Come in! Come in!

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Diversity and Inclusion

Exploring Creation Science

I've always been intrigued by the difference in the two Creation Stories. In the first (Genesis 1:25-27) we read that humankind was created after the other animals had been created. In the second (Genesis 2:18-19), we read that humankind was created before the other animals had been created.

Details, details, details.

In the second story, however, we read, "So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was his name." (Genesis 2:18-19)

The story goes on to say that the man gave names to all cattle and birds and animal of the field. When God created woman and brought her to the man, he (ish) even named her (isha): "....this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."(Genesis 2:23b).

Yes, I know. One of the traditional - progressive - ways to explain this story is that to be fully human, one needs to be in relationship with others. It's about interdependence. It's about mutuality. It's about an affinity between humans that is not possible between humans and animals - although there are some who would claim that their relationships with four-leggeds and winged creatures and those who swim in the sea are more fulfilling than with other human beings.

Some who subscribe to a theology of "Natural Law" point out that (1) because man was created first, he has 'dominion' over creation and (2) God created Adam and Eve not "Adam and Steve".

Never mind that in the first Creation Story there is no hierarchy or seniority between man and woman. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27).

Details, details, details. 

I have always been struck by the fact that, in the second Creation Story, the power of naming reality was a gift given to man. This even extends to naming the reality of God. Who, apparently, is male - even though the first Creation Story clearly says that male and female were created in the image of God.

Who was it who said, "The pen is mightier than the sword"? Since men wrote the Creation Story, the power of naming was theirs. 

As Mary Daly once said, "If God is male, then the male is God".  We've been struggling with that reality ever since.

This power of naming its attendant struggles are not limited to the "Battle of the Sexes".

I've long struggled with the church - and, in some places, cultural - fixation on words like "diversity" and "inclusion" to either describe the reality of community, or the goal of reality.

I have no problem with describing the goal of the reality of community as "diverse" and "inclusive". Indeed, I applaud it. I believe it to be an important goal, one that is central to any community that embraces either the reality of "the global village" at our doorstep or the realities of the imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What drives me right round the bend is when the words "diversity" and "inclusion" are used in ways that clearly illustrate that the one who names reality, controls reality. The one who controls the language, controls reality.

Let me give you a few examples.

I sometimes consult with congregations that are either experiencing conflict - most often, during a period of transition in ordained leadership. A few months back, I was working with one congregation and began by working with some of the principles of "appreciative inquiry". I asked them to name their strengths.

The Senior Warden, who could have been sent from Central Casting as "the elder statesman of The Episcopal Church" began by saying, in a deep sonorous voice, about their congregational diversity. I was a bit startled by this proclamation and quickly surveyed the room again to see if I had missed something. It seemed to me that, beyond male and female, everyone there was Caucasian.

"We have such great diversity in this church," he proclaimed. "We not only have male and female," he said, illustrating his firm grasp on reality, "we have college educated and high school drop outs. We have factory workers and college professors. We have white collar and blue collar people. That's certainly not The Episcopal Church I grew up in. We, at St. Swithins," he proclaimed proudly, "are a warm and welcoming congregation and we are diverse and inclusive of everyone."

Mind you, this was a congregation that had experienced a sharp decline in membership. It was also smack dab in the middle of a urban, downtown area, surrounded by people of color - not one of whom had apparently been "warmly welcomed" to their church.

I was stunned and for a few moments I wasn't really certain how to respond. One woman, sensing my discomfort, quickly added, "And, if any of our .....neighbors.... came into this church, we'd warmly welcome and include them, too. In fact," she said, "I think that would be very.... nice ... of us."

Judging by the disapproving look on the face of the Senior Warden, this was clearly not about being "nice". Not for him. He had had all the "diversity" and "inclusion" he could "tolerate", thank you very much. Which is why, I suspect, he was so keen to lift up "diversity" and "inclusion" as what he saw as clear strengths of this congregation.

