Come in! Come in!

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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Translation, please

I've been thinking of late about the op-ed piece, written by Anglican Bishop Joseph Abura of Karamojo Diocese, Province of the Anglican Church of Uganda, defending his support of the proposed "new" law in Uganda which calls for capitol punishment for the "crime" of what they call "aggravated homosexuality."

Translation: Anyone who is open and honest about being an LGBT person.

Some of my brothers, while not exactly defending Bishop Abura's position, have been urging patience and understanding of the 'cultural context' from which the bishop speaks.

I've also been thinking about the way words don't translate from generation to generation and culture to culture. More importantly, I've been thinking about how cultural understandings are often incomprehensible to others.

When I was in Acra, Ghana, some of the women college students in Accra told me that men are known to "sleep" with other men, but asserted that this was not evidence of homosexuality. "That's just men being men," they giggled.

They also told me that a man may legally marry any woman but he must be married in a tribal ceremony to a woman of his own tribe. "That is not polygamy," they asserted. "He must marry someone in his tribe in order for the tribe to continue."

Likewise, I was told, a "married" man may have sex outside of marriage with male or female. "That is not promiscuity," they told me. "That is just the way of men."

And yes, they also said that this has been "the way of men" in Africa until, they said, "The Christians brought us the idea of shame. So, now we try to assimilate." Which, roughly translated from the local African, meant, not to scare the Christian horses.

Which I experienced, through my American-via-Western-European-Mediterranean-Azorian lens, as grinning, giggling, and disarmingly charming duplicity.

I also visited a Witch Colony in Tamale, in Northern Ghana, where women are banished because they are feared to have "evil powers". This may mean a 9 year old girl who "disobeys" her father or older brother, or a 36 year old wife with five children who has had an argument with her mother-in-law.

I just read this article from the Huffington Post "10,000 Albinos in Hiding After Killings in East Africa."

I confess. It's incomprehensible to me.

We have much to learn about each other's culture. Translation of words is sometimes easier than translation of behavior from one culture to another.

St. Paul tells us through his letter to the church in Ephesus that there are "no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female . . . . we are all one in Christ."

If that is true, and I believe it is, then this discussion about cultural context is important for understanding but absolutely, positively irrelevant when it comes to how we treat one another as Christians.

The murder of an LGBT person or an albino person - the influence of tribal witchdoctors not withstanding - or the easy banishment of women and children into a life of slavery - allegations of Evil notwithstanding - is not only a violation of human rights, it is a violation of everything that is sacred to the heart and mind of Jesus.

I want to give as much respect to the cultural contexts of others as I expect from others for my own cultural context. Indeed, I am happy to err on the side of generosity.

However, as Christians, we share the cultural context of our love for Jesus and His unconditional love for us.

The cultural context of Christianity trumps all other cultures. It has to. If we are to be "one in Christ." If the "old self" has died in baptism and "Christ now lives in me".

Isn't that what St. Paul teaches?

We should all be outraged when our common heritage and culture of Love Incarnate, Love Divine is violated in such heinously evil ways - even when they come from intelligent, articulate Princes of the Anglican Church.

Here's my question to Christian leaders - especially in the Anglican Communion - Where is your outrage?

This just in from Religion Dispatches:
There is, of course, a fundamental irony in these arrangements. American conservatives have convinced their African peers that collaborating with them somehow represents a kind of anti-colonial resistance. One is almost tempted to applaud the American right’s audacity. After all, it generally opposed Africa’s national liberation movements, and often smeared the progressive churches that supported them. Now, by presenting homosexuality as the corrupt imposition of a decadent, dying west, American Christian conservatives have positioned themselves as champions of the developing world’s cultural authenticity. Meanwhile, African leaders purport to fight Americanization by aligning with some of the most powerful and chauvinistic of American religious leaders, and even taking American government money.
Read the whole thing here.

This is not about culture or religion.

I don't need a translator to understand what this is really all about.

This is about power.

I think it makes Jesus weep.

UPDATE:  Exert the power of your voice.  Sign the petition which reaffirms resolution D005 of the 2006 General Convention placing The Episcopal Church in opposition to such laws.

"While we hope that in due course our leadership will speak, we must now speak out to support the glbt community in Uganda and in every country contemplating such legislation. They need to know that we are out here and we are not going to remain silent."

 "Anglicans Opposing Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent I: Are you ready?

“. . . .stand up and raise your heads . . .” Luke 21:28
Advent I – November 29, 2009 

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

It’s the New Year.  Are you ready?

No, I’ve not gone off the deep end. Even though we have several weeks to go to the beginning of 2010, Advent I begins a new year in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar.

It’s not as crazy as it might seem. Our new year begins with the anticipation of the Incarnation. We are a people who are pregnant with hope.

I’ve been struck by verse 28 from the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“Stand up and raise your heads.”

What a remarkable thing to say to an ancient people bowed down and bent over by the oppression of the occupied forces of Rome. Indeed, what a remarkable thing to say to anyone whose shoulders are slumped and head is bowed by anxiety or shame or fear.

“Stand up and raise your heads.”

It was Tuesday afternoon when the call came in. A student I had known several years ago was calling to say hello and Happy Thanksgiving. She is always irrepressibly cheerful and positive in her outlook, even though she’s been through a rough patch.

She graduated a few years back with her M.Div. but had only been able to obtain a 1/4 time position with a ministry with a fledgling inner city organization that provides food to those who are homeless. The rest of the time, she works at a Café. Even has some health benefits.

God, she says, is good. All the time.

“So,” she continued after the pleasantries, “can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure,” said I.

“Well, I’m wondering if I could park my car in your church lot overnight.”

“No problem,” I said, “Just put a note in the dashboard that says, ‘Guest of St. Paul’s Church’. That way, the police will leave you alone.”

“Well,” she continued, “you see, I’ll be sleeping in my car.”

“Excuse me?” I said, certain I didn’t hear her correctly.

“Yeah, see, well, I couldn’t afford my student loans, my car and my apartment. I figure I need my car for my jobs so I gave up my apartment. Trouble is,” she continued quickly, “my 14 year old daughter is here visiting so I really don’t want there to be any trouble. You know. With the cops.”

I took in a deep breath as I took in all that she was saying.

This is an intelligent woman. Creative. Well educated. Who takes care of homeless people And now, she’s homeless. With a 14 year old daughter. How could this be, I asked myself.

Strange. I had just been reading the poem by William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming.”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
“Look,” I said, “you can not sleep in your car in the church - or any - parking lot. Even if I gave you permission, that wouldn’t hold with the Chatham police – or any police department. My permission would not spare you a charge of ‘child endangerment’ – and you could lose visitation rights with your daughter.”

There was a long pause and she said, “Oh, right. What should I do?”

I said, “ Well, for now, just hang on and let me make a few phone calls and get back to you.”

We said a prayer together and then hung up. I thought of the words from this morning’s gospel. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Raise your head, I said to myself. Don’t be overwhelmed by all this. Raise your head for yourself and for her and her daughter. THINK.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Who would still be at their desk? I sent up a quick prayer before making a phone call to a friend at Interfaith Hospitality Network.

To my delight, I was able to reach her and explained the situation. “You know, we used to get calls like this oh, once or twice a month. Now, it’s three or four times a week. It’s like the center is giving way.”

I thought to myself that both Jesus and Yeats, writing at very different times in history, were right.

Sometimes, things fall apart; the center cannot hold.

She said I should give my friend her number to start the process of intake with IHN, but in all likelihood, there would be no room for her tonight.

“Call the Office of Temporary Assistance,” she said, “and perhaps, between that office and maybe some pockets you can pick, we can get her off the streets – at least for the time her daughter is visiting.”

Well, it took a little doing and no less than quite a few phone calls, but we were able to patch together enough money for an inexpensive hotel room while we started the longer-term process of finding a solution to her homelessness.

