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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wars and rumors of war

I don't think I have often heard "Viet Nam" when it hasn't been in the same sentence as "War".

I don't think I have often heard "Viet Nam" without thinking "Agent Orange" - the herbicide and defoliant that was spread by American helicopters over Viet Nam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia.

It part of what was known as "Operation Ranch Hand," the goal of which was to defoliate rural/forested land, depriving guerrillas of food and cover and clearing in sensitive areas such as around base perimeters.

The chemical also destroyed crops necessary to sustain the lives of the innocent citizens of Viet Nam, producing a famine which left hundreds of thousands of people - men, women and children - malnourished and starving, dislocating them from their homes in an exodus to larger cities, like Saigon and Hanoi.

I can't hear the words "Viet Nam" without remembering horrific images of the effects of Agent Orange on human life: the hideous, red, angry exfoliation of skin, fast-spreading cancer of the larynx and lungs and hundreds of deformed, stillborn Vietnamese babies, all exposed to Agent Orange in utero or through breast milk.

I can't hear the words "Viet Nam" without remembering the day the news came to our small town that one of our high school football players had died in Viet Nam. Half of the town was covered in black bunting, half American flags, all at half mast.  Everyone wore a black band around their upper arm while they carried an American flag in their hand, or placed small American flags on their front lawn.

I can't hear the words "Viet Nam" without seeing a cascade of images in my mind:  American soldiers wading waist deep in swampy water.  Angry protest marchers carrying signs saying, "End the Viet War Now."  Draft dodgers fleeing to Canada. The Kent State Massacre.

The loud rumors of government deception in the war. Jane Fonda being called "Hanoi Jane". The self-immolation of a Vietnamese monk. The Tet Offensive. Da Nang. The My Lai Massacre. Starving Vietnamese children, their beautiful almond-shaped eyes brimming with tears, looking out over an empty bowl.

When "Johnny (or Janie) came marching home" from Viet Nam, they came not to a hero's welcome but, at best, no welcome at all. At worst, they were ridiculed and scorned for fighting in "that stupid war" - as if it were their fault.

Later, we would learn of heavy drug use among US troops, the military-sanctioned R&R (Rest and Relaxation) which was known as I&I (Intoxication and Intercourse), and the effects of Agent Orange on their skin, nervous system, and in the miscarriages, stillborn births and/or genetic defects, in the children their wives or they would bear.

I can't hear the words "Viet Nam" without thinking of these things.

Has it really been 50 years?

The other day, a young Vietnamese man named Scott did my manicure and pedicure while he chatted away in Vietnamese to his coworkers. This was right here, in Lower, Slower Delaware.

I was getting ready for all the "Memorial Day" celebrations and considered painting my toes red, white and blue. As I listened to Scott and his co-workers, I realized that I couldn't ask him to do that. He probably wouldn't have minded at all. Suddenly, I did.

As I sat in the wonderful massage chair, the warm water swirling round my feet, Scott's expert hands massaging my legs, I realized that I couldn't remember the name of that graduate of my high school who was the first from our little town to die in Viet Nam. 

I think I remember that he was a Marine. I think his parents were farmers. I think he intended to go to college after the war, which was really the only way he could afford to go to college, and then come back and help his family.

I think I remembered all of that, but I couldn't be certain and I couldn't remember his name.

I wish I could remember Viet Nam and not think of Agent Orange or Saigon or Hanoi or Da Nang or My Lai or mosquito-infested swamps and jungles and self-immolating monks or homeless Viet Nam vets or War.

I wish I could remember Viet Nam and the names of at least one "home town" young man or woman who gave their life so I could live to see the day when people from Viet Nam could come to this country and live in peace with the very people who brought them war.

That's why occasions like the Memorial Day are important.

It's important to remember. It's important not to forget.

But mostly, it's important to remember the people who fought and died in all the stupid wars we've waged since the beginning of time.

Next year, I will try to remember at least some of the names of some of the men and women who died in Viet Nam. I'll pray a small prayer of thanksgiving for their lives.

But, mostly, I'll remember young Vietnamese people like Scott and his co-workers.

And, I'll share with them the dream of peace.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ta Da!

Well, here's the finished product of our Memorial Day Weekend project.

We broke a sweat, but no bones.  The air turned blue a few times, but no red blood was shed.  A few black and blues were attained for the old red, white and blue. Most importantly, our relationship is still intact - a Pentecost miracle in and of itself, given all the hot air and "mystical incantations" (read: curse words) that were swirling around the chaos of assembling this succkah.  

Now, we have to assemble a large umbrella which will provide much needed shade around the deck chairs. And then, it's off to Home Depot to order window treatment for the three bedrooms and a screen door for the front of the house.

I also want to price a canvas cover for the swing as well as one of those deck storage keepers. I'll wait for them to go on sale in the Fall when we need it to store all the chairs and deck furniture before I actually make those purchases. I mean, what good is getting something on sale if you don't know how much money you've actually saved?

Ah, the joys of home ownership!

Here's the thing about this swing: It was a Christmas present from the kids. Three years ago.

Yup, it's been in storage all that time. We knew we were going to be doing the renovation on the house so we decided to wait before we assembled it.

Note to family: Thank you for the gift. It's lovely. Next time you all want to get together to buy us something, please make sure it's already assembled. The life you save may be one of your parents.

Off I go then, to assemble an umbrella and then to do some shopping.

It's Memorial Day weekend, y'all!

In between whatever it is you're doing, please do remember to shoot a few "arrow prayers" of thanksgiving for those who gave their lives in the line of service to this country.

Pray especially for those "wounded warriors" whose bodies or minds or souls were irreparably damaged by the ravages of war. The courage it takes for them to get up and face a new day of "freedom" makes them some of the bravest s/heros in my book. 

Actually, their courage in facing the day-to-day battle of being alive after the hell they've been through makes my complaining about assembling a porch swing look pretty lame.

Bravo! Brava! To all of our veterans - those who are with us and those who now rest in peace.

Please know that some of us are deeply grateful for your sacrifice.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why I'm not blogging today

Because this:
 Plus this:

(Please note how nicely everything is organized.)

In Eleven Easy Steps, is supposed to look like this:
Thus far, after several hours in the hot sun, everything looks like this:
 I just noticed the first sentence in the instruction manual: 
"To assemble the swing, you need two people."
Methinks it's time to have a proper G&T and wait for Ms. Conroy to return. 

If nothing else, this will be a memorable Memorial Day Weekend.

And to think, people died for me to have this freedom.

Why yes, I do believe I'll have another G&T. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dykes on Bikes on Banana Seats

Even Gay Pride Parades have their traditions. The NYC Pride Parade, near as I can tell, anyway, is always led by the contingency known as "Dykes on Bikes".

At the drop of a Rainbow Flag, after the Quean has declared the start of the parade, comes the revving of the engines of an entire fleet of bikes with fiercely independent looking women at the engines. One year, I laughed out loud as I noted the then Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of NY, purple shirt all neatly pressed, on the back of a huge Harley.  

I don't understand what it is about the image of women - lesbian women, especially - on a motorcycle that is either so frightening or amusing to so many people. I only know that it is.

So, you'll understand my complete enjoyment of the fun The website "The Gawker" is having with an article which appeared in Britain's The Daily Mail. Even NPR carried the story entitled, "Lost Bike Found After 41 years; Then, The Story Gets Weird".

