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Saturday, June 07, 2008

One day, one life

There are no coincidences.

One aphorism has it that "Coincidence" is one of the names God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous. Another is "Serendipity." In the traditional language of the church, there is no such anonymity. We know God's name as "The Holy Spirit."

I've been thinking some Very Big Thoughts this past week.

Two of my parishioners are under the care of Hospice. Both have been told that they have 6 - 8 weeks to live. Family members are flying in from all over the map, to celebrate life, to share memories, to say their goodbyes.

I've been doing several Eucharists at home - small, intimate gatherings that are filled with paradox and emotion. In the midst of death, we celebrate life. Life is changed, not ended. It's the message at the heart of the Christian faith.

And yet, I grieve. I weep right along with the rest of the family. After six years of privileged service at St. Paul's, I have fallen in love with the people of my congregation. Oh, some of them drive me right round the bend. I suspect I do the same to them. Still, we love each other.

It's a great, wonderful, humbling mystery.

In the midst of this, I have been running the "Christmas in July" fundraising campaign to keep Bishop Gene safe at Lambeth. To date, it's been more successful than I could have asked for or imagined. We've picked up over $2,000 in the first five days.

I've also picked up some sharp criticism for doing this. Some of them are my dearest friends. The silence from others has been deafening. Their silence contains the same message as those who have been vocal:

"Why are you doing this, Elizabeth?" they ask. "How can I justify sending money to contribute to Gene's safety while there are people starving in the Sudan, there are on-going recovery efforts in China and Mynamar, and children who go to bed hungry every night in our own country? How can I justify the obscene amount of $70,000 for security for one person when perhaps he should stay home and contribute the money he would spend on security for himself to children who have been orphaned to AIDS in Africa?"

Yes, yes. I hear you. I struggled with many of the same questions before I decided to launch this campaign.

When you consider how much money will be spent, how much jet fuel will be used by bishops, primates and others traveling to Lambeth, how much paper will be used in the Market Place during the "fringe events", $70,000 seems fairly minuscule.

Someone suggested that perhaps Lambeth should be canceled and that money donated to the poor. Not a bad suggestion. However, that won't change a thing. Lambeth won't be canceled. Money will be spent, jet fuel will be consumed, an entire section of a forest will be sacrificed to the "education" of everyone on either side of the various issues that will present themselves at Lambeth.

After all is said and done, all the arguments, pro and con, made, all the people on either side of the fence satisfied that they have 'the truth', it comes down to these two questions: How much is the safety and security of one person worth? What is the value of one person's life?

I was thinking about all these things, deep in my heart, while I was planting flowers in the front yard of the rectory yesterday, my alleged day off. Well, that's the rumor, anyway. I got called out twice to tend to some pastoral situations and then gathered last night for our parish's "Movie Night."

As I tallied up the cost of potting soil, mulch, seeds and flowers, it hit me again. Would this money be better spent on Mynamar, China or Louisiana? Perhaps. I kept hearing the words from the proper preface for the Eucharistic prayers for a burial:

"Life is changed, not ended."

I also remembered a story once told by Robert Raines, the former director of Kirkridge Retreat Center, about a woman who, upon hearing that she was dying of cancer, took the money she would have spent on health care not covered by her insurance and planted daffodil bulbs on the one acre slope in the front of her house.

While she has long since left this earth, in the spring of every year, when people drive by her home, they are greeted with a riot of yellow daffodils, all competing with each other to shout "Alleluia" to the resurrection.

Robert Raines called her "A Plotter of the Resurrection." His sermon encouraged us to all to hear the words Jesus spoke to his disciples when Judas criticized the woman for anointing him with expensive oil: "The poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me." (Jn 12:8)

And, that's when I made my decision.

It's been three and a half years since my daughter Jaime died. Some of my very dear Roman Catholic friends contributed money with a note that said, "Please use this for a Mass for the repose of her soul, or in whatever way you wish. "

Well, I knew I wouldn't spend it on a Mass. While I understand the sentiment (as an Anglo-Catholic, I really do), there is enough of a 'reformed Catholic' in my soul to have that smack just a wee bit too much of the old 'plenary indulgences' which were one of the issues of the Reformation. I suspect some of my friends knew this.

