Come in! Come in!

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things done and left undone

I woke up this morning feeling rather melancholy.  There's something about New Year's Eve that brings some of that out in each of us, I think, along with a sense of adventure and excitement.

We look back on the old before looking ahead to the new.  Something in that process stirs the soul.

"Things done and left undone" is the phrase used in the confession of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

We say that prayer together in church, Sunday after Sunday.  Most of us have memorized it and can repeat it by rote.  We know that prayer "by heart", but, more often than not, we do not let the words touch our heart, until one day, we look at the calendar, and we realize that the passage of time has crept up on us once again and we run smack-dab into the truth of the words of that prayer. 

Being the odd creatures of habit that we humans are, we establish "New Year's Resolutions".  We resolve all sorts of things about "things done and left undone." We resolve to finish something we started or stop patterns of behavior. 

Get back to the gym.  Start that diet and loose those 8 - 10 pounds that have suddenly gained on us when we weren't looking at what we were eating.  Read more.  Drink less.  Quit smoking.  Change a behavior. Take that class.  Learn a new skill.  Do what we know how to do even better. Cultivate a particular virtue.  Promise to be kinder, gentler, more patient, less stingy.  Practice 'The Golden Rule'.  

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt that says, "Wait 'till next year's resolution."

While I think that this process is not entirely without merit, I think there's something to be said for practicing reality.  As I've looked back over the last year, I realize that, in the process, I have also been taking stock of what I know to be true about myself.

Before I take my leave of this earthly plane, I would like to be able to say that I've climbed Mt. Everest, or swum the English Chanel, or flown in a space ship, but I know those things will never happen.

They are lovely fantasies, and I greatly admire those who have achieved these accomplishments, but, truth be told, I simply do not have the desire to discipline myself and do the hard work of the preparation required to attain these goals. 

So, I've been looking at who I understand myself to be and what it is that I desire.  What is it that stirs my heart and my soul and excites my mind?  What makes me feel more fully alive?  What gives me a sense of satisfaction and hope?  What challenges me to move beyond my limited understanding of myself and summons me to grow, more and more, into the image God had of me when I was called into being?

As I sort through the scenes of the past year in my mind's eye, images emerge from the recesses of my memory and begin to form a collage that is very instructive.

I want to hold up one snapshot, one image, one story that is fairly emblematic of all the others.

On Christmas Eve, I went to visit a parishioner who, for the past year and a half, has been living in an "assisted living facility".  In another day and time, it would have been known as an "Old Folk's Home", but we are living more and more into The Age of Euphemisms so as to protect ourselves from the harsh reality of the truth of our lives.

She came to St. Paul's shortly after I arrived.   A woman in her mid-70's, she came there, she said, because she had finally found a place where she might know acceptance.  "If they can have someone like you as the spiritual leader of this church, well, then maybe there's a place for me, too."

Euphemisms.  She was talking, of course, about her almost 40 year relationship with another woman.  She had two grown children - both boys - who were "sort of accepting," she said, but "mostly uncomfortable with my lifestyle."

And what style of life would that be, I asked her.  She got flustered and said, "Well, you know.  'Our' lifestyle."  Hmmmm. . . I said. . . I don't know.  Do you mean that sometimes I wash the dishes and Ms. Conroy takes out the garbage, and other times, we switch tasks?  Or, that she used to help the kids with their math and science homework and I would help them with their book reports and English literature - because that's what are particular gifts and interests are?

She blushed.  And then, she sighed.  "I'm still working through all of this," she said.  "It's been . . . hard. . . and. . . I guess. . . well, I guess I'm sometimes my own worst enemy."

And, aren't we all, my dear?  Aren't we all?

I visited her and her partner from time to time, usually around an illness.  Then there was that time around the accident, the details of which were never really clear.

That was not unusual. I would get bits and pieces of their story, strung together from moments when they clearly - almost desperately - wanted me to know things.  And then, at other times, they were equally clearly and almost desperately private.

Woven through the fabric of their stories, however, was the unmistakable thread of shame.  It sometimes knotted itself around their hearts, chocking back tears and wrapping itself around them in colors and shades of melancholy and sadness.

They had dared to live together and share their love and their lives in a time that was much more cruel than what Ms. Conroy and I have known.  I could only imagine what filled those blanks, those empty pages in the book of their stories.

Over the past three years, she had become 'frail'.  She was sometimes 'forgetful'.  Her partner once whispered the word 'senile'.

Then came the diagnosis we all knew and feared but dared not speak its name:  Alzheimer's Disease.   There's no euphemism in the world that can blunt the truth of that.

They were separated, finally, when she moved into the 'Assisted Living Facility'.  Sold the lovely apartment they had lived in together for 30 years.  Visited each other several times a week. 

She sometimes became agitated when I would visit,  especially if I didn't eat lunch with her or when she couldn't walk me out to my car at the end of our visit without an attendant to accompany her.

About six months ago, she was transferred to the "Reminiscence Unit" - another lovely euphemism to blunt the truth of being on a locked unit, an electronic device pinned to her dress.  Just in case.

I was always pleased that she remembered me.  Sometimes, it would take her a while to put the face and the name together with the place.  You could see the wheels spinning in her head.

Once she made the connection her very first question would be: "How is your partner?" I would tell her in some detail as she listened with great interest.  Then, I would ask her about her partner.  "She never comes anymore," she would respond.  Which was decidedly not true, but it was her reality.

We'd go back and forth like this for a time, trading questions and answers, and then, as if she were caught in some horrible psychological spin cycle she would look at me and say, "How's your partner?" And we would begin again.

At some point in our conversation, she began to be aware that she was repeating herself, and she would become agitated and annoyed.  It was usually at this point that one of the aids would begin to make motions and noises that it was probably time for me to leave.  I would, but reluctantly. With great sadness. 

When I visited her on Christmas Eve, she told me that she would be alone on Christmas Day.  Said that her partner would be out of town and unable to visit.  That one son would be in Colorado where he lived and the other on a vacation with his wife in Aruba.  She asked me if I could come back on Christmas Day.

"It would bring me such hope," she said.

I called her son's house but, as there was no answer, I assumed that he was, in fact, in Aruba as she had said.  I called her partner's house but, as there was no answer, I assumed that she was, in fact, out of town and unable to visit.

On Christmas morning, after about four hours of sleep, I dressed and went to church.  After the service, I took one of the poinsettias and headed off to see her.

As I arrived, she was just getting off the phone after a conversation with her two sons.  Not one in Aruba.  Both in Colorado.   Both loving and caring, kind and gentle to their mother.

Her partner was due in to have Christmas lunch with her in about 15 minutes.  Not out of town.  Just not where she wanted her to be or the way she wanted to be with her.

It took her a while to make the connections about who I am.  I had one of those weird conversations where you are talking to the person but really explaining yourself to another person. Which would have been the Unit Manager, a lovely woman named Sarah with kind eyes and a gentle spirit.

I stayed for a while until her partner arrived and we were able to share a visit.  When she inevitably got stuck in one of her 'spin cycles', her partner looked at me and her eyes welled up with tears.  She said she had to use 'the facility' and would be right back.

When I talked with her later she wept openly and said, "I just can't stand it when she's like that.  It just breaks my heart."

I said, as gently as I could, "She doesn't 'get' like that.  She 'is' like that.  We just convince ourselves that she has 'moments like that'.  She doesn't have 'moments like that'.  That is the reality of her life, now.  And yes, it is heartbreaking.  But, the pain is much, much worse when we place unrealistic expectations on her or ourselves. "

"Alzheimer's has robbed her of most of who she was.  This is who she is, now. She is small, sad glimpses of who she was and frightening glimpses of who she will become.  Mostly, she's terrified and is trying not to let it show.  She's working very hard to keep up a pretense of social pleasantries so we won't become as anxious and scared as she is."

"We've got to take it all and be all that we can be for her so that she can be all of who she is for us.  Even when that isn't enough.  Even when that breaks our hearts."

