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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween to My Grandbabies!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

"Trick or Treating" with Zacchaeus

“Trick or Treating with Zaccheaus” – Luke 19:1-10
Pentecost XXIII - Proper 26C – October 31, 2010 
All Saint’s, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, Priest in Residence

Tonight we celebrate Halloween and before you know it we’ll be inundated with wee costumed ghosts and goblins and ghoulies and angels and superheroes, all come begging at our door for treats while threatening harmless tricks.

Perhaps that’s why I found that this gospel reminded me of a game I used to play with the kids who were preparing for Confirmation in the congregations I was called to serve. We called it “Angels and Devils”.

I’ll tell you more about that game in a minute, but first I want us to spend some time with this gospel story of Zacchaeus and Jesus, because it has a “trick” and a “treat” built inside the story.

Whether you are aware of it or not, the gospel lesson for today brings us near the end of Luke’s long section detailing the journey of Jesus from Galilee into Jerusalem where, within the span of a few short days, he will be greeted as King and then crucified as a common thief.

Jesus still has a few things to teach us about our expectations and assumptions about him as well as our expectations and assumptions about others and ourselves.

He and his disciples have just entered Jericho – a city near the West Bank of Jerusalem, known as “The City of Palms”. It was the place of the Israelites return from bondage in Egypt, led by Joshua, the successor of Moses. The city functioned not only as an agricultural center and as a crossroad, but also as a winter resort for Jerusalem's aristocracy.

As he approached Jericho, Jesus healed a blind man who then followed him, loudly glorifying God. All the people who had witnessed the miracle joined them as together they praised God. One can only imagine the sight and commotion caused by this little parade of joyful, noisy people who were following Jesus as he entered Jericho.

A tax collector, a rich man named Zacchaeus, was trying to see this man who was causing such a ruckus, but because the crowd was so large and he was a man short in stature he could not. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree so he could have a look at this Jesus – the Miracle Man who gave sight to the blind – as he passed by.

Now, Zacchaeus is an abbreviation of Zechariah, meaning "the righteous one" – a pretty big name to live up to. Perhaps his parents hoped this child would succeed in life by being good. Zacchaeus became a wealthy man, but – we are led to believe – not necessarily by doing good.

The name “the righteous one” seems incongruous for Zacchaeus, since he is the chief tax collector in Jericho and tax collectors were notorious for cheating the general public to fatten their pockets. They would assess a tax, and if the person refused to pay or called it unfair, Herod's soldiers would threaten him. Whatever he collected over the amount required was his to keep.

As chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was probably responsible for collecting tolls on goods coming into Judea from Perea, a main trade route. This business has, no doubt, made him rich. There was also no doubt that all this made him hated by the people.

So, in sum, what we know about Zacchaeus is that he is short, rich, hated and curious.

However, I imagine that even he was surprised beyond belief when Jesus spotted him in the tree and called to him. I imagine he was even more thunderstruck when Jesus invited himself to his home.

Imagine how the crowd must have felt when they heard it. Remember, this is Jericho – the winter resort of Jewish aristocracy. This is Zacchaeus, the hated chief tax collector who may have sent more than a few of Herod’s soldiers to collect more than a few unfairly assessed taxes on more than a few who were present in that crowd.

Was Jesus betraying them – the poor and the outcast whom he called “his beloved”? Why would he have invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus? Was he trying to win favor with the chief tax collector? Was he blind to the truth about Zacchaeus? Might he be looking for a large donation to tide them over while in Jerusalem during the High Holy Days? Or, was it a matter of pragmatics: were he and his disciples that hungry right now?

I suspect that Jesus was neither trying to impress anyone nor dealing with his own hunger or that of his disciples. Neither was he blind to the truth about Zacchaeus.

Instead, I imagine that when Jesus looked up into that sycamore tree and saw Zacchaeus, he saw the longing and desire in his heart. Jesus can see by the way Zacchaeus dresses that the man is rich. But Jesus, as always, looks beyond the mere external. He looks deeper and sees the poverty and hunger in this man’s soul. He can see the dejection and rejection and judgment this man has endured – along with the sadness that must have been in his heart.

I believe that’s where Jesus begins with each of us – looking beyond the externals and judgments of others and looking, instead, deep into our souls. And, in the process, we are healed of the spiritual blindness – in ourselves and about others.

Which brings me back to the story of “Angels and Devils”

Tim, my Youth Missioner and I, used to gather the Confirmands in the church where we would ask everyone to take off their socks and shoes and go barefoot. Then we’d cover their eyes with blindfolds and lead them from the church into the parish hall. Once we arrived, we would silently remove the blindfolds of some of the kids, some of whom became the angels and the others of whom became the devils. Their job was to lead the blindfolded kids through an obstacle course of sorts, which we called “The Trust Walk.”

We had set out things like a pillow or a warm blanket, but we also had set out some ice cubes, chocolate pudding, soggy bread, Jell-O, cold spaghetti, and so forth. Each barefooted, blindfolded kid was assigned an angel and a devil and they had to decide which one to listen to and take direction from as they made their way through The Trust Walk – the devil who would lead them through something yucky and gross or the angel who would put them on the path to comfort and goodness.

Now, all of the kids knew each other. They either lived in the same town or went to school together and played sports together, so it didn’t take long for them to recognize the person by the sound of his or her voice.

It was interesting to pair up a kid with an angel who was not liked by the blindfolded kid and a devil who was that kid’s friend. Nine times out of ten, the blindfolded kid did not follow the voice of the kid who was an angel because s/he automatically assumed the kid would lead her to step into something gross. Eventually, s/he learned to trust the voice of the angel, even though s/he hadn’t ever thought of this kid as his friend.

Amazingly for some, it did take a while for that trust to develop – all because of the expectations and assumptions that had been made which then became “the truth” about that person. I can tell you that there were lots of cold, soggy, icky toes and feet in that group – and lots of changed hearts and relationships.

We make assumptions about people all the time, don’t we? We base it on the way they dress, the way they talk, where they grew up, where they went to school, what kind of employment they have, where they live, what car they drive. We put people in categories and classifications and then either embrace or dismiss them – trust them or ignore them – all based on superficial assumptions.

Which brings me back to this morning’s “trick or treat” gospel.

The interesting thing about Zacchaeus is that our translation this morning has him saying, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 

That’s fine, but when you dig a bit deeper and check the translation more thoroughly, you will note that the verbs used are not in the future tense. No, they are in the present tense.*

We’ve been tricked!

Turns out Zacchaeus is not a cheat, nor does he hoard his wealth. That’s just a costume we’ve put him in over the years to trick ourselves into believing something about Jesus.

Zacchaeus says, "I give half of my wealth to the poor, and if I find I have defrauded anyone, I pay back four times as much."

Present – not future tense. 

These are things he is already doing, even before meeting Jesus. This chief tax collector, who receives only disdain from his neighbors, is actually far more generous and intentional about doing justice than just about everyone else in Jericho! I suspect Jesus knew that all along and THAT's why he called to him up in that sycamore tree.

The funny thing is that this translation tricks us into committing the very sin that the story condemns. It presents Zacchaeus not as a righteous and generous man who is wrongly scorned by his prejudiced neighbors, but as the story of a penitent sinner.

Turns out, Zacchaeus does live up to his name. He is, in fact, “the righteous one”.

Turns out, Jesus knew that all along!

Trick or treat!

Jesus is once again turning our world upside down, confronting us with our assumptions about who is good and who is evil and demonstrating for us the tricks we play in our minds before we treat one another – one way or another.

Zacchaeus and the people of Jericho are not costumed characters come to scare or trick us into being good for Jesus. Like the crowd murmuring about Zacchaeus, it is easy to be blinded by our prejudice of “those people” and find ourselves accusing the very person or people we should be emulating.

Indeed, we may discover that the very things we find disgusting or fearful about others – or resent in others – are the very things that we find disgusting and fear most about ourselves.

Tonight, on this All Hallow’s Eve, we’ll have witches and ghoulies and all sort and manner of beasties come knocking on our door, chanting, “Trick or Treat.” Little angels will come dressed as dangerous monsters and some of those little neighborhood devils will come dressed as superheroes come to save us from all Evil.

On Tuesday, we’ll have another sort of horror show – or, actually, an end to one as the political campaign comes to an end and we’ll be asked to vote. This has been one of the ugliest, angriest negative political midterm elections in my memory, at least. I’m betting some of the candidates don’t even recognize themselves in their own ads – and if they do, they wouldn’t vote for that person. Talk about angels and devils!

