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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Leftovers

The Nor'easter cut short my plans for feasting, the day after Christmas, on leftovers from Christmas dinner.

Ah, Facebook friends to the rescue!

I put out a plea for recipes for left over Prime Rib. I gave extra points for the exotic and unusual. I had a little over two pounds left, which was so amazingly delicious, I was not about to let it go to waste.

Well, the winners were the Beef Biriani - which I made last night, and the Beef, Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Puff Pastry Pie, pictured above.

I'm sorry, I didn't think to take pictures of the Biriaini, which was Most Excellent. So, of course, it's gone. Thank you, Ms. Carrie, for the recipe.

This is the basic recipe she sent, which I worked from:
"Onions sauteed in ghee or olive oil various spices of choice plus essential tumeric to yellow the rice chopped garlic. 3 or 4 cloves some sweet peppers rough chopped one or two chillis depending on heat tolerance 4 oz of currants 6 oz of beef diced and flashed in pan 2 -3 cups of rice salt to taste stock water to cover. Lid on simmer for 20 mins. GET Out of Here! Taste sensation. Serve with Greek yogurt and chopped bananas garnish with freshly toasted almond flakes.

Biriani is a must eat at least once a month cleansing on the pallet (!) and just wonderful for the aromas in the kitchen whilst simmering. . . . .Elizabeth go easy on the chillis though - in India when younger nearly gave myself a heart attack on an evil wee seeded chili slice lurking in the bloated grains of saffroned rice!
It was amazing. Truly.
To my amazement, I had enough left over to make a Beef Barley Vegetable Soup.

I boiled down the bones of the left over prime rib to make a stock with some rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper, until the bones had practically surrendered the marrow. Or, you could simply start with six or eight cups of beef broth.

Then, in a large "dutch oven" or soup pot,I sauteed in a "glug" of EVOO: onions and garlic, then added celery, carrots and mushrooms. Once the onions were wilted and golden, I added about a cup of the left over beef, added the stock, and let the whole thing come to a gentle boil. Then, I added a cup of barley and cooked them together for about 40 minutes.

Some people like a can of diced tomatoes in their Beef Barley Soup. I don't. But, it's optional for you and your family. Also optional: I add just a dash of either red or white wine or sherry just before serving. Serve with crusty bread and a side salad of Boston Baby Bib lettuce with light EVOO dressing, salt, pepper and, perhaps some shaves of your favorite cheese (parmesan, cheddar, whatever). AMAZING.

It's my lunch for tomorrow, after all the ingredients have had a chance to "marry" each other overnight.

The house smells absolutely glorious.

So, I'm going to share this amazing recipe for the Guinness Beef 'n Cheese Puff Pastry Pie with you. Jane Dunning sent it to me. It's Jamie Oliver's recipe which I adapted (but, of course!). You can, too, according to taste.

It's very British. I think, next time, I may try it with chunks of lamb. Or, perhaps, a medley of beef, lamb and pork.

Oh, my soul!

This pie is a real winner. As it uses bought puff pastry, it's quick to prepare and you can make the filling the day before, if you wish. As you may have already suspected, it's also great for roast beef left overs. I suppose you can even make the filling in a crock pot whistle you are away at work and then spoon it into the puff pastry and bake.

I'm thinking it could easily be adapted for vegetarians. Instead of the meat, I'm thinking you might add a few chunks of turnips or parsnips (I'm not particularly fond of parsnips, but if you are, have at it), perhaps a few chunks of potatoes, and some acorn or Hubbard squash. Nice and earthy and satisfying to the soul - even if you are a carnivore.

It serves 4-6 hearty appetites on a cold, wintry night.

Okay, here we go. Ready?

Ingredients:

6 small or 3 medium red onions, peeled and chopped (more or less)
6 cloves (more or less, depending on your taste), garlic, peeled and chopped
30 g butter (about 1/2 a stick), plus extra for greasing
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
4 field mushrooms, peeled and sliced
1 kg brisket of beef or stewing beef, cut into 2 cm cubes
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 x 440ml can of Guinness (no larger, please)
2 heaping tablespoons flour (I only use all purpose wheat flour)
200 g (approximately one eight ounce slab) freshly grated Cheddar cheese
500 g best-quality ready-made all-butter puff pastry
(note: I used a package of Peppridge Farm)
1 large free-range or organic egg, beaten.

Directions
:

Preheat oven to 190/375/gas 5 degrees.

In a large oven proof pan, heat a 'glug' of olive oil (EVOO is best) on low heat. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes - try not to cook them too much. Turn the heat up, add the garlic, butter, carrots and celery and scatter in the mushrooms. Mix everything together before stirring in the beef, rosemary, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of pepper.

Fry fast for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour in the Guinness, stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and place in the preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and give the stew a stir. Put it back into the oven and continue to cook it for another hour, or until the meat is very tender and the stew is rich, dark and thick.

A perfect pie filling needs to be robust, so if it's still quite liquidy, place the pan on the hob (stove) and reduce until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in half the cheese, then season carefully and leave to cool slightly.

Cut about a third of the pastry off the block (if you are using Pepperidge Farm, this comes in two sheets, perforated in thirds). Dust a clean work surface with flour and roll the piece of pastry out evenly, to the thickness of a pound coin. (!!)

Butter a deep pie dish, then line with the larger sheet leaving the edges dangling over the side (Or, pat up the edges as far as it will go. Since the Pepperidge Farm sheet is oblong and my pan was round, it was not even. Which, as you can see, worked out perfectly fine.)

Tip the stew into your lined dish and even it out before sprinkling over the remaining cheese.

Cut the other rolled sheet of pastry to fit the top of the pie dish and criss-cross it lightly with a sharp knife. Place it over the top of the pie and fold the overhanging pastry onto the pastry lid to make it look nice and rustic.

Brush the top with beaten egg, then bake the pie directly on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes at 375/190/gas 5 degrees, until the pastry is cooked, puffed and golden.

Jamie Oliver says this is to be served with peas, but that's a bit too hearty, methinks. I'll be serving this to Ms. Conroy with a light Boston Baby Bib salad, perhaps tossed with EVOO (that's Extra Virgin Olive Oil) that I've infused with rosemary, thyme and sage, and, perhaps, sprinkled with a few sliced black olives and some of the shredded cheddar cheese I've not added to the pie filling.

There you go. Christmas all over again - filled with Love, even if it is leftover.

Then, again, there are 12 days of Christmas, aren't there?

January 5th is 12th Night. Epiphany is on the 6th.

While this particular pie won't make it till then, methinks it's a wonderful manifestation of the Glory of God.

I think Jesus would be more pleased with this than his parents would be with the incessant "Par-ump-pa-pum" of that bloody Little Drummer Boy.

Merry Christmastide and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Politics and Sexuality of Hair

I was in the sacristy on Christmas Eve, getting ready for the "midnight mass" (at 10:30, but we welcomed the first minutes of Christmas Day as we greeted people on the church steps after the SRO Service), when my rector walked in.

I would later notice his "Christmas Tradition" of wearing one red and one green sock, but the first thing I noted was that he had had his hair cut.

My first thought to myself was, "Hmmm, he has one of the six 'authorized' lesbian hair cuts," but what I said to him was, "Ah, you've had your hair cut."

He giggled and gingerly patted the top of his freshly lacquered, very heterosexual head and said, "Yeah, I look like a lesbian, right?"

We both burst into laughter, because, of course, he did. And, to my amazement and delight, he seemed to have gotten the joke about lesbians.

Well, it's an old joke in the lesbian community that doesn't have the same relevance as it once did, 'back in the day' when lesbians made a statement about their sexuality by wearing their hair Really Short.

Oh, some still do, but mostly, it doesn't matter much any more. Well, I suppose it still does - at least to some - by the looks of some of the younger lesbian women I've seen around town.

Mostly, middle aged women with short hair end up looking like most Roman Catholic nuns or Methodist women pastors I've known, who always set off my "gaydar" - which, for the uninitiated, is like a GPS system in the LGBT community wherein we 'recognize' each other.

"The personal is political" we were very carefully taught. And, you know, that still remains true. It's just expressed differently.

