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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Is The Cross Necessary for Salvation?

This is the newest book on my Summer Reading List, written by two amazing authors, and it's the one reason I can't wait to start my vacation next week.

I've been waiting five years for this book, ever since I read their first book, Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. (Beacon Press, 2001)

If you have not yet read Proverbs of Ashes, put down your current book and read this. It may not change your mind, but it will, most assuredly, challenge everything you believe about the crucifixion.

The most compelling aspect of 'Ashes' is the links it makes between our present Christian understanding of the standard of the cruciform life and the author's - and other women's - experience of domestic violence.

Brock and Parker argue with intelligence and conviction that the violence of the cross has a direct bearing and influence on the violence in our lives.

Rita Nakashima Brock is a Disciple of Christ minister and Director of Faith Voices for the Common Good. Her writing partner, Rebecca Ann Parker, is president of the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California.

The two writers spent five years sniffing out evidence that the cruciform symbol, the central image of Christianity, arrived very late on the scene. Indeed, they maintain that it was not important during the first millennium of Christian history.

Not until 965 in northern Germany was the life-sized oak crucifix called the Gero Cross carved. On it, the Christian God was suffering and dying, an image of terror, torture and desolation. The carving is now in the Cathedral of St Peter and Maria in Cologne. Could there be a connection: one hundred years later, Pope Urban 11 launched the first crusade promising Christian warriors paradise after death.

“But the death of Jesus was not a key to meaning, not an image of devotion for the Christians of the first millennium”, Parker and Brock write. “He was risen, a healer, baptized, a shepherds, a teacher and a friend.”

From everything all the reviews I have read, I have no doubt that this book will rock the foundations of Christian belief. We who believe in and love Jesus have been thoroughly taught that the crucifixion of Jesus saved the world.

The authors ask - and answer - the important question, "If the crucifixion is absent in historic Christian art, what is present?

Paradise is present, Brock and Parker assert: this world, with water, sheep, hills of grass and flowers, winged seraphim, doves, deer, sheep and a small golden city. They found these images in the art of the apse, quite hidden, in the basilica of St Giovanni in Laterano in Rome.

“Paradise, not crucifixion was the dominant image of early Christian sanctuaries, and paradise was this world, not the next. What the images said was that God blesses this world with the spirit”.

I have a very clear memory of a seminary course I took at Weston Theological School in Cambridge, MA, which then shared the campus, library and faculty with my seminary, The Episcopal Divinity School.

At one point in this course on John, the professor, a Jesuit priest who has several essays in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, asked us to put down our pens and turn off our tape recorders.

With great urgency, he leaned over the podium and said to us, "Jesus is not the important thing about our faith. The Holy Spirit is. Jesus says this over and over again in John's gospel. Jesus shows us the way, and lays out the path by which we can find our salvation - as individual in community - but it is the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection gift of the Crucifixion of Jesus, who guides us and sustains us in that journey back 'home' to Paradise to be with God."

Ultimately, this book offers potent political theology.

Our inherited theology of the cross: violent victimization and devious enemies, (à la Mel Gibson), has stoked holy war, the Crusades, colonization and racism.

It has also been the theological basis which has given tacit approval if not blanket permission to perpetuate domestic violence - especially to women and children.

I suspect it is also the undercurrent of the violence - physical, psychological and spiritual - directed towards LGBT people.

I also want to suggest that The Cross has underwritten our compulsion to 'shame and blame' along with our need to create scapegoats for cultural 'problems' - like the so-called threat of LGBT people to 'the sanctity of marriage' - and the need to 'save' marriage from this threat, even if this means that we much 'kill the infidel'.

Parker has said ‘Legacies of violence, terror and trauma continue to bring anguish into the world”.

She, with Nakashima Brock, is driven to seek its roots, the roots in religion. Together, these theologians reclaim the value of life in this world and the truth of salvation on earth. They are reaffirming a sensibility, the affirming forms of Christianity.

The world could do with some of that.

You can hear some of Rebecca Ann Parker's presentation to the congregation at All Soul's Unitarian Church here. There are three parts to the series.

You can hear some of Rita Nakashima Brock's thoughts in a two part video here.

As for me, I can't wait to read the book. It makes the anticipation of vacation that much sweeter.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eh, fuggedaboutit!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Hey, C'Mon That's Not ... Why Would You ...Whoa!
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Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

I used to live in Baltimore, MD, AKA "Charm City." I started working in New Jersey, AKA "The Garden State" (before it became known as "Soprano Land") in 1991 and moved my family here in 1993.

I was born and brought up in Fall River, MA, AKA "The Mill Town" and consider Boston, AKA "Dirty Water", my home.

I came here with the same stereotypes of New Jersey as everyone else. Blue Collar State. Lots of Italians. A home base of the Mafia. Tons of corruption. Miles and miles of concrete (including some front lawns). Might as well have been Tarshish were there were "people who did not know their right hand from their left."

The trouble with stereotypes is that there is always a grain of truth to them.

I can't deny that there is some truth to the stereotype of The Garden State. But, it's no where near the truth, the whole truth and it sure as hell aint' 'nothing but the truth.'

Is it gritty? Yup. Some parts.

Do we have corruption? Yeah, we got your corruption right here. You got something to say about that? I didn't think so.

But you know what? That's not any more so than any other place in the world. That doesn't make it right. That's not a defense. It's just that, being so close to New York City, AKA "The Big Apple," things here move faster, louder, and therefore, more obvious.

The latest scandal including three Mayors and five Rabbi's is awful. Horrible. As one law officer said, "These people lived in an 'ethics-free zone'."

But, it's NOT the whole of New Jersey where, I hasten to add, we have had some of the best legal protection for LGBT people without actually having marriage equality - which may be why we're not as advanced as, say, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont to have full marriage equality.

About 18 months ago, we did have a governor appointed Blue Ribbon panel, which included a range of people from LGBT and fundamentalist Christian, study the range of difference between no legal rights, a will and advance directive, domestic partnership, civil union and marriage and concluded UNANIMOUSLY that there was discrimination.

Full marriage equality will come to New Jersey before the end of the year. We all know this. We're just waiting for the 'i's' to be dotted and the 't's' to be crossed.

All in all, it's a good place to live. I don't plan to retire here - can't afford it even with the great pension provided by TEC. I will, most likely in the next 5-7 years, retire to Delaware, AKA "The First State," which is, hands-down, much prettier to look and and less corruption (well, it's all relative, isn't it?) to deal with.

But, unless things change drastically in the next 5 - 7 years (and, who knows, they just might), I will be giving up everything we have worked so hard to accomplish over the last 35-40 years.

All I'm saying is to listen to Jon Stewart, who is a 'Joisey Boy' - educated in the public school system here.

Go ahead and laugh. He's very funny. But, please, don't judge us all by those three Mayors and five Rabbis. Please try to tone down the stereotype.

Unless, of course, you want to sleep with the fishes with your cement shoes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Changed, but not ended

The calendar is pretty full today.

It is, of course, the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany - a story as parable about the ways to serve God.

On July 29, 1974, eleven women who had been ordained deacons in the Episcopal Church boldly and courageously acted on their vocation, discerned in community, of a way to serve God as priests in the Church.

On July 29, 2008, my mother died. I was, in my way, attempting to serve God and the people of God through the church, attending the Lambeth Conference at the time.

My mother was not the easiest person in the world to live with. You may have noticed that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

Never one to just pick up the phone and call, she nevertheless expected her children to do so. She also made no bones about the fact that we were a source of great disappointment to her.

Oh, she never said that flat out and would be horrified if you said that about her in her presence, but the truth of the matter is that we could never do enough - be enough - for her.

A typical phone call would go like this: "Hi, Mom."

"Who is this, please?"

"It's Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth? Oh, Elizabeth! I didn't recognize your voice. It's been so long."

"Mother! I called you two weeks ago. Remember?"

