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Monday, October 22, 2012

Sideways into heaven

St. Mark's in the Bowery, NYC
I've been away.

You may have noticed.

Turns out, the Spirit has a wonderful habit of planning unique ways for me to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination.

This year, I was privileged to attend two Celebrations of New Ministry. The first was at St. Luke and St. Matthew's Church in Brooklyn for the institution of the Rev'd Michael T. Sniffen as rector. The Rev'd Dr. Gary Simpson, Assistant Professor of Preaching at The Theological School at Drew University and Senior Pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn was the preacher and he blew the roof off the church.

The second was the historic institution of the Rev'd Winnie Varghese as the first woman to be rector of St. Mark's in the Bowery, NYC. The Rt. Rev'd Barbara Clementine Harris preached about Mary Magdalene and the leadership of women and she blew us all away.

the Rev'd Michal Sniffen's Institution
The music in both services was simply amazing - albeit very, very different.

Brooklyn provided classic Anglican anthems like Parry's "I Was Glad" (which is traditionally used at the coronation of British Monarchs), and - just in case you didn't get the point of the importance of the event (at least in the eyes of the organist/choir director) - the offertory anthem was Handel's "Zadok The Priest" (Just so you understand, you can check out the lyrics here).

It was simply marvelous.

On Saturday, way down in the Bowery, it was a very different story. We processed into a hymn "The Canticle of the Turning", I had not heard before, but just so's you know how that congregation felt about the importance of the event, let me share with you the first verse:
My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great.
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.

You fixed your sight on your servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn.
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

(Refrain): My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn!
You can hear the tune and read all the lyrics by clicking here. It's pretty wonderful.

And, just in case you didn't get it, there was a spirited anthem after the sermon entitled, "Ain't Got Time To Die."

Yes, yes, children. It was all that!

These two young clergy - these two new rectors - couldn't be more different in liturgical style but their theology of liberation and justice couldn't be closer together. They are both young giants of justice, climbing up Jacob's Ladder and deeply committed to bringing the vision of God's Realm they see to the people they are called to love and serve. 

I have lots and lots of stories - of course! - but the one I want to share with you has to do with the van ride home on Thursday night in Brooklyn, and a little Meditation Chapel at St. Mark's I saw on Saturday that Winnie and some members of her congregation set up in what was most probably once the choir loft.

The Ascension of Oscar Romero
It's a small space with a small altar and a single row of chairs on either side. On the left hung a mural that depicted Oscar Romero ascending with all the souls of the martyred.

On the right hung a mural depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr, also ascending into heaven with other souls of the martyred.

One of the little kids who happened to be wandering around came over to see what I was looking at. He looked at the murals, scratched his head, and asked, "Where are they going?"

"I think they are going up to heaven to be with Jesus," I answered.

"Oh," he said, as he nodded his head, because, of course, that made perfect sense.

There was an amazingly heavy silence between us as we stood there, this five or six year old and me, considering the artwork. Suddenly, his little voice broke the silence as he observed, "They sure are going straight up - STRAIGHT UP - to heaven."

"Yes," I said, confirming that we both had a firm grasp on the obvious.

"I think, when I go to heaven to be with Jesus," he said, "I want to fly up sideways. Maybe make a few loops and a super hero guy. Or, maybe climb up the clouds like Spiderman". The very thought made his whole body giggle with delight.

"Hmmm.....," said I. "Well, that would be different. But, why would you want to do that?"

"Why?" he asked, like why did he even have to ask.

"Yeah, why?" I asked, because I really wanted to hear his answer.

The Ascension of MLK, Jr.
"Because," said he, obviously having thought this through very carefully whilst we were considering the picture in silence, "it would be way more fun."

I had to agree, although I added, "You know, I think it's going to be so much fun flying up to be with Jesus that it won't make much difference if we're flying straight or sideways."

He carefully considered my theory and agreed that it was sound, although he had to add, "Actually, I think the most fun is to fly when you can while you're here on earth."

With that, he put his arms out and his hands together in prayer, and pretended to fly away, zig-zagging along the choir loft.

I stayed behind in the chapel, considering our conversation and the pictures and remembering the words of one of the women with whom I rode in the Access-A-Ride in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

Long story short: My traveling companion uses Access-A-Ride services in NY for people with disabilities. It costs the same as a subway or bus ride but it is a car or a van for people with disabilities who can't easily negotiate their way through the crowds or the turnstiles or the stairs of the subways and/or buses.