The real trick will be to see past the costumes and the campaign slogans and rhetoric and recognize each of them as children of God – part of God’s delight, a treat to the very heart of God – no matter how they dress or behave or live. No matter how we are expected to vote.

The ancient Rabbis used to teach that before every human being go 100,000 angels all shouting, “Make way! Make way! Make way for the Image of God.”

The real treat will be if we can act that way every day – not just on Halloween. Amen.

* I am grateful to my Sister in Christ, Sarah Dylan Breuer, for this understanding of the translation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A cautionary fable

My Canadian Colleague Malcolm+ has a wonderful blog he calls Simple Massing Priest, which is, in fact, quite brilliant.

This morning, he has posted one of Aesop's fable's - "The Frogs Desired a King" - as a cautionary tale about the proposed Anglican Covenant.

I thought it so keenly brilliant that I've posted it below, with thanks to Malcolm+. If you are of a mind, it might be good to pass this one 'round to your British Anglican friends first.

The Church of England's General Synod will be meeting 22-24 November to vote on the Anglican Covenant.

Then, start passing it 'round to your friends and diocesan deputies who may be studying the Covenant in preparation for General Convention.

As Ben Franklin would say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
The Frogs Desired a King

The Frogs were living as happy as could be in a marshy swamp that just suited them; they went splashing about caring for nobody and nobody troubling with them. But some of them thought that this was not right, that they should have a king and a proper constitution, so they determined to send up a petition to Jove to give them what they wanted.

"Mighty Jove," they cried, "send unto us a king that will rule over us and keep us in order."

Jove laughed at their croaking, and threw down into the swamp a huge Log, which came down - splash - to the swamp.

The Frogs were frightened out of their lives by the commotion made in their midst, and all rushed to the bank to look at the horrible monster; but after a time, seeing that it did not move, one or two of the boldest of them ventured out towards the Log, and even dared to touch it; still it did not move.

Then the greatest hero of the Frogs jumped upon the Log and commenced dancing up and down upon it, thereupon all the Frogs came and did the same; and for some time the Frogs went about their business every day without taking the slightest notice of their new King Log lying in their midst.

But this did not suit them, so they sent another petition to Jove, and said to him, "We want a real king; one that will really rule over us." Now this made Jove angry, so he sent among them a big Stork that soon set to work gobbling them all up. Then the Frogs repented when too late.
Sir, I should like to cast my vote for Archbishop Log, please.

And, I shall pass on the Anglican Covenant. No, no, no, thank you. I know it says "Anglican" and "Covenant" but really, don't you think it looks and smells more like it should be labeled "Roman" and "Contract"?

Truly. Even a dollop of the stuff, I fear, shall, soon enough, become King Stork.

What was it Aesop said about this fable?

Ah yes: "Better no rule than cruel rule."

So, there it is, then: God save Archbishop Stork! Long live Archbishop Log!

Friday, October 29, 2010

It Gets Better . . . With Age


I'm working on a project today that is consuming a bit more of my time than I intended. I hope to post it later today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, please take five minutes and fifty-two seconds to watch this clip of some LGBT elders in Boston who can attest, with great authority, that "it gets better."

A few of them talk honestly about surviving their suicide attempts. One of them is Sheri Barden, one of my "Mama's," the other being her partner/spouse/wife - formerly, as we used to say, "significant other" - of forty-six years, Lois Johnson.

"Listen to me," says Barden, "don't do it. Don't do it. You know what helps? A sense of humor. Have a sense of humor. Laugh about things."

She's right, of course. She most often is, but, sheesh, don't say that too loudly in her presence. She'll be impossible to live with for DAYS! (Love you, Mama!)

I can honestly say that when I discovered that I was a lesbian, I never entertained a thought of suicide. Ever. But, that's because I first discovered love in Ms. Conroy's eyes. The love I saw there was miraculous. With her love for me, I discovered I could learn to love myself.

When I discovered that there was a word for that love, I was horrified. I only knew about the word "lesbian" from the medical and nursing books that were available at the time. I knew, somewhere deep in my soul, that "lesbian" as the books described it at the time, was a lie.

"All love is of God." I learned that in scripture. That's what I chose to believe instead of the medical books.

Actually, the only time I ever considered suicide was when I knew my marriage was a lie and I didn't know how to get out of it. I didn't know, then, why it was a lie. I didn't know that I was a lesbian until a few years later. I just knew that I had not fallen in love with the man I married. I had fallen in love with love and the idea of marriage - not this man. And that lie was killing me and him.

I was desperate and despondent and felt trapped. The only way out - out of marriage, out of the judgment and condemnation of my parents and my religion which told me divorce was not an option - seemed to be suicide.

Somehow, I found the strength to choose divorce anyway.

That's not to say that there weren't times after I came out that I didn't feel desperate and despondent and trapped. But, having found myself, knowing that I was loved, knowing that God loved me, knowing that "all love is of God", made me feel more alive than I had ever felt in my whole life.

Discovering myself in the fullness of my being - and not wanting to hide that or live a lie anymore - gave me a reason to live.

One of those dark moments came shortly after a telephone conversation with my father. He built his case very carefully. Poor man. He built it on the only thing he knew which was ignorance and fear.

"Elizabeth," he began, "I used to smoke. Then one day, the doctor told me I had a touch of emphysema. That, if I didn't quit, I would die. On the way home from the doctor's office, I threw that pack of cigarettes out the window and never smoked again."

Raising his voice to make his point, he said, "Why can't you throw that woman out of your life? For good?"

"Dad," I said, "this is not an addiction. It's not like smoking cigarettes. I know you don't understand this, but this is love."

Undaunted, he continued, "Elizabeth, when I was in the army, I was once on detail in the Philippines. There were a few men who were discovered to be homosexuals. They were put in the brig - which was a hut surrounded by barbed wire. My orders were that if any of them tried to escape, I was to shoot to kill."

Again, he raised his voice and said, "This will kill you! People will want to kill you for this! I'm your father. My job is to protect you! Do you want to die?"

"Dad," I said, trying to keep my voice calm, "This is not a war. I am not committing a crime. This is love."

He sighed disgustedly and continued what would be his final attempt to talk some sense into his dissident, wayward daughter. "Elizabeth, when I was on the farm as a young boy, sometimes a female cow would jump another female cow. I would ask my father, 'Pa, why do they do that?' My father said, "They're just overheated."

His voice was near hysterical, "Love? This isn't love! You're behaving like an overheated cow!"

I apologized to my father for not being able to continue the conversation. Told him I loved him. Told him I was sorry I had disappointed him. Told him maybe one day he would understand.

After I hung up, I was hysterical. Crying. Sobbing. I was inconsolable.

I called Sheri and repeated the entire conversation, punctuated by hysterical sobs and blowing my nose. She knew the dark path I was on and, having been there once herself, she knew where it could lead.

She tried gently and calmly to explain that my father was just a man of his time. That he really didn't know any better. That he may not ever change his mind, but that, over time, as I got stronger, it would get better.

When I got to the part about the cows, Sheri did the only reasonable thing. She started to laugh. "Overheated cows!" she said, incredulous. "Lois, Lois, listen to this! He said lesbians are overheated cows."

"Moooooo," she said, laughing hysterically, "Mooooooooo!" I could hear Lois laughing in the background. So did Ms. Conroy, who was listening in.

And, wonder of wonder and miracle of miracles, I started laughing. As I did, I could feel the weight of judgment slip off my shoulders. With each laugh, my body felt lighter and lighter and I could feel my soul settling back into the place of wholeness and holiness I had just recently discovered.

The next time we went to Boston to see Sheri and Lois, we rang the bell on the intercom outside her door. "Sheri, we're here," I said.

And, over the intercom came, "Moooooooooooo!"

There we were, on the street in South Boston. Right there, in front of God and people who were passing by who could hear the "Moooooooooooo!" followed by hysterical laughter.

Ms. Conroy and I just looked at each other and them and shrugged our shoulders, trying to ignore it. But, the moment was too wonderful to be ignored. And, we laughed and laughed and laughed until Sheri came down and let us in, and we fell into each others arms, laughing and laughing and laughing.

Later, when we were in their home, Barden presented us with a lovely picture she had framed herself (She's a professional museum-quality picture framer). It was a lovely, pastoral scene - of cows cooling themselves by a stream.

I have kept that picture all these many years later. It has always hung somewhere in our home. It hangs here, now, in Llangollen. Whenever I'm feeling the need to be inspired to "keep on keepin' on", I take a look at it. And, I laugh.

It really is the best medicine.

