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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Power of Seeming Certain

I've just returned from a really wonderful Clergy Retreat, our first with our new bishop, Mark Beckwith, who shared with us the vision that is beginning to emerge for him about the nature of his leadership with us and our vocation together in this place.

In anticipation of this Clergy Retreat, he had previously sent a copy of his remarks to the Presiding Bishop and asked her to join us and share her comments about this vision he has about and for the diocese.

Yesterday, she joined us in our Pocono Mountain/Golf Resort retreat on the Delaware River. She spent some time commenting on what Mark had written to her, and then did an astounding presentation about the language of religious discourse.

I had just been commenting on this very topic in my presentation to the good people of St. Francis in Stamford, CT where I was both pleased and privileged to visit this past Sunday.

I think the conversations we are having in the World Wide Anglican Communion about human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, like discussions about the ordination of women or reproductive rights in general and abortion in particular, are sorely in need of more light and less heat.

Depending on where you being your conversation about the Genesis account of Creation, however, you may find yourself, as some of us have, running smack-dab into a concrete wall.

If you begin with Genesis 1, God blesses each and every thing of what God has created with, "And it was good." And at the end of the sixth day, God saw everything that was made and "indeed, it was very good."

If you continue the Genesis account, you read in Chapter 2 of the creation of humankind in Adam and Eve in much greater detail, and that God placed them in the Garden called Eden.

In Chapter 3, the account of The Fall is given - where the human experiment "failed" and sin entered the world, as well as the human enterprise, in the guise of a snake who successfully seduced the new Edenites. This brought about the end of innocence and instituted the cost of eternal life for the price of knowledge and free will.

Bishop Katharine made a brilliant connection with the story of Genesis 1 and the baptism of Jesus. God said, "This is my beloved, with him I am well pleased," which is an echo, she reminded us, of God saying at creation, "It is very good."

Further, she connected the story in The Garden with the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, reminding us that Jesus was able to resist Satan because he had just been baptized and had a very clear sense of his identity and the fact that he was 'beloved' of God.

I absolutely resonated with her point that our understanding of our identity frames the way in which we view the world and the language we employ in our conversations about God and religion and the human enterprise.

If we believe ourselves to be wretched and fallen human beings, that sin came into us in the Garden by the temptation of Satan in the guise of a snake, we have a very different understanding of ourselves and the world than if we believe ourselves beloved of God - sons and daughters who claim our inheritance of eternal life through Christ Jesus because we, like the rest of creation, are worthy and, indeed, "very good."

The Evangelical, more Calvinist position begins with the wretchedness of humankind, and pretty much stays there, being eternally if not daily thankful for the salvation and redemption of the human condition by the suffering (emphasis on suffering) and death of Christ Jesus.

The traditional Anglican position has been to hold all three chapters of the Genesis account in tension - the fact that we are beloved of God and the fact that sin is in the world.

The idea of free will celebrates the gift of our God-given gifts of intelligence and reason, but does not negate the presence of evil in the world, nor our capacity to make wrong decisions and choices. But, neither does the capacity to make bad choices negate the inherent goodness of our humanity.

The truth is that God is a mystery, and we do well to understand that the best evangelism is one that invites others into a deeper experience of this mystery - not the certainty of answers set in cement tablets.

Bishop Katharine then did just that and had us meditate on the image of God coming to us and saying, "YOU are my beloved, with YOU I am well pleased."

After a time of silence, she invited us to share our insights. It was so much easier for many of us to concentrate on how others were beloved of God and how God might be pleased with someone else. Anyone but us.

Bishop Katharine asked us to consider how our conversations with each other might change if we began in a place of affirmation rather than a place of harsh judgement.

That is a powerful consideration, one that demands maturity and the employment of intelligence and reason, rather than judgement and condemnation.

On the way home, I was listening to a CD of the Indigo Girls (I forget which one). The song "You and Me of the 10,000 Wars" came on, and I heard these lyrics at different and much deeper level:

"try making one and one make one
twist the shapes until everything comes undone
watch the wizard behind the curtain
the larger than life and the power of seeming certain
the evil ego and the vice of pride
is there ever anything else that makes us take our different sides
i wanted everything to feed me
about as full as i got was of myself
and the upper echelons of mediocrity
and oh the dissatisfied with the satisfied
everybody loves a melodrama and the scandal of a lie
still you held your arms open
for the prodigal daughter
i see my eyes in your eyes through my eyes
still waters
still waters"

You know, so much of what happens in The Episcopal Church and in the World Wide Anglican Communion, is really just melodrama and scandal. When you get any distance at all from it, it's pretty immature and embarrassing.

Ever wonder why church attendance and membership are down in almost every denomination? Think no more.

Who wants to be a member of an organization which judges you harshly, insults your intelligence, and offers no hope?

Indeed, the 'bumper stickers' you see around this post came to me from someone who is deeply committed to the teachings of Jesus but has been struggling with church membership primarily because of what you see written on these bumper stickers.

When I got home, I intended to take a wee bit of a lie down, and instead I went surfing. I ran into this
article, wherein one of my favorite ultra-Calvinist families is 'celebrating' Halloween.

Understand, please: she is the product of a Baptist boarding school. They send their daughter to a school where they are admittedly "quite certain that they do not celebrate Halloween." Indeed, they even got challenged by her that the kids at her school said that "anyone who celebrates Halloween worships Satan. That's us."

These are people who believe the bible literally about Creation, the wretched wickedness of the state of humanity, the superiority of the male of the species, and even risk a sort of 'biological roulette' and use the Natural Family Planning Method of "birth control" - resulting in having four children in a little over five years - because of their beliefs about God and Creation and the intended order of the world based on the story of The Fall.

Why, then, celebrate Halloween? Well, because her husband has "fond and warm memories" of his childhood Halloween, "running around safe neighborhoods, receiving safe candy, not dealing with the theological implications of celebrating Halloween and ignoring All Saints."

I'm reminded that in Eucharistic Prayer "C" we thank God for blessing us with "memory, reason and skill." Well, they got the 'memory' part down, right? One out of three isn't very good odds, but you know what? It works for me - especially since it leads them all into a deeper experience of the Mystery that is God. That's the best kind of evangelism I know.

I think we, no doubt all - every last one of us, myself included - need to meditate more on the words God gave to us through Jesus at his Baptism, "You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased." They are, as Bishop Katharine points out, an echo of God's words at Creation, "Behold, it is very good."

If we all did that, it just might change the tone and tenor of our conversations with one another. Indeed, we wouldn't be looking for someone to scapegoat for all of the ills and troubles in the church. It would reduce if not diminish the verbal violence that we hurl and lob at each other from our various positions on either side of the aisle of the church.

The closing words of that Indigo Girls song still rings more sweetly in my ears the more I think on these things.

"after the battles and we're still around
everything once up in the air has settled down
sweep the ashes let the silence find us
a moment of peace is worth every war behind us
you and me of the 10,000 wars"

words and music emily saliers
copyright 1990 godhap music (bmi

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

This picture was totally stolen from MadPriest (but, it's okay because he always says it's not really stealing as long as we give him credit).

Warning: Nana With Pictures

Just got this text message from Abigayle's mother. Abby insisted on wearing a bathing suit to Day Care today. MacKenna said she should because it's Halloween and she's going to school as Tinkerbell.
Abby puts the 'treat' in Trick or Treat!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Clergy Retreat

I'm on Clergy Retreat at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort in Shawnee, PA on the Delaware Water Gap.

The Autumn weather is crisp, cool and absolutely lovely. I don't plan to play golf (I left my golf clubs at Llangollen), but I have a date with a friend to do some serious Outlet shopping and then a massage late in the afternoon, followed by a nap.