And, because he had "named" his reality, it became the reality of the parish - which, it was obvious to me, was just an illusion.

I couldn't wait for a break to go outside and find a cup of coffee and blow off some steam. 

When I was in traffic court a few days ago, I was keenly aware of the paucity of Caucasian people in the building. There were African Americans, a few Asian Americans and several Haitian and Hispanic folk, many of whom were day laborers and/or migrant workers. I was, without a doubt, one of the more swarthy-skinned people in the room, but those who were Caucasian were Very White - and, very few in number.

I wondered as I sat there, is there diversity in the room because Caucasian people are here? Were we, in that situation, the "diversity' or were they? 

Who gets to name that reality?

It seems to me that the words "diversity" and "inclusion" can become the invisible tools of invisible white privilege.  I can not - nor ever will - understand what it feels like to be a person of color or of different ethnicity in a dominant Caucasian, Western European American culture, but I do know what it's like to be Queer in a predominantly heterosexual and heterosexist culture and church.

Let me tell you what it feels like, as a Queer person, to hear the word "inclusion".  It means that, even though I have had the Rite of Baptism and the Rite of Confirmation and the Rite of Marriage and the Rite of Ordination, I don't have any "rights" - or, the ones I have are of "second class status".

It's as if heterosexual people hold the first mortgage on the House of God and I am...."included". You can't be "included" if you weren't considered part of the whole in the first place.

See what I mean?

Sometimes, when I hear it proclaimed that this is a "Welcoming Church" or an "Inclusive Church" of LGBT people or people of color, I want to scream, "Really? Seriously? Whose 'church' do you think this is, anyway? Am I not baptized? It's MY church, too, damn it! Who are you to 'include' me? Thank you very much, but Christ already 'included' me at baptism!"

See what I mean?

Well, if you are white and heterosexual and have not examined your privileged status, maybe you can't. Not unless you have an inkling of an experience of it yourself because, perhaps, of your financial status or educational background or maybe even your zip code.

Try reading Peggy McIntosh's book, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," who argues that white privilege is akin to an invisible package of unearned assets that whites can count on cashing in each day. 

This invisibility of unearned privileges makes them powerful and persistent precisely because white people (and, many heterosexual people) are, for the most part socialized not to see them. Failing to acknowledge unearned privilege is to allow it to continue, and what is not acknowledged stands little chance of being fixed.

Or, try listening to this little three minute clip , in which author and educator Joy DeGruy recounts a story about a time she went shopping with her sister-in-law, who happens to be light-skinned and often "passes" as a white woman. Perhaps it will begin to sensitize you to the power of unnamed, unearned, assumed privilege.

If neither of these help raise your awareness, then you may simply dismiss me as sounding like a stereotypical angry lesbian feminist - a 'feminazi' as Rush Limbaugh has named it.

And, therefore, it must be so.

See what I mean?

As a child of God who was created in the image of God, I want to take back the power of naming reality that was given to humankind - male and female - at the beginning of creation.

The reality of those who are members of the dominant social paradigm of white, straight, affluent, able-bodied, well educated and male (or, male-identified) but who are not representative of any of those qualities or characteristics needs to be acknowledged and incorporated as part of the reality and fullness of life.

Until then - and, I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to happen - please do be careful when you use words like "diversity" and "inclusion".  They are goals - important goals - but, with very, very rare exception - they are not reality in most of our churches.

When you proudly proclaim, "We are an inclusive church," or "We are a church that embraces diversity," please understand that you may be making a statement about yourself that you may not necessarily intend to make - one that reveals more about the privileges in your 'invisible knapsack' than even you knew were there.

What, then, should you say? How, then, should you name yourself?

Jazz great Louis Armstrong was once asked, "What is jazz?" He reportedly answered, "If you gotta ask, you'll never know."

After playing a set of amazing music, he was asked again, "What is jazz?" He reportedly responded, "If you still gotta ask, shame on you."