Another 'old joke' in the lesbian community is that you can always tell if a woman is a lesbian because, besides having Very Short Hair, she wears a pinkie ring, sports Birkenstock sandals or penny loafers, would never be seen in a skirt or wearing makeup or lipstick (unless, of course, she's a 'lipstick lesbian'), has a few cats, her home has at least a few macrame plant hangers and there's a rainbow sticker - among all the political bumper stickers - on her (beat up) car.

Oh, and short finger nails. Very short finger nails.

Not so much, any more. Many lesbians and gay men no longer feel the need to intentionally set off anyone's gaydar. It's not about 'internalized homophobia'.

It's more about the fact that it doesn't really matter so much anymore. If you want to, fine. If you don't, fine. It's more a choice now than the subtly but powerfully coercive message of conformity for a consistent political message 'back in the day'.

You know. Sort of the way it's no longer important to wear white only after Memorial Day and never, EVER after Labor Day.

Or, for a woman to cover her head with a hat or a lacy mantilla or scarf before entering a church. Or, God forbid you should forget, a tissue bobby-pinned to the top of your head! (Do they even sell bobby pins anymore?)

The personal is political and all politics is local.

I don't think it's a coincidence that, for centuries, women and men who have become members of religious orders - Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Taoist - have had their hair tonsured or shaved off completely as an outward and visible sign of their vows of celibacy and/or the sacrifices of worldly values in order to be more obedient to their professed devotion to God.

There's something ancient and, perhaps, even primordial about the connection between sexuality and one's hair.

That's especially so for women, but men are not exempt. If a man changes his hair style - even if he subtly changes the side of his head where he parts his hair - you know something is going on with him internally.

And, when men start to lose their hair? OMG!! Well, all that machismo tough-guy stuff starts to dissolve right before your eyes and they become positively neurotic.

Can't say as I can blame them, really. I know that when Ms. Conroy lost all her hair, it was very traumatic. Still is, really. She just recently had eyebrows and eyeliner tattooed on, which really helps to bring out her features and makes her look less "washed out". It was a pretty brave thing for her to do, I think.

She still gets sympathetic looks, however, especially at the end of the day when she looks as tired as she feels and she's, say, in the grocery store. Someone is bound to call her to the front of the line, or a manager will come out and offer to "ring her up" at the Service Desk. I suppose they think she's on chemotherapy. She always smiles gratefully and silently accepts the offer.

I recently watched Chris Rock's "Good Hair" - a fascinating look into the industry, economics, aesthetics and politics of hair in the Black Community.

I was astounded to learn that some Black women spend up to 20% of their income on things like relaxers, wigs, braids and weaves. And, we're not talking rich women here. These are day care workers and teachers. Some weaves alone can cost $1,000. And, that's just for the weave. It doesn't include the cost of six to eight hours (6 - 8 HOURS!!!!) in a beautician's chair.

And the scene where the chemicals in the 'relaxers' destroys a soda can in a matter of a few hours is absolutely chilling.

It's a multi-billion dollar industry, most of which benefits people outside the Black community.

There's a powerful scene where Al Sharpton tells Chris Rock that, when a Black woman puts on her wig or straightens her weave in the morning, "It's like wearing a symbol of your economic bondage and oppression - right on your head."

It's a stunning moment in a documentary that reportedly began when Rock's eldest daughter, Lola, came home from school and asked her father, "Daddy, do I have 'good hair'?"

I don't think it was an accident that this little girl asked her daddy about what he thought of her hair. It's very powerful symbolic language. If a little girl's daddy thinks she's beautiful or smart or has long hair, chances are, she comes to think, that other men will see her in the same way.

Even if a child's sexual orientation has not yet come into consciousness, her cultural awareness has certainly matured enough to know that this is an important component to the way she is seen by others - which impacts her still developing sense of self esteem.

Which leads me to think again about that ancient, even primordial link between hair and sexuality.

There's that curious story about Sampson (Judges 13-16). When Delila cuts off his hair, she steals his masculinity and his strength and virility are lost.

Both John (12:1-8) and Luke's (7:36-50) gospels report a scene at a meal wherein a woman (Mary of Bethany in John's Gospel and 'a sinful woman' in Luke's report), anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.

This was a shocking display of intimacy to the disciples. The woman seems to set the stage for Jesus, three full days later in John's Gospel, to wash the feet of his disciples as a sign of the humility we are to have with each other whenever we minister in His name.

I maintain, however, that it's neither her humility nor her use of expensive oil that was shocking to the disciples. The deeper scandal has to do with the overt sexuality of the woman using her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus.

Is it that long, thick, healthy, wavy hair is a sign of youth and fertility? The appeal of female long hair goes far back into western mythology, to the stories of Rapunzel (a Grimm brothers twist on Saint Barbara), the Mermaid Lorelei, the Norse Goddess Sif, and Lady Godiva.

Is the traditional soldier's 'buzz cut' a sign of a warrior who will sacrifice even lustful impulses for military order and obedience? And, of course, to prove that they are 'manly men' - meaning, not women.

Which is interesting because like Sampson, and characters in Greek mythology such as Zeus, Achilles, Hector, Poseidon and Trojan soldiers are always depicted wearing long hair, a sign of their aristocracy and virility.

Come to think of it, have you ever seen a depiction of Jesus with short hair? For that matter, many biblical characters, including Muhammad, all have long hair.

Then, of course, there's the rock musical "Hair" - an anthem against the Viet Nam war and and ode to the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 60's. Long hair was seen as a clear counter-cultural statement, and the link with sexuality and "free love" was fairly explicit.

I love the lyrics of the theme song:
My hair like Jesus wore it
Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son
Why don't my mother love me?

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair
I don't know about the connection between hair and sexuality. I only know that it exists.

And, I know that beauty shops and hair salons and barber shops are often gathering places for communities. Indeed, they often become their own communities where everything from politics to personal, private concerns are discussed - sometimes openly and other times in hushed, confessional tones between stylist and client.

There's an intimacy there that has something to do, I think, with the connection between hair and sexuality.

I clearly remember the day my mother took me to "her" beauty parlor for my first hair cut, shampoo and styling. It was a right of passage, of sorts. I was, now, "old enough". It was an unspoken part of a young girl's initiation into the mysteries of being a woman.

I can still remember the mildly offensive smell of hair products - hair spray, lotions, and (peee-UUUU) perms. I can still hear the sounds of women's laughter and chatter over the drone of the motors of the domed hair dryers, all lined up against the wall.

If I close my eyes, I can see myself sitting proudly on one of those pink plastic beauty parlor chairs, my hair rolled tight in curlers, sitting proudly under the clear plastic dome of the hair dryer. And, I can see my mother smiling a knowing smile at me. "This is it, kid," she seemed to be saying. "You've arrived."

Oh, and, the other message was: "See? A woman has to suffer for beauty!"

Meanwhile, down the street and around the corner, my father and brother were getting their hair cut at the barber shop. It was a twice monthly Saturday morning ritual for them.

My mother, on the other hand, went every week to have her hair "done." Said it made her feel "so much better". I thought it looked pretty weird. Unnatural. Nobody's hair looks like that, naturally. It always looked like it had been "done". And, she wore elaborate "wraps" on her hair when she went to bed to keep it looking "done".

I much preferred my grandmother's hair, brushed thoroughly every morning, pulled back and braided in a long braid which she would wind round and round and round into a tight bun at the back of her neck. Then, at night, she would undo the bun and her braid, brush out her hair thoroughly and wear it to bed, flowing down over her shoulders and night gown.

I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen. And, much of that beauty came from her long, beautiful hair which stayed thick and lustrous even in her old age.

Maybe that's the connection between hair and sexuality: beauty.

Natural beauty, in my mind anyway, is always one of the best aphrodisiacs.

Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Isn't it?

Which is also true about sexuality and sexual orientation.

It's a very personal thing.

And, the personal is still very political.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Incarnational Faith

I've been thinking about what it means to be an Episcopalian.

A lot.

I guess that's not surprising in this Season of the Incarnation.

We've heard so much about what it means to be an Anglican that I think we've forgotten what it means to be an Episcopalian who is a part - one part of many gloriously different parts - of the Anglican Communion. 

I think we once knew - with great certainty - what it meant to be an Episcopalian. And, some of us don't want to be 'that kind' of Episcopalian. Indeed, some of us haven't been 'that kind' of Episcopalian for quite a long while.

Which may be part of the problem.

