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Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Baptismal Love Letter

A Baptismal Love Letter to Reese Michele Cicola
Pentecost XXI – October 29, 2006 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Reese,

One of the deep joys of being a parish priest is being invited into the families of the congregation. It seems hard to believe that your brother, Nicky, was baptized here just a few short years ago. And now, here you are, as beautiful as your brother is handsome. And, your parents, grandparents, godparents and relatives are just as thrilled to be here on this very important day.

It’s hard to imagine that in about 10 or 12 years, you’ll be reading this Love Letter and preparing yourself for Confirmation. I hope you’ll be reading the scriptures appointed for today (Jeremiah 31;7-9; Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28; and Mark 10:46-52) and considering what message they have for you as you take these baptismal vows for yourself.

I want to focus on the story of Blind Bartimaeus from Mark’s gospel, because I think this story has a great deal to say about faith and healing – and those two thing, Reese: faith and healing – are central to what I know being a Christian is all about.

The first thing to note about Bartimaeus is that his blindness has apparently not been from birth. He asks Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” Did you hear that? “Again.” Bartimaeus was once able to see but now is blind. One wonders what caused him to be blind. Was it an infection that caused his blindness? Did he sustain an injury that detached his retina? Did he need glasses? Perhaps he was born with cataracts which today would have been corrected with a simple outpatient procedure with lasers.

I can only imagine how cataracts might be treated 10 or 12 years from now. But, centuries ago, it caused blindness. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? But you know, it still causes blindness in some parts of the world. Some children growing up in the Global South can not dream of the things we take for granted. As I write this letter to you there is genocide happening in Darfur in Africa, while not six hundred miles away, other Africans have greater affluence than some Americans or Western Europeans. It just doesn’t make any sense, does it?

As I write this, war is also raging in Iraq and thousands of American soldiers – mothers and fathers of young boys and girls, as well as innocent Iraqi mothers and fathers and their children – are dying in a war that no longer makes any sense (if it ever did). Within just these two examples lie the first lesson from this morning’s gospel, Reese: not all blindness is physical. Many of us are spiritually blind to the hunger and poverty and disease and senseless deaths of people around the world. We turn a blind eye to them and then wonder why our own faith goes lacking.

The second thing to notice in this story of Blind Bartimaeus is his persistence. Scripture tells us that “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly . . .” Persistence is a wonderful form of faith, Reese. The funny thing about persistence is that we don’t recognize it as faith. Many people will “pooh-pooh” it as stubbornness or willfulness – as if those were bad things. I suppose, in some situations, they can be.

But, when we are moved to do something – when we know in our gut that this is the right thing to do – when everyone else in our family or our culture tell us that we are wrong, and even we don’t understand why it is or how it is we get the strength to stand up and ask for what we need – well, that persistence is faith in action. Some might call it “blind faith” – which is a good form of blindness, if you can imagine that. Persistence is faith that is blind to obstacles that stand in our way. Persistence is faith that stays focused on achieving the thing we know we are called by God to do – to achieve. And we know that if we but persist, if we persevere, God will give us what it is we need, and justice will have been served.

Just this week, the Supreme Court of New Jersey handed down a decision that will provide LGBT people their civil right to marriage. Right now, we’re not calling it ‘marriage’. It’s called a civil union. Whether or not we call it marriage is up to the activist and the lawmakers to decide. The important thing is that 30 years ago it was not possible to even imagine such a thing. Persistence – blind faith – has brought us to this moment in time, just as it brought Bartimaeus to spring up from his feet and find his way to Jesus.

The last thing to note about this story, Reese, is something about healing. Jesus did not touch Bartimaeus in order to heal him. He simply said, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Not, “I have made you well.” Jesus said, “Your faith as made you well.” I want you to pay close attention to that, Reese.

It is faith that heals. Blind faith. Persistent faith. Faith that is strong enough to pull us up out of our spiritual blindness and lead us toward that which is good and true. Faith that has the courage to throw off that which has kept us comfortable and warm and risk our safety for hope – for the promise of hope – for ‘hoping against hope’ – for hope which is unseen and unknown but we can still feel it burning deep within our bones. It is the flicker of that hope which lights the way, and our eyes are suddenly opened to possibility and opportunity – against all the odds or prevailing wisdom.

Before Bartimaeus could see Jesus with they eyes in his head, he saw him through the eyes of his heart. That kind of faith is the stuff of miracles, Reese. And, contrary to what you may believe in this thoroughly modern age, miracles happen all the time. You, in fact, are a miracle. You and your brother. You are the dream of your mothers. You are the embodied hope of your grandparents and godparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. That baptismal dress you are wearing is a family heirloom. Fifty years ago, no one could have possibly imagined that you would be wearing it today. That you would be here, all pink and beautiful and precious. But you here you are. A living, breathing, cooing miracle.

Here’s what I know about being a Christian, Reese: faith and healing are central to the Christian identity because at the core of being Christian is the most powerful force on earth. That force is called love. In the church we call it Love Incarnate, Love Divine. It is the love which called you into being. It is the love which called you forth from the heavens and brought you here to be with us. It is the love which can only be seen through the eyes of the heart.

This is the love and the faith and the healing into which you are about to be baptized, Reese. It is the legacy and the heritage of baptism. You remind us all of those gifts today, the gifts each of us were given at our baptism. As we renew our baptismal vows with you, some of us will have the eyes of our hearts opened. Some of us who have been spiritually blind for a while will find that our sight has been renewed.

Little miracles will happen all over the church. Case in point: that baptismal font. It has been sitting over there, in the corner, for as long as anyone can remember, but it has not been used. Why? Well, when baptisms were performed there, not everyone in the congregation could see. We’d have to move it to the center aisle, but it’s very, very heavy. So, instead of using it, we’ve been using a glass bowl on a movable stand. Meanwhile, that baptismal font sits over there – like some kind of antique or family heirloom.

A conversation with the Altar Guild led to its being moved today. Your baptism is the first part of the Great Baptismal Font Experiment. We’re going to try it out here, for a while, to open the eyes of our hearts to the possibilities it may bring to us. To see things in a new way that we might not have seen before. We’re being blindly led by faith to see what might be healed in us, what harness of heart may be softened – as individuals and as a community – when we put baptism back into the center of our lives.

It’s an exciting time in this community of faith, Reese, and you are part of it. There’s no telling what may happen next. Oh, some people will grumble – but, some people always do. There will always be those among us, like there were for Bartamaeus, who will sternly order us to be quiet – to not disturb the status quo – to not cause the problems which inevitably come when some things change.

Remember this, Reese: Persistent faith, blind faith, is at the heart of healing. And healing is at the heart of what it means to be Christian. Welcome to your life in Christ, Reese. Welcome to the little miracles that abound when we open the eyes of our heart to the presence of Love Incarnate, Love Divine. Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

And lady makes three

The Presiding Bishop Elect, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Presiding Bishop Frank Tracy Griswold, were invited to Lambeth Palace to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Bishop Griswold is quoted as saying how pleased he was at the warm reception given to Bishop Katharine by the Archbishop.

Lovely. Just lovely.

What a perfectly lovely way to begin one's primacy - especially as the first woman Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first woman Primate in the Anglican Communion - albeit one who has been unceremoniously disinvited from being at table with some of the Bishops, Archbishops and Primates of the Global South.

I know this is the most insignificant comment I could make - bordering on petty - and this will most likely start a tempest in a traditional British tea pot, but I found myself sighing and wishing 'Herself' had worn a skirt.

And, not just a "proper" skirt. Something long and flowing. You know. (Dare I say it?) Feminine. And, did she have to wear the suit jacket?

I know. I know.

At least that's a woman "up there" - standing next to two of the most powerful men in the Anglican Communion - taking her rightful role of leadership. It's a far cry from the "Women: Know your limits" film which I recently posted on this blog.

I know. I know. "We've come a long way baby."

And, as Flo Kennedy once said, "If we had come a long way, no one would be calling us baby."

I do know Katharine and I admire her greatly. She's much more comfortable in slacks that she is in a skirt and, goodness knows, there's so much of what she's called to do that is uncomfortable that she should at least be given the latitude of wearing whatever the bloody hell she's comfortable wearing.

Deep sigh.

Okay. I'm back on board. I just had to say what I know a lot of the sisters are saying silently. It's terribly important that there is a woman "up there" with the two boys. It's most likely important that she IS, in fact, wearing slacks.

Goodness knows, as they say in the South (that's as in the Southern States of America), "We wouldn't want to startle the horses."