Here's the story, in a nutshell (as it were):
One day, in 1970, 11-year-old lesbian Lisa Brown was riding her bike across a rickety wooden bridge over what is reverently described as "the mighty Herring river." As she went to make a slight adjustment to her path, Brown The Lesbian lost her balance and tumbled into the water, along with her bike. While Brown would eventually escape her watery grave and go on to become a great lesbian, her bike, deeply immersed in the muck, was considered lost to the ages.

Forty-two years later, Brown's wife Dierdre was walking the couple's dog about a quarter mile from the splash site when she noticed the old bike lodged among some trees.

Luck o' the Lesbians.
The Cape Cod Times reported the story last June. Put up a wee video of the two women who tell their story. Lovely. Charming. Very Cape Cod.

Always hot on the trail, The Daily Mail picked up the story - a whole, entire year later!! - and ran it with this headline:
" 'It was like finding a long lost friend': Lesbian reunited with bike she lost FOUR DECADES ago after her wife spots it in muddy stream."
What will those wild and crazy "dykes on bikes" do next, huh?

I mean, whatever was to be done? The Daily Mail, being a bastion of stellar journalism, obviously had to dig up the lede buried by The Cape Cod Times.  Clearly, we Yanks wouldn't know how to write a scintillating headline which would call readers to learn of the pluraform perversions of homosexual women if we tried.

I don't know. Maybe it was the fact that "the lesbians" kept talking about the cool banana seat on the bike throughout the video. This was not overlooked by The Daily Mail which quoted the video almost verbatim.

While the rest of the bike was rusted and mangled, the banana seat was in mint condition. The banana seat was what helped them figure out that this was THE bike, lost forty years ago. The banana seat was also blue. The banana seat was also vinyl. The banana seat was cool.

Banana seat. Banana seat. Banana seat.

I admit, it does sound better with a British accent. Funnier. More exotic, in a way.  Admittedly, the French would make it sound even more exotic, but then again, the French are pretty nonplussed by lesbians and have been for years. I think the French might even believe they invented lesbians.

I don't know. Maybe it's Friday before a long, holiday weekend.

Maybe I'm so "up to here" with the discrimination levied against women which was enshrined in two amendments from the House of Bishops in the Church of England that I'm getting giddy about anything having to do with the British and women.

I just find this whole thing's the word?....ah, yes: queer.

Dykes on bikes and banana seats.

Something tells me that this long holiday weekend isn't going to be anywhere near long enough.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

 Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

I'm not exactly sure why the subject of Marriage Equality brings out so much hatred and venom. I only know that it does.  And, almost always, in the name of Jesus.

Four pastors from North Carolina have, in the past four weeks, used their pulpits in their churches to spew prejudice and hatred. It's really quite astonishing when it isn't shocking and sad.

Pastor Ron Baity - no doubt, speaking only for himself - reportedly said, "For three hundred years, we have had laws that prosecute that lifestyle. We haven't got any smarter in the last few years than we have in the past three hundred years."

Pastor Tim Rabon preached from the book of the Chicken Little ("The Sky Is Falling") School of Theology: "What is stopping them from redefining marriage as between a person and a beast? We're not far from that."

Pastor Sean Harris, preaching from the "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child" School of Family Values said, "The second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist."

And then, there is the Grand Prize Winner of Homiletical Hate-Speech, Pastor Charles Worley, who preached, "I figured a way out....a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but it wouldn't pass congress. Build a great big large fence, 50-100 miles long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and homosexuals. Electrify the fence so they can't get out. Pretty soon, they'll all die out. They can't reproduce."

I don't know if he was stating that as a scientific fact or the fact that separating lesbians from "queers and homosexuals" and electrifying the fence means that we can't reproduce.

And you thought ignorance was to simple to figure out.
Ah, see how these Christians love one another! Well, maybe they do, but they sure do hate "lesbians, queers and homosexuals".

Whoever said "ignorance is bliss" sure never met any of these guys.

If you have the stomach for it and want to hear it for yourself, Martin Bashir reported on them last night on MSNBC's "The Last Word". You can see a clip here

For years, good liberal, progressive and moderate Christians have simply groaned and moved on with their lives, largely ignoring these purveyors of hate and ignorance who pervert the Gospel message, all in the Name of Jeeeee-sussss. I suspect we've all comforted ourselves in the thought that they will reap exactly what they sow. 

I think it's time for the real Jesus to stand up. Or, more aptly, for those who have actually read scriptures to stand up for Jesus.

I don't think that means "fighting fire and brimstone with fire and brimstone". Fighting these guys on the turf they define is to lower ourselves to their level. No one wants that. Furthermore, I don't think it does any good. In fact, I think it's harmful to the soul.

Trying to educate or re-educate those who choose to remain ignorant is an exercise in futility. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Or, as Mark Twain famously said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It will only frustrate you and annoy the pig."

So, what to do?

Well, Presbyterian Pastor Ken Locke of Nashville, TN has outlined some points about what many, many moderate, liberal and progressive Christians believe. I think he's made an excellent start. He writes:
• The Earth is the Lord’s, and when we pollute it, we are destroying God’s property. Issues of global warming aside, we desperately need to radically reduce our pollution.

• Science and Christianity are perfectly compatible. Evolution is real. The world was not created in 144 hours.

• Marriage between consenting adults should be perfectly legal regardless of sexual orientation. Legal protections for both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be equal.

• Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus et al must be treated with respect and consideration. They are God’s children just as much as Christians. Their salvation is in God’s hands, not ours.

• Young people have sex. Young women get pregnant. Abstinence is preferable, but birth control is sensible.

• No one has an abortion on a whim. Legally defining the beginning of life at conception is an act of power against the powerless. The decision to abort should be between the (mother) pregnant woman, the care-provider and God.

• No single branch of Christianity has a complete and pure understanding of God’s will for humanity.

• Faith has a role in every aspect of life, but often that role is more informative than prescriptive. The Bible says nothing about gun control, capital gains taxes or the U.S. Department of Education per sé. Anyone claiming it does is cherry-picking the text.

• God cares desperately for the poor, the immigrant and the powerless. We neglect them at our peril.

• Life belongs to God, not to the state. Capital punishment is not only failed policy, it is also usurpation of God’s prerogative by the state.

• God does not love any one country more, or less, than any other.
It's good, isn't it?  I think it's an excellent start to something that might lead to more.
I'm wondering: What if a "Moderate, Progressive, Liberal Christian Manifesto" were to be produced? Something that would fit nicely on, say a bookmark sized paper? Something one could pick up at the back of the church or in the supermarket or cafe and tuck into a pocket, a purse, or a book? 

I can see local ecumenical groups gathering together to produce these little tracts, put their names on the bottom or back, and make them widely available.

Perhaps we also "go viral," creating a FaceBook page where people of all ages can find us.  

Everybody knows what "those" Christians believe. Who do YOU say that Jesus is?  

How do YOU define Christianity? What are the important markers of what it means to be Christian in the Third Millennium?

It's time to Stand up, Stand up for Jesus, people.  He's gotten a pretty bad rap of late. The "branding" of Christianity has taken a beating. 

