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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

In spite of it all

Every morning when David Scholer gets up he wishes that he could have just one more normal day to live.

But life for the 68-year old New Testament professor is by no means normal. The colorectal cancer he was diagnosed with five years ago has spread to both lungs, and he has asthma, diabetes and arthritis besides.

Despite these maladies and the effects of chemotherapy, he continues to teach at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, where he is one of the most popular professors. Students say that he tells them that a sign of maturity is the ability to live with ambiguity. Known for his inclusiveness, he also tells them:

"You have no right to oppose women in ministry until you have made a friend who is called to ministry and you've listened to her story. You have no right to make a statement about homosexuality until you have made friends with a Christian homosexual person. The conclusion you draw is another issue."

Through it all, he continues to ponder the meaning of the apostle Paul's statement in 1 Thessalonians: "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances." - especially the last part.
(Los Angeles Times, June 5)

Top ten things pastors long to hear

10. Yes, of course, the country club membership is part of your benefits package.

9. I was so engrossed, I didn't even notice your sermon went a half hour overtime.

8. Personally, I find witnessing much more enjoyable than golf.

7. To feel at ease with the professionals in town, you'll need to drive this loaner BMW.

6. Can I be the permanent teacher for the junior high Sunday school class?

5. Just kidding about your job description including the janitorial and lawn duties.

4. Do you mind if I bring all the ladies in my garden club to church next Sunday?

3. Pastor, we'd like to send you on this spiritual retreat in the Bahamas.

2. Hey! It's my turn to sit on the front pew!

1. New furniture? Sure. Just put it on the church account.

Ruth A. Tucker, "Left Behind in a Megachurch World (Baker)
As it appeared in Christian Century, June 26, 2007

Killer Biscuits

This one's been all over the internet for awhile. I understand it's an actual AP news story. Maybe it's the intense heat of today's Summer sun. Maybe I've finally gone right 'round the bend. Maybe I really do need that vacation. I just can't stop giggling over the imgage this story brings up in my mind.

Linda Burnett, 23, a resident of San Diego, was visiting her in-laws and while there went to a nearby supermarket to pick up some groceries. Several people noticed her sitting in her car with the windows rolled up and her eyes closed, with both hands behind the back of her head.

One customer who had been at the store for a while became concerned and walked over to the car. He noticed that Linda's eyes were now open, and she looked very strange. He asked her if she was okay, and Linda replied that she'd been shot in the back of the head, and had been holding her brains in for over an hour. The man called the paramedics, who broke into the car because the doors were locked and Linda refused to remove her hands from her head.

When they finally got in, they found that Linda had a wad of bread dough on the back of her head. A Pillsbury biscuit canister had exploded from the heat, making a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot, and the wad of dough hit her in the back of her head. When she reached back to find out what it was, she felt the dough and thought it was her brains. She initially passed out, but quickly recovered and tried to hold her brains in for over an hour until someone noticed and came to her aid.

Linda is a blonde and a Republican, but I'm certain that's irrelevant.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Listening Process

Listening Process facilitator meets with Integrity, other groups
Two-day meeting explores full-inclusion issues
By Mary Frances Schjonberg, June 28, 2007

[Episcopal News Service]
A group brought together by Integrity USA, the church's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affinity group, spent June 27-28 telling the facilitator of the Anglican Communion's Listening Process about their experience of being homosexual or transgender, or having a family member or friend who is.

The group met at the General Theological Seminary with the Rev. Canon Phil Groves.

The Primates Meeting at Dromantine, Ireland, in February 2005 asked the Anglican Consultative Council "to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process" which has been the subject of resolutions at Lambeth Conferences since at least 1978 (Lambeth 1978, Resolution 10).

The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, appointed Groves as the facilitator of the Listening Process in November 2005. His task, as defined in a portion of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, is to establish "a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion" and to help the communion listen to the experiences of homosexual persons.

His office asked every communion province to supply summaries of the work it has done thus far to the entire communion for study and reflection. Those summaries are available here. A description of how the information was gathered is available here.

At their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, the primates asked for a study guide (paragraph 13) to assist Anglican Communion bishops who will gather next year at the Lambeth Conference. Groves is collecting contributions to be used in writing that guide.

Anglicans whom Groves has recruited from throughout the communion will facilitate the compilation of each section of the guide. It is expected that the bishops at Lambeth will use the study guide for reflection and will then "go away and contemplate in their own place and with their own people" to discern the course of their future engagement, he said.

The collection of material gathered for the study guide and the accumulation of the provinces' work on human sexuality "is going to have to be on paper," Groves said, because in some instances that is the only way some voices from some provinces will be heard. The guide will be backed up by a larger collection on CD-ROM.

Lyn Headley-Deavours, justice minister for the Diocese of Newark, urged Groves to ensure that the process quickly involves people across the communion actually listening to each other. The Rev. Dr. Cy Deavours, co-director of the Oasis LGBT ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey, told Groves he'd like some assurance that the listening will actually happen.

Groves said he would do all he could to ensure that LGBT voices are heard with the cooperation of groups such as Integrity. "I feel confident it will be done," he said, because the Anglican Communion office is supporting his efforts.

Groves outlines his role as facilitator
At the opening of the General Seminary meeting on June 27, Groves explained his overall role.

While he has his own opinions about the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people in the Anglican Communion, he said, "if I am perceived as being on a side, I am worthless to you." He also cautioned that the process needs to hear from as many voices as possible, including some "that you believe have caused intense damage."

The hoped-for long-term result of the Listening Process, he said, is that with the inclusion of as many voices as possible, "we will know the gospel better." He asked the Integrity group to support the process by contributing papers and other resources by mid-August of this year.

Group's conversations range far and wide
The June 27-28 meeting followed the study guide's eight sections: the mission of the church, the witness of the Bible, the witness of tradition, homosexuality and science, homosexuality and culture, sexuality and identity, sexuality and spirituality, and developing skills in listening.

Roughly 20 people participated over two days in the conversations as the group examined the implications of including LGBT people fully in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity president, suggested that the Episcopal Church should declare sexual orientation "morally neutral" and then call all people into "a holy life and wholeness." The church came close to doing just that at the 2000 General Convention, she said, when it passed Resolution D039, acknowledging that many Episcopalians live in life-long committed relationships that are not bound by marriage.

Donald Whipple Fox, a Dakota Episcopalian who is executive director of the Diocese of Minnesota's Indigenous Theological Training Institute, said the conversation reminded him of his grandmother being told she had to stop being an Indian to be a Christian.

"I wish we'd had this conversation 200 years ago," said Fox, who pointed out that the notion of "coming out" as LGBT has not been common until recently in Native American communities because it seems to value the individual over the community.

Native communities traditionally regard homosexuality as "a spiritual calling" and thus "coming out" is not so much a declaration of identity as acceptance of a sacred responsibility to the wider community.

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, past president of Integrity and rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester, New York, questioned how the culture of listening in the Anglican Communion is being "managed," adding that he's "desperate just to sit down with other people in the communion to talk about Jesus and the Bible" and how his faith influences his life and work.

Groves told ENS that he was excited by his time with the Integrity group. "They are a group of people who are delighted to be involved with the wider communion ... and they are a group of people committed to talking about Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "Not everyone will agree with them. They don't always agree with one another, but their voices are committed to the wider church."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pink Jesus

When the Executive Council met recently in Parsippany, NJ, the Women's Commission of the Diocese of Newark decided to mark the occasion by honoring Presiding Bishop Katharine and President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson with a few gifts.

Because of the impossible vocation of her particular call, we gave Bonnie an "Answer Me, Jesus."

It's neon-pink and has one of those black liquid balls often seen in those "Ask the 8-Ball" toys. You must remember them from your youth. You move it around as you ask a question like, "Will I have a date to the dance Friday night?" Then, you turn the thing upside down and an answer would float to the top, like, "Highly unlikely." At which point, you would run off sobbing to the girl's room to be consoled by your girlfriends who just LOVED the drama.

