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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who woudda thunk it?

Howard Stern has 'come out' - in support of Gay Marriage.

You can find the entire quote here. This is an excerpt.

"My feeling about gay people is that we have a responsibility not only to make gay marriage acceptable and to make gays feel accepted as much as heterosexuals...Gay people are downtrodden They are beaten. They are abused for their sexuality, and it goes across race. In the white community and the black community gay people are the bastards of the world. And in order for things to change, because any one of you could have gay children, or gay relatives, or gay friends...we have a responsibility to make this acceptable, to get all this bullshit so that some gay kid going to high school doesn't get the shit beaten out of him just because he's gay...I'm as heterosexual as they come. What is this hang-up about gay marriage? Who cares? Get on with your life!"

If it's obvious to Howard Stern . . . .Well, I'm just sayin'. . .

Hat tip to my beloved David.

Converstations with a Predator

She sounded so cute and perky, so innocent and friendly.

She actually believes she is helping people.

I'm talking about the manager of The Cash Box, the 'lending store' which I wrote about just the other day.

It seems that our campaign to help 'John' from the Heartland was more successful than we imagined. There is actually a small money left over. Approximately $92, in fact. Which is not something that happens very often if at all at places like The Cash Store.

So, the poor young thing was confused and befuddled. If she said, "I don't understand," and "I'm confused," once she must have said it at least a dozen times.

Silly me. I thought she would understand, "Just give the balance to the family. God knows, they need it." I thought that was pretty straight up.

It seems that it's important to keep yourself confused so that you don't do the unthinkable in the loan-sharking business: Give people more money than the original loan when someone else paid the bill.

Silly me. I thought she was calling to clear up the confusion - or at least get some direction, poor little confused thing - about what to do with the extra money.

Oooooohhhhh nooooooo!

Turns out, the 'I'm so confused' thing was just a little trap she was setting before she moved in for what she thought would be 'the kill'. Just circling in, shark-like, because she thought she smelled blood on the water.

She began by peppering me with questions about who I called and to whom I had spoken, each round of questions sounding more and more like I was being interrogated in a court of law.

I was multi-tasking AND running late, so I was mildly confused by our conversation. I mean, I thought she had gotten the crucial information for which she had called: what to do with the extra money.

Curiously, she wanted to know how many times I had called the Cash Store. 'Once,' I answered, thinking that she was referring to the time I had called to say what I had just told her: "Keep the change."

Of course, I had called twice - the first time was during my research phase, making certain that the story 'John' gave me was correct. I didn't think she was talking about that phone call.

Turns out, only she was allowed to be confused. Not me. She moved in for the kill: I was 'lying' and 'making things up'.


"I read your blog," she said, indignantly, "and you made that all up."

I was stunned, and she knew it, so she moved in for the final blow: "You are disgusting," she proclaimed, so full of righteous indignation that the phone receiver began to steam. Actually, she said, "Dis - GUS - ting."

"You read my blog?" I asked. "How did you find my blog?"

She explained that, when she was trying to get hold of me, she noticed the church's web site on our stationary and then just followed the trail.

When she said it again, I finally got it: "You are dis - GUS -ting."

RIGHT! She had, indeed, read my blog. 'People like me' are not supposed to be capable of trying to help others. We are supposed to be hedonistic and narcissistic, incapable of having any shred of altruism or nobility, and singularly lacking the capacity to be a Christian, much less ordained in the church.

SHE, on the other hand, said, "I am a Christian. I've even been a Missionary."

"Really?" I asked, "Then maybe you can answer my question: How to you sleep at night knowing that you are part of a predatory lending scheme that knowingly and bold-faced charges 403% interest on a loan? I mean, you are a Christian. Have you not read your bible? Have you not heard of usury?"

Now she was really hot. You have to pay close attention to the logic here - because, outrageous as it is, it does have its very own logic.

"Well," she said, almost breathless, "you have to understand the system. (Ah, yes, 'the system'.). We HELP people here," she said, in genuine sincerity. "People who have run short on cash and they have no 'people' they can turn to, so they come in one week, then get paid the following week and pay off their loan."

"At 403% interest?" I asked.

"Well, of course," she said, "but it's calculated to a daily rate. We are HELPING those people," she said adamantly.

"At 403% interest?" I asked again.

"Well," she said, exasperated that I didn't get what a wonderful company she worked for, and what a fine Christian woman she obviously was. "We specialize (ah, yes, the old 'special and different' line of reasoning) in 'high risk lending'."


"We HAVE to charge the 403% because so many of these 'high risk people' end up defaulting on their loans and if we didn't have a way to cover our loses and court costs, we'd be out of business and not able to help others."

I swear to God - hand on the bible - those were her exact words.

I sat back in my chair, completely speechless, but I was thinking, "Right, you prey on the poorest to 'help' the poor so that the rich money lenders can line their pockets at a profit rate of 403%."

That's some little 'reverse Robin Hood' gig they got going for them, huh?

Real Christian, that. The Jesus of her understanding must be so proud.

I was thinking all these things but all I could say was, "At 403% interest? How do you sleep at night?"

Ah, that got her back to her original point, "I sleep very well, but YOU, you are a liar! That second conversation with my employee could never have happened. There is no penalty for paying off a loan early."

"Oh, but yes there is," I interjected. She may have read my Blog, but I read a copy of her contract. I didn't have it with me, but when I came home to my files, I looked it up. There it was, "We will not accept pre-payment on the principal without calculating the daily finance charge."

I guess she has read the 'fine print' the way her employee had. You never do when you know you are 'right'. She did allow as how she hadn't read the contract in detail in some time. Well, all that legal mumbo-jumbo gets confusing for a good, clean, honest, decent Christian girl from the Heartland.

I apologize for my sarcasm and I certainly don't mean any offense to any Christian girls from the Heartland (smiles and waves at Kirke), but this child was pulling my last, poor, tired nerve.

"Well," she said, "none of that changes the fact that you LIED. You are dis-GUS-ting."

Clearly, this conversation wasn't going anywhere except downhill - fast. Poor baby. She really needed to think I was lying because she couldn't deal with her own immorality and involvement in the biblical warrants against usury.

I'm sure she believes that she is a 'good Christian'. I have no doubt that she tithes to her church, and that her parents are proud of her.

And, of course, independent loan places can get away with charging 403% interest because they are not regulated by the FDIC. So, what they do is perfectly legal. That doesn't mean that it isn't immoral. I mean, that's the exact argument she'd give me about Reproductive Rights.

All of which, to her mind anyway, supports the ideas that the world is a dark and sinful place, and didn't Jesus himself say that 'the poor will always be with you'? I mean, she's just doing what a girl has to do, given the circumstances.

She probably eats bacon and shellfish and wears two different kinds of material.

No doubt, she has skipped over those Levitical Purity codes. That can happen when you focus on the 'real' abominations - like 'disgusting' moi.

I have no doubt about any of that.

What I don't understand is how she sleeps at night.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birds and Pigs, Gays and Mexicans

The 'pandemic' of swine flu has caused a re-occurrence of another, more insidious but none the less viral and deadly epidemic: fear.

It's part of the history of every epidemic we've ever had. I witnessed it first-hand during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. Indeed, we had a term for it.


The flames of fear that are born of an epidemic or pandemic stoke the fires of hatred and prejudice and bigotry. Some one has to be to blame. Someone must be offered as sacrifice to the God who brought the plague upon us in the first place, to punish us for something.

I played a hunch yesterday morning while driving back from a nursing home visit in a community about 30 minutes from the church and tuned my car radio to one of those conservative, Republican, evangelical radio talk shows.

You guessed it: Their answer to 'the plague' - and, that's what they called it. Not epidemic. Not pandemic. Plague. - was to lock down the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and quarantine all Mexicans living in this country.

There was much excitement about 'detaining' all 'illegal Mexicans'. One didn't need to be a Rocket Scientist to know that 'those people' - the 'illegals' - were the source of the 'swine flu.'

And every last one of the callers on the radio considered themselves "good Christians".

We have more recently seen this dynamic during the West Nile Virus Epidemic. Members of the Nigerian communities who live here in the Northeast Corridor were under constant surveillance and scrutiny - in much the same way bird watchers pursue their hobby.

