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, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

The following cartoons were sent to me by my beloved Dahveed with a little note that said, "Madre, I bet you could do something with one of these!"

The boy is, on occasion, a master of understatement. Not easy for a Mexican. I understand. Drama runs in my Portuguese veins, too. You may have noticed.

Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau has been running a series which includes a woman chaplain. Another friend sent me a clip recently and said, "She reminds me of you."

Perhaps. It's just that the way Trudeau has drawn this character, I don't know too many Episcopal women - ordained or of the laity - who wouldn't respond very much like this chaplain.

Then again, I tend to keep company with some pretty smart, feisty, gutsy women.

I've been struggling to write something cogent about this holiday. Yes, it's important to remember our 'War Dead' - those who made the 'ultimate sacrifice' for 'liberty and justice for all'.

When I look at what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, the millions of dollars that are being poured into the wars in other places in the Middle East and The Holy Land, and compare that with the grinding poverty many people in our country live with as their daily reality, the inferior education many of our young people are being given which greatly imperils our future, and the insanity of "Drill, baby, drill" that has led to the greatest ecological crisis this country has ever faced, well . . . I wonder:

Whose liberty?

What justice?

Did they die in vain?

Those questions send chills up and down my spine.

I don't have the answers, but I this to be true: Asking the questions and living into the answers are how we 'form a more perfect union' that our founders dreamed of.

We are far from perfect. We will never be perfect. We can only strive to be 'more perfect'.

The voice of Trudeau's woman chaplain is an important one in that process. With a few sharply drawn images and in pointed, razor-sharp but deeply human dialogue, we are given a startling portrait of the role of women and the reality of religion in These United States.

Religious pluralism is not only a cultural phenomenon - it is the reality of many American families.

The role and authority of women - religious and secular - will probably always be challenged. 

I don't think those two statements are not connected in some way.

Trudeau tackles the deep questions about God and the mysteries of life with humor - which is probably evidence of great wisdom.

I especially like the dialogue between the doctor and the chaplain about the mental state of their patient.

But, the last one is my absolute favorite. Check them all out, but be sure to check out the last scene. (Click on the images to enlarge them for easier reading.)

Been there. Felt like that. Then again, tell the truth: haven't we all?

So, today, as you're enjoying your hot dogs or hamburgers or chicken, fish or veggie burgers or the grill, and you down another brewski or white wine or cola, do stop and think about those who have died in the service of this country.

And, perhaps, consider how your life is contributing to making this country a 'more perfect union'.

If you are of a mind, please do offer up a few wee prayers.

Because, while it's true - God does have your back - you never know.

She just might decide to sit around today, doing her nails at the start of the Summer Holiday and someone has to pick up the slack.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Slings and Arrows

I'm still trying to figure out Rowan Williams. And, Barack Obama.

Yes, that Rowan Williams. You know, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Spiritual Leader of the Anglican Communion.

And, yes, that Barack Obama. The President of these United States of America.

In the way that is often my thought process, the more I considered Mr. Obama and his handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy and deficit, and now the horrific oil spill in the Gulf, the more my thoughts turned to the whole issue of leadership.

The more I considered Rowan Williams and his Pentecost Letter, the more I realized that this was not so much about +++Himself as it is about the impossible vocation of being a 'spiritual leader'.

No, I'm not giving Rowan any slack. In trying so hard to appease absolutely everyone and preserve the unity of the Communion, he has only succeeded in riling everyone on both sides of the troubles that have plagued the Church for the past forty years - and, I suspect, only added to the wicked, poisonous brew that is religious schism.

I want to suggest, however, that there are differences between being a 'leader' and being a 'spiritual leader'.

I remember inviting Bishop Steve Charleston to lecture a class I was teaching at the Theological School at Drew. He began by setting up two columns on the black board. On one column, he wrote the word "Spiritual" and asked the students to say the first thing that came to their minds when they heard the word.

"Peaceful," someone called out.

"Holy," said another.

"Saintly," said a third.

"Godly," offered yet another.

There were more, but you get the point.

Then, he wrote the word "Leader" in the other column and asked the same question.





There were more, still, but you get the point. I suspect you also get the point he was trying to make.

If the term 'spiritual leader' is not a bit of an oxymoron (like 'jumbo shrimp'), it is, at the very least, two words that often seem at odds with one another.

How do we reconcile the two words? How does one become a 'saintly manager'? If it is true, and it is, that 'boss' spelled backward is 'double SOB', then how does one become a 'godly boss'?

Whatever the answer, I want to suggest that 'appeasement' is not the path to reconciliation.

I suspect Mr. Obama, after his first year in the highest office of leadership, is learning a bit about the dangers of always wanting to cross the aisle and find agreement on the middle ground.

Which is all to say that, when one is in any position of leadership, one can - and, perhaps, should - expect to deal with criticism.

Some of it will be valid. Some of it will not.

When one is a 'spiritual leader' it gets even more complicated than that.

People can have unrealistically high standards for clergy as ministers and as human beings - it's that 'saintly manager' thing.

Some people will actually expect "the impossible" as an operational standard for ministry - including, unfortunately, the pastors themselves.

For example, there is an unspoken expectation that pastors will have a healthy, happy, stable family life AND s/he will always will be available to parishioners - any time of the day or night.

Or that pastors will always be available to visit folks in their homes and hospitals and extended care facilities, AND also be sitting in the church office, ready, willing and completely available when someone "just stops by" - without an appointment.

Mixed up with all of this are the ways people sometimes can project onto pastors their feelings about parents, other authority figures or even God. Or, change. Or, not changing. Or love. Or, emotional distance.

There is no end to the variety of reasons why clergy are the object of criticism. Besides all that, the gospel requires that clergy take a stand on many matters that will not endear us to others.

It's the old "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". It's the reason why clergy in The Episcopal Church system have life tenure - so we can do the work of the gospel and not lose our jobs for it.

Although, some - indeed, many - of us no doubt have, anyway.

Sometimes criticism can feel like confirmation that we clergy are doing our job. But those times tend to be rare. More often, most clergy I know feel like the unfortunate person with the sign "Kick Me" pinned to the back of his/her clerical shirt.

Sometimes it is not about me. Clergy are — and need to be - a relatively safe place for people to bring their disappointment, grief or anger, even when the clergy person is not the original source of that emotion.

No one articulates this better than author and Lutheran pastor Walter Wangerin in his book of collected essays, "Ragman and Other Cries of Faith." It's a powerful metaphor for Christ and those who follow in his path. You can find the essay here. G'won, give it a read when you have a chance.

I can not recommend more highly Pamela Cooper White's book, Shared Wisdom. Learning about the dynamic of 'transference and counter transference' has helped me in literally hundreds of situations and thousands of different ways.

Sometimes it is about me. In those times when criticism seems well founded, I look for the opportunity to learn something more about myself as well as for the chance to clarify, to apologize or to reconcile. I am always deeply grateful for these moments because I always grow from them.

I have learned that there is a difference between 'intent' and 'impact' (I wish I could remember who first described this dynamic to me so I could give her credit. Alas, she remains like so many wise women, anonymous. My sincere apologies are exceeded only by my profound gratitude.).

I understand that we can say something with one intent but it is not received as we intend it and so the impact is negative. This happens a great deal in email conversations which only convey one dimension of a person's communication or personality.

In those instances, I try to take the high ground, take responsibility for my intent and apologize for the impact. I have discovered that two of the most powerful words in the English language are "I'm sorry."

I have also discovered that there are times when the voice of criticism is the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking the truth, seeking to correct. Even when the criticism is well founded, that does not make it easy to hear. In fact, legitimate criticism may be the most difficult to hear because it cannot be easily dismissed.

