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, September 30, 2010

The hypocrisy of Eddie Long


Bishop Eddie Long, the prosperous prophet of the Gospel of Prosperity, and pastor of a 25,0000 member mega-church near Atlanta, has been charged with the sexual coercion of several teenage boys whom he recruited into leadership in the Youth Ministry.

Three of these young men, 17-18 years old at the time but now in their early 20s, have filed lawsuits describing him as a sexual predator and claiming that the bishop pushed them into sex, lavished them with expensive gifts, and sent them suggestive photos of himself in a "muscle shirt" in the bathroom.

He is known throughout the country as the leading "anti-homosexuality pastor" and once led a march of thousands through Atlanta in protest of gays and lesbians and marriage equality, saying, "homosexuality is a spiritual abortion."

Indeed, it has been widely reported that, at Coretta Scott King's funeral in 2006, which was held at his church, some civil rights leaders refused to attend because Long is so anti-gay.

The bishop drives a Bentley, wears expensive suits, and has his own private jet, which one of the boys claims was used to fly him from LA to Trinidad to NYC, while Long abused him sexually.

Attorneys for Long have adamantly deny the charges. However, addressing a New Birth Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary packed with thousands on Sunday, the bishop declined to discuss specifics of lawsuits filed against him – or, interestingly enough, to flatly deny the accusations. But he drew thunderous applause when he told his church that while he's not perfect, the picture painted by the allegations is far from accurate.

"I'm not a perfect man,"  he said. An interesting turn of phrase - one that would ring familiar on the ears of many in that congregation. To my ears, which have been listening to this kind of rhetoric for more years than I'd like to admit, it sounds like "code" for something.

The word on the street is that many knew the bishop was "on the down low" but kept silent.

In his book, "On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep with Men", written in 2004, author J.L. King describes his own experience and those of other Black men who live what he calls "a discreet sexual life style" of having sexual relationships with women, often within marriage and an otherwise "normal family life" while also secretly engaging in sex with other men in gyms, bathhouses and parks.

The term springs out of the urban landscape, predominantly among young African American men who have sex with men and women but do not identify as bisexual.

A 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story on the Down Low phenomenon explains that the black community sees "homosexuality as a white man's perversion." It then goes on to describe the Down Low culture as follows:
“Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men – black and white – who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade... Most date or marry women and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings like bathhouses and parks or through the Internet. Many of these men are young and from the inner city, where they live in a hypermasculine thug culture. Other DL men form romantic relationships with men and may even be peripheral participants in mainstream gay culture, all unknown to their colleagues and families. Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine.
This is one of the photos of Long which the young men of his youth group allege was sent to them by the bishop.

I don't know about you, but, looking at this image, the word, "hypermasculine" certainly comes immediately to my mind. It's clearly not an image of any bishop I've ever known in the church - but that may say more about my own inexperience than anything else.

There are, reportedly, "hundreds" of young men in Long's Youth Ministry. At first, only two came forward. They were joined by a third. I understand that a fourth lawsuit has been filed. I suspect there will be more before this is all over.

While I abhor and detest the sexual exploitation of children and young people in any situation any where, and I am sickened unto death by yet another exposure of yet another trusted church leader who has engaged in this heinous practice, I find myself strangely grateful for the hypocrisy of Bishop Eddie Long.

Well, let me be more specific: It's about time it got exposed. I'm grateful for that.

And, I'm quite certain, he's not the only one - Black or White - whose duplicity about human sexuality fuels the anti-homosexuality fervor which keeps in place immoral policies like DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) and blocks the civil rights of others in things like Marriage Equality.

I think the case exposed by Anderson Cooper - of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell who is harassing the new student body president of the University of Michigan, Chris Armstrong, a college student, because he’s gay - is yet another example. It may be "immaturity" as Shirvell's boss says, but watching the video, I suspect there's something more.

It's also behind the suicide of Rutgers University Tyler Clementi after his roommate secretly filmed him during a "sexual encounter" in his dorm room and posted it live on the Internet

My hope - my prayer - is that as this legal case of sexual coercion makes its way through the courts, these young men do not succumb to being "bought out" in an out-of-court monetary settlement. That would only give credence to the counter-allegation of Long's attorneys that these allegations are a baseless adolescent prank designed to bring down the powerful Bishop Long and gain personal financial benefit.

Further, I hope - I pray - that, because of cases like this, we can begin to talk about the full range of human sexuality - not just focus on homosexuality - and begin to learn to accept it as a Divine Gift as expressed in a variety of ways in a plethora of social contexts.

Let's applaud people like Bishop Carlton Pearson who addresses Gays in the Black Church as a reality to be embraced and not condemned as an abomination.

Let's call an abomination an abomination. The abuse of power in sexual relationships - sexual coercion, assault and rape, pornography, prostitution, sex slavery, and sex with a child - is an abomination in the sight of God and all of God's creation.

So, too, are the duplicity and deceit which are prospered in the service of our miseducation and misunderstanding about - and therefore, the misuse of - physical expressions of intimacy and love.

Until we can receive, accept and celebrate the divine gift of human sexuality, we hold the potential to abuse it. We'll continue to tangle ourselves in an intricate web of deceit and duplicity - like the 'down low' - making scapegoats of some and victims of others.

"Once you become a public figure, you can't hide anymore," J.L. King once told JET magazine. "Once you accept who you are, you are no longer lying and hiding who you are. I want Brothers to know they don't have to continue to hurt and to hurt others."

My hope - my prayer - is that, once you become a Christian, you don't need to hide any more. Once you accept who you are as a beloved child of God who has been given the Divine gift of sexuality which is part of the totality of your humanity, you no longer need to lie and hide who you are.

Because, not only do you hurt others; ultimately, you hurt yourself as well.

As Audre Lorde, once said, in her essay "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action," from her book, "Sister Outsider":
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.
Your silence will not protect you.
Somebody send this message to Bishop Long, and tell him that, in fact, he's hurting himself, his family, his church, his community, those young boys, as well as the Sacred Heart of the Jesus he professes to love and serve.

Somebody remind him that "confession is good for the soul" - not only his, but that of his church - and, specifically, the souls of the young boys whom he allegedly coerced into sex.

Somebody point him to Matthew 18:15-17 where Jesus talks about how to handle sin in the church, but especially Matthew 18:18: "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on hearth will be loosed in heaven."

Here's what Sister Audre says after she tells us in that same essay about the Transformation of Silence:
I've been thinking about silence lately. How we use silence to protect ourselves. How we use silence to maintain the status quo. How we use silence to express indifference. How we use silence because it's easier than taking a risk. How silence becomes just another expression of laziness.

I have always interpreted silence as indifference or disdain. It is the fastest, surest way to get me to retreat. In my family of origin, silence was punishment. Being ostracized from the group is how we were forced back into line.

It stops everything cold. It chills the soul. It destroys relationships. It serves no purpose. It allows things to go on that should never go on.

In a more benign sense, silence is what destroys relationships. Things unsaid. And as we use silence in our private interactions, it extrapolates out to the larger world and becomes a way of life.

Not speaking. Not asking. Passivity that comes not from peace but from simple indifference and laziness.

I don't get involved in American politics. Period. But I have definitely seen how silence contributes to the continuation of the path that country is on, and how, just as was predicted by those much wiser than me, it allows the oligarchy (yes, I'll use that word) to gain more and more control over the private lives of citizens. At what point do I use the "f-word" (fascism) which requires a silenced population? I feel safe and accurate to use it now.

Am I the only one who sees it?"
No. No, I think not.

Somebody give the Sister Outsider an 'Amen'.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The path to hope

My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

- Proverbs 24:13-14
I've been thinking about the Republican Manifesto, "The Pledge to America" which was unveiled last week.

No, I haven't read it all. It's about 8,000 words, taking more than a minute to download on my laptop. It is filled with graphs and charts, and heavily laced with inspiring quotes.

However, it has a a single animating idea, which is the conviction that the Republicans as much as the Democrats have been an accessory to the growth of spending and deficits, and that the Republican establishment needs to be punished for straying from fiscal rectitude.

"The Pledge" is, at its core, a conservative, Tea Party homage to an "orthodox" understanding of the Constitution. You know. Sort of like the Windsor Document, which eventually "devolved" to the Anglican Covenant.

It's just as restrictive and punitive.

