and claim one’s shortcomings and ‘growing edges.’ It’s much, much more difficult a thing, I’ve found, to acknowledge and claim one’s gifts and skills and talents and offer them to the community for service. That takes real humility. Speaking the truth always does.

One of my favorite stories about leadership that is marked by authentic humility comes from one who is, for me, the very model of this leadership style. I’m speaking, of course, of Desmond Tutu. Several years ago, I met up with Desmond in New York, where our daughter, Julie, had arranged a reception for Tutu prior to an award ceremony which NYU was hosting for him. I had worked with him years before on an AIDS project in South Africa, and he greeted me warmly and enthusiastically.

I queried him about his health. At the time, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was in the States for the last of his radiation treatment. I noted to him that it was shortly after I had learned of his diagnosis that I also heard of his leadership on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – that organization in South Africa appointed to deal with the aftermath of the atrocities of Apartheid.

When I registered my amazement that he had taken on such an incredible task so soon after a diagnosis of cancer, Tutu said that he had declined initially, telling President Nelson Mandela that he could not possibly take on the job.

After Mandela persisted, Tutu said, “I am not the right person for the job.” The reasoning for his self-disqualification was quite astounding. Listen to this and marvel with me. Tutu said, “I laugh too easily, I cry too easily, I am weak.”

And Mandela, who had spent over twenty years in a South African prison, beaten and tortured almost every day, looked at him and said, “Yes, Tutu, and this is why you are perfect for the job. For if, you can cry easily, you know something about the truth. And, if you can laugh easily, then you know something about the impossible nature of reconciliation. And, when you understand your weakness, then you are strong enough to deal with both truth and reconciliation.”

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” I believe we have a new bishop who understands this kind of leadership. Oh, he’ll wear a purple shirt, and with his swarthy coloring, he’ll look quite stunning and stately and yes, even fashionable. He’ll even interrupt our seriousness with a silly dance – or even two. It is my hope that he will lead by example, and as we draw nearer to God with him, God will draw nearer to us.

I pray that Bishop Beckwith may lead us more deeply into the mystery of our faith in Christ Jesus that we may struggle with and embrace the truth about ourselves, that our mission and ministry may be marked by authentic humility. For, it is by such leadership that the work of God is done in a world that is hungry and thirsty – indeed, starving – for the truth to be told, and secrets disclosed (for we are only as sick as our most deeply hidden secret), and for the family of God to be reconciled in peace.

May it be so. Amen.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Elephant on the Election Floor

Well, I was wrong.

I had predicted Beckwith on the 5th Ballot. It was Beckwith on the 3rd.

Let me say, straight up, that I am thrilled beyond the telling.

We voted for the person who

* can hit the diocesan ground running;

* make tough decisions which have grown more difficult because they have been delayed;

* is confident enough in himself and God’s love for him that he will withstand the hatred that will come his way when he leads us in making difficult decisions;

* has a healthy understanding and embrace of the historic legacy and ongoing vocation of the Diocese of Newark;

* has a passion for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ;

* is, above all else, a person of deep and disciplined prayer who will be a sensitive and loving chief pastor to all the baptized.

When the diocesan clergy gathered last Thursday at St. Agnes in Little Falls, we discussed the clergy one by one, in alphabetical order, for 15 minutes each.

After a lull in the conversation about Beckwith, one of the facilitators (neither one Episcopalian nor ordained), asked, “Well, we have about 5 minutes left. Does anyone have anything negative to say about this man?”

Nervous laughter ensued.

After a few quiet moments, one of our clergy said, “Well, in many ways, he’s the easy vote.”

More nervous laughter.

That was the only negative thing anyone said about Mark Beckwith. I think many of us knew, then and there, that he would be elected the 10th bishop of Newark.

The excitement and renewed energy in the diocese is palpable. My diocese is on its way back! In my 15 years here, I’ve never seen us more fragile and depressed. Not any longer. We’re back. And, we’ve never been more willing to do whatever needs to be done, that all who see our good works might give praise and glory to God through Christ Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Would it have been wonderful to have another woman in the House of Bishops? No doubt.

Would it have been more than wonderful to have had an Ugandan as bishop, representing the Diocese of Newark at Lambeth Palace in 2008? My heart still leaps at the thought.

Would Michael Barlowe have been an amazing bishop here? And at Lambeth in 2008? And at General Convention 2009? And, beyond? Absolutely.

Which brings me to the elephant on the election floor.

One of the things we did not discuss as a diocese – at least not fully enough for my satisfaction – is the disenfranchisement of a specific group of people by The Windsor Report and the resultant response, General Convention Resolution B033.

The fact that a person of Michael’s obvious intelligence, skill, talent and expertise ended up second to last on the ballot, just above the one candidate who was not an actual candidate but a self-acknowledged referendum on the present status of the diocese, is ample evidence of the negative, chilling effect of what has become, in effect, a foreign curia.

Many of us, rightly concerned about the state of our diocese, worried about the effect the media circus would have on Michael’s ability to lead and BE an actual bishop, rather than be “another gay bishop.”

It doesn’t take much to read between the lines of what I have articulated as the reasons I feel we elected Mark Beckwith to understand why we couldn’t elect anyone from the margins of the institutional church. Not that they all weren’t more than qualified – including Chip Stokes, the straight, white guy (God love him) who, from Florida, was the ‘outsider’ of all of the candidates.

I continue to believe that, had we had the opportunity to talk about B033 as a deputation as well as a convention, before taking the vote in Columbus, the vote would have been much narrower, if not much different.

I continue to believe that, had we had more opportunities for transparent, organized, facilitated diocesan discussion about the effects of The Windsor Report and B033 before the election today, it might have gone a bit differently.

I believe with all my heart that a gay or lesbian priest will be nominated and elected bishop in some diocese some where before Lambeth 2008 or General Convention 2009. And, I believe that person will receive the required consents from bishops with jurisdiction as well as standing committees.

I continue to believe that, the farther away we get from the highly charged emotional atmosphere which allowed B033 to pass as legislation, and the more bishops like those who met recently at Camp Allen, distance themselves from wording of The Windsor Report, coupled with some of the African bishops announcing today from Rwanda that they will not sit at table with our newly elected Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori – well, the whole ridiculous notion of “manner of life” as a barrier to election to the episcopacy will become as ludicrously obvious as it obviously is.

The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 is an optional reading (on Track II) in the Revised Common Lectionary for tomorrow. Here is 2:12-15

12. Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes
our actions; he reproaches us for sins against
the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.

13. He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.

14. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;

15. The very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.

In many ways, Mark Beckwith’s ‘manner of life’ represents an enormous challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, in the same way that the ‘manner of life’ of Jesus, in his day, represented a challenge to the ancient religious world of Chief Priests and the scribes, as well as the Sadducees and Pharisees of his day.

Indeed, if we had it right, we would be intentionally looking for candidates to the episcopacy – as well as the priesthood and diaconate and the leadership of the laity – who are “inconvenient to us” and “professes to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of God,” and whose “manner of life is unlike that of others and whose ways are strange.”