It's part of that 'intent' vs. 'impact' thing again, which can be good. Difficult, but good. Another opportunity for personal growth.

One thing I can say for certain: I put little stock in anonymous criticism. I consider it one of the ultimate acts of cowardice. Besides being difficult to evaluate the information, it's hard to know to whom you need to apologize or with whom you need to be reconciled.

I put less stock in gossip which, in church circles, can take the form of someone in leadership telling the pastor - as one once actually said to me - "Well, for example, 'someone' said that they stopped coming to church because you didn't talk to them or their family at coffee hour or at the Spaghetti Supper."

True story. Never mind that it is not JUST the pastor's job to talk to people at the coffee hour. Never mind that church is made up of a 'community' of people. Never mind the neurosis of the statement in the first place. Never mind that more often than not, the pastor doesn't get to talk to everyone at social events because the leadership is always pulling the pastor 'off line' to talk about something Very Important that Just. Can't. Wait. Never mind . . . .

Oh, just never mind.

Recently, I listened intently to a report of a Vestry retreat where the facilitator asked folks to write down their questions/concerns on a file card, which the facilitator then collected and read out loud.

The concerns were systematically categorized to be dealt with later, not addressed specifically, necessarily, but as part of an analysis of how the church, as a system was working.

Not a bad process, I thought. Most of them were valid - if not classic - concerns about the workings of the parish. Some of them, however, were strong - albeit unfair - criticisms of the pastor.

I later marveled to hear one of the leaders talk about that retreat. "It was so wonderful," s/he gushed, "that we were all able to tell the truth."

Erm. Excuse me. But, writing down anonymous criticism about the pastor is NOT truth-telling. It's a cheap pot shot, pure and simple.

And some of these people really, really believe that they are Christian. Really.

"To be or not to be" a spiritual leader is not the question. Those of us - ordained or devout members of the laity - who are in positions of leadership in the church must learn, somehow, to live with the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' that are part of the landscape of 'spiritual leadership'.

With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, I don't think suffering "'tis nobler in the mind". Neither do I think, it is necessarily wise to "take arms against a sea of troubles /And, by opposing, end them."

The truth of spiritual leadership is somewhere in the middle of the two polar ends of Hamlet's question. Learning to navigate the dangerous waters in between the two is part of the challenge - and joy - of spiritual leadership.

Mr. Obama still has much to learn about being an American and world leader. His is a daunting task on a Very Steep learning curve where the stakes are incalculably high. I do not envy the man and am trying to learn patience while I quell my own rising tide of anxiety at the state of the world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury seems, more and more, a tragic Shakespearean figure of a man, living out the impossible vocation of a spiritual leader with an equally impossible track record of failure.

I think it was also Shakespeare - or one of his characters - who said, "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

May we who are called into vocations of spiritual leadership find both the will and the grace to accomplish our tasks, ever more mindful of the impossible call of the Gospel to "love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with our God."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just say no

(Hat tip to Doug for the picture.)
Oh, for Pete's sake!

Have you read the Pentecost Letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury?

It's a real pip!

It's called "Renewal in the Spirit" wherein +++Himself blasphemes against said Spirit.

You can go and read the whole thing here, but the Really Interesting part - wherein the folks in the Office of +++Himself 'splain it to us, Lucy - is this:
Q. Practically, what does this letter mean for Provinces, national or regional churches who have broken any of the moratoria?

A. Representatives of those Provinces, national or regional churches whose decision-making bodies have gone against the agreed moratoria a) will be asked to step down from formal ecumenical dialogues such as those with Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic Church, and b) will no longer have any decision-making powers in the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order that handles questions of church doctrine and authority.

Q. What are the agreements that have been broken?

A. As far back as 2004, the Anglican Communion leadership agreed to three moratoria: 1) No authorisation of blessings services for same-sex unions; 2) No consecrations of bishops living in same-sex relationships; 3) No cross-border interventions (no bishop authorising any ministry within the diocese of another bishop without explicit permission). These have been affirmed repeatedly in subsequent years at the highest levels of the Communion.

Q. Is anyone being asked to leave the Communion?

A. No. By proposing these actions the Archbishop is working to safeguard the common life of the Communion. His proposals come after several churches broke the Communion's agreed moratoria (their promises to the Communion). Nevertheless the churches concerned remain full members of the Anglican Communion.

Q. Why did the Archbishop decide to issue this letter now?

A. His comments are made at the season of Pentecost when Christians pray for a renewing of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of communion and of fellowship. The letter also comes shortly after the Episcopal Church broke one of the moratoria by appointing a bishop in a same-sex relationship.
Mind you, no one has signed onto an Anglican Covenant, much less agreed to the "agreed moratoria" - not The Episcopal Church, not Her Majesty, not even the Church of England.

Methinks someone has been putting something in +++Rowan's tea. He's beginning to sound - as someone once aptly said - like a very spoiled child with a very large vocabulary.

I'm thinking we should meet him 'where he is' and speak to him at the level of emotional and spiritual maturity from whence he spake these words.

He can, I assume, make all the requests he wants, but he has absolutely no authority to ask us to stop talking with our Orthodox or Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.

I suppose he can, since he created it, tell us that we have no decision-making power on the Harry Potter-esq "Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order that handles questions of church doctrine and authority," but, what if we just said, "No"?

You know. Throw some theological tea into the Baptismal Water.

Challenged the old bloke on his own illusions of power and authority.

Dared him to kick us off one part of the Anglican Island.

What would +++Himself do if he said we couldn't sit on the Commission but we showed up anyway? You know. Smiling and polite and and well behaved and all even though we were neither invited nor wanted.

I think it would be a bit of a laugh, don't you?

A little visual demonstration of just how much authority he really has.

Or, more to the point, doesn't.

Honest to Pete!

You just can't make this stuff up.

Actually, +++Rowan's Pentecost Letter - the longest and most boring of the lot - reminds me of my favorite sermon on The Trinity - which happens to be the shortest and most delightful I've ever heard:
"Today is Trinity Sunday. From the words of The Creed of Saint Athanasius: The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The whole damn thing. . . incomprehensible. Amen."
Just like +++Rowan's Letter.

I have no trouble saying "yes" to the mystery of the Trinity.

If it's all the same to you, I'll just be saying "no" to +++Rowan's delusions.

The +++ABC's letter reminds me of Eddie Izzard's "Cake or Death".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What the world needs now

Remember Jackie DeShannon singing "What the world needs now/ is love, sweet love. It's the only thing/ that there's just too little of"?

It has never been more true. The world needs love. Right now.

Incarnate in more parents - and people - like this.

This is scene from last night's episode of GLEE.

If you haven't watched it you absolutely HAVE to. This is MUST SEE TV writ large.

I know. I know. I had been resisting watching it because it's on FOX. Then I realized I was, as my grandmother would say, "Cutting off the end of my nose to spite my face."

It's really great. Just a little weekly trip down high school Memory Lane to the Glee Club where we can find an antidote for the underdog in us all.

There have been some amazing scenes - the Madonna covers are amazing - but this, THIS scene is amazing.

Totally not what you'd expect on the FOX network.

But, clearly what the world needs more of.

No, not just for some, but for everyone.

PS - Thanks to my cuz Chris you can watch the whole episode here.

Or, take off your shoes, pull up a chair, stay right here and watch it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Making hay while the oil spills

I've been posting this video everywhere.

I keep hoping the simple idea these two 'good ole boys' have about cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf Coast will catch the imagination of someone - anyone - at BP or the federal government or just local folk.