"Yes, of course I remember. I'm not that old, you know. But, that was two whole weeks ago. That's a long time. You don't think so now, but you just wait until you are my age and your kids don't call you. Then, THEN, you'll understand. So, how have you been . . . .?"

She was a certified travel agent for guilt trips, often planning great excursions well in advance, but most of them were impromptu side trips. Like the one above.

And yet, it's the strangest thing. The phone calls are the thing I miss most. I even miss the maddening parts - the hint and innuendo of guilt - because once you moved past that, if I could get her to tell me a story, or, perhaps, share a recipe, she was wonderfully entertaining.

I especially loved to get her to give me an involved Portuguese recipe over the phone. It almost always involved directions with her hands which she never seemed to remember that I couldn't see.

"Add about this much crushed red pepper."

"How much, Mom?"

"This much."

"What? About a tablespoon?"

"No, no, no! THIS much."

"What? About a handful?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that. Well, maybe a little less than that. 'According to taste' as they say. You know, I could show you better if you lived closer."

"Mother, we'd kill each other if I lived closer."

"Oh, don't say that. That's not nice. I brought you up with better manners than that. And, anyway, if you lived closer, you could stop by more often. I could show you things instead of trying to explain it on this damn phone. Did I ever tell you what your grandmother used to say . . . .?"

And then, out of nowhere, would come a story - a FABULOUS story - one I had never heard before. One that added another puzzle piece to the story of my family life, and the crazy way we all relate to one another.

I miss those damn phone calls most. Not having the ability to just pick up the phone and call her. Talk. Learn. Even with the guilt.

The evening I learned of her death, Katharine Ragsdale took me to Whitstable for oysters. We sat and watched the sunset, eating oyster and drinking wine, Katharine listening patiently to my mother stories.

This is the picture I snapped from our table on the porch of the restaurant. I keep it on my desk to remind me of that great line in our Eucharistic liturgy:
"For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens."

When I see this picture, I imagine my mother at the brightest part of the setting of the sun. I trust she's met up with Betty, Susan Russell's mom, who died just a few days before my own mother died.

Sometimes, I can hear my mother's voice in my kitchen, giving directions as I cook or bake, and I find great comfort - and even a bit of a giggle - in the words of that Eucharistic preface prayer.

Rest well, Mother. I can't call you anymore, but I do pray for you. Every day.

So, you hear from me now more than you did when you were alive.

Guess that's why it's called heaven.

Politics as Poetry

Well, how about a break from all this stuff in the Anglican Communion?

How about a little politics?

You know, I still loves me my Dave Letterman, but this, by Conan O'Brien, is smart and funny.

And Sarah Palin is not.

Or, is she just so brilliant that even she can't understand herself?

Watch this video and you tell me.

By the way, "North to the future" is the official state motto of Alaska.

I kid you not.

That may help to explain a few things.

Here's the text that O'Brien recognized as Ginsbergian poetry

soaring through nature's finest show.
Denali, the great one, soaring under the midnight sun.
And then the extremes. In the winter time it's the frozen road
that is competing with the view of ice fogged frigid beauty,
the cold though, doesn't it split
the Cheechakos from the Sourdoughs?
And then in the summertime such extreme
about a hundred and fifty degrees hotter
than just some months ago, than
just some months from now,
with fireweed blooming
along the frost heaves and merciless rivers that are rushing
and carving
and reminding us that here,
Mother Nature wins.
It is as throughout all Alaska that big wild
good life teeming along the road that is
north to the future.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Chosen Lifestyle

Well, I was a little preoccupied yesterday, so I'm a day late and a dollar short to all the internet buzz about the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement about General Convention, the Communion and The Covenant.

The man has a real gift for talking in circles, doesn't he?

That poor dear! He really, really, really wants to be Pope, doesn't he?

Would that be considered, "Miter envy?"

Or, do you think it's more about the whole infallibility thing?

Personally, I think he's been drinking his own Lambeth Kool-Aid.

Many people have made various brilliant comments which you can read over at Episcopal Cafe.

My favorite quote is, of course, from the Queen of Soundbite, the one, the only, Susan Russell:
"We don't "choose" sexuality but we do "choose" hypocrisy. And at the end of the day, I'm happier facing my Maker claiming the former rather than being accused of the latter."
That's exactly where I got snagged. "Chosen lifestyle."

Here's the full quote, from "Section 8"
And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.
I know. I know. The man puts a capitol "O" in the word "obtuse."

But, did you catch that? "Chosen lifestyle?"

Are you kidding me? What rock has this man been hiding under?

Let me tell you a little something about my "chosen lifestyle."

One of the pieces of yesterday's anxiety had nothing to do with anything medical.

Thirteen years ago, Ms. Conroy had surgery on the same knee. We were in another hospital, but we might have been in another galaxy far, far away. One that had never heard of patient rights, much less equal rights.

Every other couple in the family waiting area got frequent updates on their family member. I didn't. I went up to the nurse several times to ask. She just said the same thing, "When I have some information, I'll give it to you."

The last time, I pressed her, smiling and being as ingratiating as I know how to be, "Umm . . . Excuse me. I hate to bother you. But, I'm beginning to get a bit worried. Is something wrong? Has something gone wrong? Can you tell me why is it that you have information for all the other family members but not me? I'm really starting to think something bad has happened."

She looked up at me, her demeanor very professional but her voice dripping with contempt and said, "When I have some information, I'll give it to you."

I cleared my throat and said, "May I speak to your supervisor, please?"

She smirked and said, smiling pleasantly, "She's a very busy person. She may not be able to talk to you for hours."

"Fine," I smiled. "I'll go out and find her myself," and turned to walk out of the waiting area.

"Okay, but by the time you get back, there just may be some information for you."

Of course, that's exactly what happened. I found her supervisor and reported what had happened. Her supervisor was not pleased with her, but chose not to do anything about it.

Now, that situation will never make it into the great books of case law on discrimination. It's not even worth whining about. It's the sort of 'low level' discrimination that is designed to stay 'below the radar' but still hit its target in terms of your psyche, with collateral damage to your heart and soul.

So, one of the things I packed with me this time, like the last time Ms. Conroy had surgery five years ago, was our domestic partnership papers. I didn't need them the last time, but well, you never know.

The last thing I needed was to be hassled by a nurse or receptionist with attitude. And, God forbid anything should go wrong and . . .

Thankfully, I didn't need it. Nothing went wrong, Thanks be to God. The staff was professional, competent, warm, caring and supportive - to everyone.

No discrimination - but, no special treatment. Just professional, competent care.

You know. What everyone expects.

I don't know how many married people have to remember to pack their marriage certificates when their loved ones go to the hospital, but I would bet solid money that Rowan Williams doesn't give it a thought when his wife, Jane, is ill.

Chosen lifestyle? Why would anyone CHOOSE to be hassled at critical moments in their life? Why would anyone CHOOSE to have your basic civil rights denied? Why would anyone CHOOSE to be discriminated against in the church - by otherwise intelligent, highly educated, seemingly spiritual people?

How do you CHOOSE the person with whom you fall in love? With whom you wish to start a family? With whom you want to spend the rest of your life?

And, why should that choice condemn you to a life of discrimination?

Did Rowan Williams listen to ANY of the LGBT deputies he met when he was at General Convention just a few weeks ago? Did he not see eight Children of God who love Jesus and serve the people of God through the Church?

Was it really that "hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires"?


Here's the thing: I don't have a lifestyle. I have a life.

And, the only choice I have made in the way in which I 'fashion' or 'style' my life is to live honestly, with authenticity and integrity - no matter what it costs, or what assault to my dignity I must endure.

+++Himself can object all he wants to my so-called "chosen lifestyle".

Personally, I have a strong objection to his "chosen leadership style."

Which, near as I can tell, can best be summed up in a very few words, one of which includes a word already used by Our Fabulous Ms. Russell: "Hypocrisy."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Writin' on the ceiling.