Rather than playing "dueling soundbites" or stooping to their level, why not say what it is we DO believe about Jesus and what He would think of the 'hot button' issues of today? Clearly. Plainly. 

No, the media won't give us too much attention. In fact, they are part of the problem. The Whack-a-doodles sell papers and air time.  We don't. But, when they do grab the headlines or the news clips or are the topic du jour of talk show hosts, we can simply whip out our "Manifesto" and say, "This is what we believe. This is what Christianity is really all about." And move on from there.

What do you think? What do you believe?

I think we've got a good message. An important message. A message of life and love and hope. Let's not let the message of hysteria and hyperbole and hatred drown it out.

Stand up, Stand up for Jesus, so the real Jesus can please stand up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CofE lays another curate's egg

Bette Midler once said, "When it's 3 o'clock in New York, it's still 1938 in London."

That was proven never more true than the recent action taken by the House of Bishops in the Church of England regarding women in the Episcopacy.

I don't pretend to understand it fully. However, I take comfort in the fact that Ruth Gledhill (AKA "Our Ruthy"), religion editor for the (London) Times and herself, the daughter of a priest in the Church of England, wrote that the press release written by the good bishops on the matter was "the worst written since the Reformation."

It sounds a bit worse than the traditional "Curate's Egg" often served up by Mother Church. It's partially good and partially bad but this one may or may not be entirely spoiled, depending on your perspective. 

I don't know. I can't be sure. I haven't tasted the thing yet - and thankfully, won't ever need to - although some say the whole thing is rotten. That's certainly the way it looks from across the Pond.

The Rev'd Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a priest in the CofE, blogged on it this morning in a post entitled "The Battered Bride of Christ".  Comparing the amendments to domestic abuse, she wrote:
So, the question for women priests today is: do we stay with this abusive institution? Do we stay, hoping it will get better? Do we stay, because we feel called by God to be in this marriage? Do we stay, thinking we can continue to try to change it from the inside? Or do we flee to the nearest refuge (let's ignore the fact for now that they rarely exist) - leaving home, family, community, and our dreams behind?
Here's how I understand what's happened thus far. Apparently, Synod voted during its last session to approve the idea of women in the episcopacy, sending it on to the House of Bishops (of which not all bishops are members, apparently, which seems odd to me, but I digress).  Synod asked the House not to make substantial amendments to the Measure, but didn't rule out tweaking just a bit. 

Finding it irresistible not to spoil the bed once it was made, the bishops apparently had to lie down in it and put their "smells" and "markings" on it with two amendments.  And this, as I understand it, is the rub which has become such an irritant to so many.

What do these two amendments propose to do? Again, it depends on your perspective. I thought I understood Bishop Alan's explanation in his post, "Swimmin' with the Wimmin Part 94". It sounds as if it's a rather pathetic attempt by Les Bishops to keep their manly pride intact if the wimmin were going to be allowed on their purple playing field.

Sort of a canonical jock strap, as it were.

Then, I read Bishop Pete's blog "Women Bishops - what the House of Bishops amendments mean". To hear him describe it, the primary concern was "the congregation" and the delegation of a bishop who shares the theological principles of the parish that is asking for delegated ministry.

It also says that the delegation of a bishop doesn't divest a diocesan bishop of his/her authority or functions. The intent, as I gather, is to  "preserve the integrity of the ministry of women" who are bishops. 

It's sort of like "flying bishops" but without the airplane.

The Rev'd Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH (Women and the Church - a bit like The Episcopal Women's Caucus) - said,
"They (the House of Bishops) have failed to listen to the voice of ordained women and those who support their ministry and been swayed by those who are opposed into making concessions that can only undermine the ministry of women in future years.

“The House of Bishops’ intervention will be an enormous blow to the morale of women clergy who were looking to their bishops for clear affirmation of their ministry as a welcome gift to the Church.”
Isn't that just like a woman? (sigh and ugh!) ....emotional.

Look (says she, tongue firmly implanted in the side of her cheek), the bishops were only concerned about the congregations. And, after all, they were also concerned about "preserving the integrity of the ministry of women". They were being proper gentlemen and there you are, whimpering on about the "morale of women"!

I always get nervous when men with great power and authority think they need to take steps to "preserve the integrity of the ministry of women". What that usually means is that they are protecting themselves.

See also: canonical jock strap. 

In any event , it now all depends on "Les Six" (you know it's bad when an English person describes something in French) - a group of six people (one woman and five men) who will look over the two amendments to the vote and decide whether or not it is 'legal enough' to move forward to Synod.

Synod, as near as I can figure, is a bit of a mixture of our Executive Council and General Convention. It will be held in York in June.

Methinks it may well be time to call in the Queen. She is, after all, 'The Defender of the Faith'. Seems to me that the faith of the Church of England is in great peril and needs to be defended.

When we do call the Queen, we may want to consider playing the song that won an Oscar nomination in 1938 (the year in which Midler thinks England is stuck) for the film 'Carefree'. It was sung by Fred Astaire and made #1 in the Billboard Charts for 8 weeks. It was called, "Change Partners":
Must you dance every dance
With the same fortunate man?
You have danced with him since the music began.
Won't you change partners and dance with me?

Ask him to sit this one out
And while you're alone,
I'll tell the waiter to tell him
He's wanted on the telephone.

You've been locked in his arms
Ever since heaven knows when.
Oh, won't you change partners, and then...
You may never want to change partners again.
Here's what my Grandmother would say about a Curate's Egg or anything one might even suspect may be spoiled: Better to throw the whole thing out and be minus one egg than make even one person sick.

Here's what I think: You can dress up discrimination in a cope and mitre, even put a Shepherd's crook in its hand and stamp it with all the power and authority of The Church, but it's still discrimination.

If 'Les Six' determine that these two amendments are within good canonical boundaries, that doesn't make them any less discriminatory.

I understand. We're all only looking for the classic Anglican Via Media. We just want to make room for everyone at the table.

Well, if you are allowing bigotry disguised as "pastoral sensitivity" and "preserving the integrity of the ministry of women", at the Lord's Table, you are neither pastoral nor sensitive. The only thing you are preserving is discrimination, in which there is no integrity, nothing pastoral, and nothing sensitive.

If these two amendments pass, how can anyone look at the Church of England and see a shred of integrity, much less anything that has anything to do with the Body of Christ?

This is no time to be a 'timid curate' and dare not complain about the quality of an inedible egg that would ordinarily be immediately rejected.

Frederick Douglass once wisely cautioned that "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." He said:
”If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both......"
Here's what I say: Spit out the curate's egg and demand another.

Enough is enough! Time to change partners and rejoin the dance of liberation and freedom promised in the Gospel. 

They eyes of the world are watching and waiting.

It's the year of our Lord 2012 - not 1938. Time to get a grip on reality, m'Lords.

Time to cook up another egg. And, get it right, this time. Which means, get the male bishops out of the church kitchen.

Clearly, they don't even know how to boil an egg!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ms. Coco Chanel

Ms. Coco Chanel at age 2
Oh, she's as cute as cute can be, alright, but she's so damn smart, it's scary.

I'm speaking, of course, of the one, the only, Ms. Coco Chanel, the amazing Havanese pup.

Well, she's not a pup so much any more. She's seven years old, already, but she's always been cute and bossy and sassy and just as smart as a whip.

