Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story of recovery and awareness -- of how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

This 18 minute, 44 second video of Dr. Taylor's presentation will, as the saying goes, blow your mind. It was recorded February 2008 in Monterey, California and produced by "TED: Ideas worth spreading."

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. I don't know much about this organization, but it says this about itself:

"TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader."

"Today, TED is therefore best thought of as a global community. It's a community welcoming people from every discipline and culture who have just two things in common: they seek a deeper understanding of the world, and they hope to turn that understanding into a better future for us all."

Well, I must say, I found this a wonderful investment of 18 minutes and 44 seconds. Go, learn something about your brain, this remarkable woman, and the insights she has gained from this experience which, I think, will benefit our world, indeed, our planet. It's positively inspiring.

My deep gratitude for my dear friend, Marcia, who sent me to this site.

After Obama's Speech: Who Are We?

Picture Credit: G. Paul Burnett
for The New York Times
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.
Phillip Handy and Dana Sacks, mixed-race students.
Mr. Handy said Senator Barack Obama, by giving equal weight to both parents, was not “bailing out on any of us.”

Who Are We? New Dialogue on Mixed Race

NY Times: Published: March 31, 2008

Jenifer Bratter once wore a T-shirt in college that read “100 percent black woman.” Her African-American friends would not have it.

“I remember getting a lot of flak because of the fact I wasn’t 100 percent black,” said Ms. Bratter, 34, recalling her years at Penn State.

“I was very hurt by that,” said Ms. Bratter, whose mother is black and whose father is white. “I remember feeling like, Isn’t this what everybody expects me to think?”

Being accepted. Proving loyalty. Navigating the tight space between racial divides. Americans of mixed race say these are issues they have long confronted, and when Senator Barack Obama recently delivered a speech about race in Philadelphia, it rang with a special significance in their ears. They saw parallels between the path trod by Mr. Obama and their own.

They recalled the friends, as in Ms. Bratter’s case, who thought they were not black enough. Or the people who challenged them to label themselves by innocently asking, “What are you?” Or the relatives of different races who can sometimes be insensitive to one another.

“I think Barack Obama is going to bring these deeply American stories to the forefront,” said Esther John, 56, an administrator at Northwest Indian College in Washington, who identifies herself as African-American, American Indian and white.

“Maybe we’ll get a little bit further in the dialogue on race,” Ms. John said. “The guilt factor may be lowered a little bit because Obama made it right to be white and still love your black relatives, and to be black and still love your white relatives: to love despite another person’s racial appearance.”

Americans of mixed race say that questions about whether Mr. Obama, with a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, is “too black” or “not black enough,” as the candidate himself brought up in his speech on March 18, show the extent to which the nation is still fixated on old categories.

“There’s this notion that there’s an authentic race and you must fit it,” said Ms. Bratter, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University in Houston who researches interracial families. “We’re confronted with the lack of fit.”

The old categories are weakening, however, as immigration and the advancing age of marriage in the United States fuel a steady rise in the number of interracial marriages. The 2000 Census counted 3.1 million interracial couples, or about 6 percent of married couples. For the first time, the Census that year allowed respondents to identify themselves as being two or more races, a category that now includes 7.3 million Americans, or about 3 percent of the population.

Many people still stick to a one-race label, even if they are of mixed descent, researchers say, sometimes because of strong identification with one racial group, and occasionally because of a conscious effort not to dilute the numbers of the group they most identify with.

In interviews, people of mixed race said their decision about how to identify themselves was deeply personal, not political; it is influenced by how and where they were reared, how others perceive them, what they look like and how they themselves come to embrace their identity.

James McBride, 50, who described growing up in a Brooklyn housing project with his white mother in a memoir, “The Color of Water,” said that, like Mr. Obama, he identified himself primarily as a black man of mixed race. As a child whose father was black, he said: “I really wanted to be like all the other black kids. It was the larger group around me.” And through life, because of his brown skin, society has imposed its own label. “If cops see me, they see a black man sitting in a car,” he said.

But being proud to call himself African-American, Mr. McBride said, does not negate his connection to his “Jewish part,” his mother’s heritage. Asked which part of him was dominant, he said, “It’s like grabbing Jell-O.”

“But what difference does it make?” he added. “When you’re mixed, you see how absurd this business of race is.”

Mr. McBride and other mixed-race Americans said they took pride that Mr. Obama was presenting his biracial identity as an asset for the presidency. Even if he calls himself black, and has made a central element of his campaign biography the quest to claim that identity after his father left him, Mr. Obama is seen as giving equal weight in his story to his white mother and grandparents.

“He’s really having to play the field and know his audience really well,” said Phillip Handy, 21, a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., whose mother is white and father is black. “In the end, when I hear his message, I don’t think he’s bailing out on any of us.”

While many mixed-race people say they see their heritage as a plus, they also say they often face pressure from others who want to pigeonhole them. Mr. McBride said his books invariably were shelved in the African-American sections of bookstores. “Why can’t I be a white author?” he said. “I’m half white.”

Shafia Zaloom, 36, a teacher in San Francisco who is Asian and white, said she was often asked if her two children, who look like her white husband, were adopted. “Sometimes, when I’m at the playground, people think I’m the nanny,” she said.

Ms. Zaloom, who gets her looks from her Chinese mother, said she had been on the receiving end of insensitive racial remarks and gestures about Asians. But she fully identifies as mixed race.

“It’s really unfair to expect people to choose,” she said. “It’s like asking to be loyal to one parent or the other.”

Although still small, the mixed-race population is increasingly visible among the young. The 2000 Census found that 41 percent of the mixed-race population was under 18. Multiracial advocacy groups like the Mavin Foundation in Seattle say that mixed race people now find themselves better reflected in books, in college courses, in school brochures and in teacher’s training in public schools than they did in the past. Carmen Van Kerckhove, a diversity consultant who runs a blog on race and popular culture,, said she doubted that the uproar that greeted Tiger Woods when he described himself as “Cablinasian” (for heritage that includes Caucasian, black, American Indian and Asian) in 1997 would be as strong today.

“When you’re multiracial, you can be several things at the same time,” said Ms. Van Kerckhove, 30, who is white and Asian and has endorsed Mr. Obama on her blog for moving the race debate away from “who’s black and who’s white, or who’s a victim and who’s an oppressor.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Van Kerckhove added, suspicions persist about the motivation of people who identify themselves as mixed race. Many people, she said, wonder, “Are multiracial people trying to be multiracial as a way to escape racism?”

The mixed-race terrain is full of such bumps and tricky balances. But at least, many multiracial Americans say, they are no longer seen as oddities. Ms. Zaloom expects that her 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son will experience a different journey to self-identity than she did. At times while growing up, Ms. Zaloom recalled, she struggled with questions about whether she was white enough or attractive. She rebelled against Chinese language lessons, her mother’s Chinese food and eating with chopsticks.

But when her daughter was born, she named her Mei Lan, like her maternal grandmother, to honor her Chinese roots. Then she named her son Kyle in deference to her paternal Irish side. Her wish for her children, she said, is that they realize that the benefits of a mixed identity outweigh any challenges.

“Ultimately,” she said, the goal is “to not have to check a box.”

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Go on over immediately, forthwith and post haste to Fr. Jake's place and read all the personal testimonies about yesterday's convention in San Joaquin.

It's positively inspirational.

G'won. Go! Yes, right now!

It's the gospel story of Thomas writ large.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ta Da!

The Rev'd Michael Sniffen (on the left with his rector, the Rev'd Simon Foster).

One of he newest priest in Western Christendom.

Ordained today at St. John's, Lattington, Long Island, NY.

Can I just say, "Woo hoo!!!!!"?

Red Letter Calendar Day

Saturday, March 29th is a Very Big Day for at least two reasons.

The first is that I have the distinct honor of being one of those presenting Michael Sniffen to the sacred order of priests at 11 AM at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lattington, Long Island. It has been a difficult journey for Michael which has been painful for those of us who love him and believe in his vocation. The church says it want 'young vocations' and then they set up all these hoops for them to jump through because, well, "they need more seasoning." Sheesh! So, this is a most joyous occasion. And, his preacher is really, really good. Another young vocation who was my seminarian. I can't hardly sit still for all the excitement.