When I called my friend later that evening in her hotel room she thanked me and said, “You know. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just so ashamed and so afraid.”

And then she sighed and said, “I need help.”

“Ah, I said, “and now you have said the three most courageous words in the English language. I. Need. Help. It’s hard to say, isn’t it? But, once you’ve said them, once you’ve taken careful stock of where you are and what’s going on around you; once you are able to say, ‘I need help’, you are able to stand up and raise your head and see Jesus waiting to help you.”

In this morning’s gospel, Jesus says, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

Oh, my friend is not out of the woods, but she’s on the path. She took her first step onto the path of her own salvation when she stood up and raised her head against the rising tide of shame and fear and was able to say, ‘I need help.’

And that, my friends, is the essence of this Advent Season. That is the beginning of the New Year we proclaim this Sunday. The New Year when the prophet Jeremiah says that God will fulfill God’s promises.

The year of the Lord which begins with a birth of rude awakening in the humble stables of the Bethlehems of our lives.

The second stanza of Yeats’ poem continues:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
To one extent or another, we are all slouching toward Bethlehem.  I know I am.

Many of us are stooped over by anxiety and fear. Some of us are ashamed. Others of us are grieving. Deeply. Some are angry.

We hide it well behind cheery smiles through grit teeth all tied up in a bow of ‘passionate intensity’. Most of us are able to convince ourselves and even others that we are ‘fine, just fine’.

But, we’re not. The truth of it is that all of us need Jesus in our lives. And, there is no room for Him right now, for the inns of our hearts are too cluttered with the ‘dissipation and drunkenness of the worries of this life’.

Fear not. The Light of the world is coming.

This morning, we lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath. Each week, we’ll light another. And another. Each week, the ‘rough beasts’ of our worst fears, whose ‘hour has come round at last’, will slouch a little closer towards Bethlehem, expecting to find what the world describes as King, only to find that God has given us a wee tiny babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Infant Messiah.

We’ll know by the light that overcomes the darkness of our ‘rough beasts’.

We’ll know by the innocent hope we see in our children’s eyes.

We’ll feel it in the real joy that lights up our hearts which comes from sacrificial giving to those whose need is far greater, even than our own.

Hear again the words of Jesus to us this morning: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

It’s the beginning of a New Year – a new life – for a people who are pregnant with hope.

Are you ready?

Stand up and pick up your heads. Ready or not, it has begun.


Advent I: Happy New Year!

Godspell - with Portuguese subtitles, even!

Two of my favorite songs from one of my favorite plays.

More on this, later. For now, just enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent I: Bishop Shaw takes the first 'pastorally generous' step toward Marriage Equality in The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Advent I
November 29, 2009

Christian marriage is a sacramental rite that has evolved in the church, along with confirmation, ordination, penance, and the anointing of the sick, and while it is not necessary for all, it must be open to all as a means of grace and sustenance to our Christian hope.

I believe this because the truth of it is in our midst, revealed again and again by the many marriages—of women and men, and of persons of the same gender—that are characterized, just as our church expects, by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, and the holy love which enables spouses to see in one another the image of God.

In May of 2004 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court opened civil marriage in our state to same-gender couples. That ruling set up a contradiction between what civil law would allow and what our church’s canons and formulary state, which is that marriage is between a man and a woman.

And so, for more than five years now, while faithfully waiting for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to act in response, we in the Diocese of Massachusetts have been living at some cost with an imperfect accommodation: Our clergy have not been allowed to solemnize same-gender marriages, but they have been permitted to bless them after the fact.

In July of this year, the 76th General Convention adopted resolution C056, “Liturgies for Blessings.” It allows that “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.”

Your bishops understand this to mean for us here in the Diocese of Massachusetts that the clergy of this diocese may, at their discretion, solemnize marriages for all eligible couples, beginning Advent I.

Solemnization, in accordance with Massachusetts law, includes hearing the declaration of consent, pronouncing the marriage and signing the marriage certificate. This provision for generous pastoral response is an allowance and not a requirement; any member of the clergy may decline to solemnize any marriage.

While gender-specific language remains unchanged in the canons and The Book of Common Prayer, our provision of generous pastoral response means that same-gender couples can be married in our diocese. We request that our clergy follow as they ordinarily would the other canonical requirements for marriage and remarriage.

And, because The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage in The Book of Common Prayer may not be used for marriages of same-gender couples, we ask that our priests seek out liturgical resources being developed and collected around the church.

We also commend to you the October 2008 resource created by our New England dioceses, “Pastoral Resources for Province I Episcopal Clergy Ministering to Same-Gender Couples,” available at

We have not arrived at this place in our common life easily or quickly. We have not done it alone. This decision comes after a long process of listening, prayer and discernment leading up to and continuing after General Convention’s action this past summer.

Our Diocesan Convention recently adopted a resolution of its own expressing its collective hope for the very determination that your bishops have made. Even so, we know that not all are of one mind and that some in good faith will disagree with this decision. Our Anglican tradition makes space for this disagreement and calls us to respect and engage one another in our differences. It is through that tension that we find God’s ultimate will.

We also know that by calling us to minister in the context of this particular place and time God is again blessing our diocese with a great challenge by which we might enter more fully into that ethic of love which Jesus speaks to us through the New Testament.

It is an immeasurable love given for all. We are being asked to live it, all of us, children of God, each with equal claim upon the love, acceptance and pastoral care of this church, so that the newness and fullness of life promised through word and sacrament might be for all people and for the completion of God’s purpose for the world.

/s/ M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE

My Mother's Daughter

I just spent an hour washing, starching, ironing and folding the holiday linens.

I love to cook and made way too much food for our Thanksgiving Dinner, but, of course, it was a very 'necessary excess'. I had to send "care packages" of left overs home with everyone, didn't I?

Sometimes, in the midst of a perfectly fine conversation, I find myself arguing a contrary position, just to argue a contrary position.

When I am holding a baby and she yawns, I make the sign of the cross over her open mouth.

Before I go to bed at night, I check to make sure all the doors are locked and all the lights are turned off.


I think I am becoming my mother.

Of all the things I do that my mother did, I think I enjoy ironing the most. Well, cooking comes in a very close second, but it is the ironing that connects me to her with the strongest bond.

My mother was a "Mill Girl". Like many first generation Portuguese women of her generation, she worked in the textile mills in Fall River, Massachusetts.

She was a "finishing presser."

In the "piece work" assembly-line of the textile industry, that meant it was her job to steam press the collars, sleeves, cuffs and pockets of the dresses that had been sewn by other women.

After she pressed out all the wrinkles to a farethewell, the pieces were then sent on to other women who assembled the parts by pinning them together. Yet another group of women sewed the dresses together.

The finished product was then sent on to yet another set of women who steamed pressed them to be sent off to be made ready for shipping to retail stores all over the country for other "women of means" to purchase them.

"Textile industry" was the term we used after her shop was unionized. Before that, her place of employment was known as a "sweat shop". Mind you, we were never allowed to use that term, but that didn't change the reality of her place of employment.

It was, make no mistake, a "sweat shop".

I don't know how she did it. Rain or shine, winter or summer, she worked eight hours a day, five and sometimes six days a week, in a factory with no central heat and no air conditioning.

Oh, there were large, institutional windows but the direct sunlight was obscured by the accumulation of years and years of layer upon layer of textile lint on the inside and city grime on the outside.

I remember her grumbling, from time to time, about wanting to take "a pail of vinegar and water and some newspaper" to clean the inside panes of glass. She never did. It wouldn't have made a difference, she said. She was on the fifth floor and there was no way anyone was going to wash the grime off the outside of the panes.

The "sweat shop" environment was made pleasant, however, because it was also a community. Everyone knew everyone else - or was related to somebody. Many came from the same villages in Portugal or the Azores.

