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

Monday, July 30, 2007

It was 10 years ago this month . . .

Imagine! That it would take the "Bullies on Viagra" to remind me of a sermon I preached a decade (10 YEARS!!!) ago at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist at General Convention 1997 in Philadelphia, PA.

At the end of the service, when everyone stood up, joined hands, and sang with me, I remember thinking to myself, "Well, if I die now, I'm sure I'll go directly to heaven."

I am and will be eternally thankful to God for this experience.

As I recall,a tape of this sermon can be ordered through CHRISTIANITY FOR THE THIRD MILLENNIUM - one side with Louie Crew's Triennial Integrity Sermon from 1994 and this one on the other.

Our Gift To The Church:
"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward"
A Sermon for the Triennial Integrity Eucharist the Rev'd Canon Elizabeth Kaeton

The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany,

Philadelphia, PA July 16, 1997

© 1997 by The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton,

Please pray with me (sung):

"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back."

+In the Name of God, our life, our love, our joy. Amen.

It is - all at once - wonderful and daunting and delightful and awful to be here tonight (not to mention hotter than the hinges on the gates of Hades!) I thought it was hot in Newark! On the other hand - perhaps that has nothing to do with the weather!

First of all, I am keenly aware that your preacher three years ago was none other than our own beloved Louie Crew who welcomed you to Samaria with the Southern charm known only to a bona fide, self-professed member of the House of the Alabama Belles! Believe me, honey, you could twist an ankle trying to follow in the footsteps of his gold lame pumps!

I am also aware that this will be the last time our celebrant this evening will be with us in his capacity as Presiding Bishop.

I was there, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, eleven years ago and heard +Ed Browning's newly consecrated statement which re-claimed the agenda of Jesus Christ as the agenda for the Episcopal Church: In this church of ours, he said, there will be no outcasts. Living out those words with integrity has come at high cost to you, personally, sir, and I don't know anyone here - gay or straight, male or female, black or white- who doesn't want me to be certain to convey our heart-felt appreciation, gratitude and admiration for your life and ministry among us. Sir, I'm sure you could walk in Louie's gold lame pumps anytime you wanted!

Even more pressing, however, is the fact that the Hearings for the Resolution for the Blessing of Same Sex Couples will begin at 8:30 this evening. This means that some of the people who are taking leadership positions in this service, as well as some of you who are participating in the congregation, will need to leave as soon as you possibly can. I mean no disrespect to the very highly honed political process on which the Episcopal Church operates and in which she takes such pride, but I just have to say it: God spare us from more Hearings! My personal experience is that listening precedes hearing. Perhaps, if we did more listening, we would need fewer 'Hearings'.

We've got a great deal on our plate at this Eucharistic banquet. While I am delighted to see so many of our heterosexual friends and relatives here with us tonight, what I have to say is meant most specifically for those among us whom Louie Crew identifies as being from Samaria or the equivalent of 'Biblical outcasts' - the members of the lesbian and gay community.

I am speaking in this sermon to the members of "Our Tribe", all the gay and lesbian Christians here present this night. Now, I want you to know that the words I speak are not just my own - they have come to me from whisperings and fragments of conversations already in progress.

My hope is that this sermon will be the genesis of an intentional conversation which I pray we will have in greater detail and in ever widening circles of gender and geography, ethnicity and race, religious posture and political affiliation. Tonight, however, my message is specifically for gay men and lesbians.

I have no objection to others listening in. If they do, so much the better. Eavesdropping may not altogether be such a bad thing. I've come to understand it as one of the ways of learning of the oppressed. For many years women and people of color, along with lesbians and gay men, have- quite intentionally - been kept out of many crucial conversations. We've learned how to learn by listening in - especially in places where we've been neither welcomed nor invited. We've been reprimanded and chided for eavesdropping like naughty children, but, in the process, we've learned how to take responsibility for our own education.

That being said, let's get on with it. For those of you who are - in the oh-so politically correct descriptive term of my dear friend, Gene Robinson - homosexually challenged, I bid your patient listening. I trust it will help before you go off to your hearings.

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ: I bring you news of unspeakable joy! I want you to know something so earth-shattering, so volcanic, so revolutionary, that, when you hear these things, your life will be changed and transformed and you will never again be the same.

These words are not my own - they were, in their origin, spoken to someone else - but I claim them as my own treasured possessions and will make of them gifts for you. These words are not new - they are ancient and holy words of another time and another place - and I bring them to you with renewed meaning for us in our time and in our place. These words are not carved in stone, but rather, these words are an almond in early bloom (as foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah 1:11), a reminder that God is watchful to carry out God's own purpose.

Listen! Hear the words of new life which God intends for me and for you! Jesus is speaking tonight to Simon Peter, the one He has called 'The Rock'. It is sometime after Christ's resurrection - the third postresurrection experience of John's Gospel - and they have met on the beach at the Sea of Tiberias. (Jn 21:15-17) Listen! Jesus asks, Simon, son of John, do you love me more than all else? And Simon Peter, the rock on whom Christ built his church says, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. And Jesus says, Then feed my sheep.

Did you hear that? Listen again: A second time Jesus asked, Simon, son of John, do you love me? And, a second time, Peter answers, Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. And Jesus says, Then tend my lambs.

A third time Jesus said, Simon, son of John, do you love me? And Peter was hurt that he asked him a third time 'Do you love me'; Lord, he said you know everything; you know I love you. Jesus said (are you listening?), Feed my sheep.

Behold, I bring you words of life. We, lesbian and gay people of the Episcopal church, have been asking the church, the Body of Christ, lo these many years, Do you love me? And, tonight, Jesus is saying to the gay and lesbian people who are the rocks of this church: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

If you have listened to these ancient words did you hear the Good News for us today? The Good News of tonight's Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about being helpless victims, it is about being empowered disciples. The Word of Truth which God has brought to us tonight in the City Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is not about insecurity and doubt, but about direction and purpose; it is about destiny and distinction, or, in the traditional language of the church: mission and ministry.

The Gospel Truth is clear: Jesus loves us. Do you hear that? Can you take that in? Can you get your mind wrapped around such an incredible concept and accept that? I know that 'proper Episcopalians' disdain of such language, which we feel is somehow far too 'pedestrian' and theologically sophomoric for our highly evolved status in the Christian community. But, listen to the power of these three simple words: JESUS LOVES US! Jesus loved Simon Peter, the one who denied him not once but three times! Jesus loved Judas, the one who betrayed him unto death with a kiss. Oh, hear the news: JESUS LOVES ME! And, if Jesus can love a sinner like me, then you know it's true that JESUS LOVES YOU!

God, our own God, is a generous and abundant God! We, as lesbian and gay people, like so many ancient tribes before us, have been lost, but now we are found. We have been tricked and betrayed by an unholy kiss. We have been marked and scourged. We have been tormented and beaten and left for dead. But, lo! I tell you a mystery! We are dying and yet, behold! We live! We are alive in Christ because we know who we are. We are renewed in our faith because we know whose we are. We are strengthened in our service because we know that we are loved. And, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, lo, I tell you, the time has come and now is, for us to stop asking the Body of Christ, Do you love me? It is time to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. It is time to feed the sheep. It is time to tend the lambs.