Now, Sheri will hate it that I've told you this story about her. She'll try to tell you that I've exaggerated one point or didn't get something exactly right.

It's what mothers do, you know? But, I tell you - hand to Jesus - that this is not only a true story, but that this is one of the stories that has kept me alive.

Not from committing suicide because I'm a lesbian. Rather, the story of the overheated cows and Sheri and Lois' love and laughter act as a shield against harsh judgment and cruel words that, if taken in, can kill the soul.

It does get better - with age. And Sheri is right - it helps to have a sense of humor. Learn to develop a sense of humor as your first line of defense against ignorance and hatred and bigotry.

What I learned in the midst of the AIDS crisis - what those brave, brilliant young gay men taught me in the early 80s - is this:

"Laughter is the greatest statement of faith."

If you can laugh in the face of death, then you know that there is a loving God.

So, laugh. Yes, laugh, children. Guess that's why they call us "gay".

And, when you find it hard to do - because, I won't lie to you, sometimes it is - just think of the story of Sheri and the Overheated Cows as my gift to you and say, right out loud, in front of God and anyone who happens to be passing by at the moment:

"Moooooooooo!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Raising the Dead

Photo of The Poconos, Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA, Elizabeth Kaeton

I've just returned from the annual clergy retreat in the Poconos in Pennsylvania which was led by "Jesus Freak" Sara Miles, who is also Director of the St. Gregory of Nissa Food Pantry in San Francisco.

The focus of our time with her, however, was her latest book, Take This Bread.

Just so you'll know what we were dealing with, here's a brief except from Chapter Four:
One evening in St. Gregory's kitchen, after everyone else had left, I heard a confession from a pantry volunteer, who'd brought me what she said was a 'secret' in a shopping bag. She had a cast on her leg, and kept looking over her shoulder anxiously, and she made me close the kitchen door. Her boyfriend, who beat her up regularly, had been threatening to kill her, she said, swallowing hard.

"I thought, this is a church, it'll be safe here," she said, unwrapping a dirty dishtowel from around a huge .357 Magnum revolver. "I took out the firing pin."

That's what church was for, I realized: a place to bring the ugly, frightening secret you couldn't tell anyone else about. I checked that the gun was disarmed, and stuck it in a cookie tin in a locked closet beneath the pantry shelves. I didn't mention it to anyone from the Sunday congregation. The woman moved away, to stay with a sister in Sacramento. A month later I did tell Steve.

"You must be kidding," he said.

"Isn't this what church is for?" I said.

"Uh, yeah," said Steve. He looked scared, and like he wanted to laugh at the same time. "Whoa, that's a really big gun." We drove down to the local police station, and I walked up to the officer on duty. I was wearing a crucifix and a fairly respectable sweater. "Excuse me, I found this in our churchyard," I lied. "Can you please take it?"

There's nothing like being a middle-aged white lady, I told Steve as we drove back. The cops had gathered around the officer who unwrapped the package. "Holy shit," said of them. "Excuse me, ma'am." They passed it around, gingerly, and let me leave after I insisted I didn't want to make a report or get a receipt. "Can you imagine if we'd been two black teenage guys walking in with that?"

"You just made the high point of my career as a parish administrator," said Steve. "I never imagined I'd show a cop something that could make him say 'holy shit.' "

"Yeah, well," I said. "I guess this is what you call the Christian life.
Alrighty, then. Don't say I didn't warn you.

And, you need to know that I absolutely agree with her. About "the Christian life."

Which is not to say that she didn't make me squirm from time to time.

Like?

Like her unabashed commitment to "Open Communion" - the idea that communion should be open to everyone - baptized and unbaptized. Christian and Jew and Buddhist and Muslim or Atheist - as well as those who are rich and poor, old and young, clean and unclean, literate and illiterate.

She ties this thought with the impeccable theological position that the passion of Jesus was - is - about loving God and ourselves and our neighbor so much that our passion becomes welcoming the stranger (who is our neighbor in Christ) and feeding the people of God.

You know - doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. 

Not that I don't agree about Open Communion. I do. With my whole heart and mind and soul and body. It's what I believe.

It's just that there's this little matter of the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church.

We don't allow it.

According to the laws that have governed the church catholic church for centuries, we're only supposed to give communion to those "baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Presumably, this means that those who were baptized in the name of the "Creator, Redeemer and Spirit" would also be excluded. I know, right?

Oh, but wait! There's more.

We celebrated Eucharist together in an absolutely glorious chanted version in which everyone participated. The words of the Eucharistic prayer were based solidly on scripture and the harmony was profoundly mysterious and positively delicious.

I felt fed on so many levels, I got dizzy.  Oh, maybe that's because we also danced and sang our way to the altar and away from the altar.

The Eucharistic experience was simultaneously ancient and modern. Indeed, it moved me to a place beyond the constraints of time and place and person - which, as I understand the Eucharist, is precisely what it is meant to do.

However, you should know that they use this prayer often at St. Gregory's church. With clergy and laity fully participating in the words and music while the priest(s) preside.

Which is also against the canons of the church.

Oops! Yet another aspect of "Open Communion" with profound implications.

One of the things our experience in this retreat led us as clergy to discuss with our bishop is the fact that while we may, as individual clergy, support "Open Communion" in both aspects of participation, and our bishop may fully support us as individual clergy and congregations, we need to be very clear that we are not in compliance with the canons of the church.

What's the big deal? Well, for one, the revisions to Title IV (Ecclesiastical Discipline) of The Episcopal Church make it clear that clergy are subject to Ecclesiastical Court Trial for such infractions, which may well lead to being disciplined. It could also lead to suspension of license to function as a clergy person and/or being "defrocked".

Which someone may want to push to court trial action - and not necessarily for pernicious purposes.

This is precisely what happened when eleven women and three bishops pushed for a change in our canon law by participating in an "irregular" ordination at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974.

If we're going to be practicing Open Communion "locally" and we consider ourselves part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" well, perhaps we need to change our canons. An act of "canonical disobedience" resulting in an Ecclesiastical Court trial might be one way to accomplish that canonical change.

Indeed, it might be the most efficient way, rather than waiting around for years and years before the church finally comes to an understanding. And then, a few centuries for the "church catholic" to come to an agreement - which, oh, by the way, it still hasn't in terms of the ordination of women.

Meanwhile, some people will disobey the canons while bishops look the other way. Others will change the canons. And others will continue to go hungry.

We've got a great deal of theological water to cross before we get to the point of a 'catholic' Open Communion. Meanwhile, it's happening any way. Meanwhile, clergy and bishops are not doing anyone any favors by practicing an ecclesiastical version of "Don't ask, don't tell."

That's as dishonest in the sanctuary as it is in the military.

It's an inconvenient dilemma, isn't it, this business of truth telling and honesty and integrity? It would be so easy to dismiss it as not important - especially right now, during Stewardship Season.

I was astounded by some of my clergy colleagues who felt "judged" by Sara's presentation. Some felt that she was offering her thoughts on the theology of liturgy and mission at St. Gregory's as "the way". She did not. She repeatedly pushed us to think through why we do what we do and what we may need to change to have integrity with the Gospel.

The resistance to that was palpable, unintentionally supported by the fact that, when we gathered for communal prayer we used straight-up liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer.  Indeed, we were even asked to bring our own BCPs.

Some said they were "greatly relieved" by this, relishing in the comfort of the familiar and the illusion of the perfected, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that some of us feel excluded by the language and inhibited by the structure.

I could only shake my head, as I imagined Jesus must have done when the rich man came to him, asking what he else he might do, besides following the law to the letter, in order to gain eternal life.  "Take everything you have and give it to the poor," he said.  And, the man walked away.

Which had me thinking a great deal about this idea of "raising the dead". I haven't been blogging much because I've been doing a great deal of "walking meditation" on this very notion - in myself and what I see happening in the church and in the world.

At first I thought Sara Miles was making the connection about feeding people who are being starved to death by poverty - financial and spiritual - and the deep mystery of the Holy Communion we know in the Eucharistic moment where we join our voices with "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven" to praise God and serve the people of God.

And, she does mean just that. I recognize and understand that very point. Indeed, when I was a seminarian at St. John's, Bowdoin Street, Boston, my senior project was a slide show which made that very connection.

I used Neil Diamond's "Holly, Holy" as the soundtrack and interspersed pictures I took of the Thursday Night Supper and the Doorbell Ministry with pictures of our Sunday Eucharist. I must say, it was very powerful. Alas, the slides are long gone along with the ancient slide show/sound projector I used to display it, but the memory of those images is still very much present in my heart and in my mind.