Which has lead me to think some about the ideas of generosity and hope.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there is, in our present cultural environment, an atmosphere of free-floating anxiety. As if the economy and the unemployment rate weren't bad enough, we continue to be heavily engaged in two immoral wars which were initiated by the spark of outrage and an adolescent, testosterone-infused drive to avenge the events of 9/11, which was fanned by misinformation and flat-out lies about "weapons of mass destruction."

Every day, it seems, each political party sets up yet another "boogie man" for us to fear.

Pick and issue, any issue. While the Right is in 'Evil Empire' overdrive - from its Death Panel response to Health Care Reform to 'the Socialist Kenyan' in the Oval Office - the Left also has its own 'Wall Street hooligans' with their  'Sub-prime Mortgages' response to the economy.

Everywhere you look, there is a Darth Vader lurking just around the next corner. It's become a joke, parodied on SNL just the other night, with the "Gay Wedding Venue at the Mosque at Ground Zero." ("It could happen.")

Except, it's not so funny.

Everyone wants to hold on tight and then squeeze even tighter - especially their purse strings and wallets.

The tighter we hold on, the faster we seem to spiral down into further darkness and despair. There seems to be no way out. Or, up. Except to hold on until this horrible not-so-amusing ride comes to an end and the person in charge of the ride says it has come to an end and we can all get off.

In the words of that powerful documentary, we all seem to be "Waiting for Superman" to come rescue us from ourselves.

Is there no antidote, no anti-toxin, no inoculation one can take to guard us against this anxiety?

"Eat honey," goes the proverb, "for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste."

It continues, "Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off."

There is a wise old saying: "If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

That's a good place to start.  But, it's just a beginning.

I believe there is great wisdom in generosity.

I know that the aphorism "If you always give, you will always have" sounds paradoxical, but I believe there is great wisdom in it.  Furthermore, I believe this wisdom is the antidote - the 'honey' - to the caustic brew of fear and primal rage that have combined to pollute our cultural environment.

I was thinking, just this morning, about a woman I knew when I was Vicar of St. Barnabas in the city of Newark. A single mom of three young sons, she kept an immaculate home in a third floor, two bedroom apartment the West Ward of a 'marginal' inner city neighborhood.

She lived simply. No car. No cable television. She shopped for clothes at the local Thrift Shops and was part of a food co-op sponsored by the Church. She organized many of the women in her neighborhood to share clothing and shoes and school supplies for their children.

She had no health care or dental benefits. No pension. Her "retirement plan" as she said, "Was to get to the finish line and not leave my sons in debt."

She was a nursing assistant in a local Extended Care Facility where she worked from 11 PM to 7 AM. Well, that's the job she held 40 hours a week. She also worked 20 hours a week as a teacher's aid at the school her sons attended. Her sister worked the evening 3 PM - 11 PM shift at the same ECF, and she and her mother would take turns spending the night with the boys so their mother could work.

She also "did hair" in her home every Saturday morning and sometimes, in the early evenings.

Oh, and she tithed to the church. Tithe. As in "one-tenth" of her income.  Her tithe was her pledge.

I remember having a conversation with her during "The Season of Stewardship" which left me embarrassed and humbled. After I gave her my "pitch," over tea and several slices of wonderful warm banana nut bread which she had just made, she showed me her finances.

She took out a file where she carefully kept all of her receipts - income and all of her expenses - along with a hand written budget which included line items such as "Education," "Winter," and "Illness".  There was also a line for "College". She really, really, really wanted to increase her pledge that year, she said, because she really, really, really wanted to support my leadership.

"My kids are learning in church school. They love serving as acolytes with you. I want to keep you here, " she said, "but, as you can see, my salary hasn't increased, and I'm not sure where to cut."

I assured her, over and over again, that she didn't need to increase her pledge. That it was not her responsibility to keep me in my job.  That, as a 'mission church', the diocese was also a partner in supporting that mission. That her pledge was a positive expression of her relationship with God, not something that was meant to be punitive or restrictive. That if there was any line item in her budget that she needed to increase, it was the educational and/or college fund for her sons.

Two weeks later, when her pledge return came in, I noted that she had, in fact, increased her pledge. I immediately called her up. "I decided that I really didn't need a new winter coat," she explained. Nothing I said, nothing I could do would dissuade her from her resolve.

"God has been good to me," she said, "by blessing me with these three beautiful sons, this good home, a few good jobs. I need to give back to God."

I argued with her that I didn't think God wanted her to sacrifice anything more than she was already sacrificing.

She sighed deeply and was silent for a long while.  Finally, she took a deep breath and said, "I don't need a coat. I need hope. You need hope. We all need hope. Supporting my family and my faith community gives me hope. Hope that the things I do today will make a difference tomorrow. A new coat won't give me that. I can do without a coat. I can't do without hope. Don't take away my hope."

I wept.

I should tell you that all three of her sons went on to graduate from college. One is a physician. One is an attorney. The other is a college professor.  All three are giving back to their community.

I don't need an Anglican Covenant. I have my Baptismal Covenant.

I don't need a "Pledge to America." I have the "Pledge of Allegiance" To the Flag.  Of the United States of America. And to the republic for which it stands. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With Liberty. and Justice. For All.

I need to be more generous.  We all need to be more generous.

Because, I need hope. We all need hope.

And, I believe, acts of generosity - small and large - lay the walkway that forms a path to hope.

There is great wisdom in this paradox, the drippings of which are sweeter than honeycomb to the soul.  In it and through it, we will find a path to the future, and our hope will not be cut off.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Angry, not stupid

Life "below the canal" in the First State of Delaware is very different, I'm told. It's even more different in the lower, slower part of Delaware - further away from the canal and closer to the ocean and bay.

One way you can tell is by looking at the political advertisements along the road. For example, there are not a lot of campaign ads for Christine O'Donnell around Wilmington and Newark, which is New Castle County. It starts to change around Dover, as as you go through Kent County. In Sussex County, the largest county in the state -  which is where I live - you practically trip over signs for O'Donnell.

There are probably lots of reasons for that which are not necessarily indicators of support so much as they indicate a market base potential. Or, at least one that is anticipated by the O'Donnell Campaign.

Judging by the conversations I'm having with my neighbors and overhearing in the supermarkets, coffee shops, gas stations and convenience stores, the O'Donnell folks are in for a huge surprise on November 2.

I think we're all miscalculating the power of the internet to communicate information better than FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS or the BBC - and the intelligence of people to seek out their own education on the political candidates.

Just the other day, one of the folks at the supermarket was talking about a website he had found, "Think Progress". Said they had gathered up all the things Ms. O'Donnell had said over the years and posted them, citing the original source of the comment.

"Well," he said, "some of the things I agree with. You know, I think we should hold up a standard for sex inside of marriage. Don't mean everybody's gonna uphold that standard - God knows, I didn't (and wipe that smile off your face Vernon, cuz you know the same is true about you) - but you can't argue that it's a good standard."

Everyone giggled at his joke, but agreed with his premise.

"But," he continued, "this little lady carries things to an extreme. She says that allowing kids to have condoms is like legalizing drunk driving. And, that distributing condoms to folks in Africa is only going to spread AIDS."

He cleared his throat and said, "Now, you could argue that kids ought not have condoms because of some study or another about the harmful effects of having sex too soon. And, you could argue that condoms are not a 100% guarantee against preventing AIDS or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS - or, for that matter, pregnancy. We got facts and figures that prove that."

"This woman doesn't seem to care about facts. Seems to me she just wants to stir up the people and grab a headline or two. Well, she's doing that, but she ain't got my vote. We got to send HER a message that we are angry, but we're not stupid."

I went over to Think Progress and found the page he was referencing. It's called "The Old Adventures of New Christine". I understood exactly what he meant.

A former parishioner sent me an essay written by Peggy Noonan who writes for the Washington Post. She called it "The Enraged vs. The Exhausted" which was her political rift on a comment made by an African American woman to the President during a CNN "Town Hall" meeting last Monday.

The woman, named Velma Hart, "lobbed a grenade" when she said,
"I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an American veteran, and I'm one of your middle-class Americans. And quite frankly I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are." She said, "The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family." She said, "My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot-dogs-and-beans era of our lives. But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed."
Ms. Noonan, like a shark who smells blood on the water, moves in for the kill:
"What a testimony. And this is the president's base. He got that look public figures adopt when they know they just took one right in the chops on national TV and cannot show their dismay. He could have responded with an engagement and conviction equal to the moment. But this was our president—calm, detached, even-keeled to the point of insensate. He offered a recital of his administration's achievements: tuition assistance, health care. It seemed so off point. Like his first two years.

