Come in! Come in!

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I spent the afternoon at my local community center, helping out with a Halloween Party for kids of all ages.

I decided to help out there because there are no Trick or Treaters in my neighborhood.

None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

I did buy a big bag of beautiful fresh apples, just in case.

I can always make a pie.

This is so very different from living in the tony suburbs of North Jersey where, it was not uncommon to spend $100 just in candy - and still have to close the doors and turn off the lights by 8 PM because we were OUT.

I'm learning that, in rural areas, this is often the case. Instead, residents tend to gather in schools or community centers and churches.

There are several churches in the area that are hosting teen Halloween Dance Parties tonight. Unfortunately, it has the "feel" of the church in "Footloose". They "allow" dancing but it's all a ruse to proselytize - vs. evangelism.

Whatever. Kids are so desperate to have a good time in community that they'll put up with all the crap from the adults. Sort of reminds me of hungry people who will stand in line for a hot meal and turn a deaf ear or smile compliantly while folks prattle on and on about "Jeeeesuss" and His love.

Which, of course, comes on condition of walking right and talking right and doing right - "right" being defined by "them".

It's funny, you know. In dealing with "monsters", some folk reveal exactly what is "monstrous" about human nature - and it has nothing to do with blood or gore.

Instead, it has everything to do with the images of The Divine that we construct out of our own political agendas to control people and gain power and authority for ourselves.

Talk about "trick or treat"!

Talk about "scary"!

And, don't even get me started on on the horror show that is Wall Street and the monsters of corporate greed and corruption.

I hope everyone has a "spooktacular" Halloween celebration - wherever you are and whatever you "dress up" to be.

If you'd prefer, there's always an Online Altar of Remembrance you can visit on Facebook.

And, here's one at All Saint's, Pasadena, in honor of Dia de los muertos.

I'm constantly in awe of the abilities of "social networking" to address spiritual needs of people who are increasingly isolated as the world gets smaller and smaller.

Here's another interesting application from Trinity, Reno, NV called "A Month of Gratitude" - another virtual community effort to "explore gratitude in your life".

I love this - even as the possibilities boggle my mind. I guess my religious imagination, as expansive as it is, is still not large enough to get my mind around the vastness of this concept.

Turns out, the "communion of saints" is much larger than the ancients who coined that phrase ever imagined it to be.

Sort of scary, in a way. Not in a Halloween kinda way, of course, but spooky in its own right.

Forget "Ghoolies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night".

Reality is still far, far scarier - whether or not people show up for it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The hard sayings of Jesus

St. George’s Chapel, Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton
Proper 26A – October 30, 2011

It probably won’t come as a surprise that the Gospel passage we just heard is considered part of the “hard sayings” of Jesus. Call no one father. Or Rabbi. Or Instructor. Jesus also said to those who were to be his disciples, “follow me, and let the dead bury the dead”.

Jesus seems to have no respect for “family values” as defined by either his ancient culture or our post-modern one.

In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus is presented as turning away his mother and his brothers with the retort, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." In Jesus' eyes, the only father to whom a son or daughter is accountable is a heavenly one (Luke 9:57-62).

These are disturbing, confusing passages for us. Make no mistake – they were just as disturbing and confusing to the ancient ears which first heard them.

So, what are we to make of these ‘hard sayings’? How are we to apply them to our own lives? Should we stop calling our rector “Father Max”? Should we change all the names on the benches in the churchyard? Is that what Jesus means?

Should we all live like hippies in a commune? Or, like some religious cult where everyone is “Brother” and “Sister” and all the lines of social convention are blurred?

I think there’s a clue at the end of this Gospel passage. Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."

You see, Jesus wants his disciples and all who follow him not to get caught up in and seduced by pride and vanity and power and authority.

More to the point, Jesus wants us to understand the primacy and supremacy and authority of the One God who created us all and all that there is in creation. That is the ultimate value of the family of God – the value we place on our relationship with God and each other in Christ.

It’s a difficult concept for post-modern, Western minds to wrap their heads around.

I have had the great privilege of having been several times to Hawaii and living and working among the people native to that land. From them, and from my experience with Native Americans and people in Western and South Africa, I learned that what Jesus is saying about family and ownership and titles has a deeper resonance with these cultures than with our own.

Let me give you an example and tell you a little bit about what I know from my travels to Hawaii.

For Hawaiians, there is a primal connection to the universe, to nature, to the land and the sea, a connection that comes from a deep spiritual as well as genealogical belief system. Nature is where it all begins for the Hawaiians. In fact, they call themselves keiki o ka 'aina– “children of the land.”

The 'aina (land) is not just soil, sand or dirt. The 'aina is a heart issue for Hawaiians. The very word 'aina brings forth deep emotion evolved from ancestral times when people lived in nature as an integral part of it. Humankind and nature were considered siblings born to the same parents at the beginning of time.

The word 'aina literally means “that which feeds,” and maka 'ainana, a term for the common class of people, means "eyes of the land." Thus, nature feeds humanity and humanity watches over nature in return.

The land gave the ancients everything they needed–not just food, but clothing, housing, weapons, tools, musical instruments, canoes–everything they crafted, wore and ate came from plants, animals or fish. Dependent on nature, they revered and respected it. Success depended on living in harmony with nature.

For Hawaiians, the stars in the sky are the Mother, the sky is the Father, the Earth is the Grandmother, the Kalo (Taro) plant is the elder brother, and the Islands are the Aunties and Uncles. Hawaiians trace their genealogy back to all things, the earth, sky, stars and the alo. Thus, the connection between 'ohana (family) and the 'aina (land) is very strong.

So, like the Native Americans in this land, and with many of the people on the African continent, when Westerners came to “buy” the land, this was as confusing to their minds as this Gospel passage is to ours.

No one “owns” the land – except for God. Neither does anyone “own” another person. The idea of “ownership” of land or person – even in marriage or through blood ties – is not something that is part of that culture.

We are all part of one family, one land. We belong to God.

Some call this being “primitive” or “uncivilized”. Others call it “innocence” or even "ignorance".  Either way, it created a situation which made the native people vulnerable.

As Desmond Tutu is famously quoted as saying, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

I wonder how our common lives of faith would be different if we took these hard sayings of Jesus to heart.

I wonder, if we really listened to the Psalmist passage for this week’s Stewardship lessons, what might change. Psalm 21:1 – our Stewardship meditation for this week – tells us: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein.”

This is the basis of our understanding of Stewardship.

This is he basis for what Jesus is saying this morning. This is the basis for all of his “hard sayings”.

God is the owner of everything. We are but the stewards.

When we come to understand the order of the universe and who owns what, it is a profoundly humbling experience.

Stewardship becomes not just what we do to keep the lights and heat on, but what we do, in grateful thanksgiving, to return a portion to God of what God has so abundantly provided us.

Stewardship is, ultimately, an act of prayerful humility.

In an odd kind of way, the trick or treating of Halloween brings that lesson home for it, doesn’t it? We’re all kids on that night – all mendicants – asking for something sweet in the midst of some of the horrors and scary and hard stuff of life.

In the midst of it, Jesus gives us the sweetness of the Gospel. “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."

We are all fed by the land,

We are all the eyes of the land.

That’s pretty scary stuff – these “hard sayings” – when you consider it.

It makes us humble before the One God whom we exalt in worship and in service to others – with our time and talent and treasure.

And humility - true humility -  also happens to be the highest “family value” of the family of God.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shifting gears

It's dark and cold and rainy and windy this morning, here on Rehoboth Bay.

I get a chill just looking out my window at the rain and the wind and the dark.

Walking Theo in this stuff is not pleasant.

At. All.

Even he agrees with me, doing his business in  a most efficient fashion. He looks back at me and his eyes seem to say, "I'm doing this as fast as I can, Mom."

The wind is coming up from the Northeast and it's Very Strong. As I write this, I'm watching the wind blow the water that's trying to gather in the gutter right over the opening of the drain pipe and off the corner of my house. The waters in the marsh are choppy and Very High.

There are warnings of coastal flooding. I've moved my car.

It's a good day to put some spit and polish on my sermon for tomorrow, maybe clean out a closet and a few drawers, put away some summer stuff and organize my sweaters and coats to take to the dry cleaners. After that, I'll probably spend the afternoon reading.

It's that kind of day.

Oh, I would much rather spend the day doing my usual Saturday errands and riding into town maybe having lunch with a friend  - but that will have to wait for tomorrow.

The day will not go to waste. I'll just have to shift gears, is all.

Life is like that, sometimes.

I've become more and more convinced that one measure of a good life lies in our ability to shift gears. Yes, focus - and staying focused - are very important, but so is the ability to change according to what's happening in your life right now.

I love to drive a car with a stick shift because it gives me a sense of greater control. That may be just an illusion, but I love the participatory nature of driving with four gears on the floor.