Oh, yes. We've had a wonderfully inspiring vision statement from our new bishop tonight which will be continued tomorrow morning, followed by a visit with our Presiding Bishop from 10 AM - 1 PM.

One clergy new to the diocese was overheard at the bar saying, "We have to BUY our own wine???? I've come from the diocese of New York, where wine was always in plentiful supply - and FREE."

Let's see . . . the Red Sox won the World Series, the Executive Committee has issued a statement about B033 and the Covenant Process, our new bishop is in the midst of presenting his exciting and deeply spiritual vision for our diocese, the Presiding Bishop is popping by from NYC for a cuppa and wee chat, and I'm going shopping, having a massage and a wee bit of a lie down before working a bit more on the third chapter of my dissertation.

Free wine? Who needs it? I suppose, only those who whine.

As my grandmother used to say, "God is good and the boys are working."

A Prayer for Dirty Water Victory

A collect of thanksgiving for World Series victory by Sarah Dylan Breuer

O God, who in thy mercy didst ordain that the desert Rock be cleft in twain to provide refreshment for thy chosen people: We give thanks to thee for the victory granted once more to thy chosen people by thine own hand. Deliver us thy people from overweening pride in the triumph won by the power of thy Spirit shewn in the power of the bats of thy humble servants the Red Sox; teach us to see thine own Arm in the mighty arcs of thy servants' arms against the Rocks of Colorado; and pour out the Scarlet flames of thy Holy Spirit upon us, that we may evermore rejoice in thy triumph over thine enemies, who by thine own grace may yet be won to the righteous cause of the Red Sox and Patriot nation; all this we pray through Christ, our clean-up hitter in the eschatological match against all powers that oppress in contests of humanity, our Manager and Baseline Coach, and our Lord.


P.S. That's Third Baseman Mike Lowell at bat, who hittest a double and a key homer in Game IV and, by the abundant mercy and grace of the strong arm of the Almighty, which is always swift to save, didst help to cleft the desert Rock and was thusly named Most Valuable Player.

Love that Dirty Water!

We won! We won! We won!

You have to understand. I'm from Boston.

Okay, 'Southeastern Massachusetts'.

Oh, the city looks like a cultural center. We have that accent that sounds like it's trying real hard to be distinguished.

We have the Kennedy Dynasty and the Irish Mob.

Harvard is the university that ate Cambridge and is eating Boston, when Boston College, Boston University, Tufts Medical School and all the other major universities aren't eating up real estate.

The joint is thick with colleges and universities, and more Pubs claiming to be Irish or restaurants claiming to be Italian where people drink more respective beer or wine than in the entire countries of Ireland or Italy.

There are lots of old, proper brick buildings and even older and perhaps not so proper money.

Truth is, you see, we're just a little backwater town.

As far as the Red Sox are concerned, you have to understand that many of us who were born and/or grew up in Boston are genetically hardwired to expect disappointment.

I mean, it was one thing to break the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. But, THIS! This is absolutely amazing!

One of the news polls is now asking the question, "Are the Red Sox a dynasty?" I laughed out loud and hit "No".

(Had there been a response that said, "Are you kidding me?" I would have chosen that one.)

Not surprisingly, 58% of the responses agreed with me.

Clearly, the question was asked by a Yankee Fan and the answers were given by Red Sox fans. We know our place.

We know that you celebrate the victories when they come and try to be humble in prayer like the Tax Collector in yesterday's gospel.

(I won't tell you who represented the Yankees in that parable. Only because readers here are smart, even if some of you have misguided loyalty.)

So, just for today, it's a celebration!

Thanks, boys, for the memories. You made it the best summer yet!

Love that Dirty Water!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Baptismal Love Letter to Michael Connecticut

“`God, I thank you that I am not like other people’ . . .”
Luke 18:9-14

A ‘Baptismal Love Letter’ to Michael F
The Episcopal Church of St. Francis
Stamford, CT
XXII Pentecost Proper 25
October 28, 2007
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton

I want to begin by saying what a great honor and privilege it is to be here with you this morning – especially since there is a baptism today.

I’m going to take this opportunity to continue something which began as a creative innovation and is now a solid tradition at The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, NJ, where I have been privileged to be rector for the last five and a half years and have presided with joy at more than 60 baptisms.

Whenever someone is baptized, I try to underscore the importance of that baptism by preaching the gospel through the lens of what it might mean for the child or children being baptized that day.

The sermon has become known as a “Baptismal Love Letter,” which is written in the hopes that the child’s parents will take a copy of this sermon and put it away in the Baby Book so that, at Confirmation, the child taking these vows and making these promises for herself will get a clearer sense of the importance and significance of this day.

So, without further delay, I will begin this Baptismal Love Letter:

Dear Michael,

When you first read this letter, you will most likely be twelve or thirteen years old and getting ready to receive the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation. You will be taking for yourself the vows and promises made for you today by your parents and godparents.

It’s a very, very important thing you are about to do, and I hope you will spend some serious, dedicated time considering the significance of this sacramental rite of passage.

I also hope you will spend some time carefully studying the essence of the gospel message appointed for this day and considering what imperatives this parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector might have for you as a follower of Christ.

In case you don’t have a bible right handy (and not too many 13 year old boys I know would), let me remind you of the essential points of that parable. Jesus tells the story about two men praying in the Temple. One was a Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other people. Among other things, he thanked God that he was not like the tax collector who was praying nearby.

Now, Michael, you have to understand that there was a special contempt for tax collectors. They were Jews who worked for the Romans and collected their taxes. To be a tax collector was to be as popular as someone who worked for the IRS – and not many people I know experience a warm, fuzzy glo when the IRS is mentioned.

But, imagine if this country were occupied by a foreign government, as Israel was by Rome. And, imagine if your taxes did not support your country, but rather, supported the very folks who were oppressing you. Now, imagine if those taxes were collected for the oppressor by one of your own people.

You get the picture. But, that’s not the fullness of it all, Michael. The Pharisee not only thanked God for making him a good person, he even went on to list all the good things he did, like fasting twice a week and giving a tenth of his income to the synagogue. The Pharisee wasn’t so much praying as he was bragging. And, not only that, he was bragging at the expense of another person.

Oh, I know. You’re about to say, “Yeah, but that was then and this is now. Nobody in church behaves like that anymore.” Well, Michael, part of the reason I am here this morning is precisely because there are people like that in the church. A lot of them. Trust me on this.

Now, thirteen years from now, my hunch is that you are going to look back on this time, and the topic I’m going to be talking about, and you’re going to sit back in your chair, scratch your head in bewilderment and say,

“Really? Was there really a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were not allowed to get married? Was there really a time when the Civil Rights of a certain segment of the population were denied because of the religious convictions of a larger group of people? Really?” you’ll ask. “That’s unbelievable!”

Your parents will tell you that in the year 2007, there were people who were actually trying to amend the Constitution of the United States of America to take away the civil rights of LGBT people – which is antithetical to the very nature of our Constitution, which was designed to define the rights of ‘we the people.’

Your parents will also tell you that I was here on the morning of your baptism because the Church – our beloved Episcopal Church – was in the midst of a major controversy about whether or not to bless the covenants made by LGBT people to live in relationships marked by “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”

That’s the exact language taken from a resolution (D039) which was passed by General Convention Denver, Colorado in July of 2000.

I know, I know, Michael. It is hard to believe, isn’t it? That the church could acknowledge that there are people in our communities of faith who live in these kinds of relationships and take the bold action of defining the parameters of our mutual accountability and responsibility one year and, less than seven years later, be at the brink of schism because of it.

Oh, let’s be honest. The hour of schism has come and now is. There are people in The Episcopal Church today who have left – are leaving – for churches in parts of the World Wide Anglican Communion which they consider more “orthodox.”