May we one day – soon, oh Lord, soon, – have the courage to live a faith rooted in biblical principals rather than blind obedience to the biblical interpretations of the zealous few who consider themselves “orthodox” – and therefore, unequivocally, indisputably correct.

May we one day – soon, oh Lord, soon – have the wisdom to embrace our common Anglican faith in communion, the Via Media, without succumbing to the directives of a foreign curia, or soothe ourselves with a foreign sense of what is “catholic.”

In the meantime, life – and mission and ministry – go on. We have much to celebrate this day. There is a new bishop in the church. There is new life and energy in my diocese. I do believe we have a renewed and restored sense of our unique and historic diocesan vocation to ourselves, the church and the world.

Rejoice with us. And, may God shield the joyous.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

But who do you say that I am?

Mark 8:27-38
XV Pentecost – September 17, 2006

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

We all heard this saying as we grew up: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Eventually, we all learned that it was a lie. Names do hurt. Just ask any kid who was slightly overweight who was called, “Fatso.” Or anyone who had to wear glasses and was called, “Four eyes.” It’s not so much the case anymore, because it’s become strangely fashionable, but when I was growing up, kids with braces were called, “Metal mouth.”

As adults, we can look back on those times and laugh them off. “Oh, kids can be cruel,” we say, as if it were simply a fact of life, like rainy days or snowy seasons. But that neither dismisses nor diminishes the stinging pain of it – especially not for those of us who remember being taunted in the school yard, having our humanity reduced because we were a little overweight, or wore glasses, or had braces.

For those of us who were “different” in any way, it was even more painful. Being part of the latest wave of immigrants put my family in an entirely different category of humiliation. The French Canadian and Irish kids who had come before us seemed to forget the sting of the name calling they had endured. Indeed, they seemed to relish in now doling it out to others.

I have clear memories of coming home, crying to my mother, asking her why the kids were being so mean. “Because they are stupid,” my mother would say (imagine!), repeating, the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Except, they did. I always thought that saying was more stupid than the kids who called me names.

There’s an old story that’s told in many Philosophy 101 courses about the conversation between three baseball umpires. They were talking about how they called the pitches that came across home base. The first umpire said, “I call ‘em like they are.” The second umpire said, “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.” The third umpire said, “They ain’t nothin’ till I call ‘em.”

Jesus knew the power of words and especially, the power of naming. “Who do people say that I am?” he asked the disciples. And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

I imagine him considering all of these very carefully before he asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” It’s an important question, which goes to the core issue of the human enterprise: identity. How we know ourselves is critically important. Equally important, however, is how we are known in the world. In many ways, we are who we are – the way we were born – and, we are called into being.

An infant knows who s/he is because s/he is held in her (his) mother’s arms and spoken to. I watch in awe as our daughter Karen relates with our newest grandbaby, Abigayle, and the process is unmistakable. Abi knows her name because she first knew her mother’s voice. She has come to know who she is because her mother calls her name.

As God breathed life into Adam and Eve, Abi has been called into being. That identity is reinforced by her father and her sister and her grandparents and aunts and uncles. Abi knows who she is because she has been called by her name. Who she will become will depend as much on the relationships she has with her family and relatives and friends as on the genetic code of her DNA.

So it is with each one of us. And yet, language, as we hear it and speak it, is very ambiguous. We miss a lot, we misunderstand a lot. No matter how logically and plainly things are said, the listener quite often doesn’t get it. Conversely, no matter how attentive and knowledgeable the listener, the speaker often doesn’t say it right. We proceed as T.S. Eliot once put it, by “hints followed by guesses.”

The writer of the Epistle of James has some very powerful things to say about the tongue. He writes, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire!” I remember my father telling me about the saying in WWII: ‘Loose lips sink ships.”

Author and biblical translator, Eugene Peterson once said, “I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language. If (God) had wanted to make sure that the truth was absolutely clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding, (God) should have revealed truth by means of mathematics. Mathematics is the most precise, unambiguous language that we have. But then, of course, you can’t say, ‘I love you’ in algebra.” (Eat This Book)

I am reminded of a wonderful love story of a couple I once counseled for marriage. As anyone who has gone through premarital counseling with me knows, the first session is mostly taken up with my asking, “Tell me a love story. Tell me how you met and how you fell in love.” There was this older couple (not in this church, I hasten to add), who were both academicians in a major university. Both had been married and divorced. Both were fast approaching their 60’s.

They were good friends. Dear friends. Had been for years. They were good friends who saw each other every day. They had lunch together most very day in the cafeteria. They had dinner together regularly – often after watching a movie together. One day, during dinner, Alan (I’ll call him) and Evelyn (I’ll call her) were sharing a laugh over a story Alan had told while they were having dinner. It was a lovely evening, Alan related, and Evelyn’s laughter sounded like music to his ears on that starry, starry night.

Suddenly, not knowing what exactly overtook him, he looked at her beautiful smiling face and asked, “What are we doing?” Evelyn laughed and said, “Oh, silly, we’re having dinner.” “No,” said Alan, “I mean it. What are we doing?” Evelyn said that in that moment, she knew everything had suddenly changed. Still, she asked, “What do you mean?”

“Look at us,” Alan said. “We see each other every day. We have lunch together every day and frequent dinners together. We only go out with each other. And you know what? I can’t imagine a day going by without you in it.” Evelyn looked at him and said, “Do you think we may be in love?” At which point they both burst into laughter. Alan said, “You know, for two highly educated, very intelligent people, we’re pretty stupid about this, aren’t we?” And they laughed themselves right into a proposal of marriage an engagement ring and into my office to arrange their marriage. Indeed, they are still laughing together.

“Everything changed with that one question,” said Alan. “What are we doing?” Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” And, Peter nailed it (to turn a phrase), “You are the Messiah.” Suddenly, everything changed. This must have deeply startled Jesus, or at least, it rang an alarm for him, because scripture says that Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone.

When he told the apostles the truth about what was to happen (scripture says, “he said all these things quite openly”), Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. You can almost hear him say to Jesus, “What are we doing?” But, this time, this was no laughing matter. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but being named the Messiah will get you killed.

The question of identity is very powerful. Who do we say Jesus is? How do we, the church, the Body of Christ, identify Jesus in our midst? What do people know about Jesus because they know something about the people of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, New Jersey? This is a question we will be wrestling with this year as we consider our unique vocation, our particular mission and ministry, in this community. For, like the umpires, we can call Jesus like he is; we call Jesus like we see him, but Jesus becomes even more alive in our lives when we call him by His Name as savior and Lord.

Last week, we sang, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” as we considered our lives five years after 9/11. This week, I have words to another hymn I’d like you to consider. The hymn was written by Laurence Houseman for the opening of the League of Nations. You can find it in your hymnal #573: “How shall we love thee, holy hidden Being, if we love not the world which thou hast made? Bind us in thine own love for better seeing thy Word made flesh, and in a manger laid: thy Kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done.