Since stick shifts are not as popular as automatic engines, it used to be that they were actually less expensive. Not any more. Now, you have to pay more to get a car with a stick shift. Simple principal of supply and demand, I suppose.

One analogy I've found helpful is that of ridding a bike with gears. There are mental gears of focus which, I think, have a correlation with my old four-speed bike.

The first is a broad attentional focus which allows you to focus on several things all at once, e.g., changing gears, the incline of the hill, cars that are around you, friends that may be riding with you, etc.

The second is a narrow focus which allows you to focus on one, maybe two things, e.g. a passing a car or a companion.

The third is an external attentional focus which directs attention outward toward an object, e.g., the top of the hill.

The fourth and final focus is an internal attentional which is directed inward to thoughts and feelings, e.g., I am getting tired, my legs hurt, I'm almost there, etc.

These types of focus are used in a variety of combinations depending on the situations that arise. Shifting through these mental gears of focus allow you to ride safely in any terrain or weather or condition.

So, too, do these mental gears get you through life. We all need at least four gears - broad attentional, narrow, external and internal - and the ability to shift or use them in combination.

A few years back, I sold my four-gear bike and got myself an old-fashioned Schwinn. No gears. No hand brakes. No wires. A big basket on the front handle. A "saddle basket" on the back which is very helpful when I take it up to the local store for some milk and bread.

It doesn't go very fast. It's not so great going up hills, but I tend not to look for those anymore. I also tend to brake slowly, shifting the weight of my body, instead, and moving my heels back on the pedal to come to a necessary stop.

I still use all my mental gears and shift them accordingly. It suits me just fine, thank you very much.

I'll not be riding my bike today. Indeed, I won't be walking outdoors much today, either, except for those times when Theo deems it necessary. No umbrella in this wind. I'll just have to bundle up and put on a rain hat and some boots and hope it doesn't take too long.

Even so, I'll still be shifting gears and changing my focus on the landscape of the day.

Let the wind howl and the rain pour.

So far, it's been a great ride!

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Three hundred kids is 300 too many"

Rick Mercer
I'm deeply grateful to my friend David in Montreal for this story and video clip of Rick Mercer, a Canadian comic and gay man, and his rant about gay bullying.

The statistics are that, every year in Canada, 300 teens commit suicide.

One of the faces behind the statistic is a young, 15 year old Ottawa boy named Jamie Hubley, the son of a city counselor, who said that bullying directly contributed to Jamie's death.

Jamie was, according to Mercer, a 'great big goofy gay kid' who was bullied for years and expressed frustration on his blog at being singled out by his peers.

This is what he said in his last post before he committed suicide:
“I hate being the only open gay guy in my school… It f***ing sucks, I really want to end it. Like all of it, I not getting better theres 3 more years of highschool left, Iv been on 4 different anti -depressants, none of them worked. I’v been depressed since january, How f***ing long is this going to last. People said “It gets better”. Its f***ing bull****. I go to see psychologist, What the f*** are they suppost to f***ing do? All I do is talk about problems, it doesnt make them dissapear?? I give up.”

“Im a casualty of love.

Well, Im tired of life really. Its so hard, Im sorry, I cant take it anymore.

First Id like to mention my friends Nancy, Abby, Colleen, jemma, and Kasia

Being sad is sad : /. I’v been like this for way to long. I cant stand school, I cant stand earth, I cant stand society, I cant stand the scars on my arms, I cant f***ing stand any f***ing thing.

I dont want my parents to think this is their fault either… I love my mom and dad : ) Its just too hard. I dont want to wait 3 more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.

I hit rock f***ing bottom, fell through a crack, now im stuck.

My favorite singers were lady gaga , Adele , Katy perry, and Jessie james, Christina aguilara and most of all I think KASIA!!! I LOVED Singing, and she helped me a lot : ) Im not that good at it though :”/, Im going to miss you guys
(well You know who you are, But to the people who didnt like me (many) A big f*** you, Go ride a unicorn. But w/e I love you anyway.)

Remember me as a Unicorn :3 x) MAybe in my next life Il be a flying squirreel :D

Il fly away.”
Absolutely. Breaks. The. Heart.

Mercer, who came out in 2003, says that all the hopeful videos about "It gets better" are not working. He made a plea to all adults who are LGBT to come out and become role models for LGBT youth.

"I'm sorry," he says to LGBT adults, "you don't have to run around with a flag and bore everybody, but you can't be invisible. Not any more."

Here's the video that is making the rounds in social media:

He's right. Absolutely.

We need greater accountability for those kids who bully - and their parents who allow their kids to bully as a right of passage through the rocky waters of adolescence. 

There's a paradox to adolescence. On the one hand, the goal is to become self-differentiated from one's parents and become one's own person. However, being "different" and not "fitting it" with the rest of the crowd leaves one exposed and vulnerable and a target for ridicule.

If one is LGBT, that gets intensified to the nth degree - meaning that it is almost impossible for even the most secure, loved adolescent individual to withstand the pressure of growing up to be all of who God made you to be.

So, if you're a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adult and you're not "out", please consider this message from Rick Mercer.

Rick Mercer isn't the only one with a rant. I have a bit of one myself. Fair warning: Here it comes:

I know several LGBT clergy who, they say, are "low key" about their sexual orientation because, they say, they don't want to be "defined by an issue".

I get that. Neither do I. But, you know, it sort of comes with the territory. I simply don't allow myself to be defined by my sexual orientation and, for the most part, it works.  Except, of course, when I get an occasional slam from someone in the LGBT community for - and I quote - "not being gay enough".

I understand. I have some friends who don't believe you've really "come out" unless you've had a letter to the editor printed in the NY Times which clearly and unequivocally identifies you as LGBT.

I'm not concerned. I think I've paid my dues and earned an Eagle Scout Badge in "Coming Out". 

The problem is that there is a fine line between being "low key" and being disingenuous and even duplicitous.

Some of these "low key" clergy have "friends" in neighboring states and/or dioceses where they spend their days off.  They often take FABULOUS vacations and even, sometimes, show pictures where you might just get a face - and, perhaps, a name. A first name. They don't talk about these nebulous "friends" in too much detail but one gets the distinct sense that they are Very Important People.

Everything they say is carefully coded. There are considered pauses before answering questions. They rarely take stands on issues of justice, but they say they do their best work "behind the scenes" and you can usually count on their vote. Except no one really knows how they actually voted and they don't really say. They sort of leave you with your assumptions. About everything.

People whisper about how they'd make a "great dean" or a "fine bishop" if only they'd "find a stable relationship".  But, that would mean living into a kind of honesty that might just cost them the position to which they have begun to believe they are called.

Everyone knows but nobody really knows, if you know what I mean.

You know who you are.

The thing of it is, we do, too.

You aren't fooling anyone.

More importantly there are kids who need you as a role model.

I can't tell you how many kids - gay and straight - who have told me how important it is to them that I am and Susan Russell and Michael Hopkins and other LGBT clergy are open and honest about who they are. It's especially important to them that Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool are bishops in the church.

It's the only "canary in the coal mine" dynamic. If the church is safe enough for LGBT clergy and bishops, maybe it will be safe enough for them to be who they really are.

Bottom line: The best "It Gets Better Message" is incarnational truth.  We're all "casualties of love" and yet - Behold! - we live.

I grieve the loss of Jamie Hubley and all the bright, beautiful young people who are bullied into desperation and despair.

We can turn that around. We can prevent teen suicide.

The truth will set us all free. Oh, it will make us miserable for a while but it's also true that living well is the best revenge.

If you are LGBT, you don't have to run around with a flag and bore everybody, but you can't be invisible any more.  Too many kids are counting on you.

Rick Mercer is right: Three hundred kids is 300 too many.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Our Bodies, Our Selves: 40 years later

I was a young mother and a young nurse when I got my first copy of "Our Bodies, Our Selves". It had been in print for a couple of years by then.

I can't remember how I found out about it - probably advertised in MS. Magazine - but I remember reading it and being shocked. Not by what was in there but because I didn't know half the stuff I read in that book.

It's still sitting on my shelf.

I'm still learning from it.

The first edition of "Our Bodies, Our Selves" found its way into print forty years ago this month.

Originally produced by the Boston Women's Health Collective, it caused quite a stir when it was published.

Libraries banned it. Women hid it under their beds like some men hide pornography. But, this was far from pornographic. It became "the" book for young teenage girls - and boys - to steal from their mother's bedside.

The book shocked conservatives with its candid discussion (and close-up drawings) of masturbation, contraception and the clitoris (spelled out as klit-o-ris). It actually described the various ways women experienced orgasm and how to talk with your lover (no gender specified) if you weren't having one that was satisfactory to you.