But it was the word Mrs. Hart used that captured everything: "exhausted." From what I see, that's how a lot of Democrats feel. They've turned silent, too, like people who witnessed a car crash and can't talk anymore about the reasons for the accident or how many were injured.

This election is more and more shaping up into a contest between the Exhausted and the Enraged.
The other fascinating part of her essay is her take on the emerging role of (Republican) women in our political life in general and this political campaign in particular. She quotes Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee who reports that at tea party events in the past 18 months, she started to notice "60% of the crowd is women."

Ms. Noonan continues:
The media called 1994 "the year of the angry white male." That was the year of the Republican wave that yielded a GOP House for the first time in 40 years. "I look at this year as the Rage of the Bill-Paying Moms," Ms. Blackburn says. "They are saying 'How dare you, in your arrogance, cap the opportunities my child will have? You'll burden them with so much debt they won't be able to buy a house—all because you can't balance the budget.'"
And, with that, Ms. Blackburn has effectively moved us from 'anger' to 'rage', which I think comes closer to the truth. Images of an angry Momma bear guarding her cubs at the entrance to the cave begin to emerge for me. 

This is primal stuff, folks, emerging from the reptilian brain found at the base of the skull, which emerges from the spinal column. The basic ruling emotions of love, hate, fear, lust, and contentment emanate from this first stage of the brain. Over millions of years of evolution, layers of more sophisticated reasoning have been added upon this foundation. It's our intellectual capacity for complex rational thought which has made us theoretically smarter than the rest of the animal kingdom.

Allow me, please, to put emphasis on the "theoretically" part of the "smarter".

I'm betting Ms. Blackburn does not believe in evolution. Like Ms. O'Donnell, she probably believes that,
". . .too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it’s merely a theory. … Well, creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that.” [New York Magazine, 9/15/10].
That's not exactly reptilian brain stuff, but it's down there, right next to it, fueling the rage and blocking the more sophisticated ability for complex reasoning.

I like Peggy Noonan. She's a good writer. I disagree with about 97% of what flows out of her laptop, but I can't deny that she's a very good writer.  Sometimes, even she disagrees with herself - which she has done about her initial writing about Sarah Palin - which is another reason I like her. We may disagree, by she has integrity.

While I'm sure there are some elements of her thesis that are correct, I think she confuses the exhaustion we all feel about the grinding realities of the recession with the weariness many of us are experiencing of  the relentless message of the doomsday, apocalyptic, fear-based, anxiety-driven nay-sayers of the "Just Say No" Republican political base.

It's rather like watching weary parents in a grocery store stand by as their two year old have a tantrum in the aisle because they can't get what they want. 

I think Ms. Noonan and her conservative Republican friends seriously - perhaps, hopefully - underestimate the energy that is aroused in people across the board when folk feel their intelligence is being insulted.

Many people were "exhausted" by 30 years of Reganomics which came to the ludicrous, painful conclusion in the Bush Administration. These were the same people who were "energized" by the Obama Campaign and its slogan, "Yes We Can" and voted him into office.

Many of those people saw Obama as a messiah of sorts - come to swoop down and magically cure all the ills and problems this country was facing - two immoral wars, an economic system that was starting to implode itself after a pig-fest of greed and corruption, an educational system that excelled in mediocrity, a health care system that was dis-eased. I could go on and on and on.

That was wrong, too, of course.  Childish hope, like childish rage, can lead to childish expectations and behaviors.  Didn't Obama say, "We are the ones we've been waiting for"?

Not "me".  "We".

There are people who are so blinded by their anger and rage, they allow the radical, fundamentalist Christian sects in this country to promote the movement to "take back our country" and make it, once again, dominated by white, straight affluent men who are blinded by their own ambitions of power.

We have our own Christian Taliban with our very own Mullahs, Muezzin, Sahibs, Ayatollahs and Muftis. Just turn to Fox News to catch a few of those who inspire poor, benighted people like the pastor in Florida who inspired others to burn the sacred texts of another religion as an expression of being a "real" American.

We have misguided, angry modern-day "Nimrods" like Jim DeMint of South Carolina - a member of "The Family" on C-Street in DC - who want to avenge their grandfathers by building modern-day Towers of Babel as a way to create monuments to their own power and not God's.

There are other people whose anger has opened their eyes wide to these realities. We're weary of it all, but, Ms. Noonan's assertions notwithstanding, we are not exhausted.

We may be angry, but we're not stupid.  And, we're registered voters.

When given the options put up by "King Markers" like Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin, we'll show up at the polls and vote - just like we did when the options were McCain and Palin.

If we don't, we'll get what we deserve: a government led by anger and rage, which never insures "liberty and justice for all." It will be, instead, a government of "just us" - white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants - whose idea of liberty is all bound up with images of an angry, punitive, judging God.

Anger and extremism have their role and function in society. Anger can be a force for energy, which is needed to break the stronghold of apathy that's had its grip on this country for so long.   Anger can serve to be a "shofar" - blowing the trumpet to call the community to be awake and aware.

Circle Tuesday, November 2nd on your calendar.  Do it right now. You have nothing more important on your calendar to do that day than to vote. Trust me on this.

Between now and then, get angry enough to open your eyes and educate yourself about the issues and the candidates.

Because, as my friend in the grocery store says, "We're angry, but we're not stupid."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvey and Sheila

This is Sheila.

She is one of the more than two dozen or so Snowy White Egrets who are part of my neighborhood.

Well, Sheila is what I call her. Her family may call her something else. God knows her name by heart.

She appears at my dock in the early morning. In the mid-afternoon, she appears in my side yard, which you see above.

Sometimes, she appears with her mate, whom I call 'Harvey'.

It was Rosh Hashanah. I found myself singing 'Hava nagila' around the house. 'Harvey and Sheila' was probably inspired by that.

Or, maybe I'm thinking of Alan Sherman's modern parody of that old folk song.

She is very graceful - especially so, given the awkward shape of her body. Her legs are incredibly long, as is her beak. And yet, she moves and walks and flies with great, effortless beauty.

I love it when she stretches her neck and throws back her shoulders, looking around my front yard as if it were the grounds of her royal palace.

Sometimes, it simply takes my breath away.

My curiosity about egrets and herons has lead me to learn that they are monogamous. They mate for life. Indeed, the male apparently gathers the material for the nest and the female builds it. There's something about that which appears to my sense of egalitarianism.

Harvey and Sheila. Partners in life. Together forever. Without the blessing of the institutional church.

According to Greek mythology, egrets and herons were thought to be messengers of the gods. My curiosity about that leads me to question why she comes to me every day - twice a day - to the same spots in my yard.

I've been sitting with that question, that wonderment, for a few days now. I don't have an answer, and I suppose I won't for a while, but I view it as a good 'sign' that, in this time of discernment, I should have a new 'spiritual friend' and companion in this journey.

Actually, I've been thinking about the term 'Be Tipul'. It's a Hebrew word for 'in treatment', which is also the name of an award-winning Israeli television drama created by Hagai Levi.

The program has been adapted for audiences in the United States, Serbia and the Netherlands. In the US, it's an HBO series called, interestingly enough, "In Treatment" - one of my favorites.

Being in a season of discernment is much like being 'in treatment'. The first is a matter for the soul. The second is a matter for the mind. Both processes lead to the heart as they overlap and sometimes intertwine with each other.

At the core of both expressions of these two sacred pieces of work are the relationships that give meaning and depth - and so, challenges - to our lives.

Sometimes, understanding the psychology of a relational dynamic helps us understand our relationship with God. At other times, it's our relationship with God - often as understood in our relationship with Jesus - that helps us to reflect on and understand the psychological dynamics of our relationship in a new way.

I remember hearing Carter Heyward once say that our most intimate relationships are a reflection of our relationship with God - and our relationship with God is often reflected in our intimate relationships with others.

I'm discovering new depths to the profound wisdom and truth of that idea every day.

As I watch Sheila pick over the crusts of bread I've left for her among the pebbles in the yard, I realize that I am doing pretty much the same thing - sorting through what to take, what is going to feed and nourish me, and what to leave behind.

Through it all, Sheila is graceful. She gently moves pebbles around with her beak, her long neck stretching in a lovely, long, slow arch. She is not so preoccupied with her task that she isn't aware of what's going on around her. She is clearly alert for any sign of predators or danger, but she remains calm, centered, focused on the task before her.