"We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back."

And, how is it, you ask, that we are to do these things? What is our gift to the church? If you have listened and heard all that I have said, then this is where the conversation begins. Let's look at the ancient words from St. Paul's letter to the early church in Corinth which we heard this evening: You are God's holy temple. (Cor 3:16)

You are God's holy temple. Think with me for a moment, church. What is it that the world would see as folly, but that God would count as wise? What is it within you that the world would mock and scorn, but which might be seen as treasure in the economy of God's Realm? What is it which strikes fear in the hearts of the those who would hate us, that perfect love would cast out?

Here is what I believe to be our gift to the church. This is what I believe to be 'beyond inclusion' and the reason we must keep moving forward. This is what I believe our crucial conversations to be about. It is this: The erotic. I believe that our special task, as followers of Christ with a specific charism in this time and place in history, is to help ourselves - and the church in the process - to reclaim the erotic as an integral part of our spiritual lives.

Now, our sisters Carter Heyward and Ann Gilson have written prolifically and powerfully on the subjects, and I commend their works to you. But here, I have in mind the specific work of our sister Audre Lourde, who first began writing of the 'Erotic as Power' in 1978 (see The Fourth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Mount Holyoke College, August 25, 1978 Published as a pamphlet by Out and Out Books). I want to be very clear: I'm not talking about pornography, which is, in fact, the opposite of the erotic. Indeed, Lourde contends that pornography is the result of the suppression of the erotic.

Listen to Audre's description: The very word erotic comes from the Greek word 'eros', the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.

Further, she says: Beyond the superficial, the considered phrase, 'It feels right to me', acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding. And understanding is a handmaiden which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply born. The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.

Somewhere, deep in me and deep in you, is a yearning so strong it can not be stopped. Somewhere, beyond the hearing of 'groans and sighs too deep for words' there is a longing for connection with another human being which will not be silenced. It lies at the core of the mystery of our existence. It is made manifest in that which is often awkward and unsettling. We can only catch fleeting glimpses of it, but when we see it, we know that we are instantly transported (back?) to Eden. Suddenly, we are standing on that bridge between the Tree of Knowledge and The Realm of God and there is a slithering serpent in our path.

In that moment, our deepest truths are touched. In that moment, our truest feelings are known. We feel them in our bodies before we know them in our minds. Suddenly, phrases from the prophet Jeremiah become clear to us: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you for my own. And, all that may have been required to provoke this occurrence is that we have followed the music of our lover's laughter in the darkness, stepped out into the moonlight and walked into the waiting arms of the one we will come to love.

It is then that we discover our most dearly held and terrifying truth: when we step into and embrace our erotic selves, we have touched our deepest spirituality, whose power it is to create new life. This can take the form in the physical, but it can also be made manifest in the emotional and psychological, as well. It may be the genesis of poetry or music, portrait or sculpture, vision or goal. Something new is being created, and we are stirred with excitement.

This is not new information. It is not even a new topic or issue. The ancient mystics often spoke of God as cosmic lover and Christ as eternal spouse. This is ancient wisdom which is born into our present reality through the midwives of pain and sacrifice. Somewhere, in our deepest places of knowing, human beings have always had this information. And we - lesbian and gay people - know a little something about pain and suffering.

We have had our total humanity diminished and our identity as children of God reduced to a single sex act. We have come to know that we have been, in this dysfunctional family of God, the 'shame bearers' for those who would separate the erotic from the spiritual. We have also come to know that we no longer have to accept this role in the household of Christ. We do not have to repeat harmful family patterns and hurtful ways of behaving. JESUS LOVES US. And, while we may disdain the simplicity of the language, we can not deny its truth.. We also know that our world, indeed, our church, is hungry for this truth. And, sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus says to us: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

We have a great gift to give to the church - in the words of the Eucharistic prayer: we give ourselves, our souls and bodies. We know, in the deepest places of our knowing, the pathway to our spiritual selves through our erotic selves because we have traveled it before. Our gift, our blessing, is to us to chart this journey for ourselves, and then to make those maps available to the wider church. In many ways, we've already begun that process. We need to continue forward.

I want to challenge us to move away from our stance as victims and claim the Gospel promise of liberation. I want to challenge us to have crucial conversations among ourselves, and invite our heterosexual neighbors, when appropriate, into our dialogue. I want us to dare to look deep into the wellspring of our desires and longings and be intentionally provocative. I want us to continue the legacy of Jack Spong and drag the Church - kicking and screaming, if necessary - into conversations about that which no one else will talk.

Further, I want us to explore the boundaries of the chaos of our deepest feelings in a church which is bound by that which is 'meet and right so to do'. I want us to re-claim sensuality in our liturgy without being seduced by an impulse toward the 'precious' and 'pompous'. I want us to come to church to think AND feel - to know AND sense. Is it too much to ask that we might experience JOY - in church? Is this beyond the imagination - or even the asking - of most Episcopalians, fondly known by the larger church as 'God's frozen chosen'?

Is this frightening? You bet it is. Courage, my sisters and brothers. Listen and hear the words of our Sister, Audre Lourde: When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid. Your silence will not protect you.

The work is before us. Let us move forward from this place, not only to ASK the Church for a blessing on our committed relationships, but to BE a Blessing for the Church - even though there are members of the Church, who, in direct disobedience to our Baptismal vows, can not and will not commit to a relationship with us. Pray for them. Remember, Jesus never said, 'like one another'; He said, 'love one another'. Even then, Jesus was calling us to our deepest emotional feelings, calling us to our best erotic selves and our most powerful spirituality.

Let us celebrate those members, especially those here tonight, who have been, are, and, please God, will continue to be a blessing to us. (If you've been away, you can come back now! I trust that your time spent in eavesdropping was, you should excuse the expression, 'fruitful'.) Indeed, I want to suggest to us all that the most profound pedagogy (or teaching style) of Holy Scripture is to make eavesdroppers of us all - listening in on the ancient and continued conversation which God has with all Creatures and Creation.

I ask now that we stand together in solidarity, one with the other, and continue to honor the work which has been done by insuring that our work continues. As we begin, with awkward strokes, to touch the strength of our erotic power, may we find the courage to unleash the Spirit of Love Incarnate and Divine into our lives - and into our Church. I pray that, together, we let not the world - which seeks to divide and conquer - define the agenda for the church; rather, let the church - where there are no outcasts - define the agenda for the world. And, as we go forth, let this be our song:

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walkin' forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

We're gonna raise this house with strong hands.
Raise this house with strong hands. Raise this house with strong hands.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

We're gonna light this night together.
Light this night together. Light this night together.
Never turnin' back. Never turning' back.

We're gonna keep on walkin' forward.
Keep on walkin' forward. Keep on walking forward.
Never turnin' back. Never turnin' back.

And now, let all God's children say, Amen.

And, again I say, Amen

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"It's me, it's me O Lord, standin' in the need of prayer . . .(especially on vacation)

There's something wonderful about attending church when you're on vacation.

Over the past 20-something years, I've discovered this is especially true for priests.

We've been coming to Rehoboth Beach for the past 17 years, the first 12 years, renting a home in Rehoboth Beach proper, and attending The Episcopal Parish of All Saints' Church there, in the ocean block of Olive Avenue.