Except, of course, 'birders' mean no harm.

Yes, yes, it's more important to wash your hands now than it ever was before.

It's very important to sneeze or cough into the inside crook of your elbow rather than your hands.

See your doctor or get to an "Urgi-center" or "Doc-in-a-Box" if you get flu-like symptoms and your symptoms persist.

It's okay to eat pork, as long as you take the usual precautions of cooking it well. Nothing wrong with having a side order of crispy bacon or a BLT if that's what you're hungering for.

With allergy season upon us, it's going to be hard to tell is someone is just suffering from the "green rain" of pollen or is coming down with the flu.

Probably wouldn't hurt to wear a mask if you're coughing and sneezing due to allergies. It will cut down on your pollen intake and probably allay the concerns and fears of others when you sneeze or cough in front of them.

And, don't blow your nose on a tissue and then leave it around. Throw it into the trash bin immediately and try to remember to wash your hands afterward - or at least use one of those alcohol-based hand disenfectants like Purell.

Just be careful - as in 'full of care' - not fear.

You don't have to worry about birds or pigs, Gay people or Mexicans - not even Gay Mexicans who eat pork and watch birds with Nigerians.

(Unless, of course, we're talking about our beloved Dah-veed, and then you'll have a lot more than the flu to worry about. That boy has been known to steal hearts from sea to shining sea!)

Be not afraid. Enjoy your day, for this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it - 'green rain' (tree pollen) and all.

And, let us keep the people of Mexico, all who have 'swine flu', all who have died of this outbreak of influenza and those who mourn the loss of their loved ones, in our prayers.

Strike Two in CNY: You can't take it with you.

Departing parishioners not entitled to bequest
Diocese can investigate property accounting

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, April 28, 2009

[Episcopal News Service]A New York state trial court justice has ruled that members of Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton who left the Episcopal Church over theological differences are not entitled to keep a 1986 bequest of jewels and money.

Justice Ferris D. Lebous had ruled in January that Good Shepherd's property had been held in trust for the Diocese of Central New York and the entire Episcopal Church. The details of those rulings are available here. This part of the case dealt with a trust.

In his earlier ruling, Lebous had required the departing members to provide an accounting of the status of parish property. The diocese told the justice that some known property, including stock shares, was not produced. The justice found that no income had been flowing into the parish since April 2008.

Lebous found that "the parish was doing everything it could to spend down the assets, divert new income, and perhaps actively interfere with the diocese's right of ownership." He ruled that the diocese "has every right to conduct an investigation into the income and property of Good Shepherd."

The justice told the treasurer of the breakaway congregation and the Rev. Matthew Kennedy, the rector, that the investigation would begin with them being questioned within 45 days about what they had done with other church property.

“We are glad to know the judge was able to uphold how the church understands its own polity," Bishop Gladstone "Skip" Adams of Central New York told ENS in an emailed statement. "Although we are saddened by all that has occurred, we are glad it is moving towards final resolution in order that we may place all of our energy on our central work of the good news of the Gospel of Christ. We also appreciate the court’s expression of concern regarding Good Shepherd’s accounting, both financial and of other items, and its directive for further questioning into the usage of such funds."

Lebous had been asked to rule on the ownership of a gift that a former clerk of the Good Shepherd vestry, Robert Branan, made in his will. He left $1,500 "together with all my diamond, ruby and opal rings for the purpose of creating a chalice and paten." The jewels were to be set into the vessels.

In addition, 25% of Branan's remaining estate went to a parish memorial fund. Branan put the remaining 75 percent in a trust for two women and provided that the proceeds of the trust to go to the parish upon the death of both.

Branan also specified in his will that if Good Shepherd parish ceases to exist or merges with another parish the entire bequest would go to Christ Church, the oldest Episcopal Church in Binghamton.

Good Shepherd told Lebous that Good Shepherd still exists even though the majority of its members and leadership have disaffiliated with the Episcopal Church.

"While Good Shepherd may have abandoned the Episcopal faith, Mr. Branan never did, and his intent was clearly to benefit a local Episcopal church," the justice wrote. He added that there is "simply no basis on which to find that Mr. Branan would want his money to go to those former members of the Church of the Good Shepherd that abandoned the faith that he, apparently, held so dear."

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

Just a quiet day in the Heartland

Some people were expecting quite a fuss on Monday, the first day Iowa began allowing same-sex couples to marry.

“People in Iowa tend to get real hot about things,” said Maggie Grace, a neighbor of the West Des Moines couple who had come to fulfill the witness requirement for their license. “And then they go on about their way.”

But, the sky didn't fall. Heterosexual people who are already married didn't file for divorce. Families didn't fall apart. No thunderbolts of lightening decreeing God's judgment fell on Iowan soil or her people - gay or straight.

It's true. You can read all about it here.

Pretty soon, the whole argument about how LGBT people are the cause of the decline of Western Civilization and how giving LGBT people our civil rights is a similar harbinger to the Fall of Rome will, itself, start to collapse on the weight of its own ignorance and stupidity.

And then, whatever will we have to talk and fret and wring out hands about?

Hmmm . . . I don't know. . . . Maybe the problems of world poverty? Or how to end world hunger?

Or, lower the death rate from malaria by figuring out how to get everyone mosquito netting who needs it and get the pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of anti-malarial medicine?

Oh, wait! I know, maybe we could develop a plan to raise the literacy rate and educational status of children all over the world?

Nah, scapegoating is ever so much more fun. Well, for some, apparently.

Meanwhile, it's another quiet day in Iowa. I hear it's pretty quiet in Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts, too.

Except, of course, there's the threat of an epidemic of 'Swine Flu".

Oh, thank God. We DO have something awful to talk about and we all KNOW whose fault it is and how it's a manifestation of God's punishment for breaking the purity codes.

I'm almost looking forward to hearing reports of the scriptural gymnastics some people will go through on the talk radio programs to make this case.

Meanwhile, here in in the Northeast Corridor, it's another beautiful day in the neighborhood as we continue to work quietly for Marriage Equality.

I guess some folks will just have to "save the drama for yo Mama."

Monday, April 27, 2009

David Whyte's "The True Love"

Note: A friend sent me this just this morning and I knew I had to share it here with you. This is for Shane Margaret and Jon Mark who will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate on June 6th, and for Martha, who seeks and searches and prays like the old man in the Hebrides.

Poet David Whyte was invited to speak at a conference led by the Sisters of Mercy in Galveston, Texas. All he was told was the conference theme was the biblical passage where Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water and calls them to step out of the boat. This poem is what he wrote in response. When reading publicly he explains that the one who calls us out of our boats can be a person, a new life, or even some deep part of ourselves.

The True Love

There is a faith in loving fiercely the one who is rightfully yours, especially if you have waited years and especially if part of you never believed you could deserve this loved and beckoning hand held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now and the testaments of loneliness and what we feel we are worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides I remember an old man who walked every morning on the grey stones to the shore of baying seals,

who would press his hat to his chest in the blustering salt wind and say his prayer to the turbulent Jesus hidden in the water,

and I think of the story of the storm and everyone waking and seeing the distant yet familiar figure far across the water calling to them,

and how we are all preparing for that abrupt waking, and that calling, and that moment we have to say yes, except it will not come so grandly, so Biblically, but more subtly and intimately in the face of the one you know you have to love,

so that when we finally step out of the boat toward them, we find everything holds us, and everything confirms our courage, and if you wanted to drown you could, but you don’t

because finally after all this struggle and all these years, you don’t want to anymore, you’ve simply had enough of drowning, and you want to live and you want to love and you will walk across any territory and any darkness, however fluid and however dangerous, to the take the one hand you know belongs in yours.

- David Whythe

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Confirmation Love Letter

“Then he opened their minds.” Luke 24:36b – 48
A Confirmation Love Letter – Easter III – April 26, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, New Jersey
(the Rev’d Dr). Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Alex, Anna, Bernie, Christian, Eleanor, James, Jessica, Jean, Madeline, Paul, and Robyn.

Okay, first things first: I am so very proud of you - each and every one of you – that I could just burst. You have worked hard for this moment and you have earned this time to bask in the limelight of attention. Enjoy your day!