The second reason March 29th is a Red Letter Day on the calendar is that the Diocese of San Joaquin will be holding its reorganizational convention. You can read the ENS report below. You can also get the 'inside scoop' over at Fr. Jake's place.

Please keep both these important events in your prayers.

San Joaquin diocese prepares for its future
Reorganization effort to continue by 'taking care of people'

By Mary Frances Schjonberg March 28, 2008

[Episcopal News Service] Members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin are gathering in Stockton, California, March 28 to take two major steps in reorganizing the diocese.

The first step will be a "service for healing and forgiveness" at the Episcopal Church of St. Anne in Stockton, the temporary home of the diocese. House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson will preside at the service and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will lead the litany for healing. The Presiding Bishop and a number of other clergy will be available to anoint people during the service.

Prior to the service, St. Anne's will host a reception for Jefferts Schori and Anderson. After the service, the Presiding Bishop will engage members of the diocese in a question-and-answer session at the church.

The Rev. Mark Hall, St. Anne's rector and acting diocesan administrator, told ENS that interest in the healing service is keen. Based on registrations, he estimates about 350 people will attend -- a number that will stretch the seating capacity of St. Anne's.

"We have people we haven't heard from in years calling and saying they want to be part of it," he said.

Hall said that while there is a "lot of joy" in the diocese at the moment and some people may be feeling "somewhat vindicated," the healing service is important.

"This is not about being triumphant," he said. "This is about being the church and taking care of people."

Special convention set to convene
The second reorganizing step will come the following day, March 29, at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Lodi when the diocese gathers for a special one-day convention.

“As the faithful people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin gather this weekend, it marks a sign of hope for the future," the Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop, told ENS. "As specified in Canon III.13.1, the Presiding Bishop will be present to consult with the Convention about a provisional bishop.

"However, her presence and that of the President of the House of Deputies is also a reminder of the larger Church which stands with, prays for, and supports the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin as they move forward in mission and ministry."

Canon III.13.1 states in part that "a Diocese without a Bishop may, by an act of its Convention, and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, be placed under the provisional charge and authority of a Bishop of another Diocese or of a resigned Bishop."

Delegates to the special convention will be asked to consent to the Presiding Bishop's recommendation of Bishop Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop of the diocese. Lamb, 67, retired as bishop of the Diocese of Northern California in 2007 and most recently served as interim bishop in the Diocese of Nevada.

Lamb is expected to be seated at the provisional bishop during the Eucharist which will follow the close of the convention. He anticipates serving the diocese three-quarter time for a minimum of 18 months while the diocese searches for and elects a diocesan bishop.

The delegates will also be asked to sign an oath of conformity to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and will consider a number of other re-organizing resolutions, including one to essentially return its Constitution and Canons to the state they were in before now-deposed Bishop John-David Schofield led an effort to remove the required accession to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons.

That effort culminated at the 2007 diocesan convention December 8 when clergy and lay deputies voted to effectively remove all references to the Episcopal Church from its Constitution and describe the diocese as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury." That convention also took a vote purporting to realign the diocese with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

The March 29 convention will welcome clergy who had not been allowed to serve in the diocese. Three new congregations: Grace, Bakersfield; Holy Trinity, Madera; and St. Mary's in-the-Mountains, Sonora; will be also welcomed. Delegates will also be asked to elect a standing committee and deputies to General Convention 2009 in Anaheim, California; and to approve a $445,243 budget, which is funded with money provided by the Episcopal Church's Executive Council from the wider church's budget.

Hall told ENS that 17 congregations will officially participate in the convention. Another estimated 20 congregations will have members present, he said. Such participation would represent a larger portion of the diocese than he and others anticipated would choose to remain in the Episcopal Church, Hall said.

"I'm hopeful that this [reorganization] is going to happen a whole lot faster that we thought," he said.

Meanwhile, a weekly announcement posted on the website belonging to the Southern Cone-affiliated Fresno, California-based diocese that Schofield is leading tells clergy and laity to stay away from the March 29 convention.

"No authorized special conventions have been called by Bishop Schofield," the newsletter announcement says. "There is no reason for clergy or delegates to be present at the gathering on March 29th in Lodi that was announced by the Presiding Bishop of TEC."

The newsletter also tells congregations that they should file their annual parochial reports of their activities and membership with Schofield's office "and certainly not to the Episcopal Church."

Reorganization efforts have been on-going
Continuing Episcopalians have been at work to reconstitute the Diocese of San Joaquin since the December 8 convention.

Jefferts Schori warned Schofield of the possible consequences of his actions prior to the convention via a letter and then asked him on December 14 to confirm her understanding that he had left the Episcopal Church and was no longer functioning as a member of its clergy.

The Title IV Review Committee certified on January 9 that Schofield had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church "by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of this Church." Jefferts Schori inhibited him from exercising any episcopal, ministerial and canonical duties on January 11.

Schofield then told Jefferts Schori in a March 1 letter that he would resign from the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops on March 7, claiming he was doing so to prevent his colleagues from having to vote on the question of whether to allow the Presiding Bishop to remove him from his diocesan position.

Schofield wrote in the letter that he was both a bishop in the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone and the Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin. "The Episcopal Church has no jurisdiction or authority to affect my status in any of these capacities," he wrote.

During a meeting of the House of Bishops earlier this month, the Presiding Bishop said Schofield's resignation did not affect his status as a bishop with jurisdiction so it was still necessary to act to consider his abandonment of the communion.

Thus, on March 12, the House of Bishops consented to the Presiding Bishop's request that she be allowed to remove, or depose, Schofield, calling their action "the painful culmination of a lengthy process of conciliation and review."

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends, as well as news of the dioceses of Province II. She is based in Neptune, New Jersey, and New York City. The Rev. Pat McCaughan, Los Angeles-based Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Province VIII, contributed to this story.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-the-Pooh Character Test

And as they went, Tigger told Roo (who wanted to know) all about the things that Tiggers could do.

"Can they fly?" asked Roo.

"Yes," said Tigger, "they're very good flyers, Tiggers are. Strornry good flyers."

"Oo!" said Roo. "Can they fly as well as Owl?"

"Yes," said Tigger. "Only they don't want to."

"Why don't they want to?" well, they just don't like it somehow."

Roo couldn't understand this, because he thought it would be lovely to be able to fly, but Tigger said it was difficult to explain to anybody who wasn't a Tigger himself.

You scored as Tigger!

ABOUT TIGGER: Tigger is the newest addition to the Hundred Acre Wood, and he lives with Kanga and Roo, because Roo's strengthening medicine turned out to be the thing that Tiggers like best. Tigger is bouncy and confident -some of his friends think he is a little TOO bouncy and confident, but attempts to unbounce him tend to be fruitless.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are a positive and confident person. You feel capable of dealing with anything and everything, and funnily enough, you usually ARE. You don't worry about much, and you love to go out and find new adventures.

Your friends and family might sometimes be a little exasperated by your boundless enthusiasm. You don't like to admit your mistakes, and when you find yourself in over you head, you tend to bluff your way out of things. You would be surprised, however, at how happy the people around you would be if you would actually admit to a mistake. It would make you seem more human, somehow.

Anybody surprised?

You can take the test yourself here.

Easter Friday: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant Parking Lot


His name was George. But, he traveled with the alias of “Loneliness” and “Despair.”

We chatted a bit during dinner at Ciao Bella, one of my favorite little Italian restaurants on The Cove. I had just had a dinner of fried oysters, a specialty of the Chesapeake Bay and the Del Marva Peninsula, along with linguine tossed with garlic and olive oil and served with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

And yes, a glass of wine. Pinot Griot. Australian. And bread. With butter. Real butter. I’ve been working five to six hours a day on the revision to my thesis. And, I’m on holiday. Gimme a break!

Ah, but George.

He was having dinner with his adult son and daughter before leaving for Florida in the morning. Bought a condo on the water. His new home. Just prior to his divorce from his second wife.

Mary. His first wife’s name was Mary. He never mentioned his second wife’s name

“I still talk to her three or four times a week,” he said, as his son and daughter looked down at their food. “I love her. She loves me,” he said, adding sadly, "We just can’t live together.”

The short, easy answer to the past 10 years which have, no doubt, been marked by the slowly growing reality that their marriage was dead.

He wore his loneliness around his shoulders like the tattered, old zippered sweater he wore. A mantle of false protection. A walking advertisement for his current predicament. A transparent vest, baring his soul for all who had eyes to see.