In the beginning, the authors of the book were just 12 women, none of them medical experts, who’d met at a Boston women’s conference, bonding over their inability to find a good doctor. They started gathering in the basement of an Armenian church, and—suddenly realizing how little they knew about their own anatomy—decided to write down their thoughts.

Abortion, child-bearing, birth control, lesbians, patriarchy, capitalism — nothing was off-limits to these women, who believed, rightly, that with better knowledge, women would be better equipped to deal with their own health.

Mind you, at the time, abortion was illegal. Female doctors were as rare as, well, hen's teeth. Sex education in schools still consisted primarily of teaching young women "proper behavior" and how to put on a sanitary pad and belt (if you don't remember those things, count yourself lucky) and the best way to get rid of menstrual blood stains on your underwear.

In the Roman Catholic school of my youth, the nuns taught us not to wear patten leather shoes (they reflect up), not to wear our hair in pony tails (too phallic a symbol - which always confused me), and to bring a quarter (for a phone call) and a phone book (to place on a boy's lap if we were in a crowded car) on every date. 

I have no idea what the boys were being taught. I shudder to think.

The book was written in a very accessible manner. It's so easy to read, a teenager could understand it. Which was part of the point of writing the book.  No matter our age, we were all pretty much pre-adolescent in our understanding of our own bodies and sexuality. Indeed, part of the ritual of preparing our daughters for the onset of menstruation included her very own copy of this book.

Yes, yes. The book also contained a chapter on lesbians entitled, "In Amerika, They Call Us Dykes." It was nothing our kids hadn't heard discussed before in our home, around our kitchen table.

Indeed, we talked about many of the chapters in the book openly and with great care and respect. I think our daughters are the responsible, healthy young women they are today because we did. And, I'm pleased to say, our son is a fine young man and a fabulous dad.

None of our kids ever had an abortion. None of them are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We want the best for our kids but, turns out, if you're "born that way" no one can "change" you. 

Forty years - and nine editions, 25 translations, e-books, and education campaigns — later, a whopping 825 page new edition has been released with new chapters on date rape, body image and plastic surgery and how to resist the pressure to conform to plasticized notions of “perfection.”

With four million copies sold already, the authors hope to reach a new cohort of young women.

Gone is the anti-patriarchy bent, as well as the iconic raised fist that once graced the title page of the original hand-printed 1970 edition.

No longer do the authors proclaim, “We must destroy the myth that we have to be groovy, free chicks.” (Do we even know what that means anymore? Did we ever?)

Instead of essays on “capitalism,” there are chapters on changes in the healthcare system, environmental health risks, and how to be an activist in the 21st century.

There is still a section on Lesbians and a new “Relationships” chapter comprised entirely of readers’ candid conversations, which looks really good.

I have a clear memory of being a Maternal-Child Health Community nurse in Portland, Maine, where I served predominantly high-risk mothers. Most of my work was with low-income families where I did a great deal of teaching with pregnant girls in their teens.

I will never forget the first time I went into one of the housing projects on Munjoy Hill in Portland. I had a folder with pictures of female and male anatomy and another with the various changes that happen to the woman and the fetus during the various stages of pregnancy.

As I began to speak with this one 14 year old girl, pregnant and in her second trimester, I noticed her mother peeking around he corner, listening in. I invited her into the room to join us, which the young girl seemed comfortable with. Soon, another woman was peering around the corner. It was the girl's grandmother who asked if she could join us.

There were three generation of women living in that apartment, none of whom knew anything about their bodies - or the bodies of the men in their lives. They were hungry for information.

The next week when I arrived at the apartment, there were 12 women from the neighborhood who greeted me at the door, asking if they, too, could sit in on my presentations.

It was amazing - the questions. The conversations. The hunger for information and education. It wasn't too long before we were meeting weekly in the community room - some 40 or 50 women altogether. I can't remember a time when I did more important work.

I have no doubt that this new edition will send conservatives into a 'new era' of tailspin. Some parents somewhere will try to ban it from their local bookstores and public libraries.  Conservative radio talk show hosts will snicker and titter and tell their listeners about how this book will lead their daughters down the road to sin and perdition.

Michele Bachmann will, no doubt, tell us that a woman came up to her and told her that her precious little girl read "Our Bodies, Our Selves" before she was inoculated with the HPV vaccine and now she has mental retardation.

"Our Bodies, Our Selves" introduced these key ideas into the public discourse on women’s health:
That women, as informed health consumers, are catalysts for social change

That women can become their own health experts, particularly through discussing issues of health and sexuality with each other

That health consumers have a right to know about controversies surrounding medical practices and about where consensus among medical experts may be forming

That women comprise the largest segment of health workers, health consumers, and health decision-makers for their families and communities, but are underrepresented in positions of influence and policy making

That a pathology/disease approach to normal life events (birthing, menopause, aging, death) is not an effective way in which to consider health or structure a health system
These ideas have helped to transform almost two generations of women and men in this country and in many places around the world.

Hopefully, this new edition will continue that work.

There's a new era of young women - and men - who still need to hear and embrace the ideas in this book.  Indeed, there are still members of previous generations who still need to read this book.

Everyone has a right to information about their bodies and their selves.

No one should have to steal it from a book underneath their mother's bed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Autumn Ocean

Ivy Schmidt - South Africa
The Autumn Season has fallen quite suddenly on the ocean this year.  It's been fairly warm and rainy the past few weeks but, without warning, things have changed.

There is a chill in the air which makes the ocean's roar sound somehow crisper and cleaner to the ear. The waves seem wilder and more furious as they roll and crash on the sand.

Some are saying that this is due to the Perigean or King Tides, when there is an alignment of the Earth with the moon and sun. This happens twice a year, I'm told, when the Earth reaches its closet point to the sun during its annual orbit, and the moon reaches its closest point to the Earth during its 27-day orbit.

Or, once in the Spring - which happens mostly during the day -  and once in the Fall - which happens mostly during the night, so it tends to go unnoticed, except by those who keep watch of the ebb and flow of the ocean and its tides.  

Even the gulls seem more wary as the fly above the ocean's waves, dipping and weaving in their flight, a little higher, perhaps, than in the months of summer.

The blue heron have grown huge and quite fat. They search for food closer to the house these days. It's always startling to find them perched at the end of my dock, keeping perfectly still, their sharp eyes focused on the water for any slight movement that might become a meal.

Most of the white heron and egrets seem to have already left for warmer climes. The fish no longer jump and flutter on the surface of the water outside my deck. I miss the sound of their 'flap, flap, flap' as their bodies slap the water. It's safer for them to jump with all the birds gone, but the air is too chilly for those antics, now. 

There are two loons which have taken up residence in the marsh outside my door. They call to each other in the early evening. It is a haunting, primeval sort of Nature's Compline, like the day calling out to the night in thanksgiving for what has been. 

Back in town, the parking meters are all covered in blue canvass - an unexpected delight to tourists who come here from Virginia and DC, Maryland and Philly, and South Jersey or "upstate". Now, they can stroll the boardwalk without care or concern to mind the time and return to their cars to "feed the meters".

This time of year, the boardwalk and beach are also open to our canine friends. I delight to walk there and see all sort and manner of dogs chasing sticks and sea gulls and frisbees on the beach, sometimes losing themselves in utter delight, chasing and barking at the waves.

Then, there are the lovers. Here in Rehoboth Beach, that could mean any combination of age and race and gender. People snuggle close to each other when a cloud covers the sun and a cold wind blows off the ocean, seeming to find its way into that spot in the body that sets off a chill which goes directly to the marrow of the bone. The only sensible thing to do is to lean into your lover, hoping that the warmth of your bodies will stop the shivers from completely overtaking you.

It's not uncommon to see lovers stop right in the middle of the boardwalk to share a long, lingering kiss. People walk around them, smiling. Others take a quick picture. Some people avert their eyes in embarrassment or try to seem impervious to the scene before them.

There's something about the heat of passion in the chill of the Autumn air that stirs something different in each of us.

I'm noticing that people tend to eat more Thrasher's French Fries and Ibach's Caramel Corn and Dolle's Salt Water Taffy in the Autumn than they do in the summer. Perhaps that's just my perception. Instead of eating them on their beach blanket, they now line the streets, sitting in the benches, with great buckets of the stuff in their laps.

It's perfectly dreadful even for the healthiest of bodies, but the Autumn Ocean seems to embolden one last splurge before Winter makes its appearance.

The ice cream places are still open for the brave - or, the thoroughly addicted, depending on your point of view.  I saw an elderly couple buying two large soft-swirl cones who actually broke into delighted applause when their server dunked their cones into a HUGE bin of "jimmies" - known as "sprinkles"  here - and then brought them up and fairly danced them across the counter to the customers.

For a few moments, this silver-haired couple were kids again, delighting in the sheer joy of eating a soft-swirl ice cream cone on a bright, shiny, chilly Autumn day at the beach. They both got "double swirl" - vanilla and chocolate - one got chocolate 'jimmies' and the other got multicolored 'sprinkles'.