Thanks for all your prayers and kind notes of care and concern. You can't possibly know how much it all helped.

Ms. Conory is doing surprisingly well. I think, because the worst is over, she's even that much better. You know?

Of course, the pain meds help, too. Just sayin' . . .

So, before we are both tucked in for the night, I've gotta show you this cool thing my friend Alicia taught me to do.

¡uʍop ǝpısdn ƃuıʇıɹʍ ɯ,ı ¡ɐɯ 'ʞool

Isn't that cool?

I don't know why some letters are smaller than others. Might be a hiccup in with Blogspot or something.

Of course, I still don't know how to link to other texts in the comment section, or put accents on French or Spanish words or names, but at least now I can make my exclamation points upside down when I write a sentence in Spanish.

Wanna learn how? Just go here.

I have no idea what earthly good it will do, except, perhaps to impress a few folk, or entertain you when you are so tired you can't see straight anyway.

Okay, it's been a long day. We're off to bed. She's playing Solitare on the lap top and I'm going to catch up on some "It's-not-TV-it's-HBO." I've never seen "The River Wild" (somehow, I missed it) but it's got Kevin Bacon and Meryl Streep so it's gotta be good.

I am so very grateful for your prayers.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mystery and Power of Prayer

NOTE: See Update #2 Below:
Ms. Conroy is scheduled for knee surgery later this morning. She has torn the anterior meniscus in her right knee after rupturing the tendon there.

Believe it or not, the ruptured tendon is a side effect of the antibiotic she was taking. (I know. Go figure.)

This is is a prayer request, which also provides an opportunity for me to say a few things about the mystery and power of prayer - in cyberspace and elsewhere.

While I've asked for all sorts of prayer - for the church, for General Convention - it is not my usual custom to post personal prayer requests in this space.

I have a little "Light a Candle" chapel link over on the right side of this blog and every once in a while I remind folks that it's there.

I have asked for prayer when my mother was very sick and again when she died (which, believe it or not, will be one year ago, July 29). I have asked for prayers in memory of my daughter who died - we will mark the fourth anniversary in December). A few months ago, I asked for prayers for my brother who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease (at age 56).

I am always overwhelmed by your generosity and kindness, your genuine care and concern.

Although I do pray privately when I read prayer requests on other blogs, I don't post prayer requests taken from other blogs or those asked privately of me.

There are a few reasons for that.

First, I am deeply blessed by a company of fierce 'prayer warriors' - people I have come to know over the years who have a dedicated and disciplined life of prayer. As my father used to say when my mother would offer a third helping and he would decline, "That's okay. I'm good."

When I do post personal prayer requests here I know my anxiety level is rising, as it is right now. It helps to talk about it openly. To let people know where I am and why I might be just a bit 'off' in some of my posts. Or, when I go on, and on . . . . Um, sort of like now.

It's not like Ms. Conory hasn't had surgery before. More complicated stuff. It's just that, this time, she's also anxious. Which is very unusual for her. Which makes me anxious.

It also helps to feel like I'm casting a wide safety net. You know. Sort of like "Prayer as the New York Lottery". Anyone in the Northeast Corridor who watches commercial television can tell you the NY Lottery slogan: "Hey, you never know."

It's a bit like that. Much more about my anxiety than anything else.

I guess I'm also fairly reticent after a simple request for prayers from one blog led to a misunderstanding about the exact, proper, tidy process of requesting prayer, which resulted in one of the most painful conflicts I've ever had with a colleague - about prayer, no less.

Obviously, prayer and requests for prayer are a deeply serious thing to me.

So, let me get a few things clear:

If you have a blog, I am not asking you to post this on - or link to - it. In fact, I'm asking you not to. First off, Ms. Conroy would have a fit if she ever found out about it. She finds those sorts of things, in her words, "more self-serving than an exercise in service of prayer."

She is also often critical of the Prayer List in churches - referring to them as the "unofficial gossip sheet". You know: "Hmmm . . . Sally Jones was on the prayer list last Sunday. Wonder if that had anything to do with the car accident her alcoholic husband was in last week. He's such a good for nothing . . . .blah, blah, gossip, gossip . . ."

I have had people call the church to put someone on the prayer list and later had that person or a family member call and ask to be taken off the list because "there are too many busy-bodies in this town."


I've also had the incredible experience of having a few members of the Liturgy Committee in one church I've served ask if we could "cut down" on the Prayers of the People. "It's one of the most boring parts of the service," one complained. Another said, "It's the one part of the whole liturgy I really hate. Too long. Besides, I don't know half those people. I mean, what am I praying for? Why bother?"


Another time, a woman who came from a more 'free-church' experience felt inhibited and bridled by the various forms of the Prayers of the People in the BCP. "We aren't really praying in church," she said, angrily, "We're just mouthing words." It's the same thing that's often said about forgiveness.


On the other hand, I'm always fascinated with the reports that come back after our Confirmands make their required visits to other churches to experience other forms of prayer. They most always have something to say about the local Methodist Church where one of the pastors moves informally up and down the aisle with a microphone asking, "Does anyone have any requests for anyone who is sick?" And, "Does anyone have a celebration they'd like to thank God for?"

The person who has a prayer request is then handed the microphone so the whole church can hear and join in prayer.

"Honest, Rev'd Elizabeth," one of the kids will say in the harsh, judgmental tones of an adolescent, "it was like being on Oprah!"

"Well, what's wrong with that?" I ask, usually to eyes rolling around the room, punctuated by loud groans. "It's not the Book of Common Prayer!" they respond, as if to an idiot who ought to know better.

I fear I may be contributing to one of the 10 Deadly Sins of Anglicanism: Worshiping the worship.


It seems that everyone has an opinion about prayer and how it works. Including me. And, of course, Ms. Conory.

So, please - no posts, no links. Thank you. Ms. Conroy thanks you.

I'm not asking you to send the request on to anyone else, but if you know someone with a dedicated and disciplined prayer life who might pray for Ms. Conroy, I'd appreciate if you did that privately.

Indeed, I am not asking you to make a Very Big Deal about it at all.

I simply covet and will cherish a prayer - your personal, private prayer - for Ms. Conroy.

There's no process, no proper way to do it. There are no specific words or petitions, no forms for you to fill out, and no deadline for you to meet. Yes, you may use the prayers in the BCP, if you prefer.

Whatever. Whenever.

You know, just a few words between you and God in her name.

I suppose a few words from me are now in order about the mystery and power of prayer and why I take it so seriously.

Let me do that by telling you a story.

In 1998, a lump was discovered in my right breast after a routine mammography. Because of its size and location, the doctors were fairly certain that it was non malignant (it was), but I was scheduled to have a lumpectomy with the biopsy - just as a precaution. As my surgeon said, "You and I will both sleep better after that thing is out of your body."

I remember saying, "Amen."

As I prepared for the surgery, I went to see my bishop who was, at the time, Jack Spong. Now, say what you want about the man, but if you say it in front of my face, you had better have only good things to say.

Whatever else can or has been said about Jack, I know this much to be true: The man has a dedicated and disciplined prayer life.

I told him about my impending surgery and asked him to pray with me and for me. He was his usual thoughtful, caring, pastoral self and then asked, "Now, Elizabeth, I'm going to ask you a question. I don't mean to be insensitive, but knowing this will help me pray for you."

He looked deep into my eyes and then asked slowly, carefully, "When you ask me for prayers, what are you asking, really?"

Startled, I asked, "Whatever do you mean?"

"Well," he said, "I'm sure you've had the experience of having people ask you for prayers because they think you have some sort of direct link - some way of changing things - things that can't be changed. You know. They never say this straight-out but they are looking to you for prayer as some sort of 'magic trick.'"

"Ah, right," I said, suddenly understanding. "Yes, yes I have had that experience," adding quickly, "No, sir, I'm not asking that."