I'm certain ++Katharine will be startling the horses the minute she takes the reins on this runaway horse in the Anglican Communion called The Episcopal Church.

In the final analysis, it won't matter whether she's in a skirt or a pair of slacks.

Even so, I think I'll send her some pink roses.

Just War Theory

This is my favorite cartoon from the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) files.

I don't think it needs a caption, but I do wonder exactly which part of the "JWT" has given them such a giggle.

Anyone out there want to venture a guess? Best caption wins a free map to the exact secret location of the Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Women: Know Your Limits

As we prepare to "invest" the first woman Presiding Bishop and Primate in the Anglican Communion, you can not afford to miss this

If that link is not "hot" try:

There, don't we all feel better now?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Singing the Praises of Family

I found this over at Susan Russell's site An Inch at a time

It's a perfectly delightful video on of a young man singing an "ode to his two fathers"

Check it out here ... and, as Suze says, "give thanks for families that come in many shapes, sizes and varieties living out values that make this world a better place for all of us! "

If it walks like a duck . . .

Well, the long awaited verdict is in. Yesterday, the Supreme Court in the State of New Jersey ruled that GLBT people in New Jersey can be married, but we just can’t call it that.

Following the example of the State of VT, the verdict of NJ Supremes is to call it a “civil union.”

I know. It was a “decision” not a verdict. Never mind. I’m still going to call it a verdict because it feels more like a judgment of guilt than a logical, rational decision about civil rights.

That guilt, I suppose, would be “guilt by association” – the association of two people of the same gender who form families with each other, and with each other’s families, and sometimes (more and more these days) with children they have borne or adopted or welcomed into their homes and hearts through foster care.

I don’t get it.

If it sounds like a duck and walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s a duck. Right?

Well, friends, that may be true for ducks but it’s not to be so for the solemn and holy relationship between two people of the same sex. It may look like marriage, and have all the same legal rights of marriage, and even sound like a marriage when you attend the ceremony, but somehow, it’s not marriage, it’s a ‘civil union.’

I suppose this logic follows that old gentile Southern saying, “Well, you don’t want to scare the horses.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the progress. The activists at Garden State Equality (GSE) are not going to be happy with me for saying this, but at least it’s a step forward from ‘domestic partnership,’ which my ‘partner’ and I are pleased to have. Progress is still progress.

Steve Goldstein over at GSE argues that this is not a helpful position for a community leader to take. He writes, “It's not heaven, it's not hell, it's purgatory,” adding that, “there is a problem with telling anyone, whether your family, friends or even journalists, that the decision is a victory: It will hurt our efforts to win marriage equality in the next 180 days.”

Goldstein concludes, “The bottom line is this: Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. Anything short of marriage equality deprives LGBTI families of the equal protection they so desperately need. Contraptions short of marriage, like civil unions and domestic partnerships, do not provide that protection, as we've learned through the New Jersey experience. Thus we do not have a win yet.”

People have been asking us if we’ll have a ‘civil union’ now and hope that it will be ‘grandmothered’ as a marriage. My response has been that after thirty years, I’m holding out for the diamond engagement ring. If Ms. Conroy is smart, she’ll do the same thing.

The interesting thing is what this all does in the church. It’s classic irony. In the Diocese of Newark, we have no “official” diocesan policy about blessing same sex relationships. Neither do we have an “official” liturgy.

All that being said, clergy and bishops in this diocese have been performing blessings for more than 25 years. One clergy person has even taken to naming – and recording both same sex blessings and heterosexual marriage in church records – as “Sacramental Marriage.” (I know. I know. Don’t get me started.)

Here’s the real irony: The canons of the church are very, very clear that the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. So, while clergy can preside at a blessing of same sex couples, we can’t preside at their marriage.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

The question, however, remains: Can we preside at the Civil Union of Same Sex Couples? Tune in tomorrow folks, for the next episode of “As the Church turns . . ”(Cue dramatic musak)

The bottom line for me is this: it’s not a step backward. The Supremes, thank God, didn’t say ‘no.’ They could have. But, in that silly legal game of “Simon Says,” they said,

“The Supremes say, ‘Take another baby step forward.’”

The thing about “bottom lines,” however, is that when you reach it, you often find that it has moved. Here’s what I mean by that: I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but you know, I’m really tired of taking baby steps to the full realization of what the Constitution guarantees every citizen of these United States of America – and, that would include me.

I’m weary of having to justify the fullness of my participation in the human enterprise – to have a family, to love, to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I’m fed up with the second class status assigned to my first rate family.

In many ways, Steve Goldstein is absolutely right: We have not yet won the fight.

It’s times like these when I am encouraged by the teachings of community organizer and founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Saul Alinsky. He said:

“Power is not only what you have, it’s what the target thinks you have.”

And: “Make the target live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter or E-mail gets a reply, send thousands.”

And, “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

So, go over to Garden State Equality and sign this petition .

They will automatically send a copy to the appropriate legislators.

Do it NOW. Go ahead. Go on. Now. Before you forget.

And, if you’ve got a few shekels, send the good folks at GSE a few.

Justice is expensive.

When you reach your bottom line, you come to understand just what a precious commodity justice really is.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What a friend we have in Jesus

A Sermon preached by Jon M. Richardson
Senior Seminarian, The Theological School at Drew University

Mark 10:35-45 - Pentecost 20, Proper 24
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham - October 22, 2006

In the name of God: Creative, Word, and Wisdom. Amen.

Well, I hope y’all were listening closely this morning. That’s right, this gospel is one of those passages that you won’t be hearing very often in this church. And even though an almost exact copy of this lesson appears in Matthew’s gospel and an abbreviated version appears in Luke’s gospel, the church, in its wisdom, has seen it fit only to share this story with us once in our three year cycle of readings. Sure, you could hear it every year if you attended a celebration of the Feast of St. James the Apostle – but how many of us go out of our way to celebrate that festal day each year? [Don’t worry, I won’t ask for a show of hands.]

But whenever we encounter these rare texts, a part of me can’t help but wonder why we seem to be avoiding certain stories. Are we hiding from something? Obviously the gospel writers and those early church leaders who assembled our canon of scripture must have felt that the story was important enough that it should be included in some version in three of the four gospel accounts that found their way into our final collection. But why don’t we follow their lead and incorporate this lesson more fully into our spiritual practices of reading and reflecting?

I’ll admit that there is something a bit unsettling about this text for me, and I could see how it might be equally unsettling for the leaders of the church. It seems very natural for us to seek attention and favor from those whom we love and respect just the way James and John did. A little nepotism never really hurt anyone, did it?

Honestly, who among us would not be pleased if we learned that a coworker, who just happens to be a good friend, was promoted to a position of authority over us? The frustrations of the work day would likely be eased if the boss regularly had dinner with you and your family, or joined you for Happy Hour every Friday. In the political realm, it’s a common practice for our elected officials to thank their most devout supporters by offering some sort of favor associated with the power of their office. In my home state of Louisiana we’ve developed a system of political kickbacks and favors into a “good ole boy” network that seems almost artful in its design; and, I’ve been hearing over the past few years that New Jersey can be a close rival for those kinds of structures.

And even in the church we can occasionally find ourselves guilty of these kinds of problems. Over the past few months, as our church has been in the process of choosing new leadership at both national and diocesan levels, I have occasionally heard people supporting this candidate or that for no other reason than because they have a “close” relationship with so-and-so. The subtext seems to be something like, “This bishop will make my job easier because we had sushi last week.” You can almost imagine backroom conversations where someone says, “Gee Rev. Joey, I think you’d make a great bishop and I’m gonna tell all my friends about you…. Don’t you think I’d be a good Canon to the Ordinary??”

So perhaps it’s just a little easier for the church if we turn a blind eye to those stories that make us look a little too much like those powerful religious leaders in the Temple that Jesus is always fussing about.

And it’s not just in the world, and certainly not just in the church that people hope to earn the favor of the powerful. Even, on a deeper level, in our own lives, we often find ourselves seeking a kind of God who will step in to carry out the plans that we’ve already made.

We often do this with the best of intentions. When our loved ones are dying and we plead for just a little more time. When we feel genuinely called to our vocations and we pray that God will make the people who make decisions about our futures recognize those things which seem so obvious to us.

Even when we don’t come to God with a clear path in mind, there can seem to be, in the core of our existence, a proclivity among us to wish for a God who will just automatically fix whatever bothers us. We’ve all done it. You see those familiar red and blue flashing lights in your rearview mirror and say, “Oh God, I hope he’s not coming for me.”