I remember, years ago, seeing a cartoon in The New Yorker. The image was a close up of Father What-A-Waste - handsome, trim, full head of hair with a slight touch of gray at the temples, in proper cassock, surplice, tippet and hood, probably just completed a proper Service of Morning Prayer - standing at the church door, talking with several 'blue haired' ladies in fur coats.

Behind him was the church sign with the sermon topic of the day: Evangelism.

One of the blue haireds says to the cleric, "But, Father, everyone who needs to be an Episcopalian already is."

THAT kind of Episcopalian.

You know exactly what I mean.

The other day, as I was going through some of my books, I found the following quote. It's from John Updike's novel, "Bech is Back"

One of the characters describes his wife's WASPish Episcopalianism this way:
"Many of her crowd went to church as faithfully as they played tennis and golf and attended rallies to keep out developers. Yet, their God, for all his colorful history and spangled attributes, lay above the earth like a layer of icy cirrus, a tenacious and diffident other whose tendrils failed to entwine with fibrous blood and muscle.".
I have certainly known Episcopalians who could be described in this way. And, I'm thinking, so do you.

I know other Episcopalians who defy this definition.

Yes, defy. I chose that word intentionally.

I have known many Episcopalians in the more than 34 years I have been privileged to have been received into this great church.

If I start to mention them, I'll get myself in trouble because I'll leave many of the great - but lesser known ones - out.

There are Episcopalians who work tirelessly in the vineyards of the Global South - the Sudan, Nigeria, China - as well as Cuba, El Salvador and Haiti.

There are other Episcopalians who work faithfully in the vineyards of the inner city or rural areas of this country, holding onto outposts of traditional Anglo-Catholicism, attempting new forms of Evangelical praise worship, pushing the envelope on services of inclusive/expansive languages and images for God and humankind, experimenting with 'total ministry' of all the baptized, and all the while, all of them serving the poor and the needy in their midst.

There are even other Episcopalians, some not closely affiliated with the institutional church, who work in community-based organizations that are deeply committed to The Great Commission to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless and clothing to the naked, care for those with HIV/AIDS, provide for the widowed and orphaned, give dignity and hope to those in prison.

Not any one of them is, in any way, like Updike's WASPish Episcopalian.

And yet, they exist.

Contrary to "popular" opinion, in great numbers.

Not everyone has left to join, as they say in DC, "the Africans."

And there are lots - lots and lots and lots - of clergy who would give their left foot - and the right chamber of their heart - to be rector.

And, many of them already have.

But, that is not - they are not - the future of The Episcopal Church.

The future was never gained by holding onto the past.

The future belongs to those who are willing to risk. To dare. To dream a dream of God for the Realm of God where all . . .all . . .all. . . are welcome. All are fed. All are clothed. All are equal. All are free.

And that, I have come to believe, is what it means to be The Episcopal Church.

To be bold enough, brave enough, courageous enough, to face the future. To be the future. Despite the strong impulse imposed upon us from afar to gather ourselves around rules and regulations that ensure we do not "offend" one another, lest there be "relational consequences" imposed upon us in the name of "unity" and "communion".

That does not mean that we shun the "colorful history and spangled attributes" of our religious images of God. Neither are we embarrassed by what we once were.

Rather, we need to embrace and give thanks for what we have been and what we are become - a faith incarnate in an Incarnate God who loves all that S/he has created unconditionally.

An Anglican Covenant will not give us that future.

Only incarnate, embodied faith that is alive in Christ can do that.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

Not a "tenacious, diffident other whose tendrils failed to entwine with fibrous blood and muscle", but One who knows us because S/he was once us. And, we better know who God is because of the mystery of The Incarnation.

Jesus is the only covenant I need. And, that covenant, in part, is to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself" and "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

It's about the Incarnation - often messy, occasionally offensive, perhaps sometimes even scandalous, with relational consequences for trying - and failing, more often than not - to love others and ourselves as God loves us.

That, to me, is what it means to be Episcopalian. It's about Divine Love that is incarnate in each of us and strives to serve others sacrificially in the Name of Christ.

Indeed, I think it's also what is at the heart of the Spirit of Anglicanism.

I think we just need to remind ourselves, from time to time, who we are and whose we are so we can be and do what God intends.

This is a grand time in the history of Western Christianity to be an Episcopalian.

As for me, I intend to celebrate that identity more often - even if and when it occasionally proves "offensive" to some.

I hope you'll join me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowbound!

Another Nor'easter came up the coast yesterday and socked us in with lots of sideways-falling snow. Winds howled and gusted at 35-50 miles per hour throughout the night - and continue even now through the day.

If it weren't for the water in front of the house, this would look like a scene right out of Dr. Zhivago.

Just humming "Lara's Theme" gives me a chill.

There is something enchanting and romantic about being snowed in. I love to snuggle under my favorite blanket with a hot cup of tea and my Kindle. Or, watch old movies from the 40s and 50s and covet that dress or that pair of shoes and try to repeat that Really Great line when it comes by.

I've also gotten caught up on reading the New York Times and Washington Post which I now get "delivered" to my laptop every morning. It wasn't that long ago that you could be assured that if there was a blizzard, you were not going to get your newspaper delivered to your doorstep on time. Now, no matter the weather or location, if I have my laptop, I have a newspaper.

Ya gotta love technology. When it works. (I'm praying we don't lose our electricity.)

And now, thanks to Santa's Elves, I have a Sirius Radio. OMG! Can I just say how much fun this is? It's totally portable, so I can bring it in the car with me and. . .and. . .AND. . . it will move to Cambridge with me when I begin my Proctor Fellowship in a few weeks.

How amazing is THAT?

My regular radio doesn't seem to work very well here on the water, for some strange reason, so I'm delighted to have this satellite radio.

The local station with the strongest signal seems to be "The Talk of Delmarva" - a local Fox News station. Of course.

In the past couple of months, I've actually listened to Rush Limbaugh, et al., and all the Rush Wannabees more times than I care to admit. I got suckered in after trying to find a local station with local weather reporting.

You know, I don't mind that people hold different opinions than the ones I hold. Indeed, I find it interesting when it isn't occasionally confounding. But, OYE, the venom and vitriol!

The other night, a talk show host named "Duke" (how's that for a manly-man name?), was trying to get some music he had pre-recorded on his MP3 to play on turntable number two, but just couldn't get it to work. So, after muttering and stammering in a manly-man way, of course, what else was he to do but start taking callers.

The first words out of the first caller's mouth were these, "Hey, Duke. Sorry yer turntable went 'liberal' on ya."

Honest to Pete! "Went 'liberal' on ya'"??? You're kidding me, right?

Needless to say, it went downhill from there.

I had to turn it off after a few minutes. I was in danger of "going postal".

I've also had an opportunity to catch up on reading various blogs, which I haven't had much chance to do over Christmas. It's been good to check in on some of my friends and listen in on their thoughts.

I did wander over to one of my least favorite blogs and, you know, I was struck by how it sounds remarkably like stuff I hear on "The Talk of Delmarva". Like this little link about Global Warming.

My favorite comment was, "They (meaning, of course, the nefarious 'liberals') will never give up, because this isn’t about science, it’s about politics."

Talk about having a firm grasp on the obvious.

If stupidity is ignorance that refuses to be educated, then both stupidity and ignorance can become their own form of entertainment. Which, I suppose, is why Rush Limbaugh and all the Rush Wannabees are so successful in the media. And, the plethora of so-called "reality" shows.

I don't think this is exactly what our founders thought would happen to the First Amendment right to "freedom of speech."

Whatever happened to "situation comedy" like . . . . . Oh, never mind. I'll only date myself and then feel bad about sounding like an Olde Poop.

Meanwhile, the wind continues to howl outside my door, as I begin to consider which DVD I'll pop in and watch tonight, having done all the reading I care to do right now and watched all my favorite HBO shows "on demand".

I'm going to pass on "The Big Chill" - the title alone makes me cold even though it's a great flick - or anything with any snow scenes, like "Fargo".

I haven't seen "Rainman" in an age. Or, "Moonstruck". Or, "My Cousin Vinny". Or, "Prince of Tides". Or "Terms of Endearment". Or "Steel Magnolias".

Just found "Out of Africa" and "Atonement" which was hidden behind, "Life is Beautiful" and "The English Patient" - (OMG! Julia Binoche! Can there be a more perfectly beautiful creature than Julia Binoche?)