Do the work of mission and ministry, understanding that to be fully human, one needs to be in relationship with others. It's about interdependence. It's about mutuality. 

The rest, like the Creation Story, is just details.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My day in court

I got a speeding ticket. On Route One, heading north to Dover.

Doing 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. And a citation because my left directional wasn't working. Which was why I was on Route One, heading north to Dover. I was on my way to the VW place there to have it fixed.

But, because of the defective directional, I was driving a car that was "impaired". And, because of the "impaired" vehicle, my court appearance was now mandatory.

I was sooOOoo annoyed.

The state cop who stopped me was embarrassed. He told me that I could negotiate the speeding charge, get it reduced and thrown out by going to the Court of Common Pleas. So, I asked, why not just give me a warning. Can't, he said. The Governor stopped all warning tickets.

Warning tickets don't make any money for the Governor, see? It would become more and more clear that this was all about making money for the Governor.

So, two weeks later, off I went to court. Well, that's what they said it was. It was this little prefab building in the middle of a corn field way out in the boonies of Lower, Slower Delaware.

A guard - complete with gun - stopped everyone at the door and announced loudly that no electronic devices were allowed inside. No cell phones, iPads or other tablets - not even a Kindle. Can I just silence my cell phone, I asked. No, Ma'am, he said. Put it back in your car, he scowled like an angry parent to a petulant child.

I didn't know I could be more annoyed, but the worst was yet to come.

Without so much as a book or a newspaper to distract me, I waited in line to sign in - amazed that they actually fit that many people in one small building and wondered (wickedly) if they were breaking a building code - then settled in to people-watch.

Most people just sat there, looking at the floor. Looking at the wall. Looking anywhere but at each other. It felt like I was in the Principle's Office in the 6th Grade and we had all been brought there for chewing gum in class and our parents were going to ground us to our rooms without television until we were 35 years old.

Looking around the room, I made a fairly startling observation. I must say, in the time I've lived in Lower Slower Delaware, I've never seen more "diversity" anywhere else in any one room. Indeed, this was one of the first times that Caucasians were in the distinct minority.

Hmmmm.......  Funny thing about that, eh?

No one explained what would happen, but we soon learned that we would be called in, one at a time, to talk with an officer - a woman who was a state cop - who offered us each reduced sentencing and a fine. If we agreed, we would be called into the next room around the corner - eight to ten at a time - to appear before the judge.  After the judge rendered her verdict, we all came out and waited again until we were called up to pay our fines.

They had this little money-making scheme for the governor down to a science.

There were a few young people who had foolishly let their license expire and had been caught, essentially, driving without a license. The fine was $80, and then there were "fees", in addition to having had to pay to renew their license. Each and every one of them had to work out a payment plan in order to pay their fine because they couldn't afford the fine and fees all at once. Indeed, most of them had to take a day off from work - without pay - just to come to court. 

There were a group of about 10-12 Haitians who met up with a translator who also negotiated with the state cop and judge for them.

Funny thing - all of them were brought in on infractions like driving an impaired vehicle - a directional or headlight was out - or failing to come to a full stop at a stop sign. No one was speeding. Most of them got between an $80 - $104 in a fine - plus what they had to pay the translator.  All of them had to work out a payment plan. And, take a day off from work.

Well, except for the one woman in the group. She was tall and beautiful and very nicely dressed. Her infraction was not coming to a full stop at a stop sign. Apparently, her translator had negotiated a reduced fine for her but she was clearly not happy.

When asked by the judge if she was guilty she said, with a very thick Haitian accent, her voice quiet and respectful but defiant, "I will pay the fine, but I know in my heart that I did not do what the officer say I do."

The judge said that she could not accept anything but an innocent or guilty plea - yes or no, flat out - and asked the woman to consider that, if she did not take the reduced fine, she would have to appear before the Assistant Attorney General at a later date and make her plea. Which, the judge informed her, may cost her more money.