There is a rather large recess in the front yard of the rectory from where a tree once stood. It had fallen a decade or so ago during one of the storms. It has always annoyed me - a blemish on a not-so perfect-anyway lawn that served only to emphasize its imperfection.

Before my brain had thoroughly engaged, my body already knew what to do. I got up from kneeling at the flower bed and, feet and hands still dirty, and made my way over to the car to head back to "The Farm" where I had purchased the flowers.

Before I knew it, I was talking with one of the young men about trees. I told him all about my daughter and how I believe that "life is changed, not ended" and that I wanted to put that belief into action.

He asked me what was her favorite time of year. That was easy. Christmas. "Ah," he said, "then I have just the tree for you."

We chose a white spruce - perfect for the front yard and perfect to decorate with lights at Christmas. "The cones will also provide a feast for the squirrels," he assured me.

Within half and hour, two men, Lucho and Manuelo, arrived to plant the tree. Lucho was a man in his twenties. Manuelo was probably in his early 50's. I watched as Lucho respectfully did most of the 'heavy lifting'. The whole procedure took less than 20 minutes, but it was a most amazing time.

Both men treated that tree as if it were an infant they were putting to bed. They were gentle, respectful, almost reverent and prayerful as they placed her in the hole they dug. They were very careful to position her 'just so' before they cut her loose from her burlap cradle, poured nutrients around her roots, finishing off the job with enriched potting soil and mulch.

Then they soaked her with water and asked that I soak her every day for the next two days, then every other day for the rest of the summer. They might as well have been giving me instructions on how to properly feed a newborn. They obviously took great pride in their work, but somehow also communicated a love of the earth and that tree which they carried with them from their Peruvian ancestors.

The tree cost $130. It cost another $130 to have it planted. I tipped each man $10. Would that money have been better spent educating children in Belize or making sure children in Newark don't go to bed hungry?

I have no doubt.

Neither do I have an iota of guilt or shame.

The psalmist reminds us that

"One day tells its tale to another*
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language*
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands*
and their message to the ends of the world."

I believe one life also tells its tale to another. It is, therefore, important to witness, to be present. It is important to honor and respect. It is important to remember. These are things beyond price or cost.

Maslow was right - there is a hierarchy of human need. But, Jesus, thousands of years before, was way ahead of him:

There is no hierarchy of Christian generosity. We are, at our best, "Plotters of the Resurrection."

I believe in the incarnation. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in the Holy Spirit - who sometimes comes to us as 'Coincidence' or 'Serendipity' - to guide us to all truth in believing.

I do what I do in memory of all those who have lost their lives to senseless human violence, born of ignorance and prejudice.

I did what I did in memory of her.

15 comments:

Bill said...

I've always taken great joy in planting trees. The thought that long after I'm gone a tree that I've put in the ground may live for another fifty or a hundred years, just makes me smile. I've always been amazed to re-visit a tree to find it towering over me. Yes, I know that they grow but it still doesn't take away from the awe of seeing something fifty or sixty in the air that I carried home in the front seat of my car.

I think it has something to do with being one with the creator; being part of his work in some small way. And I've never regretted for one minute the cost of planting a tree.

Suzer said...

Amen, Elizabeth+!

You probably have no idea how often I feel blessed by your offerings here.

My partner and I have a little gift we set aside to send to you, but it isn't quite finished yet. But we'll send it along at some point. Just a small token for what you've given us, in this virtual-yet-real world of blogging.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Suzer. Tokens of any size gladly accepted.

Bill, I think you're right about our co-creator status with God. I'm just relieved that the pollen count is down so I can work outside again.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Elizabeth, here is the way I see it, in my blunt rural NE Missouri practical way...

It is not "your fault" that you create choices for how other people spend their money. When people give you the "why don't you spend your effort on...(fill in the blank) instead of (fill in the blank)" it means you have unwittingly uncovered an uncomfortable spot in someone else's mind, not yours.

Much of what needs to be done with the "big issues"--hunger, poverty, AIDS--are things that, short of taking time to volunteer, just feel like you're throwing money at it. Some charity, my friend, you have to feel in your own bones.