Or one of my all time favorites - "House of Sand and Fog". It's one of those rare movies which I thought was deeply respectful of the characters and story line of the book - even though the ending was different. The acting (Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley) and directing (Vadim Perelman) are also suburb.

Nah, I think I'm going to watch Ms. Conroy's DVD of old "I Love Lucy" shows which she got a few years ago as a Christmas present.

No heavy thoughts here. Just my kind of "reality" show - one that takes me out of my present reality to consider the various realities and complexities and foibles of the human enterprise.

Oh, and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Meanwhile, the wind will continue to howl all around me, reminding me of my own snowbound reality from which I'm escaping - even if just in my mind and only for a few hours.

That, I think, is the real gift of being snowbound.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


Mr. Old Gent and Bishop Yellowbelly are having a wee conversation about the good bishop's Christmas Sermon and gets a brilliant piece of advice.

The good bishop won't take the advice, however. He never listens to the laity.

Pity.

The Incarnation is, in my perspective, the most important doctrine of faith we have as Christians. I mean, without it, every other doctrine really doesn't make any sense, does it?

And, Christmas is, essentially, about the relationships we have with each other in Christ. That's not about rules and laws and Anglican Covenants.

It's about the vulnerability that comes when love becomes incarnate in another human being. It's about making room for the unwanted and unexpected. It's about saying 'yes' unless there's a good reason to say 'no'.

You don't have to have a cup of wassail in order to understand and appreciate that.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, December 24, 2010

On the Eve of the Nativity

The shopping is done. The presents are wrapped and under the tree. Tonight's meal is finished, including the dessert.

I am waaaaay ahead of myself.

That's because I'm not preaching this year. Normally, I would be writing five or six sermons over the end of Advent and Christmastide. This year, I am freed from that responsibility.

Tonight, I'm presiding at the 10:30 pm service at All Saints', Rehoboth Beach. The rector is preaching, as the rector should.

So, I spent a little time going over some of the sermons I've preached in years past. I think this one, from 2003, is my favorite so far.

So, I'll leave you with this meditation on the Eve of the Nativity whilst I tend to some last minute detail I haven't yet considered needs to be done.

This, and my prayers for a most Blessed Natal Feast for you and all those whom you love and pray for this night, and always.
“But wait!”
The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord - December 24, 2003
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chatham, NJ
The Rev’d Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

There’s no way around it. This is a magical night. A night when the story we’ve all heard since before we can remember is told again, and we are caught up in it again as if for the first time.

Many of us know the lines by heart:
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus . . .” “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes (or bands of cloth) and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. . .” We know what’s coming and yet we hang on every word - the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night . . the angel of the Lord . . . a great multitude of heavenly hosts singing Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. . .”
Other than the story of Noah’s Ark and all the animals, two by two, or the sacred story of Moses saying, “Let my people go!” the story of the Nativity of Jesus is probably the one story from the bible that is most and best known.

And yet, how many of us get the real message of the story? Beyond the romanticism and nostalgia, how many of us understand the power which fuels this story and makes it so enduring?

The Rev. Bill Coffin, former pastor at Riverside Church in NY City, loves to tell of an event that occurred one year during a Christmas pageant. It was Christmas Eve and the pews were packed. The pageant was underway and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was to turn to Mary and Joseph with the resounding line, “There’s no room at the inn!”

Never mind that no figure of the innkeeper actually appears in scripture. We’ve all imagined him delivering the message of no room, of in-hospitality to the baby Jesus and his parents. And it seemed the perfect part for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Downs Syndrome.

Only one line to remember: “There’s no room at the inn!” He had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it. So there he stood at the front of the sanctuary, bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed, and waited for his reply.

Tim’s parents, the pageant director and the whole congregation almost leaned forward as if willing him to remember his line. “There’s no room at the inn!” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed.

But then, as Mary and Joseph turned on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “But wait!”

They turned back, startled, and looked at him in surprise.

“You can stay at my house!” he called.

Well, Tim had effectively preached the sermon at Riverside Church that Christmas Eve. As Rev. Bill Coffin, the pastor, tells the story, he strode into the pulpit, said, “Amen,” and sat down.

It was, he said, the best sermon he never preached.

No such luck tonight, folks.

The Christmas pageant here, like many places, has now become the Epiphany pageant - after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas rush. After the recitals and the plays and the concerts. After the gift exchange and the broken toys and the dead batteries. When we have one more opportunity to listen - really listen - and hear the story without the maddening distractions of the kind of Christmas imposed on us by our culture and society.

The Christmas story the Gospel wants to proclaim is the one little Tim at Riverside Church in New York City got just by living into it. It’s the story of the world saying, “No” and the church saying, “But wait!”

It’s the story of rejection being met with acceptance. Refusal being met with reception. It’s the story of society’s aloof indifference and people of faith being moved with compassion.

It’s the story of the world saying, “You can’t stay here” and Christians saying, “But wait!” It’s the story of God coming among us to save us so we might be the vehicles of salvation for ourselves - and each other.

You don’t get to hear that part of the story by just sitting back and listening to it or watching it unfold. You get to hear that part of the story by living out the story - living into the story - and understanding yourself, even today, as one of the characters in that story.

What that little Downs Syndrome boy named Tim learned that night was that he, even he, had a part to play in the ever- unfolding drama of salvation history.

Perhaps this is the real attraction of this story for us. It keeps pulling at us until we are into it - living it out.

I urge you, in the midst of the romance and nostalgia of this night, to consider the part you have to play.

You may be called to be like Mary, the theotokos, the God-bearer. Or one of the shepherds or the others who keep watch by night.

Or Joseph, called to be faithful and steadfast in the midst of things you can not understand and might even make you angry.

Or the Inn-Keeper, called to provide hospitality when there is no more room.

Or the Christ child, small and vulnerable and dependent, and yet filled with unimaginable potential. Or any one of the unnamed and unremembered people who were present to and participants in the revelation of the Incarnation of God.

There’s no way around it. This is a magical night.

Who knows how you will be touched by this story this year - or where it will touch you? It may tap into a deeply hidden memory of an experience of your own rejection. Or, the deeply buried pain of loss and fear. Or the slumbering recollection of your own spiritual hunger.

Listening more closely to this story may move you to listen more deeply to your own story - or that of another - and you may hear there a call to do something. To wipe a tear. Pat a shoulder. Extend hospitality, or kindness or compassion you didn’t even know you had.

And in that moment, the real magic will occur.

You may find you have another line in the great play of your life. “But wait!” you’ll say. And in that moment, the magic that is Christmas will come alive in your life.

In that moment the Christ child will be born again - in the humble manger of your own heart - where you will be astounded to discover that there room enough to take in and transform the world.

Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Specials

Well, it's almost Christmas. Are you getting as excited as I am?

I haven't had much of a chance to even scratch my nose these past few days. That probably won't change much before the 27th. It's the usual "hustle and bustle" of the season that leaves us all in a state of 'happy exhaustion' - well, with emphasis on one or either of those words for some.

I've been having some interesting conversations with people about those Christmas Specials on television.

You know. "Children's specials" - which have some really adult themes. By 'adult' I don't mean sexually explicit. I mean some concepts and notions that are a bit more sophisticated than one might expect a small child to understand.

At least, that's what some have said as we've talked about "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," or "The Island of Misfit Toys," or "Frosty the Snow Man," "Charlie Brown's Christmas," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," or any one of the hundred of television programs, VCRs and DVDs that are available for children.

Most people I've spoken with maintain that children are more fascinated by the animation or 'claymation' than they are able to understand either the story line or some of the more ethical themes inherent in the story.

I disagree.

I think most kids "get it". They understand what they may have already experienced - in themselves or others - from participating in the infraction of a rule or feeling left out or 'different' and the importance of being loved unconditionally.

One of my personal favorites is Jim Henson's "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas." It's also our family's favorite.

It's a sweet little story which takes place in a poor little village known as "Frogtown Hollow". It was written in the early 70s by Russell Hoban. Henson adapted it for his Muppets and Paul Williams wrote the really charming music.

The best part is that you can hear an echo of that wonderful short story by O Henry, "The Gift of the Magi".

This story story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home of Frogtown Hollow, despite both of them often being cheated, notably by Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox, the mayor's wife.

As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville, and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other -- a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest -- Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric, while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band.