Here, Bonnie and I ask Jesus a question about what the next day might bring. As I recall, it was actually a serious question - one that gave me a wee bit of a hint about the weight of the office of leadership at the national level in these difficult days in the church.

I believe the response Jesus made was quite clear.

Emerging from the dark liquid of the bottom of his pink feet, Jesus answered, "I'll have to ask my father."

That Jesus! Watta guy, eh?

Leadership in the church is often a thankless, lonely work of ministry. I have come to know that if we've lost our sense of humor, we've lost why it was Jesus called us to the work in the first place.

My colleagues in the picture are: Top Row: Lyn Headley-Deavours,Bonnie Anderson (holding "Answer Me Jesus"), Marge Christie, Sandye Wilson and Diana Clark. Seated: Martha Gardner and Elizabeth Kaeton.

I'm deeply grateful to Mary Frances Schjonberg for sending these pictures.

P.S. We gave Bishop Katharine a lovely glass box, engraved with her name and inscribed with the words from Sirach 26:10: "Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter, lest, when she finds liberty, she will use it."

Bishop Katharine laughed delightedly and exclaimed, "Oh, I'll have to send this quote to my father."

She also send a hand written thank you note the very next day. Her Momma obviously taught her well.

Late addition: For those of you who have asked, you can find "Answer Me Jesus" at Future Memories. He normally sells for $19.95, but happens to be on sale for $14.95 or two for $28.

See? You get Jesus AND a good deal!

Or, as the saying goes in evangelical circles, "Jesus is good all the time" . . .but he only goes on sale occasionally.

Let us now praise famous men

I just noticed this at the end of today's "Episcopal Life Online Daybook"

"Today in History: On this day in 1982, A. Theodore Eastman was ordained and consecrated bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland at the Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul."

My goodness! I can't imagine what it must feel like to read your name after the words "Today in History."

I saw him at General Convention in Columbus and he looked as wonderful and as active as ever. It was, as always, a joy to see him again. As far as I know, he remains very active in ministry in the Diocese of D.C. There is a family in my congregation who are dear friends of the Eastmans so I am able to keep in touch through them.

I don't want this to sound like an early obituary, but I can't resist taking the opportunity to say what a wonderful, patient bishop he was to this newly ordained, full-of-beans-and-herself-ready-to-save-the-church priest. His was not an easy episcopacy, placed smack-dab in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in the City of Baltimore, and during which the social diseases of racism, sexism and homophobia were also at epidemic proportions. He also weathered a highly publicized scandal involving a pornography ring being run by a clergy person out of evangelical church school.

Another context of his episcopacy was in the midst of some of the first conservative "manifestos" which were then being volleyed across the church pews - several of them having originated in the Diocese of Maryland. (As I remember, one of the most rabid among them was prompted by a service of Blessing a Covenant between a couple of the same sex. We HAVE been at this a long, long time.)

Bishop Ted was always, always, always gracious and kind, generous and patient, intelligent and articulate.

I also remember that his wife, Sarah, who has an earned doctorate and is a scientist, gave up a position of some considerable esteem "inside the Beltway" in order to join Ted in this ministry. She did that with a marvelous sense of the unique and particular gifts she brought to the diocese.

While clearly and quietly assisting her husband, which was her way, she also stood out as her own person with her own sense of ministry and call - not an easy thing for a woman to do "back in the day" because there weren't many role models for her among the spouses in the House of Bishops. So, she became her own role model and, ultimately, one for others - male and female - to come.

Congratulations, Bishop Ted, on the anniversary of your ordination and consecration to the episcopacy. You and your beloved Sarah are gifts of and to the church. I, for one, am a better priest today for your wisdom, guidance and model of Christian leadership.

And, may I add, I'm delighted that Episcopal Life remembered you "today in history." It has given me a chance to say things about you BEFORE you change from glory into glory.

Now, how often does THAT happen?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Don't Stop Believing

It’s Sunday night.

I wonder what Tony and Carm are doing.

You know. Anthony and Carmella Soprano. Last time I saw them, they were eating an appetizer of fried onion rings at the diner with AJ. Tony had ordered a plate, you know, for the table.

Watta guy, that Tone, huh?

They were listening to Journey sing “Don’t Stop Believing” while waiting for Meadow to join them for dinner. She was having some trouble parallel parking the car.

As Sil (Silvio Dante)would comment, pursing his lips and nodding his head with sage wisdom while that amazing pompadour hair style never moved, “Eh, you know, who doesn’t?”

There were a few moments of anxiety – no more than usual – as different shady characters engaged in the kind of suspicious behavior we’ve all come to take note of: the guy sitting at the counter, looking around, stirring his coffee. The two African American men who walked in – one wearing the ‘Members Only’ jacket.

Tony had it covered, though. Every time that restaurant door jingled open, he was on it, watching everyone’s every move. No one would get by that table without T taking some action to protect himself and his family. After all, he is, by definition, a ‘family man’ – in every aspect of that term: good, bad and ugly.

Here’s the thing: I miss them. I mean, I really miss them.

A lot. No doubt more than I should. I mean, they were just fictional characters in a cable television program, right? This is pretty crazy, right? Of course, right. Or, as T would say, “end of story.”

I have previously confessed on this blog that I am addicted to this story – to the characters. All of them. The way we watched them grow up – well, at least physically. It was an interesting phenomenon to see with my own eyes what happens when the passionate longings of the heart grow stone cold when mixed with blind desire and thoughtless ambition. It has the strange effect of stunting emotional, psychological, spiritual and moral growth but deepening character.

I love the scriptwriting. Okay, so at first the violence and the profanity and even the nudity bothered me – and I’m no prude. It was just that there was so much of it. So excessive. So over-the-top vulgar.

After all these years of watching this show, I have discovered that when you expose vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity, well, vulgarity loses the fullness of its negative impact. After a while, vulgarity is actually quite amusing, in its own curious way. You begin to see it for what it really is: one of the more pathetic attributes of the wretched part of the human condition.

Exposed is a good word for The Sopranos. Many things were exposed, and not just sex, violence and profanity. Yes, we got to see the inner workings of “La Cosa Nostra,” but turns out it’s really just a business. You know, like Haliburton or Enron, except it’s, well, more “family” oriented.

Yes, Tony was a mob boss and a philanderer, but one who suffered debilitating panic attacks and bouts of depression. He dutifully went to see Dr. Jennifer Melfi, his shrink, to work out his stuff with Livia, his mother the sociopath and Johnny, his father, the devastatingly handsome mass murderer with more than his share of gumads (mistresses). Is it any wonder that their manipulative daughter Janice was attracted to cruel sadistic men, and their son Anthony was born “under a bad sign with a blue moon in his eye”?

Exposed. Real. Raw. Primal. That was the attraction of the show for me. In the ‘serious suburbs’ where I live, where there are more sliced-white-bread-carved-out-of-cream-cheese people per square inch than any place I’ve ever lived before, whose homes are cookie-cutter perfect, where the only thing more immaculate than the landscaped lawns is their manners, and everything is always “fine, fine, we’re all just fine,” I’ve come to have a certain appreciation for real and raw and primal.

Nah, that’s not it. I’d love this show even if I were still living in Boston or Baltimore or East Orange, NJ. It’s really about institutions. About Tony’s struggle with institutions – the church, the government, the law, the media. You can’t trust ‘em – not any of ‘em. Corruption is everywhere. Hypocrisy is all around us and in us – in our families and friends.

In the post 9/11 world in which we live, Tony reflects the anxiety with which many of us live. Okay, so his anxiety is about his work as a mob boss. Never mind. We can all relate.

In one of his early sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Tony tells her, “Things are trending downward.” At the end of that first session, he tells her, “Lately I get the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Organized crime just isn’t what it used to be, he complains, adding in his own tragic-comic way of expressing himself that the high moral ground of omerta (silence) has eroded, “No one has time for the penal experience anymore.”