“My second wife just couldn’t understand how I could talk to my ex-wife three, maybe four times per week. Jealous? Yeah, maybe."

We were in the parking lot now. He looked up at the dark sky, “Maybe the truth is that we were just two, old, lonely people who hadn’t had sex in a long time. That’s not much to build a marriage on.”

It was a startlingly honest confession, one which was not lost on his adult children, who were lurking in the shadows by our cars.

I started my car and my iPod began to wail out a Billy Joel song. Too loud. Rudely interrupting his need to continue the conversation.

“Do you live here?” he asked. His question was more transparent than his pain. “Yes,” I said, “Yes, I do. Well, at certain points of the year.”

“Where do you live when you’re not here?” he asked, moving in closer to my car.

“New Jersey,” I said brightly, happy to relay the distance to him.

He got it immediately. “Far away from Florida,” he said.

“I wish you traveling mercies tomorrow,” I said.

“Traveling mercies?” he asked, confused.

“Yes, traveling mercies. It’s an old expression some of us in the church use.”

“The church?” he asked, then, checking out my windshield, noticed the sticker which proclaimed, “Episcopal Priest.”

“You’re not, are you?” he asked, a bit befuddled.

I looked over to my sticker and then back to catch his gaze. “Why, yes. Yes,, in fact, I am.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m in a long-term committed relationship. I’m very happy. And, you know, someday you will be, too.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said as he shifted his weight from side to side.

“I’m sorry for your loneliness,” I said, “but you know, happiness is out there, if you are willing to be vulnerable to it.”

He drew back as if I had said a curse. “Vulnerable?” He stopped in his backward retreat, stood his ground and fired back, “Vulnerable?”

“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly the word.”

“Vulnerable,” he repeated. “Not a word in my vocabulary.”

I was quiet for a while as I shifted my weight in my car seat. “Better study it,” I said, “if you ever want to be in love again. If you’ve ever . . . . . . ”

“Nope,” he said, “not me. Never again.”

“Well, you know, what they say?”

“What? ‘Never say never’? Or, ‘Third time’s the charm’?”

“Actually,” I said, “I think that’s ‘second time’s the charm’. No, it’s not about charm or luck. In my business we get straight to the point: You gotta have faith.”

He nodded his head and looked up at the night sky again which was filled with outrageously bright stars. I wondered if he was able to see them, beckoning him to something brighter in the midst of the deep darkness of their background.

I suspect that, to him, the stars were just an annoying distraction from the unfathomable depth above him. He looked down, shifted some gravel around under his feet, looked up at me and said, “Well, I guess this is a night for Captain Jack.”

“C’mon, Dad,” his son called out to him, opening the car door.

I turned up the volume on my iPod, shifted into reverse to back up and then shifted again, forward, out of the parking lot, waving farewell to George and his son and daughter.

I hadn’t noticed before but Billy Joel was singing, “Captain Jack”. It’s a song I’ve heard for years and loved but never really fully appreciated until tonight.

But Captain Jack will get you high tonight,
And take you to your special island.
Captain Jack will get you by tonight.
Just a little push, and you'll be smilin'.

I sensed George knew all about Captain Jack’s special island. He also knew about crucifixion. That much was certain.

What George had yet to learn was the power of resurrection. Instead, he had chosen a ‘geographical fix.’ Far, far away from his current, painful reality.

Traveling with ‘Captain Jack’ will take you places filled with smiling people and you’ll still be alone. Here’s the thing: You can be alone, but not necessarily lonely.

On the other hand, loneliness can haunt you even while you are surrounded by people who love you. Your family. Your son and your daughter. Your ex-wife with whom you talk but never speak twice a week. Your new wife, a fluffy piece of arm candy whom you married for the sex.

But, vulnerability will bring an end to your journey into loneliness – in Florida or anywhere you choose to live.

And, lead you to the new life of resurrection.

Traveling mercies, George. I hope you can find whatever it is you’re looking for. The Orthodox have just begun Lent, and for them, Easter comes later this Spring.

There’s still time to learn that sometimes, in order to find strength, you have to find weakness. Before you can find courage, you must first explore vulnerability.

Before you can unearth faith, you have to dig deep among the stars.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"The Church has to heal itself and this nation of Racism"

Do tune into the iPodcast of a PBS discussion on 'Race, Religion and Politics' featuring our own Dean Tracey Lind.

You can find it here.

It's an important start to a crucial conversation too long delayed.

What is YOUR faith community doing to heal itself of the sin of racism?

My Daily Chuckle

A comment on spring from a baby gorilla.

From I Can Has Cheezburger?. But, of course.

Easter Thursday

Ah, Spring. It is nothing if not unpredictable.

Yesterday, the morning was cold but by 3 PM it was 71 degrees and I was driving around with the top down on my VW Bug singing from the top of my lungs to Aretha " . . .put your top down in your car and take a ride, and rock . . .steady. Let's call this song exactly what it is (What it is. What it is. What it is.)"

At 10 PM I was sitting out on the deck, sipping wine and text messaging on my iPhone. It was perfectly lovely.

This morning was cold again and it has stayed that way. It has never quite gotten above 55 degrees today, being overcast with occasional rain.

The ocean was gray and raw, but that didn't stop the kids from playing in the sand. People were still taking off their shoes and walking along the water's edge, while the sea gulls laughed at them overhead.

I did run into a couple who wanted Thrasher's Fries for breakfast. "Sorry," said a delivery man who was walking by. "They don't open until 11:30." The couple looked at each other, smiled and, undaunted, said together, "Lunch!"

Tomorrow, I will raise the house for the Purple Martins to begin to nest. It's a bit early, but I've seen other houses up, so I'm following their lead.


It may be hard to explain, but its promise will not be denied.

You know.

Just like the resurrection.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Wednesday

Spring has barely arrived, and I find myself impatient for Summer.

Isn't that always the way in the heavenly experiment known as "the human enterprise"?

When I look outside my window here on Rehoboth Bay, one might think summer had already arrived. The sun is shining brightly, glistening on the ripples of the water.

The gulls and snowy white egrets are emerging from their nests to hunt for baby fish, while the blue heron march in regal procession around the marsh like ancient aristocratic heirs of all they survey.

The ducks are blissfully paddling their way along the deck of our house, sounding their orders for stale bread, please.

Coming right up, sirs.

One step out the door and reality hit full force. The thermometer may have read 57 degrees, but the wind-chill factor tells a very different story.

BURRRRR!! I was completely unprepared for the chill.

Then again, it was 6 AM and my head was a little fuzzy from that second glass of wine I had after dinner. I knew I shouldn't have had it, but I was far away from the disapproving glare Ms. Conroy would have given me, and, like the mice who play when the cat is away, I savored it deeply all the while knowing that I would pay for it in the morning.

I put on my sweats and sneakers, bundled into my coat, grabbed my mug of coffee and was out the door to walk the ocean. It's a special treat in the early morning hours. Just a few brave souls who delight in the surf and sand at any time of the year. It cleared the cobwebs from my head and restored my soul.

On my way home, I stopped for breakfast at the local diner, 'The Skillet' in time to hear all the news as well as the gossip about the widowers Mrs. Langford and Mr. Hollis who have been spending a great deal of time together lately. Someone said they were dancing pretty close to each other at the VFW dance last Saturday night. Someone else was quite certain they saw his car parked in front of her house later that night.

Such as scandal. What must they be thinking? I mean, both are in their upper 70s. The waitress just smiled and, as she poured another cuppa joe for one of her patrons, offered this bit of gap-tooth, over-permed damaged hair wisdom, "There's none so foolish as the young at heart."

The picture above and this one to your right are part of a collection of "Beach Ladies" we have around the house. Ms. Conroy bought this one for me and I bought the one above for her. We have others, scattered around the house that we've picked up over the years.

They never cease to make us chuckle, reminding us as they do of some of the many joys of summer. Whether it's the threat of autumn, the dead of winter or the promise of spring, the Beach Ladies remind us of the beauty of summer - a time for leisurely thoughts and carefree sass, treasuring the illusion that it will always be like this, an endless summer.

I suppose it was good that Jesus was resurrected on the third day, being the first day of the week, but I honestly can't imagine having waited that long.