You’re being grilled by a boss or a client for some mistake you’ve made and you pray that God will somehow give you an answer to solve the problem. And even in those deeper moments of woe: when our hearts are unsettled because of instability in our relationships, when we feel lonely or alone, when we grieve the sufferings of those whom we love; we often pray that God will just push some button in heaven and make everything okay.

I think most of us know, at least intellectually, that God doesn’t tend to work that way. But it can be very tempting to fall into that kind of wishful thinking.

But before we judge James and John (or even ourselves) too harshly, let’s think about this. I mean really, didn’t Jesus bring this on himself? During his ministry he was always running around doing pretty big favors for people. If he wasn’t helping blind people to see he was helping lame people walk. Once, when he was at a wedding and they ran out of wine, he just took some water and made some more. Just this week at Evening Prayer one of the Daily Office Lectionary readings was the story of Jesus healing a twelve year old girl whom everyone thought was dead. Jesus only allowed a few people to witness this, and among that few were James and John.

They had seen him do some pretty amazing things for other people who really had no significant qualifications beyond proximity and faith. They both had proximity and faith; shouldn’t they get a little kickback like the others? They weren’t asking for anything too big – just a position as second in command to this Messiah whom they thought would be the ruler of the world.

Is that really so much to ask between friends? [It puts a whole new spin on that whole “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” theology, doesn’t it?]

But what James and John failed to recognize was that Jesus had at least ten other friends who might be put out by their desire to move to the top of the ladder. Mark says, “When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.”

In their desire for a higher place than the rest, James and John had subverted the real ministry of God moving among us – the deeper ministry of drawing us, all of humanity, into a closer relationship with God the Creative, God the Word, and God the Wisdom. If Jesus had merely granted their wish like a genie in a lamp, the presumed hierarchical division between God and humanity would have been made more severe, not less.

You may have heard about the latest saga of the “Days of our lives in the Anglican Communion”. It has been proposed that an effective response to our disputes over human sexuality might be to develop a “two-tiered structure” in which churches who are willing to sign a neo-orthodox statement of faith and vow of practice would be allowed to continue making decisions for the whole communion; and, those of us who try to live into the gospel and our baptismal covenant in a more progressive way would be relegated to a lesser position where we would still be allowed to scream for justice from the sidelines, but we wouldn’t be allowed into any of the real decision making processes.

It occurred to me, as I’ve been studying and reflecting on the Gospel lesson for this week, that the Anglican Communion is not the first to consider developing a “two-tiered structure”. James and John, right from the beginning of this Christian communion, in their very real and human way, were hoping to be prominent leaders in the reign of God. They were asking for their friend, Jesus, to push some button that would ensure their status as members of his inner circle. Jesus knew that such aspirations were contrary to the aim of God – that all of creation was called to be in the inner circle with both God, in all of our understandings of God, and with each other.

Perhaps there is a need to reevaluate our understanding of Communion in the Anglican world. Perhaps we, in the West, need to learn a lesson from our brothers and sisters in the so-called “Global South” – a lesson exemplified in the gospel lesson today by the other disciples’ anger with James and John in their desire to be first and best – a lesson about holding our colleagues in ministry accountable for their actions.

In reality there has always been a kind of “two-tiered” structure in human communities and for the past several centuries it has been us in the West at the top tier and everyone else in the world on the bottom. The churches of the “Global South” are right to be angry about that injustice, but they are wrong to try to correct it with new injustices. We have a duty to the ministry of reconciliation as established by Christ and affirmed in our baptismal covenant to call out, through the lens of our own failures in history, for a new day of justice and equality on earth.

I believe that if we listen to the ways that God is calling us into deeper unity with Godself, we will recognize that the truest understanding of communion with God is best expressed through the ways that we live into communion with each other, our partners in creation.

This is a hard lesson to hear. We all want to be the best and most favored. But Jesus tells us time and time again, that our understandings of greatness are skewed. We become great when we allow ourselves to be called into service. We live into our relationship with God most fully when we live into our relationships with each other.

Our best expressions of love for God are in those most genuine, often even painful expressions of love for each other. The central feature of our relationship with God is less about who is in and who is out, and more a recognition that in God, through Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit all are in – none more and none less than any other.

Even me. Even you. Even those troublesome bosses and clients and coworkers; and yes, even those Anglicans who wish we weren’t. All are in. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The Lamed-Vov

I was preparing to start a Saturday morning Adult Education Discussion Group. We were going to be talking about families, having just seen, “Mi Familia (My Family), the first of our film series, “Families on Film.”

I quickly scooted down the hallway to tend to a last minute errand and passed a young mom and her adorable daughter, whom I guessed to be about five or six years old. I suspected them to be new to Congregation Beth Hatikvah, the Reconstructionist Jewish Congregation that shares our sanctuary and office space.

The little girl held tightly to her mother’s hand, and seemed to cower away from me. I smiled warmly at her and then, looking at her mother smiled and said, “Good morning. Do you need help finding your way anywhere?”

“This is the way to the Nursery, right?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said, “take a right and it’s about ¾ of the way down the hall on your left.”

Just then, someone who was obviously an acquaintance of them both appeared from around the corner, and a lively conversation ensued. I left them and continued my way down the hall.

On my way back, I passed them again. The two adult women were deeply engaged in conversation while the little girl clung to her mother’s side. I smiled again at her. Her eyes met mine in what was an undoubtedly anxious look.

She was, however, bold enough to look me dead in the eye and ask, “Are you Jewish?”

Startled by her question, I said, “Why no, I’m not.”

It was her mother’s response, however, that caught me completely off guard.

“Oh, honey, it’s okay. She’s a good person.”

In equal measure to my startled confusion, the little girl seemed relieved by this. I returned the mother’s kind smile with an authentically bewildered look, but decided it was better not to engage in conversation and walked back to the conference room.

I’ve been haunted by this unexpected exchange all day. I can only imagine what has been this little girl’s experience of being among some who call themselves Christians. You know the kind of Christian I’m talking about. Fundamentalist. Also known as “orthodox evangelicals” – meaning, they have it “right.”

More to the point, the rest of us have it all wrong. Especially the Jews, who “need” to be evangelized so they might “know Jesus as Messiah, the savior and Lord” because, otherwise, they will never get to heaven.

These are the kind of Christians who read the Gospel of John and believe that Jesus is THE ONLY Way, THE ONLY Truth, THE ONLY Life. They see the Jews as the people of “The Old Covenant,” not the “New” and so they are not “saved.”

As if God breaks covenants just because they are “old.”

While, on one level, I admire their enthusiastic embrace and promulgation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these evangelical folks are sadly misinformed. God never EVER breaks a promise. Not no how. Not no where. Not no way. Yes, not even with the Hebrew Nation.

What God promised to the Jews remains a promise. What God promised to us through our baptism in Christ remains a promise. I think what we need to be more concerned about is keeping the promises we make to God in our baptism. You know. Like the one that says we will “respect the dignity of every human being.”

Oh, right. That one.

I can only imagine what that little Jewish girl has already experienced at the hands of good Christian folk that caused her to ask me, “Are you Jewish?” And, her mother to respond, “Oh, honey, it’s okay. She’s a good person.”

As someone who has been told by some “orthodox Evangelicals” that my faith is “counterfeit,” and that the Gospel I read is a poor imitation of the “authentic” one, I don’t have to struggle to put my imagination to the test.

As I made my way through the rest of the day, I was thinking about the Gospel appointed for tomorrow, Sunday, October 22nd, Pentecost XX, in which James and John argue for a seat of distinction near Jesus “in your glory.” And, Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you ask,” adding, “It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:35-45)

I remembered a story told by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, in her book MY GRANDFATHER’S BLESSING. It’s the story of the Lamed-Vov. She writes:

As a child I had loved the story of Noah and the Ark the best of all my grandfather’s stories. He had given me a coloring book that had pictures of all the animals, two by two, and Noah and his wife, looking much like Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus but dressed in different way.

We spent hours coloring in this book together which is how, at almost four, I had learned the names of many animals. We had also discussed the story at length, and wondered about the surprising possibility that even God sometimes makes mistakes and has to send a flood to start over again.

The last picture in the book was a beautiful rainbow. “This represents a promise between God and man, Neshume-le,” my grandfather told me. After the flood, God promises Noah and all of us that it will never happen again.”

But I was not so easily fooled. This whole thing had started because people had been wicked. “Even if we are very naughty, Grandpa?” I asked. My grandfather had laughed then. “That is what it says here in this story.” He looked thoughtful. “But there are other stories,” he told me. Delighted, I asked him to tell me another one.