They shared licks off each other's cones, comparing and contrasting flavors and shared a naughty, outrageous laugh when one was surprisingly suggestive and seductive in the way the cone was being held and eaten.  They seemed not to care who saw this very public display of intimacy. For a few moments they were ageless and carefree, riding the waves of time with the same wild abandon as the ocean.

There is a quality to the light on the Autumn Ocean that is remarkably different from the Summer Ocean but elusive to be captured in words. I'm sure this is why there are so many artists with their easels set up along the boardwalk. There are some things that surpass description with words and can only find expression in swirls of color on canvass.

The Autumn sun seems brighter, somehow, than in the Summer, which seems, in a way, incongruous. The ocean glistens in an almost blinding way and is a deeper, richer hue of blue.  And then, a cloud will obscure the sun and the ocean turns instantly to a murky green-blue-gray. 

The sand seems darker, the sea grass browner, and the blue of the sky seems curiously lighter.

Orion's Belt is clearly visible in the night sky this time of year.  Ever since I was a child,  I've always been fascinated by the seemingly exact lineup of its stars. I keep expecting the wind to blow them to and fro, like a bracelet dangling in the heavens.

I don't know why, but I'm always reassured by its presence - especially in the Fall. I can hear that verse from Psalm 19 about "one day tells its story to the next" and I am comforted by the natural progression of the season of the days.

There are no oak or linden or maple trees at the ocean - just lots of scrub and Jack Pine - so missing are the reds and golds and oranges of falling leaves, the signature colors of Autumn. Even so, you could not miss the fact that it is Autumn here at the ocean on the Delmarva Peninsula.

I love The Summer and it always makes me sad when the season ends, but I must say, there is nothing quite like the Autumn Ocean which inspires a certain kind of deep, inner warmth, even as the body is chilled by the ocean wind.  

In an inexplicable way, no matter where I am, Autumn always feels like home.

Even as life all around me seems dying - Behold! - I feel more alive than ever.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ENS: Episcopalians Occupy Wall Street

Clergy, laity support nonviolent protests at Occupy Wall Street

[Episcopal News Service] In the early stages of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the Rev. Michael Sniffen and some clergy colleagues from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island traveled to Manhattan's Zuccotti Park to observe what was happening. He's returned regularly since, talking to protestors and offering pastoral care.

"I see myself as part of the movement," said Sniffen, 31, priest-in-charge of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn, New York. "I really feel like this is my generation's plea for a just society. I think the Gospels make it quite clear in Jesus' teachings that there can be no justice without economic justice."

Sniffen is among a number of Episcopal clergy and laity who are visiting and lending support to protesters at the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign. Begun Sept. 17 and inspired by the Arab Spring movement, OWS protests against greed and economic inequality have spread to more than 2,100 locations across the country and around the world, including other major cities such as Denver, Miami, Berlin, London and Tokyo.

On Oct. 23, the Episcopal Church's Executive Council issued a resolution affirming "that the growing movement of peaceful protests in public spaces in the United States and throughout the world in resistance to the exploitation of people for profit or power bears faithful witness in the tradition of Jesus to the sinful inequities in society" and calling upon "Episcopalians to witness in the tradition of Jesus to inequities in society."

Three days earlier, Diocese of Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano visited Zuccotti Park and attended a meeting at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, of about three dozen interfaith leaders – including an Episcopal priest from Harlem and two from his diocese – discussing ways to support the movement.

New York's Judson Memorial Baptist Church has been coordinating interfaith efforts with the coalition, which includes Christians of various denominations, Buddhists, imams and rabbis, said the Rev. John Merz, 46, priest-in-charge at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. On Oct. 9, he joined other clergy in carrying a golden calf from Washington Square Park to Wall Street to Zuccotti Park. As of Oct. 25, more than 250 faith leaders had signed a petition "of people of faith and/or moral commitment who support the Occupy Wall Street movement."

Demonstrators at Zuccotti Park range from one-time visitors to protesters who have camped out since the campaign began. They include the employed and the unemployed and encompass all ages, races and creeds, observers said. People discuss everything from capitalism to environmental issues to the transformational value of the arts. Protest signs bear messages such as "If only the war on poverty was a real war then we would actually be putting money into it," "Low wages equal modern day slavery" and "The death penalty is a legal crime."

Protester Luis Daniel, 31, recently stood in the park wrapped in silver foil, holding a sign saying: "Enough is enough. Where is my silver lining?"

Daniel has worked jobs varying from construction to sales but has been unemployed since 2007 and homeless for seven months.

"The jobs aren't there," he said. "That's why I am out here with this little costume of mine, this silver lining. … I want to know where it's at. I want to know where is my opportunity."

Some have criticized protestors for lacking a unified message or concrete list of demands.

"If they come down here and talk to everybody, they are going to find a bunch of clear messages," said OWS press liaison Anup Desai, City University of New York professor of philosophy and geography. "This is a movement of movements, and so all the people who are here dedicating their time strictly out of passion, they have their agenda … If you come down and talk to them you will see that those demands are quite eloquent and well thought-out."

Commented Merz, "It's actually quite close to the heart of Anglican theology and practice: You get involved, and then the theology develops out of it. It's very inspiring to have conversations with people because you see how smart people are, how varied it is."

Protesting greed

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton of Delaware said she heard a distinct message when she spent the 25th anniversary of her ordination to the priesthood at Zuccotti Park on Oct. 18.

"Everybody is really, really clear that what they're protesting is greed. It's not about luxury, it's not about capitalism," said Kaeton, who is canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. "People are really angry about greed, and I think that's absolutely right. … That's what made Jesus turn over a few tables in the temple, was greed and corruption. That's the moral problem that I think the church needs to speak to."

The movement is a call for the church to become prophetic while being pastoral "to people who are really struggling and really hurting," she said. "What I found at Wall Street was the intersection of the pastoral and the prophetic … and that's where we need to be."

"I just hope more clergy get involved because I think this is really where the church needs to be," Kaeton said. "For me, class is the original sin of the Episcopal Church, and we're not going to get anywhere unless we confront our own classism – while we continue to confront our racism and our sexism and our heterosexism.

"I think we've been talking about sex for the past 30 years so we don't have to talk about money, and now is the time," she said. "That would be the gift of Occupy Wall Street. It's forcing us to have those conversations that we've been avoiding for a long time."

Said Provenzano, "I think there's an opportunity here for us to look at class collaboration rather than class warfare, and for all of us, at least from a religious perspective, to see us all as God's people."

 OWS press liaison Desai said he'd recently seen a lot of chaplains and ministers involved. "During the protest, they walk around making sure that things are peaceful and are a sort of go-between, between the police officers and the protesters. It's great to see them there taking a proactive role."

When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced people would have to leave the park so it could be cleaned on Oct. 14 (an action ultimately postponed), Merz camped out for the night and talked with protestors about how the interfaith coalition might support them if they were forced to leave.

"Everybody knew that once they left the park, there was a good chance nobody was going to be able to get back in," said Merz, who has been blogging about his OWS experiences. "That night was very tense."

Those spending their days in Zuccotti Park include Rena Patty, a certified nonviolent communication trainer from Washington state, who committed to spending a week in New York.

Overall, Merz said, "This has been remarkably nonviolent thus far. We do have a place there in helping to spread that."

One exception occurred when one of his parishioners, Chelsea Elliott, was among several young women pepper-sprayed by a police officer on Sept. 24.

"I've been involved with Occupy Wall Street since the second day," said Elliott, 25, a freelance digital imager who owns the business Bang Bang New York. "Our economy keeps getting worse and worse, and the corporations and executives have yet to be held accountable. … We have less control over our government."

"It was just such a relief to be able to talk about these issues with other people that are upset about it," she said. "It's just been good to relate to them and create a dialogue."

On Sept. 24, she participated in a march to Union Square, then began to walk with friends back to Zuccotti Park, she recounted. Some police stopped them on the sidewalk and then erected orange netting in front of them, she said. As the crowd behind them grew, scuffles broke out and a girl began screaming, she believes in response to a fight, Elliott said.

Elliott said she began screaming when a police officer shoved the girl to the ground and dragged her by her hair beneath the orange net. "I thought she had a concussion," she said. "This cop walks over from far away – he didn't even see us, but he walks over to us for some reason – and sprays me and three other women in the face, like, directly with pepper spray."

New York Police Department Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna later was docked 10 vacation days, or the equivalent amount of pay, for the incident, the Daily News reported. Elliott said she planned to file a civil suit to try to get the police department to set a new protocol for dealing with such situations.

The incident didn't deter her from participating in OWS. "You can Mace me or hit me. It's not really going to weaken the movement," she said. "Being pepper-sprayed is not a pleasant experience, but it's not the end of the world. It's definitely worth it. I feel like it's very important to nonviolently demonstrate. … I was worried that this whole incident would lead to anti-police sentiment."