She's a rescue dog - all our pups are -  but we haven't told her that. Well, we have but she won't listen. She knows better. She rescued us because obviously, she was born to be Queen and we are worthy enough subjects.

She knows the days of the week - especially Monday and Friday when work begins and ends, and she definitely knows Saturday and Sunday, but she also knows our schedules pretty well and plans her day accordingly. 

She knows how to tell time - especially when it's time to eat and barks to remind us when it's time to be fed. She knows what time Ms. Conroy will return from work and begins to take up her post by the door to be first in line to greet her.

She knows what suitcases mean and is the first at the door as long as there is a suitcase in view. She hates for her "pack" to be separated so she often comes in and barks for everyone to be in the same room that she has decided we all need to be at that particular time.

Mr. Lenny Bruce Brisco
She is the only female dog (of three) and is the Alpha dog in the house (but, of course). She makes sure her boys are clean, spending long minutes cleaning Lenny's eyes. He's our Shih Tzu and let's just say that Lenny takes the 'short bus' to school.

She also loves to play tricks on Lenny. When we lived in the rectory in Chatham, she would come downstairs to the TV room, spot Lenny sitting on the chair and decide that just wasn't right. So, she would start to bark as if someone were at the door and run up and down the stairs, calling Lenny with great alarm and urgency.

Poor Lenny would run up the stairs, barking the whole way. Ms. Coco would then saunter back down the stairs and sit exactly where Lenny was sitting. Meanwhile, Poor Lenny was upstairs, at the back door, looking around, quite bewildered.

We called it "Dog TV". It was quite entertaining and better than any sit-com.

Ms. Coco is pretty nonplussed by Theo and he with her. They are, however, "barking buddies".

One will tip off the other if a car dares come down the street and too close to the house. They both share a dislike of the garbage truck and, God forbid a delivery is made to our door. Theo and Ms. Coco race each other to the door to let us know that an intruder has arrived.

Ms. Coco is Ms. Conroy's girl - no question about that - but the one thing she shares with Theo is an adoration of Ms. Conroy.

I wish I had a picture of the two of them, one on one pillow of the love seat, the other on the other, with Ms. Conroy in between them both.

It happens every night, about 30 minutes after Ms. Conroy arrives home from work and gets settled in. It's really very sweet.

Ms. Coco is also the unofficial harbor master here on Rehoboth Bay. No pontoon or speedboat, no jet ski or canoe or paddle boat can come by the house without a stern warning from Ms. Coco.

Everyone with a boat calls to her, "Hey, Ms. Coco!"

She even barks at the Canada geese and Mallard and Hooded Mergenser ducks who swim by. The Canada geese come close and honk back at her. The Mallards and Mergensers also come close and stare at her quizzically until she stops.

We call it Dog TV - Rehoboth Bay version.

For the past 18 months, Ms. Coco has had some behavior changes. She's gotten "snappy" and growls more often than she used to. She was never really good with small children - mainly because she could neither predict nor control their behavior - but she wasn't bad.

Just about a year ago, she had a seizure. She was staying with a friend who said that her back legs went out and she was dazed and confused for about 5 minutes. Our friend immediately called Ms. Conroy at work who immediately came home and took her to our vet.

Blood work was done along with a thorough exam but Dr. D said that he feared it might not be metabolic. A few days later, the tests confirmed his suspicions: Ms. Coco has a brain tumor.  Within a week, you could actually feel where it is in her head.

Our Vet said that he could do lots of tests that would be very expensive but they would only tell us what he already knew. Keep her comfortable, he said. Enjoy her. Come back and talk to me if her quality of life begins to be compromised.

We're beginning to reach that point.

She's been having little seizures - nothing dramatic....well, that we've been able to witness - but she has tremors and then she is very confused and licks and licks and licks her paws. Sometimes, after she has a seizure, she is so confused she doesn't know where she is or who we are and she growls and snaps and gets very aggressive.

Last night, she had two seizures while we were sleeping. It startled her awake and she growled and snapped at Ms. Conroy. It was very distressing. She must have aspirated after the last seizure because she spent from about 5 AM to 9 AM trying to bring up something in her throat. I was afraid she was going to choke to death.

Ms. Coco, this morning
She's settled down now and has been sleeping most of the day away.

I went in to check on her and she looked at me as if to say, "Fix this."

Broke. My. Heart.

We've tried to give her "doggy Tylenol", which used to help, but where she once ate it up like a special treat, she now refuses it.

We are entering into that phase of illness which is not afforded to humans. We have to determine the markers of 'quality of life' before we decide whether or not to take measures to end her misery.

For the past two mornings, she has refused breakfast, but she has eaten her supper. She has also eaten a few doggie cookies. She is drinking water. She does have a terrible odor around her mouth and nose. I can only imagine that it's the cancer. It sure smells like the stuff I remember before we had the diagnostic tools and the surgical techniques to remove the cancerous tumor before it was inoperable.

She is not incontinent. She does not appear to be in any pain, thank God.

The incidence of seizures seems to be increasing and, after them, her aggression, which is an increasing concern. She has not bitten either one of us but I really fear it's just a matter of time.

She's due to go to the groomer on Wednesday with the boys but we agree that grooming is not a top priority right now. We fear that will just be too much stress.

We're going to have to make a decision - soon - sooner than either of us will ever be ready for it. Actually, any time it's necessary to make this decision will be a time that's too soon.

Ms. Coco asking, again, "Fix this, please."
But, at least we have the power to end her suffering, when that time comes. Humans are not that fortunate.

Not unless there are doctors and nurses who are willing to look the other way.

We want to make sure that it's her suffering we're ending and not our inability to see her suffer. As long as she's not in pain and can still enjoy being Queen and Harbor Master, we can put up with just about anything. 

To try and get my mind off my distress, I've been reading over the "Blue Book" (now a lovely color I would guess is salmon). It's good preparation for General Convention, but it's also a wonderful distraction and welcome diversion.

I am especially grateful for the report from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music.

Included in their work is a list of prayers for creation, with a page (350) entitled, "Prayers Suitable for Use in Church or for Other Gatherings, at the Adoption, Illness, Loss, or Death of a Companion, Service or Other Beloved Animals".

I ask you to join me in praying this prayer "For an infirm animal"
God, whose compassion and mercy are over all your works: Hear our prayers for Ms. Coco Chanel, this creature of yours, in her infirmity. Free her from suffering and from fear; bring her healing and repose; and comfort the hearts of those burdened with anxiety, especially Ms. Conroy and Elizabeth. We pray through your beloved Child Jesus and by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Thank you.

I know that, with your prayers and God's help, we'll be able to make it through this difficult time.

I just wish I could answer Ms. Coco's request and just "fix this".

I know I can't. So, I write and I pray. And, I write as prayer.

Besides cuddling and loving her, it's really all I know to do.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The implementation of a resolution

General Convention 2009 passed a resolution known as A177 which established a Denominational Health Care Plan for The Episcopal Church. It would require "all domestic dioceses, parishes, missions, and other ecclesiastical organizations or bodies subject to the authority of this church, for clergy and lay employees who are scheduled to work a minimum of 1,500 hours annually" to subscribe. 