It’s a very, very sad thing, Michael, but I pray that the church you know and love and are about to be Confirmed into is stronger for these days of self-determined pruning and shearing.

Who are these people, you ask? Well, they are good people. People who love God and Jesus and the church. People who fast twice a week and give a tenth of their income to the church. You and I know and love many of them. They are not bad people. They, just like the Pharisee in the parable, just think they are the only ones who have it right.

Let me tell you a little something about oppression, Michael, because it not only hurts the oppressed, it hurts those who oppress. My church went on a mission trip to Belize this past July with 21 people under the age of 18 and 15 adults, including my life partner and spouse.

I was keenly aware that if someone 'protested' our so-called 'lifestyle' we could be facing the next 10 years in a Belizean prison. That’s the law on the books in Belize just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.

There are other countries – many of them, in fact – with much stiffer penalties for being gay. We had done the research before the trip. We knew the possibilities. We knew they were possibilities and not probabilities. Still. We needed to be mindful - especially for the children in our care.

Never mind all that. Really. That’s not what’s important. Let me explain: Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind;" adding, "we might as well require a man to wear the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain forever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Think for just a moment of the other "hidden costs" of memorializing that kind of prejudice and ignorance in the codes of the legal system of a government. If it is true that the real measure of a civilization is the way in which it treats the least of its members, then it must be asked what these kind of laws do to the moral fiber and soul of the nations which keep them on their books - whether or not they actively enforce them.

Think of what it must be like to wake up every morning and know that there are citizens in your country who live haunted by the fact that if they told the truth about themselves, about who they really love, it might cost them their very lives.

Think of what it must be like to live and work in a place where people sacrifice their integrity in order to appease some ancient, ignorant fear which is supported by a very narrow, rigid interpretation and application of the sacred text of an ancient society.

Think of what it must be like to belong to a church where pets and vestments and candle sticks are blessed, but not faithful, monogamous, holy, loving relationships between people of the same sex.

It’s a bit like being forced to wear a coat that hasn't fit you since you were a child. It’s like trying to put your baptismal outfit on and wear it for your Confirmation. You can’t do that, Michael. You have to make a conscious choice about that which you will claim as your own – what ‘fits’ you and how you intend to live your life as a child of God.

Just remember this: Prejudice and bigotry hurt everyone - the target of prejudice and bigotry as well as the perpetrator.

When the integrity of anyone is compromised anywhere, the integrity of everyone is compromised everywhere.

We who claim to be citizens of a civilized society as well as citizens, through baptism, of the Realm of God can claim nothing less. This is especially true for those of us who dwell in the Communion of Saints.

Today is the day you are being baptized into this mystical, sweet communion of saints, Michael. As you read this, 13 years later, your individual citizenship needs to be claimed by you, as a conscious, bold statement of what it is you believe and what you hold as valuable and precious to your heart and soul.

But for today, I join with all the saints who are here present, all who are yet to come, and all who have been before and welcome to the household of Christ, Michael. Put on the ‘crown of righteousness’ in baptism and serve God in the priesthood of all believers.

My baptismal prayer for you this day is that you may be as humble in your prayer as the tax collector. May you be at peace within yourself, that you may bring peace to the world. May you always know that you are deeply loved and need never be afraid.

May you serve always as a vehicle of liberation and not of oppression – your own and that of others. You have been blessed so that you may be a blessing. May the blessing of your baptism make you a blessing of and to the church, your family, and the world.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Red Sox Nation: Game Three

In honor of Game Three of the World Series in Colorado tonight, the following story. Don't blame me, blame Doug.

Two boys are playing hockey on the pond on Boston Common, when one is attacked by a vicious Rottweiler. Thinking quickly, the other boy took his hockey stick and managed to wedge it down the dog's collar and twist, luckily breaking the dog's neck and stopping its attack.

A reporter who was strolling by sees the incident, and rushes over to interview the boy.

"Young Bruins Fan Saves friend from Vicious Animal..." he starts writing in his notebook.

"But, I'm not a Bruins Fan," the little hero replied. "Sorry, since we're in Boston, I just assumed you were," said the reporter and starts again.

"Red Sox Fan Rescues Friend from Horrific attack..." he continued writing in his notebook.

"I'm not a Red Sox fan either!" The boy said.

"I assumed everyone in Boston was either for the Bruins or the Red Sox. So, what team do you root for?" the reporter asked.

"I'm a Yankees fan!" the child beamed. The reporter starts a new sheet in his notebook and writes:

"Little Bastard from New York Kills Beloved Family Pet."

Rock on, BoSox! Rock on!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Season of Creation

In response to the many inquiries I have had, I present to you a few pictures of the vestments, altar hangings and vestments of The Season of Creation at The Episcopal Church of St. Paul's Church in Chatham, NJ.

The Season of Creation was inaugurated at the
Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, NJ by the rector, the Rev'd Phillip Dana Wilson, more than a decade and a half ago.

The then rector of St. Paul's Chaham, the Rev'd Skip Vilas, a devote theologian of and political activist for Environmental Justice was taken by the work of Rev'd Wilson, and expanded this liturgical theology with a special lectionary and hymnody designed to call our attention to the gift (as opposed to our domination) of creation.

The Season of Creation also gives us the opportunity to call our attention to the ways in which we have not been good stewards of creation and the ways in which we can work to repair the damage done to Gaia, Mother Earth.

We have modified the original work of Wilson and Vilas, making the season more Trinitarian in nature while continuing to use the opportunity to call us to be better stewards of God's creation.

This is the frontal of the altar at St. Paul's, which depicts "this fragile earth, our island home."

Here are the burse and the veil on the altar, which depicts the sun and the planet Saturn.

Here is one of twelve banners which tell the biblical story of Creation as told to us in Genesis. These banners hang in the bays of the church. This one is of the creation of Adam and Eve.

Here is the Creation of The Animals.

The hangings at the pulpit (shown here) and lectern tell the story of St. Francis and the Wolf.

This is the Chasuble. Jesus says, " I am the Vine and you are the branches." And asks us to "bear much fruit."

The Stole depicts the seed of life and the embryonic development of the Frog, one of the symbols of resurrection and transformation of our life in Christ, Jesus.

The Season of Creation begins the first Sunday after the Feast of St. Francis and runs through the Feast of Christ the King.

Each week, the children bring forth an element of creation, which is placed on the high altar, along with the Bread and Wine, the Money and Pledges, the Prayer Shawls and the food for the Interfaith Food Pantry.

Last week, Melissa Brandis, our director of Church School, made a Planetarium out of black plastic bags which she constructed in our Parish Hall. She had the children enter into it and they had great fun identifying and celebrating the major constellations of the planets and stars.

Adults were invited into the Planetarium at Coffee Hour, once they agreed to (1) put aside their coffee (2) remove their shoes and (3) be on their best behavior once inside the Planetarium.

We have found that running our Stewardship Season concurrent with the Season of Creation gives a relevant and meaningful context for our conversations about Stewardship.

The vestments, altar hangings and banners were the original design and creation of Colleen Hintz, founder of Fruit of the Vine Vestments and member of Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, who also created the vestments for the Tridium and Rose Sunday.

You can find many wonderful interfaith liturgical helps to celebrate The Season of Creation
here or at Greenfaith, an organization which was originally funded by a grant from St. Paul's, Chatham.

The Cost of Prejudice

The Article "The Cost of Integrity" below, which outlines penalties around the globe for being LGBT has stirred some interesting comments - privately to me as well as those posted here.

When I went to Belize this past July with 21 people under the age of 18 and 15 adults, including my life partner and spouse, I was keenly aware that if someone 'protested' our so-called 'lifestyle' we could be facing the next 10 years in a Belizean prison.

We had done the research before the trip. We knew the possibilities.