But her larger point is that when we do that - when we make the connection between what one of our Eucharistic prayers asks to "deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal" and actively engage in the Mission of Jesus - we awaken that which has died in our selves - our souls and bodies and our whole lives - to become more alive in Christ Jesus.

I'm coming to see that Open Communion is precisely what Jesus intended - indeed, what the ancient church practiced in the first few centuries of its life, before those who followed Jesus were not called Christians but "People of The Way."

And, I'm coming to understand what our Presiding Bishop provocatively challenged the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 24, to avoid "committing suicide by governance."
Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a "life-or-death decision," describing life as "a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission" and death as "an appeal to old ways and to internal focus" which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.

"We need some structural change across the Episcopal Church," she said. "Almost everywhere I go I hear dioceses wrestling with this; dioceses addressing what they often think of as their own governance handcuffs, the structures that are preventing them from moving more flexibly into a more open future."

Later in her remarks, Jefferts Schori said "we need a system that is more nimble, that is more able to respond to change," calling for "a more responsive and adaptable and less rigid set of systems."
"Suicide by governance" is an unfortunate term in the aftermath of the spotlight being on LGBT suicide. Our Presiding Bishop has a way of being quite provocative in her imagery. "Conjoined twins" and "standing in a crucified place" come immediately to mind.

Nevertheless, I think she's absolutely right. We've become so institutionally top heavy that we can scarcely get out of our own way to do the work of the Gospel. She's right: as a church and a denomination and as a people, we will die if we don't become "more nimble".

It's not "teh gays". It's not "women." It's not "the liberal left" or the "right wingnuts."  It's not "the leadership". It's not "sheep who attack" in dysfunctional congregations, resistant to change.

We're killing ourselves.

The ENS article also reported that
House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, council vice chair, said during her opening remarks that Executive Council has the responsibility to address important big-picture issues.

"Fortunately God has called us to this ministry and has given us the gifts to do what needs to be done," she said. "It is all of us, together -- bishops, laity, clergy -- who govern the Episcopal Church. Make no mistake about it: our form of governance enables our mission."

Anderson suggested that "a choice between governance and mission is a false choice," adding that the choice is a both-and, not either-or.
I've been thinking and praying and meditating about all of this for the past few days and, here's my take about all of this: we are in the midst of a Great Reformation which God is bringing about in our very midst. 

It's been hard to find the words to express what's in my heart and in my mind. I've been writing furiously in my journal and having long, late-night conversations with my Spiritual Director. I regret this piece doesn't quite do it - and indeed may make me sound like I've gone right 'round the bend - but it's the best I can do to express what's in my heart at this moment:

I think the heart of the church, the Body of Christ, is longing - desiring, pleading - to return to a radical  (meaning "at the root"), and less orthodox (meaning, "customary or conventional, as a means or method; established") church.

As an Anglican, committed to the "via media" or middle way, I'm wondering how we can avoid a "false choice" of choosing between "government and mission" and do both: reform the structures we have in place which invite the full participation of all four orders of the baptized to better enable us to do the mission of the church.

I'm convinced of it: Reformation is here. It's in process. I don't think there's any doubt about it. We need a Martin Luther to rise among us to name it and claim it and lead us past our ideas of "post modern relevance" resulting in a "consumer religion" and into a more "radical" faith.

The dead are being raised to new life.

Like the trees on the hills of the Poconos that surrounded me for three days, the church is looking rather like it has past its Golden Age and we are in the Autumn of our Ecclesiastical Life.

Some of us are holding on for dear life to each dry, brittle branch and fighting against letting go of every dry leaf that is blown off by the chill of the wind that blows from the Northeast or ravaged by the cold, sobering rain.

All many of us can think about is the difficult Winter ahead and how the lands will soon be barren when not covered by a thick blanket of snow.

We forget that Spring will follow, with the promise of new life. New hope.New meaning. Changing the landscape in an Annual Divine House Cleaning Event.

The Resurrection of the Earth.

It is God's way as revealed in Christ Jesus and magnified in God's Creation and Creatures.

At a moment in our lives when Right-wing American Christianity is on the rise, when all of the major world religions seem to be following an arc bent on fundamentalism and exclusionary - even violent - practices, I believe we are in the midst of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion to be even more radically inclusive. More radically loving. More radically giving.

Yes, more "nimble" in our hearts and souls and in our structures of governance - in the church as well as the state.

Embracing the stranger - feeding him - loving her enough to partake freely in the banquet and participate fully in the sacramental life that is ours in the world and in the church.

To be as lovingly wasteful. As God is with us in Creation.  As Jesus was for us. As the Holy Spirit is in our lives.

Letting the leaves fall where they may, knowing that even they have a divine purpose: they will be used to nourish and feed the earth to bring forth new life.

I can feel this knowledge burning a fire in my bones, like the Autumn ritual of the burning of the leaves, its incense rising as a prayer of glory to God.

Like the mist of an Autumn morning on the hills of the Poconos, it hovers and dances over the baptismal waters of my faith.

From the smoke and mist and ashes, God is raising the dead to new life.  Do you not see it?

In the midst of it all - the dying and resurrection, the reformation and renewal - we are being asked to sing the ancient, radical mystery of our faith which is at the very center of the cosmos:

"All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave our song is "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

I only know this much to be true: Raising the dead is a radical, mysterious, joyful part of a Sacramental Life in Jesus.

Me? I'm planing to sing along. Full-throat. Dancing the whole way.
 Photo Credit:The Rev'd Lauren Killbourn
Photo Credit of Sara Miles: Internet 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Quite a set up Jesus gives us this morning. The scrupulous, squeaky-clean religious man vs. the morally bankrupt, turncoat tax collector.

Now Jesus, the storyteller, sets the figures into action.
"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' " (18:11-12)
Such a good man, eh?

His entire prayer is about himself. He thanks God -- not for blessings -- but that he isn't a sinner like others. He reminds God of how pious he is -- fasting and tithing. I'm sure he believes that God is pleased.

Pharisees developed the practice of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays to intercede for the nation as a whole, which far exceeded the requirements of the law in this regard. They scrupulously tithed or gave one tenth on everything they acquired, even down to the herbs in their garden.

As Jesus tells the story, I can almost hear a titter of laughter sweep over the crowd. They all recognize the type of Pharisee Jesus is describing.

However, I don't think they were ready for his description of the tax collector.
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' " (18:13)
The tax collector's prayer is remarkable and short. First, he addresses God, just as the Pharisee had done.

Next, instead of telling God all the good things about himself, he describes himself as a sinner. He makes no excuses for his behavior, offers no mitigating circumstances. He is confessing his sinfulness before God and taking full responsibility for it.

Finally, he asks for mercy, using the Greek word that asks for compassion and pity for one in tragic circumstances rather than forgiveness from one who has been wronged - an obviously humble and repentant request.

I imagine the crowd growing curious about where Jesus is going with this story.

Jesus wastes no time pronouncing judgment:
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God." (18:14a)
Can you imagine the impact of these words of Jesus on the crowd? I can imagine that the Pharisees must have been outraged and livid with anger. The rest of the crowd must have been left amazed, curious, wondering.

And then, Jesus delivers the point of the parable:
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (18:14b)
I can only imagine that any tax collector or prostitute or thief or adulterer or anyone considered "unclean" or a "sinner" who might have been standing within ear shot of Jesus must have been weeping with joy for Jesus declared that it was possible for them to be forgiven, to be "justified" before God.

I can only imagine how today's hearer would receive these words of Jesus. I have no doubt that those who think they have it "right" would be outraged and those whose sins are ever before them would rejoice.

But, who are those who think they have it "right"?

Well, a confession: I do, sometimes. I can get to feeling pretty righteous and proud of my spiritual discipline. I pray. I work hard. I try to do good work for my family and for those Jesus teaches me are my 'neighbors'.

Is Jesus trying to say that piety and obedience have little or no value? No, I don't hear that. Rather, I hear this parable attacking with a vengeance any pride and sense of superiority that a sense of piety and obedience may foster.

There are those who feel that their class status or economic wealth or prosperity are signs of God's favor. They work hard. They play by the rules - well, some of them have participated in making the rules that work decidedly in their favor.

I'll leaving you with a few quotes I came across this week which have helped me put this parable in a modern context.

The first is from Jonathan Cohn, Senior Editor of The New Republic, arguing in favor of a tax on the rich, in an article which appeared in that publication on l0/17/10:
"Yes, a good work ethic will take you far. And I know many well-educated professionals convinced that nobody works as hard as they do . . . But I've met many people at the bottom of the income ladder who work just as hard, for far less reward."