It's brilliant.

Full stop.

I only wish I could embed it here. Fortunately, it's only one click away.

G'won. Click here.

Then, start spreading the word.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rice and Beans

That would be former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and documentary filmmaker, Randy Bean.

Reportedly, the two co-own a home in Palo Alto, CA, and share a line of credit.

They've been friends for twenty-five years.

But, they're not lesbians. Reportedly.

Oh, the rumors about Condi Rice have been swirling for years, but no one has really paid any attention to them. Mostly, the cognescenti "inside the Beltway" say she's "bisexual".

Yeah. Whatever.

She is or she isn't. It's really her business, isn't it?

Or, is it?

"Coming out" is a very personal thing. No one can do it for you. I'm not a big proponent of "outing" anyone. However, when one is in the public eye - indeed, when one wields political power which can make a difference in the lives of others - I begin to equivocate.

As Secretary of State, Rice faced attacks from liberals in the gay community over the State Department's silence to rebuke Iran for the hanging of gay teenagers.

The Human Rights Campaign called on Rice in 2005 to condemn Iran's human rights abuses after the hanging of two gay teenagers, and to express indignation over other "horrific human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people across the globe".

Rice did not.

The former Secretary has, to date, also remained silent on whether gays should be allowed to serve in the military and has not commented on the permanent partners immigration act.

And, we all know that silence, more often than not, equals consent.

The rumors about Ms. Rice's sexual orientation intensified in early 2007 when people began to wonder why-oh-why in heaven's name, did John McCain choose Sarah Palin as his VEEP rather than Condi Rice.

For example, in mid-May, 2007, about 146,000 online surfers evinced a great interest in the private life of Ms. Rice, The Sunday Times reported. Folks were searching for the adequate information using only two words – ‘Condoleezza’ and ‘lesbian.’

Of course, being called a lesbian shouldn't be any big deal, but the reality is that for women (particularly single women) in public positions of power, these kinds of rumors can be very damaging.

Rumors of lesbianism have dogged women like Janet Reno, Donna Shalala, and Hillary Clinton (to name a few of the most recent women in power) for years, regardless of their veracity.

Much ado has been made about Eleanor Roosevelt's supposed lesbian affairs. Now, rumors are swirling around about Solicitor General and Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan.

But whether Rice or any of the political figures gossiped about actually are lesbians is not the point. It's the use of lesbianism as a slur that is so disturbing to me.

It's based not only on the assumption that a strong, confidant woman must not be a "real" (read: heterosexual) woman, but that only women in heterosexual relationships are "real" women. By implication, lesbians and unmarried straight women are always somehow "less than."

If this is what passes for "vetting" someone's qualifications for a particular job, no wonder there are so few women in power.

Except, of course, for women like Sarah Palin, who is suddenly everywhere on the news, with the audacity to criticize everything from the present administration's foreign policy to the oil spill in the Gulf.

She who can see Russia from her house and chants "Drill, baby, drill" when she doesn't know what else to say - which is often.

But, you see, she's 'normal'. I mean, just look at her family!  Why, they are just as American as apple pie and Chevrolet.

I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder.  In my view, they are a stellar example of the old adage that a little bit of power in the wrong hands can do great damage.

The worst of it is that, because of the rumor and innuendo swirling around Condi Rice she was passed up for - or, perhaps declined the possibility of - the VEEP position.

That would have made a Very Strong ticket against Obama-Biden - especially among those Democrats who were angry at the Obama Team's apparent snub of Hillary Clinton for VEEP.

Add the race card to the gender mix and you've got a pretty potent political stew - one, I'm personally relieved, was never made.  It just might have changed the course of history.

However, someone in the Republican Party determined that, even though Rice was more of a hawk than McCain, the issue of sexual orientation would be too much to overcome.

Or, perhaps, Ms. Rice decided she had had enough and would return to her Palo Alto home and her position at Stanford as soon as Bush stepped down - which she apparently has done.

Enter Sarah Palin and the making of an American millionairess.

The only thing presidential about this woman - what she really seems to be all about - is The Benjamins.

And, like a true American 'success' story, she has very humble origins.

Like, Rice and Beans.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost: A Baptismal Love Letter

A Baptismal Letter for Henry 
Pentecost – May 23, 2010
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Dear Henry,

In this morning’s gospel from St. John, we hear Jesus say these remarkable words,
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:8-16, 25-27)
I hope you remember these words, Henry. Well, of course, I don’t expect you to remember, exactly. You are only eight months old today.

I hope your parents save this baptismal love letter for you – along with your baptismal certificate and candle – and when you are of an age to confirm the vows made for you today, I hope you’ll take this letter out and find this gospel passage, and read it for yourself.

Yours is the 70th baptism I've done in the eight years I've been privileged to be rector here. Number 71 is coming up in about three weeks.

The thing of it is, Henry, is that being a Christian is not a destination. It’s a journey. Today, you are baptized into the membership of the church. It’s the first step – a baby step of sorts – on the life-long journey to becoming a Christian.

It takes a lot of years of work to be a Christian – to understand the teaching of Jesus so that you can become a better person. A more compassionate person. A forgiving person. A person who cares for himself the way he cares for others, and cares for others the way he cares for himself.

If you study the teachings of Jesus, you’ll find that, like the Buddha and many of the prophets of the world’s religions, He is very big on compassion and forgiveness.

For Jesus, compassion and forgiveness actually walk hand in hand. Now, compassion and forgiveness sound easy enough, but if you ask anyone in this church today – people who have been Christian for most of their lives – they will tell you that true compassion and real forgiveness are not easy states to achieve.

I’m not talking about empathy or sympathy. Those are not difficult emotions in the human experience. Compassion is difficult because it means that you have to open your heart to the sufferings of others. You have to not only see and feel the pain of others, but you need to be moved to do something about it – to change it, or stop it, or transform it.

Compassion leads us, naturally, to the mission of Jesus, the mission of The Church, which the Catechism in the BCP tells us is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (p. 855) Which brings us from compassion to forgiveness.

Of the two, forgiveness is the more difficult – at least in my experience. It’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than to bestow it – especially when someone has hurt you deeply. And, trust me, Henry, at some point in your life, someone will hurt you. Deeply.

I know it's hard to imagine because you are so cute and cuddly today, but, here’s the even more shocking thing: In your lifetime, you will hurt someone just as deeply. Not intentionally, of course, but you will do it just the same. It doesn’t seem possible, now, but when you grow up, it will be unavoidable.

It’s the way of being human. We make mistakes. We mess things up. Indeed, we sometimes make a mess of things – of our lives and sometimes, in the process, the lives of others.

We seem to forget everything we’ve learned and everything we’ve been taught and we even hurt the very people we love. Indeed, sometimes it seems that we hurt most the people we love best. And, no one can hurt you like someone who loves you, someone you love in return.

Today, you are being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. Jesus says,
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.”
So, not to worry. The same Holy Spirit that was the gift of the Resurrection of Jesus is here with you today.

And, the same Holy Spirit with which you are baptized today will be with you in your journey to become a Christian. To be your Companion and Guide. Your Teacher and Advocate. So that you can learn about compassion and forgiveness, by learning about the Love – fully Incarnate and fully Divine – that is Jesus.

That can’t possibly happen here today, in this one sacramental act. But, what happens here today is the beginning of the journey into a hundred thousand questions about life and death, love and hate, trust and betrayal, tears and joy, anxiety and peace.

A great philosopher once encouraged a young person to “live fully into the questions, so that one day, long into the future, you may live into the answer.”