We knew they were possibilities and not probabilities.

Still. We needed to be mindful - especially for the children in our care.

Never mind all that. Really.

Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind;" adding, "we might as well require a man to wear the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain forever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Think for just a moment of the other "hidden costs" of memorializing that kind of prejudice and ignorance in the codes of the legal system of a government.

If it is true that the real measure of a civilization is the way in which it treats the least of its members, then it must be asked what these kind of laws do to the moral fiber and soul of the nations which keep them on their books - whether or not they actively enforce them.

Think of what it must be like to wake up every morning and know that there are citizens in your country who live haunted by the fact that if they told the truth about themselves, about who they really love, it might cost them their very lives.

Think of what it must be like to live and work in a place where people sacrifice their integrity in order to appease some ancient, ignorant fear which is supported by a very narrow, rigid interpretation and application of the sacred text of an ancient society.

It must be a bit like being forced to wear a coat that hasn't fit you since you were a child.

Prejudice and bigotry hurt everyone - the target of prejudice and bigotry as well as the perpetrator.

When the integrity of anyone is compromised anywhere, the integrity of everyone is compromised everywhere.

We who claim to be citizens of a civilized society as well as citizens, through baptism, of the Realm of God can claim nothing less. This is never more true for those of us who dwell in the Communion of Saints.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

After "The Kiss" - The Boston Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies

Eileen the Episcopalifem has caught the one picture closest to "The Kiss". I think she's right. I think this is, like, 5 seconds after the "Immaculate Event."

Okay, truth be told: it wasn't really a "kiss" as much as a "peck" on the lips. Then again, what do you expect from a woman whose last name is "Bird" and first name is "Wounded"?

The troubling part is that there has been radio silence from Ms. June on her
blog. This has given rise to the troubling rumor that, after "The Kiss", Ms. June found the woman of her dreams and has run off in a real fever and will never be the same.

Say it ain't so, Mimi. Say it ain't so.

The REAL news is that "my boys" - the Boston Red Sox - are on television tonight.

Live from The Fenway Stadium in Boston, Massachusetts, it's Game One of the World Series. The Boston Red Sox for the American League and the Colorado Rockies for the National League.

Somebody cue the Standells. Let's hear the BoSox Victory song - "Dirty Water".

Okay, forget the Standells. Maestro John Williams is leading the Boston Pops in a specially arranged version of The Star Spangled Banner. Fabulous.

Even Rudy Giuliani, former NYC mayor and hands-down the biggest Yankees Fan on the planet has said that he is rooting for the BoSox.

Okay, he said that yesterday while campaigning in Boston.

Okay, he said that he wanted Boston to win because he wanted to keep the victory in the American League.

I'll still take it and I won't even post a picture of my T-Shirt that says, "I have two favorite teams: The Boston Red Sox and anybody who beats the Yankees." (Trust me - it is an act of courage to wear that shirt around this town.)

So, the thing about the Colorado Rockies is that they are a relatively new team on the block. Their manager is described as being a "deeply committed Christian" who has built his team on "Christian values." Apparently, the team has mandatory weekly bible study and prayer time together.

Yeah, well, we may be from a dirty backwater town and they may have God on their side, but we got Jason Variteck in Center Field and Josh Beckett is pitching like a very angel. I've been watching him throw pitches from the mound and they can only be described as 'heavenly.'

Beckett just retired the sides - three outs from the mound.

My boys have got the juice!

Now a home run from Boston, first time at bat. Now its midway through the bottom of the first and the BoSox are already ahead three to zip with two outs. Julio Lugo is up at bat who has not been having a good season.

He's out at first which leaves my boys with a respectable three point lead going into the second inning.

Gosh, the Rockies picher looks like a baby! It must be way past his bedtime.

Okay, I can't stand it anymore. I've got to quit this and watch the game. Sorry. Not even a sermon will be written tonight.

I got my BoSox hat and shirt on and Ms. Conroy just called from the other room, "Oh my GAWWWDDDD . . . I'm going to have an ulcer."

Goodnight, Mrs. Bird, wherever you are. This is sooooo much better than a stolen kiss! (But, don't tell The Bullies. It will absolutely ruin their fantasy life.)

Okay, NOW cue the Standells. C'mon everybody sing:

Frustrated women (I mean they're frustrated)
Have to be in by twelve o'clock (oh, that's a shame)
But I'm wishin' and a-hopin, oh
That just once those doors weren't locked (I like to save time for my baby to walk around)
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home (oh, yeah)
Because I love that dirty water
Oh, oh, Boston, you're my home (oh, yeah)
Well, I love that dirty water (I love it, baby)
I love that dirty water (I love Baw-stun)
I love that dirty water (Have you heard about the Strangler?)
I love that dirty water (I'm the man, I'm the man)
I love that dirty water (Owww!)
I love that dirty water (Come on, come on)

Integrity has never been more costly

From Chuck's - The Blog.

The Cost of Being LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and/or Trans) in Today's World.

Algeria - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Angola - Labor Camps
Antigua and Barbuda - 15 Years in Prison
Bahrain - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Bangladesh - 10 Years to Life in Prison
Barbados - Life in Prison
Belize - 10 Years in Prison
Benin - 3 Years in Prison
Bhutan - 1 Month to 1 Year in Prison
Botswana - A Fine to 7 Years in Prison
Brunei - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Cameroon - A Fine to 5 Years in Prison
Cook Islands - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Djibouti - 10 to 12 Years in Prison
Dominica - 10 Years in Prison
Egypt - 5 Years in Prison
Eritrea - 3 to 10 Years in Prison
Ethiopia - 10 Days to 3 Years in Prison
Gambia - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Ghana - Not Known
Grenada - 10 Years in Prison
Guinea - 6 Months to 3 Years in Prison
Guinea Bissau - Labor Camps
India - A Fine to Life in Prison
Iran - Death
Jamaica - 10 Years Hard Labor
Kenya - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Kiribati - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Kuwait - A Fine to 7 Years in Prison
Lebanon - A Fine to 1 Year in Prison
Lesotho - Not Known
Liberia - A Fine
Libya - A Fine to 5 Years in Prison
Malawi - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Malaysia - A Fine to 20 Years in Prison
Mauritania - Death
Mauritius - A Fine to 5 Years in Prison
Morocco - 6 Months to 3 Years in Prison
Mozambique - Labor Camps
Myanmar/Burma - 10 Years to Life in Prison
Namibia - Not Known
Nauru - 14 Years Hard Labor
Nepal - A Fine to 1 Year in Prison
Nicaragua - 1 to 3 Years in Prison
Nigeria - 5 Years in Prison to Death
Niue - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Oman - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Pakistan - 2 Years to Life in Prison
Palau - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Palestine - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Papua New Guinea - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Qatar - A Fine to 5 Years in Prison
Saint Kitts and Nevis - 10 Years in Prison
Saint Lucia - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Saint Vincent and Grenadines - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Samoa - A Fine to 7 Years in Prison
Sao Tome and Principe - Labor Camps
Saudi Arabia - Death
Senegal - 1 Month to 5 Years in Prison
Seychelles - A Fine to 2 Years in Prison
Sierra Leone - Life in Prison
Singapore - 2 Years in Prison
Solomon Islands - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Somalia - 3 Months in Prison to Death
Sri Lanka - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Sudan - 5 Years in Prison to Death
Swaziland - A Fine
Syria - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Tanzania - A Fine to 25 Years in Prison
Togo - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Tokelau - A Fine to 10 Years in Prison
Trinidad and Tobago - 25 Years in Prison
Tunisia - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Turkmenistan - A Fine to 2 Years in Prison
Tuvalu - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Uganda - A Fine to Life in Prison
United Arab Emirates - Death
Uzbekistan - A Fine to 3 Years in Prison
Yemen - Flogging to Death
Zambia - A Fine to 14 Years in Prison
Zimbabwe - A Fine to 1 Year in Prison

And, am I not my brother's (sister's) keeper?