The point of the resolution was (1) to mandate health care insurance for lay employees, which had always been left up to the discretion and integrity of the church which employed them (it is already mandated by canon for clergy) and (2) reduce the cost of health insurance, over time, by increasing the number of those insured. 

Good deal, right? Of course, right. Justice and parity for lay employees. Lower rates, over time, for health care insurance. I lobbied for it. We voted on it. Done.

Except, the resolution also stated that "each diocese has the right to make decisions and to plan design options offered by the plan administrator, minimum cost-sharing guidelines for parity between clergy and lay employees, domestic partner benefits in accordance with General Convention Resolution 1997-C024 and the participation of schools, day care facilities and other diocesan institutions (that is, other than the diocese itself and its parishes and missions) in The Denominational Health Plan...."  

I was nervous about that last part. I was concerned that the language raised issues that might cause more problems in terms of implementation. 

Turns out, I was right. 

In the diocese of my canonical residence - that would be Newark - there has been a great deal of controversy, specifically in terms of "cost sharing". 

The Bishop's Advisory Commission on Human Resources (BACHR) has proposed a policy which was postponed from our regularly scheduled Diocesan Convention in January and rescheduled as part of a Special Convention which will take place on June 9th. 

Now, ostensibly, the "special" nature of this Special Diocesan Convention is about ..... I'm sure you can guess by now...... of course, it could only be one thing......wait for it..... MISSION. 

We are going to hear from a special Mission Strategy Committee which has been studying "mission". It is within the context of mission that we are going to be asked to consider "cost sharing" as a way for our congregations to be able to afford providing providing the mandated health insurance for the laity - and thus, be more 'nimble' for mission. 

The BACHR presentation is here in downloadable PDF form. It's very thorough. They go through great pains to let us know how A177 will affect the diocese. And, they want to make sure we know that they have been working on this for three whole years.

They want us to know that because, obviously, no one knew they were doing this. They never once consulted anyone who was directly affected by their work or proposals.You know, like clergy or lay employees or the churches that employ them.

If you read their presentation, however, you discover that the problems they raise concerning costs of implementation of A177 only involves three people in three churches in the diocese. Every other church in the diocese is already in compliance.

And, for that, the diocese wants ALL clergy to "cost share" 10% of the premiums for a single health insurance policy. Spouses and children? Well, actually, all the canons require is for clergy to have health insurance. Not families. That would be nice but it's not required.

The Newark Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA) has been on the case.  You can see the timeline of events in terms of how this has all unfolded.  You can see what NECA is asking from the diocese:
At the Special Convention, we seek to: Maintain the current diocesan standards of congregations paying for the necessary level of insurance with following guidelines:
  • All eligible lay employees and clergy should continue to use good judgement about what type of insurance is needed for their situation and opt for coverage elsewhere when possible (coverage for spouse at his/her work, coverage under their policy, etc. According to BACHR research, this is already happening from clergy when possible and there's no reason to expect differently.
  •  Allow 5 years to reach parity in the few places where it's not already in place.
  •  Consider cost sharing within the broader context of the entire HR package and only after a holistic model of clergy compensation related to the present mission and reality.  Cost sharing may be encouraged at this time at the parish level but should not be required before more careful study. 
You'll also see the most recent letter from NECA to the diocese which reveals some pretty shocking facts. For example, NECA has repeatedly tried to communicate to the folks at BACHR:
We have made these points to the Bishop’s Advisory Committee on Human Resources and Benefits on numerous occasions:

     a) At Diocesan Council in November, where we were first invited and then told we were not welcome;
     b) At a meeting between NECA and BACHR when we provided input but were not allowed to take part in the critical  formation of a policy;
     c) In workshops at Diocesan Convention
     d) In a petition circulated by NECA in January 2012 and presented to the Bishop and BACHR which included 73 signatories.
     e) In District meetings when BACHR members were present.
NECA members asked for time for discussion at clergy conference, at a special clergy day, and then by requesting the rescheduling of two of the for BACHR hearings with the Diocese when the Bishop, Canon to the Ordinary, and 25 clergy were on a Diocesan-sponsored trip to Israel.  All of these requests were denied.
So, what's going on here? You tell me. I'm yet to figure it all out. It's like the bishop is getting advice from people who have at least been listening to what the Tea Party Republicans have to say. 

I'm thinking some of the folks on BACHR are really, really pissed about Obamacare and this is their way at being able to do something - anything - about their anger.

A Very Simple Strategy for Mission
I know one thing: This has NOTHING whatsoever to do with mission.

But, doesn't it sound familiar? Haven't we all been hearing about how we all have to be more "nimble" and "restructure" in order to do mission?

I think that's absolutely back-asswards. We need to decide on mission and then build structures that will support our mission.

We may not need to cut anything. Indeed, we may find new or renewed energy that makes us so committed to mission we'll find we need to add, not cut.

Here's the thing: talking about cutting clergy compensation packages and downsizing in the midst of a Special Convention which is ostensibly about "mission" is to talk about apples and spaghetti.

It is setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy for failure.

Mission is always about a theology of gratitude and abundance, not regrets and scarcity.

The energy that drives mission is not money but the pulse of a deeply grateful heart.  Gratitude is part of the transformative power of Eucharist (it's not called "The Great Thanksgiving" for nothing).

Mission always happens when you say "yes" unless there is a good reason to say "no".

In every situation I know where mission is flourishing, the bishop not only supports but models mission. Perhaps that's because s/he understands that if s/he allows parochial models of ministry to go part time (Oh, woe, what else are we to do?), then, pretty soon, episcopal models of ministry will go part time. It's really the next logical step.

An old bit of wisdom I have learned from shepherds is, "If the shepherd doesn't feed the flock, the flock will eat the shepherd."

The issue is not statistics and demographics. It's certainly not about cutting salaries and compensation packages. The issue is engaging and utilizing and applying religious imagination. That means taking some risks. Daring. Dreaming a new church into being.

We're pretty good at singing about it and talking about it but when it comes to doing it, we retreat behind miserly behavior and politics which betray all of our bravado about the abundance promised in the Gospel.

So, I'm wondering what is really going on when the diocese consistently blocks NECA from a full and equal part in the conversation - especially when clergy and their families are most affected by the proposed resolution.

I'm wondering why the BACHR felt it had to push its agenda through a process in the diocese when the bishop and the canon and many, many clergy and laity were out of the country.

I'm wondering why this Special Convention only allows about 1.5 hours for business, which includes hearing from a "Mission Strategy Committee" as well as voting on this resolution concerning clergy compensation packages when, by their own admission, this only affects 3 people in 3 congregations in the entire diocese.

Why hurt many when the diocese could better spend its time working on creative strategies to help a few?

General Convention Resolution A177 does not mandate "cost sharing". Indeed, it simply states that implementation of this resolution will be the responsibility of the diocese.

Besides, we voted at diocesan convention in January - overwhelmingly - to send our deputation to Indianapolis in July to ask clarifying questions about the implementation of A177. Several other dioceses have submitted resolutions which ask to overturn A177, so it may be a moot point after July.

We do not have to pass a policy regarding cost sharing to be in compliance with A177.

So, why is it being rammed through the diocese? At a special convention to talk about "mission"?

This smells like yesterday's fish. 

Anyone else having problems in their diocese concerning A177. What have you done? How have you approached it? I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Come. Eat. Drink.