Our children have grown up watching this story, and it shows. Our Christmas presents - which we exchange on "Little Christmas" (the Saturday or Sunday on or before The Epiphany) - are not about extravagance but meaning.

Yes, we have a "wish list," and yes, we try to honor what each person has written, but what I love most is, after someone has opened a present, someone will always give the gift of story about the present - why they got it, where they found it, why they picked that particular one, what the salesperson said. Like that.

I know some of our kids sacrifice - on some level - in order to buy each other presents. Some more than others. But, even more than the thing itself, is the meaning and the thought and the love that went into each present.

In "The Gift of the Magi" James "Jim" Dillingham Young and his wife Della are a young couple who are very much in love with each other but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation.

For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a chain for his prized pocket watch given to him by his father's father. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig.

Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made out of tortoiseshell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift that they received, because it represents their love for one another.

O Henry's story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.
So, here's my gift to you - a song from "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas".

If you seek the child within, you may be surprised to find there the wisdom of the Magi. And, Love Incarnate, Love Divine may come down to you this Christmas, to dwell in your hearts in this season of Christmas and throughout the year.

Then, and only then, will there be "peace on earth and goodwill" to all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The 'Island of Misfit Toys' Christmas Party

I'm on the road today - leaving in a few minutes to head up to the NE Corridor to visit with a few friends and have a Christmas Party with my former staff.

It's one of my favorite times of the year. We all get together, have a wonderful lunch and exchange gifts and laugh and laugh and laugh.

This year, however, we're calling it the "Island of Misfit Toys Christmas Party".

One person used to call my staff and our office area in the undercroft of the church "The Island of Misfit Toys".

If you don't know the movie, it's part of the canonical addition to the children's Christmas special, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

As you might surmise, it was not meant as a compliment.

So, one of our number just turned it around and, as is our wont, made it into a celebration.

It's so. . . . oh, I don't know . . . "us". Exactly the reason this poor unhappy person decided to call us that in the first place. Have you ever noticed that unhappy people are absolutely desperate to make others unhappy?

Not gonna happen. Not no way. Not no how. Cuz, it's true. In certain segments of society, I guess we are considered misfits. And, the thing about being a misfit is that, once you know and accept the fact that you're a misfit in that place or to that person, nothing else really matters.

I mean, what more can be done to you - especially if you band together in community?

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."  The Church of 'Me and Bobby McGee'.


Isn't that what church is, at it's best? A community of misfits and losers? Well, that's my perspective on the best of church. A community of people who know that what the world offers is not the best. 

I think that's what disturbs this person the most. That we're a community. We did some good work together. That's mainly because we were more committed to the mission of the church as we understood it than to any thing else.

We helped each other. Always. We understood that if one of us didn't look good, we all didn't look good, which would not help the mission of the church. So, when someone presented with a project that needed to be done, the first question at Staff Meetings was always, "What can we do to help?"

I've worked with lots of staff over the years. Sometimes, as part of the staff. Sometimes, as the leader. This was the BEST staff. Evah. It's even better now that we can be just friends because I'm not "The Boss." Frees us up to take our relationship to the next level.

If this is the definition of "Misfit", I claim it boldly in the name of the King of King and Lord of the Misfits.

So, off I go, then. I've got my Christmas Exchange Gift all wrapped. Card written. Tummy ready for some wonderful food. Mind set on friendship and laughter and catch up and story telling and gentle teasing and maybe even making a video for one of our number who is out of the country and can't join us.

Oh, yes. And, laughter. Lots of it.

I'll leave you with this little clip from yesterday's Advent Lessons and Hymns which was a wonderful way to prepare for the spirituality of Christmas.

They are singing Mendelssohn's "There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob". This is just a little community choir - no paid section leaders or "ringers". Well, two choirs - All Saints'Church, Rehoboth Beach and St. George's Chapel, Harbeson.

They were simply stellar - especially for a band of Misfit Singers, making music for Jesus.

So, enjoy.

Off I go, then. Pray for me and I'll pray for you.
video

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bah, humbug!

Is there anything sweeter than children singing at Christmas?

I don't think so.  Then again, I have a very tender spot in my heart for children.

This morning at All Saints' Church, Rehoboth Beach, twenty-two little ones sang the Offertory Anthem for us. Well, it was sung at the Offertory, but it wasn't exactly what one might traditionally expect from an "anthem".

It was, in fact, a camp song that our brilliant Music Director, Alex Helsabeck, taught to the kiddos. It was about Emmanuel - God with us - but the kids never used that word, exactly.  Instead, they learned - as they sang - a little something about how God is always with us, and, when we pray, we are always with God.

It was in the language and the tune that was more familiar, more meaningful, to them.

A few of the folk - not many, just the prerequisite number for any church just about anywhere in Western Christendom - grumbled about how the children didn't sing a Christmas carol. And wasn't that just a shame? And, no wonder the church is in such a mess and we're losing members left and right! And, how else did we expect kids to carry on the great traditions of the church when they become adults if they don't learn it now, when they are young?

And, tsk, tsk, and tut, tut, and O woe!

There seems to be a lot of that going on these days.

The other day, I was reading David Anderson's Christmas newsletter. You may know that David is a bishop and the executive director of the American Anglican Council - the breakaway group of Episcopalians who now describe themselves as "individuals, parishes and ministries who affirm biblical authority and Christian orthodoxy within the Anglican Communion".

Want to know what that means, really?  Well, let me quote you a piece of his Christmas newsletter. You just won't be able to stand the joy!
The Church of England (CofE), which could and should be providing strong leadership isn't doing so - they are too busy planning to add shopping carts to the aisles of some of their churches. The Telegraph reports that the CofE will issue guidance this week on how to turn their naves and vestries into areas where groceries and household goods are sold.

That the CofE may have lost its focus on what it should be offering - salvation, or that the local folks aren't interested in salvation, are not reasons to compete with Tesco. Some CofE churches, principally the evangelical and the Anglo Catholic, can still remember what they are called to do and to be. May the Lord prosper those who are faithful and obedient in fulfilling his charge, to go and make disciples, and for those who want to add dry cleaning and prescriptions to the liturgy--GO AWAY.
Well, there it is, then.

Just a cheery little something to warm your heart on the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Jesus lives - and so does Scrooge!

Never mind that many, many churches - filled with devout, faithful, Christian souls - are turning their sanctuaries into "grocery stores" of sorts like the SHARE FOOD PROGRAM a nonprofit organization serving a regional network of community organizations engaged in food distribution, education, and advocacy. SHARE promotes healthy living by providing affordable wholesome food to those willing to contribute through volunteerism.

When I was Vicar at St. Barnabas, Newark, we had a SHARE Food Program at the church. Once a month, people from the church and the neighborhood would volunteer to pick up the food at the distribution center in Newark, drive the boxes of food to the church, sort and arrange them - boxes of fresh vegetables, frozen meat, canned goods, etc. - and then work with church members and neighbors who would bring in their vouchers or their cash for the food.

If you volunteered to help pick up, deliver, distribute, or provide nutritional education, you got a certain amount of points which reduced the cost of your groceries. Some of our neighbors would volunteer for the elderly or those in fragile health conditions so they could also get a reduced rate.

Many, many were not members of the church. Several became members through their participation in the SHARE Food Program.

It was evangelism at its best: justice, education, advocacy, pastoral care, all rolled into one.

It was also a pathway to salvation - spiritual and corporal - by helping people to help themselves and each other - and not just with handouts.

Apparently, the Scrooges of the world like David Anderson and the members of the AAC just can't see beyond the incense or hands raised in praise, or hear beyond the chanting or music.

If you can't carry on the 'traditional traditions' of the church, then "GO AWAY".

Well, near as I can recall, justice has a long tradition in the church. Indeed, Jesus is the incarnation of the love and justice, the mercy and kindness of God.

Christmas is about the in-breaking of God's Realm in our midst, "robed in flesh" and dwelling among us.

Okay, I'll give David his gripe about money machines in the Narthex. Dry cleaning and prescriptions? Hmmm . . .That's a bit of a stretch, even for me, but then I'm willing to admit that I am of a different generation. Who knows what might bring someone of this generation into church? And, if you can get them in the door, well, that's a wonderful opportunity for evangelism.

So, there was no Christmas Pageant this morning at All Saints', Rehoboth Beach. Sweet little cherubs with slightly less than angelic voices did not sing what some wanted them to sing.