I have a few things to say to you today, in light of the gospel and on the occasion of your Confirmation. It may be one of the last times I have you all together in the same place, so I’m going to take advantage and seize the opportunity.

Today’s gospel comes from the Apostle Luke. (no ‘bible races’ to find the verse). It’s one of several post-resurrection stories found in each of the four gospels. It’s pretty clear that the gospel writers want us to be absolutely certain to know that Jesus came back – not as a ghost, but in the flesh.

Last week, we heard the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ who actually put his hands into the wounds of Jesus so that he would believe. Who could fault him, really? The full bodily resurrection is a pretty fantastic idea to get your head wrapped around, isn’t it?

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says, “Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” And, just in case we had any doubt at all, Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Ghosts don’t get hungry. See? St. Luke, like all the other gospel writers, is very keen to have us know and understand and believe that the resurrection of Jesus is real. Full body: flesh and blood and bones and even an appetite.

Well, I have a little surprise for you. Here’s the one ‘pop quiz’ Tim didn’t tell you about. This is one last hoop for you to jump before you are confirmed. Are you ready?

When you say, “I believe in the resurrection,” what do you mean? Did Jesus return in the flesh or is the Resurrection just a profound symbolic religious metaphor? What do you think? Did Jesus come back in the flesh or not? And, if you answer incorrectly will you still be confirmed this afternoon?

Okay, okay. I’m just playing with you one last time. You can relax. But, it does lead me to say one last thing to you about your faith.

And, it is this: Information and knowledge and intelligence are very important tools for you to have as you make your way in this life, but as important as they are, they are not the only important things in life.

Whoa! Hang on! Did Reverend Elizabeth just say that? I know. Tim and I have spent the better part of the year telling you that to be an Episcopalian means that you don’t have to leave your brain at the door. And, that’s still absolutely true.

But, I want you to hear me say this again clearly: Faith is not so much a matter of the intellect as it is a matter of the heart. You don’t have to understand faith first in order to believe any more than you have to understand a cold before you get one. Neither do you have to understand love before you can love someone.

A great scholar of the church, a man named St. Anselm, once said, “Give your heart in order to understand.”

‘Give your heart in order to understand.’ The challenge you will face is that the cerebral nature of the world – ancient and postmodern – will ask you to do the opposite: to understand before you give your heart.

And, it will take persistence and, as the Prayer Book says, ‘an inquiring and discerning heart’ on your part to move against the dominant cultural paradigm and find the Middle Way – the Via Media of Anglicanism – to follow your heart so that you will understand. And the truth is that this is the only way to understand the Great Mystery that is our God – with a mind that has been opened by the human heart.

The world will insist that you read the bible and ask, “Is this true or not?” The human intellect has always been obsessed with the truth about facts.

Did George Washington cross the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776 or not? Was Jesus born of a virgin or not? Did he die for or sins or not? Did he come back from the dead and ask for something to eat or not?

Part of the problem with the modern church is that fundamentalism and liberalism have been in a hopeless intellectual logjam over the right answer. Both demand loyalty to one answer or another and, in the process, hundreds of thousands of spiritual pilgrims have walked away and have found themselves as hungry for spiritual nourishment as Jesus was hungry for fish in this morning’s gospel.

Remember our exercise in writing our own Creed? Remember how we searched for words that didn’t dismiss the ancient words of our faith, but rather, had meaning for you? Today? In your life? That’s exactly how I want you to approach all of the elements of your life of faith.

Instead of asking, “Is this true or not?” I want you to ask instead, “What truth is here?”

The first is a very efficient question, but it also slams the door shut to further inquiry. Asking, “What truth is here?” opens the door and invites you to explore deeper meaning.

And the search for meaning – not just knowledge – is at the very heart of the spiritual journey. Meaning deepens the importance of the intellectual exercise of inquiry and discernment.

If you read this morning’s gospel through the lens of meaning rather than a search for the truth of the facts, you will notice a pattern that emerges. Jesus reveals himself first to his disciples, and then reestablishes his relationship with them over a meal.

St. Luke reports a fascinating ‘next’ thing in this post-resurrection visit. He writes, “Then, he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

So, it is presence, relationship, understanding – that’s how the resurrection works, children. Whether or not the actual facts of the resurrection are known or unknown, proven or dis-proven is not the point.

The deep meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is about presence, relationship and understanding.

Presence – showing up for your life, wounds and all.

Relationship – taking the risk of opening your heart to another - even with your wounds.

Understanding – opening your mind to find meaning in your life.

Your Confirmation this afternoon is meaningless unless you know that it is an invitation to a deeper relationship with God in Christ Jesus. You are being invited to give your heart so that your minds may be opened to understand.

And, when you search with your heart for the truth that is there, your mind will be opened to deeper meaning and a faith that will have relevance in your life.

Well, off you go then. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be to take on the promises of your Baptismal Covenant for yourselves.

My prayer for you is part of the prayer that was said at your Baptism:

“Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage and will to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Of the Meaning of Progress: Measuring Black Citizenship

I highly commend to you the three lectures given by Melissa Harris-Lacewell: "Of the Meaning of Progress: Measuring Black Citizenship" given at the W.E.B.Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA earlier this month.

I listened to them most of yesterday afternoon as I tended my garden in this glorious weather we're having in the Northeast Corridor. I have found them informative, challenging and inspiring, and I trust you will, as well.

They are:

Lecture 1:
Subjects or Citizens: Feeling Black in Post-Katrina America
Lecture 2:
Faith of Our Mothers: Women Bearing the Burdens of Citizenship
Lecture 3:
I am Obama: Forging a New Black Citizenship

You can find them here:

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. Her writings have been published in newspapers throughout the country. She has provided expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender issues for many television, radio and print sources both in the United States and around the world.

Together with Yolanda Pierce, the Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies, they write their thoughts on one of my favorite blogs: The Kitchen Table.

Two little boys

Yesterday's New York Times carried this story on the "By the numbers" Blog of Charles M. Blow

Here's how it begins:

On April 6, just before dinner, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a Massachusetts boy who had endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped an extension cord around his tiny neck and hanged himself. He was only 11 years old. His mother had to cut him down.

On April 16, just after school, Jaheem Herrera, a Georgia boy who had also endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped a fabric belt around his tiny neck and hanged himself as well. He too was only 11 years old. His 10-year-old sister found him.

Two beaming little boys, lost. To intolerance? Too tragic.

The sad ends to their short lives shine a harsh light on the insidious scourge of the homophobic bullying of children.

The article also includes some eye-opening data about the link between homosexual bullying and suicide. I can't commend it to you highly enough.

The article ends lke this:

Carl and Jaheem, I will never forget you. I am the father of 11 year-old twins. I will give them extra hugs and kisses tonight in memory of you. I will teach them to be even more tolerant, in memory of you. I will make sure that they know that I am always there if they need an ear or a shoulder, in memory of you. I will let them know, when the waters get choppy, that the storm will always pass, in memory of you. And, I will make sure that they know in no uncertain terms that whomever they grow up to be, I will love them always and forever. This too I will do in memory of you.

We will soldier on in your stead. You rest in ours.

(It should be noted that to my knowledge neither child had self-identified as gay or bisexual at the time of their death, but now it matters not. Whoever they would have been is forever lost to the grave.)

Happy Birthday, Ella!

I have always loved the music of Ms. Ella Fitzgerald. No one sings torch songs quite like Ms. Ella - but I have a special place in my heart for the 'Big Band Sound' and her renditions of the songs of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Irving Berlin, especially her collaborations with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

She had a vocal range of three octaves, and nobody could 'scat' like "The First Lady of Song.

There are those of 'a certain age' who remember her commercial "Is it live or is it Memorex?" in which she sings one note and shatters a champagne glass. Fabulous!

I just heard her sing Irving Berlin's "It's a lovely day today" on NPR, which seemed absolutely perfect for this "lovely day for saying 'it's a lovely day'."

This clip of her singing "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" is from the 1942 Abbott and Costello's film "Ride 'em Cowboy" in which she played 'Ruby', who plays one of several roles as one of the employees of the ranch.

I love the fact that, as the only African American on the bus, she moves freely from front to back, something that surely must have raised a few eyebrows in 1942.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917.