(My thanks to Arthur, Tom, Abi, MacKenna Jane, T.S. Elliot, Eugene Peterson, and“Alan and Evelyn” for calling this sermon into being.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Politics of Spiritual Discernment

Well, the buzz of excitement that was part of the “Meet the Candidates” nights has now turned into a beehive of political campaigning and activity. My phone is ringing off the hook with clergy and laity – both here and around the country – who want to know my impressions of the nominees, or to share their own.

Small groups of clergy are gathering and sharing what they know about different nominees. I’m quite certain folks from the laity are doing the same thing. Next Thursday morning, the Newark Clergy Association is sponsoring a gathering of clergy to discuss the candidates. It ought to be interesting.

Some folk are campaigning – HARD – for the candidate of their choice. Rumors – pro and con – are being circulated as if solid fact. “Things done and left undone” by various candidates are being reported in miniscule detail – including what was known about the person (and/or spouse) in (gasp!) seminary.


I would hate to hear what some of my classmates have to say about me. And, I know some of my classmates would cringe to hear my memories of them, 20 years ago.

Let’s have a rousing chorus of that song from “Sweet Charity” (complete with kick-line, if you please): ”If . . . they . . . could . . . see me now, that little gang of mine . . . .”

Several clergy have reported that members of their lay delegation are eager to share their impressions – sometimes with humorous result. I love the story of the two delegates from the same congregation, both sitting side by each, who reported completely different reactions to the same candidate, who was speaking in the same room at the same time.

One said s/he felt, when this candidate was speaking, that s/he was surrounded by a “warm blanket of care and concern.” The other chided the same candidate for being “arrogant and autocratic.”

I know. Go figure.

It’s such a curious creature, this ‘spiritual election process’ we have in the Episcopal Church. It’s a bit like engaging both sides of the brain at once – left and right – as well as both sides of our souls – human and divine.

We are human, and of course we will try to promote the candidate we feel is best qualified. Meanwhile, we try to remain prayerfully open in the process of spiritual discernment and to listen to the Holy Spirit, that she might whisper the name of the candidate that God wants for us.

That may not mean that God’s candidate will win, necessarily – which is a fairly daunting result to consider – which is why we are called to prayer and discernment; to quiet our anxieties and allay our fears and listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Personally, I think there are four absolutely stellar candidates, one who is good and solid, and one whose agenda as a candidate has been known from the beginning.

Bottom line: I could work with any of the five, without any difficulty in the least. That is a very strong testimony to the work done by the Nominating Committee. They have presented us with a solid slate of worthy candidates.

Not perfect. Not by a long shot. But worthy to wear the E/episcopal mantle of leadership. That was not a typo. Yes, I wrote E/episcopal. By that I mean that I believe that there is a unique vocation to a bishop (the office, with a small ‘e’) in the Episcopal (religious denomination) church.

I have come to believe that the office of the bishop has much more in common with the office of the diaconate than that of the priesthood. The bishop, like the deacon, is called to a specific ministry which is needed in a specific place at a specific point in a specific diocesan life cycle.

When I was on the Search/Nominating Committee seven years ago, I interviewed many wonderful priests who were clearly gifted and skilled and talented and had, as near as I could see, a true vocation to the episcopacy. But, not here in this diocese. Or, not at this point in our life cycle. It’s a fascinating phenomenon.

Do I have my preferences? You bet. Three, in fact, and one in particular, who I think will win - on the 5th ballot. But, I’ll admit to the "favorite of my heart," and I am unashamedly tossing my hat into the political campaign trail.

This is, after all, my blog. “Caveat lector.” (“Let the reader beware.”)

It is, of course, Michael Barlowe. I have been slowly, quietly suggesting to all of my LGBT sister and brother clergy to caste their first ballot for him.

Hold on, hold on. I know what you are saying. No, I’m not being “heterophobic.” Neither am I “heterosexually challenged.”

And, I’m not talking about throwing the entire election. I’m talking about FIRST BALLOT. What anyone does after that is up to their own spiritual discernment.

Here’s my thinking:

First: I am restricting my suggestion (and, it is only a suggestion) to LGBT clergy – not laity. Neither am I talking to our straight allies. I have made a quick assessment of the number of LGBT priests in this diocese. I don’t know the deacons well enough to know who’s who, much less their sexual orientation. Besides, a person’s sexual orientation is just not that big a deal here anymore – except, of course, when it is.

I’m told that there are approximately 265 canonically resident priests, 80 of whom are non-residential. I could be wrong (but not my much), but by my count, there are approximately 30 LGBT priests in the diocese – seven of whom are canonical but non-residential, and four of whom are retired. Even if all thirty voted (and all will most likely not), that’s hardly enough to elect Barlowe on the first ballot. Indeed, that’s not even a solid voting block.

More importantly, I’m told that there are 495 total registrations for the election on September 23, with “a handful more expected.” Of that number, there are 12 deacons and 160 presbyters. I’m not Louie Crew, and I can’t pretend to walk in his gold lame pumps, so I don’t have the statistics on how many are people of color, LGBT or the gender of the clergy registered to vote. But, well, you do the math.

This is not a scheme to elect Barlowe on the first ballot. It’s a political and spiritual statement of solidarity.

Next: The first ballot is always considered a ‘test’ (well, there’s another word for it, but it is a rather vulgar term associated with throwing dice and this is a ‘family blog,’ after all). I can only think of one election in the past 20 years of someone being elected on the first ballot – that was Tom Shaw in Massachusetts.

Finally: “All things being equal” – and of course, they are not, but especially so after B0 (hold your nose and vote) 33 – I am asking that, if folk feel that Barlowe did as well as I believe (and, I’m hearing he did) in the “Meet the Candidates” events, to consider voting for him on the first ballot – someone who would “otherwise be a solid candidate.”

It is precisely that “all things are not equal” that I am asking LGBT clergy to consider voting for Michael on the first ballot. That didn’t happen in the Diocese of California, where there are far more LGBT clergy than there are here in Newark. In fact, the LGBT candidates (and there were three), did not do well at all.

Many California clergy have said to me that they wished they had agreed to vote for at least one of the three LGBT candidates on the first ballot.


I thought you’d never ask.

First: Because Resolution B033 is evil. Why? Here’s why:

It was crafted in a desperate attempt to “comply” with the “invitation” (anybody else see the incongruity of that?) of the Windsor Report to “consider” a moratorium on the election of LGBT people to the episcopacy – after, of course, we “repented” of having duly elected Gene Robinson as bishop of NH.

Because, while the wording of B033 is vague – for all bishops with jurisdiction and all standing committees to ‘consider’ (there’s that word again) withholding approval of anyone whose ‘manner of life’ would pose a ‘challenge’ to the wider communion – its intention is clear. And, it is decidedly in violation of our canons which prohibit discrimination.

Which is precisely why it had to be so vague.

Which is why it is evil.