We cried together, her partner and I.  On Christmas Day in the morning.  It was the best present I could think to give her:  The truth, bathed in our tears and wrapped up in our sadness.  And, my friendship, guidance and solidarity with her.

I can do that because I know, in one sense, we all have Alzheimer's.  We live with small, sad glimpses of who we were and frightening glimpses of who we will become.  Mostly, we're terrified and try not to let it show.  We work very hard to keep up a pretense of social pleasantries so others don't become as anxious and scared as we are.  And, if they don't, chances are, we won't.

I can do that because I know that, in that moment,  God was also weeping and sad. Which is why God sent the most sacred part of Godself to be our friend and guide to stand in solidarity with us. So we won't be alone in our sadness and despair.  Even when we think we are.

I also know that most - if not all - of my parishioners don't know - will never know - of this Christmas Day visit.  And, if they did, some will think me foolish.  Others will think me a saint.

Neither is true, of course.  I'm just a parish priest, is all.  Sometimes foolish.  Deeply flawed and faulted.  Often impatient.  Sometimes feeling incompetent and an impostor.

I don't have any answers to the deep questions of people's lives.  I don't know why there is suffering in the world.  I only know that there is.  And, I know that I'm to be there, in the midst of it - things known and unknown.  Doing some things and leaving others undone.  But always trying to be present in and to the moments of loneliness and despair. 

I know I'm to break through the myths and fantasies we create in our lives which often find expression in the euphemisms we employ about our lives. 

I'm to try to have reasonable expectations of myself and others, and help others develop that of themselves and others - and me - so when we disappoint, the fall won't be as far or the landing as hard.

I'm to try to be unreasonably hopeful and expectant, calling myself and others to greater challenges and risks so that we might learn and grow.

I'm to try to live the poetry of life, making connections for people between the miracle of a spider's web and the gift of the network of community.  The rising of the sun and the hope of a new day.  The twinkling of the stars in the night sky and the promise that darkness will not overcome us. 

To see possibility, even when everything looks broken and desperate.

To speak the disturbing truth when convenient half-truths are more comfortable.

To try to live as God loves us - abundantly and generously. Wastefully lavish and foolish. Without fear or shame when we stand before each other in the presence of God.

To be faithful to what I know about who I am and whose I am.

This is what stirs my heart and my soul and excites my mind.  Living this life makes me feel more fully alive and gives me a sense of satisfaction and hope.   This is what challenges me to move beyond my limited understanding of myself and summons me to grow, more and more, into the image God had of me when I was called into being.

As a new year fast approaches, my resolve is to live even more faithfully into my desire and my passion for the identity and vocation God has given me.

Even if no one else knows or notices or even cares. 

God knows and notices and cares.

Reaffirming that knowledge is the best way I know to start the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Or, my dears, as Robbie Burns would have us sing:
We twa hae run about the braes
(We two have run about the hills)
And pou'd the gowans fine,
(and pulled the daises fine)
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit
(but we've wandered many a weary foot)
Sin auld lang syne
(Since old long ago.)

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
(We two have paddled in the stream)
Frae morning sun till dine
(from morning sun till noon)
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
(but seas between us broad have roared)
Sin auld lang syne
(Since old long ago.)

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
(And there's a hand my trust friend)
And gie's a hand o thine
(And give me a hand of yours)
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
(And we will take of a good drink and toast)
For auld lang sine
(For old long ago.)

For auld lang syne, my dear
(For old long ago, my dear)
For auld Langsyne,
(For old long ago)
We'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
(We will take a cup of kindness yet)
For auld lang syne!
(For old long ago)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There's no place like home

I arrived at Llangollen, our sweet little cottage in LSD (Lower, Slower Delaware) late yesterday afternoon. 

The house was amazingly cozy, even though I had set it at 58 before I left.  I jacked up the thermostat to 70 for an hour or so and then brought it down again to a comfortable 65 for sleeping. 

I was awakened at 4:30 AM by the duck hunters in the marsh in front of our home.  They were quiet for awhile but started up again just a little bit ago.   It's disconcerting but part of life here on the Bay.

There has been a storm since I was last here.  I can tell by the sea grass left in the front yard.  It's apparent that it wasn't a bad storm because there isn't that much of it and it's not close to the house.  The winds must have been strong because my rocking chair was in the middle of the deck.

The seagulls are nowhere in sight.  Probably because it's cold and they've found shelter on a garbage dump somewhere, feasting on the bounty to be found there.   Or, I'll see them later on this afternoon, gathering on an open field, all huddled together.

I've never experienced it as cold as it is here this morning.   It was 19 degrees at 4:30 AM.  It's up to a whopping 27 degrees right now, a wee bit after 11 AM. 

The wind has died down and the sun is out.  I shudder - literally - to think how much colder it will be when the wind picks up again and the sun goes down.  I confess that my heart is strangely warmed thinking of the duck hunters shivering in their blind waiting for their innocent prey.

I can follow the currents in the Bay by looking at the way the ice forms on the water and watching some of the ducks paddling around.  The ice is very thin but unmistakable as it glistens in the sun. 

Yes, I love it here.  It's home.  It's where I feel peace.  It's where I pay attention to things like the elements, the yard, the birds, my neighbors, the weather - and all of that happens 'naturally', effortlessly, without forethought or sense of obligation or duty. 

It's where I feel memories of family times - happy and difficult - surround and embrace me like an old, warm, favorite sweater. 

The rectory is, of course, where we live most of the time.  It's a lovely, comfortable house and we are very fortunate to have such accommodation.  But, it's not "home".  Not the way this place is "home". 

Perhaps ownership has something to do with it, but it's not the whole truth about what makes a house a home.  I don't know too many people who don't have a mortgage, so few people really "own" their own home.  There are other kinds of "investments" that go into what constitutes "ownership."

I think it has to do with the investment of love.  Of family.  Of memories.  Of the place where you can be who you are because the place, in some sense, gives you that identity as much as you identify it as your home.

One of my favorite sayings about "home" is this:  "Home is the place, where, when you go there, they have to take you in."

That's what Llangollen is for me - a place where I am accepted and welcomed,  just as I am.  No matter my state of mind or condition of body or soul.

It's the place where, when you're there, you click your ruby red slippers - or Nike sneakers, or boots, or Birkenstocks or flip flops -  and you hear yourself sigh contentedly as you say - part as a statement of fact and part as a prayer of thanksgiving:  "There's no place like home."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Standing in the Whirlwind

I'm taking a few minutes out from what has been a whirlwind kinda week to tell you about this book.  I'll be on my way to LSD (Lower, Slower Delaware) tomorrow to rest up from the week that was before returning to face the New Year, so I probably won't be posting anything until tomorrow evening.

When we haven't been celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, we've been clearing out the sacristy for the renovation.  It will take about four weeks but when it's done, we'll have lots more room to move around and lots more organized storage space.  It's very exciting, but hupboy, what a chore to empty, purge and then reorganize.

 I got the space where we're storing stuff all organized so we can have some semblance of order over the next few weeks, did a few pastoral calls, got the bulletins done, did some chores and then settled in to "start" (yeah, right - "start") this book.

I know.  Not exactly the best read after the exhaustion of Christmas.  A clergy sister recommended it to me.  I ordered it and it came in the mail today.   I got home around 4:30, started to 'browse' and haven't been able to put it down.   I'm about 3/4 of the way through.  'Riveting' is a good descriptive.

This is how the inside jacket describes the book:
'Standing in the Whirlwind' focuses on the author's tumultuous tenure as a rector of two rural Episcopal parishes in Virginia after working at a Washington, D.C. jail and teaching at Lorton Reformatory. Initially, both of the author's parishes supported her charitable idea of inviting homeless African American individuals from Washington, D.C. to periodically join them for picnics. However, this acceptance quickly changes to a malicious plot of a few parishioners who begin to mercilessly harass her, kill her pets, damage her property, and actually attempt to arrange her "accidental" death. Some members of local law enforcement even take bribes, turning their backs on her cries for help.
This is a true story.  You can't make this stuff up.