Ndungane: Covenant = "mechanism for exclusion"

Episcopal Life Online

SOUTHERN AFRICA: Archbishop Ndungane condemns Anglican covenant as 'a mechanism for exclusion'
October 22, 2007

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa has described a draft covenant designed to deal with disagreements within the Anglican Communion as "a mechanism for exclusion."

Speaking to the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of California October 19 during a sermon at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the Archbishop of Cape Town said the covenant was "wholly contrary" to the nature of God. "I remain to be convinced that a relationship founded on grace can be regulated this way," he said, adding that unity was a gift, given by Jesus Christ.

The Archbishop condemned the "polarization" that has characterized disagreements over human sexuality, and called for all Anglicans to "grapple together" with diversity, upholding church tradition and virtues of trust, tolerance and charity. He added that it is his "fervent prayer and hope that the Church will find an amicable solution regarding the pastoral needs of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers."

Ndungane said that the advice of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa -- which he describes as one of the most diverse churches in the world -- that had faced theological turmoil in the 19th century and the divisiveness of the apartheid era, was that splits "solve very little." Rather, he and his bishops remained unanimously convinced that what united the Anglican Communion far outweighed what divided it, and so urged the Church "to choose to remain united."

The full text of Ndungane's sermon

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In The News

Our local newspaper, the "Independent Press" gave our October 7th "St. Francis Day Blessing of the Animals" quite a bit of coverage.

We got smart about three years ago and started holding the service at 5 PM Sunday evening in the Garden instead of in the church at the 10 AM Service. Everybody is so much happier - pets, kids and parents.

The stole is part of The Season of Creation vestments and banners. It's a beautiful set which tells the story of creation in banners, and depicts the aspects of creation that are particular to new Jersey. The story of St. Francis and the Wolf also graces our pulpit and lectern. I'll try to take some pictures and post them here before Creation Season ends on the Feast of Christ the King (it begins, appropriately enough, on the Feast of St. Francis).

If you go to our
web page you'll be able to see the picture and text in its standard size.

The man holding the picture in that top photo is Bob Hyde, who had lost his Cocker Spaniel, Brandy, just three days earlier. Brandy had been just a puppy when his wife, Millie, died, so this loss touched places of deep grief. The Blessing of that picture of Brandy has been an important part of Bob's grieving process.

Oh yes, and BTW, that is "our" Lenny and CoCo. Cute, right?

The (Other) Kiss

Okay - I'm putting out an APB - All Points Bulletin - for a picture of "The Kiss" between Mrs. Bird and me.

There's a rumor circulating that one may not exist - something about weak batteries in the flash. Someone else said we moved too fast.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Look, this was an historical moment. Better than Madonna and Brittany on MTV. Swear. I've got YouTube and TMZ on the line, willing to pay BIG BUCKS for a copy.

I mean, we could use the money to fund our next meeting at our 'mother church' - St. Francis in Newcastle upon Tyne - in June of next year.

Why June, 2008? Well, that's Lambeth, of course! Yes, dear hearts, there will always be an England and, despite what "Akinola and the Alphabet Soup Gang" are proposing, there will always be a Lambeth - well, at least once every decade.

The presence of North American Convocation of the Most Holy Order of OCICBW would make a fabulous addition to the Lambeth Conference, don't you think? All that creative, mad energy in one place is bound to lighten the atmosphere and help those poor, benighted purple-shirted clerics get their minds out of our bedrooms and help to lower the "ick-factor".

Gosh, with that out of the way, they might actually get some theological thinking done. Whaddya think?

Or, we could use the money to feed a small, struggling country for a year. Whichever we felt a more appropriate use of funds gained in this manner.

So, c'mon. Give it up

Besides, you don't want that picture to fall into the hands of Maddy. You know his addiction to PhotoShop. It brings out the worst in him.

Just look at what he did to this lovely picture of the even more lovely "Reverend Boy" holding court! He's impossible!

And, you know The Bullies would love to parade that around to throw a few more stones at me (As some of us discussed last night, I do hold the all time record for stoning. Blessings on the one who said that the children's rhyme, "Sticks and stones my break my bones but names will never hurt me," was written just for me.)

If there is a copy (and Fr. Jake suspects there is not, citing what he calls 'divine intervention' but I know for certain that Bette Midler was NOT anywhere in sight) please mail it to me posthaste.

My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, Blessed Ms. Conroy thanks you . . . .

Grand Tufti of OCICBW named Visiting Scholar

Word has been received that Jonathan MadPriest, Grand Tufti of the Most Holy Order of OCICBW, has been appointed 'Visiting Scholar' at General Theological Seminary in NYC.

Long considered the world's ranking scholar on the origins and practice of ribald, outrageous, racy Christian humor, MadPriest has a special concentration in rapier wit. He is also widely known to have the most eclectic taste in music of anyone on the planet.

When contacted by ENS, MadPriest was quoted as saying, "This is a distinctive honour, but I will have to turn it down. Alas, I have a wretched fear of flying."

Novelist Erica Jong was dispatched straightaway to St. Francis Anglican Church in New Castle upon Tyne, where MadPriest is Vicar to persuade him to take the position as a "Long Distance Visiting Scholar." Negotiations are underway to have all courses taught via the Internet.

When contacted, a life-professed member of the Most Holy and Sacred Order of OCICBW, expressed her distress at the news. Sr. June Wounded Bird, OCICBW, said in a most charming Southern lilt, "Oh, this is an honor for the Order, to be sure, but simply terrible for Western Christianity. I mean, do you understand that he will be impacting an entire generation of Episcopal Priests?"

"Oh, he's witty, alright," she continued, "but, the man has no moral fiber - not one shred in his entire body. Not only has he quoted me out of context, he has often reprinted long passages of private conversation without my permission! This is scurrilous!" she said, "Simply scurrilous!"

A man named Brother RevBoy, who described himself as a novice in the order, shook his head sadly and said, "Listen, the man's brilliant. The Anglican Church of England has had him for many years. The Episcopal Church desperately needs him here. Now."

MadPriest commented, "OCICBW will have, I trust, a positive impact on The Episcopal Church, even from long distance and especially at this venerable seminary. It is a thoroughly Anglican order which practices the spiritual discipline of Gracious Anglican Accommodation. The American Evangelicals in TEC desperately need to gain an appreciation of this discipline."

Taking a long drag from his cigarette, MadPriest concluded, "The name of the order contains the thing that is most anathema to many in TEC. Unfortunately, the Modern Anglican Evangelical Orthodox Conservative NEVER admits to even the possibility of being wrong. We'll learn 'em."

Classes are due to begin in the JanTerm.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Kissed A Girl

The North American Convocation of the Most Holy Order of OCICBW meet in NYC this evening.

It probably might have been predicted: A group of people whose only commonality is their love of a British priest they've never met who is, nonetheless, obviously quite mad, gathered together in the City known as "The Big Apple."

And, I kissed a girl.

Ah, but not just any girl. I kissed Grandmere Mimi. AKA
"Wounded Bird". AKA Ms. June of the House of the Louisiana Belles.

While the NYC paparazzi flashed their cameras to capture the moment, Ms. June exclaimed, her voice dripping with the tones of a true Southern woman in distress, "Oh, dear! I do believe you have made me a lesbian!"

To which I responded, "Well, if that's true, then I do believe you have made me straight!"

And, a PERFECTLY GRAND TIME was had by all (despite the fact that I had spent 40 harried minutes trapped in the Lincoln Tunnel en route and missed Evening Prayer and the Ritual Libations which normally precede it in any traditional Anglican/Episcopal community of faith, but had a FABULOUS dinner of Mussels Provencal and Grand Marnier Crepes en flambe for dessert.)