"Then," he asked softly, gently, "what are you asking for, exactly? What is it you believe about prayer?"

Only with a bishop like Jack Spong could you feel simultaneously that your soul and body were being cared for as well as your intellect.

"Oh, Jack," I said, "I feel if I start talking about prayer, I'm going to sound like some kind of granola head. I mean, it's not an easy topic of conversation, is it?"

"No, no it's not," he said, wisely, "but I have a feeling that this conversation is going to be a form of prayer. Go ahead, Ms. Granolahead. Give it your best shot. Mr. Granolahead is listening."

I took a deep breath and realized that I was, at once, deeply grateful and deeply frightened to be having this conversation about prayer with my bishop. So, I pushed pass the fear, found the gratitude and spoke from there.

What I remember saying was something like this:

When I ask for prayer, I am usually at least vaguely aware that I am asking out of anxiety. And yes, a part of me is asking from that little girl place that still exists in my psyche who believes her parents can do anything - including getting my Christmas wish list correctly to Santa, obtaining my favorite chocolates from the Easter Bunny, and getting money from the Tooth Fairy.

As a priest, I'm aware that some people make their prayer requests of me from that same place in their own psyche. Some parts of the church have capitalized on the infantilizing effect of prayer. I don't think that honors either the petitioner of prayer or the God to whom we pray.

And yet, there is an infantilization process to illness and disease, isn't there? When I was diagnosed with having a lump in my breast, it was the most serious health threat I had ever had in my life. When I was referred to the surgeon, I remember looking long and hard at the certificates and diplomas hanging in his office.

Suddenly, I wanted to know everything I could about him: Where did he go to medical school? Extra points if it was Ivy League. Where did he do his residency? Was he board certified? Was I getting The Very Best?

I instantly became six years old again. If 'daddy'(or 'mommy') was going to take care of me, I wanted the best, most qualified parent in the world! I wanted my doctor to 'make it all better'. And if s/he couldn't then, by God (by God, indeed), I would find someone who would!

In those situations, I think we often expect the same thing of God - and the people we ask to pray to God for us. It's not a bad thing, necessarily. Neither is it a good thing. It's a very human thing, isn't it?

So, what do I think of prayer? Besides the fact that it is powerful and it is a deep, deep mystery?

Well, here's what this 'Granolahead' remembers telling her bishop. When I imagine myself praying, I imagine the cosmos as a large mesh of interconnecting pieces of thread. Everyone has their very own thread on which they stand, and when everyone is praying there is a certain hum - a zum - not unlike a Zen monastery in prayer, or the sound of Friday nights in the Roman Catholic church of my youth when everyone is saying the rosary and 'making a novena'.

When I am anxious and in need of prayer, I feel in the dark and and cold and all alone on my single thread. When I know people are praying for me, suddenly, I feel lighter, lifted up, and not alone. Sometimes, I imagine hearing that 'zum', that hum of prayer. It's an enormous comfort to me.

See what I mean?


And yes, I think prayer can change things, but mostly what it changes is the person who is praying.

Yes, I have prayed for a miracle, but when I do, I am not asking for God to put on a magic show. I'm asking for something to happen even though I'm not sure if it's the right thing to ask.

And even though I'm quite certain that it's beyond my comprehension as to how it all happens, I ask for it anyway.

I can't remember who said this, but it's my favorite quote about prayer, "Prayer is like this: First you step out on a cliff and then you grow wings."

I know. Not helpful, right? Pure Granolahead.

But, truth be told, that's how it is - for me, at least

My bishop laughed and agreed with me. Prayer is a great mystery and it is the most powerful force in the universe.

I don't know how it works. I only know that it does. Even though we don't always get what we asked for. Even though it can feel like it hasn't worked at all - in fact, has been an enormous failure in terms of net effect.

You know, I think God may well get pissed off when we don't ask for that which seems impossible to us. I do believe that all things are possible with God.

I also think we should ask for the most outrageous things from God - things that seem unreachable and unattainable. You know, like world peace. A cure for cancer. An end to world hunger.

I don't believe God will wave a magic wand and - poof - make everything happen.

The magic, I think, is that suddenly, we'll find the will to be the change we seek in the world. That's the real miracle of prayer. Well, at least it is for me.

Thanks for your prayers. They just may help a miracle to happen. Ms. Conory and I may just find the comfort of the faith we profess.

Hey, you never know.

UPDATE #1: Looks like the Holy Spirit is listening in. This just in from Sr. Joan Chittister:


is the breath of the soul,
the life energy of the spirit.
It is the story of the interplay
between God and me.
It is the link
between the inner and outer life.

There is no formula for it beyond the need
to nourish it with both words and silence.

The prayer of words is simply meant
to fill our minds and thoughts
with an awareness of the nature of God
and the attitudes of soul needed
to immerse ourselves in the God-life
until we melt into the presence of God within.

There the great silence of God becomes
the central, major focus of our lives,
the anchor of our hearts,
the stabilizer that carries us
through all the moments of life
on a straight course directly to the heart of God.

–from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)

Update #2: She's home!

All is well. What a champ, eh?

Sore. Cranky. Ordering me around a bit ("No, don't put the pillow UNDER the knee. NEVER under the knee. Under the lower leg. That's it. Now, could I have a ginger ale. Diet coke? Hmmm . . . don't we have any ginger ale?")

You know, back to (almost) normal.

Actually, it sounds good to my ears.

Okay - so here's the real deal. When Ms. Conroy was having her pre-op lab work, her EKG came back showing evidence of an old heart attack.


Heart Attack.


Just about gave us a heart new attack.

So, off to a cardiologist who scratched his head and said, "Yup, that's what it shows. But nothing else fits."

A few years ago, she did have a bout of Really Bad heartburn. At least, that's what we thought it was. Turns out, it was much worse than that.

So, we did a whole battery of other tests which led, ultimately, to her being cleared for surgery.

Now you know the reason for the anxiety. We weren't as concerned about the surgery as the anesthesia.

The anesthesiologist was a real pro. Had everyone on high alert, which, thankfully, was not necessary.

So, all's well that ends well. And all will be well, as St. Julian said, in all manner of things, all will be well.

We are probably looking at a total knee replacement in 3 - 5 years, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I'm also Really Grateful that the staff was so professional and caring. There was never a second when we were not treated like the couple we are.

I know we have Domestic Partnership, and I had all my papers with me, but there's a difference, as we have discovered, between having rights and having those rights respected and honored without 'attitude'.

I mean, how many married folk feel compelled to bring their marriage license with them every time they go to the hospital?

Thankfully, none of that was necessary.

Thanks for all your prayers. Really. Thank you.

They worked. I can't imagine how much more anxious we would have been without them.

We are so grateful.

Covered Dish Suppers and Knowing the love that surpasses knowledge

Note: This was Jon Richardson's first Sunday preaching with us as our new Interim Missioner for Youth and Young Families. He had been with us for two years as our Seminarian. It's wonderful to be able to complete the circle of this part of his journey. We're looking forward to a wonderful year together. EK+

26 July 2009
Proper 12B
John 6:1-21

In the name of God. Amen.

So, in just a few weeks I will have lived in northern New Jersey – with the tri-cities of Madison, Chatham, and Morristown as my locus of operation – longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life. Even after these five years, however, I continue to experience culture shock. No matter where I go, or how long I’m away, I’ll always be a kid from Louisiana out on a wild adventure in a strange land.

Culture shock presents itself in some unusual ways: being chastised for holding a door or saying ‘yes ma’am’, not finding the spices or coffees or foods that I require in my local grocery store, driving anywhere…

But lately I’ve been noticing another kind of culture shock: Potluck Suppers. They’re a staple of church life in the South. We call them ‘Covered Dish Suppers’, but the principle is the same: everyone in the community agrees to come together to share a meal. Everyone brings a little something and it adds up to a feast. Perhaps there’s some programming or event around which the meal is centered, but not usually. Usually, it’s just about the meal and the community and the miracles that abound when the two are allowed to blossom into a celebration.