Someone has to stand up against evil and take a stand for justice. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to? If we don’t respect one of our own who has taken a deep risk for us and for the church, why should anyone else give us even a modicum of respect?

We need to send a message – a loud and clear message – that the journey into holy obedience of the particular vocation of this diocese will not be stopped. We must continue to call ourselves and the rest of the church – kicking and screaming, if necessary – into the awesome and daunting reality, with all of its implications for mission and ministry – of the unconditional love of God.

I believe with all my heart that if we are so emboldened to take this risk, others around the Episcopal Church as well as the Anglican Communion in its entirety, will also be able to find the courage to take a stand against the evil of worshiping the false god of unity over the baptismal promise of justice.

Finally, I believe all LGBT clergy should vote for Michael on the first ballot because the truth is this: you never know what the Holy Spirit will do with that act of courageous witness to our faith. Perhaps not in this diocese, but somewhere else in the Anglican Communion. Sometime. Soon.

So, that’s my contribution to the political campaign trail in this diocese. I prayerfully “invite” my LGBT sisters and brothers to “consider” this request – under which you have no obligation to “comply.” Of course, I can live with any of the other four candidates. In fact, I would be absolutely deliriously joyful if one of my top three candidates is elected, but I will work with and love our next bishop, no matter who happens to be elected.

Here’s the good news: we are not electing a bishop for Elizabeth Kaeton. Neither are we electing a bishop for St. Paul’s, Chatham. In fact, we are not JUST electing the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Newark. We are electing another successor to walk in the shoes of the apostles, to take her/his place in the corridors of power and authority in the church catholic, and to lead us more nearly to Jesus, who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.

That being said, it is absolutely imperative that every single registered deputy - laity or clergy - caste their vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of gender, orientation, race, age, class status, or phyiscal ability.

I’ll tell you one thing, the politics of spiritual discernment is not for faint of heart. So, put on the armor of Christ, pack your prayer book and bible, don’t forget your (Anglican) prayer beads, and fasten your seat belt.

The Holy Spirit is about to take us on one heck of a ride.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pulling Off One of Life's Little Miracles:

A Sacramental Wedding in the Middle of the Sunday Eucharist
at The Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, NJ

Sermon by The Rev. Phillip Dana Wilson
September 10, 2006

Readings: Romans 12: 9-18; Excerpt Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow
Lindbergh; John 15: 9-12, 17.

James Weldon Johnson tells a modern version of the Creation Story in the following way: “And, God stepped out on space. And, God looked around and God said: ’I’m lonely.’ I’ll make me a world.’ ”

What is so powerful about this telling of the story is the picture of God it offers, a God who gets lonely, a God who needs relationships to be God. In the very same way we, created in the image of God, need relationships to be human.

Jesus in the Gospels says that his commandment is that we love one another.

And, in case we miss the points he repeats himself: “I am giving you these commandments so that you may love one another.” In loving one another we become human. In loving one another we become whole.

Psychologists say the same thing when they talk about our hierarchy of needs.[1]

First, our physical needs of air to breath, water to drink and food to eat must be met in order to live, to be human. Next, there are safety and security needs: shelter, a job, income. Then come the emotional needs of loving and belonging: friendship, intimacy and family. These make up the foundation upon which we become alive and can celebrate the unique gifts we have to offer. And, as St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is men and women, fully alive.”

To diminish and to refuse to accept the God-given need of any two people to be in a loving, caring and intimate relationship is to inflict an intolerable hurt upon them. It is to undermine the wholeness they need to express the giftedness of who they are. It is to keep them in bondage.

We see examples of this in the history of this country. One way masters keep slaves in bondage is to disallow the legality or holiness of their relationships and families. Married relationships have no value in slavery. Couples can be separated at the master’s whim and sold down the river to different plantations. One way bondage is maintained is by denying the freedom of marriage.

We live in a world that is afraid of diversity, afraid of any deviation to the macho image of being a man. We live in a world that wants to dictate who may and who may not love each other and then, shame anyone who challenges this. We live in a world as described by Sergeant Leonard Matlovich: “They gave me a metal for killing a man and a discharge for loving one.”

In such a world, today, we come to this place to name and worship a God who is defined by relationship, a God who from Pharaoh’s Egypt to this very day continually breaks down barriers that hold people in bondage. In such a world we hold up a God who is revealed in men and women, women and women and men and men fully alive.

One function of every community of faith is to name and hold up the holy. When any two people move out of their positions of security and independence to touch and be touched by the other in the deepest sense, this is holy.

When any two people take the incredible risk of making a life long covenant, where both exquisite joy and excruciating pain are to be found, this is holy.

When any two people stand up in the face of opposition, refusing to hide, isolate or acquiesce, and there claim their inherent worth as children of God, this is holy.

We come to this place to name the holy.

Now as much as we are about proclaiming the Dream of God this morning, when all barriers are removed that keep people from fully living into who they are and who they can be, we are also about celebrating and supporting two specific people who are publicly committing themselves to do the hard work of building and maintaining a relationship. This is always about dealing with everyday stuff of life: such as who snores the louder, who insists on holding the TV remote and who needs more TLC.

Relationship is created out of the everyday stuff of life. It is about negotiating differences in the way we spend money and make decisions, about our tolerance for messiness and how we face conflict. It is about how we navigate through the minefields of hurts and rigidities, fears and fantasies we have each collected throughout our lives.

It is about our capacity to share emotions: rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. It is about learning how to be close and at the same time giving each other plenty of space.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about this in the Contemporary Lesson. “A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. Partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate, but swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the moment, to check the endless beauty of the unfolding. There is no place for possessive touch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand.” [2]

Marriage is one of life’s little miracles in which two people do the work to create such a relationship and then to nourish it. The essential ingredient to making such a miracle a reality is the degree to which each person can tolerate pain and stay in that hard place where growth for a couple happens.

Annie Dillard in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, paints the word picture of a country store in the middle of the winter with a “neatly stacked quarter-cord of fireplace logs manufactured of rolled pressed paper in front of it. On the wrapper of each log was printed in huge letters the beguiling slogan: ‘The ROMANCE without the HEARTTACHE.’” The point: there is no such thing. It is self-delusion. There is no commitment without a cost. What we celebrate today is the willingness of these two people to accept the cost.

So this Sunday morning at the Church of the Redeemer we come to this place to do more than honor Paul and Dan. We come here to name and praise the God who is made real in relationship. This is a God that looked around and said: ’I’m lonely. I’ll make me a world.”

We come here to name and praise a God that sets people free from bondage and tears down barriers that says to the captive that their families and marriages do not count. We come here to honor the words of Jesus of Nazareth who said that his commandment is that we love one another.

We come this place to hold up the Dream of God that one day nothing will stand in the way of any two people fully loving, respecting and committing themselves to each other.

We come to this place simply to be present and to support two people who want nothing more than to allow one of life’s little miracles to happen in their lives because that is what they need to be fully human. That is what they need to fully alive.