This is probably one of the more extreme situations I've ever heard of, and I've been at this for 23+ years, but sadly, it is very believable.

The presenting issue in this case is, of course, racism, but the fact that the rector was a woman can not be easily dismissed as not being a contributing part of the dynamic.  Not surprisingly - at least, not in The Episcopal Church - issues of class are also a factor.

A rector - of either gender - has life tenure, so s/he can not be summarily fired without cause.  And even then, it is the bishop who declares a 'dissolution of pastoral relationship'. 

When most congregations begin to understand this - that there can't be a 'backroom business deal' (unless that's what the priest either agrees to or is coerced into) - they can then settle down and work out a reasonable, equitable settlement that is fair to both the clergy as well one that does not inflict any more wounds on the Body of Christ.

In most situations I've been privy to,  however,  the Wardens and Vestry try to 'scare off' the priest, usually by escalating the tensions so as to drive away members or average Sunday attendance, drive down pledging units and amounts, make mission and ministry impossible and/or to soil - or ruin - his or her good name. 

It's pretty clear to me that the bishop in this case - and, oh, by the way, except for parishioners, the author names's names - by his turning a blind eye, only emboldened the 'good folk' of both rural congregations and made the situation worse.

Oh, he came riding in on his white horse at the end, but it was too late to save anything but his own sense of himself.  Reading that chapter was a bit like watching a Greek drama - so sadly, tragically predictable.

Thankfully, the current crop of bishops seem more savvy and knowledgeable about these situations.   The "College of Bishops" seems to be having a tremendous effect on helping bishops become the leaders they were elected to be.

What is most impressive about this priest is that she never seems to lose the center of her spirituality.  James finds strength and solace in remembering the roots and wings of her Alaskan childhood as well as in the mystical theology of Mme. Jeanne Guyon, who was incarcerated by Louis XIV for being a female religious thinker.

For my money, the central story here is the story of the gospel. Once the rector tried to get both "communities of faith" to move from being a sleepy little rural 'country club at prayer' and into the mission of the gospel, all hell broke loose.  Yes, it was about racism.  Yes, it was about sexism.  Yes, it was about classism.  But, mostly, i was about the power of the gospel.

There is so much rich stuff in here - issues of power and authority, the destructive nature of secrets, the way the Gospel message continues to disturb and convict - that will have to be the subject for another day and time. 

I'm going back to finish the book before I put my head down on my pillow tonight.  Yeah, it's that good.  I know the way the story ends.  That's not what I'm looking for in the remaining pages of this book.

I'm looking at this sister priest as someone who has much to teach me about the ultimate power of spirituality which is shaped by the authenticity and truth-telling which is inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I'm hoping to be taught something more about how to stand up for the Gospel - and yourself - in the face of Evil borne by "good people of God".

I'm remembering something a wise bishop once told me:  That those who cried, "Crucify him!" were not bad people. Basically, they were good people. They were just scared and confused people who were then more easily able to be led into participating in an act of heinous evil.

I suspect this sister priest will have much to teach me - teach us all - about the grace and solace that come from living out your faith, standing in the whirlwind.

I'll let you know.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Most Merry Christmas

If you can't be with the ones you love on Christmas Morning,
you can still"spend the day in pictures."
You are welcome to enjoy these with me.

Our Grandbeauties awake to find that Santa has, in fact, come, as promised.

Pandemonium reigns supreme!

Giggling, squiggling girl alert immediately issued.
No one is safe for at least the next 15 minutes!

Okay, where to begin? Where to begin?

BARBIES!!!  Woo hoo!

Dr. Silly and her Assistant Nurse Sillier.

A Christmas Stocking stuffed with all kindsa stuff is the best!

The child has this 'thing' for bunnies.  No, seriously.
Last year she got an actual, live 'bunny' for Christmas.
She wanted a white bunny with blue eyes named Clara.
She got everything she wanted, except, after they got home from the Vet -
Oops! - it was 'Clarence'.
Who is still alive and well and a happy part of the family.

Love my Lady Bug boots.

Now I seriously can't wait until our own "Little Christmas" the weekend of The Epiphany.  The house will be crowded with little ones and their parents.  It will be Christmas pandemonium all over again.

Which is exactly as it should be, don't you think?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Thank you! Merry Christmas!"

Every year, after the Christmas Eve and Easter Services, I say to myself, "I'm going to go home and write down what people say in the receiving line on their way out of church."

And, every year, I go home and my family is waiting, and we get to talking and laughing while I cook and everyone is excited about decorating the tree and wrapping last minute presents and, well, it just never happens.

This Christmas Eve, one of our daughter's flight was seriously delayed and her sister, who was to pick her up at the airport, wisely decided to spend the newly acquired gift of time in some 'alone' time with the new man in her life.

One of Ms. Conroy's head nurses had a terrible accident which landed her son in the Intensive Care Unit. Ms. Conroy tried her best to get a replacement, but ended up having to go into work to cover the 11-7 shift - which was a good thing because two of her patients died on Christmas Eve.

So, I found myself in the unusual situation of being alone on Christmas Eve for the first time in, well, I think, forever. I wasn't alone for all that long. By the time I got home from church, it was around 1:15 AM. Ms. Conroy would be home sometime around 8 AM. I don't think I went to bed much before 2:30 AM and had to be up an at 'em for the 9:30 AM Christmas Service.

I found myself doing some free-thought association - which usually happens when I'm exhausted, sitting in front of the fire and sipping a Maker's Mark. That's when I decided to write down some of the things some of the people say to me in the receiving line on the way out of church on Christmas Eve.

I've grouped them into different categories for simplicity.

First, there's the folk who give you the status updates on the church.

"There's a ceiling light out in front of the altar."

"Brrr. . .it's cold in the sanctuary! I had to put my coat on. You could turn up the heat just a bit, you know. It's Christmas."

And, right behind her comes: "My goodness, it was hot in the church. You know, you could save some money for the church by turning down the thermostat. There's a recession on, in case you hadn't heard."

I smile and say, "Thank you. Merry Christmas!"

The 'Amateur Floral Design Guild' was also present.

Some give an oblique reference: "Gee, the arrangement of poinsettia never changes from year to year. How nice to be so . . . reliable. . ."

Some are more direct: "I've been coming to this church for more years than I can remember and that poinsettia arrangement has NEVER changed. You could be more creative, you know. Time for something a little different, don't you think?"

There's nothing, however, like seeing something through someone else's "new eyes": "I LOVE the way the poinsettias are arranged to look like a Christmas Tree. How really creative. The church looks great!"

(As if I had anything to do with any of that - good or bad. I let the Flower Guild do their ministry. You know. The way I let the sexton make sure the thermostat is set at a comfortable level for the amount of people we anticipate we'll have in the church.)

I smile and say, "Thank you. Merry Christmas!"

There are those who, despite outward appearances, I know are having a "Blue Christmas" - no matter how recent their loss.

Most of the time there's just eye contact. They know I know. There's a long, tight hug and sometimes, someone will whisper, "It's still so hard." And I say, "I know. Hang in there."

One man came last night with his daughter. His wife of 60+ years had died, suddenly, in September. It was the first time I had seen him since the funeral.

He's not a parishioner. He and his wife are fiercely loyal to "their" church, up the road a piece, but they are '28 Prayer Book folk who barely tolerate the radical changes their church has undergone.

Still, they are nothing if not loyal. What they cannot abide, however, is that the 11 o'clock Christmas Eve service is at 8 PM. So, for the past seven Christmas Eves they've come to St. Paul's.

"Merry Christmas," he said, stiffly, formally - nothing really unusual for him, at first blush. He's a real buttoned-down, formal kinda guy. His daughter, however, stood a step behind him. It was the first time I had seen her at this service, or, in fact, in this church. Her eyes were brimming with tears.

"How are you doing?" I asked softly.

"Oh, I'm fine. Just fine," he said. "Lots of friends and family around. Just fine."