Thanks to Paul for bringing the flask of Bookers which helped to steady my nerves until the waitress could bring the Pinot Grigo.

I understand pictures of "The Kiss" will be forthcoming. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(Thanks to Doug for this picture.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8
XXI Pentecost October 21, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I want to admit something right up front. The parable of the Persistent Widow is not one of my favorites. Okay. It’s probably my least favorite parable.

I realized this at the precise moment that Charlie Foster, at the Bible Study which precedes our Vestry meeting, said, “Ah, this is the Parable of the Squeaky Wheel.”

At that exact moment, I also realized that Linda Coogan had said those same words two days before at the Bible Study which precedes our Staff meeting.

Yup. I don’t like this parable.

Why? Well, this is not my idea of prayer – that of persistently nagging until God relents and gives us that for which we have been pestering God. I don’t like the image of the person who prays as a nagging, petulant child or bitter, badgering old woman.

I also don’t like this image of God – the preoccupied, distant parent or capricious judge who must be hassled and harassed before surrendering to our pleas.

Having said that, however, I realize that this parable may be an important image of prayer for you, and that I might be unintentionally stepping all over your favorite parable. I apologize if this is so for you.

I don’t mean to diminish any image of prayer that works. I just think there are other, more powerful, less stereotypical images and more contemporary parables of prayer that speak to the struggles of what my friend Mariam calls, “getting into God’s vibe of prayer.”

We catch a glimpse of this in the Hebrew Scripture appointed for today. Jacob wrestling all night with the angel is one of my favorite stories about prayer.

Jacob – the son of Isaac and Rebekah, who was the son of Abraham and Sarah. He was the twin brother of Esau who stole his brother’s inheritance. He is the son of the man whose very name in Hebrew, Yitzhak, is the very sound of laughter.

I am told that the name 'Yitzhak' is a play on the story of God of who sent angels to tell Sarah, Jacob’s grandmother, that she was pregnant in her old age. And Sarah laughed –and had son she named Yitzhak, the sound of laughter to Hebrew ears.

And Jacob, whose father's name is this very sound of laughter, wrestled all night with an angel and woke in the morning to walk with a limp. Apparently, God does not like to be laughed at. Perhaps it was God who said, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”

The story of Jacob and the Parable of the Persistent Widow are both stories about faith. Indeed, we are told that Jesus tells this parable to the disciples “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” The parable ends with Jesus talking about the persistence of prayer as a manifestation of faith.

I recently came upon a modern parable which, I think, speaks powerfully to this. Indeed, I think if Jesus were here this morning, preaching to us about the persistence of prayer as a manifestation of faith, this is a parable he would use himself.

I read it first in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Small Wonder.” It is a true story. Kingsolver says that if you get on the internet, find a good search engine, and type in , “Kayhan, Iran, bear,” you will find this tiny remarkable note in the human archive. I’ll call it, “The Parable of the Lost Boy and The Lorestan She-Bear.”

Kingsolver begins the story with this opening sentence: “On a cool October day in the oak-forested hills of the Lorestan Province of Iran, a lost child was saved in an inconceivable way.”

She goes on to say that he was the 16 month old son of a young couple who had been cared for in the village by a young teen aged girl while they worked the wheat fields. The girl turned her back, or her head in the way everyone does when they are watching a group of children, and when she turned around again, the little boy was gone. Had disappeared. Vanished from plain sight.

Distraught, she ran to greet his parents as soon as she could free herself from her other charges. She had searched everywhere for him, but he was no where to be found. Frantic, his parents looked everywhere.

Soon, his they were joined by everyone in the village, calling out his name, turning over this box and that bed, expecting to hear him laugh and they would too and the game would be over – to no avail.

Other villagers soon went to bed for the night, but not the boy’s parents, who could not sleep as they anxiously awaited the dawn’s early light to begin the search for him again. Another day passed without any success.

Some of the villagers mentioned the possibility of a bear but were quickly hushed so that the mother would not hear. Surely, if a bear had come . . . .to finish the thought was unthinkable.

The boy’s father had heard and even though it was unimaginable to consider the possibilities, he knew he had to search out the caves in the hills where the bears lived. He convinced several of the men to light torches and join him in his search. It might have been the fifth cave or the hundredth cave.

No matter. Whenever the story would be told it would be this cave that was spoken of. This cave. The cave from which they heard the baby cry. The cave from which they also smelled the presence of a bear.

Even so, the men went in, torches lit, following the sound of the baby. And when they lifted their torches to the darkness, there he was, the boy – safe, sound, unscathed – sitting with the she-bear curled around him, protecting him from these fierce-smelling intruders.

As if that were not miracle enough, the story continues to report that the father handed his torch to a friend, looked that bear in the eye, and moved forward to pick up his son.

There are no reports that they killed the bear. Only that the father picked up his son, who was well and happy and smelled of milk. The she-bear had been nursing him. And, she did not attack the father or any of the men when they took the boy from her.

There are many ways to think about Kingsolver’s story. On one level, it can be easily dismissed as untrue. Just hysterical, embellished folk lore from a backward country. It could be explained scientifically – that the DNA we share as mammals led this lactating she-bear to care for a boy-cub who was crying for milk.

See? Nothing more than conditioned response. Or, it could be easily romanticized as the story of the unconquerable power of a mother’s love.

Kingsolver says this, “I believe in parables. . .This story of a bear who nursed a child is one to believe in. I believe that the things we dread most can sometimes save us. I am losing faith in such a simple thing as despising an enemy with unequivocal righteousness.

A mirror held up to every moral superiority will show its precise mirror image: The terrorist loves his truth as hard as I love mine; he has a mother who looks on her child with the same fierce pride I feel when I look at my own. Someone, somewhere, must wonder how I could love the boys who dropped the bombs that killed the humanitarian-aid workers in Kabul.

We are all beasts in this kingdom, we have killed and been killed, and some new time has come to us in which we are called out to find another way to divide the world. Good and evil cannot be all there is.”

I, too, believe that the things we dread most can sometimes save us. We live in a world that is, day by day, even as I speak, filling up with more dread than most of us can bear. War continues to rage in Afghanistan and Iraq and genocide persists in Darfur, despite my fervent daily prayers – despite our weekly commitment as a community to light a candle of prayer instead of cursing the darkness of war.

We love our little community – Mayberry USA, some of us like to call it – because it is clean and pretty and, God knows, well lit, and it makes us feel safe and secure. And yet, we know that it is not. Recent news events have shattered that illusion.

These are desperate times, my friends, and the words of William Blake have never been more true: “Desperate people in desperate times do desperate things.”

Despite our best efforts.

Despite all our outward and visible signs of our hard work and well earned affluence.

These desperate times have caused some of the more desperate among us to do desperate things. “We have met the enemy”, as Pogo says, “and it is us.”

And yet, I believe that our greatest dread may be our salvation. That’s the message of the story of the Jacob wrestling all night with the angel.

It is the deep meaning of “The Parable of the Lost Boy and The Lorestan She-Bear.” The father had to pass off his torch and look the she-bear in the eye to save his son. And the she-bear, for her part, had to look into the eyes of deep grief before she could recognize her own.

Wrestling and persistence, struggling and facing what we most dread. These are offered today as models of faith and prayer, pathways to salvation. Yet, the Parable of the Persistent Widow does offer us an important lesson:

If you persist in asking God anything, persist in asking these questions: What do I dread? Why does it cause my heart to quiver with trepidation? What is the name of the angel with whom I must wrestle all night? How will I be changed and transformed by that encounter?

And then, pray for the strength and courage to persist and persevere.