Every time I attended church there, I could never allow myself to take communion without first confessing my envy of the priest who lived in the beautiful Victorian rectory, with wrap-around, screened-in porch, right next to the church.

My, my, my.

In the past five years we've owned, Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay, we have been attending St. George's Chapel, the Episcopal Church nearest to us, and part of All Saint's Parish. I have come to dearly love this lovely little church.

I love the fact that you walk through the cemetery before you actually get into the chapel. Indeed, the burial ground is larger than the church proper. That is as it should be, I think. The Communion of Saints could never be contained within the walls of any church.

I'll try to get to church a bit earlier next week so I can take pictures of the unique interior of the chapel, which features a pulpit that rises high above and behind the altar. That may sound strange, but if you could see how small the chapel is, you would understand this to be an innovative, creative utilization of space.

This is the rector, Max J. Wolf, who preached a wonderful sermon about prayer, which some of you will remember I desperately needed.

I was driving home from New Jersey on Wednesday when I came upon a grisly accident scene. It horrified me and shook me to my core. Indeed, it shook everything I know and believe about prayer and turned my soul upside down. Your comments and personal emails have been a source of solace. I had no idea how much more healing I needed.

Max is a wonderful preacher. Like this chapel, he has his own style. I've described it before as improvisational jazz. First of all, he doesn't use a manuscript, which invokes instant awe in me. I have seen him bring newspapers, letters and books into the pulpit, but never a manuscript. For this preacher, tied as I am to my manuscript, that is pretty amazing.

It is obvious he preaches from a prepared heart which has been in deep prayer and meditation. He began by reciting the first verse of Psalm 138, "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise." He ended by singing "It's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."

He preached on the gospel, of course (Luke 11:1-13); specifically on the Lord's Prayer. In between, he read to a short passage from John Mcquarrie's "Principles of Christian Theology." Max underscored that prayer, for Macquarrie, is not intended to manipulate God, but to unify us with God. The impulse for prayer always comes from the Holy Spirit.

I needed to be reminded of that. I came home and got my copy of Macquarrie's book off my shelf and was reminded that prayer for Macquarrie acknowledges the "permeable presence" of God everywhere in creation.

He writes, "Intercessory prayer provides ... openings into the dense texture of the human situation through which can come the creative and healing power of the reality we call God," says Macquarrie. "Prayer, as petition and intercession, helps to make the human person porous to the divine reality" (from Owen F. Cummings's John Macquarrie, a Master of Theology, Paulist).

Something in my soul, something shaken and deeply disturbed by that grisly accident scene and the overwhelming need to do something concrete to help, was healed by this understanding of prayer.

Max had a small, personal book of prayer, given to him by the family of a parishioner at whose funeral Max had presided this week. In it were beautifully calligraphy prayers, all done by hand, which the man had collected and written over his 84 years of life.

Max read a portion of this one to us:

Little Gidding
T.S. Eliot

(No. 4 of Four Quartets)

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

After Max read that, I discovered, for the first time since Wednesday, that I was finally able to draw a deep breath. I didn't know I hadn't.

I love going to church when I'm on vacation. It's one time when I know my soul will be healed and refreshed, along with my body and my mind, in places and at times I didn't even know needed healing and refreshment.

Thank you, Max, for being such a wonderful priest to this priest on vacation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

It was forty years ago today . . .

Note: This is part of a long piece which actually begins with an interview with Our +Gene. I've reversed the order. You can find the beginning of the interview at the end of this post and read it in its fullness at

The Scotsman

Andrew Collier
Saturday July 28, 2007


THE Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to be over 21, was given Royal Assent 40 years ago today, on 28 July 1967, after a night of heated debate in the Commons. It applied only to England and Wales: Scotland would have to wait until 1980 for such liberalisation, while the Armed Forces remained exempt until 2000.

The Sexual Offences Act was significantly influenced by the Wolfenden Report of 1957, which recommended the decriminalisation of certain homosexual acts between consenting adults in the privacy of their homes, and established a certain legitimacy for same-sex relationships which hitherto had been mired in discrimination, repression and very necessary secrecy. The gay community had hitherto existed as a shady and persecuted subculture, perpetually fearful of discovery which might destroy lives and reputations. One of the bill’s sponsors, Lord Arran, commented: ‘Perhaps a million human beings will be able to live in greater peace. I find this an awesome and marvellous thing.’ He quoted from a letter Oscar Wilde, left, wrote after his release from Reading gaol: ‘Yes, we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms.’

The act set the age of consent between men at 21, and raised the penalties for certain ‘acts of gross indecency’.

North of the Border, where sexual activity between males, consenting or otherwise, remained punishable by heavy prison sentences, the Scottish Minorities Group, later to become the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group and then Outright Scotland, was established in 1969, its campaigning playing a significant part in prompting the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act of 1980. The first International Gay Rights Conference was held in Edinburgh in 1974.

In the Eighties, while openly gay pop stars such as Boy George, Jimmy Sommerville and Frankie Goes to Hollywood gave a certain popular voice to the gay community, the continuing harassment and even murder of gay men prompted the formation of Outrage! And despite the advent of ‘gay pride’ (the UK’s first Gay Pride march was held in London in 1972; Glasgay was founded in 1993), prejudice hardly evaporated overnight - witness the ‘gay plague’ witchhunts during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

In February 1994, the age of consent for sex between men was reduced by parliament to 18 and, after two attempted blocks by the House of Lords, in 2000 the age of consent for gay men was lowered to 16, on a par with heterosexuals. A further step on the road to normalisation was taken on 18 November, 2004, with the Civil Partnerships Act. More than 15,500 gay and lesbian couples put a seal on their relationships between December 2005, when the first registrations took place, and December 2006.

Just this week, a small but telling victory was chalked up when the reggae star Buju Banton, whose 1990 hit Boom Bye Bye, which advocated the shooting of gay men, pledged to desist from singing homophobic lyrics.

Millions believe this man is the Antichrist

FORTY years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, American The Rt Rev V Gene Robinson, the world’s first openly gay bishop, explains to ANDREW COLLIER in an exclusive interview what it’s like to be many Christians’ number one enemy.

THE Devil has arranged to meet me in the lobby of a London tourist hotel. It’s an odd choice of venue: Westminster Cathedral, the great temple of Roman Catholicism in England, is close by; and a glimpse of the fire and colour of Hell would have been more interesting.

Nor does he look like Satan. No horns, no tail, no pitchfork, no smoke and sulphur. He’s of medium height, thinning hair, wearing a smart shirt and tie. He’s immediately warm, friendly, open and assured. I like him.

Yet millions of Christians the world over are convinced - absolutely assured - that this man is the Antichrist. They believe he is the Devil, sent to destroy the church from within. Welcome to the fan club of the Rt Rev V Gene Robinson, Primate of the American diocese of New Hampshire and the world’s first openly gay bishop.

This week may mark the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, but attitudes in many ways still lag behind legislation. Even on this side of the Atlantic, Robinson’s public homosexuality has made him the most controversial figure in worldwide Anglicanism since Henry VIII split with Rome in 1538 and created the church.