She started singing in the heavenly chorus on June 15, 1996.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Ella. You'll be singing to me as I plant pansies in the front yard of the rectory this afternoon - because, well, it's a lovely day for saying 'it's a lovely day'.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"One, holy, catholic and apostolic church"

Sometime, just for 'ha ha's' google the word 'poverty' and then click on images.

You'll find pages and pages of images of hungry children - mostly children from the so-called 'third world'.

You'll also see heaps of trash on a barren urban street blighted with decrepit buildings or high rise city ghettos.

In among them, you'll also find images urging us to "Make War on Poverty" or "Fight Poverty" or "End The Cycle of Poverty" or "Make Poverty History."

Wonderful slogans with altruistic if not unrealistic expectations.

What you won't see is the image of poverty that I have been dealing with most of this week.

I got a call on Monday evening from a man I'll call 'John' who lives in a small town I'll identify as being in "The Heartland" of these United States of America.

His voice was calm and steady, devoid of the usual tones of what I've come to wearily call "the long distance skammers."

Clergy get them all the time - people who look us up on the internet and tell us very sad tales of impossible woe which usually begins with, "I lost my job." Or, "My mother died last year." Or, "You're not going to believe my story, but I hope you'll listen because no one else will. I've got no where else to turn, pastor. May I call you pastor?"

You'll clearly hear my sarcasm when I tell you that I sometimes refer to them as "The Country Western Song" calls - you know, the ones with the litany that includes variations in the key of Sad: ". . . My wife done left me, my dog died and my car broke down . . . OOOOOh, my achey-breakey heart."

'John's' call was not like that. Not at all. He was polite but not solicitous. As I recall, he began with, "I wonder if I might have a few minutes of your time?" I thought it was a telemarketing call or my local police or fire station making a cold call for donations.

He explained that he was an Episcopalian who had been born in Northern New Jersey, but found himself transplanted to "The Heartland" which he now called home. He said he had looked me up on the Internet, along with several other clergy in the area, whom he named. He had spoken with two of them and had left messages for two others.

"I've gotten into a tough patch," he said, and I had this idea that if I called a few clergy in my old home state, maybe if a few of you got together, you might be able to help. It's really bad here in the Midwest, and churches can really only help with a few days supply of food, which is wonderful, but that's not what I need."

"Well," I said, trying not to sound sarcastic, "let me guess. You need money."

I was preparing myself to give him the bum's rush with my usual line about how I don't give money to people who call me on the phone from out of state, but his honesty stopped me dead in my tracks.

"Yes," he said, "Seven hundred dollars, to be exact."

"And how did you come to need seven hundred dollars?" I asked.

"Well, we've hit a rough patch, like I said," he began, "The medical bills got way ahead of us and the pharmacy sent our bill to a collection agency. All of a sudden, we were getting these calls and letters from a lawyer who told us that if we didn't have the money by the end of the week, he was going to foreclose on our house."

"For $700?" I asked incredulously. "He's going to leave a family homeless for $700 in medical bills?"

"I can give you his name and number," he said, "and you can hear him for yourself. The man may have more education than me," he said, quietly, even kindly, "but he don't know nothin' about being a gentleman."

He cleared his throat before he continued, "So, after I realized that the local churches here were almost as bad, if not worse off, financially, than we are, I thought maybe churches in the Northeast might not be so bad. So, I thought I'd start giving you a call. I mean, we're all 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church', right? Isn't that what we say in the Creed on Sunday?"

Okay, so now he had me, but I was still defensive because of my suspicion.

"I need you to know that I can't afford $700," I started.

"Oh, no, no," he said kindly, "I don't expect that. But, maybe if you give $25 or $50 and I can get other churches to do the same, I'll be able to make a dent in this loan."

"Wait," I said, clearly unnerved by his calm pragmatics, "you took out a loan?"

"Yes, ma'am," he said, "and that's the problem. See, after the lawyer called we met with him in his office. I thought, well, maybe if he saw us face-to-face, we might be able to work out a deal. It only made it worse. He yelled and screamed in my face and told me that he had just foreclosed on two other families just that week."

'John' grew quiet again, "Pastor, when I tell you that the man was heartless . . . well, I was taught not to say anything bad about other people, but . . .I'll just say this . . .I knew that I was in the presence of something evil."

Again, he cleared his throat and said, "So, the wife and I went to this place where the attorney said we could get a loan today and it would be all taken care of before we went to bed that night."

"We went down the street to a place called 'The Cash Store'. They seemed to know that we'd be coming. Within 15 minutes, the papers were all signed and we walked out of the place feeling relieved that we wouldn't lose our home."

And then, when I got home and read over the paper work, I realized the mistake we'd made. I knew it right a soon as I saw the annual finance charge. I couldn't believe my eyes. I couldn't believe that I heard the man say it in the store, but what I heard most was that I would get to keep my house for my wife and son."

"What is the percentage rate?" I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Ready? No you're not, but here it is anyway: 403%.

Yes, that's Four Hundred and Three Percent.

He would later send me a fax of his Loan Agreement but here's how it broke down: the family would have to make nine weekly payments of $108.50 - which would not pay off the principle of the loan.

That would come with the tenth "balloon" payment of $805.50 which was the original loan plus the last finance charge.

If you're doing the math, that adds up to total payments of $1,785.00 on an original $700 debt, earning the loan company $1,085.00 - more than the family owed in the first place.

No wonder they call themselves "The Cash Store."

What I do wonder is how these people sleep at night. Or, look themselves in the mirror every day.

But wait! There's more!

As I was digesting this information, I asked, "How did you let your medical bills get so out of control? Is it your boy that's sick?"

Well, 'John' lost his job a few months ago, but his wife works full time for an agency that helps kids with disabilities. Thankfully, the position comes with health insurance benefits which is not the best, but it's something.

This would be the place where you should make sure you've got some tissues handy.

His wife, whom I'll call 'Jane' has a genetic disorder which she has and has passed on to her three children. It's call 'Turcot's Syndrome" in which there is clustering of colon and brain tumors within the same family and sometime within the same patient.

'Jane' has colon cancer which is under treatment and presently in remission. One of her sons died with rectal cancer at the age of 21 a few years ago. Her 22 year old daughter presently has rectal cancer and has developed a second malignancy which is a primary tumor of the brain. Her 12 year old son was just diagnosed with colon cancer which is now being treated and doctors are optimistic that it will go into remission, but, since he is an adolescent, he is a prime candidate for the development of a brain tumor, which is the pattern of the disease in adolescents.

Go ahead. You can read those two paragraph again. I'll wait. It's all true.

I gave over all the information that 'John' faxed to me to the scrutiny of Ms. Conroy's careful if not cynical eyes. She studied them for several long minutes and declared them legitimate.

Since Monday evening, in between all the other pastoral and administrative duties I've tended to, I've been making calls. I was able to convince a friend in a neighboring police department who owes me a few (ahem) favors to run a 'sheet' on the guy. No outstanding warrants, no prior convictions, no felonies.

I called The Cash Store and learned that, in fact, a loan had been taken out by 'John' and his wife, 'Jane' for $700. And yes, I was told, the interest rate was 403%. And yes, the first nine payments were finance charge which did not apply to the principle balance. And yes, she said, she slept well at night. (Yes, I asked.)

I called the drug store in the Midwest to check out the story of the loan. After a few calls, I eventually got the owner who sounded more desperate than 'John'. He's had so many outstanding debts that he, in his words, "had to resort to a lawyer who has been a godsend to me. He's helping me save my business."

When I tried to tell him what the attorney was doing to exact the income from his debtors, he said, "I don't want to hear it. I can't hear it. I have to provide for my family, too. You just don't understand how bad it is out here."

Apparently, I don't. It got worse.

I called the attorney. 'John' was right. He is an educated man, but he ain't no gentleman. He essentially said that this was none of my business and that I was to . . . wait . . . let me quote him exactly . . ."turn my goody-two-shoes in the opposite direction and mind your own damn business."

He did end our conversation on a somewhat compassionate note by saying something I had heard before, "You just don't understand how bad it is out here."

So, I decided that I probably needed to try and understand how bad it was out there.

I called the Episcopal Cathedral where 'John' said he had gone, but all they could give him was food - and someone slipped a $20 bill in his hand. I spoke with a woman who was as cold as a three day old codfish packed in ice.