I guess the primary difference between ‘Covered Dish Suppers’ in the South and ‘Potluck Suppers’ in the North is that y’all seem to feel the need to plan it all out. Potluck Suppers, as least as I’ve experienced them in New Jersey, tend to involve sign-up sheets and pre-planned commitments about who will come and who will bring what and – God forbid – sometimes even a collection basket for those who didn’t bring anything.

Covered Dish Suppers, on the other hand, tend to be a bit more informal. Sure, we all know Miss Eula Mae is gonna bring her 7-layer coconut cake, so we don’t bring that, but everything else just kind of happens. Yeah, there may be two trays of deviled eggs, but everyone’s deviled eggs are a little different, so it can’t hurt. And it’s true, tuna casserole with that corn flake topping doesn’t really GO with pot roast, but who cares?!

Covered Dish Suppers aren’t about planning a meal; they’re about making space for grace. It doesn’t work out as neatly as if it had all been planned ahead of time, but works out all the same.

It never really adds up. Everyone is asked to bring enough for themselves. Some people don’t bring anything. Everyone eats more than their share, and there are always leftovers. It just doesn’t add up. We can’t know how it works, but we know it works.

This is Paul’s prayer for the church: that we might “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”; that we might know the unknowable.

For me, this is the function of the miracles in the story of Jesus: they remind us not just that there are unknowables in this world, but that through the grace of Christ, they can be known. In our post-modern, western culture we compulsively try to explain away the unknowables in our lives. We can be pretty imaginative in our attempts – explaining how the parting of the Red Sea might have been a drought followed by a flash flood, or explaining away the empty tomb by saying either that Jesus didn’t really die or that his body was stolen.

We do this because miracles make us uncomfortable. Miracles are unknowable and nothing makes us quite as uncomfortable as those things that surpass knowledge.

As Elizabeth told you last week, she and I spent the previous two weeks at the triennial General Convention of The Episcopal Church. One of the highlights at every General Convention is the Integrity Eucharist. Integrity is the organization that lobbies the church for the full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Episcopalians. At every General Convention we gather to give thanks for the witness and ministry of LGBT people in a festive celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Over the more than 20 years that this celebration has been happening, the Integrity Eucharist has grown from a nearly secret gathering of about 40 people to this year’s grand affair with more than 1,200 worshippers boldly proclaiming the grace of God’s inclusive love.

One of the most moving moments of the service for me happened during the administration of the sacrament. No one had expected such an overflowing congregation, and there simply wasn’t enough planned music to cover the time necessary to get everyone fed. Probably without really thinking about it, and maybe even out of a little desperation, the music director began playing “Jesus Loves Me” on the piano. With the accidental nature of a Covered Dish Supper the congregation erupted into the most spirited singing of that Sunday School hymn that there ever was. These once-upon-a-time outcasts who had once begged, “Jesus loves me” as a plea to the church, were now singing, “Jesus Love Me” as a proclamation to the church.

Of course most of this congregation isn’t Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. And neither is most of The Episcopal Church. So it might be tempting to abandon the work that Elizabeth and I did at General Convention as “just political”, or even worse: “too political”. But it’s not. Our work was political, but it was also a lot more. It was about knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. It was about every member of this church having the chance to know the truth that “Jesus Loves Me” even when the sum of those words doesn’t seem to add up against the whole of any of our lives.

Look within yourselves. In those loneliest and quietest moments of the night, aren’t there times for you, too, when “Jesus loves me” sounds more like a plea than a proclamation? Aren’t there times when doubts and fears seem overwhelming and the love of Christ seems unknowable?

Andrew, looking at the five loaves and two fish available for the feeding of the five thousand, said to Jesus, “What are they among so many?” Or as one commentator paraphrased him, “How can the tremendous need we see be met by so small an offering?”

Who among us does not often feel that our offering is too small and insignificant to meet the needs of our own lives, much less those needs of the world?

But here is the secret: our offerings are always small. The needs of the world are always great, and our offerings to meet them are ALWAYS small in comparison. But through God, as revealed in community, our offering, though seemingly insignificant, is sufficient. It doesn’t quite add up, but the unknowable becomes known.

Like a proper Covered Dish Supper, we don’t need to plan out all the details. The end result almost certainly won’t be perfect, but it will always be sufficient and even abundant. And sometimes it will even be perfect.

Like the abundant love of Christ showered on all of us who don’t deserve it even a little, life doesn’t always add up right, but it divides up just fine. Amen.

(the Rev'd) Jon Mark Richardson

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Why? Because I'm a black man in America."

That quote is from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Harvard University professor, accusing a police officer Sgt. James Crowley of racism during a robbery investigation.

Gates was trying to pry open the front door of his home in Cambridge, Mass, when an onlooker called 911.

With all due respect, Dr. Gates, I think it's a bit more complicated than that.

I've been listening to some interesting, if not difficult, conversations among some of my Black professional friends.

Emotions are running high. Very high.

After all, the news has not been very good in the past few weeks or so. Black men, even college-educated black men, are losing jobs in the Northeast at a much higher rate than everyone else.

This incident comes on the heels of African-American and Latino children being disinvited from a suburban Philadelphia swimming pool just last week.

Police profiling and the stereotype of black men as criminals are still very real, even if there are African-American men in power in the White House, Massachusetts, and New York.

By all accounts, the Cambridge Police Department is known for not arresting or not incarcerating people unless necessary. Cambridge is, after all, a very progressive place. If you can't 'talk someone down' in that town, it can't be done.

President Obama attempted to cool things down by calling Crowley and Gates and inviting them to the White House for a beer. He said the incident was an overreaction on both sides.

That has only served to produce even more reaction - and overreaction - on all sides. In his remarks on Monday, the usual conciliatory tone he strikes was missing. He said the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, "acted stupidly".

Unfortunately, President Obama stuck his finger into a hornet's nest where race, poverty and class buzz angrily inside.

I'm reminded of the film 'Prom Night in Mississippi' which has been running on HBO. It's the documentary of the 2007 first integrated Senior Prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi. Oscar-winning performer, Morgan Freeman, had offered to pay for the prom a decade earlier on one condition: that the Prom be fully integrated.

His offer was largely ignored. Ten years later, his offer was taken, but his generosity ends up fanning flames of racism among several generations of Charleston residents. It's a fascinating if not painful study of the complex nature of race and class and the process of social transformation.

However, it is this article, "Skip Gates, please sit down," written by "a Phantom Negro," which has many of my friends in serious, difficult, sometimes painful conversation.

The author says that what we are seeing here is what he calls "The Ivy League Effect".

Here's the quote that seems to be most troublesome to some of my friends:

As a black Ivy Leaguer, something funny happens as you become ensconced in ivy. You’re smart enough to understand that race and racism are a reality you deal with on a daily basis, but you also know that your university ID sets you apart.

Does this mean you are kept from hurtful incidents? No, but it is to say that much of the outrage felt at a racial slight is replaced by outrage at a class slight. Sure, we get pissed, knowing we’re getting hassled because we’re black, but the real indignation comes from being hassled as members of an elite group. How dare you hassle me? I go to school here. I go to work here.

That second part of the thought is always present. I go to school here. I go to work here. When the Ivy League Effect is going full tilt, our black compass gets confused; the realities we know to exist become other people's problems.

And then there's this:

Skip Gates thought that he’d worked hard enough, achieved enough, become Harvard enough that this sort of treatment did not apply to him. And now, rather than channel that outrage in a way that is subtle but effective, he’s very publicly suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, having "joined the ranks of the million incarcerated black men in America."