As he spoke, his daughter took a step back and, looking at me, shook her head 'no'.

After a brief, awkward silence, she stepped forward and said, "Mother always loved this service. She always talked about it. Now I know why. It was lovely - elegant and yet warm, just like her. It made me feel close to my mother again."

Her father looked at her lovingly, warmly, then sighed and looked back at me and said, "I wouldn't have been any place else in the world tonight."

I smile through my own teary eyes and say, "Thank you. Merry Christmas."

I LOVE to see my college kids come home for the holidays. Yeah, that's right. "My" college kids. The Freshmen are especially fun.

"How's it going? What's your favorite part of college?" I ask.

"COLLEGE!" they reply with unbridled enthusiasm that brings a wince to the faces of the parental units.

Ah, whoever said that youth is wasted entirely on the young was either a jealous person or a concerned parent.

There are other groups of people, lots of other comments - mostly polite words about the sermon, the music, etc.

"Good message," said more than a few folk. I have learned to welcome that comment for its generosity of spirit. Your delivery could be really bad, the story illustration horrid, but the comment lets the preacher know that they got the message.

At least, that's how I choose to hear their message.

In any event, I smile and say, "Thank you. Merry Christmas!"

The ones I love the most are those I call "The Newscasters". They rarely bring 'tidings of good cheer' but mostly want you to be sure to be 'in' on the latest breaking news - which, I suspect, they've been checking on their Blackberry during the sermon.

They usually come in groups of people who are quickly joined by others.

"Did you hear that the Pope got sick at midnight mass?"

"No, he didn't get sick, someone tried to kill him."

"No, someone jumped him and he fell and broke his leg. . . ."

". . .his hip."

"No, that was a cardinal or someone else in the procession."

"That's right, because the Pope got right up and finished the mass."

"Which they had to switch to 10 PM instead of midnight because he's such an old man."

"Well, and because most of the people who watch that on television are older than God. They can't stay up that late any more."

"Hey," someone calls out, "Who cares? We're Episcopalians, remember?"

Ah, and they'll know we are Christians by our love.

Or, at Christmas, by our lights.

In any event, I smile and say, "Thank you. Merry Christmas."

I love these little 'slices of life' that are unintentionally revealed at Christmas. The way some are able to distract themselves by minutia so that they might avoid staying focused on that which is so amazing that they simply can't get their heads wrapped around it.

The way others are so comfortable in God's house and their spiritual home that they want it to look its absolute best - right down to ceiling lights and temperature and the creative / not-so-creative arrangement of poinsettias, depending on your sense of creativity and style.

It's about moments of unspeakable grief that touches the vulnerable heart and the comfort of the familiar and and the consolation of the traditional.

It's about an ancient long-ago story of the Prince of Peace and the breaking news about a Prince of the Church.

God, in God's abundance, reveals all of that to me in that receiving line. I take it in and consider carefully the miracle of the revelation of God-made-flesh - in all of its frailties and imperfections and vulnerabilities.

It is God's Christmas present-as-reminder to me of Emanuel - that God is, indeed, with us and present to us in the Christ child that lives within each of us.

On Christmas Eve, I was also gifted by a story from StoryPeople, a website which features funky little stories-as-poems that almost always have a profound impact.
What do I get for this? I said
& the angel gave me a catalog
filled with toasters & clock radios
& a basketball signed by Michael Jordan
& I said, But this is just stuff
& the angel smiled at me
& swallowed me in her arms.
I'm so glad you said that,
she whispered to me.
I knew you still had a chance.
I believe that we bring our best 'stuff' to God when we - intentionally or not - bring the common, ordinary, human stuff of our lives into church with us.

My role, as priest, is to collect it all and lift up before God all the brokenness of the human enterprise - the sorrows and the joys, the tears and the smiles, the stories, ancient and modern - and make a Christmas Eucharists, saying unto God,

"Thank you. Merry Christmas!"

Friday, December 25, 2009

An angel's embrace at Christmas

What do I get for this? I said & the angel gave me a catalog filled with toasters & clock radios & a basketball signed by Michael Jordan & I said, But this is just stuff & the angel smiled at me & swallowed me in her arms. I'm so glad you said that, she whispered to me. I knew you still had a chance. (StoryPeople)

May your Christmas be blessed by the embrace of an angel who reminds you that God came down to earth so that you might fly.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

12 Days of Christmas in Uganda

Help Integrity Uganda During The 12 Days Of Christmas!

No doubt you have been following recent news about the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is currently before the Ugandan Parliament.  If passed, LGBT Ugandans could be punished with life imprisonment or even death. 

Now, more than ever, LGBT Anglicans in Uganda need our prayers and financial support.  That's why Integrity USA's Board of Directors has designated 10% of all donations received during the 100,000 Blessings campaign to the Hopkins Fund for Global Mission—almost all of which will be allocated to the ministry of Integrity Uganda during 2010.

It costs $700 per month to provide the members of Integrity Uganda with a safe meeting space, public transportation to worship, and emergency assistance with basic living expenses.  Many members have little or no income--they have been fired from their jobs and ostracized by their families because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Health care for malaria and HIV/AIDS is financially unobtainable for some.

During Christmastide, we're asking you to make a gift to the 100,000 Blessings campaign so that Integrity USA can continue providing vital aid to our sisters and brothers in Uganda.  Our goal is to raise at least $8400 for Integrity Uganda during the next 12 days.

A contribution of $1000 or more will qualify you for lifetime membership.  If you wish, you may give in honor or memory of a loved one. Remember that donations to Integrity are tax-deductible.

Unto us, a Savior is given.

Well, having written more than a few sermons in the past 48 hours, I confess that I am fresh out of ideas for a blog entry today. 

I also don't have much time to scout around the internet, looking for something witty or clever to bring you.  I've got a few pastoral calls to make, a few liturgical details to chase, a few presents to wrap - oh, and a few things to prepare for tonight and tomorrow's family feast.

I even found myself distracted in my morning prayer time.  What to write? What to post?

And then, it dawned on me - or shone like a bright star in the East on the dullness of my insight - that, despite my best efforts, I had done exactly the opposite of what I had been writing in my sermons - what I intend to preach twice tonight and once tomorrow. 

I wanted to write something perfect.  A perfect little Christmas essay.

And, isn't that what many of us want - a 'perfect Christmas'?

Christmas is the one day on the calendar when any medical professional - including, I understand, the newly popular Dr. Oz -  can tell you that hospital Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care Units will be filled with people who have suffered heart attacks and strokes.

There is a sad irony here.  While we await the birth of The Savior, we are so busy trying to live up to culturally imposed expectations to save ourselves from a sense of failure that we are killing ourselves.

So, I'm letting go of all that - well, I'm actively trying to do that - and letting one of the masters of storytelling do what he does best.  This is Garrison Keillor's Christmas essay which appeared in my mailbox this morning from Salon.Com.

It's about sharing tears and making someone laugh.  It's about what's important about Christmas - not our ideals of perfection but our imperfect humanity.

It's about the greatest gift anyone can ever give at Christmas or anytime - the gift of the authentic self, vulnerable, imperfect, and fully human - which no store on Madison Avenue can wrap and no Hollywood film can conceive or deliver.

So, g'won.  Read what Mr. Keillor has to say.

And then, try to relax.  It's going to be okay (she says to herself, hoping others are listening). 

Here's the good news:  We already have a Savior. And, it's not you.  And, it's not me.

Perhaps, once we get our heads wrapped around the enormity of THAT gift, we can liberate ourselves from the tyranny of perfection and become, ourselves, vehicles of God's saving grace.

May your Christmas be most holy and blessed.  May you, yourself, become someone's Christmas angel, bringing glad tidings that unto us a child is born, unto us a Savior is given - and, it's not any one of us.

For it is in such simple acts of every day life that, I suspect, we shall know the unspeakable, deep joy of of those ancient shepherds, who were just out there, watching their flocks by night.