Lest we ever forget: The glory of God is human beings fully alive.


A Reading from Romans:

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

A reading from Gift of the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. Partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the moment, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive touch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back – it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving in the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus our Christ according to John:

9As God has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept God’s commandments and abide in God’s love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. …. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.


[1] Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation.

[2][2] A Gift of the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nine Eleven

Today was much more difficult than I imagined.

I thought it would get better with time.

It hasn’t.

I kept the church open today – rang the church bells twice, at the time each tower was hit. I hooked up the CD player to the sound system in the church and played meditative music all day, leaving books of prayers from various faiths – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., on the shelf by the baptismal font.

I hung up the “9/11 Stations of the Cross” I had made four years ago in the church bays where we normally hang the Stations of the Cross each Lent.

These are nine simple white poster boards with a cross in red and blue. Each poster has two pages of names of the almost 3,000 people who died and two obituaries, with pictures, from the NY Times – including the thirteen people from Chatham, one of whom, Robin Larkey, was a member of my congregation.

The Stations of the Cross of Jesus lead us into the story of the life and death of an innocent man. The 9/11 Stations of the Cross lead us into the stories of the lives and deaths of innocent men and women. It’s a powerful witness.

All day long, people came into the church to pray, but mostly they walked around reading the obituaries on the 9/11 Stations of the Cross. I spoke personally with most of them who mostly wanted to tell their story – where they had been when the Towers were hit, what they were doing, who they lost, what it has been like ever since.

It is still so very emotionally raw.

There were two couples who came at different times with a similar story. This was the first time, they said, that they had been to church in five years. They had lived in Chelsea or lower Manhattan, and were home that day. They saw the whole thing. They lived with the aftermath until June of 2002 when they moved to Chatham.

“I couldn’t stand it anymore,” one woman said to me. “The living room in my 17th story apartment had looked out on the Twin Towers. For the first few days, all I could see was smoke. Now, all I looked out on was an ugly, gaping hole.”

“I was born in New York City, grew up and went to school in New York City. I attended Columbia University from which my husband and I graduated. Our first two kids were born in New York City, but I couldn’t live there any more," she said, her blue eyes brimming with tears.

“I couldn’t go running by the Pier because that’s where the morgue had been. I couldn’t pass by some of the houses in my neighborhood because that’s where my friends lived who died in the Tower. I couldn’t look out my window and see that gaping hole every day. So, we had to leave. I couldn’t stand it anymore.” Her husband nodded in silent agreement.

As we talked, it all came back so clearly. One of our daughters, who lives on the Upper East Side and worked, at the time, at NYU, was on the train bound for the World Trade Center where she had a 10 AM appointment. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know anything about her until 2 PM when she finally got her cell phone to work. Those were the most frantic four hours of my entire life. Not knowing where she was. If she had gotten out. If she was safe. If she was alive.

In grateful thanksgiving, I resolved to go into the City to help in anyway I could. I intended to go to St. Vincent’s Hospital and put my nursing experience to good use. I thought I might be able to give some of the nurses a break from their shift – even if it was just to help tend the dying.

I put my collar on, packed some identification and took the subway in to the 23rd Street Station (that’s as far as they were running that night) and walked the rest of the way to Chelsea and St. Vincent’s Hospital. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Or, rather, what I didn’t see.

There was no crush of people. No ambulances lined up bringing in the wounded. No bustle of medical personnel treating people on the sidewalk and in the hallways. An EMT who was drinking coffee on the back of his ambulance saw me walking around, looking confused and dazed and said, “You came to help, Sister? Well, there’s nothing to do. There aren’t even any dead bodies. No patients to pray with. No dead bodies to bless. Nobody. Nothing. Just ashes.”

And then, almost to amuse himself from the boredom, or in a feeble attempt to protect his aching heart, he sang a little line from that macabre children’s song, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”

He told me that I could probably help out over at Seaman’s Church Institute where they were setting up a respite site for the rescue workers, so I headed there to offer my services. I stayed there for the next two nights.

What I saw there left indelible pictures in my mind. I wrote about them five years ago. I can barely stand to read what I wrote in my journal, much less repeat any of it here.

All of the visitors to the church with whom I spoke today, all agreed on one thing. There was one moment –one horrifying moment – that we all remembered with absolute clarity. It was the moment when we, with some annoyance, realized that we were covered in soot and ash, and began to shake the dust from our clothing and hair – only to suddenly comprehend that this wasn’t just the remains of crushed and pulverized concrete and marble – these were also the ashes of human bodies.

The awfulness of that realization was too much to take in. We simply stopped – frozen in motion – and no longer shook the dust from our clothes. We tried not to think about it anymore until we could get home and take them off.

I don’t know if any of us will ever get over the events of that day. Oh, we’ve moved and started new lives in new homes. Babies have been born – new life, more love and rediscovered joy.

We smile and go about our daily lives – groceries, laundry, kids, relatives, work. But, I think, we hug our kids a bit tighter now. In fact, we hug each other a lot more than we used to. We call and check in on each other more. Many of us have tried to simplify our lives – cut down on an activity or two. Plan more family nights. Take longer vacations together.

Once you’ve been covered in the ashes of another person, it seems, your life changes inalterably.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Even the dogs under the table

“ . . . even the dogs under the table. . .” Mark 7:24-37
A sermon preached on Pentecost XIV – September 10, 2006
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor.

It is so good, if not a bit daunting, to be back in this pulpit after a month away. I’ve been told that preaching is a bit like riding a bike – you never forget, but you might wobble a bit in the beginning. (At least, I hope that’s true!)

And, what a gospel to have to preach! This story appears in both Mark and Matthew’s gospel, in slightly different versions. No matter. If I were to give either story a headline in ‘The Jerusalem Enquirer,’ or run the headline on The Israeli Fox Network, the boldface print might read: “BUSTED! Jesus Confronted By His Own Prejudices.”

Yes, that would be prejudices. Plural. Each week we recite in the Nicene Creed that we believe Jesus is fully human and fully divine. This is one of those stories when we see those two parts of him revealed in full. And, it isn’t a pretty picture.

In the midst of divine healing, he is not only confronted with his own sexism, but his own racism – as well as his own issues around class status. Not only is this a woman, a fairly insistent woman, by Matthew’s account, but in Mark’s version, she is a woman of Syrophoenician origin – a Gentile!

In Matthew’s account, she is a Caaninite woman – a Jew, but of questionable lineage and racial impurity, there being so much intermarriage in this tribe that they were known as ‘mongrels’ – which would make his remark about “dogs” all the more pertinent.

No matter. Whether Caaninite or Syrphonician, the woman’s persistence in finding healing for her daughter’s illness leads her to find within herself a brilliant rejoinder to the cruel dismissal from Jesus.

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In other words, “Listen, man, with all due respect, there’s food enough for everyone.”