They sang of Emmanuel. In their own way and for their own time. And, with great joy and enthusiasm.

I think Jesus heard them. Indeed, I'm quite sure Mary heard them, too. No doubt God heard them as well. And the neighbors up and down the street. As you'll note in the video below, they were Quite Loud.

Emmanuel! God is with us!

Because of Mary and Joseph, two very brave people who broke with tradition and said 'yes' to God's very unorthodox request, God is with us!

God is with us! Emmanuel! Alleluia!
video

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Frozen

I've always been fascinated by frozen water.

I'm not talking ice cubes or popsicles. I mean how a large body of water - a pond, a lake, a bay, the water in the marsh outside my window - can become hard and still. Meanwhile, underneath, the water continues to move as the tides change.

I must have been nine or ten years old when I fell through the ice while skating. Not my whole body. Just my right leg.

I was skating on a pond in the back of my friend's house. It was my first time on skates. I was using a pair borrowed from a friend - an old pair that used to belong to her older sister. I had fallen a couple of times and marveled at how hard the ice felt on my hip and backside and head, even though the thick layers of my snow suit.

The pond wasn't very deep. When I looked down, I could see the bottom of the pond, covered with old, dead leaves and broken branches. I could see the water moving slowly over the bottom. It was thick - moving along like corn syrup - and yet the surface was as hard as a rock and strong enough to hold my weight.

Between trying to find (and maintain) my balance, and being fascinated by the slow moving water underneath, I wasn't paying attention to the places where the ice had gotten thinner in the warmth of the sun. Suddenly, my right leg gave way, and I was stuck in the water, up to my thigh.

It was scary. Really scary. Even though I could feel my foot hit the bottom of the pond and I knew I wasn't in any danger of drowning, I simply didn't have the strength to get my leg free.

I struggled and struggled, but I just couldn't do it. As I struggled, I could hear the ice around me crack. It was a most terrifying sound.

The few minutes it took for my friend to call her father and brothers to help me felt like hours. As afraid as I was of being stuck, I was more afraid to be alone and stuck. What if more of the ice broke and my whole body went under - even though I knew, logically, that it couldn't happen since the water was not that deep.

Logic is not always functional when fear becomes a companion.

I remember that my right leg felt cold right down to the very inside of the bone. I felt a sharp stab of pain and then, more horrifying, I felt numb.

Eventually, I was pulled out of my icy trap by several strong arms and lots of cheery, warm laughter, towel dried, covered with a warm blanket and driven home with the car heater cranked up to high.

Even the warm blast of the heater didn't seem to melt the frozen feeling in my right leg. I couldn't feel my foot, except for a strange sensation of 'pins and needles'. My toes seemed to have vanished from my body.

My mother greeted me with a mixture of hysterical relief and anger. I hadn't asked her permission to go ice skating. Hadn't even told her I was going ice skating. Hadn't thought to mention it. It was rather a spontaneous decision. She didn't even know she needed to be worried. (Mother never missed an opportunity to worry.) She thought I was playing dolls or dress up, safe and secure in my friend's house.

She decreed, then and there, that I was never, EVER, to go ice skating. Again. Ever. Did I understand? Yes, yes I did. And, I never did. Until I was, oh 16 or 17 or so and figured that, if I was old enough to drive a car and have a job to save up for college, I could go ice skating with my friends.

The clearest image I have from that long-ago memory is the water under the ice. How it moved. Slowly. How life still existed under the hard sheet of ice that covered it. Still moved, even if more slowly.

I went out this morning to look at the ice under the water in front of Llangollen. A thick covering of snow rested on top of the ice, so it was hard to see anything underneath. I knelt down and leaned over the dock to brush off some of the snow, but it was hard and crusty and opaque.

A few gulls flew overhead as I was doing this. I could hear my mother's voice being carried on the sound of their cries, "What are you doing? Be careful! For God's sake, don't fall in! There's no one here to pull you out like last time."

I giggled at the thought of it. Sometimes, I crack myself up like that.

As I walked back into the house, I thought of some of the people in my life who are frozen. Just as hard and as opaque as the frozen water in front of my house. Afraid to take a risk or dare to dream. Afraid that some danger is happening somewhere out of their sight - out of their control - to something or someone they love. More afraid of the possible consequences of trying something new than the enjoyment of a new experience.

And then there are those who have risked and dared, only to fail. Their failure hardens their surface, even though they seem to skate by on it. But, they wobble emotionally, trying to walk on their skates rather than risk knowing the exhilaration of how a body can actually glide on ice.

They hold on to their fears and become emotionally distant and unreachable. I can see the emotional water flowing underneath, can even, sometimes, see the dead, dry leaves and broken branches on the bottoms of their heart and soul.

But, I can't reach it for them. Can't reach through their emotional ice. Not my job to do that. I just try to get them to look - scrape away some of the snow and ice covering the surface, so they can see.

And then there are friends who fall and get up - or let others help them up, warm them, and drive them home so they can try again, perhaps at a later date. These are my heroes and heroines in life. People who have known loss and failure and still get out there, on the ice, and skate, despite the risks involved.

I know that, historically, Jesus was probably not born "in the deep midwinter", when "snow lay on the ground." That was how it was in Merry Olde England, but not so much, I don't think, in ancient Bethlehem.

No matter. I think it's a wonderful metaphorical time of year to celebrate the birth of The Christ Child - the One who breaks though the frozen places in our lives, and comes to show us that life and love continue to flow just under the surface of the icy reality that sometimes comes in the Seasons of our Life. The One who helps us look at how the water continues to flow over the silt and sediment of failures and broken dreams that lie at the bottom of the heart and soul.

No wonder, when the angels come to bring a message from God, the first thing they say is, "Be not afraid."

I don't know what is the more fearsome - the fear that freezes us in place and makes us emotionally unavailable to ourselves and others, or the work of acknowledging the fear, putting on your skates, and risk looking foolish as you wobble and take a few spills, perhaps even falling through the ice a time or two.

When you understand that life goes on, underneath it all - even the bad stuff - eventually, you learn to glide and can say, with a heart filled with the joy and exhilaration of anticipation, "Merry Christmas!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

Meet the Presidents


These people are all Presidents (or spouses of Presidents) of Universities, Colleges and Seminaries.

They are intelligent, well educated, passionate, successful, deeply committed people, dedicated to educating others and making a difference in the world.

Oh, and they are all LGBT.

In fact, they are part of a reported number of 25 LGBT people who are Presidents of Colleges, Universities and Seminaries.

The woman sitting in the back row, the first one on your left, is the Very Rev'd Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, where, in a few days more than a month from now, I will be Proctor Fellow. But, who's excited about either of those things?

Dr. Ragsdale is quoted as saying:
"In my community, we think and talk a lot about what God thinks. We believe that God intentionally created all this amazing and beautiful diversity. God likes it and God loves you. Our job is to make sure that every beloved child of God has the opportunity fully to develop and exercise every gift God gave them."
Can I get an "Amen"?

I know it's the Season of Advent, and not the Season of The Epiphany, but I must say that to these eyes, there can be no better manifestation of the power of God than the testimonies in this video.

It's like Christmas has come early.

Okay, so it's Christmas and The Epiphany and Easter, all rolled into one.

Makes my eyes sweat.

Did someone just say "Repeal DADT"?

Why yes. Yes we should.

For this and a hundred different reasons. And, tomorrow, please God, we will.

Did someone just say, "Marriage Equality"?

Well, DUH!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Creativity

I got the most unusual Christmas 'card/gift' in the mail yesterday.

My dear friend, mentor and colleague, Abigail Hamilton, sent me this bag, with a note that read:
"In the humble homes of the - at least American - past, Christmas gifts were home-made, hand-crafted gifts given in the spirit of the season. From mittens to cookies to samplers to jellies and jams to wood creations to hand-dipped candles . . . each gift gave warmth and simple beauty. The children's creations were, and still are, always the best.

In that mode, I am sending you what I "craft" for Christmas use (and also for Harmonie Hall Antiques in Bainbridge, NY - family!) with the hope that you will fill it with a small gift for a neighbor, a friend, maybe even a random person."
This year, I have been making 'bolinhos' - the Portuguese version of biscotti - using my grandmother's recipe for those yummy twice-baked cookies that go so well with tea or coffee or hot chocolate.