Jesus gives us these parables so that we would know about our need to pray always and not to lose heart. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?


Connecting Spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming All.

I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

A sermon for the Celebration of New Ministry
and the Institution of
The Rev’d Canon Robert Alan Schiesler, Ph.D.
as Pastor of The Episcopal Church of
St. Mark,Grand Rapids, MI
October 20, 2007
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, preacher

Joshua 1:7-9 – Psalm 147:1-7 – Collossians 3:12-17, John 15:9-17

Please pray with me: (sung)

You've got to give a little, take a little,
and let your poor heart break a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

+In the name of the Triune God, who is Lover, who is Love, who is Beloved. Amen.

I’m going to start by abusing the privilege of this pulpit once more in order to make a few personal remarks. I simply must begin by saying what a real delight it is to be here with you for this wonderful celebration of your new ministry together with Bob Schiesler and his amazing life partner and spouse, Mary Novello. I trust you understand that they are simply on loan to you from the Diocese of Newark. We do expect them to return one day.

I will rush to allay your anxiety and say that we know, in all probability, they won’t. Bob and Mary will make their home here with you. They will love you and you will love them and your love will grow deeper year by year and, before you know it, you’ll look up and say, “My, where has the time gone?”

I know this is true for me at my little church, The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, NJ. I’ll mark my sixth year with them in March and in some ways, it feels as if I’ve just gotten there; and in others, I wake up in the morning asking, “Haven’t we always known and loved each other?”

No matter what the previous day has held, no matter how difficult the deliberations of the previous evening’s meeting, I always wake up and say, “Thank you, God, for calling us together in this incredible gift of the mission and ministry of our Baptismal Covenant.”

That’s the way love is. That’s the kind of love Jesus was talking about in the words from the 15th Chapter of the Gospel of John which we just heard. He said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

It’s the kind of love you’ll need if you are going to live into the challenge of your mission statement: “Connecting Spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming All.”

You know, I must have looked at that mission statement three or four times before it really hit me. It’s such a simple statement that the challenge of your mission can be deceiving. You have set a very high standard for yourselves, you know: Connecting spirits. Engaging Minds. Welcoming all.

You may think you are Madison Avenue slick but this is a profoundly counter-cultural statement! Everything in our world, our society, our cultural reality mitigates against these three value statements.

Connecting Spirits? The “Age of Terrorism” has made isolationists of us all. We live our daily lives with a hermeneutic of suspicion. We have been reduced to measuring the human potential to do harm to whether or not a person carries more than three ounces of liquid in their suitcase. We are all for “freedom and justice for all” unless, of course that comes to our neighborhood. Then, the NIMBY effect begins to kick in – Not In My Back Yard. Connecting spirits, indeed.

Engaging Minds? Well, I think the relentlessly swift nature of the ‘Information Age’ ironically does not engage our minds. I think some of us have taken a wrong turn on the Information Superhighway and ‘googled’ ourselves into incomprehension.

For many of us, news reports have been reduced to what can fit into the ‘scrawl’ at the bottom of our television sets, as we ‘multi-task’ and listen to the newscaster speak in a serious of ‘sexy sound bites’. We seem not to have time for anything more.

Tell the truth: When was the last time you read an entire in-depth report on any subject which covered a two or three page spread in the New York Times (as if that were the gold standard for information)?

Furthermore, I believe that the profligation of the use of labels held in polar opposite tension – Democrat and Republican, Conservative and Liberal, Feminist and Traditionalist, Sunni and Shiite, Muslim and Jew, Christian and Secular Humanist – has the effect of disengaging our minds.

It not only allows us to automatically file people by title and dismiss them, it also has the effect of disengaging our minds, allowing us to really believe that there are irreconcilable differences between, say, Anglicans and Episcopalians.

Welcoming All? Well, okay, but here’s my question: What do you do after you’ve said, “Hello?” Sure, we’re pretty good as a denomination about welcoming all, but for many of us, it stops right there. Welcome. Come in. Make yourself to home. Here, fill out a pledge card. What’s that? How do you run for Vestry? Oh, look! There’s Fr. Bob! Why not ask him?

What’s that? You’d like to have your relationship with your partner blessed? Oh yes, of course, we know you’ve been members here for 10 years. Yes, of course, you are a great couple, and we really appreciate your pledge. And you know it’s not me or us, for goodness sake, but well, your manner of life is a challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion. Of course you’re welcome HERE, but you just have to be patient until the rest of the world catches up.

Aren’t you glad that Mary said ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation before we developed a Doctrine of the Incarnation? See what I mean? You’re mission statement, if you are going to live into it, presents an enormous challenge. You’re going to upset people. In fact, if you do it right, you may just upset the neighborhood. Perhaps even the church. No doubt, the bishop – which, of course, will present a challenge to the entire Anglican Communion!

If you are doing the work of Jesus, you’ll be upsetting absolutely everyone! Because, if your work has its genesis and impulse and inspiration in the Gospel, your work will, in fact, be about this ‘crazy little thing called love’ – and THAT, dear friends is sadly, profoundly counter-cultural.

I began this sermon with a popular secular song and used it as my prayer. Bob can tell you that I often do that – because music often sums up in short order what mere words can often labor over for hours. Here’s the next verse to that great song about “The story of Love":
You've got to laugh a little, cry a little,
until the clouds roll by a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

Your mission statement will only find success if you keep these sacred words from the lips of Jesus at the heart of your work: “ . . .abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love . . .” And, what are the commandments Jesus gave us? “This,” he says, “is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

That is your barometer. That is your gauge. When you look to evaluate yourselves on how you are living out your mission statement to connect spirits, engage minds and welcome all, as yourself one thing: Are we keeping the commandment of Jesus? Are we loving one another the way Jesus loved us?

It won’t be easy. If it were, anyone could do it. And, while I haven’t known you for more than an hour or so, it’s easy to see that the members of The Episcopal Church of St. Mark in Grand Rapids, Michigan are clearly not just anybody. You are God’s chosen. Jesus tells you that in today’s gospel.

Listen again as he says, “You did not choose me but I choose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

You have not chosen Bob and he has not chosen you. You have been chosen together by God to do a mighty work together in the Name of Jesus that simply can not be done any other way. What is that work, specifically? God knows. I’m quite sure I don’t know. And, neither do you. Yet. But, you know how to get to that place where you can see the vision God is calling you to bring into reality.

You do? Yes, you do. And I want to hear you say it for me. You’ve got to connect – what? Spirits! Yes, and engage what? Minds! Right And welcome who? All! Absolutely everybody!

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “All! All! All!”. Tutu quoted the words of Jesus who said, “And I, when I am lifted up, will bring all to me.” Then he added, “All. All. All. The beautiful, the not so beautiful. The smart, the not so smart. The so-called straight and lesbian and gay people. All. All. All.”

See? Easy. And, not so much. You’ll do well to listen to the prophetic call of Joshua who said: “only be strong and very courageous . . .do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

You’d also do well to listen to the pastoral instructions St. Paul first gave to the ancient church in Colossae: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other . . . .above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And, (and this is my favorite part), be thankful.” Fear of the Lord may be the beginning of wisdom, as the Psalmist says, but a truly thankful heart is the source of endless joy.

You see, it has to start in community. Build a strong community of love, and you can accomplish any mission. Indeed, this is why, in the presence of the bishop, one of the first things you did as this service began was to ‘commit (your) selves to each other in the common mission of our Baptismal covenant. Sort of reminds me of the bridge in that song:
As long as there's the two of us,
we've got the world and all it's charms.
And when the world is through with us,
we've got each other's arms.