What you are doing is you are simply taking care of someone that you see as part of your extended family on many levels, particularly as someone who parallels with you in the "open same sex relationship" crowd, the "clergy" crowd, the "Episcopalian" crowd, and I'm sure there are more. You are doing a part to protect one of "your posse" as he goes out to be a presence and a testimony to YOUR life, not just his. We all stand up at one time or another to "protect our peeps."

There's a simple answer to those who feel the money would be better spent elsewhere--don't donate. But it has been my experience that people who won't give, and argue that what you are doing is better spent elsewhere usually have an un-tended issue of their own.

So don't let this bug you. You are doing exactly what you need to be doing, and what your bones tell you that you must do. If you didn't, you'd feel a far bigger ache than the one you are feeling at the moment.

Jeffrey said...

Amen to all of the above.

Mother Keaton, your words are rich and obviously from God - yes the one we call "The Holy Spirit".
For those uncomfortable with giving money to make Bishop Gene secure while he doesn't preach or say the Holy Eucharist in "forbidden" churches in jolly old England, please don't give to the fund.
If your point is because of something noble, such as supporting those with AIDS or the poor, then PLEASE give to one of our many charities that will support those worthy causes. (Maybe give it in honor of Bishop Gene.

If your point is that you don't think Bishop Gene should go, think on this:
For 3 decades LGBT persons have been talked about at these international gatherings, without the privilege or right to be one of the speakers. Finally GOD CHOSE a very worthy and wonderful man - Bishop Gene - to be one of his anointed, and a speaker for all Christians, but especially for the LGBT Christians too often spoke of, but not to or with.

++Williams is not doing our LORDS work when he disengages, and does not invite a legitimate bishop of the church. Helping + Gene go to England and be secure is a legitimate and honorable way to spend money, as he is doing nothing less that helping a few of God's chosen feel a part of the Church, and hopefully teaching his co-prelates what the love of Christ really means.

FranIAm said...

What a beautiful post - it had me weeping. Thank you for all that this post contains.

As for the money - as resident RC forgive my momentary Aquinas-ing here as I say that I think the money is neutral if you will... It is what is done with it.

Some give to +Gene, some not, some to have "masses said", some to Darfur, some to the lady on the corner, some to a family member in need, I could go on and on.

If whatever is done, is done from the heart, then that is what matters. We are many members one body as we know. As a result, how we make manifest the light of Christ is what has meaning.

Which is exactly how I read and understand your words here today.

Peace to you dear sister and friend. Your wisdom and presence are rich gifts indeed.

And I so love that tree.

David said...

Elizabeth wrote
"How can I justify sending money to contribute to Gene's safety while there are people starving in the Sudan, there are on-going recovery efforts in China and Mynamar, and children who go to bed hungry every night in our own country?'

Elizabeth, you and I both know that money's not just about Gene.

Somewhere along his life path Christ not only called dear Gene to be his priest & his bishop, but through a series of events which still awe me, Gene became not only an instrument of mighty blessing and outreach to people like myself though a minsitry which has taken him more places than he ever imagined.

Of course we all know the outcome in too many quarters of our blessed Communion, but even this isn't really about Gene either.

With his radiant faith and love for our Church as the peopl of Christ, Gene has become the point man, the idea or icon of the tremendous renewal and reformation I truly believe Christ is calling us to.

Security for Gene and Mark isn't even about Gene and Mark; it's about trying to assure that those who are frightened of their own humanity or by the unconditional love our Savior embodies, don't have a chance to act on their violent fear.

As to the dear brother and sisters who might be giving you flack over this initiative- do you want to even consider the state of our Church should these bullies of the patriarchy manage to have their way due to out niave sloppiness?

Sorry folks, the history of threats is long enough, and has been specific enough that we would be taking a truly reckless gamble with two precious brothers' lives.

This is not just about two brothers- it's also about the great wave of optimism, energy, love and hope which has been released amoung our LGBTA brothers and sisters of faith subsequent to Gene heeding Christ's call to the episcopacy.

It's also, I believe about the wondrous change our Church has been given to break the mold of 2,000 years of dualistic mysogengy, homophobia, racism, materialism and objectification of difference.