She is also generous, often taking a crust or two of bread back to her nest to share with her mate or her young.

Sometimes, Harvey joins her. To my amazement, they never squabble over the bread they find, unlike the gulls who squawk and fuss and fight. The gulls always make me giggle, when they don't disgust me. Their cries sounding very much like the gulls in the film, Finding Nemo: "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!" (As the character Nigel says to them,"Oh, would you just shut up! You're rats with wings!").

Harvey and Sheila share their find with each other, sometime gently feeding each other from their bills. It's a beautiful sight - one that sometimes, in moments when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable or worn out, reduces me to tears.

I recently remembered that 'hava nagila' means "Let us rejoice!" It's often sung at Jewish weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. The last line,'Hava nagila v'nismeḼa', means 'let us rejoice and be happy!"

Which, like discernment and being in treatment, are two different things which, when they intertwine, can lead to a deeper experience of both.

When I see Harvey and Sheila out there in my front yard, I find myself singing 'hava nagila' sometime later in the day.

It reminds me of my favorite scene from "Finding Nemo".
Dory says to Marlin, who is trying to find his son, "Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do?"

Marlin, disheartened about the failure of their task thus far says, "No, I don't wanna know."

Dory, starts to sing, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim."
So, I just keep doing what I know how to do: Listen. Learn. Sort. Take and eat what's good. Leave behind the rest. Receive with gratitude the kindness of strangers. Share generously what I have with others. Be mindful of signs of danger, but stay focused on the task at hand. Try to be graceful. Return to your nest when your work is done.

And, sing - especially in those moments when my soul is troubled, my mind is confused and my heart is broken.

It's the best treatment I know for this season of discernment.

I think the ancient Greeks may have gotten it right. Harvey and Sheila may be Snowy White Egrets - only two of the more than two dozen who live here - but they are bringing me powerful messages from God.

It is the call of the Spirit of Jesus, our Rabbi and Resurrected Christ. It is the song that was sung by the cosmos at our birth. It is the song we take even to the grave:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let us rejoice and be happy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Universe of the Anawim

There was a celebration of sorts last night, right outside in my front yard.

With the rise of the full moon last night came the official end of summer and the beginning of autumn. All of nature seemed to rejoice at the change of seasons.

The moon cast its light on the water while fish jumped in its path. An owl hooted from a tree somewhere, as a few gulls flew by the wide slash of light glistening on the marsh water to sing Hosannas to the Lord of Life. A few ducks contributed to their part in the choir, quacking occasionally from deep inside the marsh grass, as crickets and cicadas provided the rhythm and beat.

It was an incredible symphony, only lasting about fifteen minutes or so, but it was enough to significantly lift my spirits.

I have been thinking - brooding, actually - about the Census Poverty Report which indicates that one out of seven Americans live below the "official" Poverty Level.

Here's the Executive Summary of the data:
The data presented here are from the Current Population Survey (CPS), 2010 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC), the source of official poverty estimates. The CPS ASEC is a sample survey of approximately 100,000 household nationwide. These data reflect conditions in calendar year 2009.
* The official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent — up from 13.2 percent in 2008. This was the second statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004.

* In 2009, 43.6 million people were in poverty, up from 39.8 million in 2008 — the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty.

* Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic Whites (from 8.6 percent to 9.4 percent), for Blacks (from 24.7 percent to 25.8 percent), and for Hispanics (from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent). For Asians, the 2009 poverty rate (12.5 percent) was not statistically different from the 2008 poverty rate. (1)

* The poverty rate in 2009 (14.3 percent) was the highest poverty rate since 1994 but was 8.1 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for which poverty estimates are available.

* The number of people in poverty in 2009 (43.6 million) is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

* Between 2008 and 2009, the poverty rate increased for children under the age of 18 (from 19.0 percent to 20.7 percent) and people aged 18 to 64 (from 11.7 percent to 12.9 percent), but decreased for people aged 65 and older (from 9.7 percent to 8.9 percent). (2)
Footnotes:

1 The poverty rate for Blacks was not statistically different from that of Hispanics.

2 Since unrelated individuals under 15 are excluded from the poverty universe, there are 460,000 fewer children in the poverty universe than in the total civilian noninstitutionalized population.
The longer I sat with these statistics, the deeper and darker the fog grew around me as I sank into a world of despair. Trying to find my way out, I fell upon an interesting term used by the folks at the Census Bureau: "poverty universe".

I had not heard that term before, have you?

"Poverty universe".

Interestingly enough, there is a handy-dandy page on their website called "Definition of Terms" where I found this explanation:
Persons for whom the Census Bureau can determine poverty status (either "in poverty" or "not in poverty"). For some persons, such as unrelated individuals under age 15, poverty status is not defined. Since Census Bureau surveys typically ask income questions to persons age 15 or older, if a child under age 15 is not related by birth, marriage, or adoption to a reference person within the household, we do not know the child's income and therefore cannot determine his or her poverty status. For the decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, poverty status is also undefined for people living in college dormitories and in institutional group quarters. People whose poverty status is undefined are excluded from Census Bureau poverty tabulations. Thus, the total population in poverty tables--the poverty universe--is slightly smaller than the overall population.
Imagine! Having your own "universe" because you're poor.

I wondered if this "universe" was created to identify people who are in it, or to help construct a barrier to make sure they stay there.

Apparently, the Census Bureau does not use the term "working poor." The "working poor", their web page explains, "may mean different things to different data users, based on the question they are trying to answer, such as:
* People who worked, but who, nevertheless, fell under the official definition of poverty.

* People who were in poverty and had at least one working family member.

* People who may not necessarily be "in poverty" according to the official measure of poverty, but who fall below some percentage of the poverty level (for instance, 200 percent of poverty).
o Percentages of the poverty level are referred to as "Ratio of income to poverty"" in our Detailed Poverty Tables.

o "Below 100% of poverty" is the same as "in poverty."

o "Below 200% of poverty" includes all those described as "in poverty" under the official definition, plus some people who have income above poverty but less than 2 times their poverty threshold.
The 'working poor', apparently, live in another universe of their own.

In her book, Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich decides to see if she can learn anything about this world of service workers and their “living wage” - the "working poor."

At the time, she was already a well-published author and wrote for the New York Times. Yet she was concerned that simply looking at charts and statistics about working poverty would miss the point of the issue, miss the human heart which beats and aches beneath.

So she set out to do a little old-fashioned investigative journalism. She moved around the country, pretending to be someone else – a newly divorced woman in her late forties with no dependents, no money, and no education – something becoming ever more common.

Ehrenreich is a great storyteller and she tells the tale of her entry into the universe of the working poor with great urgency and passion and clarity. She does all sorts of things, exhausts every option available, and finds herself unable to earn a living wage.

Turns out, you can't "live" on a minimum wage - which I expect people who are the "working poor" and those who live in the "poverty universe" already know. All too well, I fear.

Jesus had a word for those who live in the "poverty universe". He called them "anawim" which is a Hebrew word that means "the poor seeking God for deliverance." This Hebrew word is often used in the Psalms, including Psalm 37:11, which reads, "Blessed are the anawim (often translated 'meek') for they shall inherit the earth."

We hear Jesus echo the words of this psalm as one of the Eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12)

Blessed. Blessed are the anawim. Blessed is the Universe of the Anawim.

He also called them 'beloved' which is part of the evidence Liberation Theologians present for what they call the "preferential option" of Jesus for the 'anawim' - the poor and the outcast.

As a child, I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother who understood poverty from her own experience growing up in a village in Portugal where she lived in a house with no heat or running water. She was, by our government's definitions, part of the 'poverty universe'. She came to this country and 'upgraded' her status to 'the working poor'.

We didn't know we were part of that socioeconomic class, but looking back, I see we, in fact, were. We just knew that we were immigrants, whose realities often coincide and overlap with the universe of 'the poor' and that of 'the working poor'.

Several times a year, she would gather up clothes - hers, her husband's and her children's - to see what she might repair and recycle and what she might be able to give to the church for distribution to "the poor".

I remember her making the decision to contribute a perfectly good coat which none of my aunts or cousins could fit into any more. I watched as she snipped all of the buttons off the front of the coat and then put them into one of the deep pockets.

Confused, I finally stopped her to ask what she was doing. She said, "I am not just giving a poor person a coat. I am giving her some dignity. Some pride."