There were so many women named "Mary" who often had the same last name - Souza, Medeiros, Pacheco, Costa, Almeida - that they referred to each other by their role in the assembly line.

I grew up knowing "Mary on Buttons" who was not to be confused with "Mary on Collars" who was the cousin of "Bella the Supervisor" and therefore a person of some influence.

People helped each other. If a kid needed sneakers ("sneaks" as they were known) for school, somebody knew someone who worked in another factory where they could be gotten out of the trunk of someone's car for $1 - maybe a bit more if they were a 'brand name' and not 'seconds' ("Eh, the box fell of the truck. Waddya gonna do, let it stay there in the middle of the street?")

If someone's cousin "just got off the boat" and needed a job, somebody knew somebody who could "put in a word for you".

I don't think there were any hard and fast rules, but the system seemed to work. My mother seemed to enjoy "getting out of the house" and "helping the family" with the "little extra's" that were the signs and symbols of some achievement in "The Great American Dream".

Ultimately, it was the money she earned that helped us save up the down payment for our own home "in the country" - well, at least it was away from the second floor tenement apartment above my grandparent's home in Fall River.

I remember when my mother saved up enough money to purchase a new set of sheets for her bed. She was so excited. No more plain white sheets for her. Nosireebob. She got Very Bright stripped sheets.

She brought them home on a Friday afternoon - along with the Chow Mein Sandwiches ($1 a piece at the Mark You Chinese Restaurant in Fall River) for the obligatory, Roman Catholic meatless Fridays of my youth.

While we kids ate our supper, my mother ripped open the package of sheets and - oh, my goodness, can you imagine it - matching pillow cases, and put them right into the washing machine.

We didn't have a dryer (a luxury we couldn't yet afford, but my mother was working on it), so she broke her own mother's rule ("Never go out into the night air or you 'may catch your death of pneumonia.'") and went outside to hang them on the line to dry over night.

I don't think she slept all night, waiting for the sheets and pillow cases to dry. In the morning, she took them off the line and then - of course - ironed them before she made up the bed. She wanted to surprise my father.

Now, my father was a man of few words with an even drier sense of humor. He worked 11-7 at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company while my mother worked 8 - 4 at the sweat shop in the Textile Industry. He would always take a wee nap after supper, getting up around 10 PM to get ready for work.

After carefully and lovingly and meticulously ironing the new sheets and pillow cases, mother called us kids together to help her quick make up the bed while my father was out at the barber shop getting his weekly haircut. We could hardly contain our excitement, waiting for him to take his after supper nap.

We said our "good nights" and then waited at the table, hands folded, to hear his response as he went into the bedroom.


We heard the bed springs creek and knew he was in bed.

Still nothing.

When we couldn't stand it any longer, we followed our mother to the bedroom and peaked in. There he was. Head on the brilliant, stripped pillow case, arms folded over the equally brilliant folded top sheet.

No response.

Except for the fact that he had sunglasses on.

Maybe it's the fondness of these memories that connect my fondness for menial tasks like ironing. Maybe it's that, of all the things I do as a pastor, I rarely get to see the results of my work.

I mean, as I write this, I can look over at the laundry basket waiting to be brought downstairs, which is filled with crisply ironed and neatly folded Thanksgiving linens. I don't often get to do that in too many other places in my life.

Oh, to be sure, I did provide some assistance on Wednesday afternoon to a mom and child who were suddenly homeless. I not only got them enough money through a combination of help from the Office of Temporary Assistance, my discretionary fund and some other donations to spend the rest of the week in a hotel, but also got them hooked up with Interfaith Hospitality Network for some longer term solutions.

And yes, the house still smells faintly of turkey, sage, garlic and onions. Yes, most of the food is gone to Southern NJ, Northern NJ and the Upper East Side of NYC.

Yes, there is some satisfaction in that - all of that.

I must say, however, that, as I sit here and write this, looking over at that laundry basket fills me with a richness and a sense of thanksgiving that is hard to describe.

Perhaps I am become my mother's daughter.

And, for all of her faults - and, God knows, my own - perhaps that is not such a bad thing after all.

A Brief History of Socialist Plots to End the American Way of Life

Friday, November 27, 2009

Postprandial slump

Oh, my!

We are all nearly comatose here after yesterday's feast.

That's Ms. CoCo Chanel, AKA "the Upper East Side bitch", in the picture above. She's postively exhausted after being on guard all day, protecting the humans from themselves, being especially careful to fret over the Grandbabies while being "on call" to clean up anything that dropped from the counters onto the kitchen floor.

Above and to your right is Mr. Lenny Bruce Brisco, held in the loving arms of our Ms. Mia.

He's usually absolutely undone by her love, and you can't hear him, but he was actually snoring when I took this picture.

I greeted Ms. Conroy in the bathroom earlier this morning. Well, "greet" is a relative term, isn't it? As I recall through the post-carbohydrate haze, we sort of made a mostly pleasant sound in each other's general direction - somewhere between a grunt and an actual 'good morning', but not exactly either.

I have a few wonderful memories that lighten my steps this morning:

The first is our "grace" before the meal. We usually go round the table and each person says one thing for which they are thankful.

Half-way round the table was Ms. Abbi's turn. Mind you, she's three years old, so we really didn't expect much from her this year.

Her sister, Ms. Mackie, who is eight and a real Thanksgiving Day veteran, was a bit different. She understands the process now. She said she was thankful for 'Clara' - her white pet bunny - who loves, loves, LOVES bananas as a special treat, sez Mackie.

Finally, it was Ms. Abbi's turn. Without missing a beat, she half-whispered, "I thankful for hugs from my family."

I was as delighted by her response as I was amazed at her ability to have "gotten" the process.

The next came when we took an after-dinner ride in Lucy True Bug, Nana's VW convertible. As I put the top down, Ms. Abbi, sitting in her car seat in the back, watched wide-eyed in child-like wonder.

"Wow!" she gasped, "You have a wace cahr!" Then she squealed delightedly and clapped her hands, "I'm widding in a wace cahr!"

I think my favorite moment came much later, as Ms. Mackie was playing a mean game of scrabble at the dinning room table, before dessert.

Ms. Abbi was in my office AKA "my pway room" where I keep a small arsenal of toys and stuffed animals. 

She was "pwaying" with two of her favorite toys - a large stuffed frog and a small stuffed Canada goose - and engaging them in very whimsical but rather intense conversation.

"Mmm, Abbi," I said, in an attempt to mimic the whimsy of her voice, "I don't think Canada geese talk to frogs."

She stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me, startled and then rather pensive for a few moments.  She turned back to her play and said, "Well, they do when I pway with them.

I have no doubt.   No doubt at all.

While the rest of God's people rush off to celebrate Black Friday, I've determined that I am NOT going shopping.  Not today.  Not me.  No sir.  No way.

I'm just going to sit here and bask in the glow of yesterday's celebration.

I am very, very thankful. 

Yes, indeed, I am.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

My prayer is that you have enough food and family to share with those who have neither that all may be fed and warmed and give thanks and praise for the abundance of of our Most Abundant God.

Our traditional Thanksgiving Day table prayer:
Some have food. Some don't.
God bless the revolution of Jesus.
Le Menu

Leite do mar (Mia Voa's traditional "Milk of the Sea" (Seafood Chowder) - with Lobster this year)
Guacamole with salsa and baked chips

Strawberry Belini

Menu principal

Oven roasted turkey
Sausage Stuffing
Vegetarian sweet potato stuffing
Slivered green beans with butter and slivered almonds
Sweet potato casserole
Shredded brussels sprouts with asiago cheese
Buttered garlic red potatoes

Le Dessert

Pecan pie
Pumpkin pie
Chocolate cream pie

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Family" in Uganda

Yesterday afternoon I listened to  "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross on NPR which featured an interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of a book, "The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. "   Seems like there is a "Cosa Nostra" of another sort - and they are just as murderous.  
"The Family" is a fellowship of powerful Evangelical Christian politicians which includes some names that have recently been prominent in the headlines: Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Bart Stupak (who lives at "The Family" residence on C Street) and Rep. Joe Pitts.