We took a van from her apartment in Harlem to Brooklyn - another long story with that service, but I'll spare you the details, only to let you know that there is a Clinton Avenue and a Clinton Street in Brooklyn and they are nowhere near each other - and had arranged to have the van pick us up at 9:30 pm, after the service and reception festivities.

The van arrived at 10:15 pm. Not bad for this service, I'm told. We were a motley crew - three disabled, fragile elderly patrons, my friend, myself, and, of course, the van driver. We were in the van about 15 minutes when we saw a flashing light and got pulled over.

We soon discovered that it was not the NYPD but the TLC - Taxi and Limousine Commission.  Apparently, our driver had registered her van two weeks ago but it wasn't yet in the TLC data bank. Takes 30 days, we were told.

So, even though the van WAS registered, it wasn't....because....well, it wasn't in the TLC data bank. Besides, this is NYC. You know, the "City-That-Never-Sleeps". Which explains why so many people act as if they are sleep-deprived. Because, of course, they are.

That had to be what explained the utter foolishness of the TLC officers insisting that we all get out in the cold night air to wait for the Access-A-Ride people (whose dispatchers are in Texas, so they don't really know jackcrap about the streets of Brooklyn - except what they know from Google maps - which explains why they sent our first driver to Clinton Street instead of Clinton Avenue, but that's another story) to get us another van.

Which could take up to an hour, we were told.

Which I refused to let the goon squad from TLC do. I mean, seriously? It was okay for my friend and I but there was no way was I going to allow three disabled, fragile elderly folk stand on the sidewalk in Brooklyn, waiting for another van. We were going to wait in this van, thank you very much, where we were mostly safe and somewhat warm.

To my surprise, the TLC Goon Squad backed down.

Ah, the power of the little plastic white collar.

While we were waiting in the car, I was amazed by the resignation of the elderly to their plight. I mean, they were grateful for my intervention on their behalf and for my friend's righteous, fiery indignation (The song 'Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around' was written with her in mind), but they would have done what they were told to do.

One of the passengers was a woman named 'Flora'. Originally from Cuba, she had lived in Miami for many years and then moved to the South Bronx 25 years ago when her husband lost his job and then they moved when he found work in New York.

She sighed as she said that she wasn't planning on getting home much before 1 AM. I said that that was outrageous and the TLC Goon Squad ought to be ashamed of themselves.

She sighed and said, "Bell, jew know, we all gonna get to heaben someday, honey. Annn, dey gonna see me der and I gonna see dem der and dey gonna be ashamed and, even dough dey be in heaben, it gonna be a little bit of hell for dem, right der."

the Rev' d Winnie Varghese's Institution
I laughed as she said, "Jes, Jes. Is true! Is true! See, we all gonna get to heaben. It's juss dat some of us, we gonna fly up der sideways."

It's a wonderful image, don't you think?

I think my friend Flora is right: We're all going to fly up to heaven. Some of us will ascend directly and some of us will fly up sideways.

Either way, it will be great fun.

I think my little six year old friend at St. Mark's in the Bowery is also right: I think the most fun is to fly while you can while you're here on earth.

The Episcopal Church has instituted two new rectors, both of whom 'fly' very differently from the other, but both have their eyes fixed firmly on Jesus. Both are working hard to help usher in more and more of the justice of the Realm of God here on earth.

If you felt a slight movement in the cosmos this weekend, perhaps now you'll understand.

Sideways or straight up, the world is about to turn.

Because, you know, we - in The Episcopal Church, anyway - ain't got time to die.

Glory to God!


David said...

What a wonderful post, dear Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing it and the pictures of Winnie's historic installation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Both services were absolutely wonderful. I was freely and joyfully able to renew my ordination vows.

Marthe said...

Why yes, your absence was noted (may be the first sign of getting hooked on daily blog reading) ... and a very very good thing that one cannot over feed virtual fish or yours would now be humongous ... :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Aw, thanks, Marthe. Thanks for feeding my fish. They told me you were very kind to them.

Kay & Sarah said...

I met Michael at General Convention and he is WONDERFUL! I know he will have an amazing ministry! I am sorry I did not meet Winnie but I will be listening to hear about her.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael was one of my seminarians. I will always be proud of that. Winnie is brilliant and funny and highly skilled. Watch for her in years to come