Provenzano and others commented on the sense of community that had developed at the park.

"I think there is a holy moment in this," he said. "There's an incarnational moment, and I think this is one of those moments in our history where there can be real change."

"What I said at the meeting [Oct. 20] is that I don't think it is the religious community's job to help organize them or to help them to be more efficient or even provide them with the mechanisms and the tools to better communicate," he said. "They don't need us to do anything else but to be pastoral support to them as they lead us and help us to see a way forward through a lot of complicated issues.

"They're a community. They're very church-like," he said. "The rules that they are living by, I think, can be a real lesson for the church, particularly our denomination. There is this kind of horizontal decision-making that's going on in their meetings … There is no one leader. I stood there this morning thinking, this looks like monasticism that I can recognize. This looks like church community that I could become a part of from a pastoral perspective."

During the protesters' daily "general assemblies," subcommittees present information for discussion and decisions are made by consensus, Sniffen said. Lacking microphones, they use a "human mic system," repeating what's said in widening circles around each speaker, and use hand gestures to acknowledge assent or dissent. Leadership roles rotate.

"It takes a really long time, but when consensus is reached, it's incredibly powerful," Sniffen said.

A document is now circulating calling for a national assembly, modeled after the original Continental Congresses, convening July 4 in Philadelphia to discuss and ratify a petition of grievances to the federal government, he noted.

While Provenzano was at the park, a man approached and asked what his favorite Bible verse was, then opened a Bible, read the verse aloud and asked the bishop to pray with him. "He said, ‘Thank you for being here. It's important for us to see people like you here so that we know that we're OK.' I thought to myself, ‘This might be the most important thing I do all week is this Bible study with this man.'"

Several people at OWS urged her to preach their stories, said Kaeton, adding she was amazed at "the urgency about how people want to be heard."

"They want their stories told, and they're so used to having their cries fall on deaf ears that they've resorted to this movement so that they can be heard and their truths can be validated and some change will happen," said Kaeton, who blogged about some of their stories.

Next steps

Lis Jacobs, 54, director of finance at New York Presbyterian Hospital, joined Kaeton at Zuccotti Park for the first time on Oct. 18 but said she intended to return and invite others to join her. Some of her medical colleagues donate time to tend to protestors during their off hours, she noted.

"I really believe in what they're doing, and I know I'm part of that 99 percent," said Jacobs, who attends Church of the Intercession in New York and is a trustee of the Diocese of New York. "Were it not for the fact that I have a job, I'd be sitting out there with them, 24/7. … I thank God for New York Presbyterian Hospital every day, that I have a job."

Provenzano said he intended to return to OWS and to encourage his clergy to go. "I'm going to be sending some e-mails to my seminarians saying, ‘Get down there and interact with these people. Go find out what's happening here. This is practical theology."

Jacobs, who sees economic injustice as the core cause of the movement, said OWS already had moved her to action: She's shifted her checking account to a credit union and plans to do her holiday shopping for her grandchildren at local "mom and pop" stores. "It has to start somewhere."

At the church level, she's not sure what will happen. "The Episcopal Church is so huge, we could really make a difference with banks and corporations and things of that sort," she said. "But I don't know that we will do it. I don't see any movement to do it. It's a huge effort. It's not like me taking my meager little checking account and moving it to a credit union. … There has to be some real thought and policy and polity put into what we would do about this."

At the Oct. 20 interfaith meeting, participants discussed whether faith communities would be able to offer respite for protestors such as showers and a warm place to stay as the weather gets colder, Provenzano said. "I think that's coming."

Kaeton said she had been in touch with The Protest Chaplains, who describe themselves as "mostly Christians, based in Boston, with ties to Harvard Divinity School, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and many other local churches and faith groups."

"My next step is to work with the network of clergy on the ground who want to bring about change," Kaeton said.

On Oct. 5, Trinity Church posted a statement on its website inviting OWS protestors to use the congregation's facilities and staff for rest, revitalization and pastoral care.

"I'm really glad to hear that Trinity has opened its doors in allowing the protestors to use the bathroom facilities, and I think there may be more things that Trinity can do," Kaeton said. "I think this is a wonderful opportunity for Trinity, as 9/11 was for St. Paul's Chapel, to serve people in need," perhaps by providing shelter in inclement weather, she said.

In an Oct. 22 e-mail, Trinity Communications Officer Linda Hanick said, "Trinity's meeting spaces at 74 Trinity Place and Charlotte's Place are being used by Occupy Wall Street protestors every day and our public restrooms at three locations (Trinity Church, St. Paul's Chapel and Charlotte's Place) are available for use during open hours.

"We are in frequent conversation with the protestors, our residential and business neighbors and community board about the daily impact of Occupy Wall Street on the living conditions within the vicinity of Zuccotti Park. Trinity continues to provide practical and pastoral help," she said. "We do not plan on providing overnight shelter."

In London, protestors have worn out their welcome at St. Paul's Cathedral. The cathedral closed its doors to visitors and worshipers for the first time since World War II because of what its staff said were health and safety risks posed by Occupy London protestors who'd camped outside for the past week.

In an Oct. 21 statement, cathedral Dean Graeme Knowles said that, while he and his staff supported the protestors' campaign to seek equality and financial probity, their presence was obstructing the cathedral's ability to continue its day-to-day operations.

The protestors subsequently held an impromptu meeting and decided to stay put for the time being. The cathedral now is planning legal action to force the protestors to move.

Back in New York, Sniffen said he believed the protests would make a difference.

"From our perspective as Episcopalians – certainly from my perspective as somebody who was highly influenced by liberation theology – my reading of the gospel is quite clear that Jesus showed a preferential option for the poor and that in situations of economic justice in particular Jesus always sided with the poor," Sniffen said. "I have a lot of hope for the movement. I think the potential is there for this to lead to real transformation of our economic system in this country and hopefully of other systems as well."

-- Sharon Sheridan is an ENS correspondent. ENS editor/reporter Lynette Wilson contributed to this article.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Greatest Love

Agnus Day
A Sermon preached at All Saints, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Pentecost XIX - October 23, 2011
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I will admit that I’m old enough to remember some of the songs that kids nowadays call “Old School” – by which they mean the 70s and 80s. You know – during the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Perhaps you remember one of the artists from that time. His name was Harry Chapin. I don’t think you have to be ‘ancient of days’ to remember his song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” – a song about a father and son and how we teach our children more by how we live our own lives than any thing we say to them by way of lessons.

It may be due to the fact that I spent this past Tuesday hanging out with the folks in Zuccotti Park in the movement known as Occupy Wall Street, but I’ve been hearing that song in my head all week. It seems to grow louder as I’ve considered the story of Moses in the first lesson of Deuteronomy its juxtaposition to the story of Jesus we hear in Matthew’s Gospel.

It’s become the song I’ve been humming to myself as I’ve considered how to talk with you this morning as we begin “Stewardship Season” here at All Saint’s Church and St. George’s Chapel. By what standard will we consider ourselves “successful”? What do we teach our children?

And here is the question which I think is at the heart of Stewardship: "What do you do with all that you have been given after you say, 'I believe'?"

Let me be clear: What I saw on Wall Street in NYC was not a bunch of hippies and lazy ne’er-do-wells protesting for the sake of protesting. No one was suggesting that we all become like the Amish. No one was protesting success or luxury. What I saw was a large, diverse group of people of all ages who are angry and disgusted by greed and corruption that masquerades as success.

I think Jesus himself would have sided with their position. Indeed, I think this morning’s lessons from scripture give us something to consider about success and ethical behavior and stewardship and what it means to be a faithful Christian.

Let’s take the Hebrew Scripture first. Here we see Moses, at the pinnacle of his life’s work, standing at the top of Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab, looking out over the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to which he worked so hard to return to his people, and which he, himself, will never occupy. He’ll never taste the milk and honey in that land. Never know – on this side of Eden – the sweetness of a dream fulfilled.

It’s a poignant, bittersweet moment. Moses is not able to fully enjoy the fruits of his life’s labor. Does that mean his life’s work was a waste? Does it count him a failure? Which begs the question: What IS success? How does a Christian measure success?

That’s where Matthew’s Gospel makes it interesting. Here we find Jesus catching it from both ends of the political spectrum. Just before our passage, the Sadducees (the landed aristocracy whose power was based upon the Temple and inheritance, legacy-based traditions) go after him. In this passage, the Pharisees (those concerned about the people of the land, and a more democratic movement) go up against him for the sole purpose of "testing" and entrapping him.

But Jesus pandered to no one: not Sadducees, not Pharisees, not Zealots (the nationalistic movement that repudiated any cooperation with Rome who occupied their country), not even Rome itself. Over-indulged religious leaders and government officials alike found it impossible to get him to sell-out. Jesus remained single-minded throughout his life: Love God and neighbor, neighbor and God. Then, let the chips fall where they may.