I still didn't understand. "She will look at this coat and her heart will rise when she sees it," my grandmother began to explain. "Then, she will notice that it has no buttons, and her heart will be sad. But, if she's smart, she will look into the pockets for the buttons where she will find not only mere buttons, but a chance to reclaim her dignity and her pride."

"After she sews the buttons on herself, that coat will be hers. She has done something to make it her own. She will know that just because she is poor, she is still a child of God."

I should note that my grandmother was not a Republican. She was a registered Democrat. More importantly, she was a devout follower of Christ.

I don't pretend to know much about the universe - or the various universes in which people live who struggle to eek out - I really only know about my universe from what I read in the teachings of Jesus.

I learn that we shall be blessed and inherit the Realm of God when we understand that poverty, ultimately, is in our own soul. We are all 'poor in spirit'. Embracing that knowledge forms and inextricable bond with those who are poor in possessions or basic needs like food, shelter and love.

That embrace of others - of the anawim of Jesus - makes us hunger and thirst for justice and the liberation promised by Christ.

Jesus teaches that when we turn our hunger and thirst for justice into random acts of kindness, we shall be deeply satisfied - beyond the food or water that may fill our bodies.

He also teaches that when we are merciful and give generously, like bread cast upon the water, mercy returns to us, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

It begins with understanding that while our individual day-to-day realities are different, we are all citizens of the same universe, living under the same sun and moon, the same sky and millions and billions of stars.

We are all children of the One, same God, who delights to see all His creatures delight in the simple gifts of Her creation.

As the moonlight delights to dance on the waters of the marsh, giving cause for fish to jump while the owl, duck, gull and crickets perform in a Symphony for the Change of Seasons, it is God's delight that we work together to take down the barriers of our individual realities, so that we all may be one with the One who made us to share this universe.

It's time - the season, I think - to check my closets for some coats.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

L'chaim!

Photo by Matt Aronoff, Helix Photography.

There are moments in life that defy words.

This is one of them.

And yet, I've got a few things to say.

This picture was taken just moments before our youngest daughter's marriage. She had just put on her wedding gown. She was so absolutely radiantly beautiful, she took my breath away.

It was a moment when two equally powerful moments were suspended in the room - one known, one unknown.

The known was all too well known: The past. Everything that had brought us to this moment.

As I looked at her, hundreds of images cascaded before my eyes: The moment she was born. The first time I held her. The morning we brought her home.

She was born three weeks before her due date. It was Mother's Day, which was amazingly poignant. Five years earlier, Ms. Conroy and I had both lost custody of our children in the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, Massachusetts. It was devastating. Simply, absolutely, devastating.

We had endured five long, difficult years of every-other weekend visits with our children. Those years taught us a few important lessons, the most important of which is that family is most important to us.

Being parents. Being mothers.

So, we decided to do everything we could to expand our family. We took in foster care children. We decided to adopt a multiply handicapped child. And, we decided to have a child of our own.

No child was more planned for, wanted and anticipated than this child.

Later that summer, when the older children announced that they wanted to live with us and not with their father, we went back to court and their father miraculously agreed to joint custody, which the court even more miraculously granted.

We settled into the happy chaos of becoming a "blended family". Eleven kids in an eleven room house with three wood burning stoves that had to be fed every two hours in the winter months. Luckily, we had enough little hands to feed it during the day, and big hands to feed it in the middle of the night.

Our youngest didn't walk until she was almost 18 months old. She didn't have to. All she ever had to do was lift her arms and someone came by to happily carry her around. She did, however, start talking at the age of five and a half months and speaking in full sentences by the time she was nine months old.

I remembered her first day at day care, nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high. She went off to college at age sixteen, got her associate's degree instead of a high school diploma, two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree and an international certificate as a Montessori teacher.

The images of each of these milestones fell before my eyes like a collage on the theme of life. It circled invisibly and yet very clearly in the room.

The other moment was the future: Unknown and yet filled with hope. A husband - a good, kind, decent man - who knows her and adores her. A new family of in-laws who have welcomed her into their family with warm, loving, open arms.

A good career with a promising future. Children, perhaps, but not right away. A tiny walk up apartment with a kitchen you can't turn around in and a bedroom that's so small it barely fits a bed and bureau with enough room to get into the Very Small closet. But, it's their palace - their Very Own Home - one they can't imagine leaving much less living any place else.

In the middle of those two moments - the past and the future - came this moment.  A moment which was filled with the past and the future and the right now.

I look at it and think of the wedding toast in "The Fiddler on the Roof".
Life has a way of confusing us
Blessing and bruising us
Drink, l'chaim, to life

God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor
How much more can we be joyful
When there's really something
To be joyful for?

To us and our good fortune
Be happy be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes
Here's to whatever comes,
Drink l'chaim, to life!
This moment was everything we had hoped and longed for. Risked and dared for and dreamed about. And a few things so wonderful, so beyond our knowing, that we couldn't have asked for or imagined them.

I don't know how he did it, but the photographer captured all of that - the sweet and the bitter, the lost and the found, the expected and the unimagined - along with the images of our youngest daughter and me on film.

It is, for me, a cultural icon of a eucharistic moment of great thanksgiving when hearts were broken open by thousands of moments of sadness and joy, risks and dreams, failure and success so that we might be open to new life. New hope. New dreams.  

It's a way for me to pray to the Divine in thanksgiving and deep gratitude for all the many, many blessings of this life - but especially, this one.

I am so grateful, all I can say is, "L'chaim!"

And, thanks be to God from whom all blessings flow.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tres Locos

It's a great weekend here in Lower Slower Delaware. The weather is damn near perfect. The sun is shining. Temperatures are in the low to mid 70s.

It's one of those times when you could actually convince yourself that there's not a thing in the world wrong with anything. . anyone. . .anywhere in the world.

One of our daughters and her BFF are here in LSD from UES/NYC.

Just writing that makes me giggle.

It's been a grand time so far, which began with a late afternoon visit with one of her friends from high school who has a 12 week old baby. We cooed and giggled and marveled at his brilliant coo's and giggles and attempts to talk. We caught up on the people in our lives. We expressed regret and cried and then told stories and laughed and then laughed some more until it was time to leave.

Off we went, then, to dinner at Dos Locos where I had stone grilled catfish and they had chimichanga and tacos. Oh, yes, and Margaritas. Gold. When you order one at Dos Locos, you get a Gold Medal, which we're showing off in the picture above.

After dinner, we walked to the Boardwalk to check out the ocean, which was pretty rough and very windy. I was sorry we hadn't brought our sweaters. It was chilly enough that, without them, we couldn't stay very long.

I have to tell you, when we came home last night and both girls were tired enough to go to bed, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was ready to watch a movie, but these two young women were fading.

I am woman, hear me yawn.

To be fair, these two have Very Important jobs in the Big Apple and work a gazillion hours a day/week/year. I couldn't keep up the pace they do - working 14-16 hours a day, six days per week, with intense pressure packed into almost every minute of every day to perform and produce.

Wait a minute. I used to. It's just that, I don't want to have to do that anymore. Not that I don't want to work ever again. Just not that frenetically. Crazily. Running, sometimes, on fumes. So that, when I finally stop, I crash. Like they did last night.

I'm getting ready for church. They're still asleep. I'm not going to awaken them. As my grandmother would say, "Never awaken a sleeping person. They probably need their sleep." There is no question that sleep is exactly what these two powerhouses need right now.

I have no doubt that Jesus will come to them this morning in the Little Church of the Heavenly Rest and St. Swithin's Beneath the Sheets right next door. Just not St. George's Chapel, Harbeson or All Saint's, Rehoboth Beach (Haven't yet decided which one I'll attend).

I understand Jeremiah has some comments to make this morning about the recently released Census Report on Poverty which indicates that 1 in 7 people in America are living in poverty, and asks, "Is there no balm in Gilead?"

If Amos is your lectionary choice, he's also talking about "those who trample on the needy," while the psalmist pleads with God for some relief.

Meanwhile, Paul is urging, in a letter to Timothy, for "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity." (He's not lying!)

Jesus has obviously read the Census Report on Poverty, and is telling stories and reminding everyone from Main Street to Wall Street that, "You cannot serve God and wealth."

Some people do, I suppose, but it's a tough balancing act. Exhausting, even. Frankly, I don't know how they do it. I used to, once, but I kept losing my balance and falling so I stopped.

Which is why I'm off to church.

As Margaret
says, "G'wan. Go to church."

I understand there is a Balm in Gilead.