Doug Coe is the reclusive leader of "The Family" (he has been referred to as the "stealth Billy Graham"), who is not an ordained minister, was named one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals by TIME magazine in 2005.

One of the 'core ideas' of 'The Family" that Coe "preaches" is that the message of the New Testament is not love, mercy and justice but power.

In the interview, Sharlet reports a "sermon" preached by Coe in which he asks his audience to name three people who embody the message of Jesus.

The answers come swiftly.  "Martin Luther King, Jr."  "Gandhi."  "Mother Theresa."

"No," says Coe.  "Hitler. Stalin.  Pol Pot."  The audience gasps as he quickly adds, "That is not to deny that what they did was Evil, but they understood the message of Jesus."

Nice guy, eh?  Makes guys like John Chenney, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh look like  Kindergarten teachers.

The 'breaking news' in yesterday's NPR broadcast was the direct link Sharlet was able to make - by "following the money" - between "The Family" and the leadership in Uganda and the proposed draconian law concerning "aggravated homosexuality" - which (just so we are clear) not only mandates capitol punishment for LGBT people, but life imprisonment for anyone (like, for example, a father, mother or sibling) who knows a person to be LGBT and doesn't report it, or anyone speaking favorably about same sex marriage.

Both Ugandan Legislator Bahati (who proposed the new law) and Buturo (the Ugandan Ethics and Morality Minister) are part of "The Family" and they (and President  Museveni) receive money from this Washington group.

I strongly urge you to isten to the whole thing here. 

It is one thing for Ugandan MPs to propose draconian laws in their own country; it is quite another for American Evangelicals to fund and support the leaders of Uganda in laws that are in serious violation of every principle of human rights - not to mention Christianity -  as a 'test case' for the passage of similar laws in this country. 

Which leads me to ask the question:  Does anyone know of a connection between "The Family" and the IRD (Institute for Religion and Democracy)? 

What groups like "The Family" and the IRD have not learned from history is that, whenever despots over play their hand and cross the line of human decency, they create martyrs for the cause. 

And there ain't nothing more powerful than a martyr.

To paraphrase Audre Lorde:   Our silence will not protect us.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Crossing the line

I was just a second-generation Portuguese American, Roman Catholic kid living in Massachusetts when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States of America.

Sure, he was Irish, but he was Roman Catholic and of immigrant stock, just like me. My whole family was So Very Proud.

In every home of every family in the neighborhood of my youth, you could be sure that somewhere in the house (usually the kitchen or the dining room), hung two pictures, "side by each" as my aunts would say.

One was of Jesus - usually his 'high school graduation picture' as we kids called it: side profile, hair carefully coiffed, back lighting, enough to make his mother Mary burst with pride.  The other was one of JFK, Jr., a large shock of hair combed neatly on his head, an American Flag in the background, and the map of Ireland written all over his face.

God and country. It was the realization of the American Dream. A reminder of what was possible. The reason my grandparents had immigrated from Portugal to come to this country to the 'land of the free and the home of the brave'.

If the son of an Irish immigrant could grow up to be President of the United States, there was no telling - no telling at all - what we kids could achieve.

I also remember the long discussions around the family table about the controversy that surrounded his election. Because, of course, he was a Roman Catholic. There had never been a Roman Catholic President.  He was the first.  And we were doubly proud.

However, the voices of concern asserted that his 'faith' would interfere with his ability to lead the country. That his religion would have too much influence on his politics. That he would have more allegiance to Rome than to Washington. That the Pope would influence his decision-making as President.

(Gee, come to think of it, does any of this sound vaguely familiar?)

"Outrageous!" my father and grandfather and uncles thundered.

"Separation of church and state" they chanted like a litany and as a prayer to ward off the Evil spirits of those who would try to thwart the democratic process with prejudice and fear-mongering.

Turns out, they were wrong. Well, not in that JFK ever let Rome tell him what to do or how to think about governing this country. Certainly, his faith inspired and influenced his passion for justice and service to the poor.  For that, we can be deeply grateful.

They were wrong, however, about the long arm of the Vatican trying to influence the politics and policies of those Roman Catholics who choose to serve in elected public office.

Oh, the Vatican laid low during those years of the late 60s and early 70s - even though the Women's Movement made great strides in shedding light on discriminatory practices in the work force, raising consciousness about domestic violence and sexual assault and rape, as well as in making birth control measures safe and available.

Rome didn't hesitate to make it's objections, but, for the most part, their words fell on the deaf ears of American Roman Catholics.

Then, on January 22, 1973, came Roe v. Wade.  The lace sacristy gloves were officially off.  The American Culture Wars with Rome were officially declared.

Catholicism stumbled through the late 80s and 90s, a victim of its own hypocrisy and corruption. It began with the revelation of the secret horror of Catholic run schools and orphanages as the truth of decades of almost unbelievable stories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse began to come to light.

Law suits and expensive litigious processes brought a few diocese to near bankruptcy.  But, that was just the beginning.  Soon after, a stream of young men and women quickly turned into a torrent of horrible stories of sexual abuse in the classrooms of Roman Catholic schools and the sacristies of Roman Catholic churches at the hands of Roman Catholic priests.

Worst, still, was the revelation that the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic hierarchy knew of the abuse and merely transferred 'Father' to another church, and another, and yet another, where the abuse continued.   Indeed, 'secret deals' were made with the parents involving 'hush money' to keep the scandal from the public.

As horrible as the stories of sexual abuse were, the mendacity and hypocrisy perpetrated by Princes of the Church seemed even more stunning and shocking and deeply disturbing. 

The moral character of the Church was in serious disrepair. In fact, it seems not to have yet fully recovered. Jokes, albeit in very poor taste, about RC priests who molest little boys never lurk far from a conversation about the RC Church.

This may, perhaps, be part of the reason for the most recent strong-arming of American politicians by Roman prelates.   It's been going on for a while now, mostly to tut-tuts and embarrassed pshaws from American Roman Catholics.

In 1980, Roman Catholic Priest and Congressman Fr. Robert Drinan, the first of two RC priests to be elected to Congress, was forced to choose between Congress and the priesthood when Pope John Paul II demanded that all ordained clergy either leave the priesthood or leave politics.  Fr. Drinan was decidedly pro-choice and a dear friend of the Kennedy family.   He died in 2007.

Senator John Kerry, then Democratic candidate for President and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then Republican hopeful for the same office, were 'excommunicated' for their pro-choice stance.  Jim McGreevey, then Democratic governor of New Jersey, was likewise 'excommunicated' for being a proponent of pro-choice.  Others were similarly targeted and excommunicated. 

A line seems to have been crossed, however, when conservative Roman Catholics, led by Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke, called on Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston not to provide a public funeral mass after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.

Even some conservative Roman Catholic scholars seemed stunned by the impropriety of it all.  When told of the archbishop's assertion that pro-choice Catholics should not be permitted funeral rites, Princeton professor Robert George was taken aback: "That's a very different, and obviously graver, claim than that with which I would have sympathy. I haven't heard before any bishop say that pro-abortion politicians should not be given a Catholic funeral."

The media today is all abuzz with the news that Patrick Kennedy, Democratic Representative from Rhode Island, has been asked not to partake of Communion.  Apparently, the request was first made in 2007 when Bishop Thomas Tobin disagreed with Kennedy's stance on abortion rights.

This argument has resurfaced after Kennedy criticized the Catholic Church for their advocacy with regards to the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.