They ask Jesus: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" It’s an ethical challenge. Jesus responds with solid teaching – part of the Shema – worthy of Moses, which any decent Rabbi or Jew of his day would know by heart.

"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Notice, please, that Jesus doesn’t flinch. He is radically orthodox in his teaching which is grounded in the teachings of Scripture. For Jesus, it’s not about money or the things money can buy. For Him, it’s all about love. And, relationships. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do that, and you will know success.

Here's how you know if something is Christian or not: Does it promote the flourishing of all creation? If not, it may be expedient and satisfying, but it's not Christian. Does it have to do with love and the relationships you have with others? If not, it may be successful, but it’s not Christian.

I want you to consider the Stewardship insert in your bulletin. There are five points to the Starfish with five scriptural points to an understanding about the relationship with have with money and God. Each week, you’ll be hearing a little bit about each one of those theological understandings about Stewardship. This week, it’s about relationships.

The scriptural basis for this comes from Leviticus 26:12: ”I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” That is why God created us and the world we live in – so that we might be in relationship with God and each other and the entire rest of creation. That relationship is defined for us through Jesus, who teaches us how to fashion our lives and shows us the path where we might find God in – and within – ourselves and each other.

Let me tell you a story of how I learned this at an early age. I am the oldest of four children. When each of us turned seven years old, we got an allowance for the chores we did. Every Saturday evening we were given two shiny quarters as an allowance. The rule, however, was that we had to put one quarter into our piggy bank, and put one nickel to the church in the collection plate on Sunday. That left us with two whole dimes to spend on ‘penny candy’ and other, otherwise forbidden treats like soda or a milk shake at the soda fountain.

I thought that was grossly unfair. I mean, I understood the wisdom of savings but giving one tenth of my hard-earned money for the church was simply over the line! To my mind, that was five pieces of penny candy I could be enjoying. And, what was the church going to do with that money? Buy candles? Or incense! Preposterous!

Besides, there were times when my parents could not afford to give even two shiny quarters. My brother was a sickly child and often I heard my parents lamenting that they owed $75 dollars (which might as well have been a million back then) to the Rexall Drug Store to pay for his penicillin.

And, my father always seemed to owe someone named Jack Daniel who demanded a line item in the family budget. My mother hated this guy named Jack Daniel, but my father insisted that it was the only enjoyment that he, as a workingman, ever requested.

One day, as I was sitting in church during one of the offerings, I watched the long handled baskets pass by me as I slipped in my weekly pledge of five cents. We always sat near the back of the church, so by the time the collection basket got to us, it was teaming and practically shimmering with shiny quarters, dimes and nickels. That’s when I got a brilliant idea.

I figured that I could easily glide my hand over the top of the cold hard, cash, drop in my nickel, and then scoop out a quarter or two. When no one was looking, I could then slip the quarters into my anklet and, before too long, I could afford to pay off Jack Daniel so there would be more money for Mr. Rexall. It was a brilliant plan! I was a budding successful entrepreneur -  and a potential hero!

I didn’t mean to set myself on a life of crime, but suddenly, I was so successful that I began to think that, once I paid off Mr. Daniel, I could begin to save for a new home for my parents – one with a bedroom for each child so I wouldn’t have to share my bedroom with my three sisters and we could all have our own room just like my brother, whom we called “The Little Prince”.

Things came crashing to a halt, however, when Sr. Bernadette – the one with the eagle eyes who was meaner than a junkyard dog – spied me from across the church and reported me to Father. I still remember my palms sweating as I was called into Father’s office, with my parents, and being confronted with the evidence as reported by Sr. Bernadette. Through tears and sobs, I confessed my plan to pay off Mr. Daniel and bring peace and harmony and prosperity to my family.

I don’t really know what happened after that. I only know that I had to leave the room and Father had a long conversation with my parents. After that, Mr. Daniel disappeared from the family budget, Mr. Rexall was paid in full. I had to spend the rest of that Sunday repenting in my room, after which, nothing was ever said again about the incident. My lust for greed was permanently curbed, I returned to obeying the rules, and I was spared from a life of crime and corruption.

For me, that is a story of the church at its best – offering forgiveness and hope and help. It’s a story about how relationships in community are the cornerstone of the church. It’s a success story that the world wouldn’t count as success, but it is the kind of success that would make Jesus beam with joy.

I suspect that the good priest who counseled me and my parents never lived long enough to know that the child in his office would one day become an Episcopal priest, but I’m sure he’s standing in heaven, along with Moses and a whole host of others who never tasted the fruits of their labors on earth, just waiting to greet me when I get to heaven.

When I think about why I pledge to the church, I think about this story and what the church teaches about success. I think about the story of Moses and the gospel of Jesus confronting the Pharisees. And yes, these days, I think about all those folks in Zuccotti Park and what they have to say about greed and corruption and success.

Indeed, they ask what we, by example, are teaching to our children about success. I think about the fact that while the eyes of the world may be on Wall Street, the eyes of God - and those of our children - are watching us, to see if what we speak with our lips is lived out in our lives.

And I find that I sing to myself, “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon / Little Boy Blue and the Man in the Moon / when you coming home Dad, I don’t know when / but we’ll get together then, son, you know we’ll have a good time then.”

I'll leave you with a Stewardship question: "What do you do with all that you have been given, after you say, 'I believe'?" Amen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ranking Women: A Call to Mission

The last issue of Newsweek/The Daily Beast reported on the best and worst places for women around the world.

Dozens of data points for 165 countries were examined and analyzed to determine which countries offer women the most expansive rights and the best quality of life.

The full list of data points considered and sources is as follows:
-Prevalence of early marriage
-Existence of laws preventing violence against women (domestic violence, sexual harassment, marital rape)
-Prevalence of intimate partner physical violence
-Prevalence of intimate partner sexual violence
-Civil liberties:
Ability of women to move freely outside of the house
Level of women’s access to bank loans
Level of women’s access to land and property other than land
Whether inheritance practices favor male heirs
-Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)
-Maternal mortality rate (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)
-Contraceptive prevalence (percentage of women ages 15-49)
-Proportion of women with unmet need for family planning (aged 15-49)
-Proportion of women attended at least once by skilled health personnel during pregnancy
-HIV incidence rate
-Proportion of women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV
-Number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44
-Whether abortion is legal:
To save woman’s life
To preserve physical health
To preserve mental health
In cases of rape/incest
In cases of fetal impairment
Economic or social reasons
On request
-Female adult literacy rate
-Female youth literacy rate
-Percentage of female population over age 25 with no schooling
-Female survival rate to last grade of primary school
-Gender parity in enrollment in primary education
-Gender parity in enrollment in secondary education

-Whether women can work in all industries
-Percentage of women in the labor force
-Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s
-Ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership

-Share of women in ministerial positions
-Percent of women in Parliament
-Percent of women in senior positions
-Ratio of female legislators, senior officials and managers compared to male

-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Gender, Institutions and Development Database 2009
-United Nations Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012
-World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2010
-World Bank, World Development Indicators
-World Health Organization World Health Statistics 2010
-UNESCO Institute of Statistics Global Education Digest 2010
-United Nations Development Fund for Women Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals
Admittedly, it is difficult to provide a solid analysis of the data, given all the variables. In her Newsweek piece accompanying the rankings, Jess Ellison touches upon the difficulty of ascertaining the progress of women and the narrowing of the gender gap. She uses Canada as an example, pointing out that even though it ranked third overall, it ranked 26th in political power

She wrote:
Of course, no index can account for everything. Declaring that one country is better than another in the way that it treats more than half its citizens means relying on broad strokes and generalities. (The experience of a domestic servant can hardly be compared with that of an executive with an M.B.A., even if their citizenship is the same.) Some things simply can’t be measured. (Is child care better or worse when provided by grandparents, or subsidized and mandated by government?) And cross-cultural comparisons can’t account for differences of opinion. (Who’s more oppressed: the girl in the miniskirt or the one in the hijab?)
Here's a snapshot of the results which were partly inspiring, partly confusing, and somewhat distressing:
In the last year, Denmark elected a female prime minister, Brazil elected a female president and a female took the helm of the International Monetary Fund. In the last decade, Ethiopia passed the most progressive abortion laws in Africa to combat unsafe abortion rates and Mali passed a law that says women are not required to obey their husbands. It seems the state of women’s rights and freedoms worldwide are perhaps better than ever before. But, large and sobering discrepancies remain. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, are subject to genital mutilation in Mali and are killed for honor in Pakistan.
The ranking of the Top 10 nations that were "best" for women is as follows:
1, Iceland
Overall score (out of 100): 100.0
Justice: 100.0
Health: 90.5
Education: 96.7
Economics: 88.0
Politics: 92.8