One word: TRANSFORMATION is what this is all about. And to expect Gene and Mark to go where none of us have ever trod, to assume the weight of that mantle, to embody the love, the hope, the grace and energy of renewal, without the proper care would be obscene.

hugs all

David@Montreal

VTcrone said...

Elizabeth-My check for Bishop Gene will go out in Monday's mail. (I want to avoid the PayPal bite.)
It won't be as big as it might have been because I have been making donations to groups helping in Burma and China. I've also made some small donations to the Obama campaign over the past few months, for what I consider worthwhile reasons, and helping to keep Bishop Gene safe is something I also consider worthwhile.
Therefore I am making my donation in honor and memory of one of my ancestors, The Right Rev. Samuel Seabury, who was the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church.
Bishop Seabury was consecrated by the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1784 because they did not require that he take an oath of allegiance to the King. I'm certain that he would approve of my actions.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yeah, okay, this fundraising thing has been really pressing on my mind and heart. I'm a former RC, and you know the old saying: Jews are born guilty; Roman Catholics are very carefully taught.

It's hard to shake, but I really think I'm on the other side of it. Which is why I wrote.

So, do not fret or be otherwise concerned. Planting that tree yesterday was the best thing I've done for my soul in a long time.

I planted some purple pansies all around the perimeter of the white spruce. Looks fabulous.

David said...

if anyone of your parishoners ( those of you blessed to be priests) were in danger from a violent husband or a deranged co-worker
would you and your parishoners not do everything within your power to get them to safety

if any of your chilldren or grandchildren were being bullied or treated unfairly
would you not intervene

if one of your neighbors were behaving anti-socially and trashing the neighborhood
would you not clean up the mess and try to get medical or psycho-social support for them

if some stray dog does his business in the hard-won glory of your garden
would you not simply clean up the mess and continue weeding.

as I've said elsewhere, essentially this is not about Bishop Robinson and his spouse
this is about violence and threats
this is about bullying and a denial the seal of our baptismal covenant

this is about anti-social behavior
and other people's s**t

the fact that any of this could be justified by some on the grounds of faith is an obscene affront to both God and humanity

and I can't help but wonder if some of the 'concern' over the 'issue' of +Gene
going to Lambeth inspite of the threats might not be a vestage of personal closets- both straight and gay.

the botom line is in any other situation, for almost anyone else
any one of us would intervene,
with God's unfailing grace we'd at least try for the necessary and the possible
so what's different here
except that these are our brothers in Christ
who collectively continue to witness and embody the limitless, unconditional love of God through Christ Jesus through their lives and ministries

in a world more ready to make war than to recognize that Divine spark and work of grace in each of us
we people of faith are making an issue of safety and equating it with dollars,
i think the theological term for this is 'scruples'
when the threats have been documented
when 'civil authorities' of necessity have even become involved on countless occasions
how can we people of faith
those for whom the ultimate price has been already been paid quibble over something like this?

David@Montreal

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Call me "guilt by osmosis"--my best friends growing up were RC and my historical best professional colleague is Jewish. Throw in a dash of "my uncle was killed in an accident at age 11, when I was 8 months old", growing up in a family tainted with sadness over the loss of a child, and you've got a helluva cocktail for those moments of guilt.

But we all find a way "home" somehow, don't we? Funny how little things like purple pansies or the night sky in my yard in the country can fix all that, isn't it?

susankay said...

Elizabeth -- I think generosity is pleasing to God. Passionate giving is a great good. It is not necessary to parse degrees of that goodness.

There was a period of giving only to the "worthy poor" which completely missed the fact that mere humans were doing the determination of "worthiness". Always a bad idea.

I bet your daughter loves her tree. I bet God does too.

Jim said...

I recall being asked, when we left Luther-land and came here, if I was done feeling guilty. The priest who asked said that he thought of guilt as a Lutheran pastime.

FWIW
jimB

Jeffri Harre said...

Dearest Elizabeth,

This is a wonderful post about living in the world we have been given.

Critics abound, and even Jesus had to contend with Judas when Mary annointed him with expensive perfume.

Peace & Hugs,
Jeffri

Son of Mosiah said...

Your tree story made me weep. What a wonderful experience for you. Thank you for sharing it with us.