Read the rest

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Oscar The Hospice Cat

Especially for my Ms. Conroy, Anne Bennett (St. Paul's own PETA activist), and, of course, Maddy

Oscar the Cat Predicts Patients Deaths
Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 26, 10:43 AM ET

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. "This is not a cat that's friendly to people," he said.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.

If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.

Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.

Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care."

For the original article, you can cut and paste this into your browser

Scenes from a Mission Trip

Well, the pictures from Belize are all in. I selected these from over 1,000 pictures taken mostly by Our wonderful Courtney. You can see the whole collection here.

Or, cut and paste this into your browser:

Here are a few highlights.

The Community Celebrates

TheKids "throw a brick" for the Diocese of Newark in the "Brick City" of Newark.

Amercian Football.

Russell, the Man, with "Little Man"

At the Mayan Ruins

Chandra, Tim and Mark at Clarissa Falls.

Last minute touches to the playground

What a crew!

The Blessing of The Playground


Ruth Gledhill :"CofE 'would shut down' without its gay clergy, says +Gene"

Don't miss this interview with Our Gene in the (UK) Times Online

Andrew Collier, a freelance journalist based in Scotland, has just interviewed Bishop Gene Robinson in London. We have reported in online.

This is the bit I liked best: 'I think the thing that is the most mystifying to me and the most troubling about the Church of England is its refusal to be honest about just how many gay clergy it has – many of them partnered and many of them living in rectories. I have met so many gay partnered clergy here and it is so troubling to hear them tell me that their bishop comes to their house for dinner, knows fully about their relationship, is wonderfully supportive but has also said if this ever becomes public then I’m your worst enemy. It’s a terrible way to live your life and I think it’s a terrible way to be a church."

"I think integrity is so important. What does it mean for a clergy person to be in a pulpit calling the parishioners to a life of integrity when they can’t even live a life of integrity with their own bishop and their own church?"

"So I would feel better about the Church of England’s stance, its reluctance to support the Episcopal Church in what it has done if it would at least admit that this not an American problem and just an American challenge. If all the gay people stayed away from church on a given Sunday the Church of England would be close to shut down between its organists, its clergy, its just seems less than humble not to admit that.'"

I also enjoyed this, towards the end: 'As a matter of fact I’m more evangelical than almost anyone you would run into in the Episcopal Church.'

Read the entire interview

Or, cut and paste into your browser:

It's all because the gays are getting married

Okay, put down everything you're doing right now and check out this video over at Episcopalooza's web page.

Of course,
MadPriest pointed us to it first. (I had to mention that. You know how he gets.)

You won't be disappointed.


It's simply the BEST (better than all the rest).

Just in case that link doesn't work, you can find the video at

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What is the nature of help?

There was a severed leg in the middle of the road.

I keep trying to deny it, but there was a severed leg in the middle of Rt. 1, near Odessa, Delaware on the way to Rehoboth Beach.

I’m on vacation. I had driven back home to New Jersey for a physical therapy appointment. My back continues to heal, albeit slowly, and not without the great care I am blessed to have with Brian, my Physical Therapist, and the adjustments afforded by my chiropractor, Drs. Mark and Guy.

The traffic had slowed to a standstill. It was clear the delay was due to an accident. I just hadn't expected it to be so gruesome.

It was.

I pulled over, yelling out to the young men who were scurrying about, “I’m a nurse. I’m also an Episcopal Priest. Can I help?”

“Hang on,” someone hollered at me. “Don’t leave. Just hang on.”

Hang on.

I didn't know what else to do. I watched as the “first responders” did what they are so carefully trained to do. They were a well-oiled but thankfully-not-so-often tested machine. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, without a written script.

They were amazing.


The woman whose leg had been severed had a tourniquet applied to her leg. The bleeding had stopped. She was in shock but she was doing okay. The front of her car was in pieces all over the highway.

The woman in the other car was also in shock but every limb was intact. She was calm. Concerned. Those who cared for her just hovered. Waiting. Patient. Expectant.

Polished without an obvious shine.

I stood by my car and I prayed. Silently. Care-fully. Reverently. With as much power and passion as I could muster.

Out of the blue, someone yelled, “It’s okay, Rev. The paramedics will be here in a minute. You can leave. Just pray for us, okay?”

“You bet,” I yelled, as I started my car and got ready to drive away, not at all happy with my fate. I could see the paramedics pulling up to the scene.

I desperately wanted to have helped. To have felt part of the “first responders” who made a difference.

Perhaps I did. I’ll never know. Neither, in fact, will the first responders. That is part of the nature of ‘help.’

I find myself praying tonight. Two days later.

I am praying for the victims of the accident.

I am praying for those who ‘first responded.” I am praying the trauma will not adversely affect them. I am praying they have an understanding of the power of their ministry. I pray God will continue to bless them with the ability to respond . . . first . . . or whenever, to crisis.

There was a severed leg in the middle of the road.

I did the best I could to help.

Did I?

What is the nature of help?

Post script 07/27/07: The more I reflect on this incident and your prayers, the more I realize how traumatized I was by this scene.

I admit, I still can't get that image out of my head. It has triggered other traumatic images: of fire victims I witnessed as a new nursing student working the Emergency Room, other car accidents I have seen as an ordinary citizen, other situations of horrific domestic violence I've seen as a priest.

Situations like that can shock you to your core - shaking even foundational beliefs about prayer and the nature of help.

I know I did what I could. I know it helped. You have helped me to understand that. Which reconfirms my understanding of the power of prayer and the nature of help. Thank you.

What Got You Here, Won't Get You There.

It’s a rainy, rather cool day on Rehoboth Beach today. Not the best day to be at the beach. So, my reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is suspended for now.

I’ve got another project. I’ve just ordered copies of the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith for my wardens and every member of my vestry. It’s our summer reading project which we will discuss during our September meeting.

We’ve been looking for a way to evaluate our mutual ministry at St. Paul’s. We have previously used the tool provided by the national church center – well, parts of it anyway. It’s very, very thorough – exhaustingly and, in my opinion, unnecessarily so.

Bottom line: We’re not going to go through THAT again. For all of the work, it really didn’t yield satisfactory results. I suppose its most valuable asset is the assumption that the ministry of the church is mutual, and that any evaluation of the rector/vicar’s ‘performance’ is deeply flawed without factoring in the participatory performance of the rest of the leadership team.

I don’t mean to diminish the value of the evaluative tool, but once you ‘get’ that concept, the rest can become an exercise in tedium. It’s very, very important and can be radically transformative for congregations and their pastors and elected leadership. But, going through that process more than once is more than I can bear.

I have also found that the greater the “applicability” of the stuff of church to the common stuff of life, the better the ownership of the project and the greater the participation.

Okay, okay. I am talking about that term the “fungelicals” love to hate: relevance. I’m sorry, but most things ecclesiastical – from preaching to music, running a vestry meeting and raising up leadership, and yes, even to the evaluation of the effectiveness of the ministry we share in Christ’s name – have got to have some relevance and find application to other parts of people’s lives.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is, I think, a book that provides a framework for the kind of mutual-ministry evaluation which will help us in the church as well as provide a substantial measure of benefit to folk in their daily life and work.