And, in that moment, Jesus comes face to face with his own human prejudice against gender and race and class status. “For saying that,” Jesus tells her, “you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

But, something even more important happens: Jesus comes to realize that his understanding of the ministry to which he has been called is too small. He thought he was to reform Judaism. What he learns is that he has come to change the world.

The Syrophoenician woman came for healing for her daughter from Jesus. What she brought was of even more importance: in her need, she brought divine healing for the humanity of Jesus.

Not only is our God a god of abundance, but our God is one of constant and continual surprise. I think God loves best to surprise us when we are most secure.

You know that old saying, “Do you know how to make God laugh? Make a plan.”

That’s not to say that we ought not have long-term plans, of course. But, we ought not be surprised if, as we head confidently down one path, to have God intervene with a surprise or two which confronts us on our prejudices, challenge our confidence, and tests our beliefs.

This is an important message for us to hear on the first Sunday of the new program year. After four years together, we now have an emerging vision of who we understand ourselves to be which has become embodied in our logo – the dancing tree, pushing itself beyond the boundaries of our name to invite absolutely everyone to “Come. Grow, and Celebrate with us.”

The challenge before us this year will be to discover the unique nature of our vocation as a church. What is it God is calling us to do? How will the mission of this Church make the mission of Jesus known in the world? What is it that we will do that will reveal to others what we know about ourselves as a Body of Christ?

Of course, I have a story about that. Oh, I have many, many stories about that, but I want to tell you this one in particular.

I was a newly ordained priest, working as Chaplain at the University of Lowell, in Lowell, MA. I had begun a course entitled, “The Ministry of Liturgical Leadership,” in which I hoped to raise up some of the students to lead worship services in the community.

I made inquiry about the neediest place in the city of Lowell were no worship services were being held and was told that The Solomon Carter Mental Health Center used to have services, but that no one was going there any more.

After several meetings with the University faculty and the folks at Solomon Carter, it was decided that I would take a group of students with me to the third floor locked unit for a simple weekly service of Holy Communion.

We were not allowed to bring anything from the outside, so it was agreed that the third floor staff would provide bread and grape juice (since wine would have an adverse affect on some of the psychotropic medications as well as the alcoholics in detox), and we’d have to use a paper plate and cup as chalice and paten.

Now, you must understand. I was a devout, dead serious, no-fooling-around, straight-up Anglo-Catholic in those days. Quite formal, actually. I know, hard to believe, isn’t it?

Well, it was quite true. I was as serious as a heart attack about the Eucharist and the true presence of Christ, and the thought of using grape juice made me even more dizzy than the thought of what I was supposed to do with paper Eucharistic vessels. Still, I soldiered on, devoutly asking Jesus in advance for his forgiveness and understanding.

We came to the locked unit, my students and I, all enthusiastic and excited, if not a bit scared, and were immediately distressed to learn that the staff had not gotten the memo about the bread and grape juice. Not to worry, the head nurse said, as her staff quickly improvised. Within minutes the orderly reappeared with what were to be the Eucharistic elements for the night: Graham crackers and grapefruit juice.

Lord have mercy!

I sent up a quick prayer of confession and prayed that Jesus would, in fact, come into this place and make himself truly present in the Graham crackers and grapefruit juice.

The recreation room was filled with an assortment of men and women in various states of consciousness – mostly barely so. Most were heavily medicated, rocking in their seats or standing against the wall, swaying back and forth.

I began to have serious doubts about this whole enterprise. I wondered that if, in fact Jesus did show up, would it make any difference to anyone here?

Therein awaited the surprise.

She sat in the front row, chain smoking unfiltered cigarettes, watching us carefully move through the reading of the first lesson, the psalm and the gospel. Lorraine, I think, was her name. She listened with amused curiosity as I tried to give a little homily and then, with perhaps a wee bit more enthusiasm than necessary, invited “absolutely everyone” to receive communion.

“Hey,” said Lorraine, “I’m divorce. Catlick. Been excommunicated. You can’t give me communion.”

“Oh, but you can receive,” I said. “We’re Episcopalians.”

“Ah, I heard of them ‘Piscopalians,” she said, “You take anybody.” She took long puffs on her cigarette as she considered her decision.

As I presided at Eucharist, the atmosphere in the room changed decidedly. Many of the patients began watching me carefully, curiously drawn to what was happening at the table. It seemed to awaken old memories, something, perhaps, from their youth.

They continued to rock in their chairs or sway on their feet, but their eyes were watching for Jesus.

When it came time for distribution of communion, much to my surprise, Lorraine devoutly took the bit of Graham Cracker, but she sipped the juice with great disdain, obviously having anticipated wine. I could hardly fault her for that.

She seemed to be in deep prayer and then suddenly looked up and shouted, “Hey, ain’t we s’posed to be singing something?” “Sure,” I said, “go ahead, Lorraine. Lead us in your favorite hymn.”

And, so she did. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth and piously began, “She’ll be commin’ round the mountain when she comes.”

By the second round, the rest of the congregation joined in, “She’ll be commin’ round the mountain when she comes.” By the time they got to, “She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes,” and EVERYONE was singing, I knew that this was a holy place, and that Jesus had never been more present – for them or for me.

Further, I understood clearly that my vision of ministry had been too small, too rigid, too narrow, and that God was calling me to reexamine my vocation in the light of what I was learning about Jesus from the clients of the Solomon Carter Mental Health Center in Lowell, MA.

My dear friends, there is a Syrophoenician woman waiting for you and me this year, who will be sent to help us clarify our unique vocation in this part of the Vineyard of God.

She’ll be drivin’ six white horses – or on the NJ Transit – when she comes to challenge our confidence and test our beliefs. We, like Jesus, will no doubt be busted by our own prejudices.

Hopefully, we too will find healing of our humanity, so that we may find the spark of divinity which called each one of us into being.

For not only is our God a god of abundance, our God is one of constant and continual surprise. There is holy food enough for all God’s children – in Graham crackers and grapefruit juice as well as in bread and wine.

Sometimes, it is the one who begs for crumbs who leads us to know the fullness of the Eucharistic feast.

Or, as one evangelist once said, “The Church is at its best when it understands that it is one hungry person showing another how to get bread."


Friday, September 08, 2006

Out of the Funk

We used to call them “the dog and pony show.” Before that, it was unofficially known as “the beauty pageant.” Both terms drip with the sarcasm that comes from combining a blatantly political practice with a deeply spiritual process of discernment.

Some still call them “the walk-abouts” – an attempt to dignify the process with an Anglican term for organized group meetings in which members of the British Royal Family walk past assembled crowds of onlookers, meeting and chatting with various members of the public. It has fallen into disuse, because it is also an Australian pidgin (or perhaps quasi-pidgin) term, used in the film Crocodile Dundee among others, referring to the belief that Australian Aborigines "go walkabout" at the age of thirteen in the wilderness for six months as a rite of passage. The term is now considered to be racially insensitive.