“What ever happened to Gary Cooper, the strong silent type?” he fumes. “That was an American. He just did what he had to do. See, what they didn’t know is that once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings, he couldn’t shut up. It’s dysfunction this, and dysfunction that dysfunction vanffacul!" (You can translate that one yourself.)

Those lines could have been said by my father, or any one of my uncles. I’m not Italian-American. Close (Portuguese-American) but no cigars. I grew up in a neighborhood where I lived next to an “Uncle Junior,” went to church with a man named “Paulie” and shopped at a grocery store owned by a man named “Sally.” My uncles sold stuff out of the back of the trucks of their cars: sneakers, make up, perfume, radios, televisions, and small appliances. Cheap.

In my neighborhood, when you went to the “beauty parlor” you were in someone’s actual parlor in their home. You washed your own hair in the kitchen sink and then came out to the one barber chair in the middle of the room, facing a large mirror on the wall next to a row of two or three hair dryers – the kind with and upholstered chair and the hot plastic bubble dome which blissfully lulled you into a meditative state as it whirred in your ear and bathed your rollered head in hot air.

You not only got your hair done, but you could also buy your entire Easter outfit – dress, shoes, hat, gloves and nylon hose with a thick black line in the back that you wore with either a garter belt or a pantie girdle. Need something else? Not to worry. Paulie or Sally would be by soon to pop open the trunk of their car with the day’s specials.

While you were there, you could also purchase a bottle of paregoric, a mild narcotic to rub on a teething baby’s gums, or a bottle of “mother’s little helpers” to soothe the frayed nerves of the life of a second generation immigrant caught in the frenetic whirl of trying to live the American dream. No prescription necessary. No questions asked. No answers needed.

Before you rush to any judgments, let me tell you that these “beauty parlors” still exist – in bodegas and parts of the hood only trusted pastors get invited to attend, and only after she has gotten up in the middle of the night to help get a wayward grandson out of jail, or a pregnant granddaughter out of a situation of domestic violence.

See, I think that’s really the thing. From the beginning, The Sopranos has been about American life in microcosms, commenting on class mobility, sexism, racism, political and corporate corruption, sex and gender and even (unbelievably to me, in the character of Vito Spatafore, the finook on the construction crew) homosexuality. It’s every immigrant family’s story. It’s every story of every ambitious person who ever tried to buck the tide and make it on his own.

It’s the story of everyone who has ever believed and found his belief misplaced, her trust squandered, his dreams shattered, her faith shaken to the core. It’s a story with big themes, as all good drama is because ultimately, a life lived fully is always about big themes like belief and trust, faith and love.

One final note about Tony. I came to really like this guy, which is precisely what author David Chase wanted. Even the FBI careerists came to like him enough to tip him off about the rumors of family war, no doubt saving his life.

I realized I was in love with Tony after Dr. Melfi was raped. It was precisely the moment I found myself standing on my chair, after the police bungled the evidence and her rapist could not be prosecuted, yelling at her to give his identity to Tony. “Tell Tony! Tell Tony! Tell Tony!” I screamed at the TV set, half hysterical demand, half frantic prayer. Tony would fix ‘em. Tony would get ‘em. He wouldn’t be raping any other women once Tony was done with him.

And that’s when I knew. That’s when I rediscovered that fine, thin line which separates my soul from its own corruption. My own potential for evil. My own potential to hate. The line that was drawn the first time I loved and lost. A dream was shattered. A trust squandered. A faith misplaced. And I couldn’t do a damn thing on my own to get any of it back.

At the end of the series we come face to face with the truth. Tony is a bad man – worse than any evil we could ever imagine in ourselves. When he kills Christopher, the character who is for all intents and purposes his son, even more than his own flesh and blood, he does it with a chilling spontaneity, with absolutely no passion. It’s all a stunning sort of pragmatism. It has to be done. As he puts his fingers to block Christopher’s nose, you understand what Tony understands. It’s just good business. Except, in this business practice, Tony is revealed for what he really is: a stone cold gangster.

And we, thankfully, are not. Oh, we all have the potential for great evil, which is why we can recognize it in Tony. But, make no mistake. When you are able to lose touch with your humanity and the humanity of others over and over and over again, you have crossed the line and fallen with the other fallen angels into that abyss that separates heaven and hell.

And, the thing that will trip you up every time, the thing that places you on that slippery slope over the abyss, is the loss of your belief in humanity - your own and everyone else.

So, the irony is not lost that the closing song is “Don’t stop believing.”

Ultimately, we are all exposed as “streetlight people, living just to find emotion, hiding somewhere in the night.”

Which is why I’m missing Tony and Carm tonight. I suppose I will miss them for a very long time. When I wake up on Monday mornings, I won't have a blue moon in my eye and I won't get myself a gun. My world won’t exactly be turned upside down, but it will never quite be the same.

Just a small town girl,
livin' in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere...
Just a city boy,
born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere...

A singer in a smokey room,
the smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on...

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people, living just to find emotion
Hiding, somewhere in the night

Working hard to get my fill,
everybody wants a thrill
Payin' anything to roll the dice,
just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

Don't stop believin'
Hold on to the feelin'
Streetlight people

O, Canada!

The Anglican Church of Canada has been meeting in Synod all weekend long, and it has been anything but boring.

Yesterday, they passed a resolution (152 for 97 against in the house of clergy and laity and by a vote of 21 for and 19 against in the house of bishops) which said, "That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being credal) of the Anglican Church of Canada."

You can read all about it

This came after a lengthy discussion and debate about the process of their voting - whether a motion would carry by a simple majority, as is their custom, or to change it so that in order for a motion to carry it would require a 60% margin.

That procedural vote was ultimately overturned in favor of maintaining the simple majority rule.

At this point, Kendall Harmon, the ubiquitous canon theologian from the Diocese of South Carolina was quoted as observing that the Canadian church's discussion was more theological than ours, and more respectful than ours; that they were taking this more seriously than we have, and that they apparently have the courage of their convictions, unlike the US church.

And, look what they went and did. Sonofagun, huh?

Having said and done all THAT, today Synod narrowly defeated a motion which read,

"That this General Synod affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod,

a. with the concurrence of the diocesan bishop, and
b. in a manner which respects the conscience of the incumbent and the will of the parish,

to authorize the blessing of committed same-sex unions."

The vote was as follows:

In Favor / Opposed
Laity 78 / 59 Passed
Clergy 63 / 53 Passed
Bishops 19 / 21 Failed


That's a defeat by only two men in purple shirts. The laity clearly are ready for this; the clergy only a bit less so.

This is both heartening and heartbreaking.

As our Jewish sisters and brothers say every year at the end of the ritual of the Passover: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

Hang on, kids. A change is coming. It will happen.

It is only a matter of time.

The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac

"And they were afraid."
Luke 8:26-39
IV Pentecost 7C
June 24, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I’ve become gradually aware that the gospel stories have begun to evoke memories in me, the way music often does. I’m sure you are aware of the ability of music to generate nostalgic remembrance of, say, the experience of a particular summer vacation, or a first love, or something that happened when you were in college. Well, for me, gospel stories have that same power.

The story of the Gerasene demoniac floods me with memories of every ‘street person’ I’ve ever met who had a mental illness. When you work in the urban arena for as many years as I have, you met a great deal of people who ‘live move and have their being’ in the long, dark shadows of the city’s darker side.

The Gerasene demoniac is the term for the man from a city in the country of Gerasene which was opposite the little town of Galilee who was “possessed by many demons” and an “unclean spirit.”

Today, of course, we understand that this was the way in which antiquity thought of mental illness. We know so much more today about the chemistry of the brain and how it influences behavior. It is ironic to note, however, that our treatment of people with mental illness has not improved much over time.

The man from Gerasene, we are told, “wore no clothes and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.” Imagine the sight: a naked man, quite insane, living among the dead. We are left to wonder what it was that caused his mental illness.