Bob and Mary and the good people of St. Mark’s, you have chosen a very high calling in this vocation of a new ministry. You have much to celebrate and rejoice this day, for what lies ahead of you is a future which shines bright with the light of Christ. You have the good leadership of a strong bishop, a good rector and pastor, the committed leadership of your Wardens and Vestry, and a vibrant community of faith. Bishop, I hope you’ve got your running shoes on, because this place is getting ready to fly!

Jesus has instilled this love for each other in your hearts, so that you may know joy. Indeed, he says just that. Listen again, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Yes, there are difficult days ahead. Yes, your mission statement is a great challenge. Jesus has given you these things so that his joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. If you are to know the deep joy first known by the disciples, you’ll keep the words of Holy Scriptures which we have heard today in your hearts. I trust you’ll also keep the words of this little song in your hearts. Think of it as your mission theme song – your vocational charge as you set off to do this amazing work of mission together: Indeed, I think many of you know it, so why not sing it with me?

You've got to win a little, lose a little,
and always have the blues a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.

Somebody in the church give me an ‘Amen.” Amen. And again I say, Amen.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

He's WHAT?

I've been in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so I've been a bit out of the loop, but I understand J.K. Rowling, author of the insanely popular Harry Potter series, was at Carnegie Hall last night.

She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds "true love."

"Dumbledore is gay," the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."

"Oh, my god," Rowling concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction."

Potter readers on fan sites and elsewhere on the Internet have speculated on the sexuality of Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past. And explicit scenes with Dumbledore already have appeared in fan fiction.

Are you surprised?

Me, too.

Actually, I knew someone in that crowd was gay (Statistically, it had to happen. Add to the fact that the author is (was?) CofE and, well, some things are just as obvious as the Iberian nose in the middle of my face.), I just wasn't sure which one. I thought it could be Ron. I wasn't so sure he like Hermione as much as he really wanted to BE Hermione.

When I think about it for more than one red hot second, it makes sense that Professor Dumbledore is the one. He's as close to a priest archetype as you're going to get.

Here's hoping he'll still find true love!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Sorry, but I don't really give two figs if I am breaking any rules in reprinting this essay here.

You just gotta read this by Garrison Keillor who, in my not so humble opinion, is the best preacher in any church anywhere. I always listen to him on Saturday nights.

His essay reminds me of when Ms. Conroy was working the front lines of the AIDS Crisis in Baltimore. It was 1987. The AIDS Epidemic was just hitting Baltimore after beginning in 1981 in SanFran and Boston.

She would hie herself hence to a little Anglo-Catholic Parish we lovingly called "GASP" (Grace and St. Peter - but not necessarily the church referred to by Mr. Keillor) where our youngest daughter attended Elementary School and wore bloomers under her blue uniform and a starched white shirt with a Peter Pan Collar and learned Latin in the first grade and Greek in the second grade and kept them both in her studies through grade six.

She will tell you that it was the best damned education she ever received. She still speaks fondly of "Father Bullwinkle" (you know who you are and I understand that you occasionally visit here and still do not favor the ordination of women but you have always been lovely and gracious unto me) and continues to favor saying the Creed the way she was taught in mandatory Morning Prayer - from the 1928 BCP (Alas! But I know Fr. Bullwinkle would be so pleased).

This was also the church where porn star Tracy Lord was married to the son of Pat Moran, owner of a prominent Casting Company, devout member of the church and companion of fellow Baltimorians John Waters and Divine, but that's another story for another time.

(Oh, Fr. Bullwinkle, of your mercy and kindness, do tell the story about 'that wedding' and I promise to clean it up and make is suitable for the readership of this Blog).

Ms. Conroy would attend 8 AM Sunday Eucharist which was said from the 1928 Prayer Book - the words from which she had been baptized, confirmed and previously married. On any given Sunday 10 souls were in attendance. No Peace was passed. The church was notorious in not accepting the ordination of women. A shrine to "Bonnie Prince Charlie" was prominent even tucked away in the right rear corner of the Narthex.

I asked her why she did it. How she did it. Given the obvious theological conflicts.

She said, "Look, I lose about 3 - 4 people a week to this epidemic. These are people I know and love. I work hard to keep them alive and nothing I do seems to have any effect. I need a place, just one place, at the beginning of my week, where I know who God is and where God is and that there's some semblance of order and control in the universe. Please don't deny me this one hour of illusion. Some days, it's the only thing that keeps me going."

I never did. I never would. For her. Or, anybody.

But, Garrison Keillor says it so much better than I.


Sunday morning coming down

I'm an old, tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war, but here in an old brownstone church there is a moment of separation from all the griefs of this world.

By Garrison Keillor

Oct. 17, 2007 In Baltimore with friends Sunday morning, a splendid fall day under blue skies, we marched off to the nearest church and found ourselves in an old brownstone temple of 1852, wooden box pews, stained glass on all sides, old tiled floor, for a high Anglican-Catholic Mass, a troop of choristers in white, altar boys, bearded priests in medieval vestments, holy water and puffs of smoke and bells and chanting of scripture, precision bowing and genuflecting, all rather exotic for an old fundamentalist like me but deeply moving, and it made me think about my father, whose birthday was Oct. 12, and brought me to tears.

It was formal high Mass, none of that "hi and how are we all doing this morning" chumminess, and the homily only summarized the scripture texts about healing, it didn't turn into an essay on healthcare. Ten voices strong and true in the choir and positioned as they were under the great arch of the chancel, their tender polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria infused the whole building with pure kindness.

The singing was O my God just heartbreakingly good. There were less than 30 of us in the pews, fewer than the names on the prayer list, and to hear "Behold, how good and joyful it is; brethren, to dwell together in unity" sung so eloquently as the priests swung to their tasks was to be present in a moment of extravagant grace that does not depend on numbers or any other measure of success for its meaning, just as the Grand Canyon does not depend on busloads of tourists to be magnificent. Most of our brethren, bless them, are off enjoying brunch or reading the funnies or lifting weights at the gym, and our faithfulness does not make us better people. We simply happened to walk by and see this vast canyon of God's love and stand looking into it.

Faithfulness was a guiding principle in Dad's life. He was the fifth of eight children of a farmer and a schoolteacher on a little farm on Trott Brook in Minnesota. Dad worked with his hands, tending his garden, fixing his cars, cutting and joining wood. He was faithful to his family, to the Ford Motor Co., and also to his separatist theology and visions of millennial splendor. If you are true to Christ and separate yourself from this world, you will be raised to glory in paradise. My father was faithful to this, even as his little band of believers dwindled, diminished by schism and by escaping children, and I was unfaithful.

I separated myself from the separatists with my eyes open. I wanted to live a big complicated life and not sit in a closet. I do not repent of that, though I have plenty else to repent of and am sorry that it came between Dad and me. There have been dozens of people who happened to sit next to me on airplanes over the years who knew more about me than my dad did. No more his fault than mine.

Now I'm an old, tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war that may go on for the rest of my life and in which more of our brethren will die miserably, both American and Iraqi. I'm sick of politics today, the cleverness and soullessness of it. I am still angry at Al Gore for wearing those stupid sweaters in 2000 and pretending he didn't know Bill Clinton, and I am angry at everyone who voted for Ralph Nader. I hope the next time they turn the key in the ignition their air bags blow up.

But here in an old brownstone church at an ancient ceremony, there is a moment of separation from all the griefs of this world. Ten men and women are singing a cappella, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name," and their voices drench us fugitive worshippers kneeling, naked, trembling, needy, in the knowledge of grace, and when we arise and go out into Baltimore, the blessing follows us.

It followed me as I ate a dozen oysters that afternoon and hung around the library and paid homage to H.L. Mencken's house on Union Square, that hearty old sinner who said, "Church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there." Thank you for your service to our language, Henry. Thank you for your life, Dad. And now onward to November and the first good snowfall and the first day of ice-skating.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.