That is never an easy journey, Henry. Indeed, living into questions can be a very fearful thing. Some religions, some churches, will want to give you answers. Indeed, they will even give you the questions along with the answers and ask you to memorize both.

If churches are true to their founder, Jesus Christ, they will help you with those questions – not by giving you answers, but by opening up a path where you can live into the questions of your life and find the Truth.

Some churches – some denominations – have given Jesus a bad name. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed, in some churches, to find a real Christian. It grieves my heart to see what is often associated with Christianity – the cruelty that is often done in the name of Jesus.

Not all churches are like that, Henry. I promise you.

Please promise me that you will not settle for that kind of Church or that kind of Christian. It may take you a while, to find a church were the people are marked by compassion and forgiveness, but they do exist.

You’ll know them because they – and their people – will be filled with the Holy Spirit and alive in the mission and ministry of Christ’s church.

Let me close by giving you an image of the church – and the Holy Spirit who dwells here – that I love.

It’s from an interview with Apollo Astronaut James Lovell, who was asked, “Is there a specific instance in an airplane emergency when you can recall fear”?

Lovell answered:
“Uh well, I'll tell ya, I remember this one time - I'm in a Banshee (aircraft) at night in combat conditions, so there's no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone... because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was - it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I'm lookin' down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is. I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So uh, you, uh, never know... what... what events are to transpire to get you home.”
Sometimes, when it’s at its best, the church, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is that long, phosphorescent light that shines in times when things are darkest and you are most afraid, and helps to lead you home.

I’m so pleased that, even though you can’t yet walk, you have taken your first steps on the journey in faith in the church. May the Holy Spirit who led you and your parents here, stay with you and guide you, and always lead you, in all truth, to your home.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Seeing red

I've been preparing for Pentecost this Sunday and I'm seeing 'red'.

Vestments and church hangings changed to red? Check.

Red flowers? Check.

Red balloons everywhere? Check.

Helium tank refilled for red balloons? Check.

Vase of red flowers for the baby we're baptizing? Check, check and check.

Maybe it's seeing all this red that's made me a little green with envy.

As I've thought about the lessons for Sunday, I've suddenly found myself absolutely consumed with "mega church" envy.

You know the story from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-21).The rushing wind. The people gathered from every corner of the earth. God's spirit poured out upon all flesh - sons and daughters and even slaves - and everyone shall prophesy!

It's a church alive with the Spirit.

So, let me ask you something: Is that the way your church will be this Sunday?

Oh, our church will have good, traditional liturgy and music, well done, but, like most Episcopal churches around the country, it will all be "meet, right and proper."

Have you ever really listened to the music and the words to most of the hymns in the Episcopal hymnal that are assigned to the Holy Spirit?

Oh, there are a few that are lovely, but is 'lovely' the word you would use to describe Pentecost? I can't think of one of our "traditional" hymns that comes anywhere near the fire and passion that we read about Pentecost in Scripture.

For this Sunday's service, I've actually taken more hymns from other traditions for this one service than I have at any other service all year. Only one is from the 1982 Hymnal. One.

And, the Sanctus is from Misa Bilingue (Kevin P. Joyce, arr Craig S. Kingsbury). I love it that we sing:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might
Santo, santo, santo es el Senor
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosana en las alturas . . .
We even have a bulletin insert with the Lord's Prayer in five - count 'em five - different languages.

And yet, I don't think we come close to what the Mega Churches do every Sunday - Sunday after Sunday - in recreating that Spirit of Pentecost.

When I started thinking about that - what it would take to re-create that 'Pentecostal' sense every week, week after week, I found myself awash in exhaustion.

I mean, really? Pentecost? Every Sunday?

How do they do it? How do they sustain it? Every. Sunday.

And, as a matter of fact, why?

It was shortly after I was pondering those questions that I stumbled upon this video. I think I saw it first posted on someone's FaceBook page. Then, it seemed to pop up everywhere I looked.

It's quite funny, I think. A liturgy class, if one could call it that, in how to do worship in the "Consumer Mega Church" model.

All show and hype and performance. Guitars and drums for Jesus in a format proven to be consumer-friendly. Just like they do at 'real' concerts.

Let us feed you the Bread of Entertainment. It may not be the Bread of Heaven but you'll find that it's absolutely heavenly and, oh-so entertaining.

What's really amazing is that people actually buy this stuff. Then again, MacDonald's still boats "Billions and Billions" of their fat-infused, chemical drenched fast food sold to hungry consumers who find their hunger temporarily satisfied, but still longing for something more. Something real.

So . . . I was envious of this because . . . .?

Envy, I think, is part of the whole point of Mega Churches - to create the appearance of so much success that other people envy your success.

Except, I've been wondering if success is the point of church - especially the kind of success that elicits envy in others.

I don't think that's exactly 'Christian'.

I'm a Resurrection girl, myself. I like the success that comes right out of the tomb. Messy and mysterious and incomprehensible.

One that sneaks up on you and surprises you.

You think you're talking to a gardener but suddenly find you're conversing with an angel.

You bring spices to cover up the stench of death and find yourself inhaling the sweet, earthy, musky scent of new life.

And suddenly, you find yourself changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

"Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:21

I think THAT's the point of the Pentecost experience. That salvation is available to absolutely everyone because of the sacrifices made for us by Jesus.

When I see red this Sunday in church, I'll be thinking about the Spirit which is the gift of the Resurrection.

"And I will ask God who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. . . . But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Sometimes, I think, you may have to see red before you can begin to see clearly.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Facial Profiling

At first, I was outraged.

I mean, the thought that Elena Kagan, this otherwise and obviously brilliant, former dean of Harvard Law School, Solicitor General of the United States and Presidential nominee for Supreme Court Judge might be hiding in the closet made my head spin.

The possibility that the Obama administration might try to slip in a "win" under the closet door made me absolutely furious. That would be "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at nose-bleed high altitudes of governmental service.

The blogosphere on both ends of the political spectrum have been positively humming with speculation.

The Lesbian panic attack was in absolute overdrive on the Right, many of whom were having a bad case of the vapors every time they saw her picture.

When this picture of her at a softball game was published in a major newspaper, the Right-Wingnuts went into a serious case of apoplexy.

Truth be told, so did the Lesbians - but for a completely different reason.

I absolutely agreed with those of the LGBT community who insisted that her sexual orientation was no more relevant than her gender or ethnicity. At the same time, I'm not naive enough to think that it's not an important issue.

Truth be told, it would be very important to me and to many other people in the LGBT community. We want to claim one of our own and celebrate just like any other minority group has - and will - when "one of ours" achieves an obvious marker of success and achievement.

Either way, if she is a lesbian, I agree with those who say she should 'come out' now - before the confirmation hearings begin.

Apparently, she's not.

Which is fine.


But, it does bring up an interesting point about 'facial profiling'.

For example, here is Kagan's yearbook picture from Hunter College High School in NYC.

The profile criteria for detecting lesbians seems to be: plain facial features sans makeup + unattractive eyeglasses + no real hair style to speak of + plaid shirt = Dyke.

Add: short hair cut when older + softball picture, minus husband, boyfriend or discernable dating record = proof positive ID as Dyke.

It reminds me of that old joke about lesbians: There really are more lesbians in the world than one might think. That's because there are only five authorized lesbian hair cuts so we all look the same - and, those of us who don't have an authorized lesbian hair cut (ALHC) slip right under the radar.

Which makes me laugh with a memory from years and years and years ago.

When Ms. Conroy and I 'ran away from home' to live in Maine, we first thought we had died and gone to Lesbian Heaven.