It's only the fifth day of spring and I can't hardly sit still waiting for summer.

Like the mystery of our faith - Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again - so will summer.

It has been promised. It's just that, on days like these, it's hard to wait.

Or, to quote the world-weary waitress at The Skillet, "There's none so foolish as the young at heart."

I suspect Jesus knew that, which is why those who love the Lord of Life - even Mrs. Langford and Mr. Hollis who are finding love in their 70s - have always been willing to be fools for Christ's sake.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter Tuesday

I head out in a few hours for Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay. I'll have my Iphone and Mac with me, but the peace and serenity of the place will be a healing balm for my weary body and soul.

There's something about being near the water that does that for people. I once saw a sign in one of those sweet but over-priced shops in Rehoboth Beach that said, "If you're lucky enough to live by the water, you're lucky enough."

There's something about watching the Canada Geese flying in formation (as in the picture above taken by our daughter Mia last November) that lifts the weariness right out of me and carries it out to the ocean where it is deposited on the crests of the waves like so much refuge, to be dredged down to the ocean floor.

I suspect it's what the sharks eat in great jagged-tooth gulps. It may well be part of what makes them natural predators.

All will not be rest and solitude. I'll be working on yet another set of revisions for my doctoral paper. It's due to the second reader on Monday. With any luck, I'll have it done by Thursday so I can enjoy the rest of the week.

After the second reader makes his comments and suggested revisions, which usually tend to be minor, I'll do one more revision and submit my paper to the doctoral committee for Oral Exams which will be scheduled some time in mid-April.

I'm told that sometimes the committee will suggest some revisions which will have to be completed before May 2nd, when the faculty votes to approve the thesis for admission and the candidate for graduation on May 17. Then, the final paper is printed on acid-free paper and bound for submission to the library.

And it will be finished.

I have this theory about this whole process of draft and revision. But first, a little story as context for my theory.

My grandmother was an excellent cook who was, as I have come to call her, a 'peasant nutritionist'. In addition to whatever else she was cooking or baking, she always had a pot of soup on the stove. She knew more about the nutritional qualities of vegetables and added them to her soup depending on what she thought her family needed.

For example, she used to say that watercress and garlic 'cleaned the body.' In fact, watercress is a natural diuretic and the nutritional properties of garlic are well known, so she wasn't far off in her assessment.

She made watercress soup at the change of every season because she thought the body needed to cleanse itself in preparation for the change of season. That, and a concoction of Brewer's Yeast and 'Father John's Cod Liver Oil' she made us drink before breakfast. YUCK!

She also insisted we drink watercress tea after holiday over-indulgences as well as during particularly stressful times. You know, I never remember any of us getting the kinds of colds we get now. I'm sure a great deal of it was due to the nutrition she provided. While I hated seeing that brown bottle of 'Father John's' make its appearance, I'm sure all those 'Omega-3' oils were of enormous benefit to our health.

After she finished cooking ham or beef or chicken, she would make stock for soup. She would even cleave open some of the bones and scrape the marrow out and add it to the stock ("To build up the blood," she would say). But, she would leave some of the marrow in and put whatever bones were left over out in the side yard for the neighborhood dogs (but never the chicken bones, which she said 'splintered' too easily and could get caught in the dog's throat).

We would watch as the alpha dog of the pack would muscle his way into the fray as the other dogs, salivating for a chance at the biggest bone, would pick off the smaller ones for themselves, all the while keeping an eye on the 'prize' bone.

The dogs never started chewing the bone immediately. They would lick and lick and lick it first, soaking it with their slobber before they began to settle down to chew in earnest.

I always thought this a fascinating ritual. One day, I queried my grandmother about this practice. She said that dogs had to make sure the bone smelled and tasted like them before they chewed on it so that all the other dogs would know that it was theirs.

I discovered that she was right. In fact, when the alpha dog was finished with his bone, he would walk away with his nose in the air, with an unmistakable attitude of distracted indifference. The dog with the next highest rank in the pack would approach it, and he would, at first, circle it in an interesting dance.

He would go to the bone, lick it while growling at the other circling dogs, and then leave the bone to walk the perimeter of their circle around it. Finally, after it had been properly licked and the dog was now satisfied that it was 'his', he would sit down to chew on the remains as the other dogs begrudgingly left him to his task.

My grandmother would say, "It's just like when the big bosses at the factory or the politicians at City Hall make a decision. Everybody has to lick and chew on the bone for a while until it smells like them and then they can 'own' the decision."

In marketing terms, this is called 'the buy-in'.

In academia, this is called "first reader, second reader, committee."

Think about any committee or board or Vestry you've ever worked with. Doesn't matter how advanced or sophisticated or educated we become. In many ways, we're still just pack animals.

Off I go then, to satisfy another member of the pack.

Pray for me and I'll pray for you.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Because it's Easter Monday . . .

. . . and you know you really needed to groan.

(Thanks to the great, twisted minds at I Can Has Cheezburger?)

Easter Monday

One of my favorite times of the day is the early morning. I take my coffee out on the deck and enjoy the morning light, the sound of the birds singing their Hosanna's to the Lord of Life, while the squirrels squabble over the scraps of bread I left out for them the night before.

The backyard deck is especially lovely in the Spring and Summer, but I also enjoy it in the crisp Autumn and for a few moments the way the air seems to warm just before or after a Winter's snow.

I was out there this morning, playing with my new Iphone which the Easter Bunny brought instead of a basket of chocolates. I've been having a grand time learning all the new things I can do with it - from reading the NY Times, to catching up on my e-mail, to reading blogs. It's pretty amazing, actually.

As my friend, Ann, another convert to Mac over PC, wrote to me yesterday, "It sure beats knitting."

I can also take pictures. This is the tree right off my deck, which has just begun to bloom. It will be glorious in a week or so, but right now it stands as a wonderful image for the first Monday in Eastertide.

The air is still crisp, threatening the vulnerability of new life, but the buds will not be denied. They have smelled the promise of hope and have become as bold and courageous as martyrs to the cause of change. The scent of it hangs in the air like the fragrance of an intoxicatingly beautiful perfume.

It's a glorious morning, one which calls for a long walk at the Loantaka Reservation up the road in Morristown later on this day. But first, there are errands to run, a bit of housekeeping to which to tend after the wonderful family celebration yesterday, some laundry to begin - all the mundane, common things of life.

Still, the buds whisper to me, "Come away! Come away! Let us glory together in the hope of new life."

It is a singularly irresistible vocation.

I run to it like the women at the empty tomb who led the disciples to Jesus, waiting for them in Galilee.

The whole earth opens itself in Spring to proclaim the Gospel, if we but listen.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Day

He is risen (and I am dead! Enjoy! I'll be back online in a day or so. After my own resurrection)

I’m told by people who actually pay attention to these kinds of things that the next time Easter will be as early as this year will be in 2160. The last time it fell on March 23 was 1913. Yes, there are people who actually find great enjoyment in calculating the Sunday on or after the spring equinox, or March 21st.

The one thing everyone in this room shares is that, on Easter Day, in the year 2160, or 152 years from now, those of you who are children, and even your children’s children will be with everyone else in this room, with Jesus in heaven.

When I was a freshman in nursing school, a thousand years ago, on another planet in a galaxy far, far away, our nursing ethics course was taught by a retired Roman Catholic priest named Monsignor Horan. Monsignor was a tough old bird with the map of Ireland etched across his face, the last 1,000 miles or so were clearly a very rough ride.

I suspect the director of our Nursing Program, Sister Madeline Clements, had invited him to teach this ethics class as act of compassion - a mercy and a kindness to him. She probably also knew that his wisdom and experience would serve us well as Christian medical professionals.

The first day of class, Monsignor looked out over the 50 or 60 of us in that classroom. We must have looked so young to him – all of 18 years old and all scrubbied up, fresh-faced and eager to do good and, in doing so, change the world. Is there anything as inspiring as the altruism of youth? Then again, it should be also be asked: is there anything more exhausting to older folks than the enthusiasm of the young?

I suspect that’s why Monsignor’s first words were chosen so carefully. I’ll never forget them. He looked out over the class, taking time to look each one of us in the eye before he spoke; and then he said, “In order to be a good nurse, you’ll need two things. Well, come to think of it, in order to be a good nurse who is a Christian, you’ll need two things. And those to things are these: a scar and a sense of humor.”