Per crucem ad lucem
Some of you know that I spent Easter with some of my Greek Orthodox friends. As it so happened on the calendar this year, it was the week after Western Christians celebrate Easter.

I blogged about it here.  One of the stories I told of my experience of that magnificent liturgy includes the following:
After we gathered on the steps of the church - the place was PACKED and the crowd spilled out onto the street - holding our lit candles and proclaiming and singing many, many times, "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is Risen) and responding "Alithos Anesti" (Truly, He is risen), Fr. Demetri said, "I beg you. I implore you. Please don't leave now. Please come back and celebrate Eucharist. Give thanks for this Great Mystery of our faith."

He paused a moment for effect and then said, "I promise that you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay. I'm begging you. I'm imploring you. Don't leave. It has only just begun! I promise from the bottom of my heart!"

And then, about half of the congregation followed him back into the church while the rest slipped quietly away.
Here's what I didn't tell you.

A few moments later, as we were preparing to celebrate Holy Eucharist, Fr. Demetri stood on the chancel steps and said, "Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox tradition - in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in an Orthodox Church can receive Communion."

This, after Fr. Demetri had promised, ".... you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay".

I did. And, because I was not baptized in the Orthodox Church but still part of the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church," I was excluded from a "foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all".

I sat in my pew and wept.

Now, I've been to other Greek - and Russian and Armenian - Orthodox churches before. I have always been invited to partake in the blessed bread. The consecrated wine, as I understood it, was reserved for those who had received Orthodox baptism.

I didn't like it, and I don't pretend to understand the theology, but I was grateful to be invited to share in at least part of the meal.

I'm not sure why this young priest has decided to make this exclusion so obvious - especially after his invitation and his begging and imploring. I asked my friend and she said, simply, "I don't know. It's just the way Fr. Demitri has done it in the three years he's been with us."

She looked pained and I didn't want to ruin the celebration or festivities by making her more uncomfortable, but I did ask, gently, "Has no one asked him about this?"

She looked away, "'s... well, he's the priest."

I don't think my experience of exclusion at that Great Orthodox Vigil of Easter Eucharist would have been quite so painful if I hadn't been given such a great build up to Eucharist.

I believe what Fr. Demetri said. I know it to be true. So, why would I be excluded, just because I hadn't been baptized in the "right" church? Don't we believe that there is one Body and one Spirit;  one hope in God's call to us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God who is (Creator) of all"?

That's not just a clever liturgical innovation that marks the opening liturgy of our baptism. Those words come right from St. Paul. I'm assuming Greek Orthodox also read the Epistles of St. Paul.

If Eucharist is truly a 'foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all', why was I being excluded from having the foretaste now?

No wonder more than half the church left before Eucharist. I know I considered it. I suspect they all knew what was coming. And, I suspect many of them came to church that night with relatives or friends - perhaps even a spouse - who had not been baptized in the Orthodox church.

The 'easy', institutional answer, of course, is to have everyone catechetized and then baptized in the Orthodox church. But, is that the pastoral answer?

What would Jesus do?

Feeding the Multitudes
Well, let's consider that, shall we? Let me take you back to a remote place in ancient Palestine. All four gospels report the story (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15)

Thousands of people have gathered to listen to Jesus. Well, Mark and Matthew say 4,000 (plus women and children) while Luke and John say 5,000, so probably closer to 6,000, give or take a few unimportant women and children who don't count anyway so why count them?

There is a quibble about whether or not it was 'five loaves and two fish' or 'seven loaves and a few small fish', but again, we're talking a miracle here, people. Lighten up!

You know the story. The disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry. Let's send them away so they can get something to eat."

Again, the details vary but the bottom line is Jesus would have none of that plan. Instead, he gathered all the food that was brought to him, blessed and broke the bread and fish and - lo and behold! - there was not only enough for everyone to eat, but even leftovers. Seven baskets, by one count.

I don't know about you, but I can't count the number of sermons I've heard in the past which tells this story as the model of our Eucharistic celebration.  This, of course, and the story of the Last Supper Jesus had with is disciples in that upper room.

Imagine, then, if you will, that when the disciples came to Jesus and said, "The people are hungry," He said to them, "What!?! I can't feed all these people! Well, I could, of course, because I am, after all, the Christ (but don't tell anyone), but I'm not going to do that now. Not yet! Idiots! They have no idea what I'm about to feed them! So, okay, let's start catechism classes first. A couple of weeks ought to do it. Then, we'll have to schedule a baptism. And THEN, we'll feed them."

"But...but...Master," says Peter, "It's really late and this is a remote place and they are Really Hungry. Why not just send them away to their villages so they can buy something for themselves to eat?"

And Jesus says, "Right. Good plan. Send them away, then. If they want the 'real stuff' they are going to have to learn about what it is I'm doing and exactly what it is I'm giving them. And then, they'll have to get baptized. I promise that no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all".

The Last Supper, by Bouveret, 19th century
Or, imagine Jesus in that upper room with the disciples asking, "Wait just a minute. Can I see all of your baptismal certificates before we eat? Peter, go 'round and collect them all so we can begin."

Preposterous, right? Never happen, right? Jesus never turned anyone away from eating with Him.

Whew! Glad you're not Greek Orthodox, right? Glad you're part of the 'inclusive' Episcopal Church, aren't you?

Wait. Hang on just a red hot New York minute. I think we need to look at the mote in our eyes before we criticize the splinters in others.

Canon 1.17.7 in The Episcopal Church states: “no unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

Of course, we know that this canon is broken all the time - and not just at Christmas and Easter.  There are, however, other Episcopal churches that make that canon very clear at the announcements and/or in their church bulletins before celebrating Eucharist.

Which is why there is a resolution - actually, a couple of them - which will be considered when The Episcopal Church gathers at General Convention July 4-12 in Indianapolis, that ask us to take another look at that canon.

Eastern Oregon’s Resolution C040 would pave the way for an open invitation to communion by eliminating Canon 1.17.7.  The resolution asks to allow the church’s congregations to “invite all, regardless of age, denomination, or baptism to the altar for Holy Communion.”

North Carolina's Resolution C029 proposes a longer-term look at the issue and calls for a special commission to conduct “a study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion” and recommend to the 78th General Convention any amendment to Canon 1.17.7 it believes is needed.

The texts of both resolutions are available here. Eastern Oregon’s is accompanied by a diocesan statement explaining its stance.

St. Jerome
If you don't think this is a 'hot button' issue in The Episcopal Church, I urge you to read the ENS (Episcopal News Service) article about it here, paying particular attention to the comments that follow the article.

Holy Moley! I hardly recognize some of the comments as coming from Episcopalians, much less Christians.

This discussion strikes at the very real tension between the theology and the centrality of baptism in our lives of Christian faith and the reality of how we apply our pastoral theology to people who are hungering and thirsting for the real, sacramental presence of Jesus in their lives. 

Of course, baptism is important to me. I understand the theology. I understand its importance as one of the two great Sacraments of the Church - Eucharist being the other. According to our Catechism (BCP 860), confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation and unction are five Sacramental Rites.

In truth, I have lots of questions about our assumptions concerning baptism. I understand that scripture tells us that Jesus was baptized by John, but show me one place in scripture where Jesus baptized anyone. Go ahead. I'll wait.