The story he told me is very old and dates from the time of the prophet Isaiah. It is the legend of the Lamed-Vov. In this story, God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is a part of the human condition. These thirty-six are called the Lamed-Vov. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people, the world will come to an end.

“Do you know who these people are, Grandpa?” I asked certain that he would say, “Yes.” But he shook his head. “No, Neshume-le,” he told me, “Only God knows who the Lamed-Vovniks are. Even the Lamed-Vovniks themselves do not know for sure the role they have in the continuation of the world, and no one else knows it either. They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them.”

It turned out that Lamed-Vovniks could be tailors or college professors, millionaires or paupers, powerful leaders or powerless victims. These things were not important. What mattered was only their capacity to feel the collective suffering of the human race and to respond to the suffering around them. “And because no one knows who they are, Neshume-le, anyone you meet might be one of the thirty six for whom God preserves the world,” my grandfather said. “It is important to treat everyone as if it might be so.”

I sat and thought about this story for a long time. It was a different story than the story of Noah’s Ark. The rainbow meant that there would be a happily-ever-after, just as in the stories my father read to me at bedtime. But Grandpa’s story made no such promises. God asked something of people in return for the gift of life, and He was asking it still.

Suddenly, I realized that I had no idea what it was. If so much depended on it, it must be something very hard, something that required a great sacrifice. What if the Lamed-Vovniks could not do it? What then? “How do the Lamed-Vovniks respond to the suffering, Grandpa?” I asked, suddenly anxious. “What do they have to do?”

My grandfather smiled at me very tenderly. “Ah, Neshume-le,” he told me. “They do not need to do anything. They respond to all suffering with compassion. Without compassion, the world cannot continue. Our compassion blesses and sustains the world.”

It is compassion, not “orthodox belief” that blesses and sustains the world.

I can’t be sure, but do believe I met a Lamed-Vovnik today. Anyone who can teach her daughter compassion in the face of the threat of orthodox evangelism is surely a blessing in the sight of God – the One God, the God of Abraham and Sara, who blesses us that we may be a blessing and promises never again to destroy the world.

And God never breaks a promise. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dancing with Mill Girls

I was ordained in 1986 - to the diaconate on April 12 and to the priesthood on October 18, the Feast of St. Luke. My bishop, Fred Wolfe, thought that a suitable date to ordain someone who had been a nurse.

I was part of the first 10-12 year wave of ordained women in The Episcopal Church. Some thought a Tsunami had hit the church.

Indeed, some still do.

Women have always been part of the social revolution of institutions, especially the church – from Queen Elizabeth I and the Anglican Church to the eleven women ordained in the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia.

Little did I know that I was to be ordained into the rich heritage of other revolutionary women.

I had been called as a Chaplain at University of Lowell, so it was determined that the ordination service would take place at St. Anne’s Church, in Lowell, MA.

This seemed appropriate enough. St. Anne’s was known as “The Mill Girl Church,” because the rector, whose family was the owner one of the cotton mills in that city, demanded and arbitrarily extracted a tithe – 10% of their meager salaries – for the building fund of the church.

In a touching act of sensitivity, he named the church after a woman – his wife.

My mother and aunts and cousins were the updated 20th century version of “Mill Girls” in the sister textile city of Fall River, MA. My mother worked in the garment industry as a “presser” who worked on “pieces” – the automotive assembly line, adapted to the garment industry.

As the dress or blouse was made, a sleeve or the skirt was sown by one group of women, then passed on to another group who “pressed” (or ironed) it before it went to the next station of women on sewing machines, who sewed another “piece” which was sent onto another group of presser, and so on until the garment was complete.

The dirty trick to the work was that no one was paid an hourly wage. A woman was paid by the number of pieces she produced. The faster she worked, the harder her labor, the better her pay.

Well, nothing wrong with that, right? Sounds fair enough. Except, of course, when you factor in the mind-numbing, back-breaking monotony of this work – and, oh yes, the profit margin and the bottom line.

More specifically, who was profiting from the profit margin and who was at the bottom of the line.

It seems that some things haven't changed much in a little over 100 years.

The Lowell Mills were built during the first wave of the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution in New England. The first Lowell mills were built in 1823. By 1848, Lowell was the largest industrial center in America, producing a reported 50,000 miles of cotton each year.

Lowell was also known around the world for the “innovative solution” to the high demand for cheap labor to work these mills. Farm girls from around New England were recruited to work the mills for a few years and then return to the farms or marry.

This turned the tables on the “natural role” of women, who changed from “money saving” to “money earning.” Rather than improving her station in life, however, it often worsened it.

Mill Girls ranged in age from 10 to middle age, but most were between 16-25. The youngest girls were called “doffers” because they “doffed” or took off the bobbins from the spinning frames.

They worked from five o’clock in the morning to seven in the evening, with half hour each for breakfast and dinner. Even the doffers, little girls of 9 or 10, who actually worked about 15 minutes every hour, were required to work 14 hour days, six days per week. At the peak of their careers, Mill Girls earned about $2 per week.

Even so, several of the Mill Girls found time to write their stories. In 1842, two women, Harriet Farley and Harriot Curtis co-edited “The Lowell Offering: Writings By New England Women”

). Their stories are compelling for the harshness of their lives told in their own voices.

One anonymous woman wrote these words: “In vain do I try to soar in fancy and imagination above the dull reality around me but beyond the roof of the factory I cannot rise.”

A Mill Girl may have changed in status to be a money earner, but the law took no cognizance of a woman spender. In MA before 1840, a woman was not supposed to be capable of spending her own or anyone else’s money. Indeed, she could not inherit property from her father unless she agreed to remain single.

The Industrial Revolution may have produced benefits for society and the ruling class, but it was profited on the backs – and at the fingertips – of young girls and women. It has ever been thus. Indeed, it goes on today in East LA and Southeast Asia and Central America.

It was, therefore, no small thing that the daughter of a family of Mill Girls was being ordained in St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lowell, MA. Indeed, the front page, bold type headline of the local newspaper proclaimed: First woman ordained at St. Anne’s.

I was keenly aware of the heritage of that church, and felt I was living into a reality the Mill Girls could never have dreamed. I was stepping into a revolution which had begun centuries before.

“In vain do I try to soar in fancy and imagination above the dull reality around me,” wrote that nameless Mill Girl. I felt the responsibility of rising beyond the factory roof for her.

Strange. The responsibilty did not feel heavy. Indeed, I felt a rush of wind under my feet, sweeping me up to the altar, beyond the factory roof that trapped the dreams of young Mill Girls.

I may have looked as if I were walking, but in my heart, I was dancing. Dancing for the Mill Girls who could not. Dancing with my sisters who dared not. Dancing into the revolution which had begun and into which I had been ordained to continue. Dancing on history and into the future. Dancing with Mother God.

Four days after my ordination, one of the women in attendance – a reporter and the granddaughter of Mill Girls – sent me a letter. I still have it, written in longhand on legal paper, tucked in the back pages of my photo album.

Even as I read it now, twenty years later, I find deeper levels of meaning and understanding of the sacramental grace of my ordination at St. Anne’s – the Mill Girl Church – in Lowell, MA - and, I feel even more deeply indebted to their legacy.

She begins, “I cannot remember the exact words Elizabeth spoke in blessing me . . . I began to cry when I heard her say, “Mother God.”

"It seemed a dream, a thing that could not happen in real life; at once a horrible sacrilege and a joyous, long-overdue righting of wrong. It seemed the kind of thing you’d expect to see only in heaven, so unearthly was the vision. A dream of women.”

“There were lots of women . . . and few men in the procession, and then, Elizabeth, radiant as a bride. I felt the same rush of mixed feelings when I saw her that I did when the procession began – hatred for these women who were living what I felt denied, the hatred of the poor for the rich, the kind of blind, ugly hatred that must belong in prejudice, but also deep and admiring and vicarious joy in their forbearance and their triumph. . . . .”

“ . . . . .As I prepared to receive communion at Elizabeth’s ordination – something I hadn’t done for years but which seemed so right – I began to tremble and tears kept welling in my eyes, and I tried urgently to understand my agitation."

"A story from Alice Walker came to me. It’s from “When The Other Dancer Is the Self,” an essay, and in it she describes how she once had a recurring dream in which she was dancing and dancing and could not find her partner.”

“Alice Walker has a glass eye – the result of a childhood accident involving one of her brothers – and in the essay she recounts how she grew up being very self-conscious about her appearance because of it.

"One night, putting her toddler daughter to bed, the child looked up from her crib and – thinking of something she’d seen on T.V., a globe – looked into her mother’s face and said, “Mommy, you have a world in your eye.”