A scar and a sense of humor. I’ve often thought of those words of wisdom from Monsignor Horan, but I confess that I think of them especially on Easter Day. Now, no one is going to profitably market that saying. That message is never going to make the front of a Hallmark Greeting Card – not even the Shoebox section. And yet, those are two of the most important gifts of Easter – a scar and a sense of humor.

We know from the gospels that the resurrected Jesus bore the scars of the crucifixion. Next Sunday, we’ll hear how the Apostle Thomas insisted on putting his hands into the scars on the hands and side of Jesus before he would believe. I won’t be preaching next Sunday, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I think Thomas must have been a distant relative of Monsignor Horan. Thomas knew the importance of scars.

I think the reason Jesus has such power in our lives is precisely because he has scars; we are assured that Jesus knows our suffering. Jesus knows what it is like to be human – to have been betrayed by one friend and denied not once but three times by another. That’s important to know about your leader – that s/he knows as much about suffering and loss, as s/he does about victory and glory.

Another one of my mentors was my CPE instructor, Larry Burke, who used to say that the first rule of leadership was this: ‘You can’t take ‘em where you’ve never been.’ And, the fastest way to know that someone has been down a rough road is to see a few scars.

Some scars are not visible, however. You can only see it in the eyes of the soul. But, if you look around, you’ll see that every person in this church this morning has a scar. Some scars are old and healed over. Others are still fresh. Some of us bear scars of deep loss and grief. Some of us bear the scars of anxiety and fear.

The economy is very fragile right now. Some of us fear losing our jobs – and even our homes. Some of us are still in shock and awe over the war in Iraq. Others of us have illnesses or our parents or grandparents are fragile and elderly. Some of our children or our grandchildren are growing too fast and we worry about where the future will take them, or what kind of future we are leaving them.

And yet, we all have one thing in common. We are here this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, our beloved Rabbi who has emerged victorious from battle with the principalities and powers of the world with a scar and a sense of humor. He is a wise teacher who has borne the scars of many that we might find new life. Indeed, Jesus is one who promises life eternal if we walk in His ways and learn to touch our scars and know that in them there is hope.

Imagine! Just imagine what it must have been like for Mary who went to the tomb to mourn for her friend. Imagine what she felt when she found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. All the pain and fear of the last few days surfaced again, fresh and new. Fearing the worse, some cruel trick, she sat down began to weep.

Turns out, the only trick to be perpetrated was not by the principalities and powers of the world. God in Christ had fooled them all and had arisen, just as he had promised. Jesus not only has a sense of humor, Jesus has the last laugh over death.

This is the One we follow in this church – the One with the scar and a sense of humor. The one who has had the last laugh over death. This is who we are as a Body of Christ, the church. This is what it means to be Christian. Christians have scars and a sense of humor. Just a quick look around the faces in this room will assure you of this truth.

The first message of Easter was the same as it is today. It was the same last year and it will be the same 152 years from now. It is this: There is no sin that God cannot forgive; no burden that Jesus cannot bear; no anxiety or fear that God cannot allay; no scar too deep that God in Christ cannot heal.

God can even take the betrayal of Judas and turn it into one of the vehicles for the gift of the resurrection. Truly, God shows no partiality.

On this Easter Day, with the promise of spring that has just arrived still shivering in the crisp March air, I pray that you may find healing for your scars. Just as the earth, which has been scared by the long journey of winter, begins to yield to the warmth of the sun and burst open into flower, I trust you, too, will begin to bloom into the fullness of joy from the depth of your deepest scars.

For, Christ, the Sun of God’s Glory, has risen from the dead. The green blade of new life has arisen, and, if we let go of the past, if we embrace and celebrate rather than weep over the empty tombs and scars of our lives, we will find ourselves becoming the first bloom of faith. Monsignor Horan’s first lesson in that long ago classroom taught us this: The true gift of a scar and a sense of humor is the flower of deep compassion.

May this day fill you with Easter hope and joy. Alleluia!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Great Vigil of Easter

Well, the silver is polished to a faretheewell, the Paschal Candle is in place, and everything is ready for the 'new fire'. I have practiced the Exsultet and my sermon is below.

And, because it has become traditional fare at the Festive Reception following the Vigil, I have covered eight pounds of strawberries with chocolate and one of our members who LOVES the Vigil has been chilling the champagne since Thursday.

The Chicken Pot Pie is in the oven for a late night's supper when the family will begin to arrive. The lamb is marinating but the home made ice cream is yet to be finished. Tonight. After mass.

Undoubtedly, when I walk into the church in about 20 minutes, I will be greeted by members of the choir with, "Happy Easter!" They say that to me just to hear me say, "It ain't Easter till I say 'Alleluia!"" Then, we'll giggle and head off to our various last minute tasks.

What a wonderful celebration!

The Great Vigil of Easter

I have a very dear clergy colleague who has been rector of his church for almost 20 years. He’s a very successful rector of a thriving parish where close to 250 people gather every Sunday. That’s an Episcopal church. Here. In New Jersey.

It was not always so. I remember meeting him when I first came to this diocese in 1991. At that time, his church was not as successful as it is today. There were, perhaps, 40 or 50 people in church on Sunday, but that was up from the 15 or 20 who were there when he had started five years earlier.

When I asked him if he was worried about church growth, he said, “Nah,” he said, “You know, when I first got here, this place was so close to death, you could smell the resurrection.”

I love that. ‘So close to death, you can smell the resurrection.’

That pretty much sums up what we do here at The Great Vigil of Easter. We hear the history of our faith, from the story of creation through the Valley of the Dry Bones, and the New Heart and New Spirit that we are promised in Christ Jesus.

We who gather in this Vigil come so close to death, we are the first to smell the resurrection. We are the first to sing Alleluia to the newly Risen Lord. We are the first to hear the Gospel proclaimed. We are the first to partake in the Eucharist since we celebrated and remembered the first Eucharist given to us by Jesus on Maundy Thursday.

What does resurrection smell like, you ask?

Well, it smells like the air does after a heavy snow storm. Even though everything is covered by a thick blanket of snow, and the grass and shrubs and flowers have buried their roots deep beneath the hard, cold ground, you know that this snow storm has not had the last word.

Spring will come again, and with it will come the signs of new life: buds on trees, and crocus lifting their heads, seemingly bruised purple as they struggled to lift them through ground made hard by Winter.

What does resurrection smell like?

It smells like the first new house you bought, after all the papers were signed, the day before you moved in, when you didn’t think you could ever afford a home of your own, much less this home, your dream home; where, as you looked about the empty rooms you could imagine them filled with furniture and the people you loved and the children who hadn’t yet been born.

Resurrection smells like the waiting room of a hospital after the doctor comes in and says that the operation she performed on your loved one was a complete success and that, after a short hospital stay and a side trip to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitative exercise, your beloved will make a complete recovery.

Those are the smells of resurrection. The promise of Spring. The Renewal of life. Relief and Gratitude.

These are the bouquets of hope. This is the perfume of the Great Vigil of Easter.

Oh, I see. You thought it was the lilies, didn’t you?

No, my friends, hope has an aromatic odor all its own, and it is the first gift for those who wait and watch and keep Vigil. Others will hear of Easter in the morning. They will smell the lilies and enjoy the music and that will be fine.

But we, we who gather around the Holy and Sacred flame of the Paschal Candle are like the women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who went early to the tomb, as the first day was dawning.

We are the ones who get to experience the way the earth quakes when angels flutter their wings.

We are the ones who first learn that God can not be contained, even behind great stone coffins; that Jesus will not stay put in one place. Jesus can not be found in the grave but is already in Galilee.

We are the first to know that Jesus can always be found where we expect him and also where we don’t – in the pristine suburbs of Chatham and back streets of Newark; in the unemployment lines near a closed car factory in Chicago and with young families who wait patiently in the lines outside a soup kitchen in Boston; in the violent, drug-infested stairwells of housing project in South Bronx and on the battle fields of Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan. Jesus is even in the offices of Bear Stearns where anxiety hangs so thick in the air you can cut it with a knife. Jesus roams the office buildings on Wall Street, weeping at the greed which robs so many of hope.

We are the first to know these things, the first to smell the resurrection. We, like the women at that long ago tomb, also have the first responsibility to bring the good news to our sisters and brothers who do not yet know the good news.