We may assume that the disciples were, in fact, baptized and that they also did so at the direction of Jesus, but the truth is that these facts were not recorded in Scripture.  It seems a shaky argument, indeed, to argue from the letter of scripture and then, when something is not there, to assume that a fact was so obvious that no one bothered to record it.

Although it appears that Jesus never told anyone in any of the Gospel accounts to be baptized, all of them report his many discussions with numerous people about how to have a relationship with God.

Personally, I think there's a great deal to be said about that.

Here's the thing: As a priest, I would like a little more latitude in the discretion I use in the distribution of the elements of Holy Eucharist. I would like to be able to feed someone who is spiritually hungry and then have the opportunity to talk with them about the significance of that sacramental act.

Divine Caroline
I mean, we offer communion to babies, don't we? We don't insist that 3 or 4 or even 6 year old kids be able to submit a paper outlining their understanding of Eucharistic theology before we give them communion.

We feed them first and then provide catechesis. Well, that's the plan, anyway.

And, if after some careful catechesis, the person in question still declined to be baptized? The truth of it is, I'm not sure what I would do. It would depend on the situation, I suppose.

I mean, if Peter could deny Jesus three times and go on to be the 'rock' on which His church was founded, I suppose I could allow at least as many times for someone to decline baptism.

Would that be a reflection on the efficacy of my teaching or what is in the person's heart?

Unless even evidence to the contrary, I'd rather err on the side of generosity and compassion.

I'm curious to know your feelings on the subject. What do you feel about requiring baptism before Eucharist?  Beyond being principled about (heaven forbid!) not excluding anyone from anything, what is your thinking about what Scripture and the Church's history and tradition have to say in his matter? What are your expectations of the church's role in this?  What are your expectations about the role of clergy in these pastoral matters?

If Jesus says, "Come" should we say, "Wait?"

Why? Why not?

Tell stories. Blog on it. Link your blogs here. 

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I'm really curious to know.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Superstition and Prayer

Every time I sit out on my deck, a bee comes to visit me.

My chair in the living room is right in front of the sliding glass door that looks out onto the deck by the water. I watch as birds fly by. I love it when the Mallards and Canada Geese swim in front of our home. Occasionally, I see a big fat fly buzzing at the screen. A wasp or two will make an appearance. But, near as I can tell, no bees.

Not until I go out onto the deck and sit in my chair. All of a sudden, from out of seemingly nowhere, comes the bee.

What's disconcerting about this visit is that the bee seems to be staring right at me.

He (or she - I think it may be a she), seems to stand - or fly - perfectly still. About three or four feet from where I'm sitting. Maybe a little side to side motion every once in a while, but mostly, just there. In front of me. Staring at me.

Creeps me out.

I'm not sure if I look like a flower or a predator.

I've tried to do a little research about what bees see. The one helpful thing I've learned is that bees see things almost five times faster than humans.

They also see in color, allowing them to find flowers vs. shrubs. Apparently, they like red and yellow best, probably because they are easier to see. They aren't as attracted to green, unless there are colors on the green.

Yes, I was wearing something green. No other color. Just green. So, this bee shouldn't be so interested in me, right? But s/he is. Very.

As I often do, I turned to mythology for some clues. I learned the Kalahari Desert's San people tell of a bee that carried a mantis across a river. The exhausted bee left the mantis on a floating flower but planted a seed in the mantis's body before it died. The seed grew to become the first human.

In many cultures, they are seen as messengers from the Gods.  The Homeric Hymn to Apollo acknowledges that Apollo's gift of prophecy first came to him from three bee maidens, usually identified with the Thriae. The Thriae was a trinity of pre-Hellenic Aegean bee goddesses.

And, of course, honey is known by many as being the nectar of the Gods. 

I was considering all these things and wondering what they meant when I got a text message from one of our kids. She had been away on a business trip where the outcome was uncertain, came home and found that one of her mirrors had fallen off the wall and was shattered on the floor.

"What do you think that means?" she asked.

I burst out laughing and wrote, "It means what you want it to mean."

She wrote back about 15 minutes later with the message that her boyfriend had apparently moved the mirror to a place that was, admittedly, better suited but not as secure and it fell.

"Apparently, it means that my boyfriend is going to have seven years of bad luck for breaking my mirror," she wrote.

I have no doubt.

I could hear Stevie Wonder's song in the backgound:
Very superstitious, writing's on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past

When you believe in things that you don't understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain't the way
Which got me to wondering about prayer chains. You know, they abound in many churches. The idea, I suppose, is that if you get enough people praying the same thing you increase your chances of catching God's ear and changing the outcome.

At least, I think that's what some people think.  Or, maybe they become part of a prayer chain because it helps not to feel quite so hopeless and helpless. "At least, I can pray."

I know I have been asked to pray for people who have prefaced their request with, "I'm asking you because you're a priest and you have God's ear."

I usually answer, "I will pray for you but you have to know that I am not any closer to God's ear than you are." I say that because I believe it. I don't believe that priests are talismans. Hopefully, we live a dedicated life of prayer, but I don't think that comes with any guarantees.

I pray not because I believe I can change anything. Rather, I pray because it changes me. It makes me more thoughtful of and compassionate towards the sufferings of others.

I would hope that is the reason people participate in prayer chains. Not because they are spiritually arrogant enough to think they can change outcomes, but because, in praying, they are witnessing to the suffering of another, offering hope and compassion and nourishment for the soul.

It's sort of like bees in a hive, I suppose. Our prayers are like gathered pollen which turns into a nectar for the soul, sweeter than fine honey.

Maybe that's the 'message' that bee was trying to give me this morning. To work harder - be more industrious - in my prayer life.

Then again, maybe it was just a bee, doing what bees do.

Just in case, I'll throw some salt over my left shoulder. Or, is it my right?

Maybe I'll just go spend some time in meditation instead. But, not on the deck where that bee will come and stare at me.

Creeps me out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Black Church and The POTUS

Black Art Depot

I'm fascinated by the way the 'evolution' of the President's position on Marriage Equality is being played out in the Press. 

It's being called 'historic', and I suppose it is. Mr. Obama is, after all, the first sitting President to 'come out' in support of Marriage Equality in such clear, unequivocal terms. And, he did so citing his faith as a "practicing Christian".

Bravo,  Mr. President.

What is even more fascinating - when it's not thoroughly annoying - is to watch how the Press is spinning the story about the Black Church and their reaction to the President's statement. 

They talk about 'the Black Church' as if they know what they're talking about.  I think there are at least a few reasons for that. The first is that these are predominantly white folk talking about the Black Church. The emphasis of their storyline is not so much what the Black Church thinks about Marriage Equality but how the Black Vote will be affected in November. 

It's the racism version of wedge politics.

I mean, do you really think, in the privacy of the voting booth, that all those people of color are going to vote for Mitt "I like to fire people" Romney based on this one issue of human sexuality and not look at both his past record and his future plans - not just political rhetoric - to address economic recovery, unemployment, education, health care, immigration, and a whole host of other issues that seriously impact quality of life in this country? 

C'mon! How insulting to the intelligence of people of color! Pul- eeeze!

The other problem is that, for the most part, they are talking to Black Pastors who talk about the Black Church as if it were one, monolithic, monochrome, unified entity.