I had introduced myself and told her that I was just trying to get a better understanding of the situation and could she fill me in. I'm trying hard not to believe that her rudeness was due to the fact that this particular Cathedral is in a highly conservative diocese with a bishop who has had a very high profile in the movement to leave the Episcopal Church.

Nah. Couldn't have been that. Or maybe, when they say the Nicene Creed every Sunday, when they get to the part about "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," they cross their fingers.

So, I called a friend in a neighboring diocese who told me that "Yes, it's that bad here, Elizabeth. Most of us are just working on the principle of 'the greatest good for the greatest number'," adding, "I'm amazed that someone had $20 in cash to give your caller. That was probably an act of sacrificial giving."

I suddenly felt ashamed of the secret judgment I had made in my heart about that.

I also called the Dean of the Cathedral in a neighboring, friendly diocese. I left a message, explaining the nature of my call. That was two days ago. No word yet. I'm going to keep trying.

I had also emailed all the clergy whom 'John' said he had called, giving them all the information I had, and urging them to try to be as generous as they could.

Well, there's no 'happily ever after' - not in this economy - but there is Good News:

Three clergy were able to contribute $108.50 each.

One clergy person went to her Ecumenical Clergy Council and was able to secure a donation in the amount of $434.

I was able to contribute $216, for a total of $976.50 - or the equivalent of almost the entire finance charges on the loan - leaving them with the $700 original amount plus the last $108.50 finance charge.

Something in me prompted me to pick up the phone and call the Cash Store again. I got the same woman I had previously spoken with and told her what we were able to do. She seemed surprised but pleased in an amused sort of way.

So I pushed it a bit further: I asked if they received the $976.50 by Monday, the 27th of April, the date the first payment was due on the loan, would they forgive the entire rest of the loan?

Well, she did the math and muttered that there would be this penalty and that additional charge and would I wait while she made the adjustments.

It was my turn to be rude. I interrupted her mathematical pre-occupation and asked, in my best professional tones, of course: "Are you kidding me? You are going to get all your money back, plus earn $276.50 in 14 days without breaking a sweat and you want more?"

She was quiet for a while and said, "If you get a valid check or money order to me in the amount of $976.50 here by the close of business day on the 27th, we'll call it a deal."

I know how this is going to sound, but I'm going to say it anyway: I'm thinking she probably made money on the deal.

Whatever resentment I harbored for her melted away when I called 'John' and told him the Good News. He could hardly believe it, but as soon as he got his mind wrapped around the truth, the first thing he did was call out to his wife, "Honey," he said, "it's a miracle. It's an honest-to-God miracle!"

Okay, you can hand me one of those tissues, now.

I am so proud of my sister and brother clergy here I could just weep. These are kind, generous people with not a great deal of money in their discretionary funds, but they did the very best they could. I thank God that I am in this diocese with them.

But mostly, you know, I have a 'peace that passes human understanding' in my heart. I keep thinking about something 'John' said.

"I mean, we're all 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church', right? Isn't that what we say in the Creed on Sunday?"

Yes, it is, 'John'. Yes it is. Those are no longer ancient words on a page in my Book of Common Prayer.

I don't think I'll ever say that part of the Nicene Creed again without pausing to think of 'John' and 'Jane' and their son - and a few of my clergy colleagues here in what many in this church consider 'that apostate diocese' of Newark who really believe - and live - the words they profess with they lips.

And all to the glory of God.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This is news?

Well, all the 'dish' has been spilled, and it's not a pretty picture.

It's not just the Anglican teabagging that's become an embarrassment.

Apparently, since I last wrote, the emails posted at Preludium indicate that this was all part of a deceptive plan to subvert the Presiding Bishop's wise decision not to have General Convention deal with the Anglican Covenant.

This was clearly an end-run to push the Anglican Covenant in its present form and force The Episcopal Church out of membership in The Anglican Communion.

There's also a very deceptive bit in a conversation with the bishop of South Carolina (that would be Mark Lawrence), in which he is asked to provide "pastoral visitation" to a conservative / orthodox congregation in Colorado. +SC declines because he does not want "quid pro quo" (a liberal bishop providing pastoral visitation to one of his liberal congregations).

This would be known as the Anglican NIMBY Effect (NIMBY = "Not in my back yard." See also under file "Ick Factor.")

What the emails make painfully clear that this is a political document not meant to build up TEC but to tear her down. It's very much like The Chapman Memo.

You remember the Chapman Memo, right?

Even Ruth Gledhill, Religion Editor (AKA "Anglican Gossip Columnist") for the London Times is on the case. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but as she tends to favor the conservatives in her reporting, she is, at least, giving even greater exposure to the whole sad affair.

So, let's see - a leaked document from the conservative camp with a destructive agenda and plan. End-run pushes. Deception. Duplicity. Backroom politics. Sexism. Homophobia.

Hmmm . . . and this would be news because??????????

Don't get me wrong, I am glad this whole very sad situation is being exposed for what it is, and I am deeply grateful to Mark Harris, Susan Russell, Jim Naughton and a whole host of other colleagues who took real leadership when these emails began to surface and are now taking some heavy hits from some of the bishops who signed onto the document.

However, this is hardly news to those of us who have been paying attention for the past, oh, I don't know, decade or so.

For those of us serving in justice organizations, this is the stuff of our daily bread. The only surprise is that it still surprises people who know better, such as the person quoted by Susan Russell in her statement from Integrity - an ally - who said, ‘This is stunning. It is remarkable to think about the plotting that is going on. In many ways I am just too naïve.’”

Well, honey, stick around and in no time flat you'll get over that. Indeed, you'll start to operate out of a hermeneutic of suspicion, just like the rest of us.

It will be interesting to see how these next few weeks unfold. Maybe this will serve as a wake-up call to those in the House of Bishops and new deputies who really, really, really want to believe that this is not a political battle.

Maybe this will strengthen the resolve of those who have been working as activists for decades to find the courage to continue this thirty-three year battle for justice through yet another General Convention.

Maybe it was the Holy Spirit, who just happened to see a few of these emails whiz past Her in cyberspace and said, "Hang on just a minute! This has got to stop!"

Maybe it was justice, working itself out in The Episcopal Church.

It may be all of the above, but for some of us, anyway, this ain't news.

In some ways, its even more embarrassing than Anglican Teabagging.

Anglican Teabagging

Well, there is a new tempest beginning to brew in an Anglican Tea Pot, but this time, there's no real 'tea' involved - just 'teabagging'.

The news is everywhere. Mark Harris has a great piece over at Preludium. Episcopal Cafe and Thinking Anglicans are also reporting it.

Here's the 'executive summary': "Communion Partners and ACI now intend to publish a formal document shortly, signed by perhaps 18 CP bishops, entitled Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church which argues in detail that TEC is not a hierarchical body and that individual dioceses are autonomous entities. In particular they argue that individual dioceses are free to sign up to the proposed Anglican Covenant, and that it is not necessary to leave TEC and join ACNA in order to do that. The presumption here is that TEC itself will not do so, or at least not in 2009."

Let me set this latest little piece of Anglican Drama in context for you.

We all remember when The Windsor Report came out in 2004 which was Canterbury's response to the consent of the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire by General Convention 2003.

It pretty much took over General Convention 2006 if I recall, at which it was 'recommended' that The Episcopal Church apologize for consenting to the election and consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire.

We were also asked to observe a moratorium on authorizing liturgical rites of blessing of the covenants made between people of the same sex as well as one on electing or consecrating LGBT people as bishops.

We did express 'regret' for the commotion that was caused by the election and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, and said that while we understood their 'pain', we really were exercising 'local option' in terms of blessing same sex covenants, and we don't have any of these liturgical rites because General Convention hasn't authorized them.

Furthermore, we said, the moratorium on electing and consenting to LGBT bishops was against our canons which prohibit discrimination.

So, we ended up with the nebulous but nevertheless lethal wording of Resolution B033 which asked bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees to 'exercise restraint' in the consent of people whose 'manner of life' would present a problem to the rest of the communion.