Might it have been schizophrenia or was it a form of bipolar disorder? What social condition might have driven him insane? Might it have been unspeakable physical or sexual abuse as a child? Might it have been the horrors of war?

Did something happen to someone he knew and loved that was more horrifying than his mind could bear to take in as reality?

We know some of the stories of some of the people who are among the “walking dead” on our city streets. People who mutter to themselves as they push their grocery cart filled with all of their earthly belongings, who live under bridges and highway overpasses or deep in the bowels of the subway system where they might escape the unforgiving winds of winter or the blazing, burning rays of the summer sun.

If we didn’t know better, we too might say they were possessed by many demons. Actually, as a metaphor, it’s not bad. The metaphorical ghosts of past events – our participation in acts of evil or in activities that skirt the outer edges of morality or ethics – can haunt us for years. If left untended or ignored, metaphorical ghosts can become metaphorical demons and those demons can become quite real, a living nightmare from which we never awake that torment and torture us until they quite literally drive us insane.

What fascinates me every time I read this fascinating story is what happens after the man is healed. Scripture says, “ . . . .they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.”

I’m sure they were fearful of the man when he was quite insane. Why were they now afraid? The demons were gone, he was sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus, his clothes on and he was, it is reported, “in his right mind.” And yet, we are told that they were afraid. Why? Why now? After the healing? Once the demons had gone?

Yesterday, I was walking across Military Park in Newark on my way to the Cathedral to attend the farewell celebration of Bishop Carol Gallagher’s ministry among us. When you walk through Military Park it’s hard not run into at least one or two folk who might be related to the Gerasene demoniac.

Suddenly, my mind was flooded with the memory of one man in particular. I think his name was John. He was a Viet Nam Vet – his spirit broken and his mind ravaged by the unspeakable horrors he saw during that war. He lived in Military Park by day, taking special delight in wandering over to the immaculate, finely designed grotto of NJPAC just to frighten the patrons taking in an afternoon event.

I ran into John one afternoon when I was working at the Diocesan Offices at 31 Mulberry Street. I had been in a dreadful mood. It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right. The Xerox machine had broken down. The deadline for the grant was looming on the horizon. The rumors of proposed budget cuts were growing louder and beginning to gain traction.

I had just gotten a call from the Cathedral Office at 24 Rector Street that there was some form or another I had to sign which simply could not wait, so I decided to walk the ten minutes just for a change of scenery.

That was when I crossed paths with John. Actually, I could smell him before I actually saw or heard him, but in a split second, the man was very, very near me, looking closely into my eyes. His closeness assaulted my sense of security just as the odor of his clothes assaulted my nose.

I was suddenly aware that I must have been walking very deliberately and with great purpose across the grotto at NJPAC, in that way that you walk when you are annoyed or angry, because when I stopped short in his presence the momentum in my body kept me moving forward so that I almost bumped into John.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said, less embarrassed by my clumsiness than a bit afraid to be in such close proximity to him. I like my crazy street people at a distance, thank you very much, where I can see them and dodge any quick, unexpected moves.

John came right up into my face and then, backing away just a bit, tilted his head back as he announced, very loudly, “I can change the weather!”

Then, he went into a beautiful, graceful dance as he explained, “No one believes me, but once, when I was in “The ‘Nam,” I was abducted by aliens. They took me to their space pod where they inserted radio receivers in my brain and here in my elbow, and there in my knee. At first, it frightened me, but I have learned how to use them. If I move very carefully, I can actually pick up a signal, like so and . . . voila! – I can change the weather.”

As I watched him gyrate himself until he twisted and turned himself into a ridiculous pose, I found myself laughing. Out loud.

It was then that John came up to me again – real close – smiled broadly and said, “You see. I can change the weather.”

And I realized that he was right.

The climate in my brain had been quite bad. I must have had a huge dark rain cloud following close to my head, ready to burst. But, in just a few moments, John had changed all of that.

I felt lighter, somehow. The world didn’t seem such a dark and gloomy place. The demons which had haunted and tormented me left.

John had healed all that.

Before I had a chance to thank him – or slip him some spare change – he left, walking back to his spot over at the war memorial at Military Park to hang out with the granite heroes of another time and place.

I suspect the people of antiquity also liked their crazy street people at a distance, too. From that distance, they perform an important civic service. They remind us of the outer edges of our reality – the slippery slope we all traverse between reality and insanity.

Without them to mark that place, how will we ever be able to gauge our own sanity? The old saying in mental hospitals and prisons is that the only way to tell the inmates from the guards is that the guards are the ones with keys.

If we don’t carry the metaphorical keys of propriety, how will we ever be able to tell the inmates from their keepers – the prisoners from the guards?

And so, the people were justly afraid. Jesus had blurred the lines between sanity and insanity and the climate in the countryside changed just as surely as John had changed the weather in my soul.

In the end, the story of the Gerasene demoniac is less about the healing of a crazy street person and more about healing the demons who rage in our own lives.

Jesus talks to the man. In fact, the first thing he does is to ask him his name – not only talking with a person, but personalizing the conversation. Treating him with some dignity and kindness – not talking at him or about him, but to him, like a ‘normal’ human being.

In so doing, Jesus welcomed him from the land of the dead into the land of the living which was enough to begin the process of healing.

The real miracle is this: when Jesus healed the man from Gerasene, he didn’t just heal one man; rather, he healed an entire community.

He continued that healing by asking the man to be a disciple in his own community, rather than being one of his followers, one of the disciples. Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."

God has made such disciples of each and every one of us. The question is: What are we afraid of?

What prevents us from living more fully into our faith? How do we move from the tombs and monuments which we have created, and in which many of us live, to embrace and live into our faith? How do we tell the story to others of what God has done for us? I know it sounds crazy, but when more and more of us begin to tell that story in our own communities, the entire climate of our culture changes.

As crazy as it sounds, we, too, like my friend John, can change the weather. We, too, like the man from Gerasene can be healed – and, in no small measure, we can also begin to heal this dark and broken world of the insanity of poverty, hunger, famine, and war.

I know it sounds crazy but it’s true: When you find healing in your heart, a small piece of the world is healed as well. It is in such healing that we discover the path to reclaim and restore Eden once again.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Warning: Woman with book

One morning, the husband returns the boat to their lakeside cottage after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap.

Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out. She motors out a short distance, anchors, puts her feet up, and begins to read her book.

The peace and solitude are magnificent.

Along comes a Fish and Game Warden in his boat. He pulls up alongside the woman and says,"Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?"

"Reading a book," she replies, (thinking, "Isn't that obvious?").

"You're in a Restricted Fishing Area," he informs her.

"I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading."

"Yes, but I see you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up."

"If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault," says the woman.

"But I haven't even touched you," says the Game Warden.

"That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment."

"Have a nice day ma'am," and he left.

MORAL: Never argue with a woman who reads. It's likely she can also think.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Yet another Sister for the movement!

Note: Bishop-elect Gray-Reeves will be the 12th bishop who is a woman, as well as being among five of the youngest in the House of Bishops.

Oh and P.S. and BTW, she was elected on Father's Day - a distinction she shares with our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the first woman who is also among the youngest to be elected Presiding Bishop.

Women with hyphenated names RULE!

[Episcopal News Service] The Ven. Mary Gray-Reeves was elected June 16 to be the next bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real.

Gray-Reeves, 44, archdeacon for deployment, Diocese of Southeast Florida, was elected on the second ballot from a slate of four candidates (a fifth candidate, the Rev. Paige Blair, withdrew after the first ballot). An election on the second ballot required 103 votes of the 205 cast in the lay order and 58 of 114 votes cast in the clergy order. Gray-Reeves was elected with 163 lay votes and 91 clergy votes.

She becomes the 15th woman elected as a bishop of the Episcopal Church and she will be among the five youngest members of the House of Bishops.