As you might guess from the title, its basis is unapologetically psychological and its spirituality is unashamedly Buddhist. According to the notes in the jacket cover, Goldsmith is “America’s preeminent executive coach.” Coaching, a relatively new term, has become important among church leaders. Our bishop has had one for five years, and continues to employ his skills and abilities in his new Episcopal administration.

Goldsmith has a Ph.D from UCLA and is on the faculty of the Executive Education Programs at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Pretty impressive, right? Well then, you won’t be surprised when you find yourself impressed with the contents of this book.

What Got You Here is decidedly for those who have been successful and do not want to rest on their laurels.

I know. I know. In these days when everyone is wringing their hands about what is wrong with the church and how the theological sky is falling, it seems a strange place to begin, doesn’t it?

Success? Who me? We’re the Episcopal Church. We’re dying, haven’t you heard?

The truth of our lives in Christ is that we have a lot more successes than we have failures. We’ve simply been allowing others to define our failures for us, based on a zealous, evangelical notion of the church. Has anyone else noticed that many of our most severe critics are those who are either members of or pastors to failing congregations? (Go ahead. Check out the parochial reports of some of our ‘worthy opponents’. It’s an eye-opener, to be sure.)

With a few notable exceptions, which, I think have more to do with the cultural realities of different parts of our country, I have come to understand and accept that the impulse for ‘mega church’ is simply not in the ecclesiastical DNA of The Episcopal Church.

You should excuse the dated expression, but once you ‘shift your paradigm’ from to quantity over to quality, the understanding of your success will far outweigh your sense failure. Indeed, you begin to understand that Goldsmith is right. The problem is not our failures. The mystical, deep spiritual truth is that our previous success often prevents us from achieving more success.

Goldsmith sums this up by a quote from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: “Happy are they that can hear their detractions and put them to mending.”

His methodology begins by taking a searing, honest self-evaluation of what it is we believe about ourselves, examining the “delusions” we create about ourselves and our lives which are, he maintains, a direct result of success, not failure.

He also talks about the ‘cognitive dissonance’ – the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality – between what we believe about choosing to succeed and the changes necessarily required by that choice. Goldsmith says, “The more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that its opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.”

I can think of at least three examples of that in my own life, much less my church. Can you?

Expanding on this, Goldsmith also asserts that our success can make us superstitious. “Psychologically speaking,” Goldsmith says, “superstitious behavior comes from the mistaken belief that a specific activity that is followed by positive reinforcement is actually the cause of that positive reinforcement. The activity may be functional or not – that is, it may affect someone or something else, or it may be self-contained and pointless – but if something good happens after we do it, then we make a connection and seek to repeat the activity.”

Sound silly? Not when you read some of Goldsmith’s powerful examples, summed up in the statement, “I behave this way and I achieve results. Therefore, I must be achieving results because I behave this way.”

That sounds to my ears like the cultural version of the seven last words of a dying church, “But, we’ve always done it this way.

It’s also the unspoken mission statement of a church on a journey, far far away from the path that leads to the Realm of God: “Planning for the future by building a better yesterday.”

All of this leads us to the paradox of success: Our beliefs and delusions that carried us ‘here’ may be holding us back in our quest to go ‘there’.

I’ve been working on designing an evaluative tool based on Goldsmith’s ‘Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From the Top’ and ‘Seven Ways We Can Change For The Better’. I’ll whet your appetite by listing them here.

Twenty Habits That Hold You Back From The Top

Goldsmith says,
“I hasten to add that these are a very specific breed of flaws. They are not flaws of skill. I can’t fix that. . . . Nor are they flaws in intelligence. It’s too late for me to make you smarter . . .Nor are they flaws of unchangeable personality. We’re not attempting psychiatry here, and we can’t deliver vital pharmacological medication via a book. Consult an M.D.”

“What we’re dealing with here are challenges in interpersonal behavior, often leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make your workplace substantially more noxious than it needs to be. They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others."

They are:

1.Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations – when it matters, when it doesn’t and when it’s totally beside the point.

2.Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion.

3.Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them.

4.Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasm and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty.

5.Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However,": The overuse of these negative qualifies which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6.Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are.

7.Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool.

8.Negativity or “Let me explain why that won’t work": The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked.

9.Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.

10.Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward.

11.Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success.

12.Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it.

13.Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else.

14.Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly.

15.Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong or recognize how our actions affect others.

16.Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.

17.Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners.

18.Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us.

19.Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves.

20.An excessive need to be “me": Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are.

There’s a chapter devoted to each of these flaws which are profound in their simplicity and accessibility. Goldsmith cautions against self-diagnosis and the need for the quick fix – which is why I think his insights and methods for changing for the better are an excellent template for a Mutual Ministry Evaluation/Review.

Indeed, his ‘Seven Ways We Can Change For The Better’ include: feedback, confrontation, apology, advertise efforts to improve, follow-up monthly for feedback, listen without prejudice, gratitude and something he calls ‘feedforward’.

If you have read this book or have been inspired to read it (I make no profit in sales from this book. Honest.), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to structure an evaluation tool.

Specifically, to clergy: How does this strike you as a way to evaluate and move the vision of the mission and ministry of you congregation?

To members of the laity: Does this seem like a helpful way to evaluate the mission and ministry we share? Would you find this tool helpful in your work, your home, and/or other organizations you serve in leadership?

Thanks for thinking on these things.

An interview with the 'ebullient' Archbishop of York

Note: Jonathan Petre of the Telegraph, UK, has a fascinating exclusive interview with Dr. John Sentamu. Indeed, the previous blog (below) about the Archbishop of York was taken from this interview.

Archbishop of York: Exclusive Interview
Jonathan Petre
Telegraph 07/25/07

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, was in typically ebullient form last week when I spoke to him at Bishopthorpe, his medieval palace on the banks of the River Ouse near York.

Dr Sentamu fled from Idi Amin.

In a wide-ranging interview, he expressed exasperation with aspects of the Government and the Church but also confidence in traditional British values of honesty and fairness.

Dr Sentamu, a former judge who was forced to flee the regime of Idi Amin, was particularly critical of the rising tide of bureaucracy and Government legislation and he questioned moves towards a written constitution.

"Britain has an unwritten constitution which hasn’t failed this nation once," he said. "Why is there a clamour for a written constitution?

"Why are people suggesting that writing one would make Britain a better place? I don’t believe it."

Read the rest of this exclusive interview

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Okay, okay . .. .

I know.

You all know that I'm on vacation. You all know that I read voraciously - but especially when I'm on vacation at our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

No, I haven't yet read "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" .


I start today. I'll be packing my little lunch container in a few moments. I have my nifty-galifty beach chair - the one you can carry like a back pack (because it has one built in) - packed with a beach towel, sunscreen (My fav 'Ocean Potion' 50 SPF with special anti-aging formula - watch the comments, Maddy - and a great scent), my special beach sun glasses, a beach cover up for those times the sun hides behind a cloud and I get cold and, of course, THE BOOK.

Ms. Conroy actually went to Atlantic Books in Rehoboth last Friday night for the THE REALLY GREAT BOOK LAUNCH. She hasn't missed a one of the Harry Potter book launches. She wasn't about to miss the last one.

She takes great delight in watching the kids squeal with delight and excitement about reading. They get all dressed up in costume and share stories of their favorite characters while waiting in line. She sort of lurks about, listening in and joining the conversation when invited - an occurrence that brings her no end of joy. "I mean," she says with no small amount of awe, "to have a child invite an adult into that kind of conversation. Well, that's quite an honor!"