Turns out, there were lots of LGBT people on Mt. Desert Island who worked at Jackson Lab as well as on the faculty of College of the Atlantic.

However, we soon discovered that MANY women from Maine dressed the same way: Plaid flannel shirts, down jacket, cords or jeans, and boots.

In Maine, that's not a statement about one's fashion sense or politics or sexual orientation. It's a necessity.

I have never met Elena Kagan, but my sense of her is that she's much more interested in law than she is either fashion or politics.

Which is what I imagine one would want in a Supreme Court Justice. I mean, anything she'd wear would just get covered up in an ugly black robe, anyway.

The whole kerfluffle about Kagan's sexuality has provided some important lessons to political camps on both sides of the aisle and on all points on the spectrum of sexual orientation.

You can't judge a book by its cover.

You can't tell a lesbian by her haircut.

But, don't even try to tell a lesbian what book to read. Or, how to cut her hair. Or, what kind of clothes to wear.

We're a pretty independent, feisty bunch.

Just think: If you meet the above criteria, you, too, might be a lesbian.

Then again, you just might be from Maine.

Or, perhaps, just a really smart, independent woman.

Like Elena Kagan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My people

You may not have heard it, but yesterday, in another part of the world - the home of my ancestry - another step toward equality was made.

Yesterday, Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva said he will sign a law legalizing same-sex marriage passed by parliament earlier this year.

The bill had received parliamentary approval with the support of the governing Socialist Party and other parties further to the left.

During a heated debate in January, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said the law would "put right an injustice that caused unnecessary pain".

But parliament rejected proposals to allow homosexual couples to adopt.

The announcement comes days after Pope Benedict, on a visit to Portugal, told pilgrims who had gathered at Fatima they should oppose the law.

President Silva said vetoing the bill would merely return it to parliament where his decision would be overturned, at a time when MPs needed to focus on the economic crisis facing the country.

"I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions," he said.

The Portuguese are nothing if not pragmatic - especially about that which they consider fate or destiny. It's not a form of romantic fatalism. You only have to know the music of Fado in order to understand.

Fado is a musical genre of Portugal, with themes that are often about the sea or the life of the poor, which is about fate or destiny.

The music is usually linked to the Portuguese word saudade which means to miss or to long for someone or something. When you listen to the music of Fado, you can hear a mixture of African slave rhythms with the traditional music of Portuguese sailors, with a dash or two of Arabic influence.

My favorite Fado singer is Mariza, who courageously sings about her African heritage - a huge taboo in the Portuguese culture. Indeed, at one time, Fado was illegal for a woman to sing or perform.

She sings Fado, she says, because it is her destiny.

See what I mean?

The ratification will make Portugal the sixth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage after Belgium, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Many other countries have introduced civil partnerships, which give lesbian and gay couples some of the rights of married heterosexuals.

My people aren't exactly leading the way on marriage equality, but they know destiny when they see it coming at them, and they aren't afraid to embrace it.

It's odd and ironic to me that the land my grandparents left in order to find freedom and equality in this country is now one of a handful of places where Ms. Conroy and I can find freedom and equality.

Somewhere in heaven, I think my Grandmother is smiling. And, singing Fado.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lions and drums and bishops, oh my!

Have I mentioned that the Consecration of Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool on Saturday was most magnificent?

Bear with me while I share a few pictures to prove my point.

The procession was to absolutely die for. Each particular group of folk were preceded by a unique artistic ensemble. For example, the Diocesan Officers, Staff, Lay Canons and Guests were led in by the Han So Ree Korean Drummers Group.

The Ecumenical and Interfaith Guests were led in by the Youth Dancers of St. Mark's Church, Van Nuys which was a pretty awesome rap version of "Our God Is An Awesome God."

The Chinese Lions above led in the procession of Visiting Bishops and were absolutely amazing, prancing and dancing on the stage in front of the bishops.
These are the Taiko Project Drummers who led the procession of the Bishops-elect, the Bishops of the Diocese, and the Presiding Bishop.

Oh. My. God.

They were incredible.
The presentation of the Bishops-elect went right according to Hoyle. All canons met. All rubrics kept. Every 'i' dotted and 't' crossed.

Meet, right and proper.
Susan Russell served as one of the presenters for Mary Glasspool.

Jim White is standing next to her who read the certificates of ordination for the Commission on Ministry.

The joy in the room was so thick you could have eaten it with a spoon.
I am deeply grateful to Lis Jacobs for taking some of these pictures. The lighting in the room was not conducive to non-professional photographers, much less those with iPhones. Still, this will give you a sense of the festivities around the altar after the consecration.
Now, I took this of Lis with my iPhone as she was being interviewed by Louise Brooks outside in the stairwell.

Integrity is doing a video of the event, interviewing various folks around the church, asking them what these consecrations meant to them. I'll keep you updated on the availability of that DVD.
After the ceremony, there was time to chat with dear friends and relive the event. Here's Bishop Gene being very animated about some point. We were later joined by several old friends and we talked and laughed for at least another hour.

You can watch the whole thing on edited video here which the diocese says will be available Monday evening, May 17.

I think you'll agree: it was a most glorious day for the church.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Meet numbers 1,044 and 1,045

It was, in so many ways, an historic consecration.

Never before in the history of The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, or, I suspect, in all of Western Christendom, has there been two women elected and consecrated from the same diocese on the same day.

Since 1989 when Barbara Clementine Harris was consecrated the first woman to be bishop in The Episcopal Church, there have been 215 bishops consecrated to the episcopacy.

Diane is the 16th woman (and 1,044th bishop) and Mary is the 17th woman (and 1,045 bishop) to be elected and consecrated bishop in The Episcopal Church.

At this rate of "progress" I suspect this piece of 'herstory' will not repeat itself. At least, not in my life time.

Indeed, this was the first election of women to the episcopacy in a diocese which, just 30 years ago, did not ordain women to any of the three orders.

In his sermon, Jon Bruno, bishop of the Diocese of LA, pointed out that in 1895, two women were elected to the Vestry of a parish here in the diocese, but were inhibited from voting because of their gender.

In 1946, the first woman from this diocese was elected as a deputy to General Convention but was not allowed to be seated.

He said, "I have repeatedly made the request that I have at least one woman suffragan during my episcopacy. Look what happened!"

Someone is saying, "We've come a long way, baby."

As Flo Kennedy used to say, "If we had really come a long way, no one would be calling us 'baby'."

And yes, it was historic because Mary Douglas Glasspool is the first lesbian woman to be elected and consecrated to the Episcopacy.

I suspect this is why the arena was not as full as I thought it might have been.  Oh, don't get me wrong. The place was full - but not exactly 'packed'.  I was surprised by the absence of some of the church's luminaries.

Someone suggested that, well, since Mary is the 'second gay bishop' that there wasn't the same energy and excitement as the first.  Others suggested that this is, in fact, a good sign.  We've moved on, they say, and this is now become normal.

Yeah, well, I'd like that to be true, but I'm not buying it.

First of all,  Mary is not the 'second gay bishop'.  She's the first lesbian. 

That may seem like a minor point to you, but it's huge to me as well as many other women,  many of whom are lesbian, bisexual and straight.

I think the fact that this was about two women is the greater reason for the less-than-stellar attendance.

As my ordaining bishop once pointed out, once you've been dismissed as insignficant by the institution, you've been dismissed.

Individual members - male and female - to the contrary, the institution still doesn't value the authority and leadership - much less the contributions - of women in and to the church.

That's evident in the statistics I quoted above as well as the inequality in deployment practices and in pay scales for women.

So, it doesn't matter if Bishop Mary is lesbian or bisexual or prefers to have intimate relations with inanimate objects or alien creatures. 