“And something in Alice Walker was healed by that baby sentence."

"And that night, when Alice Walker slept, she dreamed she was dancing and dancing and a partner approached to dance with her and the partner was herself.”

“That’s what I felt approaching the communion rail – I felt I was approaching my other self whom I had blinded years ago."

"I don’t know what she has for me now – whether God or church or those painful memories can inform me – but I know I must learn to dance with her.”

“God our Mother.”

“I wish someone had said that to me so long ago, before my leaving began.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Complicit in Abuse

"Complicit in Abuse"
Katie Sherrod

The thing that has helped me most in understanding what is happening in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is writing about domestic violence as a reporter since the early 1970s.

In those days, police referred to its victims as “battered women.” Most district attorneys’ offices would prosecute the batterer only if the wife agreed to divorce him.

That is, if the police even bothered to arrest him. Usually one officer would walk the man around the block to “cool him off” while the other office stayed with the woman to find out what she did “to set him off” and to urge her not to do that again.

After all, if she’d just “act right,” everything would be OK.

Any of this sound familiar?


If that link isn't 'hot' try:

(Which, IMHO, is even more brilliant than her brilliant essay on the summary of events in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion: "ALL WILL BE WELL" - which immediately follows "Complicit in Abuse" on this same Blog.)

As you may know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am continually stunned by the paucity of information many of us in Christian community - a shocking number of whom are clergy - have about the issue of Domestic Violence.

Indeed, many clergy are unable to "make the translation" much less the connection, as Katie Sherrod does here, between what happens in "the privacy of one's home" and the institutional church. Thus, they inadvertently perpetuate the domestic violence which happens on a institutional level in the "Household of God."


Authors Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker take on the Atonement in provocative mix of passion, intelligence and memoir/story-telling which is the signature of feminist liberation and process theology.

By the way, when you visit the website for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
click on the image you see above - the beautiful angel hidden in the butterfly wings, and help support the NCADV. Thanks.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reconciliation: Not for Sissies

The HOB/D listserv is abuz with astonishment (and, appropriately so) at the recent decree of the Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev'd Peter Beckwith, in which he states that he will personally interview each and every candidate for Confirmation and/or reception, to be certain that their faith is authentic.

( If that link isn't "hot" try )

This, after the rector, the only ordained woman in that diocese, informed the bishop before his visitation that two of those preparing for Confirmation were lesbian.

Just about six years ago, I spent a week with him at the Cathedral in South Bend, IN (where Fred Mann was previously Dean and Ed Little is presently bishop) as part of the work of the New Commandment Task Force (NCTF), the creation of the Rev'd Brian Cox of the Diocese of LA, and initiated and promoted (at our own expense) by him and the Steering Committee of Louie Crew, Ted Mollegen, Dorsey McConnell, Elizabeth Kaeton, and Mary Hays.

The original committee - which began in Seattle (AKA "the Seattle 22," which included the likes of those such as Bob Duncan) - also included Richard Kew and Ed Bacon. (If that link isn't 'hot' try:

I clearly remember the last day of our gathering. Bishop Beckwith, in tears, said that he had never experienced a week as we had just had. He said, his voice cracking with emotion and holding my hand tightly, that he had not known either Louie Crew or Elizabeth Kaeton before this week, and that, as he had come to the end of it, he could not imagine being in a church without Louie Crew or Elizabeth Kaeton.

Indeed, he was so enthusiastic about the work of the NCTF, that he came with us to 815 in NYC to ask the Presiding Bishop for his support - both financially and spiritually - to continue this work. We had hoped to conduct meetings with the House of Bishops and four regional gatherings of deputies before General Convention 2003. Elizabeth Kaeton and Mary Hays agreed to co-chair this effort.

That never happened.

The rest is, as they say, history.

This is the report we filed at the end of that gathering.

The signers of this statement:
The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, the Rev. Tony Clavier, Dr. Louie Crew, Ms. Judy Fleener, The Rev. Brian Grantz, The Rev. Margaret (Peg) Harker, The Rev. Canon Mary Hays, The Rev. Bennett Jones, The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton, Mr. Doug LeBlanc, The Rt. Rev. Ed Little, Dr. Patrick Malloy, The Rev. Dorsey McConnell, Mr. Ted Mollegen, The Rev. Ian Montgomery,The Rev. John Scramm, Dr. Claire Tenny, and Dr. Kern Trembath

Post note:

Gracious, I've been at this effort for reconciliation in the church for so long, I also remember a "Pentecost Meeting in the Desert" - at a (now defunct) Convent outside of Reno, NV (the former site of the camp for the workers of the Hoover Dam in Boulder City, NV) in, oh I think it was 1995 which included the likes of Katie Sherrod, Betty Gilmore and retired Bishop of Colorado, Bob Frey - another complicated man - who once told me over breakfast coffee in the refectory that he loved me and always wanted to be in the church with me.

And, the check is in the mail.

Read, and weep with me:

Report to the Church from:
New Commandment Task Force
Regional Reconciliation Meeting #4

Meeting in South Bend, IN, November 13-17, 2000

During our week together we came to understand that we share a number of spiritual and relational core values. We all stand together at the foot of the cross and are in need of redemption. We experienced profound grief at "our unhappy divisions" (BCP 818).

While not agreeing in all things, we entered into challenging and rewarding theological discussions through Bible study, prayer, and the Holy Eucharist. We encountered a sacred candor that allowed us to hear Christ speak through others.

While we struggled with issues of application and interpretation, we discovered that we all yearn to live under the authority of Scripture. We believe the Word of God is infallible in that it always accomplishes that for which God gave it to us.

The enemy is not my opposite. We see the gap between us as the problem to be addressed. We have looked into the face of people with radically different views, who may yet go separate ways, and have seen the face of Jesus. And we have looked into our own hearts and seen our own complicity with evil--by our diminishing of others. We recognize that Satan takes great joy in our divisions. In the service of ideology we have sometimes hurt other disciples. We repent.

We respect the pastoral care bishops extend to those in their own dioceses with whom they agree. We urge that bishops be just as accountable in the pastoral care they give to those with whom they disagree, both within their dioceses and in the House of Bishops. We ask them to embrace their calling as agents of reconciliation, manifesting generosity toward parishes that feel alienated. We hope that accommodations can be made pastorally and informally, rather than juridically. We further urge the bishops to lead the Church into greater reliance on spiritual discernment and away from the legislative process as a means of addressing conflicts of conscience.

We hope the Episcopal Church will welcome back lay and ordained people who have left. We ask bishops to be generous with letters dimissory for those who feel called to leave.

For congregations struggling with their future in the Episcopal Church, we urge the Church to develop deliberate processes, carried out in a spirit of charity and discernment.

We all expressed hope that we could remain together as Episcopalians and that this work of reconciliation will become a permanent vision for the Episcopal Church. We recommend developing a third option, framed not exclusively along conservative or liberal lines. We remember bitter conflicts throughout Anglican history that have threatened to divide our Communion. Many who came before us stayed in the Church without the triumph of their perspective. Because the Anglican Communion stayed together, it emerged both scarred and enriched.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Ticket Yenta, Kvetching

Okay, so I'm not exactly kvetching (Yiddish for 'complaining').

An update: Through the incredible generosity of some wonderful people on
the HOB/D list, I have been able to insure that 5 people - including a mother and daughter, two young seminarians (male and female) and a mother and her baby (On one ticket. Please be kind, people at the National Cathedral) - will be in attendance at either the investiture or seating of newly elected Katharine
Jefferts Schori.

At this writing, I do have one more woman who lives in the DC area, who
would desperately love to attend either the investiture or the seating.

So, you! Yes you. The one with the tickets. You don't really want to go
to D.C. You hate crowds. Better you should stay home. Have a sandwich.
Maybe a piece of fruit.

Send your note about unwanted tickets to either the investiture or seating
to the Ticket Yenta ( E M Kaeton at AOL dot com) and she
will fix you up with a young priest who is desperate to be in attendance at
this historic event.

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. No guilt. No shame.
But, please, even if you don't have a ticket to spare, call your mother. It
would be nice. And, it's been so long. It would make her so happy. And it
would take you - what? - five, maybe ten minutes. It would be a mitzvah.

God bless you.

Thirty Years

I’ve been asked by several people what Barbara and I will be doing on October 13th. It has nothing to do with being “Friday the 13th”. It has everything to with the 30th anniversary of the commitment we made to our relationship.