She says this puts her in mind of her own youth, waiting for the next installment of the NANCY DREW MYSTERY series. She continues to be hooked on series of mystery novels. She loves everyone from David Manuel to Harlan Coben to Sarah Paretsky, Patricia Cornwall, Andrew Greeley and even Janet Evanovich. But, her favorites remain Julia Spencer-Flemming and Ellis Peters.

Her favorite gift of all time was when a dear friend gave her the entire paperback collection of Ellis Peters. From the look on her face, and for just a moment I thought she had died and gone to heaven. So did she.

I know some of you are depending on me for a report on my take of the last in the series of Harry Potter. I take this great responsibility with seriousness and care. I hope to have a full report before the end of the week. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, it would be perfectly lovely if some of you who have read THE BOOK want to share some of your impressions. Just don't reveal the ending, okay?

The REALLY BIG FUN is about to begin! Onward!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Meanwhile, over at the Anglican Chess Game . . .

Dr. John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York, and as such, is the second most powerful man in the Anglican Communion.

So, when Archbishop Sentamu came before General Convention 2003, it was no small thing. When he urged us to be "compliant" with the "recommendations" of the Windsor Report, his words carried enormous weight.

Never mind that I'm still boggled by how one need be "compliant" with "recommendations". I suppose it's evidence of that old truth about the UK and the USA - "two countries separated by a common language".

It could, no doubt, also be said of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion that we are "two churches separated by common prayer."

I don't know this for certain, of course, but I think it's a good guess that the nefarious resolution B033 came into being, in great part, because of negotiations with the Archbishop of York. While it fell short of total compliance, I think it was the "best they could do at this time," in the words of our then newly elected Presiding Bishop.

Today's Telegraph (UK) carries an article wherein the Archbishop speaks directly and publicly to his conservative brothers in Africa who are threatening to boycott Lambeth, saying if they follow through on this threat, they will effectively expel themselves from the worldwide Church.

You can read the entire article in The Telegraph (UK).

There will always be an England, but will there always be a Lambeth?

Stay tuned, folks - but don't order your plane tickets to Heathrow just yet. The days of our lives as Anglicans are getting curiouser and curiouser.

Archbishop warns Anglican conservatives
By Jonathan Petre
Last Updated: 1:48am BST 23/07/2007

The Archbishop of York has warned conservative Anglican leaders that they will effectively expel themselves from the worldwide Church if they boycott next year's Lambeth Conference.

Dr John Sentamu said the conservatives risked severing themselves from the Anglican Communion.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, Dr John Sentamu pleaded with them to attend the conference despite their war with liberals over homosexuality.

But he told them that if they "voted with their feet" they risked severing their links with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with historic Anglicanism, a breach that could take centuries to heal.

"Anglicanism has its roots through Canterbury," he said. "If you sever that link you are severing yourself from the Communion. There is no doubt about it."

Read it all here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Goodnight, Tammy Faye

"The eyes of Tammy Faye" are forever closed.

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner died yesterday.

That particular news item will not prompt flags to fly at half mast, nor will heads of state be inspired to call for even a national minute of mourning. How much are you willing to wager that most evangelical blogs will not give either her life or her death so much as a passing mention, never mind offer a prayer for the repose of the soul of the undisputed, "First Lady of Televangelism"?

And yet, it seems important to note the passing of this Christian cultural icon.

This picture is of her when she appeared on Larry King Live in March 2007 to announce that she had stopped all treatment for lung cancer.

She appeared again a few days ago, just four months later, looking horrifyingly ghost-like and gaunt, weighing a mere 65 pounds, all the while rejoicing in her characteristically upbeat way that she had gained five pounds that week.

She looked so awful I wanted to turn away, and yet something about her indomitable spirit kept me glued to the television set. Then again, it has ever been thus with Tammy Faye, hasn't it?

As her second husband Roe sat sadly beside her, she was clearly laboring for breath as she spoke in unmistakably chirpy tones of her craving for a cheeseburger with fries, but had to settle for chicken soup. When asked if the doctors had told her how much time she had left, she said she didn't want to know, that she had placed her life "in the hands of the Lord" and would live each day as the gift it was.

The scandal that became her life was revealed in the documentary 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye,' by openly gay filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, who captured all of Tammy Faye's bizarreness and kindness on film and exposed a new audience to her long-standing support of gay men.

And makeup.

Tammy Faye was born the eldest of eight children in an impoverished home in International Falls, Minn. She married Jim Bakker and together they created the first Christian talk show, the 700 Club for the then fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network. They also founded the Trinity Broadcast Network and started the Praise the Lord empire, which included Heritage USA, the first Christian theme park.

It didn't take too long before Jim was exposed for having an affair with Jessica Hahn and for selling $1,000 memberships for lifetime access to imaginary hotel rooms at Heritage USA.

Before long, Praise the Lord was bankrupt, Jim Bakker was in prison, and Tammy Faye was suffering from depression and addiction to prescription meds. Then her second husband, Heritage USA contractor Roe Messner, also went to jail for his role in PTL, and Tammy Faye was diagnosed with cancer.

Mostly because of her plunky, spunky way, she persevered, becoming endeared by thousands of gay men for many of the same reasons Liza Minnelli, Patsy Cline and Marilyn Monroe engender their fierce loyalty and support.

"I have great respect for Tammy Faye," John Waters, author of such outlandish shows as "Hairspray" once said. "She's a militant Christian fag hag drama queen. ... She's got the eyelashes; I've got the mustache. We're eyeliner headliners."

Tammy Faye's quirky personality and genuine sweetness have captured the hearts of many over the years. There was something so real about her unbelievable faith that made you wish, even for a few moments, that you had her kind of child-like faith. The world would certainly be a simpler place, you thought, until you remembered how horribly complicated her life had become.

I found myself praying aloud and unashamedly for Tammy Faye this morning during the 'Prayers of the People." Behind those hideous false eyelashes were the mirror into a simple soul, who, in her inspirational video 'Day by Day' advised "all women over the age of 16 to wear a little eyeliner, blush, lipstick, and a makeup base." She also "offered accessorizing tips and fudge recipes, as well as some very candid advice on facing fear, accepting people for who they are ("even if they don't wear makeup"), counting your blessings, and learning to laugh with the people who laugh at you."

And you know what? That's a better legacy than many Christians can claim.

Sleep well, Tammy Faye. You earned it, hon.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Birthday Girls

Note: Cuteness alert. The following is apt to be maddeningly sweet. If you have the potential for cavities or diabetes, best not to read any further.

By the grace of God, and to our endless delight, two of our granddaughters' birthdays dominate the summer months. It practically guarantees at least one summer family celebratory gathering.

MacKenna Jane turned six years old on July 5th. Abby will mark her first year of life on August 2nd.

Umm . . . just a wee little problem this year. Their parents have just bought a new home and will be moving in just three weeks.

What's a young, professional working mother to do?

Have a joint Birthday party, of course!

Ms. Abba-Dabba seems a bit flummoxed by her birthday cake, but her Aunt Bobbi helps her figure it out, while her sister's friend Lily lends support.