That’s laughable. He does not see those million men as kin and he doesn’t, by and large, give a damn about those guys. He’s merely annoyed that such an irritation as police misconduct found its way into his home. If he read about this story happening to a plumber in Roxbury, he’d shake his head in disappointment and then go on with his life.

So before we heed the call of racism, let’s be mindful of the tower from which that call came. This has something to do with race. But it has a lot more to do with messing with Skip Gates.

The Ivy League Effect, people. The Ivy League Effect.

I only know this much to be true: life is much more complicated at the intersection of the various prejudices. I know this because I am a woman who shares her life with another woman. I know this because the women of color I know who are also lesbian suffer a different, more complicated form of prejudice than I and my beloved.

I remember, several years ago, that the conventional wisdom in the LGBT community was that it would be a gay man who would be elected to the episcopacy before a woman. And, it would be a white gay man at that.

Why? The reasoning went that a lesbian represented two issues - sexism and homophobia - which were more powerful together than the "ick" factor of dealing with a white, gay man. Two issues - any two issues - would be two too many, went the forecast.

Obviously, that prediction has proven correct. And yet . . . the first woman to be elected bishop in the Anglican Communion was none other than Barbara Clementine Harris. If you hadn't noticed, she's not only a woman, she's black.

Life is not only complicated at the intersection of race, poverty and class, it can become dangerous. It does not take much to rip off the scab that has formed over the scars of racism.

It doesn't take much to inflame the ancient, unseen but very present scars of slavery.

It will be interesting to watch as the events unfold over the next few days - how much our ethnically diverse / black President can help to bring about reconciliation at the intersection of three such volatile issues.

As a white lesbian woman, I just hate the way this feels - primarily because I feel left out of the conversation. Or, at least, unable to participate in or impact the dialogue in a meaningful way.

Here's where it's at for me: On another whole level, this feels like a 'guy thing'. It feels like it's a part of the social construct of the dominant male power paradigm.

When I get to this emotional level of social discourse, my mother-stuff (Vice Principal) kicks in. What I really want to do is to take both men by the ears and trot their asses into the President's (Principal's) office and keep them there until they find a way to shake hands and figure out how they are going to live in the same neighborhood with their perceptions of their own unique power base intact.

Hear me clearly: that is NOT to diminish the important issues of race and class. It is to say that it is also complicated by issues of perception of different forms of power - specifically, male power.

Mixed in and among the tangle of issues is the classic battle pitting the power of the sword (Crowley) over the power of the pen (Gates).

It's just to say that we've almost completed the first decade of the third millennium. There are many battles for justice that have been hard fought and well won.

We've come farther along than this. We are at least clearer about what the issues are. And, if we know that, we have a better chance to come to a more positive resolve.

C'mon people. We can work this out.

If The Episcopal Church can make its way through the volatile issues of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, the rest of the country can navigate the intersection of race, class and poverty.

Can't we?

Jim Dela is a real pro

Don't believe me?

Check this out.

I LOVE this!

And yes, I would "allow" it at a church where I was rector.

I mean, why would you possibly want to stifle that much joy?

I think Jesus would be well pleased.

Beautiful words, wonderful words of life . . .

Images from General Convention are still cascading before my mind's eye.

Most of them are images that weren't captured on film - at least, none that I have seen. But, these images will stay with me, long after the memories of General Convention 2009 have faded.

There was another moment during the Integrity Eucharist where I got all girly-burbly that, thankfully, was not captured by the press or Louise Brook's or Cynthia Black's camera crew.

It came, quite unexpectedly, during the gospel procession.

The hotel conference room where the Eucharist was held was huge. Imagine a room large enough to hold the estimated 1,200 - 1,300 people in attendance. Imagine a room shaped in the form of a rectangle, with the altar set up on a platform with the choir behind it.

Now, imagine the congregational seating sort of wrapped around that altar and choir, in eight 'sections' of rows of seating, with wide aisles between each section.

The liturgy was a bit unusual. First there was an invocation of the Holy Spirit, delivered, of course, by Louie Crew, the unofficial 'lay bishop' but undisputed spiritual leader of Integrity.

That was followed by the 'entrance' or 'processional' hymn - "Wade in the Water" - led, as were all the hymns - by the All Saints', Pasadena Choir.

They were beyond magnificent. Every hymn. Every time.

The first reading was from the story of Cornelius and Peter in the Book of Acts, beautifully read in the "Message/Eugene Petersen" version by Jim White.

Then, instead of the reading of the Epistle, came the renewal of our baptismal vows, before the reading of the Gospel.

It was at that point that we were taught the South African chant that you hear in the IntegriTV report. Our teacher was a young, exuberant South African priest, who kept the rhythm for us on his drum, punctuating it with whistles and inspired yelps.

Then, the gospel procession began. And, no one was ready for that.

The gospel book was carried by the deacon who held it up high the center of three brightly colored, large parasols. It was flanked by four people carrying brightly colored streamers.

The procession was like this: the African drummer, the gospel contingent, and then Bishop Gene Robinson who sprinkled the crowd with the baptismal water as they processed.

They weaved down one aisle, across the back section, up the next aisle, across the front section, and back down the next aisle.

Remember: there were eight sections.

At about the second section, impatient American that I am - tamed by suburbanites who want their liturgy "straight up, no chaser" and lasting not one minute more than a proper, punctual Protestant hour - I began to squirm a bit.

I'm embarrassed, now, to admit it, but I heard myself grumble, "Oh, Lord. This is soooooo gay male, post-modern, avant-garde Anglo-Catholic liturgy which adheres to the belief that 'nothing succeeds like excess'."

I was so enjoying the drummer and the singing that I, even impatient I, decided to just relax and enjoy the exuberant singing of the congregation. I mean, what else was there to be done? I found myself enjoying watching the top of gospel procession as it weaved its way up and down the aisles.

It began to remind me of being at Jewish services, where the Torah is processed through the congregation as the cantor or rabbi chants. Everyone shouts "Alleluia!" and bows and sways as they reach out their gloved hand or pinkie finger to touch the Sacred Scrolls. Then, in an act of utter devotion to the Torah, believing it to be the "Book of Life," they kiss their hand or pinkie finger.

I found myself feeling a strange mixture of idle amusement and just a tad of discomfort by the processional image - South African chant, festive, medieval procession, ancient Jewish practice, taking lots of time - more from sensory overload than anything else.

Okay, and, impatience.

I opened the service booklet to distract myself and found myself reading the 'fine print'. I shouldn't have been, but found myself surprised to read something like, ". . . as the gospel is processed the congregation may touch the gospel book. . ."

I think I smirked. Ah, I was right. It was more like a Jewish procession of Torah. "Gay liturgists," I scoffed to my amused, smug self, who adhere to the doctrine of, 'Less is, well, less."

I say that of my gay brothers with an admitted sense of jealousy for their innate understanding of how to create fine liturgy. Chalk it up to a bit of 'sibling rivalry'.

But, isn't it amazing - evidence of God's grace - that the very ones who have known internal psychic suffering, emotional and spiritual abuse and cultural shame, including learning to cope with the loss of assumed 'male privilege' - who can create such beauty that inspires such devotion and faith to God?

I lifted my eyes from the page and began to scan the crowd.

That's when I saw it: People reaching - over themselves and each other - stretching out their hands to touch the gospel book. Some were smiling broadly, caught up in the spirit of the procession.

But others. . . others were openly weeping.

That's when it hit me - a Spirit sucker-punch right to the midsection of my soul.

Here were men and women who had been clobbered by seven verses of that Scripture - battered and bruised and weary from years of battle with those who think they know "The Truth," kept out of churches or expelled from church, people who had been told they were not good enough, that they were lesser children of God and just a bit higher than the mongrel dogs on the street - who loved Scripture.

Loved it.

Embraced it.

Reached out for it to touch it and kiss it, sometimes, kissing their hand first and then touching the gospel book.

Reached over each other to try and reach it themselves.