The election took place at York School in Monterey, California.

Under the canons the Episcopal Church (III.11.4), a majority of bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan Standing Committees must consent to Gray-Reeves’ election and ordination as bishop.

Gray-Reeves is meant to succeed Bishop Richard Shimpfky who resigned at the end of March 2004, after leading the diocese for 14 years. Bishop Sylvestre Romero-Palma, formerly Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Belize, has been serving as assisting bishop for the diocese.

The consecration is planned for November 10 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Saratoga, California.

The complete ballot results are available here.

Gray-Reeves has been the archdeacon for deployment in the Diocese of Southeast Florida since January 2005. Prior to that, she was rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Miami Lakes, Florida from 1998 to 2004. She had previously served as an assistant to the rectors of St. James EpiscopalChurch in South Pasadena, California and Christ Church, Redondo Beach, California. She holds the bachelor of theology degree (the equivalent of a master of divinity degree) from St. John's Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand. Gray-Reeves was a deputy to General Convention in 2003 and 2006, and has been involved in various diocesan-wide activities in Southeast Florida. She and husband Michael Reeves are the parents of two teen-aged children.

More biographical information about Gray-Reeves is available here.

The other nominees were:

the Rev. Paige Blair, 36, rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church, York Harbor, Maine (Diocese of Maine);

the Rev. David Breuer, 60, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Los Gatos, California (Diocese of El Camino Real);

the Rev. Gale Davis Morris, 60, rector, Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton, Massachusetts (Diocese of Massachusetts); and

the Rev. John Palarine, 58, rector, Episcopal Church of Our Savior, Jacksonville, Florida (Diocese of Florida).

The diocese was formed in 1980 out of the Diocese of California. It extends along the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles from Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo, encompassing the counties of Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo. Trinity Cathedral in San Jose serves as the diocesan see while the diocesan offices are located in Seaside on the Monterey Peninsula. Farming, technology, vineyards and resort areas are found in the diocese. Congregations worship in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Laotian, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Sudanese dialects and Lakota. About 14,330 Episcopalians worship in the diocese's 50 congregations.

The diocesan profile is available here.

What are we to make of "Absurd Shibboleths"?

This morning, over at HOB/D, the observation was made that part of the "massive overreaction" of the Global South to the consecration of Gene Robinson is due to the shift in the perception of Americans from "benevolent brother" to "the principal web of the source of evil." This perception carries over and is inextricably linked to The Episcopal Church.

The quote that caught my eye was this:

"Among Anglicans, "Gene Robinson and George Bush to us are the same," is something that is routinely repeated. Instead of being offended, we ought to figure out why such an absurd shibboleth actually seems logical outside" TEC.

So, I responded:

This is an important point. I'd like to venture a response of my own.

The reason such an absurdity may seem logical outside TEC is perhaps due to the fact that it is convenient so to do. If you are employing a system of thought and reason which is based on outdated, flawed or otherwise incorrect information from medical, psychological and/or social sciences, coupled with a particular "fungelical" interpretation of the scripture, that which is absurd becomes a highly logical, reasonable, plausible reality.

It has ever been thus in the oppression of people of color, women, children, etc.

Another component has to do with political opportunity. Never has the time been more opportune for some of these bishops from the Global South to reverse the colonialism which has been the historic, evil source of their severe oppression and extreme poverty. We're being given "a taste of our own medicine" and it has never been more a more bitter pill to swallow. Never mind about Christianity. Most of the evils of colonialism were perpetrated in the name of Jesus.

That political opportunity also extends to malcontents on this side of the world in TEC. The bishops of the Global South have been very carefully courted for the promotion and success of the goals of political efforts funded by organizations like the IRD and its Episcopal manifestation, the AAC. This is not to insult the intelligence of some of those GS leaders. By no means! Indeed, it has been an important partnership. The IRD and AAC have provided an important, well-funded vehicle to achieve the goals of providing the USA with an experience of "reverse colonialism".

Oh, have the rest of us in TEC failed? You bet. Have we sat on our excuses while the 'fungevangelicals' spread their particular interpretation of the Gospel "far and wide"? Guilty as charged. Did neo-Puritan, conservative evangelical Episcopalians move in exploit these new Christians for their own purposes? Of this there can be no doubt. Did the Global South seize the opportunity for their own gain? With breathtaking cunning and intelligence.

Oh, there is more - much, much more - to the story, but those are the major components of my first blush analysis.

Here's the thing: History - especially the history of religious 'wars' like this - teaches us that whenever "the absurd becomes logic" it is a sure and certain sign that evil is afoot.

I would like to offer another way to look at this. Martin Smith, an Episcopal priest and former superior of the SSJE in Cambridge once offered a retreat in which he provided a marvelous perspective - one that has stayed with me all these years later. It is this: Whenever we look at a situation and scratch our heads in utter confusion and say, "What are we to make of this?" that is a sure and certain sign that God is inviting us into the creation of something new. God is inviting us into a co-creative process which is our vocation.

When I have looked over the situation of the past decade and seen the absurdity mentioned by Bishop Pierre, I have scratched my head and wondered aloud, "What are we to make of this?" And, I have heard God respond with great joy, "Alright! Now we're talking!"

I think that question is being heard and is beginning to find an answer in recent statements by the Windsor Report and the Primate's Communique. It is also finding an answer in the recent statements of the HoB and the EC. I have no doubt that Lambeth 2008 and General Convention 2009 will also provide pieces of answers to the question.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the words of the Great Reformer come to mind. Martin Luther once said, "This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, nor health but healing, nor being but becoming, nor rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished but it is going on, this is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified."

That is the way of God. What are we flawed, faulted, impatient humans to make of that?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Love, Forgiveness and Father's Day

A meditation on Luke 7:36-8:3
III Pentecost – June 16, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe that “Coincidence” is one of the names God uses when s/he wants to remain anonymous. “Serendipity” is another.

The themes from the Hebrew Scripture, the Psalm and the Gospel appointed for today all have to do with love and forgiveness. Even if you were only half listening to the readings from Holy Scripture, that much is pretty clear. The story of that scoundrel King David being confronted by the prophet Nathan startles me each and every time I encounter it. If you think you aren’t familiar with the story, let me say one name to refresh your memory: Bathshe’ba.

Ah, now you remember, right? The story begins in Chapter 11 of the Second Book of Samuel with these words, “It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” Sounds like the beginning of one of those pulp fiction romance novels that you buy for the steamy summer afternoons at the beach or the pool, right?

Of course, it’s Bathshe’ba, the wife of Uri’ah the Hittite. Does that stop David? No way! He sends his messenger to fetch her, they have a passionate afternoon tryst which results in Bathshe’ba’s pregnancy. Does that stop David? Not a chance!

He sends his messenger to the battlefield to fetch Uriah and bring him home. He tries to trick him into visiting with his wife so as to engage him in conjugal rights with her. But, Uri’ah, the good soldier, knows that a soldier consecrated for war is forbidden by religious sanction from such activity, so he sleeps at the door of the King’s house with all the servants of his Lord.

The next night, David tries to get him drunk on too much wine, but again, Uri’ah remains a faithful soldier. Well, what is poor David to do? There’s nothing left to be done but to send Uri’ah back into battle and make sure that he is killed. Uri’ah dies a hero and David, being the generous and compassionate man that he is, sends for the poor, young, beautiful widow Bathshe’ ba and, out of the gracious kindness and abundant mercy of his heart, marries the poor dear. That King David! What a guy, huh?

Is this a GREAT story to start the summer, or what? And you thought stories like this could only be found in supermarket Tabloids! Listen, all the Brittanies and Parises and Lindsays of the world are small time chumps compared to the Biblical Big Leagues. Scandal? You want sandal? We got your scandal right here! Put the Bible on your summer reading list if you want some really hot, steamy love affairs, political intrigue and murder mysteries.