Ms. Mackie, on the other hand, is an old pro by now to all things celebratory concerning one's nativity. Her birthday theme was The Little Mermaid - who graced the door, the birthday pinata and the cake.

Not to worry. Abby quickly figured out the proper way to eat her birthday cake. As she discovered, you just focus all your attention on the task at hand, stick your fingers into the middle of it and have at it.

Go Abby!
MacKenna was joined by her friends Noah and Sarah in opening her birthday "Little Mermaid" pinata. Their new puppy, Dakota (a Burmese Mountain Dog, just now 4 months old and 46 pounds, God help us), joined in the fun.

Later, Abby and her Grammy shared a quiet moment with Abby's sippy cup.

Ms. Abby prefers yogurt mixed with juice to just plain old milk, thank you very much.

Here, Ms. MacKenna Jane has a moment in conversation with her favorite tree.

I asked her, later, what she was doing. She said, "This is my last birthday with this tree. I was saying thank you and goodbye. I thought it was only right."

She can be such a very sensitive, serious child.

But, she can also play with the best of them.

Here, she shares some serious play time in the sand box with her best friend, Lily.

Shortly after this picture was taken, Dakota decided to join them in their play.

He dug a hole right through the sandbox.

Daddy promised to build a new one in their new yard.

Yeah for Daddies!

Abby and Nana also got to share some down time. She's such a pistol. So very different in terms of personality and temperament from her sister.

I continue to marvel at the miracle of life and its wonderous, completely unpredicatable diversity.

The weather was absolutely perfect, too. Low heat, no humitidy. God is good!

All in all a wonderful day with our children and grandchildren.

It's days like these that make sense of adolescences - theirs and

Friday, July 20, 2007

ENS Multimedia: A conversation about prison ministry with Petero Sabune

Canon Petero Sabune is the former dean of The Episcopal Cathedral of Trinity and St. Phillip in Newark, NJ.


Petero Sabune: "Why are we doing this? We do it because Jesus said so."

By Neva Rae Fox

[Episcopal News Service]

Prayer. Study. Action. Reflection.

The Rev. Canon Petero Sabune believes that prison ministry is based on those four steps. Once the fourth step of reflection is reached, it's important to start over with the first.

He has based his lifelong vocation to prison ministry on that process.

Sabune is the pastor chaplain at Sing Sing Prison, a maximum security facility in Ossining, New York, about an hour's drive north of New York City. Most Americans know it simply as "Sing Sing "--a bleak and hard place depicted regularly in popular TV shows and movies.

But Sabune, 55 years old, sees beyond the bleakness of Sing Sing. That's because Sabune is more than just a priest who works in a prison. He is a laborer for the Lord, doing his work in places where people tend to recoil in fear. He sees the face of the Lord in the prisoners with whom he interacts every day.

In 25 years of ordained ministry, Sabune has been called to small struggling parishes as well as large, "tony" NYC churches. He has worked in street ministry, served as a cathedral dean, and has stood twice for election as a bishop. But no matter where or what his calling, prison ministry remains the backbone of his life's work.

Pointing to his ever-present Bible, he inquired, "Why are we doing this? We do it because Jesus said so."

Full story:

A video stream of Sabune's interview is available at:


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dave Walker has done it again!

From Dave Walker's Cartoon Church

July 18th, 2007
Chelmsford ordination protest

Dave writes: "It seems like it is a little while since I had a go at ‘Reform’, so I think I’ll do so again today. Reform, if you remember, are the Anglicans who don’t like women or gay people leading things."

"One of their members has got into a bit of a kerfuffle locally here in the Diocese of Chelmsford by agreeing to be ordained by the Bishop but not agreeing to receive communion from him because of the Bishop’s views on gay people."

"In the event he was not ordained - the story is here, a statement by the Vicar of his parish is here, and a parish magazine article ‘Why I wrote to the Bishop asking for another Bishop’ is here".

"The cartoon was inspired by this rather splendid line from the letter of protest written to the Bishop:

'we will not go along with the extra and non-essential aspects of the day.'"

"In addition there were plans for a scruffy dress protest “I shall not robe up” and a ‘non-co-operation in photographs’ protest, “Richard will respectfully decline to be photographed with you if asked", which I assume meant that silly faces were to be pulled if any covert attempts were made by the diocesan photographers."

"If you ask me (and many wouldn’t) they are just trying to be difficult. If they had a real problem with the Bishop they wouldn’t attend the ordination at all."

"I quite like the idea of creative protests though. If anyone else has suggestions for minor ways to protest in church without causing too much of a fuss then please leave them in the comments."

Feel free to use this cartoon on your own blog with a link back here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What is poverty?

The community "comfort station" in the mountain village of San Antonio, Belize

As many of you know, I’ve just returned from a week-long mission trip to Belize.

Twenty-one people under the age of 18 and fourteen adults made the trek to a remote mountain village near the Guatemalan border to build a playground for the young children there, and to refurbish and paint the Community Center.

We also took along several of our Parish Nurses and held a Wellness Clinic in the community center, visiting ten elderly people in their homes who couldn’t make the short journey to the clinic.

There are many, many lessons to be learned from this amazing trip which will unfold and be revealed and learned over the next weeks and months. I want to share one particularly important one.

As a former public health nurse, I took great delight in helping to do the work of the Wellness Clinic. I was overjoyed to have been invited to accompany the nurse and her assistants who were making home visits to the elderly and infirmed in the village.

As we were making the long walk from the road to the thatched-roof hut of one of the villagers, Russell, our guide, commented, “This is the poorest family in the entire village.”

Later, I asked him why he had made that distinction. “Is it because they had no electricity or running water? Is it because they are one of the few families to life in a thatched-roof hut? Is it because this man is dying in the darkness of that hut, alone, except for his daughter, and in the excruciating and unrelenting pain of apparent stomach cancer?”

“No,” said Russell. “It is not the absence or presence of material things that makes one poor,” he said. “Poverty, real poverty, is not about things. Real poverty is about not having any choices.”

“Help me understand what you mean by that,” I asked.

Russell paused for a few thoughtful moments before responding, “Poverty is about not having any choices. This family has no choice. They have no resources. No options. There is just his daughter and her brother who is too sick to work, and their young children. They help as much as they can. But, in the end, the only choice – the only option – they have is to ask for help, which is really no choice, no option at all, when you consider the consequences.”

Poverty is about not having any other choice – any other option – except to ask for help.

I’m still unpacking the weight of that statement – theologically, spiritually and politically, I’ve never had poverty described to me in this way. Come to think of it, neither have I had poverty defined for me by one who lives in the midst of it – on the borders of it – at the continual threat of it. I have come to believe that this particular perspective changes the definition of poverty.

What must it be like, I wonder, to have no choice other than the choice to ask for help? What a luxury even to be able to wonder about an answer to the question! How profound to consider the indignity of poverty, as well as the depth of its spirituality. What lessons might God have to teach us about such extreme poverty?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says in his first sermon now known as The Beatitudes, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).

Jesus was talking about deep, spiritual poverty – having no other choice, no other option, except to ask God for help.

Another translation by Eugene Peterson, says it this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and God’s rule.”