My Christmas vision

In a 10th Avenue deli, an elegant girl from the prairie manages a herd of damaged boys with grace and good humor

By Garrison Keillor

Dec. 23, 2009 |

My little girl was born within a week of Christmas and, believe you me, conceiving one to hatch on target like that is no simple task. It takes planning and biotechnology, and the male is force-fed raw oysters, and the female must hang upside down in a dark room for hours.

I was 55 at the time and remember it well. This bonus baby was the last grandchild in my family, a last attempt to breed some frivolity and high-spiritedness into our somber Anglo line, and we seem to have succeeded. She is a socialite and comedian who shows almost no interest in clothes or toys or other material goods, despite our best efforts, and who only craves beautiful experiences such as swimming, a train ride, a party, lunch in a cafe with tablecloths and oddball waiters, or a stage show with singing and dancing and not too much smooching (euuuuuuu).

We brought her to New York in time to catch the big Christmas snowstorm, and she got to see the Radio City Christmas show in which one Rockette kicked off a shoe and kept dancing though off-kilter. Priceless.

We parents don't teach delight. We try to cover the basic stuff such as Please and Thank You and why you should take turns. You browbeat your kid into sticking with a job and finishing it and you praise the results, whether brilliant or only above average. You teach your child that there is a time to come home, and it's sooner than you think: that nothing good happens after 1 a.m.

This is a hard lesson to learn. The world looks rather magical after all the working stiffs have gone to bed. The stars twinkle through the trees and around 2 a.m. you're feeling like the law of gravity may not apply to you. By 3 a.m., you're ready to quit the day job and become a famous movie star.

We try to save our children from wild, unreal expectations. And now here is Christmas, a wild story of 3 a.m. miracles if ever there was one. It surely isn't about good manners or good work habits. We teach it to our children, each in our own version, and God alone knows what they make of it all.

My own Christmas vision appeared three days before Christmas, in a deli on 10th Avenue in New York, where a rather elegant young woman was managing a herd of eight teenage boys, ordering their breakfasts from the lady behind the counter. The boys spoke Spanish, which the young woman translated into English for the counter lady. I'm standing there, waiting my turn, observing. The boys are docile, cautious, soft-spoken, and then it dawns on me that they are so because of brain damage, mild retardation, however you want to put it, and the young woman is their hired shepherd. A teacher's aide, perhaps. Probably minimum wage. She is lovely, green-eyed, dark hair spilling down on a puffy parka, red wool scarf, and her English sounds very Midwestern to me.

The boys want muffins for breakfast except one boy who earnestly desires a sesame bagel, toasted, with cream cheese, but the deli is all out of sesame, and this is a cruel disappointment to him. He really was counting on it. When you are 14 and so desperately vulnerable in the big city, you do pin your hopes on certain small pleasures. His face crumples and he is about to melt, and the elegant young green-eyed woman puts her head down next to his where he sits slumped on the deli stool. Her pale cheek against his cheek, she murmurs to him and a string of his enormous tears runs onto her face and she wipes it away and says something in Spanish that makes him laugh. And then I notice at the end of her red scarf, the word "Nebraska." Nobody would wear this in New York except a Nebraskan.

I might've asked her a few questions, but she had turned her street face toward me, and so I didn't bother her. A girl from the prairie using her Spanish to care for damaged boys in a callous world where, contrary to everything the Savior said, the poor and powerless get short shrift -- in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere -- and she is sharing the tears of the sesame boy and making him laugh. She's my Christmas angel. I hope she gets to go to a party and sing and dance until 3 a.m.

(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)

© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Sixth O Antiphon: O! Emmanuel

Today we sing the sixth of the seven O Antiphon: O Emmanuel.

You can chant this prayer with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA by following the link to their website.
O Emmanuel, leader and desire
of all the nations, you set
captives free, comfort the
lonely; you feed the poor and
the hungry. Come be born in us,
God of Life.
Sr. Joan's Meditation for today is as follows:
December 23
Jesus Emmanuel has already come.
It is not a matter now of Christ’s
being where we are; it is a matter of
our being in the consciousness of
where Christ is in life and where He
is not as well. Where is Christ for
you? Is there a place in your life that
you know down deep is not in the
spirit of Christ at all?
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB
I'm always learning a little something more about "being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life. . . "

It was Sunday morning. Advent IV. The phone rang in the choir room.

No one usually answers but, because the snow storm had left 10-14 inches of snow the night before, a member of the choir thought she should because. . . well, because the Christmas pageant was scheduled for that morning and an important 'character' might be calling to say s/he couldn't make it . . . or, would be there after all.

Or, because maybe, just maybe, the organist/choir director was calling to say that he had been able to get out of his driveway after all and was on his way and she wouldn't have to play the piano.

This is the church. We are nothing if not about hope. Sometimes, hope against hope.

Not this time.

"Hello," said the voice on the other end, "this is the mother of Jesus. Is the Christmas Pageant still on?"

Only in the church could you get a call like that and no one would flinch.

"Yes, yes it is" said the choir member, "We're all expecting Jesus."

"Good," said the mother, "I'd hate to bring him out in this weather for no good reason."

It was only after she hung up that the other choir members who had been listening in burst into raucous laughter.

I conferred briefly with the choir. No organ. Just piano. Hmmm . . . do we really want to do "Tell Out My Soul" with a lean choir and no organ? Okay, here, we'll change things round a bit and make it easier with a hymn everybody know, "O Come All Ye Faithful." Yes, that's the ticket. Well done.

Down the hall, I passed the Coordinator of the Christmas Pageant. "Okay, angels? One, two, two three . . . good, over here, please. Animals? Good . . . a few sheep, a lamb, and. . . uh . . . a goat. Right, then. Over there, please."

Everything seemed in good order as he continued, "Stars? Careful, now. That's the new star, remember? We don't want to break it like the old one. How would the shepherds find their way to Bethlehem? Careful . . . careful . . . careful. . ."

I ducked behind the wall, listening in admiration as the man was making order out of the chaos that lurked at the fringes of this very young but nevertheless madding crowd.

"Okay, shepherds? Thank you. Over there, please. Wise men? Grand. Over there, thank you. I think we've got it covered."

Suddenly, I detected a note of anxiety in his voice. He was stammering, "Where? Where? . . . Um . . . Where?" I poked my head around the corner and saw the look of the very beginnings of panic start to cross his face.

"Where are the Three Kings?" he asked, almost pleading. No, definitely pleading.

I looked over at the Three Wise Men who looked more like three wise guys. They were smirking. Definitely smirking.

"Umm . . . ahem," someone said, "The Three Wise Men ARE the Three Kings."

A flicker of something like a combination of horror and relief crossed his face and then he resumed total control, "Right then, very good. Off we go."

The parents who were 'subbing' for the children who couldn't make it because of the snow storm were giggling softly amongst themselves. I couldn't tell if they were laughing at the Wise-Men-Three-Kings joke or because they were starting to enjoy their second chance at a childhood Christmas Pageant.

I suspect it was a bit of both.

Up the stairs they went to be greeted by three violins rehearsing "Silent Night." In the kitchen, the wind instruments were fitting in a few more rehearsals of the songs they were going to play. The energy was intense. I was amazed that, for so few of them, they sounded grand. Not at all like the pick-up team they were.

Impressive. Very impressive.

Oops, another problem. Only one torch bearer. What to do? Might she carry the gospel book in procession? Ah, that would do nicely. Just the cross and the gospel book. Perfect.

Except, she was brand new at the task of torchbearing and was really just now mastering the art and science of walking and carrying a stick with a lit candle on top of it whilst wearing a long robe.

She had never carried a gospel book in procession before. Her eyes began to reveal her anxiety about that. Not to worry. There will only be one torch. The procession would be a bit asymmetrical but that would be oddly in sync with the rest of the morning's festivities.

It's all to the glory of God, anyway, and I believe there is ample evidence that S/he absolutely delights in innovation and creativity. It's all perfected in the doing. Didn't St. Paul say that to someone, somewhere?