Everyone assumes we’ll be taking a “romantic trip.” To Hawai’i. Or, the South of France. Or, having a huge party. Or, at least, a special dinner.

Well, we’re not.

With any luck, we’ll just be having a quiet evening at home. I won’t have to run to the church to settle a dispute over room usage and Barbara won’t have to make a Hospice visit. The kids will call. We’ll talk. Nothing special. Just life. School. A funny story about the grand babies. A few memories. Plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Bed early on a Friday night. Lots of things to do on Saturday morning in preparation for the Bishop’s visitation on Sunday.

I suppose the reason we feel blessed by a prevailing sense of calmness is that our first 15 years or so together were hardly that. Indeed, the first five years were spent entangled in the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, MA.

The word about our case had spread like wildfire through the legal community. I remember that court room in Taunton, MA being standing room only – absolutely thick with local lawyers who were curious to see how the judge would rule in that preliminary hearing.

More than one of those good litigators stopped us on the way out – male and female – and said, “You’ve got good representation, but if you need any help, we’ll do it pro bono.” Our lawyer confirmed that he, too, had been approached by several of his colleagues who were watching and waiting for our case to unfold so they could help their clients.

The next five years are pretty much a blur to me now. However, I clearly remember the day we lost custody of my two children. At the end of the trial, the judge asked each side to make a 10 minute presentation on why they felt we were the better custodial parent.

The attorney for the plaintiff went first. Realizing that the judge’s question meant that we had made a credible enough case that he was actually thinking of granting us custody, the barrister began explaining in almost comical fashion how much he had learned about “these kinds of people.” “I’ve learned,” he intoned with gravity, “that homosexuals can also be women and that they can be intelligent and productive human beings.”

Imagine that!

“But, your honor,” he said, raising his voice for dramatic effect, “it is just common sense that it is not good for children to grow up in that kind of environment.” Right! Goodness knows we don’t want our children having parental role models who are intelligent and productive, much less anything with any semblance to the human race!

The judge then turned to me. It was clear he didn’t want my attorney to speak for me. He also wanted to know a bit more. “Tell me,” this judge with a Jewish last name, kindness in his eyes and a gentle smile asked, “given the staggering divorce rate among heterosexual couples, and the enormous societal pressure against homosexual couples in general and women in particular, why you believe you can provide a good home for these children – especially since you have been together less than a year.”

I remember saying something like, “Because we love them. Because we don’t want them to become political footballs in this silly game of sexual politics and will work hard to make sure they have a relationship with their father and grandparents. Because if you deny us custody, we fear we will never see our children again.”

“Because,” I continued, “we understand the importance of family and we will work hard to create that for them, even though our definition of family is different from the prevailing norm. Because we want our daughters to grow up to be strong, intelligent, well educated women who will be good citizens and make a contribution to society.”

But mostly, your honor,” I said, trying very hard to sound brave and strong but feeling my knees threatening to buckle, “because we love them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to live the truth of our lives with integrity.” “Because, I hastened to add, “isn’t that what this country and this legal system, is supposed to be about? Indeed, isn’t that what God asks of us?”

My then ex-husband, at the time a barely-employed carpenter with a drug and alcohol problem, won custody contingent upon his living with our daughters under my parent’s roof and guidance.

We won visitation rights every other weekend and the summer months after school ended in June and before school began in September. Our lawyer said that the decision was “much more generous” than he estimated it would be.

Funny. It didn’t feel so generous. Indeed, it felt flat-out punitive.

Our attorney understood completely, but asked us to consider the verdict that had come down from the bench in a lesbian custody suit just the day before. A devout Roman Catholic Italian judge in Billerica, MA, the father of six and grandfather of eight, and an honorary Knight of Columbus, had denied custody and visitation rights to a woman who been with another woman, but who had left her and sworn herself to celibacy in order to regain custody of her kids.

Sole custody was awarded to the maternal grandparents. Calling her a “pervert and an abomination in the sight of the Lord,” he warned her that if she even attempted to see her children, he would have her thrown in jail for the maximum sentence allowed by law.

It was then that I discovered that misery, in fact, does not like company.

Here’s what I know about the past thirty years of our relationship: It’s a vocation. A call from God to be together. To give birth to a new family from the broken pieces of ill-conceived relationships. To fashion a new community woven out of the tattered and worn threads of broken promises, betrayal, and disappointment.

The vocation of being family has many variations. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, in her book, “Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism” has documented at least 40 different kinds of families in scripture. In each instance, the biblically based family value is to value family.

The biblical model is to love because God said at the beginning of creation, “It is not good for humankind to be alone.” The way of Jesus is to love, even when hatred and prejudice and bigotry are hot on the breath of others around you. The way of the cross is to love anyway – as Gene Robinson reminds us that John Fortunato once advised in “Embracing the Exile.”

To ‘take a chance on God’, as John McNeil challenged us, and watch miracles unfold as God takes the tattered and torn bits of anxiety and betrayal and fear and humiliation and transforms them into a glorious whole cloth garment of peace and trust and courage and confidence.

In the past thirty years, we’ve seen just that. Little miracles are everywhere in our family – in our relationship. We have five grown children and four beautiful grandchildren. All of our kids are intelligent, well educated and contributing members of society and the cosmos.

It’s been an incredibly full thirty years: newborns, infants, toddlers, adolescents. Kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, grad school, and Ph.D. Seminary, new jobs, old cars with dead batteries. Prom dates, car licenses, new boyfriends, old girlfriends. We have grieved the loss of our eldest daughter and felt the delirious joy reserved for the arrival of grandchildren.

No, we aren’t the portrait of an American family that Norman Rockwell would ever paint, and some are still loathed to admit it, but we’re family nonetheless. Family anyway. Abundantly blessed even if some in the church are stingy to pronounce blessings.

So, you’ll excuse us if we take this moment in our thirty years together to share a simple, quiet evening at home. We’ve worked very hard for this moment and I am bold to say I think we have earned at least this one request.

Today and the next, the struggle will continue. The forces of ignorance and prejudice, much of it fueled by good bible-believing Christians, will be at us again. We’ve come a long way and witnessed the truly miraculous in our time. The Court House in Taunton, MA where we lost custody of our children is now the site where same-sex couples can be legally married.

That is not the case in New Jersey. Or anywhere else in this in this country. So, today and the next day, we work. But, on the evening of Friday the 13th, we will rest. All we need, all we desire, is just the gift of this one moment of peace and quiet and simple celebration.

And then, we’ll start on the next thirty years.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Canon Strangelove

Note: The following was posted to the House of Bishops/Deputies (HOB/D) Listserv, which comments on an exchange between a deputy and a ‘kibitzer’ to the list which, for me, is emblematic of the problem in our church.

The exchange between the woman from Hawai'i and the man from Colorado makes a perfect point for this woman from Newark. This is the problem with the "conversations" between those who sit in the left, right and middle pews of the church. It's why I've stopped engaging the discussion (much less 'dialogue') on the HOB/D listserv as well as around the church.

Remember that Peter Sellers movie: "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"?

Well, were I to write a chapter on this part of the history of the church, the title would be: "Canon Strangelove or, How I Learned to Stop Dialogue and Love the Schism."

Oh, I'm still listening, but I'm not hearing anyone - on any side - saying anything new. Indeed, at this point, some of us could write each other's scripts.

Like the deputy from Ft. Worth's most recent complaint about those who have been "ignored or scoffed at" because they claim to have 'recovered' or been 'saved' from the "sin of homosexuality". No one gives them any credibility because they espouse a position which steadfastly refuses to acknowledge either the complexity of human sexuality or the broad continuum of sexual orientation, rendering the claim of 'healing' to be bogus. It also assumes "abstinence until marriage" as the achieved norm, rather than the practiced goal.

The woman from Hawai'i speaks about dialogue - meaningful dialogue - and the man from Colorado speaks about discussion - specifically, that of "theological justification" - and complains that all people do is 'tell their stories.'

One is working out of a construct of classic liberation, process and feminist theology, the other is working out of a construct of classic systematic theology.

One is working out of a more literal perspective of scripture; the other is reading scripture through a more contextual lens: form criticism, historical, scientific and archeological discovery as well as social-cultural curiosity.

One is concerned to hear the voices from the margins which have been silenced or ignored; the other is concerned to listen only to the voice of "the faith once delivered to the saints."

Alas, it has ever been thus.

Mind you, I spent five years of my life engaged in the process of reconciliation known as "The New Commandment Task Force." I still believe reconciliation is the central call of Jesus from the cross at Calvary. I know it to be central to the mission of the church. Indeed, I do not believe we can do any good, effective work of mission (much less be an authentic Body of Christ – the church) without reconciliation.