I’m reminded that author Annie Lamont says that there are only two really authentic prayers. One is, “Please. Please. Please.” The other is “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

I suspect that may be closer to the truth about poverty – spiritual and/or material – than any of us cares to admit.

Still, the question haunts: What lessons might God have to teach us about such extreme poverty?

It is of such questions that mission trips are made – and deeply valued.

Case Dismissed

Note: The above image is from the webpage of the Diocese of Central New York.

Presentment Charges Against Fr. David Bollinger Dismissed
The Living Church

The Rev. David Bollinger, former rector of St. Paul’s Church, Owego, N.Y., was exonerated of presentment charges today after an ecclesiastical court in the Diocese of Central New York dismissed all counts against him. The verdict cannot be appealed, according to canon law.

After six fruitless hours yesterday in which the church attorney for the diocese unsuccessfully attempted nine times to introduce witnesses and evidence previously excluded by the court, the hearing today required only about an hour.

Fr. Bollinger, acting as his own lawyer, began his defense this morning by submitting one piece of evidence verifying that he had paid taxes on income the diocese had accused him of failing to report. After that was admitted, Fr. Bollinger noted that the prosecution had offered no evidence to support its allegations against him and made a motion for dismissal. After a brief recess for consultation, the panel of five judges returned and granted the motion.

Prior to the July 16 start of the trial, Presiding Judge Carter had ruled inadmissible the prosecution’s list of witnesses and nearly all of its evidence against Fr. Bollinger because the diocese missed the discovery-phase deadline by more than two weeks. In lengthy closing remarks, Judge Strickland repeated the reasons why the diocese’s evidence and witnesses had been excluded. He also strongly criticized the diocese’s handling of the case, stating that it was required to abide by the same rules of procedure as everyone else.

The Rt. Rev. Gladstone “Skip” Adams, Bishop of Central New York, had inhibited Fr. Bollinger in 2005, accusing him of financial misconduct and disobedience. Fr. Bollinger contended that the charges were part of an attempt to punish him after he continued a public campaign to have sexual misconduct allegations against a previous rector of St. Paul’s investigated by the diocese. The previous rector voluntarily renounced his orders in April 2006 after a diocesan review panel recommended that presentment charges be prepared.

The trial attracted about 10 spectators, eight of them priests of the diocese. After the court adjourned, one of them asked Bishop Adams if he was now prepared to release the so-called Shafer Report, a document commissioned by the diocese to investigate allegations that a former diocesan employee had improperly accessed Fr. Bollinger's personal financial information. Release of the Shafer Report had been requested in a resolution proposed during the 2005 diocesan convention, but the resolution was tabled.

The court ordered the diocese to make the report available. It was considered relevant because one of the presentment charges against Fr. Bollinger states that he falsely accused Gael Sopchak of illegally accessing his personal financial information. In a pre-trial conference last month, James Sparkes, the church attorney for the diocese, said the diocese would never make the report public.

To find more news, feature articles, and commentary about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion not available online, read The Living Church magazine each week. Call 1-800-211-2771 to start your subscription

"Stop the presses . . ."

A brilliant piece of investigative journalism by our Jan Nunley, Episcopal News Service (ENS) Deputy Director at Episcope

July 14, 2007
Stop the presses...before somebody gets hurt

New York Times subscribers will open their Sunday Styles section to this:

Man of the Flesh to Man of the Cloth
OAK PARK, Calif.
The New York Times
July 15, 2007

SOME people have their midlife crisis in reverse, like Ronald Boyer, who for most of his professional life has been better known as a star of pornographic films, Rod Fontana.

After 30 years of sowing the wildest of oats, Mr. Boyer, 54, has searched his soul and chosen, to the surprise of family and colleagues, to seek a priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

It’s all here …but hold it just a minute there, folks. Haven't we heard this trope before? About a guy named McGreevey? And remember how that ended--much ado about nothing?

Well, it turns out that's what we've got here: some incredibly sloppy reporting that's frankly unworthy of the venerable New York Times.

Your epiScope editor, who spent her youth as a reporter when Woodward and Bernstein were the heroes, decided to track down what really happened by talking to Mr. Boyer's rector, the Rev. Hank Mitchel--which is more than reporter Waxman managed to do. Let's go through the story, bit by painfully distorted bit.

From his work in the rented villas of the San Fernando Valley, where hard-core sex films are shot, he has moved just a short distance west, to the Church of the Epiphany, which is guiding his transformation from pornography star to preacher.

"That's wrong on so many levels," Mitchel told epiScope. "I'm his pastor, so of course I'm guiding him in that spiritual sense. But no one at Epiphany knows--or knew--about his background, except some key people on the staff. And no one is training him for ordained ministry at any level."

So references to "Mr. Boyer’s embryonic ministry" and "to pursue a new path as a religious leader" are misleading?

"Boy, are they ever!" Mitchel said.

And what about this?

He returned to meet with his priest and with the second-ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Suffragan Chester L. Talton, to gain approval to establish a ministry among sex workers.

"No way!" exclaimed Mitchel. "I talked with Bishop Talton. He never met with Ron. Couldn't pick him out of a crowd."

And this?

The process to priesthood will take several years. Mr. Boyer began by being confirmed in the Episcopal Church this year. He is undergoing training to become a deacon, which will allow him to conduct most aspects of ministering short of the sacraments. To become a priest, he must study in a seminary for approximately two years and his candidacy must be approved by the diocesan bishop.

"Absolutely not!" said Mitchel. "He was confirmed with about 150 others by Bishop Talton in May. About 4 or 5 months ago he wanted to talk about ordination, and I explained the process to him. But he has not met with the bishop or undergone any of the requirements for entering the ordination process in any way--certainly he's not being 'trained as a deacon' or anything like it."

And of course the M.Div. program is three years, not two. But what about Bishop Bruno's remarks?

J. Jon Bruno, bishop for the Los Angeles Diocese, said Mr. Boyer’s path to the priesthood would not be precluded by who he was. “I wouldn’t put up an immediate impediment because of someone’s past life,” he said. “There’s no exclusion in the gospel for anybody.”

"Bishop Bruno's never met Ron either," said Mitchel. "He knows nothing about him. He was speaking generally about the ordination process."

Which according to the canons is open to all Episcopalians--but no one has a right to ordination, of course. So--there's no "integrating" by the Diocese, or "welcoming an ex-performer with more than 300 hard-core movies to his credit", as Waxman writes?

"That is just wild exaggeration, utterly unsupported by the facts," Mitchel said.

Did you talk to the reporter? She said church leaders "do seem uncomfortable discussing it in depth"...

"Why didn't she tell the truth: I emphatically refused to exploit the situation by talking to her in depth about it," explained Mitchel. "I did say, and I do sincerely hope, that Ron can serve as a bridge to people in the porn industry, to bring them hope and the love of God.

"And I said Ron and his family are most certainly welcome here--but his former profession most certainly is not. And he has a long, long way to travel and a lot of spiritual growing to do before we can even think about thinking about a leadership role."

Clearly the New York Times jumped the shark on this story. That's really, really sad.

UPDATE: Hmmm...Waxman's done this kind of sloppy job before, it seems...Google her name and see what pops up.

Ouch. "Woodstein," she's not; consider the source.