She's already been dismissed as insignificant by the institution.

Never mind, there was great joy in the room, anyway.

There were two protests from the floor, just as the service was about to begin. A man and his son began shouting about 'the sin of homosexuality'. The Presiding Bishop very calmly offered to have them bring their protests at the appropriate point in the service.

These two were clearly not interested in appropriate behavior. They just wanted to cause a scene. They did, and then they were escorted out.

I really wish the organizers of the service had anticipated this type of thing. It would have been wonderful if the choir had been ready to sing a hymn just to drown them out. I thought a little "Jesus loves me," would have been just perfect.

File this one under "Reasons My Epitaph Will Read, 'No one asked me'."

It's okay. After a bit of unpleasantness and a few grumbles from the gathered community, the service went on with a holy mixture of joy and pageantry and solemnity, marked by the wide, rich diversity that is The Episcopal Church - especially in the Diocese of LA.

Bishop Bruno did point out that there were no protests or objections on the floor from anyone who is an Episcopalian. "They don't understand the inclusive nature of The Episcopal Church."

"They don't understand," he said, "that the world is transformed not by what we do but by how we follow Jesus."

He said, "The Christian journey is marked by transformation evolution and change. Those who don't change, die - and I'm planing on sticking around for awhile. Amen."

He's right, of course.

I have no doubt that we're going to 'pay' for our actions here this weekend.  I'm quite sure that +++Rowan is trying to figure out how to 'spin' this one so that those who are from the Chicken Little School of Theology who see this as yet another piece of the Anglican sky falling in on us won't go into full panic mode.

I'm also certain that we'll be hearing a lot more about the Anglican Covenant as the 'silver-bullet-magic-pill' antidote to 'the troubles' brought on by the 'disobedience' of The Episcopal Church and our 'unwillingness to submit' to the authority of scripture.

At this point, we could write our own scripts, couldn't we?

Never mind.  When I woke up this morning to a rather chilly, foggy day in Long Beach, the street was not littered with pieces of the Anglican sky.

Indeed, far as I know, the Anglican Communion is still intact, if not a little more worn for the wear.

As I entered the arena at the start of the service, I ran into Harvey and Doris Guthrie. Harvey was Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School when I was there.  He interviewed me during the admission process.

I remember it clearly.  I had 20 minutes with the man.  He sat in his chair and he said, "Okay, well, we'd better get right to it.  You've got lots of important, perhaps difficult questions to ask me about how this school will prepare you for ordained ministry.  I've got lots of important, perhaps difficult questions to ask you about how your diocese will support you in this process."

"The world," he said, "is too dark and broken a place for us to play polite games with each other.  So, let's get on with it."

I think those words are just as pertinent and critical now as they were over 25 years ago.

There's another election coming up soon in Utah.

Number 1,046 is waiting, just right around the corner.

The work of the gospel, however, is already at our doorstep.

Let's get on with it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The gang's (almost) all here

Members of the family are gathering for this afternoon's "My Big Fat Anglican Consecration." It's wonderful seeing so many good friends.

Three former presidents of The Episcopal Women's Caucus along with three former presidents of IntegrityUSA are here. Most of the steering committee of Claiming The Blessing is here. Good friends from 'back in the day' are here. And there are more purple shirts in the hotel lobby this morning than is healthy for anybody.

Everyone is pretty much saying the same thing: "I thought about it and I just couldn't not be here."

I'm just so blessed to be able to be here representing The Episcopal Women's Caucus. I pick up my press credentials in a few hours and will keep y'all posted with pictures.

If you go to the Diocesan web page, however, you will be able to watch the live video cam.

The other comment everyone is making is, "Where's the press? Where's the security?"

My answer? Two women are being ordained. No one cares.

But, one is a lesbian, I hear someone say. The FIRST lesbian.

Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.

Still a woman.

Well, I'm glad not to have the distraction.

We can just concentrate on what's important: What God is doing in our midst.

I got a card for Diane and Mary to go with the present I'm giving them from The Caucus.

Diane's has a lovely, creative motif and the word "Birth" in the midst of it.

Mary's has these words: "Sometimes, the only available transportation is a leap of faith."

Off we go, then.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What is a feminist?

As we prepare for the historic consecration of two (count 'em, TWO) women in the Diocese of Los Angeles this Saturday, the Episcopal Women's Caucus has been working on a major revision of its web site.

I'll be in LA, of course, representing The Caucus, and writing articles for Ruach (our quarterly magazine), The Monthly Caucus (our monthly email newsletter), the Caucus Face Book page, and this here blog.

As I was looking over the revisions, I noticed something on our web page that I hadn't noticed before. Here's the sentence:
The Episcopal Women’s Caucus, committed to advancing the role and status of women in the church, continues today as the feminist* voice in the Episcopal Church, theologically, spiritually, and politically.
At the bottom of the page, there is this note:
*A feminist is anyone who believes that God created males and females equally human.
I sighed. Deeply.

It would appear that I'm really having problems, these days, with things being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Yes, of course, a feminist believes that when the Divine hand created humankind - "male and female God made them" - equality was in our DNA.

That's as good a starting point as any I can think of.

But, it's just a starting point.

Being a feminist is much, much more.

First of all, you don't have to be female to be a feminist. That's because feminism is a movement which identifies and names the political, cultural and economic realities of the oppression of women and seeks to change the dominant white male heterosexist paradigm as an acceptable social construct.

That's a whole lot of definition in one sentence, so let me break that down.

I say that feminism is a movement because it is an idea about equality, a philosophy about the human enterprise, that finds its highest value and meaning in action.

Feminists have worked hard to secure legal rights for women, including the right of women to enter into contract (remember that, historically, marriage is a contract between two men), as well as property and voting rights.

Feminists advocate and promote a woman's right to the self-determination of her own body, which include autonomy and reproductive rights.

Feminists have made significant gains but continue to struggle to protect women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Feminists have advocated for workplace rights, including maternity leave and equal pay, and against other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women.

Feminists understand the interlocking nature of oppression, and work with other men and women of color, LGBT people, and people of poverty so that the liberation and justice that are the foundational principles of this country can be enjoyed by all of God's children.

As one might imagine, working to subvert the dominant cultural paradigm can - and, in fact does - result in some fairly powerful push-back.

Certain conservative news commentators like to refer to women who engage in this particular work of justice as "femi-nazi".

Then again, in their view, if you engage in any sort of work of 'social justice' you're probably a socialist - or, at the very least, your credentials as a 'true American' are highly suspect.

I am a feminist because I am an American.

I don't know how one can say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and get to the part about "liberty and justice for all" and not be a feminist.

I am a feminist because I am a Christian.

I don't know how anyone could follow the teachings of Jesus and not be part of the movement to insure equality and liberation for all God's children.

Which, I suppose, brings us right back to that very simple definition of a feminist as one who believes that God created males and females equally human.

That's an undeniably good place to begin.

A feminist also believes that the historic consecration on Saturday in LA of two women to the episcopacy, one of them a lesbian, is a better place to begin.

I'm on my way to LA this morning - to witness the church begin a new chapter in the ongoing movement toward the liberation and equality which Jesus promised when we are obedient to and fully embrace the gospel.

I hope you'll join me in prayer and spirit.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ecumenical Faces of Faith for Justice

Remember a couple of months back, when Glenn Beck went over the edge - yet again - but this time about Christians who claim to do 'social justice'?

A few of those 'SJC's' - Social Justice Christians - got together and decided to put together some PSA's - Public Service Announcements - to try and counter Beck's dire warnings about the 'hidden agenda' behind the claim to 'do justice'.