Which is why, I think, we've got to acknowledge and be reconciled to the full reality of the schism which some have labored long and hard to bring upon us. It has happened. It is happening now, even now, as I type these words into my computer and as your are reading them on yours. They have achieved their goal. All the rest is details.

The 'dirty little secret' is that this is precisely what many have wanted since the ordination of women more than 30 years ago. There are still those who insist that we have not developed a theology which "justifies" that or any future action. Many are members of the AAC, AMiA, ACN, and the rest of the alphabet soup of the conservative, neo-Puritan, orthodox evangelical movement in the church.

As author Suzanne Pharr has taught us, homophobia is a weapon of sexism. To put it bluntly, it's all about who's on top - the superiority of gender in terms of sexual intimacy as well as institutional authority; and, concomitantly, how one views and interprets scripture based on the perspective of one's social and cultural location -from the top of the heap, the bottom of the pile, or on the outer margins.

If you have any doubt about this, spend some time over at some of the conservative web sites. "Titus One Nine" has 'cyberelves' to censor their more virulent members, but you can find them in their full hate-filled . . .'glory' . . . over at "Stand Firm in Faith." I think it's one of the few places (thank you, Jesus) in the Episcopal section of cyberspace where sexism and misogyny reign so transparently.

Please do remember to wear your asbestos pumps when you walk through that area of cyberspace. You know, the same ones you wear to read 'He-who-must-not-be-named'.
Interesting, but I've yet to find a liberal or even moderate or conservative website/blog/chat room which has the same level of venom and toxicity.

I think we ought to gracefully allow those who wish to exchange their membership in The Episcopal Church for a membership anywhere else in the Anglican Communion and we should do so without undue haste.

Let the ABC do what the ABC has always done - determine who is a member of the Anglican Communion and who is not. If +Rowan wishes to create an "upstairs/downstairs maid" arrangement of membership, we ought not fault him. It is the "natural default" setting of the British organizational system. They've been doing this for centuries. I don't think it has anything to do with anything Jesus taught, but, as the British would say, "Well, there it is, then."

As for me and my house - the amazing Episcopal Church of St. Paul - we will love and serve the Lord, loving our neighbor as ourselves as we humbly and fervently seek to live out the promises made in our baptismal covenant.

Remember the last scene of the movie, Dr. Strangelove? Anyone want to do the graphic for this chapter of our history?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Shekinah is in the house

A heartfelt email to to the House of Bishops/Deputy Listserv (HOB/D - aka "HOBDEE") by Sara McGinley caught me by surprise tonight. She was expressing her disappointment at not getting a ticket to the Consecration of Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA and one of the 38 Primates in the Anglican Communion - the first womnan to be in either position.

I offered my ticket to her and her baby Naoimi (check out her awesome blog: , with gratitude and thanksgiving for a new generation of women in the Episcopal Church, and with certainty (having met her at General Convention in Columbus) that her daughter, Naoimi, will be a Presiding Bishop one day.

Almost immediately, I recieved an email from The Rev. Joie Clee Weiher Assistant Rector; Trinity, Upperville, VA who wrote:

"I am a young (under 30) brand new mother and priest in the diocese of VA (struggling to reconcile these wonderful privileges in my life) and YES it would have been nice if there had been some effort to get tickets out to the young women and girls of the Episcopal Church in order to show them that "Yes, YOU can answer God's call in your life." There are still so many parishes out there that have never had a woman in the pulpit or at the altar and so many girls for whom a calling to ordained ministry never crosses their mind because they have not "seen" it realized. It sure never would have occurred to me if I had not been in a parish with two female priests."

That inspired me to write to the Hobdee listserv, and on my blog and to all the ships at sea:

"What if the men who received a ticket to be seated at the Consecration of the Rt. Rev'd Katharine Jefferts Schori as the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, USA and one of the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion - the first woman EVER in either position - offered their seat to a women in leadership under 35 years of age?

How amazing would THAT be?

Young women on this list - will you please write to this listserv if you have NOT received a ticket so we can possibly match you up with a male who has?

Lord have mercy, I do believe Shekinah is in the house!"

Okay, boys. Time to step up to the plate.

Shekinah is watching. And, you really don't want to mess with her.

I'm willing to match men who are willing to give up their seat with young women under the age of 35 who need one.

Write to me at E M Kaeton at aol dot com and I'll gladly be the yenta of this marvelous endeavor.

Look out! Shekinah is in the house.

Things are Afoot

While I was "oohing" and "aahing" over my grandbabies on this glorious October afternoon, Mark Harris was writing a cogent summary of the most recent political machinations in the Anglican Communion.

PRELUDIUM: Things are Afoot: Moderator says, "hang together"

In this essay, Mark is his most brilliant self. Indeed, Mark and I have been working together since 1986 - way "back in the day" when he was at 815 Coordinating the Episcopal Church's Ministry in Higher Education and I was a newbie priest and Chaplain at University of Lowell in MA. He was absolutely brilliant back then - especially at NAT GAT III in Estes Park, Co, when an eruption of racial violence saw us spending the night together in a City Jail in Colorado.

The next morning when the rest of us were blurry-eyed and dazed, Mark delivered a sermon about racism and reconciliation that I'm willing to bet informed hundreds of young Episcopalians that lead to their personal transformation - and they have never been the same.

In this essay, he's never been more brilliant - or, more devilishly handsome (in my humble opinion). I think his most beautiful bride might agree - well, perhaps not publicly. Which is why he continues to be brilliant.

It has been said, and is never more true that behind every great man, there is a woman. And, you really don't want to mess with her.

Grandparent Alert

WARNING: Reading this Blog entry may lead to a serious overdose of cuteness.

Symptoms may include widening of the eyes, gaping mouth, slack jaw, and the irresistible urge to say, "Oooh!" Followed by "Aaahhh!" And the uncontrollable urge to say, "My goodness, how cute!" repeatedly. An unexplainable warm flush may also overcome the body.

Read on only if you dare.

Abigayle Sophie and Nana share a moment

MacKenna Jane (aka "Cookie Monster") eats some cookies she and Nana had made on a beautiful October afternoon.

Grammy and Abby walk off a momentary case of the vapors, also known as the "baby crankies." You may remember that Abby was born August 2nd. She now weighs a wee bit over 13 pounds. You'll notice, please, the red hair and brows. She gets that from her father's strong Irish lineage (100%) - as well as the penchant for "talking blarney," evidence of which you'll find in the first two pictures. Like a true Irish lassie, she has absolutely stolen our hearts.

I gotta tell ya, it just doesn't get much better than this!

Life is good. And so is God. All the time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


P.S. That would be CoCo and Lenny, the Preppy Pups, getting ready for their annual Blessing on Sunday at 5 PM in the Arnot-Pring Memorial Garden at St. Paul's Church.

Just in case you were wondering . . .

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 4) - Former Rep. Mark Foley, under investigation for sending lurid Internet messages to young male Capitol Hill pages, issued a series of revelations from rehab, including a claim that he had been sexually abused as a teen.

Quotes from Mark Foley's lawyer (I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't read it myself)

“Mark Foley wants you to know that he is a gay man.”

“Based upon the experts that I’ve spoken to,” Mr. Roth said, “the combination of alcohol and mental illness can result in inappropriate conduct,...”

He said Mr. Foley was raised a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic schools in Lake Worth

........Oh, now I get it! That's supposed to explain it all!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mother Jesus

Note: The following will appear this Thursday in my monthly column, "Faith Matters," in the Daily Record.

These are certainly interesting times in the Episcopal Church. In June of this year, we elected a new Presiding Bishop, and life has never been more interesting.

You may have heard. Her name is Katharine Jefferts Schori. Yes, our new Presiding Bishop is a woman. In fact, she is the first woman in our history to hold the highest position in our ecclesiastical structure. She’s also the first woman to be elected Primate (of a total of 38 Primates) in the 77 million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion.

The conservatives, neo-puritan evangelicals and those of our members who consider themselves ‘biblically orthodox’ were, of course, desperate to find something against her – other than that she’s a woman. They were positively euphoric with her first convention sermon, which they proclaimed as flat-out heresy. As time has passed, many remain in a state of near apoplexy about it.

Here, in part, is what she said, “Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation – and you and I are His children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ-images for the world around us, we're going to have to give up fear.”

Yes, that’s right. She said, “mother Jesus.”

The outcry has ranged from the anticipated hand-wringing about “liberal revisionism” to the predictable laments about “radical feminism,” “Gnosticism” and to the outrageous claim that she had created a “transgender Jesus.”