There has now ensued a fascinating if not intricately delicate dance being performed at the line that separates church from state. 

Patrick has 'not exactly' been excommunicated.  He has been 'requested to refrain' from receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

See the difference?

If Kennedy were actually excommunicated because of his voting record on Reproductive Rights, that raises some interesting questions about the tax-exempt status of the Roman Catholic church - not exactly a smart economic move in the midst of a fragile economy.

Furthermore, in the Northeast, the excommunication of a Kennedy could cause even greater flight from the church than is already occurring.  I understand from my Episcopal friends in New England that each week brings yet another Roman Catholic family inside the welcoming red doors of their church.  I would say that, of the last 20 new families who have joined St. Paul's, 95% of them are former Roman Catholics.

I guess now we understand the real reason the Pope is so willing to accept disaffected 'Anglicans' in a special and different little arrangement for the homophobic and misogynist among them.   He's apparently just trying to balance the membership scales.  See?

Truth be told, this entire situation pains me deeply.  I have some fond memories of my days as a Roman Catholic and I will always be a grateful debtor to the RC nuns of my youth for teaching me the essentials of my faith, and for providing me with positive, strong role models of women in leadership in the church.

I also have memories which, from time to time, wake me up in the middle of the night - especially when I remember the look on the faces of the kids in my class known as "Father's Boys" who were "specially chosen" to "serve Father" at the altar.

I was always so jealous of them.  Just because they were male, they could serve God at the altar.  Just because I was female, I could not.  Now I know why they always looked so sad. 

I can tell you one thing - those boys were not born pedophiles.  They were 'made'.  It was 'learned behavior'.  Neither were they homosexual. Theirs was a classic case of 'arrested development'.

I left the Roman Church years ago and never regretted my decision.  I have nothing but great admiration for my friends - intelligent, deeply spiritual and faithful men and women - who have decided to stay in the Roman Church and work for change from within.

The saddest part of this present media kerfuffle is the image of tired, old celibate men in long dark robes flexing their weak moral muscles in front of Roman Catholics - and the world.

Faithful Roman Catholics may disagree with their church's position on human sexuality and reproductive rights, but they live out their faith in service to God and the imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through service to their local communities and their country.

Evangelical Protestants are not without sin.  They are leading the faithful of their flock to do much the same. Except, of course, they have no sacraments to deny as punishment.  The pressure, however, is still intense.

The level of the insanity of the rhetoric on the Radical Right is the same in Catholic and Protestant circles.  The PRA, Political Research Associates  has just released a report that clearly details the role that US-based renewal church movements have played in mobilizing homophobic sentiment in at least three African countries. 

I don't know what you know about Calvin, but I'm guessing that while his mortal body may be turning in his grave, his spirit looks down from heaven and weeps at what is being done in his name and the Name that is Above All Names.

In 1960, while he was still Senator from Massachusetts and a democratic candidate for President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy said the following words.
"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source." 
That's the America I believe in.  That's the America I believe we still live in.  That's the America our young men and women who are serving this country believe in so much that they are willing to travel to foreign lands to fight and risk their lives for.

While systems of belief will always influence moral decision making, and faith often informs politics and sometimes transforms into political action, there is still a clear line which separates church and state in this country.

When that line gets crossed, it is incumbent upon people of faith to stand at that line, toe-to-toe against The Adversary, and protest as loudly as we can. 

I applaud the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church which, it is being reported,  has called for a special teleconference on December 7 to discuss a possible statement on Ugandan legislation that would imprison for life or execute people who violate that country's anti-homosexuality laws.

Hopefully, this will put a little more pressure on the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury to also make a statement against this flagrant violation of human rights.

That is the church putting its faith into action.

That is the church being the church and doing the work of the church.

That is the church calling elected officials to remember the higher moral ground of their baptismal vows.

That is the church respecting the boundaries around the separation of church and state.

We are a democracy, not a theocracy.

Apparently, there are some so desperate about their sense of a loss of power and influence that they wish to cross that line. 

We. Can't. Let. Them.

The sacraments of the church, indeed, the services of the church, are not poker chips in a high stake game of political power. What kind of Gospel encourages the Body of Christ to threaten to take actual food out of the mouths of the poor and the hungry?

What understanding of Jesus permits the withholding of spiritual food from the souls of those who hunger and thirst for Jesus? From the comfort and solace of the faith and rituals of the church promised at baptism in time of grief and sorrow?

An institutional church which treats its congregants like naughty children - practicing the ecclesiastical equivalent of sending them to bed without any supper - is an institutional church which has, sadly enough, lost touch with the spirit that originally animated it and gave it life.

These are some of the lines that simply can not - must not - be crossed.

Except, of course, the ecclesiastical lines that separate one church from another.  I'm thinking that this would be a most excellent time to do a little evangelism among some of our RC brothers and sisters. 

Invite someone to church on Advent I. That's how it started for me - with an invitation to church.  Once I crossed the threshold of those Open Red Doors, heard the music, experienced the liturgy, I knew I was home. 

Perhaps it's time you invited someone to cross the line and come home for Christmas. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I LOVE "indiscriminate inclusivity"

This is Chris and Lily. They were married last night in an amazing wedding presided over by the Rt. Rev'd John Shelby Spong in a penthouse loft on the lower West Side in NYC. Chris' parents are members of my congregation.

The statistical odds of these two people getting together is so remote as to be staggering.

The Groom's lineage includes mainland Chinese and Hawai'ian via the Colorado Rockies and New Jersey.

The Bride's lineage includes Korean and Filipino via Argentina and New York City.

The Wedding festivities included a visit from two Chinese Dragons who came accompanied by loud crashing cymbals and beating drums. 

The were 'fed' something green on a long stick which the bride and groom bravely fed to them. 

It is said that now the Evil Spirits will not come into their marriage.

The dinner buffet included an absolutely amazing array of traditional Korean and Chinese food along with a few Japanese Sushi chefs, just for good measure. 

During dinner, we were entertained by an Argentinian couple who danced four different versions of the Tango for us.

They were dramatic and romantic and very, very exciting.

As they moved around the dance floor, there were occasional gasps and ooh's and ahh's from the very appreciative audience.

One might think, with all this emphasis on things that are traditional to both families of origin that the wedding ceremony and wedding cake would be something more . . .oh, I don't know . . . exotic.

Not so.  The wedding service itself came right out of the Book of Common Prayer.  We all said the Lord's Prayer together and heard that magnificent section from St. Paul's letter to the Church in Corinth on love.  We also heard some profound words about love from Mother Theresa and Kahlil Gibran. 

And, as you can see, the wedding cake was pretty traditional.  Okay, so the figures on the top of the cake are a little unusual, but they were thoroughly reflective of the sense of humor of the happily married couple.

After the cake was cut, the bride and groom changed into traditional Chinese bridal outfits for a formal Chinese tea service which welcomes the bride and groom into their respective new families.

After appropriate bowing and pouring and sipping of tea, the father of the groom makes a speech, after which some nuts and dates are thrown into the apron spread out by the bride and groom. 

Whatever the couple "catch" in their apron is symbolic of the number of children they will have together.

The ancestors say that these two will have eleven girls and six boys.  We don't yet know what Chris and Lily have to say about such generosity.

As we watched the magnificent sunset, high above The City That Never Sleeps, I looked around the community that had gathered there, to witness and bless the joining of these two souls in Holy Matrimony,  

We were Korean, Chinese, Hawai'ian, Polynesian, African-American, Argentinian, and Western European people who held equally diverse faith practices - Christian and Jew, Buddhist and Taoist, several fervently committed agnostics, no doubt a few atheists, and a significant number of people from The Temple of Understanding.

I thought of the disdain with which the Bishop of South Carolina and his Canon Theologian speak of what they call 'indiscriminate inclusivity'. 