"Between 1980 and 2005, the richest 1% of Americans got more than four-fifths of the country's income gains. Does anybody seriously believe that the other 99% didn't deserve to take home a much larger share?"
And this, from Tom Brokaw, noting in the New York Times that some crucial issues are absent from election campaigns this season:
"Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape? How about war?. . .Why aren't the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes? No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure."
Perhaps it's time we all started to pray like the tax collector.

Perhaps its time for us all to have a little more humility. Offering no excuses. Taking responsibility for our own actions - or, inability or unwillingness to take action. Asking for mercy and compassion in at least in equal measure to the mercy and compassion we offer to others.

God, have mercy on us, for we are a nation of sinners - who are loved and justified by a God of Love and compassion.

It's time we started acting like it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What do women want?

Sigmund Freud once wrote, "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What do women want?'"

He posited that all women must want male genitalia, which was the female counterpart to his concept of castration anxiety.

Which, of course, is at the root of the "fundgelical" critique of feminism. You can always tell the very conservative men in the room whenever a competent, assertive woman walks in to take part in the conversation.

They would be the ones who fidget in their seats and either cross their legs or move their hands from the table or their side and fold them in front of their crotch.

Jerry Falwell 'splains it all for us: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals - most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have been married, but they married some Casper Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men - that's their problem."

Pat Robertson sings another verse of "The Castration Anxiety Song" "[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

Ah, the old "nature vs. nurture" argument, brought to it's 'logical' conclusion.

Mel Gibson had his own response to Dr. Freud's question: "After about 20 years of marriage, I'm finally starting to scratch the surface of that one. And I think the answer lies somewhere between conversation and chocolate."

I suppose that could be called 'progress' - which he apparently lost with his second wife. Which was no better than Alec Baldwin's tape recorded violent message to his then 11 year old daughter.

Rebecca West, the nom de plume of British writer and literary critic Cicely Isabel Fairfield, gave the best definition of feminism: "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."

I must say that I have been scratching my head and asking, What does this woman want?

I'm referring, of course, to the story of Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, and head of the conservative political group "Liberty Central", who left this phone message for Anita Hill:
"I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day."
What Anita Hill "did", which Ginni Thomas thinks deserves an apology "across the airwaves and the years," was to testify, twenty years ago, at the Senate hearings for her husband, Clarence's appointment to the Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas was then head of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Office) where Ms. Hill worked and claimed to have been repeatedly sexually harassed by Mr. Thomas, making comments about everything from a pubic hair in a Coke can to Long Dong Silver films.

Now, I understand why Anita Hill did what she did. It was a bold and brave thing to have done - especially twenty years ago - and she was simultaneously excoriated and exonerated in the press for her testimony. Indeed, my car was adorned with a bumper sticker for years that declared, "Anita Hill for Supreme Court."

But, why did Ginni Thomas do what she did?

The phone message was left at 7:30 on a Saturday morning on Ms. Hill's office phone at Brandeis University where she is a member of the faculty.

One supposes that, at that hour, Mrs. Thomas was not "in her cups" or in an otherwise "altered state of consciousness" - an 'Ambien Stupor,'perhaps - and participating in "drunk dialing" - which is not to be confused with "self-righteous dialing".

Was it some impulse aimed at the goal of Christian reconciliation? An attempt to find some healing for herself and her family after all these years? Those who have known Ginni Thomas for years say she is naive and kindhearted, and this behavior came as no surprise to them.

Was it innocence or stupidity? Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but certainly, a case can be made for a serious impairment or lapse in judgment.

In the end, Mrs. Thomas looks like a 'flake'.

Or, was she being a wolf in sheep's clothing? The morning Ginni “reached across the airwaves,” the Times ran an article about her growing public role at Liberty Central, where she works to oppose the leftist “tyranny” of Obama and leftist Democrats in congress. It raised issues about where “large, unidentified contributions” were coming from and pointed out that it could lead to recusal issues for her husband on the Supreme Court.

Was Thomas orchestrating a publicity campaign and using Hill as a ruse to galvanize her own base, some wondered. Moreover, if this was an “olive branch,” as she’d said, why was she asking for an apology from Hill; wasn’t that tantamount to calling Hill a liar?

And, what of Anita Hill? Why come forward with Ginni Thomas' taped message to her? What was she trying to prove? Why bring up all of that now? Certainly, her safety wasn't at stake. Or, was the call so bizarre as to make her think it was? Even so, after reporting it to the police and the FBI, why go public?

Here's my take: I think Ginni Thomas was trying to prove what we already knew - what Ms. Hill's public release of the tape demonstrates: that Anita Hill does not regret for a moment her testimony at the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. That Ginni Thomas will never get the apology she believes she is owed by Anita Hill.

Does anyone besides the two of them know the full truth about what happened between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill when he was a Reagan administration official and she was a young lawyer on his staff? Perhaps not. But, the overwhelming weight of the evidence - then and now - is on Hill's side.

Which, I think, begins to answer Dr. Freud's question, "What do women want?"

The answer is, "You're asking the wrong question."

It is a difficult enough question to ask, "What does THIS woman want?" - not all women being Ginni Thomas, or alas, Anita Hill.

Or, "What does THIS man want?" - not all men being Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Mel Gibson or Alec Baldwin.

To posit a question based on the arrangement of one's chromosomes or external genitalia is to ask a question that can not - indeed, perhaps should not - be answered except on the basis of what is known about the nature and character of that individual person.

It's tantamount to asking, "What do Caucasian people want?" or "What do People of Color want?"

Basically, we want the same things, despite the differences of our race or gender or sexual orientation. We all want our basic human needs addressed and cared for. No matter who we are, or where we live, we all want "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The difference in how we live that life or enjoy that liberty and what path we travel that brings us happiness is not in our chromosomes but in our personalities and character.

For me, it's pretty much summed up in the picture at the top of this essay. I'd really like to see an end to the question, "What do women want?"

I mean, if you have to ask the question . . . . you'll probably get the answer being given by the woman lying naked in front of those men in the picture above. The look on her face and the wave of her hand says it all.

Why am I a feminist? Well, that's much easier to answer. Well, for this woman, anyway.

I think this response, which appeared in The Torch, 14 September 1987, says it all.
Because women's work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we're the first to get fired and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it's our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we're nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we're nymphos and if we don't we're frigid and if we love women it's because we can't get a "real" man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we're neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we're selfish and if we stand up for our rights we're aggressive and "unfeminine" and if we don't we're typical weak females and if we want to get married we're out to trap a man and if we don't we're unnatural and because we still can't get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can't cope or don't want a pregnancy we're made to feel guilty about abortion and...for lots of other reasons we are part of the women's liberation movement.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meanwhile, back in England

One of my favorite lines from "The Divine Ms M" - aka "Bette Midler" - is, "On New Year's Eve, when the ball drops in Times Square, NYC, no matter what year it is, it's always 1950 in England."

London Times Religion Editor Ruth Gledhill has been reporting on the recent. .  . "unhappiness" . . . in the Church of England over the ordination of women in general and the election (or, in the case of the CofE "appointment") and consecration of women to the episcopacy in particular.

You can see Gledhill's interview with Christina Rees of WATCH - Women and The Church - here and a BBC interview with Gledhill, in which she discusses the issue of women bishops in the Church of England.

Twenty-eight women have been consecrated bishops in the Anglican Communion since 1989 when Barbara Clementine Harris became the first woman elected and consecrated to the episcopacy as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

In the Church of England, women have been ordained to the priesthood for the past eighteen years. By the time the proposed changes, authorized in July by General Synod, wind their way through the various dioceses and end up back at General Synod for final approval, women will have been ordained priests for twenty years in the Church of England.

Twenty (20) years! One would think that would be enough time for the church to adjust to that which scripture reveals Jesus himself condoned.

Gledhill reports that at least three CofE bishops are expected, by Christmas 2010, to leave the CofE and 'swim the Tiber' to Rome.

One of the three, Bishop John Broadhurst, bishop of Fulham and leader of the anti-woman movement ironically called "Forward in Faith International" has announced that he will retire from the Church of England at age 68 and join the Roman Catholic Church.

The other two - Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet and Keith Newton of Richborough - are on 'study leave' at the moment and have not yet made their announcements.

Actually, Broadhurst will accept the offer extended by Benedict XVI in the 2009 papal document, Anglicanorum Coetibus (sounds ever-so naughty, doesn't it?), which calls for the creation of new 'ordinariates' to serve the pastoral needs of Anglicans who wish to preserve their traditions while entering into full communion with Rome.