The congregation was a bit thin, but larger than I expected, given the wretchedness of the weather. The few. . . the brave . . .the members of St. Paul's, Chatham.

And so, it began.

I must say, this was the best Christmas Pageant. Ever. I know. I say that every year and every year I mean it. But, really, this one was the best. No question.

The Baby Goat insisted on sitting in the Angel's lap, but that was okay because it was her big sister, after all.

A few of the stars got a bit of a case of 'Ants-in-the-Pants," and the Wise Men had moments of being wise guys, but mostly everyone was very well behaved.

The three Narrators were positively brilliant, reading their parts with a seriousness that belied their ages.

Mary and Joseph looked completely serene as Baby Jesus sucked on his pacifier and was blissfully quiet the entire time.

And everyone, everyone remarked that this Christmas Pageant had the most Christmas spirit of any of the Christmas Pageants anyone could remember.

The Christmas Stories in scripture tell us that Jesus was born into "a low and mean estate". No organist accompanied the heavenly hosts and choirs of angels. No torchbearers - not even one slightly nervous newbie - lit His way. No one organized the chaos or hushed the clamor of wayward sheep and itchy, distracted angels.

Indeed, no snow plow came to shovel the "snow on snow" out of the driveway to the manger "in the bleak midwinter, long, long ago."

And yet, Jesus came.

Jesus was very much present with us - Emmanuel = God with us - this past Sunday.

Sr. Joan's meditation reminds us that, "Jesus Emmanuel has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life and where He is not as well."

Yup, our Christmas Pageant was all that.

All that, and much, much more.

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

We're ready.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Sixth Antiphon: Our imperfect lives

The Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA have a lovely chant for today's O Antiphon:
O Ruler of Nations, cornerstone of
the people, desire of all; from the
clay of the earth, by your own hand
you have formed us and fashioned
us. Come and open our hearts to one
Sr. Joan's meditation for today is:
December 22
We are not the beginning and the
end of the universe. We are part
of a vision of humankind, seen in
Jesus, and yet to be achieved in
us, a vision of global sharing,
universal peace and individual
— Joan D. Chittister, OS
Sometimes, our dreams give us a vision, calling us to remember to be our best selves.

Every now and again, I have a memory that comes to me as a dream. That's been happening to me this past week.

I have this very clear memory that is thirty-three years old. I'm sitting in my lawyer's office. The custody case is coming up in a week. He's going over my testimony with me.

At the end of our session, he looks up from his paper work and says, "Okay, here's the thing I really want you to remember." He pauses, weighing his words very carefully.

"Look," he says, "you'll do well. You'll do very well. And, we probably won't get everything we want. This time. You have to prepare yourself for the possibility of losing custody of your children, but I'm convinced we'll get very generous visitation rights."

I knew he was right but I didn't want to hear him. I could feel a tight squeeze of pain grip my heart as the truth of his words found their way to that place in me where truth lives.

I tried not to sob, but it hurt more to hold it back than to let it escape. He was a kind man, a compassionate and caring man. He let me cry. When I gained my composure, he continued.

"Just remember: this is the first time in Bristol County, Massachusetts that an open lesbian custody case will be heard in open court. We probably won't win custody this time, but you will get to see your kids. And, I believe the court will be very generous. And," he continued, "you will get them back. I'm sure of it. Just not the first time."

Turns out, he was right. It took almost five years, but at the time, it might as well have been 5,000 years.

"Losing the first time is not what's important," he said. "This is what's important. This is what I want you to consider: Twenty years from now, when your children are all grown up, and they look back on this time, what do you want them to remember about you?"

I was stunned by his question. I wanted to get through this moment. The next day. All the days of the coming week. Twenty years from now? What?

I stared back at him blankly.

"I think you want them to remember a mother who fought for what she believed to be right - the truth about her self and her life and her family - and tried her very best to protect her children from any more pain than was absolutely necessary."

"You will set the tone for them. You will be the model for them when they are adults in terms of how to handle disappointment and heart-break. You will be the model for them when they have to decide what cost they will pay for their integrity and their authenticity. You will be the model for them about how to act under enormous pressure - when you might have to sacrifice everything and everyone you love - and tell the truth when it would be easier to lie, to fit in, to play nice, to go along to get along."

"You decide," he said. "It's your choice. Just remember: Whether you win custody or not, you are - and will always be - their mother. You are - and will always be - one of the custodians of how they will understand themselves as adults in the world."

Twenty years later, our children said to us, "The divorce was really, really painful, and although we couldn't understand it at the time, we know you did the right thing and we know that you did your best to keep us from any more pain than was absolutely necessary."

Sr. Joan writes, "We are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, and yet to be achieved in us . . ."

I think the vision of our best selves - the Christ child that lives in us - is called out in times of great weakness and vulnerability by the Christ child that lives in others.

The Infant Messiah calls out to us, even now, from a lowly stable in ancient Bethlehem to be the vision God had of us when we were called into being.

Life is not perfect. It is perfected in the faithful living out of our imperfect lives of faith in community.

My prayer today is one with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie: O Ruler of Nations, cornerstone of the people, desire of all; from the clay of the earth, by your own hand you have formed us and fashioned us. Come and open our hearts to one another.

And let the church say, 'Amen'

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Fifth O Antiphon: "O Forgiveness"

No, actually. That's not the fifth O Antiphon.

This is it: O Radiant Dawn
O Dayspring, Sun of Justice, bright
eternal light, one who shows the
way, the one who sets us free even
in darkness and death. Come,
disperse the gloomy clouds of night.
Here is Sr. Joan's Meditation

December 21
The celebration of the God of
Growth in our lives—those moments
of insight in which life comes newly
alive in me—helps us to recognize
those moments of insight in which
life comes newly alive and I begin to
see differently, to live differently, to
function differently. A new friend, a
new work, a new idea are all "radiant
dawns" in life that can enable me to
become more than I ever dreamed I
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB
Actually, I've had one of those 'moments of insight'.

I've been stewing about "The Final Draft" of the Covenant. Even all those many pretty words embroidered into so many eloquent passages can not cover up the mean-spirit of retribution which called this . . . thing . . . into creation and the sense of retaliation which energizes "anyone" to sign onto it.

I felt my heart harden every time I tried to read or re-read it. I began to feel the scowl on my face as I examined the text for nuance and tone.

I found myself meditating on Colossians 3:12-17 - which, remembering the admonitions from a former spiritual director, is what I try to do when I get into one of these states of fretting and scowling and anger.

Yesterday, I came home from church, took an Aleve and ensconced myself in my favorite rocking chair with my heating pad, trying to ward off the spasms in my lower back gained from trying to shovel my car out of a snow-bound driveway for the 8 AM Service - for which no one showed up.

See also: no good deed goes unpunished.

More to get my mind off my misery than a noble impulse for personal edification, I started reading the latest edition of Christian Century. I stumbled onto "Reflections on the Lectionary" for December 27 (Christian Century, December 15, page 21). Imagine my surprise when I discovered the remarks were on Colossians 3:12-17.

Shekinah strikes again!

The author is John Ortberg, who is the senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, CA. He begins the piece by saying, "A study done a few years ago showed that a sign of a person's incompetence is his or her inability to perceive incompetence."

He continues by saying that we deceive ourselves about our intelligence . . . and our appearance.

Then, he tells this story:
"An older friend of mine got on an airport train and noticed an attractive young woman sitting nearby. She smiled at him, and he thought to himself, "I've still got it."

"Excuse me, sir," she said, "I can stand. Would you like to take my seat?"
" . . . . a sign of a person's incompetence is his or her inability to perceive incompetence."

Okay, the author had me with this story. I am so glad he did. Here's how he finished the essay:
'This year we had a daughter graduate from Azusa Pacific University. My wife spoke at commencement, so we gathered with a group of faculty, alumni and administrators before the ceremony.

At one point, university president Jon Wallace pulled three seniors into the center of the room and told us all they were going to be serving under-resourced people in impoverished areas after graduation.