And, I laughed.

It is, I believe, inherent in the nature of God to be indiscriminate in Her inclusivity.  We can make all the rules we want about who is in and what is out.  We can be selective in who we invite into the 'inner circle' of what we believe.

God, I think, has another idea. 

That Divine Idea trumps any which happen to emanate from the limited inner recesses of the human mind which fervently believes itself to understand the Mind of God.  And, wants to impose those beliefs and images of God upon others.

I looked deep into the dark sky of the City and imagined each of the bright lights twinkling there as representative of every person in that room, and the hundreds and thousands and millions of others who were not present in that room, but represented in the radically diverse cosmos of the landscape of God's Realm.

The present may look dark and foreboding, but the future is very bright indeed. 

All we need do is open our arms in the same loving embrace with which Jesus stretched out his arms upon the hard reality of the cross.

Ah, and therein lies the rub, doesn't it? 

I think these posters, designed by Larry Graham in Atlanta and featured in today's Lead at Episcopal Cafe, sum it all up pretty nicely. 

What God has joined together, let no one - not even well-intentioned, pious theologians and bishops from South Carolina or any other part of the Church -  put asunder. 

Somebody give me an 'Amen'. 

Belonging in the Reign of Crist

A Sermon by the Rev'd Jon Mark Richardson
John 18:33-37 - Proper 29B
22 November 2009 - The Feast of the Reign of Christ

In the name of God, the Almighty: who is, and who was, and who is to come. Amen.

One of the ways that I made my way through college was as a bank teller. I loved it. While my friends worked in malls or at restaurants and had unpredictable hours and worked on holidays, I had a set schedule. And though I didn’t make as much money as many of my friends, I always knew how much I would make – I wasn’t dependant on tips or sales quotas or anything like that. I just showed up when I was supposed to and counted money.

It was satisfying work. I could look back at the end of the day and see the thousands of dollars that had come across my desk, the hundreds of transactions that I would perform, and as if by magic, it almost always added up. And on those rare occasions when it didn’t, it would always become clear what had gone wrong in the days ahead: some paper misfiled or some rogue number inverted.

There was order and clarity.

I worked for two rather small, locally owned banks that both, while I was working at them, “merged” with larger, more corporate institutions. In both cases, the new corporations brought with them better pay, better benefits, and new technologies that made my work even easier.

It was a good life.

At the second bank I worked for, I worked as a floating teller. Each day I would get a call telling me where I was to work for that day. I filled in for other tellers who were out sick or on vacation, and I rarely worked at any one branch for more than a few weeks at a time. It appealed to my burgeoning wanderlust, even though I was only traveling within a few dozen miles in a corner of southeast Louisiana. I enjoyed having the opportunity to work with a variety of people and in a variety of markets. There were the typical suburban branches, but I also got to work in downtown branches, rural branches, and branches on what most would have called “the wrong side of the tracks”.

Those were my favorites.

I remember in particular the Plank Road branch in Baton Rouge. It was in an impoverished neighborhood very much on the “wrong side of the tracks”. There were off-duty police officers stationed at the branch at all times – mostly to keep the homeless people from loitering and drinking all the coffee. But it gave my time there a sense of adventure.

I loved the ladies who worked in that branch. They were from the neighborhood, but had “made good”. They were somewhat looked down upon by the rest of the bank, but in this little corner of the kingdom, they were on top – respected in the community as some of their own who had risen above.

It didn’t take me long to encounter the reality that the corporate policies in which I had been so thoroughly trained didn’t work quite the same on Plank Road as they in the other parts of the bank.

One of my first customers at the Plank Road Branch was an older, African American woman named Mrs. Jackson. I forget exactly what it was, but the transaction that she was requesting was something perfectly innocent, but that required a variation from our normal corporate policies. Policies were rigid things meant to protect the bank – and me – from the customers.

I’ll never forget Mrs. Jackson’s face when I refused her transaction. She wasn’t angry, but seemed to be hurt, more than anything. She looked at me with sad eyes and said, “But I’m a member of this bank!”

There was an essential difference between how I had been trained to see her, and how she had come to see herself.

I had been trained to see myself – in my capacity as a teller – as belonging to the bank. As one who belonged, it was my duty to protect the bank from all those individual invaders on the outside.

But Mrs. Jackson saw herself differently. Through years of coming to the same building and building relationships with the same people, she saw herself not as an outsider – not even as an individual, but as one who belonged – part of the body of that institution. She saw her relationship with the bank as corporeal as my own. Through all of the corporate transitions she had not been trained in her new role: she saw herself as a member, but it was my job to dis-member her – to make her into an outsider.

Mrs. Jackson was from a different time in the life of that institution – a time when people belonged. And while she asserted her belonging, I worked to cut her off – to make her no more than an individual.

It’s not unlike the story that we hear in the Gospel lesson today. As was the case with Mrs. Jackson and me, we hear Pilate and Jesus engaging in fundamentally different understandings of belonging. In the arraignment, Pilate seizes the issue of belonging to determine the charges against Jesus. As the designate of the Roman Emperor, Pilate knows to whom Jesus belongs. Or at least he thinks he knows. The question is, to whom does Jesus believe that he belongs – or perhaps more importantly, who does Jesus believe belongs to him?

It’s no wonder that this passage should come across as sounding kind of confusing. Jesus is answering questions that are different from the ones that Pilate is asking. They are coming from such different perspectives that they are only barely speaking the same language.

Jesus is accused of insurrection. To determine the validity of the accusation, Pilate presents Jesus with the only two possibilities that he can imagine: are you claiming to be a king in opposition to the emperor, or do you belong to our kingdom? Jesus’ answer is beyond Pilate’s ability to imagine: “My kingdom is not from this world.”

They volley back and forth, but Pilate was never able to find a common language with Jesus.

Today, in the church calendar, on the cusp of a new liturgical year, we find ourselves in a position not unlike Pilate’s. We celebrate today, the idea of the Reign of Christ. But our culture is centuries removed from any experience of this kind of monarchy. Even in those Western societies where monarchs still exist, they are by no means the kind of absolute monarchy that would have posed a serious threat to the Roman Empire.

Though we don’t have a common language to speak about this kind of ruler or monarch, what we can understand is the same kind of thing that Mrs. Jackson understood – something about belonging. In proclaiming the Reign of Christ we are saying that we belong.

We are not just individuals at worship, but members of the Body of Christ.

We are not just customers of some Christian Enterprise, but we are members – sharing a stake.

So much of our culture tries to dis-member us – to make us individuals. Individuals are so much easier to control than members of a Body that is greater than its parts. Just as I participated in a system that tried to dis-member Mrs. Jackson, so, too, are all of us tempted by different kinds of participation in the cult of individualism.

Christianity is about belonging. And belonging is never about individualism. It is about recognizing the myriad of ways that our existence is tied up in one another. In proclaiming the Reign of Christ, we are proclaiming our belonging and our membership.

Like Mrs. Jackson, we are called to claim that membership. Amen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Take a Bow, Mr. President

I suppose if you are a 'Tea Bagger' your natural default setting would be to create lots of 'tempests in a teapot.'

There was a mild flurry when First Lady, Michele Obama, actually put her hand on the back of the Queen of England.

Gasp! Horror! Isn't that a breach of British Protocol - or, something? Anything? Bueller? Anyone?

Then, of course, the Right Wing Nuts spun themselves dizzy with that picture of the President bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia.

I saw a picture of the above, photoshopped with the caption, "Obama bows before his King." Honest to Pete! You just can't make this stuff up.

The most tepid and weak brew to be poured from the teapots of the Radical Richt however, is the kerfuffle over the bow the President made as he greeted the Emperor of Japan.

Some are calling it "Bowgate," seeing it as a sign of weakness. Others are calling it "inappropriate', noting that "Dick Chenney didn't bow to the Emperor when he visited China a few years ago."