That's a bit like saying that The Episcopal Church is supportive of Marriage Equality. We are not. I think it's fair to say that The Episcopal Church has 'evolved' in its acceptance of LGBT people. For the most part, many will ordain them, bless the covenants they make, and even elect a few (two, thus far) to the episcopacy, knowing of their sexual orientation well before their elections and consecrations. 

We've also come a long way, baby, in advancing the case to develop liturgical rites of blessings on the covenants made by two people of the same sex. It looks like we are actually going to move General Convention to authorizing those liturgical rites, but, as they say in the Opera, it ain't over till the fat lady sings and she won't do that until sometime in July in Indianapolis. 

Having said all that, it also must be said that there are dioceses and bishops and clergy and laity in churches all over The Episcopal Church who will provide a 'warm welcome' to LGBT people, and even more warmly take our pledge or tithe, even let us sing in the choir and arrange the flowers on the altar and carry the cross in procession but will not bless the covenants we make nor support a candidate for ordination to any order of ministry.  

That is the truth of it, despite the fact that canons in The Episcopal Church are very, very clear that there can not be - will not be - any discrimination in this church of ours. Ever. For any reason. Including gender and sexual orientation.  

It's fair to say that The Episcopal Church is fairly progressive on most social issues, but to say, "The Episcopal Church is supportive of Marriage Equality" is to make a generalization that is too broad to be accurate.  

We're evolving and have evolved faster and closer than say, our United Methodist sisters and brothers, but the marriage canons in The Episcopal Church, last time I checked, define marriage as being between 'one man and one woman'. 

Personally, I don't think that's going to change for at least the next two General Conventions.

We could use the same example for any other church. We know what the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church think about contraception but if you want a more accurate picture, talk privately to some of the folks in the pews of most any Roman Catholic Church in America.

So, to present The Black Church as being unified and united in their position of homosexuality in general and Marriage Equality in particular is to not have talked privately with some of the families who sit in the pews. 

Old Time Religion
As one African American mother of a drag queen son who was dying of AIDS said to me way back in the early days of the pandemic, when her preacher, like most preachers around the country, were condemning people with AIDs, "There's what the preacher hears God say and then there's what I hear God say, and God say one word of Truth: Love. So, listen to my preacher preach in church and I come home to my children - all my children - and I love."

I suspect there's more of that than we know.

Indeed, compare and contrast these two statements.

The first comes from the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church, a megachurch in Baltimore, Md., who expressed disappointment with the president’s new position on same sex marriage:
“[T]he church has no shades of gray when it comes to marriage. Our faith reserves marriage for a man and a woman. President Obama, as a product of the Black church, is fully aware of that. Knowing this, the President made this endorsement without calling or preparing any of us. For many of us, it felt like a betrayal,” Bryant wrote.

The influential minister went on to point out that “many Black pastors feel jilted.”
Okay, now read the press release authored by the Rev'd Al Sharpton and signed by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement, and Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of NAACP.
 “As leaders in today’s civil rights movement, we stand behind President Obama’s belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to join in civil marriages. We also affirm that individuals may hold different views on this issue but still work together towards our common goals.”
All of these folks are, as Pastor Bryant called Mr. Obama, "products of the Black Church".

Which begs the question: is this about the Black Church or Evangelicals who happen to be Black? 

Does the comment about feeling "jilted" reveal more about the ego or the soul?

We know that the Bible has been used as a weapon of prejudice even before it rolled off the printing press and was bound together in sheets of paper.  No one knows better than most African Americans that to begin an argument with, "What the Bible says...." is to set off on pretty shaky ground.

In 1968, a 25 year old Jerry Falwell declared that segregation was justified on the ground that God 'himself' had divinely ordered the separation of the races.

The Motherboard
Using Genesis 9:18-27 as "our guide," Falwell went on to declare that, "The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line." Referring to a fellow pastor who had told him that "a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife," Falwell concluded that integration "will destroy our race eventually."

Thirty years later, in a Washington Post Magazine interview, Falwell recanted his segregationist views and acknowledged that he had distorted the Bible's message under the influence of his Bible college teachers. "You don't know how hard it is to purge yourself of these things," he said. "Unless you've been there, you just don't know. It's the strongest grip."

Yes, Jerry. Some of us know. Some of us have known that for a very long time. Problem is, it's still got a strong grip on your heart and soul and mind with regards to human sexuality.

Forty-five years after the 1967 Supreme Court ruling declared Virginia's Virginia's prohibition of interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, a 2011 Gallup Poll revealed that 86% of Americans approve of interracial marriage. That was up from 4% in 1958, 20% in 1968, 48% in 1994, and 77% as recently as 2007.

A recent Gallup Poll revealed that 51% of Americans agree with President Obama's statement on Marriage Equality.  Forty-four percent of Americans supported marriage equality in 2010, while 53 were opposed. When Gallup first polled on this issue in 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported full marital rights for same-sex couples.

Behold the evolution of a culture! We ain't there yet, but we're getting closer every day.  By the time November rolls around, I'm thinking that those percentages will increase beyond our best hopes and wildest dreams for equality and 'equal protection under the law'.

Here's the thing:  As President Barack Obama correctly told ABC News' Robin Roberts, the national debate over same-sex marriage involves civil - not religious - marriage and civil - not religious - laws. Churches and other religious groups - of any ethnicity, creed or color - are not obligated in any way to endorse practices they consider antithetical to their beliefs.

Striving for a "more perfect union" should never be influenced - or nuanced - by anyone's religious preference or practice. 

And, pitting 'the Black Church' against a Black President is more than annoying. It's destructive. And, it's just flat out not true.

Here's what another Black Pastor in Maryland had to say. Listen to the Rev'd Delman Coates, PhD, the senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD.
"After listening to Christians debate their support of or their opposition to homosexuality, I came to the conclusion that one's personal religious beliefs should have no bearing in determining whether other American citizens deserve equal treatment under the law.

The issue of civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples is an issue of public policy, not theology.

As a Christian in this country, I value my religious freedom, but I also recognize that I cannot impose my religious beliefs on others in matters of public policy.

As a Christian minister, I believe my role is to live in my faith, not to legislate it, and as long as the State does not seek to regulate the Church, the Church should not seek to regulate the State.

While there are a range of theological views about same sex marriage, all Americans can stand united under the banner of extending civil liberties and justice to all citizens.
People of faith will not allow their theological diversity on this or other issues to be exploited for political gain. The welfare of our nation rests upon growing our economy, preserving the social safety nets for the poor and the elderly, and creating a civil society of mutuality, tolerance, and respect."
Will the pastor of the 'real' Black Church please stand up?

I fully expect both Pastor Byrant and Pastor Coates to stand tall and proud and claim to have an equal share in the identity of the Black Church.

And, there ain't nothing in the world wrong with that. 

So, please, could we stop with the apoplexy about the 'Black Church' and the POTUS? 

Can we Christians begin to focus on combining our efforts to end prejudices like racism, sexism, homophobia and heterosexism and continue the struggle to bring forth the reconciling love of God incarnate in Christ Jesus and lived out in what Dr. King called "The Beloved Community"?

No matter your creed or color, your gender or sexual orientation, you position of power or status in the community, it's just the right thing to do.