No, I'm not lying. (And, I'm not 'loco' either.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Billy Bob Neck

No, Billy Bob Neck is not a real person. Thanks be to God.

He's a character created by Paul Day in 2004 as his part to try and raise funds for John Kerry's presidential bid. Rather than be just another comic telling "Bush is stupid" jokes, he came up with the character of Billy Bob Neck. Billy Bob is bleeding edge satire on those in the Christian Conservative Movement who believe that "George Bush is the greatest president since Winston Churchill" and that President Obama wants to personally kill your grandmother.

He has a website, as well as a page on FaceBook and YouTube.

He identifies himself this way on his website:
“William Robert Neck was born in the house his father built on Jekyll Island, GA and has followed the Lord ever since. Every night he puts his slippers under the bed so that he gets down on his knees every morning to thank God for the the good things in life and humbly ask Him to wipe liberals off the face of the earth.”
Last night, Rachel Maddow showed a clip of him opining on his latest . . . "insight" . . . about the real nature of her character.

It is, in a word, Hi.Lar.EEEEEE.Ous.

You have to watch this. Consider it Saturday morning cartoons for adults who are really, really, really tired of politics in general and the Christian Conservative Movement fueled Tea Bag Party in particular.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tshuvah

I can't remember the last time I scrubbed a floor.

No, really. Scrubbed and Scoured it. With a proper scrub brush. Hot soapy water. On my hands and knees like a regular scullery maid right out of one of Jane Austin's books.

I gotta tell ya. It's part of how I'm getting my groove back.

There's something about paying attention to corners and crevices and not just the big picture - which is what I'm more used to - that changes you a bit.

Something about watching the rhythm of your body in the repetitive motion of back and forth and forth and back, putting your shoulder into the effort occasionally, that releases something other than just sweat and body odor.

Something more about finishing a task, taking a few steps back and looking at the hard work you've done as you slowly realize that you're smiling back at a house that's beginning to acquire the shine of home.

There's something about the absolute freedom of these days that is positively exhilarating and yet cautionary.

The house is situated in such a way that, if I've just gotten out of the shower and discovered that I Really Need something in the laundry room, I can walk naked through the bedroom, living room, kitchen and into the laundry room without the care or concern of scandalizing (or horrifying) someone who might be "just passing by".

And yet, there is an order and a rhythm to the day that gives me pause in the fluidity of its structure. My day seems framed by the tides. I eagerly watch and wait to see the way it goes out and leaves parts of the marsh outside my window naked and bare. Then, I watch the way it comes in again, slowly and steadily filling the waters to overflowing, lapping and slapping the decking on a windy day.

I'm always amazed at how closely the tides conform to the predictions I find on the Weather Channel - which I watch with much more frequency here than I ever did in the Northeast Corridor. When you live by the water, you understand the wisdom in the adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

The gulls come in the early morning, looking for crusts of bread thrown out onto the water. I thought this morning of Ecclesiastes 1:11: "Cast thy bread upon the surface of the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days."

Some of my Jewish friends - who just celebrated Rosh Hashanah in which casting bread upon the water is part of the ritual - tell me that this is more than just symbolically casting one's sins into the water before the judgment comes. It is also, I am told, a biblical call to generosity - not because you expect a reward, but because you feel it is right. It is grounded in the belief that good deeds will also benefit those who do them.

It has become part of my morning ritual - to say my prayers and then cast some crusts of bread upon the water during the confession of sins, simultaneously repenting while trying to be generous in feeding the gulls.

It's a lovely ritual, actually. One that calls me to the challenge of tshuvah - literally, 'return' or what we know as 'metanoia' or repentance - as well as generosity. One that feeds and nourishes my soul as well as a few of God's creatures.

And that's part of how I'm getting my grove back after the transition - with its bittersweet combination of sadness and sorrow, anticipation and excitement - of leave-taking and moving and settling into a new home.

It's about simple accomplishments that bring simple pleasures which leads to paying attention to other simple things: The rhythm of the day. The beauty of nature.

It's about the exhilaration and responsibility of freedom.

It's about ritual and rhythm. Hard work and sweat. Repentance and generosity.

I thought I was transforming the house from a vacation/retreat place to a proper year round home.

Turns out, I'm the one who's being transformed.

And it is good. It is very good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Spot of Tea

Well, I'm not in the Northeast Corridor anymore, Dorothy.

No, I'm in the First State of Delaware, which, except for Joe Biden, and being noted for having some fabulous restaurants and beaches that are "America's Favorite Playground," things here pretty much stay under the radar. And, for the most part, most folk here like it that way, thank you very much.

Until, of course, the Primary Elections the other day where Republicans nominated Christine O'Donnell as their candidate in the November elections for State Senator.

Mrs. O'Donnell has long been known as a certified wackadoodle, who didn't exactly need the endorsement of Mrs. Palin or the Tea Party Movement to earn those credentials. No, this woman has been earning that reputation all on her own for quite some time now.

She first made the scene back in 1995, as a spokesperson for Concerned Women for America, the group founded in the 1980s by Armageddon fantasist Tim LaHaye's wife Beverly to train conservative Christian women for political activism..

O'Donnell asserted that women serving in combat damages national security, and believed that sex discrimination by taxpayer-funded institutions was constitutional.

Here's what she said:
By integrating women into particularly military institutes, it cripples the readiness of our defense. Schools like The Citadel train young men to confidently lead other young men into a battlefield where one of them will die. And when you have women in that situation, it creates a whole new set of dynamics which are distracting to training these men to kill or be killed. And these dynamics between men and women are what make the relationship between men and women beautiful. So I don't think that we should try to desensitize men to the differences.
O'Donnell further claimed that women have a special role in society, just not in military combat, citing the special role of mothers. "When you remove the role of the mother, the family is left to crumble," she said, blaming even declining SAT scores on this alleged phenomenon.

That was 1995, but that's her story and she's sticking to it.

Oh, but wait. There's more!

In 1996, she also made an appearance on MTV's "Sex in the 90s" in her role as president and founder of The SALT - The Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth - where she waxed absolutely puritanical in opposition to masturbation. She also said she considers looking at pornography akin to adultery, adding,, and I quote (because you wouldn't believe it any other way): "The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. You can't masturbate without lust!"

I am not making this up.

Rachel Maddow found the video in some dusty vault somewhere and showed it on her program the other night. You can watch the whole thing here. But, do take a TUMS - or, if you prefer, your favorite alcoholic libation - before watching.

Her issues with sexuality and gender rolled into her now infamous statement to Senator Castle when she told him to "get you man-pants on" - either impugning his masculinity or insinuating that Castle is having an affair with a man while married - or, perhaps, both.

That may not be the way to "win friends and influence people" but apparently, it's a way to win primary elections.

Oh, but wait. There's even more! It's a veritable wackadoodle bonanza!

She doesn't believe in evolution.

I know. What a surprise, right?

On March 30 of 1996 (apparently, that was a Very Busy year for the poor dear), she was in a ... um . . . ."debate" . . . on the merits of evolution on CNN. She said,
". . . evolution is a theory and it's exactly that. There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make it as fact, and I say that because for theory to become a fact, it needs to consistently have the same results after it goes through a series of tests. The tests that they put — that they use to support evolution do not have consistent results. Now too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it's merely a theory. . . .

But creation . . . (wait for it) . . Well, creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that."
Is it any wonder that state Republican party chairman, Tom Ross, who backed incumbent Mike Castle, said in a telephone interview, "Unfortunately, the truth always seems to be an issue. Her version of reality doesn't jibe with any of the facts." Furthermore, Ross said, "She's not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware. She could not be elected dog catcher."

Oopsie! That may be so, but, she did win her party's primary election to Congress, proving that all some Republican candidate wannabes need these days is a "spot of tea" along with Mrs. Palin to provide an infusion of energy, enthusiasm and, um, oh yes, cash.

O'Donnell wasn't Palin's only win on Tuesday. As the NY Daily News reported:
In Wisconsin, Palin-backed Sean Duffy - an ex-district attorney and castmate in MTV's "The Real World" - handily won the Republican primary Tuesday for a U.S. House seat.

And in New York, Michael Grimm defeated his opponent in the Republican primary for a House seat representing Staten Island. And in New Hampshire's Republican Senate primary, Kelly Ayotte, the state's attorney general (who is backed by Palin) narrowly won against Tea Party backed Ovide Lamontagne in a multi-candidate race.