I've made a ton of them - Cranberry Pistachio, Orange Almond Walnut, and Chocolate Chip Almond - and had even more fun decorating some of them with chocolate icing, sprinkling some of them with shredded coconut or festive chocolate 'jimmies'.
It's been wonderful to mix them and bake them - twice, of course, which gives them their delightful 'crunch'.

With each batch, I marvel at the first step - beating together two large eggs in 2/3 cup of sugar - and watch how they mix together in rapid perfection, forming a creamy, pale yellow batter that eventually, after about 5 minutes or so, drips like velvet ribbons from the end of the beaters.

"Como isso acontece, mi avo? (How does that happen, grandmother?)," I would marvel.

"Ah, e um milagre, querida! (Ah, it's a miracle, sweetheart!), she would say as she beat the mixture with a wooden spatula in a large earthenware bowl.

No electric mixers or whisks for her. Her forearms would make Martina Navratilova jealous - and strike fear and trembling into the hearts of her grandchildren - or, even adult children - when she raised one of them as a warning to behave - or, else.

In goes the flavoring (vanilla, almond or orange extract), then the flour, baking soda and salt which quickly becomes a thick dough, into which gets folded whatever ingredients that particular batch will have.

Then, it gets shaped into a log on a lightly oiled baking pan (Parchment paper? You must be kidding! Not in my grandmother's house).

Into the oven, then. The first time for 25 minutes. Then, cooled and cut into slices which will be baked again - 10 minutes on each side until golden brown and crisp.

Meanwhile, the house fills up with aromas so delectable that the very walls seem good enough to eat.

It smells like my grandmother's house - Mia avo. It smells like love.

I think I am becoming my grandmother. At least, I hope I become half the woman she was. Feisty. Opinionated. Stubborn. Earthy. Bawdy. Intelligent. Generous. With a quick laugh and razor-sharp wit. A woman who loved Jesus and "the old, old stories" of his mercy and love.

I've got a few small bags, gaily festooned with Christmas themes and images which will transport a carefully selected variety of the 'bolinhos' to some of my friends and neighbors.

I don't yet know to whom Abby's bag will go. I suspect it will be a 'random person'. I think she'd like that.

I may have to make a few of these bags myself which is ever so much nicer than the stuff I got from the local Dollar Store.

I'm no artist so mine will not be as beautiful as Abby's, but that's not the point, is it?

The message of the humble birth of the Christ Child is that The Gift is not about aesthetics.

It's about Love.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Seeking Jesus

My friend, Ann, asked a question over at HOB/D (the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv) the other day about a young friend of hers who is a "seeker". Ann was looking for some books to recommend to her that might help her on the journey.

I have to confess that I've never known a person who was transformed by reading a book about someone else's transformation - or experiences of faith, grief, joy. . . whatever.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen. I'm just saying that it hasn't been my personal experience.

That may say something more about the circles in which I travel - or something about my own spirituality - than anything else.

Mind you, I'm a voracious reader - not unlike Ms. Conroy but she reads murder mystery novels like some people devour pop corn at a movie. I teasingly call it "bubble gum for the brain." She returns the compliment with an icy smile - which is well deserved, I should add.

I love stories and the stories of people's faith journeys are wonderful. Poet Muriel Rukeyser famously said, "The world is made up of stories, not atoms." I believe that to be true.

But, for me, stories written in books only go so far. They only affirm what has already happened. Provide insights. Allow people to go deeper. Travel further. Stories that are shared one-on-one or in small groups are the atoms that hold the world together.

In my almost 25 years of ordained ministry and all the years of incredible ministry "in the world" that prepared me for ordination, I must say that the most powerful, transformative religious experiences I've had with others have been in small, intimate conversations.

I rush to say that my soul was as transformed as those who were being transformed.

I'm remembering one moment with a graduate student when I was Chaplain at U Lowell. It was Palm Sunday. In my office. Only one student showed up. It was Spring Break, after all.

Together we read The Passion. In the middle of the reading, I looked up and he was weeping. When he regained his composure, all he could say was, "I never knew. I mean, I thought I knew. But reading this, now, with you . . . ."

There followed one of the most powerful two hour conversations about Jesus and the Incarnation and the Atonement and the Resurrection I've ever had. We talked. We shared our stories. We laughed. We cried. We laughed some more.

I'm sure our theology would make some people cringe. Never mind. Jesus was in the room. I know that. For a fact. And, he was smiling.

We still keep in touch, that young man and I. He and the handful of people with whom I've been privileged to share a similar experience of revelation and faith. Just got a Christmas Card in the mail from one of them today, which is probably why I'm writing this.

I've had this experience in a variety of ways with a handful of people over the past 25 years. That's not exactly a 'prize-winning' score card - I'm not going to win any awards for evangelism (good thing I'm not looking for one) - but I can tell you what each of their faces looked like "the hour they first believed".

That's a wee bit of an exaggeration, of course. My experience - and, it's only my experience - is that transformation is a gradual awakening. I know, I know. That sounds trite and cliche, but those are the words that come to me.

It's a process of transformation and formation and transformation and formation. It takes a lifetime of work.

Reading books like the works of CS Lewis can help, although most of his stuff pretty much leaves me cold. It's like Bonhoeffer. Good theology but his writing leaves me cold. I have to push through it in order to get to the good stuff. (I know, I know. He was German. And, he was in prison. I understand.)

For me, reading books like that happened much further down the road to my own or other's transformations.

For me, spiritual transformation came from the poetry of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think T.S. Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" affirmed my own faith experience in very powerful ways that allowed me to risk exploring the depths of my soul.

But, so did the writing of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, Walker Percy, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.

My spirituality has further deepened by reading the sermons of Barbara Brown Taylor or the writings of Annie Lamont, Barbara Crafton, Madeleine L'Engle, and Barbara Kingsolver - and so many fine modern writers - and authors and actors of screenplays and movies! - who call us to think and rethink great themes of sin and salvation, redemption and reconciliation, faith and hope.

Sometimes, my spirituality has deepened by the music of Beethoven and Mozart and Brahms, The Who and Sting, Pavarotti and Jesse Norman, Mahaila Jackson and Aretha Franklin. It has deepened from Eucharist liturgies well done and sermons from a place of such exquisite truth in the preacher that it broke my heart open.

Remind me sometime to tell you about my Clergy Leadership Project (the precursor to CREDO) group's "field trip" to BB King's place on Beal Street in Memphis and the fabulous Ms. Ruby Dee's rendition of "Knock on Wood" when people on the dance floor and in the club called out their petitions of prayer and thanksgiving. My colleagues there can testify that I was weeping so hard I could hardly breathe.

I remember one young man I baptized at age 9. We had met several times for conversations about what baptism meant. He couldn't get his head wrapped around it.

Then, one day, he came bursting into my office, "Rev. Elizabeth, Rev. Elizabeth - I think I got it. It's Pinocchio, right? It's when the Blue Fairy came and said, "Little puppet made of pine, awake, the gift of life is thine." THAT'S baptism, right? It just cuts away the strings"

"That's good," I said. "That's very good. After baptism, you'll walk more closely with Jesus and learn from him what it means to be a 'real boy'."

"That happens at Confirmation, right?"

"Well, that may be a little too soon," I said. "I think it happens after you understand what Pinocchio did to save his father. You may not be able to understand this right now, but I want you to remember this: It happens when love breaks your heart."

That was over 20 years ago. He's a physician now. He wrote to me a few years back, when he was a new intern, and said that he had just experienced his first "Code" and was successful in helping to save a life.

Two days later, the man died. It was a difficult case and he was deeply affected by it. He wrote, "I think I'm just now learning what it means to be 'real'. I've got much more to learn, but I think I'm getting it."

A friend gave me a picture of that moment between Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy which hangs on my office wall. That's the moment, up there, at the beginning of this post. I've also included a clip I found on YouTube from the movie (Is there anything you can't find on YouTube?). It's at the very end of this post.

I use the picture of Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy with children as well as adults as part of our conversation about baptism and a life in Christ. I've been meaning to order and read it, but I think Pope John wrote a book about Pinocchio and a life in Christ. If anyone has read that book, I'd appreciate hearing what you thought of it. I think I'm ready, now, to read it.

My young friend also called me once, when he was in med school, after watching the film "American Beauty". He was describing the scene where one of the characters is showing a video he shot of a plastic bag and some dry, dead leaves dancing in the wind. The character says,
"And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."
My young friend said, "I think I'm still getting it, Rev'd Elizabeth."