I should note that the judge had sincerely apologized to all the Haitians in her court for not having the court's instructions translated in their language, for not being able to speak their language or having a court appointed translator for them, and that she had to tell them their rights in English and wait for her translator to explain their rights to them in their native language.

I should also note that, in every case, the judge imposed the lowest fine allowed by law. Clearly - and without saying a word - she understood that she was, for the most part, simply part of a government money-making scheme and, as an officer of the court, would faithfully execute her duty, but do so at the lowest possible cost to the"offenders".

The judge moved on to the next Haitian man before coming back to the Haitian woman. Again, she read the charge. Again, her translator told her what the judge said. And, again, she said that she would pay the fine to settle things but she knew in her heart that she was innocent.

The judge looked at her a long time and said, "Then you are telling me that you want to appeal your case to the Assistant Attorney General?" The woman lowered her head and nodded yes.

The judge said that she was sorry but she needed to hear hear answer. The woman picked up her head and said, "I am innocent. I will go before the Assistant Attorney General. Thank you, Madam Judge."

The other Haitian men in the room shook their heads and snickered. I happened to catch the eye of the judge and we shared a silent smile of admiration.

"Good luck to you, " said the Judge to the Haitian woman. "I hope you do well.  I hope you find at least a modicum of justice in the system."

Me? I got the speeding charge reduced and then thrown out. No report to the DMV. No points on my insurance. But, I had to pay the fine for driving an "impaired car".  Which, with all the other - ahem, "fees" - came to a whopping $96.40.

While I was waiting to pay my fine, I stepped outside for a moment, just to breathe in some fresh, cool air. I overheard a young African American woman talking with her boyfriend about how she was going to pay the $80 fine - plus associated "fees". She said they were making her wait while they worked out the payments so she was going to be even later to report for work at MacDonalds.

When she got off the phone, I walked over to her and asked if she would do something for me. She looked at me with that same kind of quiet defiance I had seen on the face of the Haitian woman.

Look, I said, I got off easy. And, I know why, and so do you. So, why not let me pay your fine?

She looked at me and said, "What did you just say?"  I smiled and repeated myself, adding that I knew that the system was not exactly designed to favor her, and since I was flush this month, and could afford it, I'd like to try helping her out.

All that attitude melted away and a very grateful young woman sat before me. "Lady," she said, "you have no idea how much this would help."

I had my collar on - of course (My momma didn't raise no fool) - and suddenly she looked at it. Hard. She looked back into my eyes and said, "Oh, I got it. You're a preacher or a nun or something, and I'm your charity for this month. It's okay, I need it so bad, I'll even take it from you."

"Actually," I said, "I'm an Episcopalian. An Episcopal priest. And no, you're not my charity this month. I just know injustice when I see it and smell it and I hate injustice and this place reeks of injustice."

She sat for a minute and took it all in. Then, she smiled and said, "Well, for an Episcopalian -- whatever -- you are alright."

I smiled at her and said, "Well, I don't know if the judge is right. I don't know if you can find even a modicum of justice in the system. But, like the judge, I try to do my best even in a bad situation."

So, we went and paid her fine - well, I paid the $80 fine and she paid the fees - and then, I paid my fine and fees in full. The woman behind the window watched all of this and allowed her facial expression to change briefly from bored to a sarcastic smirk and then back to bored again.

We didn't beat the system, but at least three women that day in that courthouse did what we could to find a modicum of justice wherever we could.

Yes, the moral arc of the universe always bends toward justice - I believe that - but sometimes, you know, you have to get out ahead of the curve and push at it some, however which way you can. 

Even if that personally costs you $80 whole dollars.

Sometimes, justice looks like someone trying to help someone else - even a complete stranger, even just a little bit - in the face of injustice. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sacramental Dis-grace

In addition to my private practice of pastoral counseling, spiritual direction and consulting work - oh, and helping out at my church with Christian education, and as-needed preaching and presiding and "other duties as assigned" - I also work four days of the week as a Hospice Chaplain.