And then there are other winning candidates, particularly in the Tea Party, that Palin has endorsed this election season -- demonstrating her ability to catapult nobodies into virtual stardom. There's Joe Miller in Alaska, Rand Paul in Kentucky, and Nikki Haley in South Carolina.
Of course, a Palin endorsement isn't necessarily the golden ticket. According to The Washington Post's Palin endorsement tracker, as of Aug. 25, Palin endorsed 43 candidates (24 had Tea Party ties and 23 were women). Of the 43, 21 candidates won, 11 lost, and 11 were upcoming or had no primary.

Nevertheless, Democratic party leaders are rejoicing at O'Donnell's victory. She is not expected to do well in the general election against Democrat Chris Coons. And that could destroy the Republicans' chances of gaining a Senate majority.

"If Castle had won the nomination, the GOP almost certainly would have taken the seat," Mike Allen, of Politico, said. "Now, Republicans are unlikely to take the seat and therefore unlikely to take the majority on Nov. 2"

That's the same thinking about the dynamic that lost the McCain-Palin run for Presidency. I'd like to think it's true, but I fear there were too many factors in that election - on both sides of the political fence - to blame the Republican loss all on Sarah Palin.

Take, for example, the voter turnout in Delaware. According to the State of Delaware's official website, while O'Donnell won 53.1% of the vote to Castle's 46.9% (or, a mere 3,540 votes), the Democratic turnout was only 12% as compared with 32% turnout for Republicans.

Okay, okay, so more Democrats voting in the primary election would not have changed the Republican primary election, but if the Democrats don't/can't mobilize their voting base, this is O'Donnell's election to lose.

Make no mistake: The Tea Party movement is not just a secular movement. It is, in its core, a religious movement. These folks really believe that they are on a 'mission from God'.

No joke.

Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatchs reported that Ralph Reed emphasized at last weekend's 'Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference', Reed's attempt to reconstitute the Christian Coalition, that the Tea Party will triumph not just by
"one-on-one persuasion, but the collective (yes! socialism!) nature of the divine task of individuals. The mission, he told a group of about 50 activists assembled for a break-out session on Saturday afternoon, is "restoring America to the principles on which she was founded: limited constitutional government and faith in God." Their goals, he continued, are "electing certain people and passing certain legislation." That, he concluded, can't happen "if you and I aren’t willing to pay the price."
The particular brand of 'tea' they are brewing is a pungent, aromatic blend of modern social networking mixed with the dry leaves of good-old-fashioned religious evangelism, and served with a heaping dollop of traditional Protestant sacrificial work-ethic and Pentecostal/Evangelical apocalyptic theology.

Intelligent people of every political and religious persuasion ignore this at our own peril.

If the voter turnout for the primaries is any indication, Democrats as well as moderate Republicans are in deep trouble.

It's time to brew up a strong pot of coffee, wipe the astonishment off our faces, along with our bemused "above it all" grins at the admittedly comical manifestations of this unbelievable political reality show, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

The November elections are right around the corner. If the primary elections prove nothing else, they clearly concretize Mrs. Palin's role as a major political power broker. Please, God, that's not enough to win her the Republican presidential nomination, but frankly, she doesn't need that. She's President of The Tea Bag Party - a movement that more and more people seem to be following.

The bottom line: We've got to stop believing that the bottom line of any election is a dollar sign. It takes more than hard cold cash to win an election. If you look at the currency in this country, it still says, "In God We Trust."

It may be time for some of the rest of us to start believing that and brew up a little religious movement of our own. You know, like the kind this country was founded on. One that has a vision of "liberty and justice for all."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Coming Soon to a Church Near You


As, Ed Bacon, one of my favorite Giants of Justice, is of't heard to say in these situations, "My, my, my."

My friend Jim was surfing the net, looking for the latest stats about his favorite sports team and came across this in the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette
September 14, 2010

W.Va. Episcopalians consider blessing same-gender relationships
By Kathryn Gregory
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Delegates to the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia's annual convention voted this week to allow the church to bless same-gender relationships.

The resolution was submitted by the Rev. Ann Lovejoy Johnson, associate rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston. It "urges our Bishop to honor same-gender relationships by supporting public rites for the blessing of same-gender relationships in congregations where such blessings are supported and so desired."
It would appear, however, from what one reads in the paper anyway, that the Bishop is less than pleased.

The newspaper reports this:
The final decision rests with the diocese's bishop, the Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, who responded with a prepared statement when contacted by the Gazette on Tuesday.

"Thank you for your interest, but I wonder where your interest was when wonderful things have happened in the past in the Episcopal Church? And try as you like to make us one, we are not a one issue church," he said in the statement. He would not comment further, and calls to St. John's were not returned Tuesday afternoon.
There is, of course, more to the story, which one gets from reading a report from the action on the floor of convention during the vote on the resolution:
Klusmeyer asked delegates to vote on the resolution's withdrawal, and delegates voted 82-58 to reinstate it, Michelle Walker said. The bishop then asked people who were not in favor of the resolution to stand.

"It was about three dozen people who stood," Walker said. "It was clear ... the resolution passed."

The passed resolution notes that "not all congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia support the blessing of same-gender relationships," but says, "We pray that our Bishop and representatives to this convention will recognize and honor the desire of those congregations and priests who wish to honor same-gender relationships through sanctioned same-gender blessings."

A six-month task force will be established to develop the procedures, requirements and rites that would allow same-gender blessings to become a reality in "those congregations where such blessings are desired."
A task force. Of course. To study "the issue". Because, of course, the "theology has not been done". You know, like the theology of the ordination of women.

As Ed Bacon has also be heard to say, "I'm so glad Mary said 'yes' to God before the church developed a Doctrine of the Incarnation."

Okay, can I just say? THIS IS HUGE, folks. I mean, last time I checked, the fine State of West Virginia wasn't even close to marriage equality.

We've come to expect this from progressive diocese like Los Angeles, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Newark - all those places which asked General Convention, 2009, in resolution C056 to allow bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response" to meet the needs of members of this Church, including those within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal.

Resolution C056 passed by a large majority.

Even more recently, Bishop Thomas E. Breidenthal of the Diocese of Southern
Ohio, has begun authorizing same-gender blessing as of Easter, 2010, following a six month Task Force he called together in November, 2009, which worked
with him to craft procedures and requirements to make the blessing of same-gender couples a reality in that diocese in 6 short months.

So, you'll excuse me if I express an unabashed, enthusiastic, 'Woo hoo'.

The article about West Virginia, however, ends on a cautionary note:
Retired Rev. Jim Lewis, a previous St. John's rector, said Klusmeyer could go either way in his vote.

"He is either going to go by the will of the convention or he can pull the authority game here and he could play with it," said Lewis, an activist minister who recently had his Episcopal license revoked and then reinstated.

There is no time limit in which the bishop must make a decision, according to the resolution.
I want to be Very Clear: I'm THRILLED for the people of West Virginia. I'm especially pleased to see the leadership of Ann Lovejoy Johnson, a woman I met in Michigan more years ago than I care to remember, when that diocese was looking to start up a chapter of The Oasis (Wait, wait, wait. That had to have been 12 or 14 years ago. Time flies when you're working for justice). That was long before she entered the ordination process, and feared she would never be ordained because she could never be in the closet.

My thoughts keep turning to the bishop and those three dozen or so people in the room who stood in opposition to the resolution. I don't know how many people were in the room, but the clear implication is that the 'faithful opposition' were clearly in the minority.

We all love the idea of "majority rules" - when we're part of the majority. I guess I've been in the minority on so many issues that it's tempting, when the tables turn and "our side wins," to let our rejoicing turn into a form of tyranny.

It's hard to demonstrate a "generous pastoral response" when you feel that your theological toes are being stepped on. It's easy to be stingy when you feel something is being taken away from you - especially when that "something" is one of the foundational beliefs on which you stand.

Even in the midst of our rejoicing about the progress made in the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, I hope we'll keep all the good people there - laity, deacons, priests and bishop - in our prayers.

The graciousness and "generous pastoral response" of those on "our side" will help to form the same kind of response from "their side."

Long time activist and priest, Susan Russell, reminds us in her blog of the words of Sr. Joan Chittister, "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again."

Everyone there - especially the bishop - may not know it quite yet (and may not believe it), but the Diocese of West Virginia helped the church move forward another inch toward living into the vision of the Realm of God which was given to us by Jesus, himself.