The current phrase is infinitely more pragmatic if not less romantic: “Meet the Candidates” – which is exactly what we did last night. A capacity crowd spilled over in each of the five designated rooms at St. Andrew’s Holy Communion Church in South Orange last night, as the seven nominees for the election of the 10th Bishop of Newark met with us.

They had met the previous evening at All Saints Church in Leonia, where 150 people were expected, but over 300 people were reportedly in attendance.

Although the buzz at 11:00 PM outside the church was pretty clearly focused on three of the candidates, it would be highly improper for me to speculate on any front runner or dead last place candidate here. There remains an all day gathering with clergy today until 4 PM at St. Elizabeth’s in Ridgewood, an all day meeting with the laity at the Hilton in Parsippany on Saturday, and a Sunday afternoon gathering at St. Mary’s, Sparta.

There are many miles to go before anyone – especially the nominees – gets any sleep.

While each candidate was impressive in their own way, that’s not what was most impressive to me. I am delighted, beyond the telling, to see my diocese energized again.

We have been in a deep funk for a while now, which has only gotten more difficult to dispel the longer it has continued. We’ve been disillusioned with highly promised congregational development techniques which have failed to deliver on their promises.

We’ve been isolated and disconnected from each other, despite the clear intention of the reorganization of the diocese into districts in which we were supposed to deepen our capacity for ministry through increased congregational collaboration.

We’ve had to come face to face with the consequences of delaying important decisions about congregational vitality. Our new bishop is going to have to make some tough decisions relatively soon into their episcopacy and that’s a heavy burden to give anyone.

We’ve also discovered the high cost of discipleship – of being obedient to our call to call ourselves, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion into humble obedience to the radical call of Jesus for the full inclusion and unconditional love of God for all of God’s children.

And yet, we haven’t backed down from either our historical legacy or our unique vocation. The Nominating / Search Committee felt called to present a slate which included one who is honestly gay – despite the recent actions of General Convention in Columbus. And they did just that.

Through it all, we have remained faithful, courageous and bold in our faith in Christ Jesus. I have come to believe that this is what has made the difference. Our steadfast faithfulness is what finally released the energy last night as we meet the candidates long into the evening.

Clergy and laity were asking important questions, pointed questions – with intelligence, humor and grace – of each of the candidates. (Oh, there was one question asked by a man about “clergy with unnatural urges” but even that was handled well.) We were often excited by what we heard in their responses – the creative, innovative, grace-filled, prayer-full and deeply spiritual approach many of the candidates have to their ministry.

We were frequently impressed by the obvious thought and care they had given to how they would adapt their theologies to formulate a methodology that was respectful of and pertinent to our unique place in the vineyard of our mission and ministry.

I woke this morning with this prayer on my lips: “Thank you, Most Holy God, for sending us these candidates. They have become for us bearers of your message that we have been obedient to your call; that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and worthy, in fact, to proclaim it to the world. Thank you for having given us the courage to live out your gospel in a church which wants to contain and define and control the Great Mystery of your presence in the center of our lives. Now, help us to faithfully discern the one you have already chosen to be our Chief Pastor, to lead us as “pioneers of the future,” fueling the “diocesan engine of justice” with “the energy of evangelism” – which is “one hungry person teaching another how to get bread.” We boldly ask all these things of you, secure in the knowledge of your unconditional love and your promise to always be in the midst of us whenever we gather together in your name. Amen.

And now, let the funk be forever gone! Bless us onward to know the glory of God, the deep joy which the apostles knew, and the inspiration of the fresh winds of change and challenge.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Remembering Ms. Verna

Ms. Verna Dozier, 88, a retired D.C. public school teacher and administrator who became a leading theologian and lay preacher in The Episcopal Church, died September 1 of complications from Parkinson's Disease.

Ms. Verna was a 'fierce' laywoman whose deep commitment to living out of and into our Baptismal Covenant as the only license needed by any Christian to do ministry, helped to shape and form the theology of The Episcopal Church.

She was the author of many books, among them: "Equipping the Saints"(1981), "The Authority of the Laity" (1982), and "The Dream of God: A Call to Return," (1991), in which she argued that religious leaders too often ignore social justice to focus instead on spirituality. "God wants his people to follow Jesus, not worship him," she said.

The Episcopal Church mourns the death of a spiritual giant. Personally, I grieve the loss of a spiritual mentor and soul friend.

My favorite memory of Verna Dozier is the "charge" she gave to Jane Holmes Dixon at her consecration at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

I'll never forget it.

Ms. Verna, also affectionately described by neophytes to the church as "that little itty bity African-American woman," was in that grand stone pulpit, standing on a box and yet still not quite visible from the congregation.

When it came time for the "consecration charge," she peered up over the microphone and, speaking like the spiritual giant she was said, "Jane Holmes Dixon, stand up."

And, of course, Jane did. Immediately.

She cleared her throat and began, "Every leader in Christian community most often wants one thing," she said, pausing before she continued, "They want desperately to be loved."

The silence was deafening. Everyone in that big cavernous cathedral who knew anything about Christian leadership knew exactly what she was talking about. We held our collective breath waiting for what was coming next.

"Jane Holmes Dixon," said Ms. Verna (but she was speaking to everyone else in the congregation, herself included), "you must find that place in you that wants desperately to be loved . . . and," she slowed down for effect, ". . . let . . .it . . . die."

I could hear myself gasp even over the gasps of recognition all around me.

I'll never forget that moment. Ever.

And, I will forever be grateful for this and all the other many valuable lessons taught (like, if you're going to drink Bourbon, it should be Maker's Mark) by that quintessential Christian teacher, leader, pastor and prophet, Ms. Verna Dozier.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mother Nature

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

I’ll admit being old enough to remember that margarine commercial.

I hate to admit, though, that I’m old enough to have lost enough memory to have forgotten the brand of that product.

But, I’ll not soon forget Hurricane Ernesto – the unwanted and uninvited Labor Day Weekend Guest, who came anyway on September 1, 2006.

Ernesto had been downgraded to a “tropical depression” by the time he hit the Eastern Shore and Delamarva area. If this was a “tropical depression” I can’t even begin to imagine what it might be like to live thorough a hurricane like Katrina – except from what we’ve seen on television.

Although, come to think of it, my memory isn’t all that bad. I do remember my first hurricane.

I vaguely remember Hurricane Diane. I was six years old and what I remember most was that my mother went into labor and came home with my baby sister. She was supposed to have been a boy, and my parents didn’t have a name picked out for a girl. So, at my suggestion, she was named after the hurricane. That was much more exciting for me than a hurricane.

The hurricane I really remember came a few years later. As I recall, I was nine years old and we were living in Westport, MA. Hurricane Carole was howling outside my bedroom window, which overlooked our next door neighbor’s yard.

Evie and Lou Rego were great neighbors. Their three children, Joan, Ron and Lori were always in our home and we in there’s. They had a wonderful Weeping Willow tree in their side yard, just outside their kitchen window, which faced our dining room window.