Ah, but the eyes of the God of Abraham and Sarah are not blind. Chapter 11 ends with these words, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (Cue the theme song of that now defunct daytime soap opera, The Young and the Restless.)

Enter Nathan, the prophet, who is sent by God to David. Nathan tells David a parable to trick him into confessing his sins. (I probably watch way too many movies, but I’m thinking Nathan might be played by an aged Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise’s David) At the most dramatic moment of revelation, Nathan yells at David: “You are the man!”(In the same way Nicholson’s character yells, “The truth! You can’t stand the truth!” There’s something poetic in that for me.)

David immediately confesses and repents. Nathan pronounces God’s forgiveness on David. All should end well, but it would appear that the God of the ancient Hebrew nation has certain conditions on forgiveness. The infant son that Bathshe’ba conceived with David while she was still married to Uri’ah is struck ill, presumably by the hand of the Lord. Within seven days, scripture tells us, the infant dies as a sacrifice to the sins of his father. Apparently, you do not mess with the God of the ancient Hebrew nation.

Not so with the forgiveness of God as explained by Jesus. It’s Luke’s gospel story of the woman who lavishes Jesus with expensive oil and perfume and bathes his feet with her tears and wipes them with (scandal of scandals!) the outward and visible sign of her feminine sexuality – her hair! That is the last straw for Simon the Pharisee, who begins to mutter to himself off in a corner of the house.

If the eyes of the God of Abraham and Sarah are not blind, the ears of the son of God can hear a mouse sneeze on a cotton ball in the back closet of the church sacristy. Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee a story which parallels the one told to David by Nathan. This time, however, there are no strings attached – no conditions made. The first born son of the Pharisee Simon does not have to be sacrificed in order for God to be satisfied and sins forgiven.

Jesus is teaching a radically new understanding of forgiveness. It is unconditional. In so doing, Jesus is revealing something about the nature of God which could not have been known to the Hebrew people of antiquity. It could only be known because the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth had to teach it to us. Indeed, Jesus and only Jesus could reveal it to us in his very self, being of one nature with God. Scripture often reminds us that when we see something of the nature of Jesus, we see something of the nature of God.

The way of God revealed in Christ Jesus is the way of love. Love and forgiveness are inextricably entwined. Jesus says, “ . . . her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

There’s a rule in the cosmos that says, “You can not give away what you don’t have.” You can’t give away love if you don’t have love for yourself. You can not forgive unless you know yourself to have been forgiven – unless you have forgiven yourself. The one who is forgiven of much forgives greatly, because the one who has been greatly forgiven understands what it is to be greatly loved.

Let me say that again so you can take it in: “The one who is forgiven of much forgives greatly, because the one who has been greatly forgiven understands what it is to be greatly loved.”

Love and forgiveness often flow, one from the other. It takes a heart full of love to forgive. And, once forgiveness has been bestowed, the chambers of the heart which had once been clogged with sludge like anger and hatred, resentment and revenge, suddenly become unblocked, and love flows freely.

That’s no coincidence. That is the way of love and forgiveness. Neither is this: Today is Father’s Day. For some, this is a joyful day, and this morning is filled with delightful expectations of a phone call or a visit, a special meal at home or in a favorite restaurant, perhaps a special gift to show love and appreciation for one of the toughest and thankless jobs in the world.

This is not so for everyone. Today is Father’s Day. For some, this is a day filled with exquisite pain, and this morning is filled with dreaded expectations of the same things which, for others, will be nothing less than pure delight. For still others, it will be a day filled with loss and grief, regret and remorse. Why? Because we are human. We make a mess of our lives as easily as drawing a breath. We hurt the ones we love. We are David and take what is not ours. We are Simon and resent what others are able to give.

Today is Father’s Day and it is no coincidence that the scriptural message is about love and forgiveness. We all need to hear about love and forgiveness, but especially parents who, even the best among us, mess up from time to time – some, even more than their share. Today, especially today, many need to hear a word about love and forgiveness. For ourselves. For the ones who are or were our parents, especially our fathers. For the fathers we are. For the fathers we never were. For the fathers we’ll never be.

I can’t remember where I read or heard this, but someone once said that forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

On second thought, perhaps it is no coincidence that today, Father’s Day, Jesus gives us these words to consider, which are the best words I know about forgiveness and love: “ . . . her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Only the pronouns were changed to protect the innocent.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bishop Shaw, other Episcopalians, March for Marriage Equality

Reported over at Walking With Integrity:

In a show of spirit-force outside the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention Thursday, which refused to put marriage equality to a plebiscite, thereby preserving the hardwon marriage rights of LGBT citizens... these members of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry included many Episcopalian faces. The RCFM contingent was over 100 strong, among a crowd of hundreds more. Thanks be to God.

Front row; The Rev'd George Welles, The Rt Rev'd M. Thomas Shaw (Bishop of Massachusetts), The Rev'd Anne C. Fowler (RCFM President) and Rabbi Dan Judson. Behind George Welles is The Very Rev'd Jep Streit, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, and The Rev'd Bill Kondrath, Episcopal Divinity School faculty. Far right, Rev. Irv Cummings, Baptist. Photo by George Rizer.

Friday, June 15, 2007

God, according to Chloe

This just in from one of the moms at The Episcopal Church of St. Paul:

Chloe, Ellie, Johanna, Michael & respective moms attended one of Montclair Art Museum's great kids' programs today. The theme was Native American art, and the project was to make a "singing doll" out of clay.

As you can imagine, the kids' sculpting was heartily encouraged even if their character-stuffed dolls (pets, rocks, snowmen etc...) strayed a bit from the assignment at hand. (They're going to make awesome father's day presents!)

Fast forward to bedtime, when Chloe punctuated the silence after a lovely quiet chat in the dark with:

"Mommy? We are, kind of, sculptures that God made."

*Shiver, sigh*

I can't think of a better way to start my day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ms. Conroy gets 1.5 seconds of her 15 minutes of fame

For those of you who may not know, Ms. Conroy has been my life partner for the past 30+ years. Together with the Rev'd Phillip Wilson, rector of Redeemer, Morristown, she is co-chair of the Diocesan Task Force on Civil Unions.

The Living Church
Latest News

Newark Diocese Addresses Executive Council, Moves Forward on Same-Sex Blessings

The Executive Council agenda for the June 11-14 meeting in Parsippany, N.J., includes a response to the primates’ pastoral scheme. But members of a task force in the Diocese of Newark, where the council is meeting, are firm that a moratorium on same-sex blessings--something also proposed in the primates’ Feb. 19 communiqué--is not a consideration for them.

The state of New Jersey recently legalized civil unions for same-gender couples and a diocesan task force is preparing recommended liturgies for consideration later this year at the diocese's annual convention. At last year’s annual convention, deputies called for the creation of the task force. The Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith, who was consecrated Bishop of Newark on Jan. 27, previously made appointments to the task force and released guidelines for any liturgical services conducted in the diocese during the interim period.

Members of the diocesan deputation to General Convention made a presentation to council members during a private dinner for council and staff on June 12. Members of the diocesan task force on civil unions, consisting of five clergy, five lay members and Bishop Beckwith, have invited clergy to share questions and concerns. A June 20 meeting at St. Peter’s, Essex Fells, will be the fourth time the task force will have met.

“Bishop Beckwith has already made up his mind that civil unions would be performed,” said task force member Barbara Conroy in an interview with The Living Church. “He just wanted more input as to how the policy would be implemented.

“The diocese is of course very concerned about what happens in the Church as a whole, but it functions according to the will of convention,” Ms. Conroy said. “I think Bishop Beckwith is being very responsible. This is not a unilateral decision by him.”

In its presentation following dinner with council members Episcopal News Service reported that the diocese is proud to be one of the most diverse in The Episcopal Church.

Steve Waring

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Two more Sisters for the Movement!