Wept openly and unashamedly, in the words of that old hymn, for the 'beautiful words, wonderful words of Life.'

The Episcopal Church, steeped in the Anglican Tradition, has never embraced 'Sola Scriptura', but that doesn't mean that Scripture is not, as Richard Hooker said, the primary leg of the Three-Legged Stool of Anglicanism.

We are not Roman Catholics, who have an exceedingly high doctrine of the Sacrament of Eucharist. It's not all about the wafer and the wine on the Via Media - the Middle Road - of Anglicanism.

I came to understand in a new way and appreciate even more deeply why we are people of "Word and Sacrament."

I think I'm also beginning to understand the difference between Holy Scripture and Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know I'm never going to hear these words the same way again:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

The past few days, as the images of General Convention continue to cascade before my mind's eye, I keep hearing in my head that old hymn 'Beautiful words, Wonderful words'

I'll leave them with you as gift.

As prayer.

Words of Life for your life.

1. Sing them over again to me,
wonderful words of life;
let me more of their beauty see,
wonderful words of life;
words of life and beauty
teach me faith and duty.
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.

2. Christ, the blessed one, gives to all
wonderful words of life;
sinner, list to the loving call,
wonderful words of life;
all so freely given,
wooing us to heaven.

3. Sweetly echo the gospel call,
wonderful words of life;
offer pardon and peace to all,
wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior,
sanctify forever.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Woman, why do you weep?

Several people have asked me why I was weeping at the end of the Integrity Triennial Eucharist in Anaheim, when Bishop Gene gave the final blessing.

If you've seen the IntegriTV clip, I begin weeping as +Gene says, "May God bless you with foolishness . . ."

I had held it in pretty well until then.

And then, I lost it.

Or, maybe it was that I found it. You know, like that foolish woman who turned her household upside down, looking for the lost coin. I'm thinking, when she found it, she wept, too.

Well, at any rate, in order to understand why I wept, you'll have to take a wee stroll with me down memory lane.

See, it's like this . . .

Every Triennial Integrity Eucharist since Denver in 2000, as the various sacred spaces would allow, we've been asking LGBT clergy to "come out" to the altar to surround the presider. Before that, we clergy had been invited to vest and process.

Many did.

Most could not. Well, not and go back home without paying some serious consequences with their bishop and/or their congregations.

There were, of course, other "Monumental Baby Steps" to the door of liberation prior to that: Announcing that there were LGBT deputies. Announcing that there were LGBT legislative floor managers. Announcing that Integrity was in the house.

You know. Putting a face on 'the issue'. Making it 'political'. Making it about the incarnation of Jesus in each one of us - yes, even LGBT people! - because, in our baptism, He is incarnate in each of us.

Even so, processing in with your queer sister and brother clergy was a huge risk for many of us.

The first General Convention Integrity Eucharist was held in 1988 in Detroit. There is a compelling story, reported by the convention coordinator of the Diocese of Detroit, Dexter Cheney, which can be found in the InteriTV clip.

Cheney reports that the local Integrity Chapter tried to find a church nearby to host the event. None could be found.

So, a hotel conference room was converted into a worship space, eucharistic vessels were borrowed from General Convention office, and word got around the way evangelism always works best: someone invited someone who invited someone until 40 brave souls celebrated what they knew to be true: Jesus was among them as he was with the Samaritan woman at the well.

Living water was available even to 'the least of these'.

Cheney says, "That celebration was considered risky.. . . it was on the periphery of the life of the convention."

Remember, the first case of AIDS was reported in June, 1981.

1988 was the height of the AIDS epidemic, which was just as the second wave of the epidemic was beginning to peak. That second epidemic was known as "AFR-AIDS."

Risky? You bet it was.

What I remember best from that Eucharist was the banner and buttons that proclaimed, "Our Church Has AIDS."

Yeah. It was like that.

At General Convention 2000, I believe, it was the idea of then President Michael Hopkins to invite LGBT clergy to vest and join him around the altar. That was preceded by a 'photo op' of LGBT clergy standing on the steps of the Cathedral.

Here's what we looked like then. There were about 30 or so of us there.

I remember thinking, "Holy Crow! Look at all of us! Wow!"

It was a brilliant move - one that demonstrated to the world that LGBT clergy will no longer hide. We will no longer be obedient victims of the closet.

Indeed, Bishop Steve Charleston, pictured in the front among us, preached that very word in his sermon: "No more victims. No more. No more."

We will be who we are, with integrity and authenticity.

Bishop Charleston also said,
Brothers and sisters, I come to proclaim to you in this announcement of the Good News that we have been chosen, liberated and healed by Jesus of Nazareth that the days of our being powerless and fearful will come to an end. That justice will be ours and that moment is coming soon for I do not believe I am alone in being tired of putting up with one act of subversion and nonsense after another of an attempt to distort the Gospel of Christ claiming ownership of Jesus over against other men and women and to subvert the Gospel by turning it into an instrument of fear and coercion.

It was a very powerful moment. I think the pictures capture the exuberance and 'holy defiance' we all felt - on those steps and around that altar.

Indeed, I believe in the deepest corners of my heart that the decision to invite all LGBT clergy to stand on the steps of The Cathedral Church of St. John in the
Wilderness gave momentum to the movement that ultimately elected our first honestly LGBT bishop.

Rosa Parks sat down in the front of the bus because she was sick and tired of standing in the back of the bus.

LGBT clergy stood up at the altar because we were tired of sitting in the closet and wanted to stand in solidarity with the One we knew to be the Risen Lord.

It is in such simple, human acts of faith that miracles arise.

Well, that's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

Then there was General Convention in Minneapolis in 2003. I don't have a picture to show you, but I remember clearly that the line of clergy went from the steps of St. Mark's Cahtedral, around the corner, and filled most of the block. I'm going to guestimate that there were easily 50 of us.

+Gayle Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts, talked about self-loathing gay folk who accept whatever the modern-day Pharisees say about them.

She called it the C.T. Syndrome—the Clarence Thomas Syndrome, to a congregation that heard that as yet another call out of victim status and into the fullness of our God-given identity.

Convention had not yet consented to the election of +Gene Robinson, which it did, ultimately, but just before the vote to consent was to be held in the House of Bishops, a Vermont man alleged that Robinson had “put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation.” A committee, chaired by the Rt. Rev. Gordon P. Scruton of Western Massachusetts, was appointed, rapidly investigated the allegation, and the next day reported that the allegation was without merit.

In the House of Deputies, 60% of bishops consented to Robinson’s election. During a vote by orders in the House of Deputies, 60% of clerical deputations and 58% of lay deputations consented.

It was an incredible moment - one that could not have happened, I believe, without the momentum of other, much smaller, less historically significant yet nonetheless revolutionary events which, to paraphrase Dexter Cheney, were "considered risky.. . . on the periphery of the life of the convention," and the church.

2006 found General Convention in Columbus and, again, I don't have a picture to show you, but I have a very clear memory of the church being packed to over-flowing - people lined the walls, the choir loft, the narthex, and there was a spill-over crowd in the undercroft.

Still, people stood outside the church, sitting on the steps. Here's a picture I snagged of people outside the church.

It was the first time +Gene Robinson preached to us since his election in 2003. To say that it was an emotional event is to make a gross understatement.

There really wasn't space in that sanctuary to have LGBT clergy gather round the altar, but when we processed in, there had to have been close to 80 of us there. Easy.

I remember - indeed, I'll never forget - processing out of the church and people cheering and weeping as we passed. Again, it was an overwhelming, emotional experience.

Are you keeping track of the progression, here?

Forty people at the very first 1988 Integrity Eucharist at General Convention in Detroit.

Thirty Clergy in Denver in 2000.

Fifty Clergy in Minneapolis in 2003.

Eighty Clergy in Columbus in 2006.