The angel of the Lord has come to say, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised as he said.”

We are not to be like the guards who shook and became as dead men. Rather, we are to leave here quickly with fear and great joy to tell the other disciples. And, on our way, we will meet Jesus who will bring us Easter greetings and such deep joy as the apostles knew who first saw the Lord.

We have smelled the resurrection and it smells like love and joy and hope, a fragrance far surpassing the beauty of the lilies.

It is now our responsibility to tell the whole round earth: Wake up! Smell the resurrection in the air!

Alleluia! He is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

We all have burdens we carry.

We may not be able to admit it aloud, or even consciously to ourselves, but some of us know, in the deepest part of our knowing, that we have done harm to others.

We may have done them knowingly or unknowingly. We may have been – willingly or unwillingly – a participant in a harmful act. We may have wished harm to others and then watched, horrified, as that harm has come to be.

We feel guilt and shame.

Others of us may have losses – a loved one, a job, social status, a divorce, a relationship, our once vibrant health, a rejection, a child grown too soon to adulthood.

Sometimes, the grief is overwhelming and we find ourselves weeping for seemingly no reason at a greeting card, a television commercial, a song on the radio.

We all have grief and guilt and shame that sometimes feel an impossible burden to bear.

Tonight, as you reflect on the Passion of Jesus, I ask that you ponder all these things deep in your heart. Reflect on them – the unspoken but nevertheless very real pain that whispers in the deepest chambers of your heart.

In your service bulletin, you will find an index card. In the pew, you will find a pencil. (If you are reading this on my blog, go now and get a paper and pen.)

In the quiet of this sanctuary, consider what it is Jesus carries for you on the hard wood of the cross. I ask that you write it down on the index card. You may write a word, a symbol, or an entire sentence. Only you will know what it means.

Then, when you are ready, come forward and join others who will nail their burdens into the cross. Let Jesus carry your burdens for you. The truth of it is, He already does.

Because of the suffering of Jesus, God knows well the intimacies of our heart. God in Christ is most present to us in our sorrows and pain, as near to us as our next breath.

This is an act of surrender to the cross. It is an act of veneration of the cross. It is an act of thanksgiving for the cross of Jesus.

Behold the cross of Christ on which was hung the salvation of the world.

Come, let us adore him.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

N.B. Or, for a more compelling version, check out "Jesus Christ Superstar" on YOU TUBE

I was in my second year of seminary when I first hurt my back. I was in church. I had simply bent down to replace the hymnal in the pew rack and I couldn’t get up. Just like that, my life for the next two weeks would be viewed mostly from a horizontal position.

Except for having babies and perhaps, an occasional bout of the flu, I had never been in bed for more than 12 hours at a time. To make matters worse, it was Reading Week at seminary.

Reading Week. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It conjures up images of sitting around in comfortable clothes, curled up on the sofa with stacks of wonderful books.

Not so.

I had an oral exam to study for, two take home exams, and two term papers to write. I was beside myself. I had to miss church that Sunday, lying in the only place that was comfortable – a mat on the floor in the living room. Everyone else went off to church, leaving me to drift off into the La La Land one only gets to visit when taking a combination of muscle-relaxers and codeine.

A few hours after everyone got home from church, I ventured from my place on the floor to make a trip to the bathroom. I looked out our living room window and saw something that made me gasp in horror. It was Emmett, the rector of our church and my field education supervisor, coming up the street, his 'capa nigra' flapping in the stiff Cambridge breeze, his black beret on his head, balancing a prayer book and a home communion kit.

Ms. Conroy looked out the window and said, “Oh, it’s Emmett!”

I gasped again. “What the hell is HE doing here,” I demanded.

Ms. Conroy looked at me as if I had just landed from outer space. “He’s probably bringing you communion.”

“Oh, no!” I said, “Not that!”

Ms. Conroy, in her infinite wisdom, chuckled and said, “Everyone else needs Jesus and healing prayers, but not you, right?”

Oh, no! Not that! Sound familiar? I sounded just like Peter when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. I was mortified by my own undeniable need. More than that, I was horrified that my need should be so transparent, so obvious by the fact that home communion should be brought to me.

Oh, no! Not that! I bring communion to others. No one brings communion to me.

I lay hands on others for healing. No one does that for me!

Some of us are very good about repeating the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

We’re really good about the first part – doing unto others – but we’re really lousy about the second part – having them do unto us.

Is it pride? Well, yes, that’s the easy answer. And, it’s only one part of the answer.

The heart of the matter is that, if our impulse to help others doesn’t come from an understanding of our own need, our own humility, it is more an act of simple human kindness than it is authentic ministry of Jesus.

Simple human kindness is the basic minimum standard. Doing kindness from a place of deep humility is the high standard of Jesus. “A new commandment I give you”, said Jesus, “love one another as I have loved you.” Love that comes from the place of deep humility that makes transparent our need of others.

And so we come to Maundy Thursday – Maundy from the Latin “maundatum” or commandment. Tonight, in one of the first of the “three holy days” before we enter ever more deeply into the mystery of God’s love for us in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, tonight we practice that humility in the humbling act of foot washing.

I will was the feet of the Senior Warden. Then he will wash my feet and that of our Junior Warden. Together, they will wash the feet of the Vestry members who are here, who will take their turn washing your feet. You will wash each other’s feet.

Then, we’ll celebrate Christ’s gift of the Eucharist, the last time it will be celebrated before the Great Vigil of Easter, just as Jesus celebrated with his disciples at that last Passover Meal in that Upper Room.

We’ll strip the altar and shroud it in a black cloth while the choir chants the 22nd Psalm. At the end, the door will slam and the organ will wail and the church will be in darkness.

You’ll be invited to keep Vigil in the Garden, there, loving set up for us by Betty and Powell, as they do every year. It is their act of deep humility, born of their need to be of service to their sisters and brothers in this community.

But first, we begin in obedience. We begin by following the New Commandment of Jesus to humble ourselves and wash each other’s feet. We begin by admitting our own need, facing into and claiming our own humility.

A simple act of human kindness will become an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual acknowledgement of our own human need to be of some service to each other.

We will begin to learn how to do the ministry of Jesus Christ who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

You have a choice, just as Peter did. You can say, “Oh, no, not that!” Or, you can slip off your shoes, take off your sock, and come forward, in all humility, to be served that you might serve, in the name of Jesus, a simple act of human kindness.

Tonight, in following the commandment of Jesus, a simple truth is laid as bare as the altar will after it is stripped: In a culture which cherishes ‘rugged individualism’, every single last one of us needs the unconditional, humbling love of Christ in each other.


Speak, Lord, your servant is listening

Note: On March 29th, it will be my joy and privilege to be one of the presenters of Michael Sniffen for ordination to the priesthood. It's a little gift from the Diocese of Newark to the Diocese of Long Island. Ever gracious, he makes light of the work of the COM in the discernment process, but it was not fun at the time, I assure you. I fear we'll never get him back. Well, perhaps one day as our bishop. Ah, you think I'm exaggerating? Never mind. Just read this sermon.

Renewal of Ordination Vows and Chrism Mass 2008
Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City NY
(the Rev'd) Michael Sniffen

In the name of God who Created us, who Redeemed us and Sustains us.

I am honored to be with you this morning as we move one step closer to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord – and by God's grace –closer to embracing the fullness of our vocations and ministries as members of the body of Christ.

I would like to thank Bishop Walker for the invitation to preach in this beautiful cathedral during Holy Week. I am trying my best not to be intimidated by preaching in this empire state building of pulpits 11 days before my ordination to the priesthood!

A faithful minister of the Lord heard his name called late in the evening, "Samuel! Samuel!" - but it was not clear who had called him. He ran to his mentor for help, but alas - he had not called.

"Samuel!" he heard again…and again he went to his mentor for guidance, but Eli said, "I did not call you."

"Samuel! Samuel!" he heard for the third time…and so a third time he went to Eli to see what was going on.

I would have been feeling a little crazy by this point…but it was then that Eli perceived it was the Lord calling the boy's name.

God called Samuel by name no less than six times before anyone recognized it was the voice of God calling. Sounds a little bit like my discernment process! How about yours? It seems to me that the Commission on Ministry would have had a field day with Samuel.