ACNS 4292 CUBA 12 JUNE 2007

Cuban Episcopalians Welcome New Bishops Suffragan

The Revd Canon Nerva Cot and Archdeacon Ulises Aguero ordained to Episcopate

"Asi lo haremos - We will!" thundered the standing-room-only congregation at Havana's Episcopal Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, when asked if they would accept as Cuba's first bishops suffragan the Revd Canon Nerva Cot Aguilera and Archdeacon Ulises Mario Aguero Prendes.

The Revd Cot - the first woman Anglican bishop in Latin America and Archdeacon Aguero were consecrated in a nearly three-hour service Sunday, June 10 that blended Anglican dignity and Cuban spontaneity.

Anglican and Episcopal bishops from Europe and North, Central and South America joined representatives from a number of Cuban faith traditions, including Greek Orthodox and Afro-Cuban clergy, along with the head of the Religious Affairs Office for the Communist Party of Cuba, Caridad Diego, who told the BBC her government, was proud that the country had a woman bishop. Since 1992, Article 8 of the Cuban Constitution has stated that the country's communist government "recognizes respects and guarantees freedom of religion."

"It was a very important day for the church in Cuba," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who participated in the rites. "The presence of so many members of other parts of Communion was a gift."

Also present were bishops from Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Spain, among other countries.

The two bishops were selected in February by the Metropolitan Council that provides provincial oversight to Cuba. After interviewing seven candidates, the council named Revd Nerva Cot Aguilera and Archdeacon Ulises Aguero Prendes to assist interim Bishop Miguel Tamayo in local oversight of some 40 congregations serving Cuba's estimated 10,000 Episcopalians. The council, headed by Canadian Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, includes Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies.

Bishop Tamayo and his wife, the Revd Martha Lopez, are both Cubans who were sent as missionaries to Uruguay more than a decade ago. In 1998,Bishop Tamayo was elected Bishop of Uruguay, and in January 2004 he agreed to serve as interim diocesan bishop in Cuba, splitting his time between the two countries.

Prior to his selection as bishop suffragan, Archdeacon Aguero was archdeacon in Santiago de Cuba and rector of two congregations, St. Mary's and St. Luke's.

The 69-year-old Revd Cot was a secondary school teacher and one of the first three Episcopal women priests ordained in Cuba in 1987. Her daughter, Marianela de la Paz Cot, was ordained in February, and her husband, the Very Revd Juan Ramon de la Paz Cerezo, is dean of the cathedral in Havana. Another son is a priest and another daughter is a church administrator.

The Revd Cot promised a new feminine model of leadership for the Cuban church, which has suffered internal tensions stemming from the government's long-term suspicion of religious organizations - what she called a "period of polarization" for the church.

"This is an important date for the Anglican Communion because there are so few women bishops among us," Archbishop Hutchison pointed out.

Revd Cot is responsible for the churches in western Cuba, while Archdeacon Aguero will oversee the eastern part of the island. Both hope that two new dioceses can be established within a few years.

The Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba (IEC) traces its beginnings to 1871, when an Episcopal bishop visited Havana in the middle of an epidemic and on his return began lobbying the Episcopal Church to send missionaries to the island nation. Indigenous congregations, led by Cuban clergy trained in the U.S., followed independence from Spain in 1898, and the missionary diocese of Cuba was established in 1901.

The Rt Rev Romuald Gonzales, a native of Spain, became the first Cuban citizen to become a bishop in the IEC in 1961. By 1967, the church had its first Cuban-born bishop, the Rt Revd José Gonzalez.

But by that time political tensions between the U.S. and Cuba presented such travel and communication difficulties that the Cuban church became an extra-provincial diocese under the Metropolitan Council of Cuba.

Article from: Episcopal News Service - by the Revd Jan Nunley

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Davis Mac-Iyalla in Diocese of Newark

Nigerian activist tells his story
Episcopal Life Online

(snip)The Executive Council meeting, at the Sheraton hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey, began with three hours of committee meetings on the morning of June 11 and another two hours in the late afternoon with the plenary session in between. Council had dinner with representatives of the host Diocese of Newark.

During the plenary session, Jefferts Schori and Anderson reported on their activities since the March Council meeting.

Later in the afternoon, Nigerian Anglican Davis Mac-Iyalla, founder of his country's only gay-rights organization, Changing Attitude Nigeria, met with Council's International Concerns (INC) and National Concerns (NAC) committees. (snip)

Mac-Iyalla told the joint INC_NAC that Anglican Church of Nigeria Archbishop and Primate Peter Akinola has been directly involved in Mac-Iyalla called a "deadly bill" pending before the Nigerian legislature that would make homosexuality punishable by five years in prison and would criminalize any association with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The bill, he said, "would make us outcasts in our own country."

Mac-Iyalla said Akinola has gone to legislators and government leaders, including Anglicans, and pressured them to write the bill as a way to prevent his organization from gaining any more strength. Changing Attitudes Nigeria has about 2,500 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, according to Mac-Iyalla. He also suggested that Akinola worked for the bill so that the Listening Process called for by the Windsor Report would be stymied by the government's laws.

It is a lie, he said, for Akinola and others to claim that there are no homosexual people in Nigeria, explaining that many languages spoken in Nigeria had words to describe people in same-gender relationships long before white missionaries came to Africa. Such terms, he said, indicate that Africans have always acknowledged people who are attracted to members of their gender.

"It is wrong to say that homosexuality is a Western, imported culture," Mac-Iyalla said.

Saying that most Nigerians are more worried about eating than they are about homosexuality, Mac-Iyalla said, "the Anglican Church is the only church in Nigeria that has gay-lesbian issues on its agenda."

He asked the Episcopal Church to petition the Nigerian government to oppose the bill and to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury about speaking against the bill. He also described his group's desire to hold a large meeting of GLBT people in Nigeria after Easter 2008 so that international pressure can be brought to bear on the Nigerian government.

"Our hope is in the Episcopal Church," said Mac-Iyalla, who also described a series of death threats that forced him to flee Nigeria. "If you don't speak out for us, we don't know where we will take our voice."

Grace Oakley: Reflection of Faith

Twice a year - every year - we have a Celebration of Youth Service at St. Paul's. The kids plan everything - music, who will read what and who will give the "reflection." Without a doubt, these are some of the best services we have in the church. This past Sunday was certainly no exception.

The following reflection was given by Grace Oakley.

She's 16 years old.

I'm so proud I could burst.

“Reflection of Faith”
By Grace Oakley
June 10th Youth Service

According to the dictionary the definition of faith is: belief in, devotion to, or trust in something without logical proof. And although the dictionary tries its best to define faith, I don’t think that it can be defined. It’s more about a feeling. Faith isn’t something you can reach out and touch; it’s something you know, something indefinable.

To me faith is something that I have struggled with my whole life. Faith and I have been through a lot: I have found, it lost it, found it again, relied on it, and ignored it. But when I need it its always there for me. There are some things in life that can’t be proven, you just have to have faith that they happen. Without faith there would be no religion.

There is no real legitimate proof of the miracles god preformed, yet we have faith that they happened. And I don’t just mean faith in God; I’m talking about faith in anything from parents, to friends, to the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. And then of course there is faith in one’s self.

That, for me, is the hardest one. When I agreed to do this talk I had no idea how I would write it, at the moment faith and I were in a fight and things had been kinda tough for me, I had lost faith in my self and in God. I still went to church on Sundays, and continued with my life. And to be honest nothing really bad had happened, it was just a bunch of little things that had been pilling up for a while.

But the prayers didn’t mean anything to me. And my loss in faith was costing me more than I thought. Usually when I’m stressed out, exhausted, and it feels like things can’t get any worse (which by the way they can) I have faith that things will get better and that God will help pull me through: and things do get better. But now to me things didn’t seen to be getting any better if anything they seemed to be getting worse, and it seemed that there was no end in sight.

But then I started thinking; God had helped me get through every other hard time in my life so far. He had always been there for me even when I was mad at him, or when I felt that things weren’t ever going to work out. He had proven over and over that things do get better, and even if you don’t have what you want right now you will get it eventually.