Which brings us to Integrity Eucharist 2009. I hear that Integrity is working on producing a DVD of the event. You can see and hear Bishop Barbara's sermon here. Just type in "July 10 Integrity Eucharist" in the search box and it will lead you directly there.

The quote which will be remembered for all time, of course, is "How can you initiate someone and then treat them as half-assed baptized?"


Way to go, Bishop Barbara!

When the DVD is produced, I hope you are able to see the well over 150 clergy who took their place around the altar with Bishop Gene.

Did you hear that? One hundred fifty LGBT clergy. Bishop, Priest and deacon. Male and Female. Black, White . . . and Asian, Native American and Hispanic. Old and young. Rich and poor. Physically able and not.

Isn't that just amazing?

Well, at least, it is to me, but then again, you've got to consider where I started.

Oh, to be sure, some made a bee line for the way, way back of the crowd - far beyond the telling lens of the camera.

Unfortunately, it is still not 'safe' to be 'out' in some places.

Unfortunately, we still have a few among us who have what Bishop Gayle Harris described as the "Clarence Thomas Syndrome". How 'out' they are depends on who they're with and whether or not they've got 'higher aspirations'.

They are less and less these days, and getting to be more and more the exception to the rule. We are getting healthier as a community of queers, thanks be to God.

As the saying goes, "You are only as sick as your secrets."

In the words of Bishop Gene's blessing, may God bless them (or the bishops who continue to oppress them) with discomfort, discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that they might live deep within their hearts.

The part of Bishop Gene's blessing that found a place deep in my heart was this:

"May God bless you with foolishness . . . enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world and in this church, so that we may do what others claim cannot be done."

In 1974, Louie Crew founded an organization of Episcopalians known as Integrity.

In 1988 in the Windy City of Detroit, forty people who had been fully initiated into the Body of Christ but had been treated by the church had been 'half-assed baptized' gathered in a hotel conference room to celebrate the presence of the Risen Lord.

They had taken a risk for the sake of the gospel, the risk of their faith, the risk of their belief in the promise that, when two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, there will He be, in the midst of them.

Foolish people!

Foolish people from a long line of foolish people who were foolish enough to follow The One who was foolish enough to have died on a cross of shame so that He could rise again in glory.

They were foolish enough to believe that we can make a difference in this world and in this church, so that we may do what others claim cannot be done.

See what I mean?

That's enough to make even a grown woman weep.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Misery loves company

I've been praying over the seriousness of the deep, painful budget cuts from General Convention while trying to catch up to 'life in the fast lane of parish ministry'.

While clearing off the mountain of mail on my desk, I found this article in Christian Century
Bishops in the United Methodist Church have voted themselves a pay cut after "recognizing the financial challenges facing the church."

The UMC's 50 active U.S. bishops voted to give up their planned pay raises for next year and instead reduce their salaries to the 2008 level, dropping their annual pay from $125,650 to $121,0130. according to United Methodist News Service.

"The current global crisis has uncovered our hesitancy to act, but it has also gifted us with a sense of urgency and an opportunity to lead courageously," the bishops said in a May 8 statement at the conclusion of their annual spring meeting. The bishops also said they will cut their semiannual council meetings from five days to four to save money.

Several bishops said that some regional and local church leaders had already taken similar salary cuts to help keep ministries going.

The picture grew starker the following week when top executives of the United Methodists' 13 general agencies met in Nashville.

For the first time in 50 years, the denomination's publishing house will not be able to contribute $1 million toward pensions for retired clergy. The publishing house, which does not receive any general church funds, has suffered revenue shortfall of at least $8.5 million, according to United Methodist News Service.

Other agencies looked to canceling some meetings, cutting down travel, sharing staff, making layoffs and not filling open positions. The Board of Discipleship, however, said that it will move ahead with plans to start new churches and to hold an international meeting for young people in Germany in 2011.

And then, there's this:
The number of baptisms by Southern Baptists--who consider the rite a gauge of their evangelistic success--has dropped to the lowest rate in two decades.

The denomination, which has also seen a slight decrease in membership numbers, recorded 342,198 baptisms in 2008, a decrease of 1.1 percent from the previous year, according to LifeWay Christian Resources, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention that compiles annual statistics.

The baptism rate is the lowest for Southern Baptists since 1987 and represents the fourth consecutive annual decline, demonstrating a continuing challenge for the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Total SBC membership fell to 16,228,438, a drop of 38,482 members, or 0.2 percent.

LifeWay produces the Annual Church Profile by compiling information from state conventions affiliated with the SBC.--RNS

Finally, just in time, there's this: "Slings and Arrows: Living With Criticism"

I just love this (under)statement:
"Because of its uncanny ability to expose one's weaknesses, the ministry is not an easy fit for those who are particularly sensitive to criticism."

Somebody in the church - in any order of ministry - gimme an, 'Amen.'

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Another of my favorite moments at GC

(Yes, there were a few.)

Thanks so much to the photographer at All Saints', Pasadena, and to Susan and David for sending it along.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cartoon church?

Sometimes, especially after General Convention, I feel like my religious life has been reduced to life in a cartoon church.

This General Convention was no exception - even with all the good that came out of it.

I love the fact that some of the pictures posted on Mark Harris' blog, Preludium, were turned into cartoon caricatures by Adrian Worsfold over at his blog, "The Pluralist Speaks".

This is one of me, Mark Harris and Susan Russell.

Not very flattering, to be sure, but it makes me laugh out loud.

Which is more than I can say for General Convention.

Back to Reality - but not before a short side trip down memory lane

Well, and it was "hit the ground running" today.

Tonight is the first chance I've had to put the events of the last two weeks into perspective. Images are still emerging and thoughts are coming together.

I'll be writing more on this later, no doubt. Right now, I'm enjoying the memory of the one morning I played 'hookie' and went to The Getty in LA with two friends who were visiting from NY.

It was wonderful. What an amazing place!

There was a sacredness about it - the architecture, the reverence for the creative art in a variety of forms: sculpture, bronze, paint, landscape.

It was one way to hallow the gift of creativity and imagination that has its source in The Holy One.

It was just the right antidote to the craziness of the schedule of General Convention. But, we had no idea of the Balm in The City of Angels that was awaiting us.

This is the Roman Catholic Cathedral in LA. Interestingly enough, it's one of the top five tourist attractions in this amazing city.

I'm no fan of modern architecture, but this one had so much integrity, it was astounding. It is not hyperbole to say that I was awed.

Clearly, this is a holy, sacred place.

The above is a picture of the walk-in baptistry which was near the narthex.

There is a beautiful progression of a tapestry of saints - ancient and modern - which the artist created from photographs of 'real' people.

You can see the altar in the distance.

All around the walls were these angel sconces - all in various poses and with different facial expressions.

Some were dancing. Others were frowning. One was in a full belly-laugh. (The picture I took of it was too blurry to reproduce.)

I LOVED them - especially the one in full belly-laugh. I even went to the Gift Shop, specifically looking for him. Alas, none were on sale.

This is the Paschal Candle in front of the baptistry, with a picture on the back wall of Jesus being baptized.

I found it a very compelling rendition.

This is a reproduction which hung in one of the alcoves of the church. I sat before it and had a lovely meditation.

The altar is also very compelling. I couldn't get the shot I wanted - the one from the altar straight back to the baptistry. It was breathtaking to see the baptismal font and the picture of John the Baptist and Jesus.

Interestingly enough, there was no outward and visible sign of the Incarnation - no manger scene. Not even a statue of Blessed Mary. Not in the sanctuary, anyway.

I know. I know. It was a Roman Catholic Cathedral. Why didn't I go to "our" Cathedral? Because I wanted to see THIS Cathedral, is why.

Never mind. It was a wonderful couple of hours away from the church as institution to visit a sacred space for art and the church as holy space.

It's one memory I'll treasure whenever I remember the 'blur' of exhaustion and politics that was General Convention 2009.