I do the ministry of hospice chaplaincy in extended care facilities and in people's homes, traveling all over Sussex County, from poor rural farm house in places like Selbyville, Gumborough and Greenville to fairly upscale condos and lovely homes in places like Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island.

I keep myself fairly busy when it doesn't get occasionally frenetic.

I've always been - and probably always will be - a girl who just can't say no. Not to work I love. Especially in the absence of the Killer B's of parochial ministry: budgets, boilers and bishops.

In one of our post-Thanksgiving Day conversations, I was talking with one of our children about helping me design a web page for my private practice, which continues to grow at a steady pace, despite the slow recovery of the economy here in Lower, Slower Delaware. S/he asked me to begin by considering what 'logo' I would use to depict my work.

The first image was something with the ocean and a lighthouse, which brought groans of disapproval for something that has been admittedly overused and boarders on the hokey. It is, nonetheless, something which speaks to me of the outward and visible sign of this sacramental ministry.

The ministry I am privileged to provide is amazingly, astonishingly, sometimes overwhelmingly sacramental. People trust me with their brokenness in ways that humble - and sometimes startle - me with their honesty and trust. It is in the sharing of that brokenness in a place that is safe that begins the process of w/holiness and forgiveness and healing.

It is holy work, this business of helping people to connect the broken places in their mind and body and soul and begin to find w/holeness and w/holiness of life.

There is another part to that work, however, that is messy and mucky and just plain awful. It is, for the most part, the cause of most of the brokenness. This is not limited to but most especially true in my work with people who are at the end stages of their life and in the care of Hospice.

The image I have of that is of a street sweeper - you know, the guy at the end of the circus parade who cleans up the mess after the elephants.

Yup, that would be how I often feel as I sit and talk with Hospice patients about forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, atonement, heaven and hell.

Oh, the patient does not necessarily say, "I'd like to get your views on God's forgiveness /reconciliation / salvation / atonement / heaven / hell" - although, sometimes, they do.

All you have to do is listen to the conversation under the conversation to hear the themes.

One of my favorite books by May Sarton is "Crucial Conversations," in which she says that just beneath the polite banter that marks most of our conversations lie the crucially important conversations we need to have.

As one of my mentors always used to say, "It's not 'the thing' that is 'the thing'; it's 'the thing under the thing' that's 'the thing'." I have been carefully trained and am highly experienced in listening for - and to - the 'thing under the thing that is the thing' in those crucial conversations. 

I simply can't believe some of the garbage some of these folks have picked up and collected over the years from good Christian preachers.

I've had Roman Catholic husbands weeping in my arms as their Protestant wives lie dying because they are afraid that they really won't see each other in heaven. They were carefully taught as children that only Roman Catholics will go to heaven and, even though they are now adults and long ago rejected that theology, in moments in which fear and anxiety cause emotional and spiritual regression, they wonder and question and struggle.

That belief is reinforced by "father" who told them that, as long as they hadn't been married in the RC Church (which they couldn't do because their spouse would not convert to Catholicism), they were considered "living in sin" and could not - indeed, would not - be afforded the sacraments of the church. Any and all of them.

I've had grown, adult women from Jewish/Christian families who had neither been baptized nor had a Bat Mitzvah who experience enormous anxiety about what - if anything - to believe about the after life, much less heaven and hell and what one has to do in order to get there.

I've had more conversations than I care to remember about "tunnels" and who might be there and "looking for / going to / following 'The Light'".  I had no idea that there were so many books about end of life and what happens - most of which is "new-agey" and romantic and, quite frankly, so devoid of any semblance of logic that it makes my stomach lurch.  I don't think it's any better than some of the really bad theology that gets preached or taught or sung in churches.