That produced great dissatisfaction and an ensuing flurry of frenetic and dyspeptic activity from the Purple Shirts on the so-called 'orthodox' side of the aisle: The evolution of the Common Cause Partnership, the Anglican Communion Network, and GAFCON . . . and there may be others, but, you know, it's really hard to keep up with the every-changing 'alphabet soup' of 'orthodox' organizations.

Various other statements were pronounced: The Dar es Salaam Statement,the Jerusalem Statement . . .oh, and let us not forget the Great Primatial Ultimatium of September 30th, 2007. (And they huffed, and they puffed and they tried to blow the house of The Episcopal Church down . .. ).

So, now comes the herald of this much anticipated statement, reportedly signed by anywhere from 10-18 bishops, which declares that TEC is not a hierarchy and that individual diocese can sign onto The Anglican Covenant without General Convention doing so.

As if that weren't enough drama, there is some palace intrigue swirling around all of this which has been inspired by some emails between some conservative leaders which were, obviously, not supposed to get into the grimy hands of liberal leadership. But (oops!)did.

As if . . . any of this really carried any weight in terms of what can or can not be done and have any real effect on 'the Covenant Process' in particular or the structure of authority in TEC in general.

Which is why I call this evidence of 'Anglican teabagging'. It's just a little wrestling / video game move designed to annoy and/or humiliate.

The Urban Dictionary has this definition of 6. tea-bag

verb - An April 15 nationwide protest against President Obama heavily promoted by Fox News and largely restricted to small gatherings of angry white conservatives; the sponsors and participants presumably intended the term to be suggestive of the Boston Tea Party and appear to have been unaware that it also has a sexual meaning.

"I'm gonna tea-bag Obama before he tea-bags me and takes my gun away!"

If you click on that link to the Urban Dictionary, you'll find several other definitions which will help you understand the 'sexual meaning' of the term.

I'm going to leave you alone with that imagery - oh, and this quote from John Stuart Mill, in a letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March, 1866):

"I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."

Tune in tomorrow, folks, for the next episode of "As the Anglican World Turns".

Is it General Convention yet?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ms. Conroy

We hadn't been together for two months when we were thrown into what would become a interminably long five year custody battle for our children.

It was 1976. At that time, in New England, anyway, a single woman couldn't have a mortgage in her own name without her father or brother's signature on the loan.

I distinctly remember applying for a credit card and being told that I had to have my husband, father or brother co-sign the application.

So, when our fancy Boston attorney - the only one anyone knew who would take on a 'lesbian custody case' (they were not unknown but pretty rare those days) with any skill or competence - told us that he was charging $75 an hour (remember: 1976), we just looked blankly at each other.

We were both nurses at the time, working full time, and I think we were making about $10 or $15 an hour which was not bad money for a woman at the time, but certainly no where near what we needed in order to hire this attorney.

We both burst into tears. We were facing impossible odds with absolutely no resources to fight them. I mean, it's not like you could tap into resources gained from a national telethon to "Help the Lesbian Mothers." Indeed, the two words together, "lesbian mother" were considered an oxymoron - if not a flat-out impossibility.

The attorney said he'd see what he could do. Then, in a fit of compassion rarely seen by those in the legal profession, he said, "Listen, I've got these tickets to a performance tonight and I can't make it. Here, take these tickets and go. Try to relax and enjoy yourself."

I gratefully took the tickets, read them through my tears and asked, "Jane Olivor? Who is Jane Olivor?"

Our attorney looked stunned for a moment and then smiled broadly and said, "Listen, kids, if you are going to be in the 'gay community', you've got to learn about Jane Olivor. Go. Listen. Relax. Enjoy!"

'Gay community' I thought? You mean, there are others - lots of others - a whole community of people - like us?

We thought that maybe, just maybe, we were the only two lesbians in the world - or at least, the only two with children.

Well, we met the 'gay community' that night at the Jane Olivor concert.

This clip from YouTube is the first song we ever heard Jane do. It certainly wasn't the last. We saw her in concert in Long Island a few years back. Her voice is as stunning as ever. Incredible. Haunting. Like a very angel.

We both fell in love instantly with Jane Olivor. Ms. Conroy fell especially hard. I remember her weeping openly when Jane sang, "L'important c'est la rose."

Her voice became, for us, the voice of the 'gay community' in which we were just becoming members. She would be joined later by Cris Williamson, Margie Adams, Holly Near, and so many others, but that night, it was Jane Olivor's voice that became for us a symbol of all that was good, all that was true, all that was pure, all that was holy, all that was beautiful, all that was noble, and all that was hopeful about being who God had made us.

I'm not sure, and she'd probably never admit it, but I think Ms. Conroy's favorite Jane Oliver song is "Stay the Night."

After the concert, we went out and bought two of her albums - yes, you know: vinyl discs that you played on something called, appropriately enough, 'a record player.' "Chasing Rainbows" and "First Night" were the names of the albums. "Stay the Night" was one song Ms. Conory played over and over and over again.

Then again, she also likes, "Let's Make Some Memories," (". . . laugh and cry and reach for the sky, and if by chance we never touch the sun, we can say we tried . . .") and "L'important c'est la rose".

Oh, and of course, "The Big Parade" (". . . Come, and hide your heart no more, that big brass band is right outside your door, Spring is over much too soon, for those who hum a different tune. . .").

And, we mustn't forget the heartbreakingly wonderful, "Beautiful Sadness." ("Just because it's over, doesn't mean it didn't happen, doesn't mean it wasn't it beautiful, even through the pain . . ."), or "Come in from the Rain."

I think, however, that "Chasing Rainbows" will always be the song we remember best from that night - our first night together as an 'out' couple in what was undoubtedly an 'out' night at that Boston Concert Hall.

It's come to be the anthem of our lives, not only as a couple, but as individual human beings. Sometimes we've chased a rainbow we knew was sent as a sign of hope for us both. Other times, we've helped each other chase a particular rainbow that was a sign of promise for one or the other.

So, happy birthday, Ms. Conory. Here's a memory for you, all wrapped up inside some beautiful music by the incredible Ms. Jane Oliver.

Let's hope for many more years to chase rainbows together, even if it's in vain.

Women of a Certain Age

Well, the secret is out, so I guess I might as well give up the idea of approaching my sixth decade with a sense of quiet humility.

Indeed, my friend Riley sent me a link to these pictures of women who are my contemporaries. And, look how amazing they are! The article was written in 2006, so they were three years younger in the photos.

In case you don't know them, they are, from left to right: Catherine Deneuve (65), Jacqueline Bisset (65), Helen Mirren (64), Diane Keaton (64) and Susan Sarandon (64).

I understand Jessica Lang - who is SUCH an amazing actor - turns 60 today.

Here's what I've discovered: Sixty is the new forty.

I'm healthier, stronger, and more secure than I was at age 40. The only thing that has really changed is that I suffer fools even less gladly than I used to.

Thanks to all of you who sent your birthday wishes on FaceBook. Each one was another petal on a glorious birthday bouquet.

I am clearly a woman who is deeply blessed with a loving family and many, many fine friends. I am so very grateful.

Now, if I can just get through the taunts from Ms. Conroy who will, as she has for over 33 years, tell me that I'm older. By 2 1/2 hours. It's her birthday tomorrow. I can't wait for her to see her present. (Tee hee).

Okay, now, back to work with the lot of you. My best birthday present will be to know that you have lived this day with joy and taken a risk for Jesus in your faith.

G'won now. Get out there and live your life, knowing that today, this day, you are creating memories, so choose to make them good ones. No matter what else you might lose or have taken from you, no one can steal your memories.

I have come to know that it is the fondness of memories which nurture and sustain the human heart.

Just my twenty-five cents worth of wisdom for the day.

G'own. Go, the whole lot of you! And, thanks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What happens when 'The 700 Club' meets 'The Weather Channel'? It's the 'Gathering Storm', of course!

I'm sure you've all seen the NOM (National Organization for Marriage) Commercial "Gathering Storm." You may have also seen the veritable torrential rainstorm of parodies and responses to it.

It's the funniest damn stuff I've seen in a long time.

Here's what New York Time's Frank Rich wrote about it on April 18:

"WHAT would happen if you crossed that creepy 1960s horror classic “The Village of the Damned” with the Broadway staple “A Chorus Line”? You don’t need to use your imagination. It’s there waiting for you on YouTube under the title “Gathering Storm”: a 60-second ad presenting homosexuality as a national threat second only to terrorism."