So, what does the story of God's persistent call to a sleepy, Israelite boy have to do with our lives and ministries? Perhaps the story is simply saying, Keep listening...God isn't through calling you yet – God isn't through speaking to you and through you…and the greatest challenges in ministry are still yet to come if you heed the voice of the one who called you each by name.

After hearing his name called over and over and over again - Samuel finally responds, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening…" and it was then that his life of prophetic ministry began.

Now we could just leave the story there– God calls, Samuel responds, ministry happens - and all is well in the land of make believe. Bring on the oil of gladness! But that really wouldn't do justice to the work that Samuel was called to –or the work that we are called to do – would it?

There can be a tendency in the church (especially on days like this) to tie a nice bow around one of the great biblical "call stories," add a couple of sermon illustrations, an anecdote and a few one liners – and give it to ourselves as a gift for Holy Week.

My friends, a gift that is all wrapping and no substance is not worth receiving. The gift we really need this morning is not the gift of vague feel-good stories about ministry– but the truth of what it means to be called by a God who is persistent in transforming us and the world around us. And that gift is all right there in the story if we listen carefully!

Less than half a verse after Samuel's response to God's call, the Lord says to him,

"See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle." Or in Eugene Peterson's translation, "Listen carefully Samuel. I'm getting ready to do something in Israel that is going to shake everybody up and get their attention."

Not exactly subtle! Of course, if you're like me – you might be thinking at this point… "Uh Oh… Samuel's about to get himself in a whole lot of trouble!" Is he called or ill advised? Shaking things up is not exactly the best way to get started as the new guy on the block. In fact, many people spend their whole careers avoiding shaking things up!

Most of us are trained as young people, when controversy comes our way, to play the soundtrack of conflict avoidance in our minds. "Keep the status quo, steady as she goes, don't rock the boat, no reason to make extra work for myself…and so on until we lull ourselves back into a state of perceived safety."

But where does that leave poor Samuel who was called to confront his boss with the inconvenient truth of God's vision – and where does that leave us in the complexities of daily life and ministry??

Samuel had been called for all of 5 minutes – and he found himself smack in the middle of a situation where he had to choose between what was right and what was easy. This is scary good news for us…because it reflects the reality of our lives of faith.

The difficult decisions we face every day are individual calls from God to make good on the promises we have made.

We are told that Samuel was so troubled by the difficulties before him that he laid in his room until morning for he was afraid to tell anyone what God had revealed to him…Good news again! Because when we find ourselves tired and afraid we can remember that we are follow in the tradition of the prophets who struggled with the same feelings.

Samuel took a big risk. He chose to follow God's lead in shaking things up by telling the truth as it had been revealed to him…he gave up any concern for his own self-preservation or worldly success and discovered in so doing that he was freed from the bondage of self-doubt and opened to the joy that comes from trusting in God.

Risking our lives and worldly success, we are told, is an essential part of what we are called to do. Jesus tells his disciples, "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Like Samuel and the disciples, we all find ourselves faced with a difficult decision every day – to shake things up and engage in the messy work of delivering God's message in a world that functions on status quo logic– or to remain silent and god back to sleep.

Today we are reminded that those who are called by God can make no peace with the status quo. We have been asked, like the disciples, to speak the truth in love whatever the consequences.

This is certainly no easy task in our day and the consequences for telling the truth are great. In this last week alone, many have watched as Barak Obama's pastor was derided in the press for pointing out that Hillary Clinton is a white woman (seemed pretty obvious to me)…and that she therefore enjoys the spoils of white privilege in her campaigning for President of the United States.

Should this critique of institutionalized racism have been silenced because it is not popular among many white folks? Speaking the truth as we know it, even when it is unpopular, is at the core of discipleship.

In her sermon at St. George's cathedral in Jerusalem this Palm Sunday, our Presiding Bishop had this to say:

"The turmoil Jesus stirred up ended in his execution as an enemy of the state. Prophets tend to do that -- stir things up and end up dead. That is part of the invitation Jesus offers each of us, to pick up our cross, die to self, to proclaim the word of God in human flesh…and to be willing to die to everything else."

She goes on to say,

"Stir things up, for this world [has] certainly [not] yet reached the divine dream of [peace]."

Hear God's calling to Samuel – hear Jesus telling the disciples to risk it all that they might live…and hear the challenge of our Presiding Bishop – and don't be afraid to stir things up! New life is just around the corner.

May each of us find the courage to say anew this Holy Week, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening…"


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A short meditation

Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm: Psalm 70
Epistle: Hebrews 12:1-3
New Testament: John 13:21-32

John 13:21-32

13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me."13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.13:23 One of his disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him;13:24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.13:25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"13:26 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.13:27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do."13:28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor.13:30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

Betrayal. It cuts deepest of all the sins we commit against each other in community. It is often detected only after the fact – once the betrayal has been committed and the damage done. The betrayer often expresses as much sorrow as the victim experiences – as if there were no other choice. It had to be done. No other option.

The ethic of the greatest good for the greatest number sometimes requires the sacrifice of one. The betrayer, however, betrays even this ethic by making the choice of and for the one who must be sacrificed.

As bad as that is, the betrayal often does as much damage to the betrayer as it does to the victim. Catherine Myss, former Roman Catholic nun, psychic healer, author and teacher, writes about “The Judas Effect” which, she says, can be experienced by anyone whenever we put our faith in the institution rather than in God. In that moment, she says, when we make that choice, we set ourselves up for betrayal – of ourselves and others.

Faith in anything, be it positive or negative, produces results. Putting faith in fear generates destructive results, beginning with the disintegration of our ability to relate confidently to the external world. We have a choice to make about where we place our faith: in institutional power – even the institutional power of the church - or in the power of God.

My ordaining bishop was fond of reminding me that just because the church is not of the world, it is still in the world and we should not be surprised when the ways of the world become the ways of the church. It’s taken me years to learn that lesson.

Both Jesus and Judas provide us with important lessons that are fraught with irony on this Wednesday in Holy Week. Jesus illustrates for us that when you do not seek or need external approval, you are at your most powerful.

Ironically, being that powerful can often set you to be envied by others, and where envy is, betrayal is often not far behind.

Judas provides a lesson in the cost of betrayal. Ultimately, his betrayal brought suffering to Jesus and himself. Ironically, his betrayal also set in motion the events which led to the redemption of the world through the resurrection of the very one he betrayed.

As we walk through these last few Holy Days in our journey to Easter, today’s gospel story provides us with some important insights that point us to the power of resurrection and lead us to hope.

In the midst of the Passover meal of Jesus and his disciples, they discover something they could not have known in that moment: that nothing is beyond the power of God, God can even take the evil of betrayal and use it for good.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter 'Peep' Show

Okay, I guess I REALLY needed to laugh.

P.S. "Peeps" are one of my favorite Easter treats. My daughters put them in the microwave just to be mean (and, make me laugh).

Don't blame me, blame MadPriest

I promised myself I wouldn't go over there until after Easter, but I really needed a laugh. This fit the bill to absolute perfection.

I'm seriously considering adapting it when I volunteer again next month as part of the NJRCRC (New Jersey Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) Peaceful Presence which gathers across the street from the First Friday Anti-Abortion protests put on by the Religious Right outside a local family planning clinic.

I'll also bring my other sign: "I'm Pro-Life - for everyone's life."

Obama on racism

When the media haven't been in an absolute frenzy over the sexual proclivities of the former governors of New York and New Jersey this past week, they've been playing snippets of a sermon given by the Rev'd Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ for thirty-six years and for over half those years, pastor to Senator Barack Obama and his family.

If you've been scratching your head and trying to understand what's going on, you must listen to Mr. Obama's speech here.

It will take about 37 minutes of your time, but it will be one of the best 37 minutes you've ever invested.

Make no mistake, this is a major speech on racism. Remarkably, in pulling no punches, he brings people together.

This just might cinch the nomination for him. And, I must say, while many of my concerns remain, I would not be as unhappy as I said I was a few weeks ago.

Go on. Give it a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

ENS: Canada's Bishop Matthews new bishop of Christchurch, Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia

NEW ZEALAND: Canada's Victoria Matthews named bishop of Christchurch
By Lloyd Ashton March 17, 2008

[Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia] A Canadian bishop who is part of a high-level advisory group to the worldwide Anglican Communion has been elected Bishop of Christchurch in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

The Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews is currently bishop-in-residence at Wycliffe College in Toronto. She was Bishop of Edmonton for 10 years from 1997 to late last year, and Suffragan (Assistant) Bishop of Toronto from 1994-97.