Although, there is this one book, "Proof of Heaven" that everyone is talking about. No, I've not read it. Yet.  It's on my list.

That being said, what I can tell you is that it has brought more people more comfort and hope than many theology books or sermons or hymns they've heard in most churches.

I've also experienced "inquisitions" of sorts, which I don't take personally. Some of the folks whose homes I walk into have had it "up to here" with bad theology and they certainly don't want any more of it while they have to deal with dying and death - either their own or that of the one they love.

So, I get peppered with questions like: "Does prayer 'work'?" "What does prayer 'do'?" "If you are going to pray for me, what are you praying for?" "How do you know prayer works?"

Or: "What happens when I die?" "What will happen to me after I die?" "Will I go to heaven?" "Will I be there with my spouse?" "How do you know that?" "Why do you believe that?"

As we talk and I explore the "conversation under the conversation", it doesn't take long for the theological garbage to come tumbling out. Stories of priests and pastors and ministers who said something at a point in the formation of their development that left its mark - sometimes, a deep, open, unhealed scar - that has never gone away.

It's a sacramental dis-grace.

Grace has been dis-missed.

Which is when I take out my theological shovel and begin to clear a space for Grace. So they can feel Grace. And, experience Grace. And, know Grace. Unearned. Unmerited. Undeserved. And yet, so very, very present.

Grace is always free. No strings attached. It's always available. Unfortunately, so many people have gotten themselves all tangled up in the strings of useless guilt and shame and regret - none of which has much to do with moral failures or ethical infractions.  Rather, all this guilt and shame and regret has been heaped upon them by inept or theologically corrupt pastoral leaders.

And when there is evidence of sin? I try to help them to be fearless in making a searching moral inventory, seek true repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation - if there's time.

And, I offer absolution and anointing and laying on of hands and yes, Eucharist.  I offer them with the same relentless truth and searing honesty as I have experienced from the person - from deep within my heart and soul - so they might catch at least a glimmer of the unconditional love of God who created them and now calls them back home.

When I took my ordination vows, I promised, among other things: "In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ's people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come." (BCP 531)

I take that vow as seriously as a heart attack.

And, when I'm asked about heaven and hell, here's the story I tell:
A huge, rough samurai once went to see a little monk, hoping to acquire the secrets of the universe.

"Monk," he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience. "teach me about heaven and hell."

The little monk looked up at the mighty warrior in silence. Then, after a moment, he said to the samurai with utter disdain, "Teach YOU about heaven and hell? I couldn't teach you about anything. You're dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty. you're a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight at once. I can't stand you!"

The samurai was furious. He began to shake all over from the anger that raced through him. A red flush spread over his face; he was speechless with rage. Quickly, menacingly, he pulled out his sword and raised it above his head, preparing to slay the monk.

"That's hell." said the little monk quietly.

The samurai was overwhelmed. Stunned. The compassion and surrender of this little man who had offered his life to give this teaching about hell! He slowly lowered his sword, filled with gratitude, and for reasons he could not explain his heart became suddenly peaceful.

"And that's heaven," said the monk softly.
I pray that religious leaders and teachers may offer less of the disdain and fury, rage and menace which are the images of hell, and more of the compassion and surrender, gratitude and peace which are images of heaven.

Maybe then, when the end of our time here on earth comes, more people may find their own way back to God, by whichever path they happen to take.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Postprandial stupor

I think I stopped eating about an hour ago.

Even my dreams were filled with images of the kitchen and the table and mounds of food.

I've been staring at the same last dish rack of dried dishes since 7:30 AM. No one has put them away. Who is going to sort through all the silverware and put it away in the case? Damn, where is that maid that I kept dreaming about but has not yet reported to work?

The refrigerator is obscene - stuffed with plastic containers filled with leftover turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato and green bean casserole, apple pie and Pavlova. The chocolate cream pie is gone, but we do have half of an apple pie in there. Somewhere.