Yup. That's who I want as my role model and guide. Dick Chenney. Watta guy!  When he isn't approving 'water boarding', he's firing buckshot int the face of his hunting buddies.

Now, there IS evidence that President Bush did a lot more than bow before a Saudi King.

Oh, but wait.

There's more.

Much, much more . . . . .

I'm not sure, but I think if you looked up the word 'inappropriate' in the "Handbook of Presidential Protocol", these two pictures would be right next to it, listed as "Exhibits 'A' and 'B'".

Moving right along.

Our highly skilled but terribly paid research team here at Telling Secrets has conducted an investigation of our own.

Evidence abounds that this President bows.

A lot.

Here is Mr. Obama at the White House with Hindu Priest Sri Narayanachar Digalokote, bowing down before a Hindu Oil Lamp in honor of the Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes knowledge, brilliance, health and wealth.

Here's Mr. Obama again, bowing to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Memorial Day festvities.

I also have one of him bowing to a wreath - a WREATH, a pagan symbol for goodness sake! - at the 911 Memorial in NYC.

I mean to tell you, this man is a bowing fool!

He just never stops!

Take a look and see if I'm not right.

Here he is, being a gentleman, and bowing as he shakes the hand of Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Looks like Vice President Joe Biden approves.

That's him applauding the President for making such a gallant gesture.

Here's the President - again with the bowing - with a small child outside the White House.

I mean, really! Whatever was he thinking?

Doesn't this man understand that he's the President of the Free World?  The King of the Universe?  And, he's doing it right in front of the brave men and women of our Military Forces.

Oh, the shame!

 Apparently, the man has no shame.

Here he is taking a HUGE bow at the Annual Easter Egg Rolling Contest on the White House Lawn.

You will note that the bow he gives to a little girl is much deeper than that which he gave the little boy in the picture above.

Indeed, it's an even deeper bow than anything he's ever performed for an official Head of State.

This one is a good effort - in the Oval Office and all -  but it just can't compare to the deep bow he gave that little girl.

On Easter Day - the day of Resurrection, for Pete's sake - when he should be standing in solidarity with the Risen Lord.

Subliminal message or just coincidence?

I suspect the Right Wing Nut Conspirators are already on the case.

I mean, this MUST be an impeachable offense.

Truth be told, this President is making a statement.  His 'body language' is loud and clear.   His strategy is a deliberate, conscious rejection of the previous administration's approach to global politics.

Which is why, of course, some of the folks on the Right are positively apoplectic. 

With every bow and at every turn, Mr. Obama has tried to avoid blunt confrontation in favor of something more collegial, more cooperative.  His focus is on the common ground, hoping for what he once described as a clearing away of "old preconceptions or ideological dogmas" so that nations will be more likely "to cooperate than not to cooperate."

His message has been consistent.  He wants to usher in a "new era of engagement with the world based on mutual interests and mutual respect."

So, what others see as a sign of weakness, Mr. Obama believes is actually a strength.

You know.  What Jesus taught about Servant Leadership.  And, the cross.

He's living his faith.  What he believes.  Quietly.  With great integrity.

Funny thing is, his wildest critics (and there are some pretty wild critics out there) come from the Evangelical Right.

Never mind.  Take a bow, Mr. President.  Every chance you get.

It's these little investments of humility which don't cost much at all, save some sharp criticism now and again, that will pay big dividends over time.

Besides, there are some Christians out here who see what you do and who know what you're trying to accomplish. 

Which is why you are not hearing thunderous applause.  That wouldn't be appropriate.  It's not about you so much as the future you're asking us to invest in.

You've had almost a year to make your opening bow.   The show will go on for the next three years - and, please God, for four more years after that - the 'bullcrap' (as Mrs. Palin likes to say) from Tea Baggers and Birthers and Bowgates notwithstanding.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Convenient Prophets

I am thankful that more and more organizations and religious denominations are beginning to protest the proposed Ugandan law which seeks capitol punishment for anyone convicted of being "aggressively homosexual".

So far, the Church of Canada has a resolution expressing its "deep sense of alarm about this fundamental violation of human rights and, through diplomatic channels, to press for its withdrawal; and we ask the Primate to send this message to the appropriate bodies."

Even Randy Thomas, the Vice President of "Exodus International" - the organization of so-called "ex-gay" people, has made a statement - such as it is - against the Ugandan law.

Oh, by the way, that's Randy (unfortunate name for someone in his 'position') Thomas to your left.

'Ex-gay'?  My left foot!  There's no such thing!  That term is a total fantasy!   He may have stopped having sexual relationships with men, but that doesn't - would never - change the essential nature of his orientation. It certainly doesn't make him "ex-gay".

You'll find an excellent discussion on this topic over at OCICBW.  I am grateful to Jonathan for raising the subject and contributing to this important part of the conversation.

The news this morning brought the press release from the Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

They state:
"It is our humble opinion that the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 violates the rights of God's children in Uganda. It punishes the free association and expression that is necessary for a flourishing civil society, and creates a climate of fear and hostility which undermines the citizenship and solidarity of all Ugandans."
"Because the bill also prohibits any organizing around sexual orientation, it will make it difficult, if not impossible, to do effective HIV prevention activities in Uganda, which rely on an ability to talk frankly about sexuality and provide condoms and other safer-sex material."
Religion Dispatches has been on the case in terms of the bigger pictures of the relationship between American Evangelicals and the Evangelical Churches in Africa.

Yesterday's post "The Anit-Gay Highway" features an investigation which was commissioned by PRA, Political Research Associates (the organization which was most recently headed up by the Rev'd Dr. Katharine Ragsdale, now President and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge,, MA), that clearly details the role that US-based renewal church movements have played in mobilizing homophobic sentiment in at least three African countries.

The report is authored by Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest and doctoral candidate at Boston University. You can read the interview with Kaoma and Religion Dispatches here.

So, let's recap here: Organizations around the globe are writing to the Ugandan Government to express their concern or make known their outrage over the proposed Ugandan law. (Read more about that law here.)

The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, two organizations which have had a long history of working in Uganda against the local manifestations of the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS, have also registered their protest.

Even the boyz over at Exodus can see that the proposed Ugandan law is a serious breach of Human Rights.

I don't expect the same from the uber-Christian Calvinists on our side, but that doesn't mean I don't have any expectations.

Where is the expression of 'outrage' from Anglican bishops in Uganda?

Why the silence from Katharine Jefferts Schori, our Presiding Bishop and Primate?

Where is the voice of 'concern' from the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Interesting, eh, how Lambeth Resolutions are used to remind LGBT Anglicans that they are not living lives that are 'compatible with Scripture' - but they forget their own promises of pastoral care of same said LGBT heathens?

I suppose they save their outrage and prophetic voices for moments when it is convenient for them.

Hell, at this point, I would even take the practiced raise eyebrow and the grave, modulated voice of Anglican concern.

I mean, it's not like it's a Major Human Rights Emergency or anything. The law has not ACTUALLY passed their Parliament and made it to the books.

But, it would be at least 'nice' - and God knows, we're all about 'nice' in the Anglican Communion - to hear a word or two from the Religious Leaders of our Church.

You know. At their 'earliest possible convenience'.

Or, as we used to say in the 60s and 70s:

If you're not outraged,
 you're not paying attention.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

(Mandatory) Habits of the Heart

For the past 10 years or so, the Diocese of Newark has had canon law which mandates Anti-Racism Training (now called 'Dialogue') as a prerequisite for election to diocesan office.

I voted against it then because, while I support Anti-Racism Training, I thought it was a bad idea to mandate any kind of training. Moreover, I thought it an especially bad idea to make that mandate a prerequisite for election to office.