Broadhurst is recorded as saying, "The question is, how do we continue to live our history with integrity?"

Apparently, it doesn't matter to this good bishop that, for example, Mary Magdalene was chosen as the first to greet the Resurrected Christ and was known throughout antiquity as "The Apostle to the Apostles."

It seems to matter not that volumes have been written by learned, credentialed men and women over the past forty years or so which present a solid scriptural and theological foundation for ordaining women.

That being said, I didn't realize that the mission of the Church - any Church - was to 'live our history'. Silly me, I thought it was about working to bring in the Realm of God "on earth as it is in heaven."

Mind you, "living our history" is the goal from someone who heads an organization called "Forward in Faith" - international, no less.

You can't make this stuff up.

Broadhurst also called the Church of England "fascist" and "cruel" in its handling of the issue of the ordination of women.  One supposes that the iron-fisted authoritarianism of Rome is to be preferred over the "big tent" traditional Spirit of Anglicanism.

If none of this is making any sense to you, then you are right where you need to be.

Let's call this exactly what it is: Misogyny.  And prejudice, in any form not only has a twisted logic all it's own, it destroys brain cells.

It may be dressed up in liturgical language and spoken in very polite, articulate, measured tones, but it's misogyny none the less.

So, what will happen?  I suppose some will leave the Church of England and accept Pope Benedict's Anglicanorum Coetibus. We've had that happen here in the States. Indeed, a few bishops are now laymen in the Roman Catholic Church, having left The Episcopal Church before the papal document.

Interestingly enough, many of the details have not yet been worked out - like, how ordination will be worked out, seeing as how Rome does not recognize the validity of ordination in any church other than their own.

Like, what will be done concerning priests who are married. Will they not be allowed to become bishops because they come with - ahem - 'baggage' of wife and children?

Like, how will this affect Roman Catholic priests who are bound by vows of celibacy? Will this create a place for Rome to place all their priests who want to marry?

I suppose the Neanderthal Anglican bishops in purple shirts will discover, soon enough, that "the devil is in the details".

If there are those who would rather embrace the totalitarian authority of Rome and join a church where the status and vocation of women are locked behind an iron gate of 'traditionalism' and children have been abused physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually by pedophile priests who were not held accountable by the institutional church, then I say, they can have it.

Meanwhile, the rest of Western Christendom will, indeed, move 'forward in faith' to bring about the Realm of God.

Because, it's not 1950 any more. Here, or in England.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Twenty-four years later

I was ordained to the sacred order of priests on the Feast of St. Luke at St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Lowell, MA, by the Rt. Rev'd Frederick Barton Wolf, retired bishop of Maine, for the Rt. Rev'd Ed Chalfant, bishop of Maine.

It was a long, difficult, five year road to that day and that place.

It's been a longer, sometimes more or less difficult road to where I am now. The church has grown and changed, as have I, these past twenty-four years.

Bishop Wolf had voted against the ordination of women. Indeed, many will not forget his argument on the floor of the House of Bishops before the vote was taken.

I was not there to hear it, but +Fred did tell me about it in one of the many discernment sessions we had together before he finally supported my vocational quest.

"Can you imagine," he asked his brothers, "a crucifix with the corpus of a half-naked woman hanging from it? Why, the very idea is obscene!"

+Fred shook his head sadly as he recounted his words. "Never mind the very obscenity of the crucifixion," he said. "The real obscenity was me - a drunken, misogynist, self-loathing, closeted gay man, inadvertently exposing myself publicly in front of my brother bishops and God. Everyone knew exactly what I was saying," he added, sadly, "except me."

He also "confessed" that, when his former seminary roommate and bishop in the church died in a plane crash on his way to the Port St. Lucy gathering of bishops to negotiate a 'gentleman's agreement' of conscience about the ordination of women, he wrote a letter to the women known as 'The Philadelphia Eleven', blaming them for the death of his brother bishop.

As he explained, "See also: drunken, misogynist, self-loathing, closeted gay man."

It was one of my first lessons that homophobia and heterosexism go hand in hand with misogyny and sexism. Indeed, I have come to believe, over the past twenty-four years, that misogyny and sexism are the origins of both homophobia and heterosexism.

Indeed, as +Fred warned me, "Once you have been dismissed by the institutional church, you've been dismissed. You are 'dismissed but tolerated' for being a woman in the church. The fact that you are a lesbian only confirms for some that you ought to be dismissed."

Over the past twenty-four years, I have found that to be a very true statement about the institutional church. Which, interestingly enough, provides an avenue of great liberation.

What's the line from "Me and Bobby McGee"? Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

That particular philosophy was, I believe, the underpinning of the advice given to me by one of my professors at EDS (The Episcopal Divinity School), Suzanne Hiatt, who was also one of the Philadelphia Eleven.

As I was heading from Cambridge up to Portland, ME to meet with the Standing Committee for Ordination, she said, "Remember: it's always easier to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission."

+Fred's advice to me, whispered in my ear before I went into the room to meet with the Standing Committee, was, "Remember: if you're being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade."

I've tried to remember both of these important pieces of advice, lo, these past twenty-four years. It's made for quite a ride - even in the face of the many obstacles the institutional church continues to set before women who seek to be Servant Leaders in the Body of Christ.

I have many wonderful stories I've collected over the years. Perhaps because today is a day remarkably similar to the day of my ordination - sparkling, crisp, clean skies and perfect, bright autumnal light - I'll tell you about what happened on that particular day.

St. Anne's, Lowell, is sometimes known as "The Mill Girl" church. Lowell was one of those New England "Mill Towns" with lots of windowless factories where "landed gentry" brought over poor women from England and Ireland to work for pennies while the owners raked in fortunes.

Indeed, as the online history of the church states, "St. Anne's was the first building dedicated to religious worship in the section of Chelmsford that later became Lowell, and, as far as is known at this time, was the first church to be established and supported by a manufacturing company rather than a group of worshipers. The Parish was formally organized February 24, 1824 as the Merrimack Religious Society."

One of the stories told about this time was that Kirk Boott and the directors of the Merrimack Manufacturing Corporation levied a "tithe" on the salary of the "Mill Girls" in order to cover some of the construction costs. That was done entirely without their permission, of course.

The cornerstone of St. Anne's was laid May 20, 1824 based on plans drawn by Mr. Boott similar in design to St. Michael's Church in Derby, England, where he had been married to his wife, Anne. Hence, the name of the church.

I am the daughter, granddaughter and niece of "Mill Girls" and I was the first woman to be ordained in that church. We gathered together before the service in the Historical Room, which was filled with glass covered exhibit tables containing various pictures and documents attesting to the building of the church. The atmosphere was thick with irony. Someone commented that you could almost hear the ancient voices of the Mill Girls cheering us on.

The worship style of St. Anne's was, at least at that time, very "low to broad church". Morning Prayer had been the Sunday norm, and they were still in transition from the 1928 BCP to the eucharistically-centered worship of the 1979 BCP. It had been less than a decade since the change, and the rector was still negotiating his way through the difficulty of that transition.

However, +Fred was a "nose-bleed high" Anglo-Catholic who insisted that we use incense during the ordination service. The folks at St. John's, Bowdoin Street in Boston, which had been my field education site and had become my "home" church, gladly brought along a thurible and a whole box of incense.

+Fred led us in prayer and then, just before the organ began to play, "Lift High The Cross," he stoked up that thurible with incense right to the brim. Soon, lovely white-gray clouds of sweet-smelling smoke were billowing up and around us, as the thurifer swayed the thurible gently back and forth.

Suddenly, the most ungodly noise filled the room. We couldn't hear ourselves think much less speak. Slowly, as if in slow motion, it came to us: the incense had set off the fire alarm in this historic building. Seconds after that, we heard the unmistakable sound of the Lowell Fire Department barreling up the street.

What had, moments before, been an orderly, dignified liturgical procession, instantly dissolved into a comical chaos, rivaling something out of a Marx Brother's movie. White-robed people seemed to scatter everywhere all at once, like so many dots on an electronic game board which was popular at the time.

Someone later likened the scene to "Ms. PackMan" meets "Super Mario Brothers".

+Fred rolled his eyes.

The rector ushered us all outside - giving first priority to getting the thurifer and the thurible out of the church.

My crucifer, a very tall woman who had typed my GOEs for me - back in the day, before computers and laptops, when that sort of thing was done - tucked the processional cross under her arm and sprinted for the street.