Who's going to eat all this stuff? I mean, I'll make turkey soup and a few turkey pies and make fried potato cakes and eat the sweet potato casserole for dessert, but really! What was I thinking? Was I even thinking?

I think the leftover Pavlova is the most depressing. I mean, Pavlova is the national dessert of both Australia and New Zealand, which some pastry chefs created and named for Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova when she danced into the hearts of that country after performing there.

It's a wonderful meringue shell topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries. Very light and elegant - like a ballerina. Someone (Was that me? Yes, I believe it was.) cut the leftovers into thirds and stuffed it all into Very Large Tupperware container. It now looks like an aged ballerina who has had a nasty fall after a night of too much Russian vodka and cigarettes.

Le sigh. I had some for breakfast. It seemed the only decent thing to do.

What? Egg whites. Milk (Okay, cream. Whipped). And, fruit. Don't go clucking and tut-tutting about 'But, all that sugar!" I made it with Splenda for baking.

Look, I'm on such calorie-overload-and-exercise-deficit already that a weekend food binge on leftovers is the only sensible thing to do. The high protein bars and time in the gym will have to wait until Monday morning where I'll work off some of my guilt as well.

The house still smells wonderful, and conversations and laughter from family members still cling to the walls and furniture and echo off the walls.

We had a wonderful postprandial family game of Scrabble, initiated by our six-year old granddaughter. She delighted to create three-letter words like "Dog" and "Jam" but was completely over the moon when she was able to create "H.O.U.S.E.".  There were a few double letters in there.  Sweet! Ya takes your victories where ya can, ya know?

Three-letter words do not a winning strategy make but that wasn't the point, really. She more than made up for the loss in Scrabble when we put together a 100-piece puzzle of sea turtles and dolphins frolicking under water.

All that sea-green blue and turtle shells in weird puzzle shapes could confound even the person with excellent visual acuity.  For an adult who had more than her share of some wonderful Argentinian Malbec, it was damn near miraculous to find a puzzle piece and match it with another.

Another Thanksgiving, come and gone. Only the leftovers serve as reminders of the wonderful family time that was had by all. Amidst my postprandial morning stupor, I'm already planning for next year.

We are truly blessed with an abundance of all of the best things in life - family, friends, food, a warm, wee cottage on beautiful Bay by the Big Water, conversations, laughter, love - full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

Even through the morning-after haze, I am still conscious enough to be deeply, deeply grateful. 

Now, it's off to tackle that silverware.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

“But strive first for the realm of God and God's righteousness…” Matthew 6:25-33
Thanksgiving Day – November 21, 2012
All Saint’s Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Gratitude. It’s the reason we gather today. To give our thanks to God for the founding of this country. To give thanks to God for all we have been given. And then, at five o’clock this afternoon, the stores will open early so we can buy more stuff.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. Really. I don’t get it. My experience of gratitude is that it changes your perception of reality. You see things differently when you are truly grateful. You appreciate what you’ve been given in a way that makes what may seem common and ordinary to some, an extraordinary gift to the truly grateful heart.

Let me give you an example.

On the evening of 9/11/01, Barbara and I were in New York City, working at the Seamen’s Church Institute, about a mile from Ground Zero. The Institute had been converted into a place of respite for those who were working amidst the rubble of what had been the World Trade Center: Firemen, police, utility workers, first responders.

The offices on the first floor had been converted into rooms filled with supplies. One entire office was filled with boots and socks. The ground was so hot that the rubber soles on the boot were melting. The guys would come in, maybe take a shower, get a change of clothes, and put on a brand new pair of socks and shoes.

The floors of several offices were filled with wall-to-wall mattresses and blankets, where weary workers could, perhaps, take a nap or just rest their weary bones before going back to Ground Zero to search for a friend or colleague or relative.

Upstairs, the rec room pool tables had been covered with pieces of plywood and turned into buffet tables where neighborhood restaurants had emptied out their freezers and refrigerators – now without electricity – and donated meals.