Let's keep them all in our prayers. Comfort those who morn. Shield the joyous.

If you are from a state that does not yet embrace marriage equality or live in a diocese that allows the blessing of the covenants made between two people of the same sex, take heart.

It will happen. It may not happen "soon enough," but it will happen. We live in "sure and certain hope" that Blessed Martin Luther King, Jr., was right when he said, "the arc of history is long, but it always bends toward justice."

Mercy. Justice. And, peace. For everyone of God's children.

It has been promised.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do we really need bishops?

There's an interesting article over at The Episcopal Cafe this morning.

Well, there are always interesting articles at EC most mornings, but this one has stuck in my brain, raising all sorts of questions. Mainly, because it makes me uncomfortable. That usually means that it's resonating with something I know to be true.

It's an excerpt from an interview with 70-year old Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas in Christianity Today entitled, "The Gospel Makes the Everyday Possible." In it, he makes a very provocative statement, "We're all congregationalists now."

Here's the quote:
CT: When you just said, "The Episcopal church is the embodiment of much that Wesley cared about," I think you are referring to a particular congregation and not the denomination as a whole.

SH: I say, "We're all congregationalists now." I don't particularly like it, but we are. How to ensure given that reality that Eucharistic assemblies are not separate from each other is one of the great challenges before us. The role of the bishop is very important to make sure that Eucharistic assemblies are not isolated from one another. There are also other ways to do it. Certainly sending people from one congregation to another helps. But how we recover Christian unity in the world in which we find ourselves is a deep challenge. By "unity," I don't mean just agreement about ecclesial organization; I mean the refusal of Christians to kill one other. I think that the division of the church that has let nationalism define Christian identity is one of the great judgments against the Reformation in particular.
Ann Fontaine, who posted the article asks, "Do think Hauerwas is right?"

I encourage you all to visit Episcopal Cafe, read the article and leave your comment. I did. Of course.

There are at least ten reactions and responses to this quote, but here's what struck me.

I'm uncomfortable with sweeping generalizations like this but I think Hauerwas has his finger on a trend which I would articulate as being much more theologically and functionally pragmatic in our ecclesiology.

We've seen this trend nationally and internationally. In many ways, I think it's a natural extension of the Spirit of Anglicanism which has always embraced the "Big Tent" theological position of high, broad and low liturgy and Christology.

This has been misunderstood and sharply criticized as being a sort of "Church of the Burger King" where one can "have it your way."

Rather, it is a mature understanding of the nature of Christ and the Church - His Body - which grows out of the Anglican understanding of the need for "Common Prayer" verses a rigid catholicity which insists on unity through conformity.

You need lots of rules and regulations with solid answers to the questions of your belief? We got that.

You need a place where you can bring the serious doubts of your faith which lurk in the deep crevices of your mind and haunt the inner chambers of your soul? Yeah, we got that, too.

You need smells, bells, chanting and lots of mystery? That would be St. Mary's, up the road a piece, to your left.

You'd rather have your liturgy straight up, no frills?  Ah, then you'll love St. Mark's, down the street, bear right at the corner.

It's all part of the Spirit of Anglicanism which can lead to the kind of lively, intelligent, relevant faith which has always been the jewel in the crown of Christianity. Well, I suppose my bias is showing there, but I'm not an Episcopal Priest for nothing.

Truth be told, it can also lead to a sort of "theological flabbiness" (I think that's Harvey Guthrie's term which I remember from seminary) which can have exactly the opposite effect.

Rather than a confessional religion or a religion based on shared, similar ecstatic experiences, we've always been a pragmatic religion. We're rather fond of "local option" - wherein bishops in dioceses and archbishops of provinces are left to determine how The Spirit of Anglicanism will be embodied locally. Which has its problems.

The Episcopal Church USA has been scapegoated as 'the problem' by one of no less stature than The Archbishop of Canterbury, +++Himself, who is very keen on promoting this image he has of us as "very naughty children" who won't "conform" (read: compromise on issues of justice) for the sake of unity.

We've seen increasing attempts to organize this very disorganized religion by articulating things like "The Five Marks of Mission,"and "The Four Instruments of Unity".

Apparently, these are not enough for +++Himself and others around the World Wide Anglican Communion who are simply aghast by the "local option" in The Episcopal Church, USA, for the blessing of covenants made between couples of the same sex, and the ordination of LGBT people to the diaconate, priesthood and consecration to the episcopacy.

So, now we have a proposed Anglican Covenant - because, apparently, Mission and Unity are not enough. The problem with the so-called Anglican Covenant, besides being based on a punitive, retributive impulse, is that it is thoroughly, completely and utterly un-Anglican.

It should be noted that, as I read it in its final draft, The Covenant has nothing to do with either mission or unity but rather, conformity. Neither do I read anything in it that has anything to do with the only Covenant I think we need - that of our Baptism.

It has more to do with centralizing the authority and power of the Anglican Communion in the Episcopacy - namely, the Archbishop who would be Pope.

Don't get me started.

But it does raise an interesting point which was inspired, originally, by this article.

The statement from Hauerwas about us being "all congregationalist", I think, raises important questions about the role and function of bishops. Indeed, I think it raises important questions about the role of ordination across the board.

We've seen a renaissance, of sorts, of the historic diaconate. Which, from my perspective, is good. In fact, it's a Very Good Thing. One of the roles of deacons, besides serving the people of God, is to raise up and empower all the baptized into the mission and ministry of the Gospel.

I have seen deacons have a dramatic effect on the mission, ministry and unity of local churches as well as the diocese. There are those, of course, who don't do it so well. You know, like some priests and bishops and even some "empowered" members of the laity. But, when done well, the deacon is an invaluable member of the four orders of ministry, always calling us to remember Christ's body outside the church walls.

I know how cynical this is going to sound, but I don't think it's an accident that the rise in the number of deacons has coincided with the stipulation in the canons of our church that deacons are non-stipendiary.

Pragmatics, my dears. Pragmatics.

A few years ago there was a hue and cry about a "clergy shortage". Now, full time cures for priests are drying up faster than new ones open up after early retirement. The role of the priest - indeed, the need for a priest - has come under sharp fire which is often aimed at seminaries. What are we training/educating priests to do? Why should it cost so much? Sacraments are important, but should they cost a congregation that much ($60 - $100,000 is not an uncommon annual compensation package for a priest, depending on the location). Isn't it better to raise up and educate clergy locally in a model of "Total Mutual Ministry"?

Pragmatics, my dears. Pragmatics.

I'm wondering how long it will take before we begin to question the role and function of the bishop - especially when, as Hauerwas says, the office is essentially a sign and symbol of unity.

The role of bishop as "chief pastor" has been seriously compromised by our litigious culture. Priests are feeling the pinch with the changes to Title IV "disciplinary canons". Don't get me wrong, I think boundary violations - especially sexual ones - are serious offenses and ought to be treated seriously. Right now, however, the canons seem to be based on the principle of "guilty until proven innocent" which is not only an over-correction, but the legal implications of even an allegation of abuse seriously strains the relationship between bishop and priest.

The impulse to centralize power in the office of the episcopacy has also strained the role of chief pastor and her/his clergy. The increase in the number of positions of "Priest-In-Charge" in which the bishop is also effectively rector of the congregation, is one indicator. In times of congregational conflict, more and more clergy are reporting that their bishops have a clear "preferential option" for the congregational pledge. It's a disconcerting if not disturbing trend.

Many bishops couldn't be CFOs or CEOs if they tried - and many dioceses don't want them to be. The finances of a diocese are often complicated and complex. There are too many examples which prove the adage that it's not a good idea to have the bishop too close to the purse strings of the diocese. Indeed, that's another historic role of the diaconate, and there's good reason for that precedence.

Pragmatics, my dears. Pragmatics.

Being an "ambassador for Christ" and engaging the world as well as the local community on critical issues of our faith is, for me, a very important role of the episcopacy, but I wonder how this "congregational trend" will support that role.

Hauerwas says, "The role of the bishop is very important to make sure that Eucharistic assemblies are not isolated from one another." My question is: How long before the economic crisis we're in begins to give rise to pragmatic questions about how bishops are compensated for this role?

Indeed, how long will it take before our current economic crisis turns our pragmatic theology into 'flabby' theology and ecclesiology?

I don't know about you, but I think we need to exercise our faith a bit more - especially as embodied in the Spirit of Anglicanism - before we find that we're so organized and unified and top-heavy, we can't get out of our own way.