I can still see her clearly, standing in the middle of Kirk Street, cross in one hand like a stop sign in the hands of a school yard Crossing Guard, the other hand up like one of the Supreme's during a performance of "Stop in the name of love".

The fire trucks stopped a few feet in front of her.

+Fred rolled his eyes again, then whispered in my ear, "I don't think the church will ever be ready for you, my dear."

I don't think She has.

Hopefully, I've helped make Her ready for other women - strong, independent, feisty women who love the church enough to challenge Her to continue the struggle to bring about the Realm of God.

All in all, it's been a wonderful first twenty-four years. I'm looking forward with great energy and passion to the next.

Having said that, if you listen carefully, you can hear the sirens of fire trucks wailing in the background.

And if you look, that would be me, out in front, turning it into a parade.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A day like today

It's autumn in New England.

Indeed, today is one of those classic New England days in autumn that puts the four in "Four Seasons."

I took this picture with my iPhone, standing at the end of the Mews at Whaler's Wharf in Provincetown, MA.

The Nor'easter that has been blowing up the coast continues to bring strong winds that rustle the trees and occasionally blow the clouds aside, allowing the sun to shine strongly enough and long enough on your face and hands that you think you might actually burn.

And then, before you can catch your breath, another wind will blow the clouds, hiding the sun and sending a chill through the several layers of clothing you're wearing to find a spot in the very marrow of your bones that causes you to hug yourself for warmth, mostly against the memory of the cold of last winter. Or is it, perhaps, the memory of the gone-too-soon summer sun?

The birds outside my window chat noisily from time to time. I suspect they are also complaining about the wind and talking about the change of season. Perhaps they are planning the schedule and plotting out the course they will take on their eventual flight south, to warmer climes.

There are an amazing number of people still here, although far fewer people are walking Commercial Street today than when I was here in June. Everyone is bundled up in layers of zippered hoodies with "Cape Cod" or "Provincetown" or "Old Navy" emblazoned on the front.

The sky is almost the same steel gray as the ocean. Looking out onto the water's horizon, it seems to go on into infinity. On a day like today, it's easy to see why the ancients believed the earth to be flat.

A day like today seems perfect for curling up in the chair by the fireplace in my room and reading. I've finished my book and before I go on to the next, I've been reading poetry.

At first I think of poetry as a sort of palate cleanser for my brain. You know, sort of in-between the main course of fiction.  A little something to wash the palate of one story before you begin devouring another.

As I read on, I realize that this - this poetry - is the real feast. 

Reading poetry is sometimes a bit like eating a steamed artichoke, pealing off the leaves one by one, dipping them into garlic butter, and pulling the dense pulp out with my teeth. It's supposed to be the appetizer, but I often find it filling enough to delay the main course.  Sometimes, if I've made an especially good choice of the wine, and the bread is crisp on the outside and soft and warm on the inside, it becomes the entire, satisfying meal.

I think to myself, "Today is a day made for fireplaces and poetry and fiction."

I've stumbled onto a collection of poems by Mary Oliver - one of my favorite poets - and I am, once again as always, deeply moved by her work.

I understand she lives here, on Cape Cod, in Wellfleet, just two towns from here, around the bend of Cape Cod.  Many artists and musicians and writers live there as well.

As I read through Oliver's work, I find her poem, The Journey. It's like rediscovering an old friend I hadn't seen in ages.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.
A day like today is a wonderful day to start that journey - or take it up again, having rested a bit from the weariness of the travel.

It reminded me of a sign I spotted yesterday, at one of this town's many jewelry's stores.

There it is, to your right.

A day like today is for knowing what you can do and doing just that.

No more. No less. Unless, of course, you want to do more or feel you want to do less.

Even so, the journey has begun to save yourself by whatever means necessary.

Sometimes that involves a fireplace and a book of poetry.

Other times, it means picking up your coat and your bag and walking to places and doing those things which help you feel most alive.

On a day like today, you know what the leaves on the trees and the clouds in the skies and the birds of the air and he fish in the sea every creature under heaven knows: something is ending even as something is beginning.  

It's autumn in New England.   One of the four season which, like poetry, is its own event.

And, it is absolutely, positively glorious!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Perhaps we should sit in the dark

President Sebastián Piñera on Thursday with some of the 33 rescued miners at a hospital in Copiapó, Chile.
Jose Manuel De La Maza/Government of Chile, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images NY Times 10/15/10 


It was an amazing thing, wasn't it, watching those miners pulled one-by-one out of a whole in a ground known as the SAN JOSÉ MINE in Copiapó, Chile?

It was even more amazing to stumble upon the realization that, as millions upon millions of people around the globe were also watching the scene unfold, many were praying together via FaceBook and Twitter and Instant Messages and Texting.

I found it absolutely stunning to think that an entire world-wide community of prayer had sprung up, ex nihilo, to focus its spiritual energies on the rescue efforts of the 33 miners who had been trapped 2,000 feet below under the hard volcanic rock there for more than two months - 69 days to be exact.

I keep hearing people comparing the images of those men coming out of the ground with the biblical story of Lazarus. Even most secular newspapers repeated the analogy of the story of the miners with the story of the man whom Jesus resurrected from the dead.

I have another image, not of death to resurrected life, but rather, one of a second nativity - a new or re-birth. As I caught glimpses of the miracle of the men emerging from the hole in the ground, images of the miraculous birth in a stable in Bethlehem entertained my thoughts.

Already, their lives have changed.

The NY Times reported this morning that rewards are being offered to the men. Each of the miners has already had more than $10,000 deposited into their bank accounts, a gift from Leonardo Farkas, a Chilean businessman.

A Greek mining company, Elmin Hellenic Mining Enterprises, has offered a free one-week vacation to Greece for each miner and a companion, so that they could “enjoy our sun and sea” after their long ordeal.

The men have also been invited to attend soccer games in Britain and Spain, and Apple has sent each man a latest generation iPod touch. Other lucrative gifts resulting in book deals, compensation for appearances on television shows, etc., are, no doubt, in their future.

Even a striptease artist has offered to perform privately and individually for each of the rescued miners. “It’s something to improve their spirits, one dance for each of the 33, in private,” Ms. Barrientos told La Cuarta, a Chilean newspaper. “The government should take care of them for life, so they never have to work again and can live a dignified life.”

I'm not sure of her logic, but then again, I don't have to. Everyone, it seems, has been swept up by the spirit of the re-birth in the copper and gold mine in Chile.

Former Argentina soccer coach Diego Maradona sent a message saying that the miners’ liberation after 69 days underground “was proof that miracles exist and you are one of them.”

A miracle is an unexpected event - something fortuitous - attributed to divine intervention. John Polkinghorne, the scientist-theologian, suggests that miracles are not violations of the laws of nature but an "exploration of a new regime of physical experience".

Scripture is full of stories of miracles - beginning with the story of the miracle of Creation, including the life, death, ministry and resurrection of Jesus.

The story of the rescue of the thirty-three miners in Copiapó, Chile is, for me, more like the miracle of the feeding of the thousands. Quaker author Parker Palmer talks about the "miracle" of the multitudes - recounted in all four gospels - as the miracle of the first act of community organizing by Jesus.

Palmer postulates that everyone in that crowd had probably brought some food with them - so the miracle was not about the sudden appearance of food. The real miracle was that Jesus got everyone to sit down in small groups, open their stashes, and share what they had in common with each other. When that happens, Palmer says, we discover the miracle of God's abundance: that there is - we already have - more than enough for everyone.

I think that's the real miracle of Copiapó, Chile. People from around the world came together to lend their expertise, to contribute what they could - machinery, supplies, money, support for the families who lived while waiting at Camp Esperanza - and, in working together, helped to save lives.

Perhaps even more was saved than 33 lives locked in the darkness of a mine. Perhaps, if we pay close attention, we just may witness the rebirth or resurrection of the world's sense of community. Of belonging. Of connection, one to another. Of responsibility for and to each other. 

Perhaps the real miracle of Copiapó, Chile is that the world prayed together, worked together to save lives and inspire people join them in prayer.

In bringing the world to pray together in small groups and bringing people from all over the world together to save lives, the miracle of Copiapó, Chile is that our fears about what tomorrow might or might not bring, our timidity when the face of darkness and light co-mingle, and our obsession with death were all reframed.

We just may be witnessing a world-wide rebirth of Esperanza - Hope - in a world which has been reeling from a culture entrenched in despair and war and death. 