I don’t know a kid in our neighborhood, myself included, who didn’t love playing under “Mz. Willow.” We would hide under her branches in the heat of the summer to drink lemonade and escape the summer heat. If we wrapped her silky branches around our bodies we would become beautiful mermaids. Someone else would use her branches to transform her face to the long, flowing beard of Neptune, the King of the Sea. An exciting drama would suddenly enfold, breaking the boredom of a particularly long Sunday afternoon.

Now, lying on my bed, I could hear the winds of Hurricane Carole outside. I had turned away from my window, having seen the storm whip Mz. Willow’s branches into a frenzy, making her look like the hideous head of Media, an ugly tangle of snakes.

At the hurricane’s height, I remember a particularly dreadful sound which filled the air – something monstrous and ominous sounding. If I close my eyes, I can hear it still, and my body still shivers in response.

I remember racing to the window only to watch in horror as the wind took one last swipe at our beloved Mz. Willow. She slowly surrendered her shallow root system and fell, gracefully, even in death, on her side, kindly and generously missing the Rego home.

I remember crying out and weeping inconsolably for our beautiful Mz. Willow.

It was my first experience of the power of nature and I distinctly remember, in the midst of my grief and mourning at the loss of Mz. Willow, that my initial fear and horror became my first encounter with a deep sense of humility and awe.

Senor Ernesto hit this area with a terrifying strength. The howling winds whipped the normally calm waters of the Bay into a frenzy. By the time high tide arrived in the late afternoon, the water was rising above our pier, the winds pushing the water closer and closer to our home.

We were evacuated around 4:30 PM, thinking that we’d spend a few hours waiting out the high tide and be able to return by bedtime. It was not to be so. The wind pushed the high water even higher, which flooded the streets and made them impassible.

We spent the night in the "SeaEsta Motel" in Long Neck (got the last of three remaining rooms) which only charged us $79 and allowed us to keep our puppies with us. (Lenny and CoCo were greatly relieved – as were we. I couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.)

No one really slept. All through the night, Ernesto’s howling winds rattled the windows and doors like the Big Bad Wolf, huffing and puffing, threatening to blow our room down.

We awoke in the morning to hear our neighbors talking about the latest news: one death reported, lots of power lines and trees down, but the flooding had receded and we could return home. We gulped down some dreadful hotel room coffee, brushed our teeth, and wasted no time getting ourselves back to our beloved Llangollen.

There is much for which to be grateful. There is no structural damage to the house. The water came up on our deck and into our enclosed porch. The carpet is wet right up to the sliding glass door that separates our living room from the porch, but it went no further.

We've lost two shutters and two gutters and the yard is a mess of sea grass.

There is a piece of cinder block in the foundation which was pushed out and the water pushed against some of the windows which will need to be re-calked, but that seems to be the extent of the damage. All in all, not bad. Not bad at all. I'm amazed.

Our neighbor's boat capsized, another had the canvass canopy blow off. Our next door neighbor had a roof shingle fly through his living room window, sending shattered glass everywhere - inside and out - and allowing the rain to soak through his living room.

The amazing thing is that two sides of our house were absolutely COVERED in grasshoppers. They live in the marsh (they're what the fish jump for) which was still flooded when we returned. Some of the marsh critters - birds that look prehistoric that I've only seen from a distance - were also temporarily homeless, wandering around in our yard, looking a bit dazed and forlorn. They were able to return once the waters subsided in low tide.

The wonderful part has been being part of a community helping each other clean up and fix up.

Grant, a parishioner from Chatham who is also neighbor here in Long Neck, helped to nail back the one gutter on our house that didn't get blown away. He also went into our shed and got out some old aluminum siding and patched some of the open places of the other gutter, so if it rains again, no further damage will be done.

I've been working theological overtime as bad theology abounds. How is it that almost seven years into the Third Millennium and people still think Hurricanes are "an act of God"?

I’m still amazed that Ernesto was considered a “tropical depression.” I mentioned this to my friend, Joseph, who gave me this explanation which I found most helpful:

“As I understand it from reading stuff . . .while in New Orleans, it's not only about designation -- tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane category 3, 4, 5, etc. It's also about size and duration.”

“So Katrina, a category 3, did much more damage than Camille, which was a category 5 because Katrina was larger and lasted longer than Camille, which was more intense but also more compact.”

”Of course, with Katrina, it was also about flooding, which followed the hurricane, and which resulted from years and years of unfortunate, short-sighted, pork-barrel decisions, primarily on the part of the Corps of Engineers. But don't get me going.”

It’s also about global warming, of course, which we’ve ignored, as well as disturbing the ecological balance in the marsh lands around New Orleans – as a prime example – but in many, many other areas around the globe, like the Delvarva Peninsula and the Eastern Shore.

But don’t get me going.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Words absolutely, completely fail me . . .

Church condemns abortion performed on raped girl, 11

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá
Thursday August 31, 2006


A Vatican official has said the Catholic church will excommunicate a medical team who performed Colombia's first legal abortion on an 11-year-old girl, who was eight weeks pregnant after being raped by her stepfather.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, said in addition to the doctors and nurses, the measure could apply to "relatives, politicians and lawmakers" whom he called "protagonists in this abominable crime".

The girl, whose identity has not been released, had "fallen in the hands of evildoers", the cardinal said in an interview with local television on Tuesday.

In May Colombia's constitutional court partially lifted the ban on abortion in this deeply Catholic country, allowing pregnancies to be terminated in cases of severe deformity of the foetus, when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

The first test of the ruling came when the girl sought to terminate her pregnancy, which followed her being raped by her stepfather. The man admitted to the abuse, which began when the child was seven.

When the case became public, doctors were wary of performing the abortion as the text of the court's ruling has yet to be published and they feared prosecution. But the high court issued a new ruling, compelling doctors to abide by its decision if the woman's case fell within the criteria.

Once the ruling was handed down, the girl's pregnancy was terminated at a public hospital in Bogotá.

Carlos Lemus, the director of Simon Bolivar hospital where the abortion was performed, said he respected the church's decision but did not share its view.

"We acted within the constitutional framework," Dr Lemus said. "We were faced with the petition of a girl who wanted to go back to playing with her toys."

He said Cardinal Trujillo "calls the doctors and nurses 'evildoers'. I think the person who raped her is the evildoer".

A senator, Gina Parody, said: "The Vatican has the right to excommunicate whomever they choose. But I would hope that they also excommunicate priests when they rape boys or girls."

The president of Colombia's ecclesiastic tribunal, Monsignor Libardo Ramírez, said according to canonical law excommunication was applied to anyone who participated in the "murder of a child in the womb".

But he added that it would be up to Cardinal Rubiano Sáenz, as the leading figure of the Roman Catholic church in Colombia, to decide whether to formally apply the sanctions and to whom.

Public health authorities have estimated that more than 300,000 clandestine abortions are carried out each year in the country.

Illegal abortion is punishable by up to three years in prison for both the women who terminate their pregnancies and for the doctors who perform the procedure.,,1861532,00.html