Then Jon turned his back to the rest of us, faced the three students, and said, 'Somebody you do not know has heard about what you're doing. He wants you to be able to serve without any impediments, so he's giving you a gift."

Then he turned to the first student and looked her in the eye. 'You have been forgiven your school debt of $105,000.'

It took a few moments for the words to sink in. The student shook her head, then began to cry. Jon turned to the next student. 'You have been forgiven your debt of $70,000,' then to the third student, 'You have been forgiven your debt of $130,000.'

All three students were trembling. Their lives had been changed in a twinkling by the extravagance of someone they'd never met. For those of us who watched, it was as if we had experienced the forgiveness ourselves. There was not a dry eye in the room.

An unpayable debt. An unseen giver. An unforgettable gift. The freedom of the debtors becomes a blessing to the world. There is a bigger debt we all labor under. We give it labels such as regret, guilt, shame, brokenness - sin. But God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. We know what's coming. But we need to hear the words just the same.

Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Maybe if I work on this a bit more for myself, it won't matter what +++Rowan does or doesn't do with the Final Draft of the Covenant - or who signs and doesn't sign - or even why it was written.

Here's what I know to be true:
I know myself to be loved and forgiven.

I know what I believe and why I am an Anglican.

I know who I am and whose I am.

I know that I am deeply blessed to be part of an unusual constellation of people who are bold enough to call ourselves family. We love each other - even when we mess up - and care for and support each other.

I have a remarkable church family that allows me to be among them as one who is in community as a leader.

I have committed my life to the gospel values of justice, mercy and peace.

I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I am able to preach it without fear of consequence for my life.
These are the articles of my Covenant.

What other things are there, really, that are more important?

O Radiant Dawn, indeed!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ollie, ollie infree! (The Fourth O Antiphon)

So, I'm driving in my car on Friday afternoon and my cell phone rings. It's Louise Brooks - "Our Ms. Brooks", AKA Susan Russell's "Sweetie Pie".

There had been, that very afternoon, a non-televised/broadcasted press conference at the State Department regarding the proposed law in Uganda. GLAAD was organizing a press briefing of LGBT religious leaders who were to be brought up to speed on the salient points. A panel discussion would then follow which would be taped and rebroadcast at a later date.

Susan was down with the flu and Louise couldn't get anyone from the Integrity Board to be part of this important event on such really short notice. Would I represent Integrity on the call?

Well, I'm not on the Board any longer, and it's been almost eight years since I've been in this role. Could she give me some 'soundbites'?

Louise was calling at 3:15 PM. The debriefing was at 4:00 PM. The panel discussion was at 4:30 PM. The panel discussion was going to be taped and broadcast later on the LGBT faith-based radio program "On Air with Tony Sweet"

That's his picture above. He is, isn't? Sweet, that is. Okay, okay. I'll have drool cloths ready for all the gay boyz and straight girls who insist on getting their heart broken.

If I could do it, I was to call the GLAAD contact ASAP. Not a whole lot of time for a refresher course in 'Soundbite 101'.

I moved some things around on my schedule, made a few phone calls, and was on the call promptly at 4 PM.

I must say, first, that we have some absolutely incredible leaders in the LGBT community. Intelligent. Articulate. Creative. Resourceful. Visionary. Strong. Courageous. Generous. Kind. Faithful.

I can only remember some of the folks on the program. Kapya Kaoma, the Anglican Priest from Zimbabwe who wrote the book Globalizing The Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia was on the call.

Then, there was Bruce Knots (I think that's how his last name is spelled), a 25 year veteran of the State Department, having served all those years in Africa, representing the Unitarian Universalist staff at the United Nations.

The briefing was very ably led by Mark Bromley who, along with Julia Dorf, are members of the Council for Global Equality and had been at the State Department Press Conference.

Charles Earhart (not sure if that's the spelling of his name) represented Metropolitan Community Church and Mary Ann Betty Burke, represented Dignity.

There were a few other folk who seemed to drift in and out of the call. Forgive me if I don't remember you all and especially if I really mess up the spelling of anyone's first or last name.

Finally, the amazing facilitator of the program was Ann Craig, Coordinator for Religion, Faith and Values at GLAAD. I don't know how she coordinated all those clergy and various dignitaries, mostly all at the very last minute - which has got to be as frustrating a task as herding cats - but she did it with grace and style and competence.

The State House Press Briefing had been called by Assistant Secretary of State, John (aka "Johnny") Carson. Mark Bromley, who was in attendance, was very favorably impressed.

It is very, very clear that the United States not only condemns, in the most forceful way, the proposed draconian laws in Uganda and Rwanda and the new law in Burundi, but also - ready for this? - will not settle for anything less than the decriminalization of homosexuality, not only in Uganda, but in any country with whom the United States has a relationship.

Mark kept saying that Assistant Secretary of State Carson was "very direct" and he felt that the support for this position came from the highest levels of government.

As soon as I get information about when this program will be aired/broadcast I'll let you know and post the link. Hey, I'm no Susan Russell, who is an absolute Rock Star and Queen of the Soundbite, but I think I held my own. You'll be able to tell when you hear it.

It was a bit like riding a bike, you know. I was a little wobbly at first, and I certainly wish I knew more of the Integrity programmatic talking points, but once I got the handle bars in my hands, my derriere in the seat and my feet on the pedals, I was fine.

Then again, I don't think you ever stop being an activist. Not if you're a Christian. Some of us are just more 'out front' than others. We all do our part, each in our own way.

Which leads me to repeat the one thing I do remember saying. Ann Craig was asking us how it is that we move forward, especially since the counter-charges from Africa always include "neocolonialism" and the "imposition" of the "Western Agenda" on the continent of Africa.

I have no idea what is on the "Western Agenda". I must have missed the memo on that one while I was mopping up the floors at the church after the last toilet blocked up. Then again, I never got the memo outlining the "Gay Agenda" either. Or the complimentary free toaster oven or electric blanket from the LGBT Recruiting Station.

Oh, I talked about IntegrityUSA's presence in Uganda, the Voices of Africa video done by Katie Sherrod and Cynthia Black, Blah, Blah, Blah. I mean, I was there as a representative of Integrity. I had do to my 'plug'.

All of that was just background music for the quote from Blessed Harvey Milk who said that every LGBT person who is able MUST come out of the closet. Now is the time.

It's so easy for us to be "objectified" - objects of disdain and scorn. We're "faggots and dykes" - like Vietnamese "gooks" and Jewish "Hebes"and German "Krouts". To one Anglican bishop, at least, LGBT people are "cockroaches".

It's a very easy next step from objectification to violence and from violence to murder and from murder to genocide. We've seen it over and over and over again.

Coming out does not provide automatic insurance against violence, hate crimes, murder or genocide. But, it does make it harder for those crimes to be committed.

You will no longer be a "faggot" or a "dyke", but just Mary and Sue. Or Brian and Steve. Joe the Plumber. Sarah the Electrician. Mark who owns the Coffee Shop. Jayne the Hospice Nurse.

When people know us, we are no longer objects, but regular people who don't have lifestyles. . . we have lives.

Oh, and yes. If you do come out, the cost will be high. If you happen to mention that you are an LGBT person, some will complain that you are "in their face". If you are out but not politically active, you will be considered "a good LGBT person" - i.e. "not in my face".

If you are who you are and talk about that freely - you know, like +Gene Robinson - you will be ridiculed for "pushing the gay agenda" and not "simply being the bishop he was elected to be."

I'm so tired of hearing from some circles in the church that Mary Glasspool was "not in your face" about her sexuality and "you'd never have known" she was a lesbian in the Diocese of Maryland.

And THAT, "they" say, is why she was elected. THAT, "they" say, is why she'll be a "good bishop" as opposed to +Gene Robinson. Gimme a break! Mary would be the first person to laugh at all that!

There's a children's hide-and-seek game where, when the game is over, someone yells, "Ollie, ollie infree!" It means that those who were in hiding can now come out.