2, Sweden
Overall score (out of 100): 99.2
Justice: 90.8
Health: 94.8
Education: 95.5
Economics: 90.3
Politics: 93.1

3, Canada
Overall score (out of 100): 96.6
Justice: 100.0
Health: 92.7
Education: 92.0
Economics: 91.0
Politics: 66.9

4, Denmark
Overall score (out of 100): 95.3
Justice: 86.1
Health: 94.9
Education: 97.6
Economics: 88.5
Politics: 78.4

5, Finland
Overall score (out of 100): 92.8
Justice: 80.2
Health: 91.4
Education: 91.3
Economics: 86.8
Politics: 100.0

6, Switzerland
Overall score (out of 100): 91.9
Justice: 87.9
Health: 94.4
Education: 97.3
Economics: 82.6
Politics: 74.6

7, Norway
Overall score (out of 100): 91.3
Justice: 79.3
Health: 100.0
Education: 74.0
Economics: 93.5
Politics: 93.9

8, United States of America
Overall score (out of 100): 89.8
Justice: 82.9
Health: 92.8
Education: 97.3
Economics: 83.9
Politics: 68.6

9, Australia
Overall score (out of 100): 88.2
Justice: 80.7
Health: 93.3
Education: 93.9
Economics: 85.3
Politics: 65.1

10, Netherlands
Overall score (out of 100): 87.7
Justice: 74.0
Health: 95.0
Education: 99.0
Economics: 83.0
Politics: 68.4
And, coming in at the very bottom, the "worst" nations for women are:
156, Sudan
Overall score (out of 100): 26.1
Justice: 21.1
Health: 29.4
Education: 70.6
Economics: 54.5
Politics: 40.8

157, Ethiopia
Overall score (out of 100): 23.7
Justice: 18.6
Health: 27.2
Education: 29.9
Economics: 79.7
Politics: 37.4

158, Pakistan
Overall score (out of 100): 21.4
Justice: 49.7
Health: 49.6
Education: 34.0
Economics: 50.7
Politics: 19.3

159, Niger
Overall score (out of 100): 21.2
Justice: 26.5
Health: 32.9
Education: 47.5
Economics: 58.6
Politics: 31.3

160, Solomon Islands
Overall score (out of 100): 20.8
Justice: 0.0
Health: 53.6
Education: 86.5
Economics: 46.0
Politics: 1.9

161, Mali
Overall score (out of 100): 17.6
Justice: 22.7
Health: 29.9
Education: 25.8
Economics: 64.3
Politics: 49.8

162, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Overall score (out of 100): 13.6
Justice: 6.5
Health: 11.4
Education: 45.1
Economics: 67.8
Politics: 27.2

163, Yemen
Overall score (out of 100): 12.1
Justice: 36.2
Health: 44.4
Education: 34.1
Economics: 48.8
Politics: 0.0

164, Afghanistan
Overall score (out of 100): 2.0
Justice: 8.4
Health: 2.0
Education: 41.1
Economics: 55.3
Politics: 16.6

165, Chad
Overall score (out of 100): 0.0
Justice: 20.7
Health: 0.0
Education: 0.0
Economics: 70.9
Politics: 22.2
You can read the entire list here.

That's right. The United States - the land of the free and the home of the brave - ranked 8th in the world as providing justice, health, education, economic and political advantages for women.

Apparently, despite all of the strides women have made over the years, we still believe that "all men are created equal" and have forgotten that, as the Chinese saying goes, "Women hold up half the sky".

It should be noted that China was ranked 23.

Women have, in fact, come a long way in the struggle for equality, but not nearly as far as we need to be. Elissa Strauss writes, in the "The Jewish Daily Forward" that this study illustrates how lopsided gender equality can be on a national scale, and suggests that the fight for equality needs to be continuously fine-tuned to account for a country’s or region’s strengths and weaknesses.

Looking at the rankings for this country, that would suggest that while we've made great strides in health (92.8) and education (97.3) for women, we've got some work to do in terms of justice, economics and politics - while continuing to work for continued progress in health and education.

In terms of health, I think we've really taken a hit in terms of reproductive rights for women as well as access to affordable health care.  We've got to work hard to reverse that alarming trend - especially in those "red states" where Tea Party money is funding a philosophical war on the political front.

In terms of education, we've really got to continue to provide more educational opportunities to keep girls in school, to graduate from high school and, at least, ensure post-secondary specialized training and education, including the opportunity for a college education that is on par with men.

As I look over the criteria used to determine the rankings, I think we've got a few priorities on which to focus our attention. I am looking at this with my clergy collar on, and listening for a call to mission and ministry.

Justice: Domestic violence continues to be a serious problem. We've got to do more than providing shelters and safe havens for women and children who are entrapped in a web of violence in their own homes.

What can the church do? First of all, we've got to preach and teach zero tolerance of violence toward women and children. In this instance, the Scriptural stories of violence need especially to be addressed and dismantled as potential justification for violence. On the other hand, the stories of ancient women of faith who are strong and wise need to be lifted up continually as examples for post-modern women and men and our children.

Churches also need to hold "Awareness Sundays" that address violence toward women and children in our own communities as well as around the world.  Perhaps a Confirmation Class or an Outreach Committee could visit a shelter for battered women and listen to their stories, followed by careful teaching and preaching about what Jesus had to say about women.

These are but a few suggestions I can make without breaking a sweat. Perhaps you can think of others.

Economics: Of all the criteria listed, I want to suggest that the last two need our full attention. These are: Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s and the ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership.

If I had to prioritize these two, I would err on the side of women's wages. Women are most often hired and most often adversely affected by minimum wage. I think the church can be a powerful voice in this arena - especially as more and more women become clergy who are often hired because congregations know that they can expect more from women and pay less (It's the 'Target' mentality).

If we don't speak up for ourselves and our sisters, who will?

Politics: At 68.6, this is our lowest ranking. While our progress in ministerial and management positions are on a steady rise, I think our three weakest points are the percentage of women in legislative positions of leadership, percentage of women in senior positions, and the ratio of female legislators, senior officials and managers compared to male.

What can the church do? Well, here's a suggestion that is deceptively simple but far from simplistic.

I think we should exercise subversive politics and begin to try and control the language and the images in our churches.

In those places where there are ordained women, insist that any diocesan gathering should include the voices of women in the church and at The Table.  In those places that are more, shall we say, 'resistant' to the leadership of women in the church, begin where you are. In your pew.

Substitute "God" wherever there is a male pronoun for The Holy One.  Say it loud.  At a volume that those around you can hear. Use "She" whenever the Holy Spirit is mentioned.  Remain silent when any member of the Trinity or humankind is referred to in the male pronoun or male imagery.

It won't take long before others will notice. And, they'll begin to join you.

To paraphrase Mary Daley, if we can imagine God as other than male, then male will no longer be God.

These are just a few, small suggestions. You may have other, more directive ideas.

I think these criteria provide a template for the church to reactivate our call to God's mission of justice for all people - with a particular focus on women.

Hillary Clinton, who has made improving the status of women around the world the centerpiece of her tenure as Secretary of State is quoted as saying, 
The challenges of change are always hard. It is important that we begin to unpack those challenges that confront this nation and realize that we each have a role that requires us to change and become more responsible for shaping our own future.
We have that responsibility as citizens of this country, the world, and the church.

If the church is not a place of change and transformation, then we might as well blow out all the votive candles, cover up the crosses and lock the red doors at the entrance. 

We have the challenges of change before us: Justice, Health, Education, Politics and Economics. 

Choose one and start to work on it. Today. You know what to do: Work locally and think globally. Each one, teach one.
Call the sisterhood together to help you. Ask a few of the brothers to assist you. Get the leadership - ordained and lay - of your church community involved. Work across the spectrum of age and gender and race and sexual orientation.

I believe this survey calls us to do God's mission together, with as much passion and energy and generosity as we can muster. 
The world is too small a place for anything but a generous heart and it is too dangerous a place - especially for women and children - for anything less than a passionate commitment to the mission  of God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Primal Screams on Wall Street

Al Gore has called the demonstrations by the movement known as "Occupy Wall Street" "a primal scream of democracy".

I can't think of a more perfect, poetic description of my experience yesterday in Zuccotti Park, just a few steps away from Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street and around the corner from the NY Stock Exchange.

The juxtaposition of these two landmarks provides an ironic, symbolic statement that speaks volumes about the deep, widening chasm between business and ethics and the failure of the church to be a voice of morality in our society and culture.

Occupy Wall Street is part festival with costumes and drums, part protest demonstration with placards, to which is added a pinch of community organizing and a few heavy dashes of chanting and meditation.

If you can grasp that image, you can begin to get a sense of what this movement looks like to those who pass by or walk around Zuccotti Park.