As I thought about those 33 men sitting for 69 days in the darkness of a mine under 2,000 feet of volcanic rock, I thought of the words of two women writers.

The first is Marge Piercy's poem 'Councils':
We must sit down and reason together.
Perhaps we should sit in the dark. In the dark we could utter our feelings
In the dark we could propose and describe and suggest.
In the dark we could not see who speaks and only the words would say what they say.
No one would speak more than twice. No one would speak less than once.
Thus saying what we feel and what we want,
what we fear for ourselves and each other into the dark,
perhaps we could begin to begin to listen.
The women must learn to dare to speak. The men must learn to bother to listen.
The women must learn to say “I think this is so.”
The men must learn to stop dancing solos on the ceiling.
After each speaks, she or he will say a ritual phrase:
It is not I who speaks but the wind.
Wind blows through me.
Long after me, is the wind.
 The second is Melanie Braverman, a Provincetown writer, who once wrote:
"Look for your soul's intelligence and move toward it. It probably is located somewhere in the vicinity of your terror."
We still have much to learn from the Chilean miners and their families.  Their stories will unfold in the next days and weeks and months ahead.  And we will sit, fascinated, listening and learning. 

Having learned something anew about the power of prayer, some of us may even continue to pray together. Perhaps a world-wide community of prayer has been established. Didn't Jesus say something about faith having the power to uproot trees and move mountains? Apparently, it can also cut through 2,000 feet of hard volcanic rock.

Perhaps. . . just perhaps . . . finding our souls' intelligence begins with learning  how to sit in the dark with our terror and instead of lashing out against our fears.  We might, instead, begin to learn how to work together to bring about a peaceful solution for each of the multiple problems of the world.

And that, I think, would be the greatest miracle of all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Gets Better


You've probably seen the "It Gets Better" series of messages from various LGBT "starts" (like Ellen) to religious leaders to regular kids who have made it through the turbulence of adolescence as an LGBT person.

Here's Bishop Gene Robinson's contribution. It's warm, eloquent and spot on.

It's a powerful antidote to the toxicity of the messages that are still coming from the Religious Right. Even our own. (Warning: Don't click on that link if you have high blood pressure or a short fuse.)

Please help pass +Gene's video along in your "social networks". The more this video is viewed, the faster it will rise in the Google searches, the easier access it will have to young kids who may be searching the internet for a positive message.

Thank you. Let's get the message out that God loves us - as +Gene is fond of saying - "beyond our wildest imaginings".

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Emmett

Emmett Jarrett was my seminary field education supervisor for two years at the (then) Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist on Bowdoin Street in Boston. He also served as my mentor during my 6 month diaconal formation and early priesthood.

While we weren't always in touch, he remained a trusted mentor and friend.

Emmett died of cancer last Friday at the age of 71, in his home, surrounded by his family and community.

I've read his obituary and the articles about his life - even found an essay he wrote on line -  and I still really can't get my head wrapped around the fact that he is dead.

Yes, of course he was a bold, fierce peace activist. Yes, of course he was a passionate, committed activist for the poor and homeless.

But, did you ever see Emmett smile? Then you know how that serious, professorial and monastic countenance could evaporate and suddenly light up the room.

Have you ever disagreed with Emmett? Then you know how he would get a deep furrow to his brow as he carefully listened to and considered your position even if, in the end, he respectfully disagreed - respect being the operative word.

Did you ever make Emmett laugh? Then you know how absolutely delicious it was to hear what began with an almost little-boy giggle explode into a laugh-cough-laugh spasm of absolute delight.

If you worked with Emmett, you would know what an intensely passionate, complex, sometimes maddeningly frustrating man he was.

I remember one evening at the Thursday Night Suppers - a sit down meal provided by various suburban congregations - for the homeless who live in the shadows of Beacon Hill and Government Center.

One man came in - clearly in an "altered state of consciousness" - looking like he was on a very short fuse. He mustn't have had a bath in a long time, but the whiffs of alcohol vied for a primary assault on the olfactory nerve.

He had bumps and bruises and open, bleeding cuts on all over his face, leading one to suspect he had just come from a street brawl. It was Ms. Conroy, however, who called it. "He's an epileptic," she said. "Watch him. He's gonna seize again."

And, within minutes, the man started to yell and shake and then he fell to the floor in a full seizure. The dinner guests began to gasp. Those who were serving were horrified, not knowing what to do.

Ms. Conroy began barking orders as she and Emmett and I rushed to the man's side. "Someone call 911. Don't touch him," said Ms. Conroy. "Just try to keep him safe. Move those chairs. Everyone stand back. Give him some room."

When the man stopped seizing, Emmett got on his knees and gently lifted the limp man's head and shoulders onto his lap. He kept whispering to him, "It's okay. You're safe. You're going to be okay. God loves you."

Emmett's pants were covered with the man's blood and perspiration and vomit and, when you looked at him, you might have thought he was engaging in the greatest privilege on earth - as if he were holding Jesus himself. Because, to Emmett, he was holding Christ in his arms.

Then he did something amazing.  Emmett bent down and kissed that man's bloody, sweaty, filthy forehead.  Some of the visitors quietly gasped.  Most of the guests smiled warmly.  For me, Maundy Thursday had come early.

One of the cops who had come into the Parish Hall just ahead of the medics made a snide remark. I didn't hear it, but Emmett did. Whatever it was, the cops words fell on Emmett's ears like a match on dry wood. I could see the anger flare in his eyes and nose and burn in his chest. I really thought he was going to do something - verbally or physically - violent.

Instead, I watched as Emmett closed his eyes, take in a deep breath, open his eyes, look at the cop with great gentleness and say, "I think we're okay here, officer. Thank you."

The cop lowered his eyes as shame washed over his face. He muttered, "Sure thing, Father," as he backed away.

That was Emmett. Capable of violence, just like the rest of us, but working to find a place of compassion in his heart and soul so that he could be, instead, a vehicle of peace. If he could be an activist for peace, anyone could.

For me, the fact that Emmett acknowledged the potential for his own violence as the source of his impulse to work for peace gave him an authenticity and credibility I often found sorely lacking in many so-called peace activists.

Another memory has come to visit me this morning: In November, 1986, Emmett took a huge risk.

In September of that year, two men who had been in a committed relationship for 5 years asked Emmett to bless their relationship in the church. They were life-long Episcopalians who had been long-term members of the church.

Emmett talked with the bishop who told him that the church had not authorized such blessings and neither would he. Emmett thought and prayed long and hard and decided not to disobey the bishop.

It was 1986.  I just repeat that to note just how long we've been working at this.

The congregation was in an uproar. Most of the community wanted their rector to bless the couple.  Emmett cautioned patience and persistence with the institution for change.  The two men went to a Unitarian Church in Boston and had their covenant blessed. It was a wonderful celebration.

Later, in discussing this with Emmett, I mentioned that Ms. Conroy and I were about to celebrate our 10 anniversary. He suddenly brightened. It was like watching one of those cartoon characters where the light bulb goes off above his head.

He asked if he might be able to bless our home, our family and our relationship in our new home in Lowell, MA.  "Surely," said Emmett, "the bishop can't have any objections to that."

We had our reservations - we really wanted to hold out for a blessing that focused on our covenant in the midst of our community of faith in the church.

On the other hand, our family was in transition.  I had been called as Chaplain at University of Lowell in January and ordained deacon in April.  I graduated from seminary in May. Our family had moved to a new home in Lowell and I was about to be ordained priest on the Feast of St. Luke.

A blessing on our home and family and covenant would be empowering for us as well as provide a vehicle of healing for the community of St. John's.

And so, it came to pass that Emmett - accompanied by his family and almost the entire community of The Church of St. John the Evangelist, Bowdoin Street, Boston, traveled to Lowell, MA for a special blessing on every person and creature who lived and moved and had their being in that house, and on our home, and on our family and on our covenant.

That was 1986.  Today, as Ms. Conroy and I prepare to celebrate 34 years together, we're still holding out for a blessing in the church at the time of our marriage.

It would have been wonderful to have had Emmett present for the blessing and celebration of our marriage.  Alas, that will not happen, now. However, the memory of that moment, 24 years ago, swirls around me and comforts me like a favorite, old, worn out sweater on a chilly morning.

Emmett was a husband and father, a priest and a poet, a peace activist and an advocate for the homeless and helpless, a mentor and friend, and so much, much more than words in an obituary or tribute could possibly contain.

I shall miss him terribly, although I find a strange, wonderful peace in my heart, knowing that Emmett is with Jesus and rests eternally in the peace he could only dream of and work for while he was with us.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done.