There are lots of apocryphal stories about what that really means, but one story is that it's a corruption of the original German which meant "All the other outs are free."

Anyone who is on the "outs" - who are excluded because they've been in hiding - is now free. Amnesty has been declared. You can be who you are.

Ollie, ollie infree! All the other outs are free!

I think we need to call that to each other more often.

Game's over, kids. Ollie, ollie, infree!

Come out, come out, whoever you are.

If you are a straight allie, we need your support now more than ever. Indeed, we need you to take the lead on this - on human rights, marriage equality, parenting, anti-discrimination in housing and employment, hospital visitations - the whole enchilada.

It's not only important for your life, but for lives all over the world.

Indeed, there's an LGBT person in Uganda or Rwanda or Burundi whose very life depends on your honesty and integrity. Who needs to see the fullness of your humanity. Who needs your intelligence, creativity, vision, resources and faith commitment. They need your life in order to sustain their lives.

The world is calling: Ollie, ollie, infree!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My day

I got on the road this morning at 9:15 AM. 

I got home sweet (Jesus!) home at 5:45.  That would be PM.

This is what I saw most of the day.

Not pretty.

Dangerous, in fact.

I passed at least 10 cars and/or trucks which had skidded off the road.  No fender-benders.  And, apparently, no one hurt.  Thanks be to God.

Lucy True Bug (my VW convertible bug) was a real trooper.  She kept me steady and on the road safely.  I did some slow, deep breathing.  Stayed focused.  Kept praying. We did just fine.

Whoever invented front wheel drive is my s/hero!

If you are in the Northeast and part of this storm know exactly what I mean.

Those of you who are, stay warm.  Be safe.  Love your families and cherish them.

Those of you are aren't, please pray for those of us who are.  And, be safe and love your families and cherish them.  It's a good thing to do no matter what the weather.

It's brutal out there.

Another kind of O Antiphon: "I really like Christmas . . ."

Truth be told, the above clip from Tim Michin is my favorite kind of O Antiphon.

Ms. Conroy is a wee bit more traditional, in a post modern kinda way. Not exactly bound by Gregorian chant but enchanted with the new chanting from the Benedictine Sisters of Erie.

I mean, she is a Republican girl, but she voted for Obama. See?

She actually sent me a recording of her singing the first two O Antiphons, a la the good Benedictine Sisters of Erie, on my iPhone.

I know. Just call it part of the 'glue' that has kept us together the last 33 years.

Here's today's chant of the O Antiphon "O Root of Jesse" from the good sisters,
O Root of Jesse, standing as
protector of the people; silencing
rulers, inspiring the people to make
supplication. Come do not delay,
deliver us.
Here's Sr. Joan's meditation.
December 19

It takes generations to build the
Christ vision in the world, just as
it took generations after Jesse to
prepare for the coming of the
Christ. It is our task to root ideas
now that will bring the next
generation to wholeness.
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB
Actually, I prefer Tim Michin's more modern Antiphon, which I think is a most excellent response to Sr. Joan's meditation.
I'll be seeing my dad,
my brother and sisters,
my gran and my mum
And we'll be drinking
white wine in the sun.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Practical, sensible and Christian??????

Yeah, that's the ticket.

Baking and Praying the O Antiphons

This is the second day of the O Antiphons and Ms. Conroy can barely contain her excitement. She's not easily amused (except by our grandchildren) but these sorts of simple things deeply please her.

So, what the heck, right? I mean, it's not that I don't appreciate the spiritual discipline or the anticipation of the birth of the Infant Messiah. Indeed, there's something intuitively feminine about this spiritual practice that appeals to me.

I just don't get as excited about it as Ms. Conroy. Perhaps that's because there's something intuitively childlike about this spiritual practice of anticipation that appeals to her.

I scouted around and found some scriptural reference for today's O Antiphon - for those of you whose spirituality comes from the left side of your brain.

Isaias 11:4-5
But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity the meek of the earth: and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.

Isaias 33:22
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king: he will save us.

Me? Baking and cooking are forms of prayer. It appeals to both the left and right sides of my brain. And, as an additional bonus, I get something tangible to give to others. I don't often get to see tangible results in my line of work. That can drive some of the corporate types of the faithful right 'round the bend.

I made this pan of what my kids used to call "Breakfast of Champions Bars". That's a bit of a joke about how addictive they are.

They were but a distant if not pleasant memory until Clumber (that naughty dog) posted the recipe on his FaceBook page. All it took was one look and I was addicted all over again.

It's made in a Graham Cracker crust with a package each of two kinds of chocolate chips - semi-sweet and milk - and some Peanut Butter or Butterscotch chips, chopped pecans, shredded coconut (I made it half and half for those who don't like coconut), and is covered with sweetened condensed milk and then baked for 30 minutes.

You could gain five pounds and get a cavity just looking at the stuff.

I also made some Chocolate Honey Mustard Pretzels - they have a chocolate kiss and three M&Ms pressed into them. Also like crack cocaine.

Later today, I'll make a pan of Sweet Potato Casserole for our daughter's Christmas Dinner and drop it off at her house tomorrow, along with some of the Chocolate Pretzels and Bars.

I'll also run out and get some pretty cellophane wrap and colorful ribbon, and package some of the sweet stuff as Christmas gifts for a few friends.

While I do all of that, I'll be singing today's O Antiphon and meditating on Sr. Joan Chittister's prayer for today.

If I were going to bake something for the Christ child, Adonai, I'm betting he would love these two amazing sweets.

Here's Sr. Joan's prayer. December 18
When we build a vision of life it is
necessary to realize that Jesus
must be the center of it—not our
institutions, good as they may be;
not our plans or personal talents,
necessary as they are.
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB
You can sing chant this prayer along with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA here.
O Adonai, leader of the ancient
Israel, giving Moses, while in the
burning bush, the law on Sinai.
Come with outstretched arms and
teach us.
When Ms. Conroy reads this, she'll be so excited.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

O excitement! O Antiphons!

So, I'm in my car and the cell phone rings.  It's Ms. Conroy.  She's very excited.  Very Excited.

"Guess what?" she asks.

"What?" I said, expecting - oh, I don't know - something from one of the kids, something about her work . . . not this:

"Today begins the O Antiphons!" she practically chirped.

You have to know Ms. Conroy to know that 'chirping' is not her usual tone of voice.

I had no words for oh, five, ten seconds.

"Isn't that exciting? "she continued.

"Exciting?" I asked cautiously, more of a reflection than an actual question.  "Sure, sure.  Exciting."

She giggled like a six year old who had been waiting for this gift all year.

And, come to think of it, she had.

There are seven O antiphons which lead up to Christmas Day.  Sometimes called "Advent Season's Brightest Jewels," (with which Ms. Conroy would obviously agree) these O Antiphons express the theology of Advent: The incarnation of Jesus as Holy Wisdom, Lord of Israel, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Dawn, King of Nations, Emmanuel (God-With-Us).

We sing these O antiphons in that great hymn:  "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

Today's O Antiphon is O Wisdom:

O WISDOM, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with Your strong yet tender care. Come and show Your people the way to salvation.


Christ, the Word of God through all the ages You have cared for Your people as a shepherd his flock, as a mother her child, as a potter his clay. Be present to us who cry out for Your compassionate, helping hand. Help us to be faithful to those values which You taught us by Your life and Your love. May we find Your presence in the needs of the poor and abandoned around us. Amen.
Now, were I to actually get excited about the O Antiphons, it would be over the way the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA observe them.

You can hear them chanting the O Antiphons here, as well as read Sr. Joan Chittister's daily meditations on them.  Here's her meditation for today:
December 17
Wisdom: the ability to see the
world as God sees it. Try reading
the newspaper today through the
eyes of a God who was born in a
stable, counted to be of no
account, hounded by society from
one place to another.
— Joan D. Chittister, OSB
Okay, everybody.  Time to get excited.   Ms. Conroy says so.