The first was a short clip showing folks of all ages and from all walks of life who claimed to be a SJC.

This one highlights the Ecumenical Faces of Social Justice, including none other than George Regas, rector emeritus of All Saints', Pasadena.

Check out the web page for Faith for Justice, the organization that is producing this PSA's.

Here's how they define Social Justice:
Social justice is justice applied not just in individual relationships but across social systems. Social justice envisions a society in which every person is given an equal opportunity for a dignified human life. It’s about insisting on basic human rights and rectifying inequalities in society. From a religious point of view social justice is rooted in the notion that we are all created equal. According to some religions our equality in creation is based on being created in the image of God. It is this notion of a common human family that transcends barriers of nationality, race, gender and religion that binds us all together in pursuit of what is in the common good.

Beyond this, social justice is not only concerned with the human creation, but also the entire non-human creation as well. Therefore, as Buddhist monk Bhante Chao Chu says, “We must be mindful of the present and future impact of our actions.”

The concept of social justice is as old as history. Anytime injustice has prevailed there have been people and movements who have called for change; to bring about equity and justice for all people. In the Abrahamic tradition (Jews, Christians and Muslims) the notion of justice goes back to Moses and the Prophets.

Social justice is not tied to any one political ideology or party. Social justice is about people and our shared responsibility to care for one another and to be responsible citizens of the earth.

Finally, the impulse to create and sustain a just society is not limited to people of faith. Millions of people who consider themselves agnostic or athiest also share a vision for a just and equitable society and do remarkable work to that end. However, because of recent attacks on faith groups who speak about and work for social justice, our purpose has been to lift up the central role social justice plays in a variety of the world’s religions.
Sounds to my ears like they pretty much covered all the bases.

If you agree, please help spread the word.

Post this on your blog or FaceBook page.

Send the message that you stand and work for and believe in social justice.

And then, go out and do it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I fear I'm becoming more like my mother. More and more. Day by day.

I now find that I read the newspaper like her. Well, unlike her, I read two newspapers. At least two newspapers. The New York Times. Sometimes the Washington Post. Depending on what's happening in the world, The London Times or The Guardian.

But, most assuredly and just like her, I read the local rag.

My mother had a certain ritual to reading the local newspaper which I find I have adopted. First, a quick check of the local headlines, noting the stories I'll want to come back and read in greater detail.

Then, a quick flip to check out the sales and coupons I'll want to clip and save for later. Finally, it's on to the real reason to read any local newspaper:

The Obituaries.

It's amazing what you can learn about your neighbors after they have died - where they were born, the college they attended, the courses they studied, when they were married, the names of their sisters and brothers, mother, father and grandparents.

It's all there. In the obituary.

It's also amazing how many husbands die before their wives. I haven't done an official study on the matter, but I'm going to guess that somewhere around 60-70% of the obituaries I read contain the following sentence, "He is survived by his wife of __ years."

Rarely does it say, "He was predeceased by his wife."

I'm not sure what that means, exactly. Just an observation, is all.

I usually end my reading of the obituaries with a little prayer for the repose of all the souls who have entered into Eternal Rest before I head back to the front page. If I've got time, I sometimes compare the local 'slant' of a national or international story with what's written in The Times.

Mostly, though, when it comes to reading the local newspaper paper, I pray for the dead and clip coupons.

I recently received a copy of the quarterly newsletter from my seminary and, of course, I flipped to the back section to check the necrology. Mostly, I recognize one or two names.

This time, however, I was stunned to find the name of a clergy person in a neighboring diocese listed there.

We weren't exactly "good friends" but I was quite fond of him. He had been struggling with depression the last few years, so I would sometimes call to check in on him. We'd get together, have lunch and talk.

After that, he'd get better about checking in and then he'd drop out of sight again. I'd give him a call and the cycle would start again.

We lost touch the past year or so, and I'd been saying to myself that I should really give him a call, but then I got distracted and . . . well, you know how it goes sometimes . . . .

I immediately did a google search for his obituary. There it was. In the local newspaper. How did I miss it? He died right around Christmas. Maybe it was one of those days when I was running on Advent fumes. . . .?

At least I know where he's buried. I will head out there some time next week, to visit his grave, place some flowers there and say a few prayers.

Funny, but, it took reading my friend's obituary to learn that he had a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford. I knew he had spent some time as a priest in the CofE, and there was no doubt that he was quite bright, but I didn't know he had an earned doctorate. From Oxford University, for crimminy's sake. Why hadn't he told me that?

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that his obituary included the information that he was predeceased by his life partner. I know he had spent a great deal of the early years of his priesthood deeply in the closet. I know he had determined he could not be a parish priest and be honest about the fullness of his identity, so he specialized in interim ministry.

He was delighted that I could be out and open and in parish ministry. He always seemed amazed that Ms. Conroy and I lived in the rectory.

He wept when Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire and absolutely had to be there for his consecration.

I'm quite certain he helped to write his own obituary. I have no doubt that he wanted nothing more than to go to his grave with everyone knowing that he was an open, honest, self-affirming gay man.

Sometimes, an obituary is just a report of someone's death.

Other times, an obituary is a lovely illustration that the facts of someone's life can come together, even if only at the end, in a form of poetic justice.

And sometimes, you know, it just doesn't get much better than that.

I think I'm beginning to understand why my mother read the obituaries every day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gearing up for herstory

I am just beginning to allow myself to get excited about the consecrations this weekend of Diane Bruce Jardine and Mary Douglas Glasspool as bishops suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

There are several historical significances of the election of these two women in that diocese at this time in the history of The Episcopal Church.

There are several generations of women living in that diocese today - young, professional women, some now ordained - who remember not being able to serve at the altar because of their gender.

No, I'm not talking about The Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, I'm talking about The Episcopal Church.

For two women to be elected -- and, on Saturday, consecrated to the episcopacy -- is an event of enormous significance for men and women of equality everywhere.

It's also pretty amazing that two women were elected to the episcopacy in the same diocese at the same time. That's not happened in The Episcopal Church prior to this election.

And, of course, the fact that one of those women is a lesbian will, unfortunately, take center stage and overshadow all of the historical significances of the day.

Indeed, some of the Right Wing Nuts in the Chicken Little School of Theology are already crying that The Anglican Sky Is Falling.

To hear some of 'teh orthodox' tell it, the hole in the ozone layer was clearly caused by 'revisionist' Episcopalians.

Some of these folks have been telling us since the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven in 1974 that "the final crisis is upon us."

Then, when Barbara Harris was elected bishop in 1989, THAT was "the final crisis".

Oh, but wait . . . when Gene Robinson, once known as "the most dangerous man in The Anglican Communion" was elected bishop in 2003, THAT was "the final crisis."

No, no, no. . . wait, wait, wait . . . there were a couple other events - a few reports that got elevated to Canon Law - a coupla ultimatums issued by a few outraged Primates from the Global South that certainly were "the final crisis," weren't they?

But this weekend - Ah, THIS weekend - will be "the final crisis" when a "self avowed lesbian" is consecrated bishop suffragan.

It's all a bit silly, isn't it? I mean, after a while, these folk just start to become an embarrassment to themselves and the church they purport to love.

The ancient Chinese proverb, "Women hold up half the sky," has long been more aspiration than fact.

When women are finally allowed to hold up their half of the sky, I suppose it can feel like the sky is falling.

It's not, of course.

It's really just herstory being made.

I can hardly wait.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day

As regular readers of this blog will know, I was in Boston this weekend to visit family and to be with the women who, long ago (34 years, in fact, but who's counting), adopted me as their daughter.