Far from terrifying anyone, “Gathering Storm” has become, unsurprisingly, an Internet camp classic. On YouTube the original video must compete with countless homemade parodies it has inspired since first turning up some 10 days ago. None may top Stephen Colbert’s on Thursday night, in which lightning from “the homo storm” strikes an Arkansas teacher, turning him gay. A “New Jersey pastor” whose church has been “turned into an Abercrombie & Fitch” declares that he likes gay people, “but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies.”

My personal favorite is "Interracial Marriage: The Gathering Storm." It's a 'justice twofer'. I always love it when one prejudice is dismissed by another.

What's really wonderful about these parodies is that they give credence to one of the most important things I learned from my years on the front lines of the AIDS pandemic:

Laughter, in the face of the Evil of bigotry and prejudice, is a statement of authentic faith.

I mean, if you don't believe in God and the power of God's unconditional love, you would be too afraid to laugh in the face of Evil. You know?

Besides, Evil really loathes the sound of laughter - except, of course, for its own. When you turn the laughter-tables on Evil, it tends to shrink and then tries to slither away.

(Ah, if Eve had only known that in The Garden. Then again, how could she have known that before taking a bite of the Apple? Which, of course, prompts the age-old question: Which came first, the Knowledge or the Apple? Sorry. When I get in 'laughter mode' it's just so hard to stop, and there's just so much Evil around these days.)

My girl Rachel does her part in the clip above. You just can't make this stuff up. Although, I must say, I do wish she'd stop already with the 'teabagging' comments. It's the smirk on her face when she says 'teabagging' that always does me in. Ewwwwwhhhhhh!!!!

Don't be afraid, children. That sound you hear is not a storm gathering. No, my lambs. That is the sound of a toilet flushing the $1.5 million dollars it took to put commercials like this right where they belong.

I only wish the folks in California had started laughing at the very beginning of the Evil of Proposition Eight. Quick! Lets send the California Supremes a bushel basket of Apples. It may be the only way they get the "knowledge" about "forbidden fruit."

Rich ends his piece with this:

As marital equality haltingly but inexorably spreads state by state for gay Americans in the years to come, Utah will hardly be in the lead to follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. But the fact that it too is taking its first steps down that road is extraordinary. It is justice, not a storm, that is gathering. Only those who have spread the poisons of bigotry and fear have any reason to be afraid.

Somebody give the man an "Amen!"

A beautiful little girl named Sydney

Sydney was the niece of one of my parishioners and his wife who died of a brain tumor about five years ago at the age of eight.

The family is still deeply grieving her loss, but are now at the point where they are trying to 'make sense' of her untimely loss and terrible suffering by working to support research to find a cure for brain tumors.

Please take three minutes to watch this very moving video, then visit the National Brain Tumor Society at to find out ways that you can get involved.

Monday Morning Fairy Tale

One day, a long time ago, there lived a woman who did not whine, nag, or bitch.

But it was a long time ago, and it was just that one day.

The End.

(And, like I said, it was a Fairy Tale, anyway.)

Hat tip to Saintly Ramblings who SAYS a parishioner who is a woman sent it to him. - Yeah, right.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Few Missing Pieces

I planned my return from Rehoboth yesterday in order to be home in time to watch the HBO Special: Grey Gardens.

I had seen the documentary "Grey Gardens," the story of "The Edies" years ago. I found it, then, absolutely compelling and astonishing. I still do.

I was not disappointed with the HBO version.

At all.

In fact, I found the performances by Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore absolutely riveting. They certainly were completely spot on in terms of vocal inflections, mannerisms and even hand gestures.

For those of you who may not know, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale was the sister of John Vernou ("Black Jack") Bouvier III, father of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Part of the creme de la creme of New York High Society, Edith married Phelan Beal and had two sons and a daughter - Edith Bouvier Beal.

The family lived in a mansion estate known as Grey Gardens in East Hampton, NY. When Phelan Beale abandoned his wife and family, the mother and daughter continued to live there. When the money began to run out, they eventually lived in abject poverty and squalor.

There's LOTS more to the story, but I don't want to ruin it for you.

It is the relationship between mother ("Big Edie") and daughter ("Little Edie") that is the heart of the documentary, a Broadway musical (Grey Gardens) and this HBO Special.

And, it is this relationship, as well as what each individual woman brings to it, which I find so absolutely fascinating.

I admit that my fascination with these two women is due, at least in part, to my own experience with mental illness. I have a sister whose exact diagnosis is unknown to me but who is, no doubt, mentally ill.

For approximately four years, I had custody of her two sons while she lived - well, God knows where. I hear she's living someplace in Texas, having lived for a short time with her son, his wife and two children, in Maine.

She fades out and then reappears, stays for a few years and then fades away again. No one really knows where she goes or how she lives. God only knows.

I haven't seen her in over 20 years.

I suspect those who know her today would describe her in the same way the Beale women were described: 'Eccentric'. 'Odd.' 'Peculiar.' 'Quirky.' And, perhaps, 'Misfit.'

When we were younger, my mother would always say, "Oh, you know your sister. She's a real character!" One of my aunts would say, "She's a real piece of work, that one." Another would say, "I think there are a few marbles loose upstairs." Or, "Sometimes, I think she has a few pieces missing."

It was all a joke. And, it wasn't really funny. You know?

I see a striking similarity between the Beale women and my sister. Indeed, I see that same similarity in many of the women I've known who have been 'peculiar' or 'eccentric':

They weren't born 'crazy' or 'mentally ill' - it's just that, when the challenges that life always brings inevitably came, the 'few pieces that were missing' made the difference in their not being able to hold it all together.

Challenges? Did I say challenges? That sounds so 'clean'. So 'sanitized'.

I'm talking about when the life you have carefully built for yourself begins to fall apart. When someone not only breaks your heart but stops it into the ground. When you unexpectedly lose something or someone very dear to you.

When you finally discover the truth about a lie that has been told to you - or about you - which has shaped and formed your life, and the truth is somehow worse than the lie. When the image of yourself is distorted by disease or disfigurement - even if temporary.

When the dream you have for your life is manipulated or cheated or stolen from you.

Those 'few pieces' act as a buffer or a safety net to protect you or carry you over The Abyss. When those 'few pieces are missing', well, you may not ever recover. Your perception of life will always be changed.

And, as the philosophical notion goes, perception is reality and reality is truth.

"Little Edie" lost her lover, her chance at an audition with an important producer, and her father. Shortly thereafter, she began to lose her hair. Completely.

Alopecia universalis is devastating for any woman. When you have a dream - however unrealistic - of being an entertainer, and you have lost your hair, you have lost your dream.

When this loss follows all the other important loses, and you already have a few pieces missing, well, if you survive all of that trauma, you come out on the other end seeing the world a little differently.

Your reality is different. So is your truth.

Is it any wonder people begin to see you differently? It is then that people begin to call you 'peculiar'. 'Odd.' 'Quirky.' 'A Misfit.'

As you grow older, they'll call you 'eccentric'.

And, indeed, you are.

Don't miss 'Grey Gardens'. Rent the documentary, first. If you don't have HBO, ask a friend to tape if for you. While you're waiting, you can catch pieces of both the documentary and the HBO special on YouTube.

If you don't have a friend to tape if for you, try to be patient until it comes out in DVD and then rent it at Blockbuster or through NetFlix.

Just don't miss it. Because, you know, we are all, any one of us, just a few missing pieces away from from being 'a real character' - and some of us start with fewer pieces than others.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I'm in love with Julianna at 'Bad Hair Day?'

It's a beautiful Saturday morning. This is not a 'think piece'. It's a beautiful Saturday morning piece of fluff. Relax.

For the past, oh, I don't know, 14 or 15 years, I've had my hair done at 'Bad Hair Day?' at Rehoboth Beach. The cost is much less than in New Jersey and you get waaaay more. For example,

When you are getting your hair shampooed:

* They put fresh, thinly sliced cucumbers on your eyes.

* They also put lotion on your hands and then wrap them in a hot towel.

* When they put conditioner in your hair, you get an amazing head massage for a full minute. (If you moan softly, they sometimes extend the time.)