"Me too," I said. "Me, too." And then I went right out to see the film. And, I discussed it with my Anam Cara as well as my small group of friends.

What would I advise for a ministry with seekers or with those who have suffered loss from death, addiction, unemployment, etc.?

Make yourself available. Tell your story. Help others find God, find Jesus, find the Holy Spirit in the common stuff of their own lives. Help others - and, yourself - to see the holy in the common.

You know. Like Jesus did.

Don't give out books until much, much later in the 'gradual awakening' that is sometimes part of the experience of spiritual transformation and conversion.

It's very inconvenient. Cumbersome. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Probably not very efficient. But, it has worked - still works - for me.

You'll notice, in this short clip from the Disney movie that the first thing the Blue Fairy does after she works her magic is to "anoint" Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio's "conscience".

That makes perfect sense to me. Because, we can't make this spiritual journey into being "real" all by ourselves.

The Blue Fairy says, "Prove yourself brave, truthful and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy. You must learn to choose between right and wrong."

"Right and wrong?" asks Pinocchio? "But, how will I know?"

"Your conscience will tell you," she says.

And then she dubs Jiminy Cricket, who says that conscience is 'that still small voice inside', "Lord High Keeper of Right and Wrong, Counselor Against All Temptation and Guide Along the Straight and Narrow Places."

Reading books alone can't make you real. We all need a few Jiminy Crickets and Blue Fairies in our lives.

That may be the best Christmas present you give yourself this year - a few good people to accompany you, counsel you against temptation and guide you along the straight and narrow places.

Then, I think, the epiphanies of the great miracle that is the Incarnation will begin to be known in your life.

At least, that's how it's worked for me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Winter of Discontent

Maybe it's the prolonged cold snap in these parts.

Maybe it's the economy.

Maybe it's just me.

Is that it, or does it seem to you that many people are in a Very Bad Mood?

There's a sort of disquieting buzz of grumble that's easily detected underneath many conversations I'm overhearing in the stores and shops and restaurants. An overtone of frustration sometimes breaks in. Sometimes that is accompanied by low-level bickering between husband and wife or shopping companions.

The Winter of Discontent seems to have made an early arrival.

Sussex County, which includes Lower, Slower Delaware, is a conservative, Republican stronghold. After living in Chatham, NJ for 8.5 years - a place known affectionately as "Republicanville" - I sometimes wonder if God isn't having a bit of a laugh with me.

This area, however, is also flush with bone fide Red Necks who drive 'round town in pick up trucks with a gun rack in the back, a Rebel Flag attached to the antenna and country-western music blaring from the radio.

Nothing wrong with that. I have an inexplicable fondness for Red Necks. Honestly. I think it's their defiance I like. They don't just stand on the edge of respectability. They dance there. And laugh. And sing heart-felt songs of honest lament and love and America. And have firmly implanted ideas about who should and should not live here and who God is and how God should be worshiped and how people should live.

Which also makes me a little nervous to live among them. I'm quite certain I'm not on their list of 'preferred residents'.

Like the Psalmist (137), I sometimes feel like a stranger in a foreign land, where I have hung up my lyre on the poplars, singing songs of Zion.

Even though there will - soon and very soon - be a Republican majority in the Senate, some people are still Very Upset that Christine O'Donnell lost her bid as Senator. Mind you, she carried Sussex County, but got trounced 'upstate' - as folks 'round here refer to anything above Milton. There are still lots of bumper stickers supporting her bid, and a surprising number of people who still wear their "Christine" T-shirts - these days, over a turtleneck and under a puffy down vest.

News of how bad things really are seems not to inspire a call to action, but to more grumbling. I recently learned that there are 125 local high school students who are known to be homeless. Now, those students, one presumes, have parents and siblings, so that statistic gives one a sense of the gravity of the situation.

I understand that local churches have banned together to tend to their needs for shelter and food, but when I ask questions about "looking upstream" for the cause of the problem, and taking a more systemic approach to find a long-term solution to poverty, homelessness, hunger and unemployment, I am greeted with looks that range from astonishment to something that gets very close to anger.

I had coffee with my dear friend, Mark Harris, last week. He reminded me of what many Progressives in the area (well, I don't know if there are that many, but I'm delighted every time I meet one) have said about Delaware.

People here tend not to let Political Parties define the landscape. Mike Castle is a Republican and was US Representative for Delaware's At-Large Congressional District for many, many years. People voted for him because he is a good, decent, competent man who "crossed the aisle", if necessary, to get the job done. His supporters and voting base include many Democrats - including Joe Biden, former Senator and now, of course, our Vice President.

"That's the way things are here," I'm told.

Well, maybe that's the way we once were, but not so much any more. Christine O'Donnell's nomination and candidacy seemed to change all that. And I must say, as an observer, it hasn't been for the better. It wouldn't be hard for me to get a whole lot of "Amen's" from folk all around me.

That's not O'Donnell's fault, of course. She was nominated by some Very Unhappy Republicans who are part of the Tea Party Movement. Indeed, even when she won the nomination, she was not supported by the Republican Party chair who said she "couldn't get elected dog-catcher".

Turns out, her candidacy was a Most Excellent Thing for the Democrats, but that didn't leave too many people on either side of the aisle very happy. Not that Democrat Chris Coons is not a good, decent, competent man who will also "cross the aisle" if need be to get the job done.

It's that the landscape has changed. Lines that everyone knew were there but were barely distinguishable are now painfully obvious. Republican and Democrat. Rich and Poor. Black and White and Hispanic. Male and Female. Young and Old. The Steelers vs. The Ravens.

Last Sunday, my rector did a 'rif on the gospel that included a gentle but firm chiding and a few 'godly admonitions' about conversations he's been having with some folks in the church about those who are the John the Baptists among us.

Apparently, some of the good folk are upset that more and more people in the area don't speak - or read, or write - English and resent "our tax dollars" being spent to educate and school children and adults in the "Mother Tongue" of "This Great Nation."

Never mind that the "Mother Tongue" of this country is decidedly NOT English. Neither is the "native religion" Christianity. The mentality of "We Were Here First" starts off on illogical footing and very quickly slides down a slippery slope from there, usually ending up in the Very Low Valley of Prejudice and Bigotry.

Apparently, some folk were also none too happy with the little joke I told on myself at the end of my Heritage Day sermon which happened to involve a certain "senate candidate" from "the First State" with whom I would also find myself in heaven. One woman - who identified herself as a 'guest' that Sunday who was also 'a life-long Episcopalian' - even wrote to me to demand an apology from the pulpit.

I have, of course, written to tell her how sorry I am that she was offended and hoped she might not be if she understood that I was making a joke about myself, for the sake of the Gospel I preached that Sunday, which tells us that even the thief who was crucified with Jesus would be, that very day, in Paradise.

She missed the joke, of course, because it's hard to laugh when you're stewing resentment and drinking from a brew of the bitter herbs of disappointment and frustration and anger.

My rector skillfully drew another line in the ecclesiastical landscape. Essentially, he said, that absolutely everyone was entitled to their opinions. Part of what makes The Episcopal Church great is that we have a high tolerance for a great diversity of opinion and thought - but that acceptance and tolerance would be the standards and the practice in whatever church he was privileged to serve as rector.

His message was warm but firm and very, very clear. Why else would you come to church but to know that 'nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus' - not even ourselves?

As he preached, I saw Jesus standing over his shoulder asking the congregation,
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
`See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.'
I think we need more more of that sort of message in the church. It's the kind of quietly, lovingly prophetic ministry that can warm the chilliest soul in any winter of whatever discontent.

It was very brave of my rector, I thought - especially as people are whizzing through Advent and gearing up for Christmas. We need more of that in the church, too. Pastors who aren't afraid to remind us of our baptismal vows to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being".

And, we need to laugh more at ourselves. Make a few more jokes about ourselves and the various positions we cling to that we need to let go of so we can all meet Jesus at the altar.

So, I'll leave you with this wonderful little video clip one of the parishioners recently posted on her Facebook page.

It made me laugh a bit about the "state" I find myself in, which I now call home.

It's not exactly a 'song of Zion' but it is one I can take down my lyre from the poplar tree and sing. That's going to be important.

I suspect this Winter of Discontent is going to get a whole lot colder come January.