Indeed, as I write this, I'm on the Acela headed back to NJ where I (finally!) have WiFi (the connection is, occasionally, a bit slow, but at least there's a connection!)

That's Sheri (standing) and Lois (sitting). Up there. My 'Mamas'.

And, this is me with Lois and our dear friend, Penny at Sheri and Lois' home in the South End of Boston.

Penny lost her partner Nancy to breast cancer about, oh, maybe 7 or 8 years ago now (Has it really been that long?).  They had been together for as long as Sheri and Lois - which is about 45 years.

I've got about as many Penny and Nancy stories as I do Sheri and Lois stories, but I'll save them for another time. 

Let me just say that Nancy was an Orthodox Jew and Penny is Orthodox Greek. 

And, Sheri is a Methodist and Lois is a most observant Christian Scientist who, nonetheless, 'adopted' a former RC who became an Episcopal priest.

Do I got stories?  Oh, good Lord, do I got stories!  Later, friends.  Later.

I wanted to be with Sheri and Lois and Penny for the International Premiere of "Gen Silent" - a documentary film about elderly and aging LGBT people.

Sheri is 73. Lois is 76.

Actually, Sheri's name is really Claire. That's one of the things they talk about in "Gen Silent". Back in the 50's, 60's and even into the 70's, many LGBT people didn't use their real names, publicly.

There was a weekly newspaper that published the real names of LGBT - well, in those days, "homosexuals" - who had either been arrested or seen in gay bars.

A person couldn't be too careful. We're talking jail time, here. Or, a stint in a psychiatric ward for "the cure" - which often included electroshock or ice "therapy" if a person was 'highly resistant' to being made 'normal'.

Very often, lesbians and gay men went out together so they would "pass" but they could, at least, be at the same event, in the same room, at the same table, with their lovers without anyone really knowing "the truth".

Lesbians were very careful to wear dresses and lipstick. Gay men were scrupulous to wear a suit and tie. No one trusted bisexual people. And, in those days, many trans people committed suicide.

So, if you hear a gay man "of a certain age" ask, "What was your name, back then?" (Some were "Bernadette", or "Claudette" or "Francis" or "Roberta"), you'll know they are sharing a piece of history that many of us will never know.

Thanks be to God and to them - the LGBT members of the 'Silent Generation'.

The point of the film is 'silence' - the deadly silence that many LGBT elders are being forced back into the closet in order to get adequate care when their health begins to fail.

Indeed, from my perspective, the most touching scene in the entire film is between Lawrence and Alexandre - an African American man and his much older Caucasian partner - who met when they were students at Harvard.

Alexandre had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and Lawrence kept him in their home for as long as he could. Then, one day, when they both fell down the stairs as Lawrence tried to help Alexandre from their bedroom to the living room,  it became painfully clear that Alexandre had to be admitted to an extended care facility.

Lawrence visited Alexandre every day.

"I would go out to the car at the end of the visit and cry for 10 minutes before I could drive," said Lawrence. "Then, I would go home and try to console myself that I did the right thing.  But, when I looked in the mirror the next morning," he said, "I would say to myself, 'Yup. You really are an asshole.'"

I don't think that's much different from what many heterosexual couples experience. Even so, it broke my heart.

The first nursing home was absolutely intolerant of their relationship, so Lawrence moved him.

In talking about the difference between the two, Lawrence describes putting lotion on Alexandre's hands.

"I couldn't have done this at the last place," he says, as he lovingly and gently strokes his partner's hands, one finger at a time, Alexandre's skin made paper thin by age, his fingers gnarled by arthritis.

"Oh, I could have applied lotion to his hands," he says, "but it would have been clinical and efficient. You know? Not gentle and loving and . . . well, intimate."

I found myself weeping.

For as much as we all know about the 'ick' factor, I think what some people who are solidly heterosexist or homophobic find most disquieting is the expression of intimacy between two people of the same gender - no matter their sexual orientation, or whether their homophobia is internalized or has an external target.

Yes, they probably find public expressions of intimacy - in any form - between opposite gender people "icky", but even more so between same sex couples.

Nothing new here. Indeed, it's a very old story.

What we object to most in others is often precisely what we fear most in ourselves.

Which is bad enough, but it's really bad when you are very old and sick or vulnerable and weak and you fear being mistreated by people who don't understand.  So you head back into the closet again where you know, all too well, it is not healthy, but it's at least safe.

Believe it or not, this happens all too often. Why? Well, for the same reason 'elder abuse' is a silent epidemic in our culture. We value youth. And beauty. And vigor. And independence. We don't much pay attention to anything else. And, we completely ignore the elderly.

It's worse for elder LGBT people who have often been disconnected from their families for more years than anyone can remember. Or, are not understood by younger LGBT people. Or, who haven't had children of their own. Or, who, because of their own internalized homophobia, have been in the closet most of their lives.

Like, Mel. He's a professor at Northeastern who had been in a relationship with Walter for 39 years.

They lived together. Worked together at the University. Laughed together. Loved together. Vacationed together. Shared a life together.

And, no one ever knew that they were a couple until after Walter died.

Let me say that again: Thirty nine years. And, they told no one. No. One.

Get your head wrapped around that for a minute before I go on.

After Walter died, Mel said he felt free to finally talk about his partner and their relationship.


He is now very active in the Boston LGBT Aging Project.
That's Mel there. Second in from the left. Standing next to Sheri.

That's most of the cast and crew of 'Gen Silent'. Lawrence is the very tall, very handsome African American man in the back, right behind Lois.

Stu Maddux, the writer, producer and Director of the film, is standing in the back, right behind Mel. A more genuine, kind, gentle, loving person you'd be hard pressed to meet again in this life time.

Sheri and Lois and Penny took scrupulous care to introduce me to everyone - and anyone who was standing still. It was a bit embarrassing at first until, suddenly, it dawned on me what they were doing.

They were sending out the message - loud and clear - that they had someone from another generation who was 'family' in the best possible, non-biological way of being family. Who cared for them. And loved them. Who cared and loved them enough to be with them at this event on Mother's Day weekend.

This is the second Mother's Day since my own biological mother died. I thought about her and prayed for her soul. I know she's finally happy and whole and at peace in heaven. I hope she's with other mothers whose children are LGBT and that they are rejoicing in heaven what they only hid in shame while here on earth.

This is the first Mother's Day I have not spent with my own children or grandchildren. Ever. I wasn't sure how I would feel about that. I just knew I couldn't miss this opportunity to be with Sheri and Lois on their big day.

Turns out, the best Mother's Day present to yourselves is the one you give to someone else.

Go see the film when you have a chance. There's so much more to it than I can include here, including a powerful, moving story about Krysallis Anne Hembrough, a M-F trans person who struggled with cancer and how she taught the LGBT community the lessons we had already learned in the AIDS epidemic.

And, some of the wonderful case workers and social workers like Lisa Krinsky and Bob Linscott and Dale Mitchell and Jennifer Firestone who are real pioneers in the field of LGBT Aging concerns.

Go to the Gen Silent web site to learn more, and make a contribution if you can and feel so inclined.

Make the contribution in honor of your own mother. Good or bad, everyone's had one. Make it whether or not you, yourself, are or have been a mother.

This is like 'reverse' mothering. You will help give birth to a new movement that will help nurture and support an older generation of people who often risked it all for people like you and me.

No matter whether you are male or female, gay, lesbian, bi or straight, it may be one of the most motherly things you'll ever do.

Because, as Sheri, who gets the 'last word' in the film says, "One day, you'll be seventy-two, too."