Okay. Go ahead and dismiss me as a hopeless radical non-conformist from the 60's. That may have once been true, but no matter the individual generational manifestation, we all go through both individual and cultural adolescence.

And then, we grow up. Well, most of us do, anyway. And what is right becomes written in our hearts, not followed by socially constructed mandates.

Even more to the point, I think mandatory canons like this are, at their core, absolutely contrary to the essential spirit of Anglicanism.

The training / dialogue program itself had then, and continues to have now, many serious flaws, none the least of which is that the success or failure of the "experience" of the training / dialogue is highly dependent upon the skills and abilities of the facilitator. Not all of them are good. Trust me.

The pedagogy also assumes one or two learning styles, leaving out those who do not learn best in a program which is ruthlessly communal in its design.

Mind you, I LOVE the communal nature of its design. I'm just very aware that there are many, many more people for whom this pedagogy ultimately fails.

The program is also now a 14 hour required session, which can be broken down into several, shorter sessions. Even so, my experience is that this is simply too much time for many folk - especially in these times when 'downsizing' has reduced the numbers in the work force (especially churches), resulting in one person doing the work of three or four - in which to invest.

I believe in 'sacrificial presence' but 14 hours goes a bit 'above and beyond' the call of duty to serve God through diocesan structures.

There are other, corporate models of anti-racism training which are far superior. I have found this PBS interactive web site RACE: THE POWER OF ILLUSION to be positively brilliant.

In fact, take a break from reading this and g'won over there and check it out. No, seriously. I'll wait until you come back. Nothing I could write here is as important as the stuff you'll learn over there.

Okay. Back now? Wait. Before you continue reading my post, check this out: "I'm for gay rights, but . . .". It is a 'conversation' (actually, more like 'talking points') between two people of color about the links between racism and homophobia and the similarities between the struggle for the Civil Rights of both people of color and LGBT people.

As if they were two distinct and separate classifications of people.

As if there are no LGBT people among people of color.

The essential problem I have in particular with the Anti-Racism program as it currently exists is that it unintentionally sets up a 'hierarchy of evil', placing racism at the top, giving it status and privilege among the oppressive forces in human nature as well as in our cultural expressions of the human enterprise.

There is no denying the evil of racism and the horrific cultural impact of its manifestation as slavery, but I think it is, at the very least, not helpful to to replace hierarchy with hierarchy - especially when you are working for the justice promised of God.

What we have come to understand is that there is an interlocking nature to all oppression and prejudice.

Indeed, I have said it before and I'll say it again - the 'original' social sin in the Garden was sexism.

Just ask any of the Daughters of Eve if that isn't true.

'Original' does not mean that it has rank and status in the hierarchy of the evil of oppression and prejudice. It's just a starting place to begin to learn the lesson that, once you take the first step toward one form of discrimination and prejudice, you have begun the journey out of Paradise.

If we learned nothing else from the movements for Abolitionist, Suffrage, Civil Rights Movements and the AIDS pandemic it is that collaboration among the various 'target groups' will win the day.

Julia Ward Howe was at Gettysburg and wrote the "Battle Hymn of the Republic'. Frederic Douglass was at Seneca Falls and signed the 'Declaration of Sentiments' (and if you don't know what that is, perhaps you need Anti-Sexism Training more than I need my fourth session of Anti-Racism Training).

Indeed, the Seneca Falls Declaration was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men. You will note that we do have a Civil Rights law which guarantees equal rights for people of color. We do not yet have a similar law which guarantees equal rights for women.

Which brings me to another point, one made by a dear African American friend, now numbered among the saints, who was also a parishioner of mine when I was Vicar of St. Barnabas, Newark.

We were doing some serious stoop-sitting and lemonade drinking one lovely Sunday afternoon, when Frank looked at me and said, "Lemme axe you somethin': Why do we need a Civil Rights Amendment?"

"Frank," I said, "Why would you ask me such a question?"

"Okay, lemme put it to you this way," he continued, "Doesn't the constitution say that "'All men are created equal'?"

"Of course," I said, confused about where he was going with this.

"Right," he said, "then what part of 'all' don't nobody unnestand?"

Frank was right, of course. And, he's wrong. Unfortunately, we need laws like this to make it absolutely clear to absolutely everyone about the Law of the Land in these United States.

Behavior is changed by laws. Hearts do not necessarily follow the Law of the Land. Just ask a 'Tea Bagger' or 'Birther'.

Then again, never mind.

In 1967, Robert N. Bellah, with four others, wrote his seminal book on civil religion in America, Habits of the Heart.

That phrase, of course, is from the work of Alexis de Tocqueville, a man described as "a conservative aristocratic pessimist". Pessimists are my kinda people. As an unrepentant, openly practicing optimist, I actively recruit and cultivate relationships with the pessimists among us.

They keep me honest. Case in point: My own Ms. Conroy.

Tocqueville is regarded as the most profound, astute and complex observer of a nation espousing the ideals of equality and freedom. He serves Bellah and company well; their book should inspire many readers to revisit his Democracy in America.

Like Tocqueville, the authors and subjects of Habits of the Heart concentrate on "our character," on "how to preserve or create a morally coherent life."

Tocqueville spoke of relying on "habits of the heart" to achieve this end. Looking at contemporary American society, the authors find nostalgia, without coherence, striving without goal, hope without plausible concurrent action. The result is a "cancerous" form of individualism.

Bellah hungers for wholeness in a world of overspecialization, fragmentation and restlessness. He knows enough about 20th-century political life not to look to integrators, engineers of consent or managers of totalist governments to provide wholeness.

In the book’s final pages he and his co-conspirators settle for "coherence." It’s difficult not to think of their closing paragraphs as a sermon: ‘‘It would be well for us to rejoin the human race, to accept our essential poverty as a gift, and to share our material wealth with those in need."

Somebody give me an 'Amen.'

Bottom line: I'd like to see this particular diocesan canon repealed and replaced with a more expansive canon - one that, perhaps, begins with an invitation (not mandate) to be part of a Crucial Conversation (as opposed to 'Dialogue').

I think we ought to begin with a conversation about what happened in the Garden, and then move 'Beyond the Apple' to consider what happened among the Sons of Adam and and the Daughters of Eve.

I think that sets the stage for a crucial conversation about the interlocking nature of oppression and how we must begin to dismantle the dominant social paradigms of prejudice and bigotry on all levels - economic, social, cultural - for all of God's people.

I think an invitation to all who seek to hold elected office in The Episcopal Diocese of Newark into a series of such discussions is a good place to begin.

If anything is 'flat-footedly' mandatory, it ought to be that everyone who runs for elected office signs an affidavit or 'pledge' which professes that, as an elected Servant Leader, they will work to dismantle all oppressive systems based on race, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or emotional capability, age, or class status.

I know. Some of my friends - many of whom are either themselves, African American, or who (like me), came through the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement - are either shaking their heads sadly or raising an angry fist in the air and crying, "Elizabeth! How could you? You, of all people!"

I'm sorry. Truly. I know you experience this position as a retreat from a position of justice. I know you think that an expansion of the program is an attempt to water down, mothball, morph or mute the discussion about Race.

Let me try to assure you: It is not. It is an attempt to draw the circle wider.

I don't want us to 'do' church. I want us to 'be' church.

I fervently believe we can do more good by working together. Collaboratively. In the pursuit of 'liberty and justice for all'.

And 'all', as my own 'Saint Frank' would tell us, means 'all'.

You know, I don't want to change your mind. Like Jesus, I want more than that. I want to change your heart - more specifically, the habits of your heart.

I have come to believe that transformational experiences like that happen when we 'accept our essential poverty' and 'share the wealth' of our experiences in the movement up from prejudice and oppression and into the liberation of Jesus.

At least, that's how I hope to 'preserve or create a morally coherent life' among the people God has called me to serve through The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Newark.

These are the habits of my heart.