I realized that I might not have exactly what I want right now, and that at times life can deal you an unfair deck, but things will get better it you believe that they will. I realized that this time was not so different from all the others. All I needed was a little faith.

There is no logic to faith, it can’t be organized or classified, it just is. There is no way to define it, or even to describe it. Even when I thought I had lost it, it was there, all it took was a little searching.

And once I found it I knew that it had been there all along.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

PRELUDIUM: It was forty years ago today....

PRELUDIUM: It was forty years ago today....

One of my dearest friends in ministry is Mark Harris, a priest from the Diocese of Delaware. I first met him in 1986 and instantly fell in love with his intelligence and wit and left-of-center humor.

Go on over to his amazing blog and wish him Happy Anniversary!

Rock on, Mark Harris, rock on!

First Communion

I wish you could have seen his face. He was positively glowing. The way, I suspect, we all did. Once. The first time someone at the altar stood before us and offered “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”

Adam has allergies. Terrible allergies. Life-threatening allergies to wheat and soy and dairy. So does Christian – to wheat. It was Christian’s mom who first brought the “problem” of communion bread or wafers to my attention. Christian was feeling rather badly that he was not able to take communion at the rail with his sister and the rest of his family. The time at the communion rail began to feel not only like an exercise in futility, but a sort of a cruel hoax.

Oh, he didn’t say that, but I saw it in his eyes every time he came to the communion rail. Why would anyone who talked about the abundant, all-inclusive love of God from the pulpit one minute then offer “the Bread of Heaven” at the Lord’s Table to everyone but him? If this really were “the Body of Christ” how could it possibly make him ill?

He was terribly confused and hurt, and it pained me to see it on his face every Sunday. “Don’t they make allergy-free communion wafers?” his mom asked one Sunday. I mean, we offer wheat-free and peanut-free snacks at Coffee Hour. We’ve even started to serve decent coffee. But, we can’t find something we can serve at the communion rail?” I promised to check.

The next Monday, Randy, our intrepid Parish Administrator, and I had a conversation. As we spoke, he revealed that his brother had terrible allergies – not only to wheat but also to all grains as well as soy and all dairy products. He hadn’t taken communion in years, he said. We agreed that someone must be doing something about this and Randy agreed to research it for me.

Within days, Randy appeared triumphant at my office door. “Guess what?’ he asked in quiet excitement, which is his way. “I found it! I found communion wafers that are wheat, all grain, all soy and all dairy-free! This is something even my brother can have!”

Excitedly, we looked at the information on the web site, which included the fact that the wafers must be stored separately from the other communion wafers and/or bread. Indeed, the website advised that hands which touched one ought not touch the other, as even that could set off a terrible allergic reaction in some people. In fact, a kiss on the cheek from someone who has just consumed the offending allergen will sometimes leave a welt on the person who is allergic.

We checked with our Parish Nurse and then ordered a box of the allergy-free wafers and excitedly awaited their arrival, which came before the week’s end. I found a small, plain wooden jewelry box with a cover which we labeled, “Consecrated Allergy-free Communion Wafers.” We notified all Eucharistic Ministers of the new procedure, carefully instructing them to allow the person or child to take their own wafer from the small wooden box.

We also called Christian’s mom and let her know that he could come to the communion rail and be fully included. She was thrilled. That Sunday, Christian was probably more curious than excited, but the look on his face told me that the wafer (which looks more like a small, round cracker or chip), didn’t taste half-bad.

I suspect, being all-boy, he still doesn’t like being “special and different” but he seems pleased not to be excluded. Not to mention the fact that his sister would love very much to be “special and different,” which makes communion for Christian sweeter somehow in the tension that will exist forever, no doubt, between siblings.

Adam is a bit different. The changes in his dietary regime have made a miraculous change in this young boy’s life. I have personally witnessed those changes over the past five and a half years. His allergies were affecting his ability to hear and focus and concentrate – very important components of speech, socialization and learning.

He now looks in my eyes and shakes my hand in the reception line, even allowing me an occasional (if not begrudging) hug. That would never have been even imaginable five years ago. He speaks in full, coherent sentences, is doing quite well in school, and has become quite the social butterfly.

Still, there was something missing. Things might have been well during the week, but on Sunday, when he came to the communion rail, his mom would pop a chip or a cracker in his mouth while the rest of the family took the bread and the wine. Adam would slink down below the altar rail, crouch down on the kneeler and munch on his chip, looking up at me between the upright bodies of his sister and parents, as if somehow he was doing something perhaps not wrong but not quite right.

You can imagine that, after all of this hard work, his mom was a little reluctant to introduce anything to his diet that might have even the potential for problems. So it was with the kind of skepticism that raised her eyebrow as she listened to me speak of the communion wafers. A few Sundays ago, she agreed to give it a try.

I wish you could have seen his face. I brought over the small, plain wooden box which contain the consecrated allergy-free wafers and invited him to take one. He looked up at his mom who smiled and nodded her consent. His eyes got very, very wide with excitement as he reverently took one in a delicate pinch of his fingers.

He examined the wafer briefly and, as he put it into his mouth, I said, “Adam, this is the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” And, Adam looked at me and gave me the brightest smile I have ever seen and said, softly, sweetly, with an unmistakable mixture of gratitude and satisfaction, “Amen.” I tell you, he positively glowed!

And, he didn't crouch down. He knelt upright at the altar. Confident and yet reverent. His "body language" told me he knew that his was right and good.

You won’t be surprised to learn that it brought tears to my eyes. This, THIS, I thought, is what Eucharist is all about. This is what it ought to be every time, for each and every one of us.

Perhaps, now hearing of these stories, it will be. Perhaps “a little child shall lead” you deeper into the sweet mystery of Holy Communion, where we are promised forgiveness and wholeness which places us on the path to salvation and holiness of life.

I know this will not convince our Roman or Anglo-Catholic sisters and brothers of the sacramental efficacy or appropriateness of anything but "real bread" at Communion.

I just wish you could have seen his face.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mascara alert! A Star is Born!

Well, the grand debut has come and gone and I didn't even feel the earth move under my feet. Neither did the sky (nor the Anglican Communion) come tumbling down.

NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN made its world debut at 3 PM today at the Breckenridge Film Festival at the Speakeasy Theater in Colorado.

To quote from the website:

"This documentary explores queer Christians struggle for acceptance in the Episcopal Church, the schism their activism threatens to bring to worldwide Anglicanism, and the ways in which activists such as these shape our personal liberties at the highest institutional levels."

"While the film celebrates the achievements made by queer Anglicans as they transform an oppressive Christian tradition into a modern force of liberation, it doesn't excuse the prejudices and abuses of organized religion."

"On the contrary, the film's atheist director offers a skeptical critique of religion, particularly in an era when the word faith is often code for nationalism, homophobia, and sundry other forms of oppression."

"The film's crisscrossing interviews bring together major players in the Anglican sexuality debate, each representing a different place on the spectrum of sexuality, religion, and politics: Louie Crew, the creator of Integrity, the first Anglican LGBT rights organization, founded in 1974; Gene Robinson,the world's first openly gay bishop; John S. Spong, apro-gay bishop with agnostic, heretical views; and David Virtue, Anglicanism's most influential antigay spokesperson."

"Interspersed throughout the film are the diverse voices of Episcopalians across America whom Louie Crew has anonymously telephoned, giving us a spontaneous picture of how average parishioners perceive the film's issues of sexual inclusivity."

"Featuring comments from Ernest Clay, Crew's African-American husband of thirty-two years, and analysis of how this debate effects gay Anglicans in Africa, the film offers a far-reaching critique of how homophobia continues to operate in multiple cultural contexts."

Producer: Andrew Grossman

Director: Andrew Grossman

Cast: Louie Crew, V. Gene Robinson, John S. Spong

Running time: 80 minutes

Read a review of the film here.