When you enter into center of the large, wandering masses of humanity in the Park, and try to wind your way around piles of sleeping bags and clothes covered by sheets of blue plastic and baskets of donated fruit and vegetables and large containers of fresh water and juice, you begin to feel the vibrations of that 'primal scream'.

At the very heart of this movement is a deep sense of betrayal of all we thought it meant to be American and live in a democratic state.

Let me be clear: There is anger present. It bubbles just under the surface of the sometimes carnival atmosphere.

The anger is directed in all sorts of places - some of it misplaced. There are people there who are concerned about how the environment is being compromised in this financial crisis and others who are angry that technology is increasingly only available to the very rich who can afford it.

The anger is, nevertheless, very real and very present.

Which is why the NYPD hovers around the perimeter of Zuccotti Park, keeping vigilant watch so that peace will prevail.

All that being said, I need to make this very clear: No one is protesting capitalism, per se.

No one is protesting luxury.

No one is protesting technology.

Indeed, most of the protesters, young and old, are clearly well dressed, well educated people - young and old - who walk around with their cell phones, iPads and MacBook Air or PC Notebooks.

They are protesting the loss of their sense of dignity.

They are protesting the loss of their sense of liberty.

They are protesting the debt schemes that got us into this financial crisis because it feels like a form of slavery. 

What they are protesting is this: GREED.

Greed that is so consuming that it dulls the senses to the real cost of doing business.

Greed that blinds the eye to the suffering which "acquisition and mergers" can cause to employees who become "collateral damage" in the dirty war of doing business.

Greed that deafens the ear to the cries of misery and puts profits before people.

According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

Three factoids underscore that inequality:
+ The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
+ The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
+ In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent. 
As NY Times journalist, Catherine Rampell, noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)

I spoke with several people in Zuccotti Park yesterday.

I intentionally wore my clerical collar so my purpose in being there would be easily identifiable - hoping the best of my intentions would show but prepared to be told that, as clergy, I was part of the problem if I was not part of the solution.

One of the people I spoke with was a young man who called himself Damian. He said he was 23 and had just finished a four year stint in the Army.

He looked sad and forelorn, sitting there  at the entrance to Zuccotti Park.  I put a dollar into his plastic container and asked him why he was there.

At first, he gave me a line about why he needed to get back home to his family in Chicago, but his story was so full of holes (and beans) that I actually had to call him out on it, right there in front of God and everybody.

That's when I got him to smile.

"Are you a pastor," he asked, looking at my clergy collar.

"I am," I said.

"You're not like any pastor I ever met," he said

"And, you're not like any GI I ever met."

I had several conversations with him throughout the day. Each time, a little more of his story would come tumbling out.

Turns out, he did an 18 month tour of duty in Afghanistan. He can't forget what he saw. He can't forget what he did. He is fairly paralyzed by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression.

I asked him, flat out, if he was going to use the money he collected on alcohol and drugs. "Umm....," he said, ".....maybe not tonight but I won't lie. Maybe tomorrow. Probably before the week is out."

He looked away and then looked back at me and said, "Sometimes, you know, when there's no hope.  When I feel so goddamn alone my bones ache and I feel like an old man. When I feel like I'm going to go right over the edge and fall into a deep, dark hole again and not be able to get myself out this time, it just helps to check out for a while."

He turned his face toward the row of fast food carts that lined the street and, when he looked back, a tear rolled down his cheek. I found myself weeping with him. And then, he put down his sign and put his arms around me and hugged me as he wept in my arms.

"You know," he said, "I think one of the things I have in common with these OWS folks is that we all just want to be listened to. We all just want to be heard. We are all just doing what we can do to get people in this country to WAKE UP and see what greed is doing to us.  It's killing us. You know?"

"Yes," I said softly. "That's why I'm here today."

"Then," he said, "you have to promise me, pastor. Please tell the story of what's going on here. From your pulpit.

Let those good Christian people know that, if Jesus were here today, he would be turning over some tables on Wall Street and the Stock Exchange here in the Apple, and he'd be turning over the tables where the brass sit at the Pentagon and all the politicians in Congress in DC."

"Tell them, please. Promise me," he said.

I did. And, I'm doing just that. Right now.

Another man I spoke with also asked me to use the pulpit to tell the story of OWS.  Indeed, it was a condition of his talking with me at all. 

Elizabeth Kaeton and Elisabeth Jacobs
He held a picture of his two children, a boy and a girl. He said he had lost his home to foreclosure after he lost his job as a music teacher more than 18 months ago.

He also worked part time as a Paramedic/EMT but that position has also been eliminated. He continues to volunteer, "just so I won't lose my mind completely".

He then told me that he had heard a recent interview with Warren Buffet on CNBC who said, "I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of the GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election."

I laughed sarcastically but he said, "You know, this really isn't as complex a problem as people make it out to be. We just do that so we don't have to do anything. There really is a simple solution to most any supposed "complex" problem. You just have to understand what's causing the problem before you attempt to find a solution. The problem is GREED. Once you know that, an effective, simple solution becomes possible."

"And," he said, "that's why I'm here. That's why I come here. I want to be listened to. I want this to be heard. So, you'll make sure this gets preached, right? You'll promise me that you tell those good Christian followers that Jesus wants and needs leaders? Please promise me you'll do that?"

Promise kept, my friend.

Here's the thing - the thought that kept me up most of last night as I kept hearing the primal scream under all the words and the sea of faces and the sound of drums.

I get it.

Corporate greed needs to be challenged and corporations need to be taxed and regulated. The gap between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. needs to be reduced. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy need to be repealed. Student loans need to be forgiven. Banks that were bailed out by the taxpayers shouldn’t keep on screwing their customers over. And the USSC ruling that decreed that corporations are persons and can thus buy off our politicians and get them to do their bidding needs to be rescinded.

As difficult as it is, that's the easy part to listen to and hear. I agree with all of those things I heard people say. It has deep resonance with my American heritage as well as my understanding of the teachings of Jesus.

But, that's just a return to the status quo in this country. Even if we did all those things, our blindness would continue, allowing us to blithely maintain our obliviousness to the unjust global status quo where 5% of the world’s population (the U.S.) consumes nearly 1/3 of the world’s natural resources and disproportionally spews out more trash and pollution than the other nations do.

It would mean returning to a situation where the U.S. gives only a meager 1/10th of 1% of our GDP to humanitarian aid to other countries. We could cut hunger in Africa in half in 15 years if we were to tax every American 1 penny per day. But we don’t and apparently aren’t about to. No one is protesting or occupying on behalf of the many millions of people in the world who are actually being screwed over the most.

What are we going to do about THAT? About THEM?

In between talking with folks and walking around Wall Street to consider what I heard and saw, I stopped into Trinity Church for some quiet time with Jesus. 

It was a beautiful Autumn day, and, at one point, I got something cold to drink and sat outside in one of the lovely courtyards on the side of Trinity Church.

There is this interesting sculpture there - made of iron - which looks at the root system of a tree that has been cut down from under the ground.

I watched as tourists from around the country and all over the world posed for goofy pictures, mugging silly grins from within the branches.

I couldn't find any information about the piece, although I confess that I didn't try too hard. I really wanted to return to hang out with the folks in Zuccotti Park.

I suspect the sculpture was designed to be a symbol of hope - a message about the fact that, even in the face of disaster and hardship, our spiritual roots run deep beneath the surface.

I felt it a call to rediscover or uncover the roots of our faith and belief systems which hold us together. A primal message about the ways in which we are all interconnected in an often undetectable mesh of life and hope and promise.

I think, in its essence, the Occupy Wall Street Movement is asking us not to return to organizing the effort to return to the establishment of an upwardly mobile middle class. Rather, I think this movement is asking us to step back a few paces, and reconsider our roots to rediscover our goals, our priorities and our commitments - as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a nation which is part of a world of nations and tribes of individual people.

Late in the afternoon, one of our daughters joined me at Zuccotti Park so she could take me out to a celebratory dinner in Battery Park to celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. She is a very successful woman whose work takes her into conversations with very wealthy people.

She told me of one man who made a substantial contribution to the cause she represents. His daily commute is about an hour and a half - one way - which causes him to leave his beautiful home in the suburbs before his children get up in the morning, and return home to his castle long after they have gone to bed.

He told her that, when he reads a bedtime story to his children on Sunday night, they say to him, "Goodnight, Daddy. See you next Saturday."

"Isn't that so sad?," she said. "Is that really a way to live?" my daughter asked.

"Well," I said, "it's certainly one way. The way he has chosen. Does it make it right? Does it make it good? I don't know," I said, "You tell me."

Beyond the banners and signs and the hoopla and the marches and the drums, these are the questions this movement is asking us to consider.

Al Gore is quite correct. This is a primal scream of democracy.

I think it's also a primal scream of our lives of faith.

The question is: Will we listen?