She narrowly missed being elected Primate of Canada last year.

Announcing the appointment March 15, the Primate of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishop Brown Turei, said he looked forward to welcoming Matthews into the church. "I'm sure that, with all her experience, she will make a good contribution to our life and witness," he said.

Matthews, 54 and unmarried, is only the second woman to become a diocesan bishop in New Zealand. The first was the Rt. Rev. Penny Jamieson, Bishop of Dunedin from 1989-2004.

Matthews chairs the Canadian Primate's Theological Commission, and has just been appointed to the Windsor Continuation Group, which will look at crucial questions about the shape of Anglican common life around the world.

She is in high demand as a retreat leader and guest lecturer, enjoys leading youth pilgrimages to holy places such as Iona and Taize, and has served as a trustee of Yale University in the USA.

In 2004, Matthews underwent major surgery for breast cancer. She walked the 800 km pilgrimage trail to Santiago De Compostela in northern Spain last year to celebrate a clean bill of health.

In her spare time she enjoys hiking and walking her Anatolian shepherd dog Jethro, swimming, and reading history and theology.

Her installation as the eighth Bishop of Christchurch will take place in Christ Church Cathedral on August 30. The present bishop, the Rt. Rev. David Coles, takes up the position of Vicar of Wakatipu in Queenstown on April 12.

'To visit and to listen'

Matthews is no stranger to Christchurch. She hiked through New Zealand in the 1980s and was smitten. "Your country is so beautiful," she said from her home in Toronto this week.

"I've long admired your (Anglican) prayer book, your commitment to the stewardship of creation, and the leadership of Maori in the church. I'm excited about the move and look forward to forming relationships and making Christchurch my home."

Matthews' personal priorities on arrival here are "to visit and to listen." And then? "My priority for the diocese would be to call the people of God to excellence in all that they do," she says. "I hate mediocrity, and I despair of sloppiness."

She describes herself as "catholic evangelical" and is widely respected for her quiet authority and her ability to sit comfortably with all theological mindsets. However, she worries that in recent years the churches have moved away from "waiting on God," and believes that a call to prayer is "essential at all levels of our church."

She was educated at Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and has a Master of Divinity degree from Yale. She says she is a great fan of church schools, "especially if they are not only for the wealthy. I wish Canada had more of them."

Although only 44 at the time, Matthews was invited on to the communications committee for the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Bishops in England. She is involved again in the planning of the Lambeth Conference this July, and will attend as Christchurch's Bishop-elect.

Despite media speculation, Matthews is careful and moderate on controversial issues such as the blessing of same-sex relationships. Indeed, she is known internationally for her theological orthodoxy and her resolve to maintain unity.

Last year, during the Canadian General Synod, she was reported as saying that same-sex blessings did not conflict with core doctrines of the Canadian church.

Her comment arose from a Canadian study called the St. Michael Report, which identified core doctrines as those relating to the person and work of God.

"Speaking personally, I think a number of things stand in the way of blessing same-gender marriages or unions," Matthews says.

"First and very importantly, the church needs to decide whether same-gender marriage is a faithful development of the Christian doctrine of marriage. This work is well under way in Canada and, I hope, other provinces of the Anglican Communion.

"Secondly, our church needs to find a way forward whenever the cause of church unity meets the cry of personal and corporate conscience head-on. Who and how will we decide? The Anglican Covenant Design Group is addressing this."

Matthews says it is essential, albeit difficult, for churches of the first world to be patient and to listen carefully to churches of the two-thirds world.

"We (in the first world) have been dominant and bossy and arrogant for far too long and the time is right for patience and humility.

"Secondly, by taking the time to do the theology thoroughly and well, we will ease the acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. To be impatient is to risk even further hate and violence against those we have ignored for too long."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Jesus said, “I am.” Mark 14:1-15, 47
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday – March 16, 2000
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul – (the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton

Pray with me: (sung) “You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley. You’ve to walk it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can walk it for you. You’ve got to walk it for yourself.” Amen.

This is not a guilt trip, but let me ask you, “Are you innocent?”

Are you? Innocent? Are you? And, you? And you, there: are you innocent?

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we listen to the story of the Passion of our Lord three times in Holy Week – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – so that we all may take our roles in the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, he died for our sins, didn’t he? Who among us is not sinful? Who among us is innocent?

I beg to differ. I don't / can't buy into that "I-am-a-worm-and-no-man-wretched-sinner" stuff from Calvin. That line of thinking follows the traditional Pauline theological position which holds fast to the idea that the Atonement was necessary because of the sin of Adam and Even in the Garden. I have a great deal of trouble with this position for a variety of reasons which we have discussed in the Lenten Study Program this year. This is not the place for that discussion, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

We hear the story of the Passion of Jesus and we walk the steps of ‘The Way of the Cross’ not to take a guilt trip but rather to remember and never forget the liberation we enjoy in Christ Jesus who came to show us The Way.

We do this because our Christian tradition was built on our Jewish heritage, one of the cornerstone being that of anamnesis – remembering.

We put ourselves into the story, we reenact and relive the story, in order that we might take the story into our hearts and minds. Indeed, we live the story that it might live in us – in the fibers of our sinews, in the marrow of our bones, in the very stuff of our DNA.

We live the story so we will never forget. We live the story so that our children and our children’s children will live the story so that the story of The Passion of Jesus will never be forgotten.

Finally, we live the story so that the precious gift of our liberation in Christ Jesus will always be cherished.

So, let me ask the question again: Are you innocent?

Have you forgotten the lessons of the Passion of Jesus? Do you cherish the liberation you have in the divine gift of ‘free will’? Do you treasure the gift of grace, freely given and completely undeserved?

Jim Wallis, my favorite Evangelical (yes, I do like Evangelicals and I even have favorites), says that Jesus faced the four political options of his day.

One was collaborationist – to ‘go along to get ahead.’ That was the path Judas took.

One was pietist - the path taken by the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin who made a big show of their religion.

One was withdrawal – or that of Peter, who ran away when Jesus was arrested.

The last was that of political insurrection or revolutionary violence – the path taken by many in Jerusalem at that time, which made both the religious leaders and those in governmental power very, very nervous.

Jesus rejected them all. There was a fifth option - the option He took - called the Kingdom of God.

It is the path of the one who lives out their vocation and makes the sacrifices necessary to be authentic and have integrity. It is a very high calling, one which very few choose to take.

Having said all that, I’ll return now to my original question: Are you innocent?

Have you sacrificed what you believe on the altar of expediency?

Do you ‘go along to get ahead’?

Do you use your religion as an excuse not to use your intelligence?

Do you run from confrontation, avoiding it at all costs – even to the cost of your own soul?

Are you ‘the angry young man (or woman)’ of that popular song, ‘with your fist in the air and your head in the sand’?

If you are, then you are decidedly not innocent. You are as guilty as Judas. Or one of the members of the Sanhedrin. Or, Peter who ran away and denied Jesus three times. You are as guilty any one of the members of the angry crowd who shouted “Crucify him!”

You have a fifth option. It’s the one that Jesus took. It’s the option called the Realm of God.

It’s the option to choose the greatest good for the greatest number, even if it means the sacrifice of one. It’s the option to tell the truth, no matter how costly. It’s the courage to remain silent when the truth is too complicated and dangerous to tell. It’s the choice to live with integrity, even when compromise seems most expedient.

Are you innocent? This is not a guilt trip. It is a journey down, way down deep into your soul. It is an expedition only you, yourself, can make. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for this journey. It is, quite literally, the trip of a lifetime.

There’s still time to humble yourself and have your feet washed on Maundy Thursday. There’s still time to carry the cross on Good Friday.

The good news is that you won’t be alone. You will be with other pilgrims who will be searching to take the option of the Realm of God. It’s the journey of those who worship a Mystery whose real glory can be found in an empty tomb.

(Sung) “You must ask the Lord’s forgiveness. You got to ask it for yourself. Oh, nobody else can ask it for you. You got to ask it for yourself.”

Welcome to Holy Week. This is not a guilt trip.

This is a journey into your soul.