Yes, that’s right. They said, “transgender Jesus.” Make no mistake: these otherwise intelligent, well educated, pious and dedicated Christians are dead-serious. Apparently, misogyny can destroy brain cells.

Never mind that scripture, psalms, and the historical tradition of the church hold a rich treasury of feminine images for God and Jesus. Julian of Norwich, the great English mystic of the 14th century, wrote this: “…. A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life.”

The great theologian Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in the years 1093 to 1109, prayed these words: “Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; you are gentle with us as a mother with her children. Often you weep over our sins and our pride; tenderly you draw us from hatred to judgment.

Or, these traditional words: "And thou, sweet Jesus Lord, art thou not also a mother? Truly, thou art a mother, the mother of all mothers, who tasted death in thy desire to give life to thy children."

Clearly, Bishop Katharine, as she is affectionately known, is standing in the footsteps of giant figures of church history and is neither the heretic nor blind innovator her detractors would like to make her. Neither was she being intentionally provocative, or, as one wag complained, “politically maladroit.”

When asked why she chose this particular phrase, she replied, "It was very deliberate and conscious. I was wrestling with the image of blood on the cross, the image of labor. It's medieval imagery actually, Julian of Norwich. It seemed appropriate to the text and the hard work we are trying to do in this place."

These are interesting times, indeed. Life in the “Age of Terrorism” seems to leave little room for the mysteries of life. We want our God, like our borders, secure and fixed. We want Jesus on the cross – not resurrected near the empty tomb. We want the comfort of the “faith of our fathers,” not the challenge of discerning the face of the Divine Feminine.

Bishop Katharine is right. If we are going to have any hope of bringing peace and reconciliation into this world, we’re going to have to give up fear. That’s going to take the kind of courage women throughout the ages have had to claim who know what it is to shed blood in order to bring new life into the world.

Here’s how Bishop Katharine ended that sermon. Actually, I find these words, these images of the work of the human enterprise, infinitely more challenging than anything she could have said about the image of God:

“Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God's beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God's beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded.

We children can continue to squabble over the inheritance. Or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds and share that name, beloved, with the whole world.”

Somebody in the church say, “Amen.”

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Exaggerating to make a point

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:38-50
Pentecost XVII – October 1, 2006
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Sometimes you have to exaggerate to make a point. That’s exactly what we hear Jesus doing in this morning’s gospel. Seems to me that’s part of Moses’ lament in the lesson from Numbers.

On the surface, the gospel seems like anything but “Good News.” The imagery is actually quite violent, isn’t it? Talk of tying a millstone around an offender’s neck and being thrown into the sea – cutting of offending hands and feet, plucking out eyes – as the kids would say, “Euuww!”

At our weekly Bible Study at staff meeting, it was Tim Wong who questioned the passage at the end of this chapter. “What the heck does this mean?” he asked. I had to spend some time with the Greek and Hebrew translations before I understood it myself. It is Eugene Peterson’s translation that provided the best help. Listen to what he writes:

“And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.” Peterson has kept the exaggeration to make the point, but the point is made much clearer, I think, in this translation. Here’s how he ends the chapter, which is the question Tim raised and the point I want to speak about this morning: “Everyone’s going to go through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”

Everyone’s going to go through a refining fire sooner or later. Sometimes it is life that exaggerates to make a point. I don’t know that there’s anyone in this church who hasn’t experienced the refining fire of life – those tests and challenges that life seems to place in your path at precisely the wrong time. Except, years later, when you’ve made it through and look back and reflect on the experience, you think to yourself, “Hmm . . .yes . . . I see now. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I learned so much from that experience I never would have learned any other way.”

Sometimes, life exaggerates to make a point. Of the four elements in life – earth, water, air, and fire – nothing exaggerates more boldly than the element of fire. Scott Sanders, in his book, “Writing from the Center,” talks about the unending supply of images which nature provides for the stories we tell. He writes, “Earth is stubborn, conservative, and slow, with a long memory. Water is elusive and humble, seeking the low places. Air is a trickster, fickle and shifty. Fire is fierce, quick, greedy and bold.” Ask anyone who has experienced loss of a home or belongings in a fire. They will be quick to agree.

Everyone’s going to go through a refining fire sooner or later. It’s life’s way of exaggerating to make the point that you couldn’t have gotten any other way. In November of 2002, the Sunday after my first Thanksgiving here, there was a terrible fire here in town. It was just a month after the house across the street from it had burned in a fire. Indeed, on that very morning, the husband of “Family #1” was at the old apartment, sorting through the burned out ruins of his former home, looking for trinkets and tokens of his former life, when he heard the eerie sound of fire trucks. At first, he thought he was having 'dejavu all over again' until he noticed the flames of fire licking at the window of his sister’s apartment.

Known as “Family #2” they were actually all part of the same family of immigrants who had moved here from their native land of Columbia, the way hundreds of thousands of people have come to this country for its freedom and democracy. They had come to this country for the same reason the early pilgrims came – to enjoy a new way of life which values initiative and creativity and free spirit.

I was called into the situation to speak to one of the men who was burned out of that dwelling. Actually, he had lived in that very apartment for 12 years, but gave it up several years ago to allow his friend and his beloved and their son to move in while he and his wife and son moved into a larger apartment closer to her place of employment.

His father had just died in July and he and his family returned to Columbia to comfort his bereaved mother. He had just returned at the end of October without his family to try and save up enough money to have them return. He moved – temporarily – into his old apartment with his friend and his family, just until he could get on his feet again and bring his own family back to America.

And then, his world turned upside down. A chauffeur by profession, he was driving a couple from the Newark Airport to their home in Mendham that Sunday morning when he got the call that his apartment was on fire. He didn’t say anything, but took the Chatham exit and drove into the nearby gas station to see for himself. The couple naturally raised concern and question about why they had taken this detour. As he began to drive them back to Mendham he said only, “See that apartment? It is where I live.”

Later, in my office, he showed me a letter that couple had sent him with, commending him for his professionalism and courtesy, and sending him a $100 check. As I read the letter aloud to him (he can speak but not read English) he burst into tears and said a most amazing thing. Wiping the tears from his eyes he sobbed, “Their kindness is too much for my broken heart.”

I suspect it was the first time he had really allowed himself to cry. He wept and he sobbed for what seemed like a very, very long time as I held him and rocked him in my arms. It became very clear that he was crying for all the losses in his life. He cried for the losses the fire – all of his clothes, his pictures, his jewelry – the stuff of his life. He also cried for the loss of his father – just four months prior, but just now being felt more deeply than he thought he could bear. He cried for the loss of his country, which, he said, was no longer his home. “I’m an American now,” he said. “I just need to become a citizen.”

He cried for the loss of his family – his beloved wife and his eleven-year-old son. He cried because he said he wanted to be with them on the “Day of Thanksgiving.” He cried because he said that without them, he had never felt so alone. And he cried thinking of the one thing lost in the fire that he would never be able to replace – an antique watch, which once belonged to his grandfather, which had been given to him by his own father just five hours before he died.

He cried until his tears put out the fire in his heart. He cried until there were no more tears and then he slumped in the chair, exhausted and spent in the emotion which had been welling up in him for four days. He rested a bit and then we prayed together before he had to chauffer another client from Newark airport to Morristown. Strange, isn’t it? How one person’s kindness could be the vehicle of such healing.

As I was heading out of the office later that day, I ran into my friend in the parking lot. He came running toward me, jubilant and excited. “Look!” he exclaimed, opening his hand to reveal a small box. As he moved closer to me, the smell of smoke on that little box was surprisingly strong, but the scent of memory and love that emanated from that box when it opened was enough to overcome the stench of the flames of destruction.

A little miracle had occurred. It was his grandfather’s watch! He had spoken with one of the firemen and asked if he could go back inside the apartment to get some of his things. The fireman said no he couldn’t but if it were really important, he would go up and look for what he wanted. His description of the location of the watch was so good, the fireman found it in no time flat. My friend thanked the fireman profusely and then immediately came to the church to show me.

“I came to say thank you to God for finding my grandfather’s watch,” he said. “I came to say thank you to God for the things I still have – my life, my health, my family. Even though we are apart, I know now that we will one day soon be together again. I came, only to say this: Thank you God.”

Sometimes you have to exaggerate to make a point. Sometimes, it is life that exaggerates to make a point you couldn’t have learned any other way. “Everyone’s going to go through a refining fire sooner or later,” Peterson translates Jesus, “but you’ll be well preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”