At the end of your visit, you can have a free application of makeup by a professional make up artist.

It's positively lovely to be so pampered - and, as I said, the cost doesn't come near what I'd pay in NJ and I wouldn't get the pampering bit either.

The staff is unfailingly warm and professional and, it seems to me, frequently sent off for more training. The hair stylists are also highly skilled and trained. They work with your ego, not theirs, but will raise questions about your thinking in such a way that doesn't make you feel inadequate or wrong.

This is not a commercial. They really don't need anything like that from me. Even in this economy, business is great.

I mean, they don't even have a web page and both places were rocking. The picture above is of 'the original' salon over on Lake Avenue. They have also opened a new salon in the Atlantic Hotel on the Boardwalk.

I think I'm beginning my 5th year with Bobby - MY hairstylist - who has grown from a young man who left 'The Heartland' shortly after high school graduation when he came out to his parents, to become a professional, skilled stylist and colorist. He's smart and funny and very wise for his age. I think he's an 'old soul'.

I absolutely adore him.

Last time I had my hair cut, Bobby and I were talking about my return visit and how it would be right after Easter and just before my birthday. As a special treat, he recommended that I make an appointment with Julianna, the new massage therapist at 'Bad Hair Day?' who is a practitioner of 'Thai Massage'. Which, OBTW, I could get at 1/2 price as a special Spring promotional.

I was intrigued and the price was right. So, I booked it Danno, just before my regular hair appointment.

All I knew was that I would not get undressed for this massage, that no oils or lotions were used, and that it wasn't so much 'massage qua massage' but rather a series of stretching and 'passive yoga' moves, and that I would feel 'energized' at the end of the 60 minute session.

When I googled it, here's what I found: "Thai massage integrates movements for the entire skeletal body, enhancing joint range of motion, increasing blood circulation to muscles and generating a connected experience to the Thai massage practitioner and Thai massage receiver."

When you've got a few minutes, check out the video on YouTube:

It goes on for 9 minutes or so, but you'll get the idea after a few minutes.

Did you notice these words in the blurb above: " . . .generating a connected experience to the Thai massage practitioner and Thai massage receiver."

WELL! I am now officially in love with Julianna, the Thai Masseuse who worked with me.

She was amazing! Simply amazing! I had no idea my body was that flexible. Or, that her little body was that strong.

I am ready to go back to work and equally ready for the Very Big Birthday.

But first, it's off for just a wee tiny tad of retail therapy at the discount malls. There are five of them on Rte One in Rehoboth Beach. And, there's no sales tax.

I have to check out the sales at my favorite stores - just to have a look, is all - and I have to get something for Ms. Conroy's birthday.

You may remember that we were born 2 1/2 hours apart but on different days. I was born at 9:32 PM and she, being breach, was born at 12:08 AM the next day.

But wait, there's more: In the same city.

But wait, there's still more: In the same hospital.

Yes way!

For the entire 33 years we've been together and for the entire 2 1/2 hours that separates our birthdays, Ms. Conroy has always taunted me that I'm older than she.

Mind you, she never brings it up at any other time of the year and it never gets me any special privileges or advantages. Oh well. That's what spouses are supposed to do, right?

But, she didn't get a Thai Massage. Na, na, na boo boo!

Oh yeah, I'm relaxed. Have a great day!

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Insect Church"

Just a little something to annoy the orthodox among us.

Hat tip to Wayne - whom I absolutely adore.

Padre Mickey: SCORE!!!!!

I am informed by Laura, the almost-world renowned financial coordinator at St. Paul's, that the fundraising efforts to help Padre Mickey's Sabbatical Refreshment Fund has met, and, in fact, slightly surpassed our goal.

Laura writes:

"The wire transfer to Padre Mickey was sent this morning. The final total was (after subtracting PayPal fees). . . (ready?). . . .


Well done, one and all.

Thank you for your generosity.

This is the list of contributors we have on file. If your name does not appear here, please let me know:

Eileen Schilling
Helen Betenbaugh
Harriet Culver
Joseph O'Sullivan
Kevin Johnson
Andrew Brooks
Susan Brandon
John Bassett
Steven Antrobus
Janet Margul
Mary Caulfield
The Reverend C GÃran A Koch-Swahne
James Pierce
Jonathan Hagger
Kathryn Rose
Carol Dyer
Joan Slepian
Susan Urbach
Frances Rossi
Gary Waddingham
Mark Harris
Amelia Hagen
Joan shelton
Shelley I Huston
Ida Susan Hedges
Erika Baker
Mrs Joseph Butler Jr
Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango
Paul Strid
Mark C Thomas
Kelsie Reed/Leonard Clark
Episcopal Church of St. Paul
Doug Condit, Jr
William/Deborah Carter
Judith Williams
David Allen
Mary Renfrow
Paul/Catherine Ambos
Frank James Allen
Church of the Epiphany
Ann K Fontaine
Jean Hinson Lall

I will be sending personal notes of thanks to all for whom I have snail mail addresses. Again, thanks for your generosity.

Friday in Easter: Early Morning Exultet

Despite the dictates of our human and liturgical calendars, there is something about the light this time of year.

When I woke up this morning, I headed to the kitchen, pushing valiantly through the usual early morning cob webs in my head, to flip the switch on the coffee machine when something caught my eye.

Suddenly, everything faded away from my sight and I was absolutely and completely entranced by the sunlight dancing on the water just outside my kitchen window.

A hundred, thousand little points of light bobbed and weaved on the tops of the ripples of the early morning current. You could almost hear their laughter.

I practically ran to out to the deck, my feet moving not nearly as fast as the rest of my body demanded, dressed only in my near-nakedness despite the early morning chill, to get a better seat at the stage of Mother Nature's performance.

There . . .there . . .the entire of Rehoboth Bay stretch out before me, absolutely aglow with the joy of Spring Light.

The water sparkled and shone and danced with such unbridled passion that I could feel my pulse quicken. Amazingly, for my state of undress, I was not at all cold.

I was suddenly aware of the increasing rapidness of my breathing and the quickening of my heart beating in my chest, as if my entire body was trying to be in sync with the rushing pulse of the water and the light.

Then, I found myself weeping softly, startled to that recognition by the sudden taste of the saltiness of a tear that found its way to the corner of my mouth.

It was one of those moments, one of those sparkling moments of brilliant, near-naked, blinding clarity that it felt good to be alive.

Good to feel in sync with the Earth and one with God.

Good to be human.

Good to be fully alive.

At that moment, I heard the voice of God say, "It is good."

And I knew in the wildness of the youthful heart that beats in this aging, cracked pot of a body that it is, indeed, good.

It is all good.

Almost as suddenly, I had this thought, which found itself in a place where the dancing light had settled in a corner of my brain:

This, this is baptism - when the Light of Christ transforms the water so that we might be transformed and changed and never again be the same.

In that moment, I heard myself chanting the ancient words of The Exultet, which I did in its entirety and completely from memory.

"Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King."

When I finished, I heard the gulls chant the words of God over my joyful sobs.

"It is good," they said, as they laughed their gull laughs and flapped their wings against the wind.

There can be no denying that there is great darkness in the world - grinding poverty and debilitating illness, political corruption and unfettered greed, blind prejudice and blinding oppression, stunning betrayal and heartbreaking loss and grief.

But sometimes, sometimes in moments like these, there is an awareness that there is enough beauty in the world to drive a person mad.

Mad enough to chant an early morning love song in near nakedness before God, which no human ear could hear and no human eye could see, but which was, nonetheless joined in celebration by the creatures of the earth.

My calendar says that today is the seventeenth day of April. My liturgical calendar reminds me that today is Friday in Easter in Western Christendom.

Today is also Good Friday for Orthodox Christians around the world.

There is a wonderful juxtaposition of and incongruity in these two liturgical realities which found congruence in that early morning moment on my deck on Rehoboth Bay in Delaware.

It is good to be fully human.

It is good to be fully alive.

No matter if it is Easter Friday or Good Friday, it is in such moments, unfettered by the constraints of human, linear time, when we experience what it is to be fully human and fully alive that we know the glory of God in Christ Jesus, who was fully human and fully divine.

Sing with me, church.

All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame,
pray with me to God the Almighty
for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light;
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with God,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.