One restaurant had taken 70 pounds of ground beef and made a 50-pound meatloaf. The other 20 pounds were used to make grilled hamburgers on grills that had been donated by neighbors and set up on the outdoor patio.

After making a sweep of the downstairs offices to see if anyone wanted/needed to talk, I was heading upstairs to help serve meals when I ran into him. He was a fire captain. If the twinkling but exhausted blue eyes and mischievous smile weren’t a clue, he had the map Ireland in his facial features.

He had just gotten a new pair of boots and a clean pair of socks and was headed right back out when I convinced him to take a break and have something to eat. To my surprise and delight, he agreed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s not easy to convince an Irishman of anything, especially that which might be actually good for him.
He started to take off his fireman’s jacket, but first began to slap the dust and ashes that had formed a thick covering all over his clothing. Dust and ashes, I thought and then wondered if the ashes were just from destroyed buildings. Might they also be the ashes of those whose bodies we couldn’t find?

He apparently had the same idea as I did at about the same time and stopped slapping his jacket and pants. A dark cloud of sadness moved over his face and his eyes welled with tears. I could see him will the dark cloud away and call back the tears as he smiled sadly and said, “Maybe, after all this looking for my friends, they’ve been right here with me the whole time.”

We hurried up to the second floor where Barbara was standing behind the pool tables now serving as buffet tables. They spotted each other across the room – an Irishman always knows another Irishman – and seemed to connect. She went over the evening’s menu and he decided he was going to have potato salad and a cheeseburger.

As he was scooping a mound of baked beans to go with his potato salad, Barbara said to him, “Sorry, no cheeseburger but these hamburgers are pretty good.” He moved over to her and his face grew dark again. “But, I wanted a cheeseburger,” he said. Their eyes met and Barbara smiled kindly and said, “I know. I’m really sorry. But it’s a hamburger.”

After everything he had been through, this – THIS! – seemed to be the last straw. His eyes filled with tears again and his voice chocked and he said, sounding like a 6 year old boy, “But, I really wanted a cheeseburger.”

Barbara held out the hamburger, squeezed the bun, closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. Even though my childhood was not spent in an Irish Catholic church, even I knew that this was a holy moment. It certainly was not lost on my Irish friend, the firefighter captain.

She opened her eyes, smiled warmly at my friend and together they said, “Amen.” He took the hamburger from Barbara’s hands and said, “I’m thinking this is going to be the best cheeseburger I never had.” They both laughed together as he and I went to sit down.

Gratitude changes everything. It changes your perception of reality. You see things differently when you are truly grateful. You appreciate what you’ve been given in a way that makes what may seem common and ordinary to some an extraordinary gift to the truly grateful heart.

It even changes thin wafers and a sip of wine into the full and real presence of Jesus who gives us a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet.

Jesus says that if we seek first the Realm and righteousness of God, we will receive all that we need. My Thanksgiving Prayer is that we may, with hearts brim full with gratitude, give glory and honor, thanks and praise to our Abundant God who is the source of life and fountain of hope.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Six votes of separation

Bishop Alan's Blog
By now, I'm sure you've all heard the news: The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to reject the draft legislation to allow women to become bishops.

The votes were 44 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity.

The measure needed two-thirds majorities in each of the synod’s three houses.

If you're keeping track, this means that the measure lost by six votes in the House of Laity.

Six votes.

I'm certain the blogosphere and other media will be filled with post mortems and analysis of the vote. I understand that there was an electronic ballot and that the names of everyone who voted - and how they voted - will be published in a few days. More analysis will follow, no doubt.

Depending on your source of information, three themes seem to emerge to explain the vote.
1. Archbishop Rowan Williams mucked up the works by offering unworkable compromises and stalling the process.
2. The Appleby Amendment was a little bit of discrimination that proved a little bit too much for some progressives and many voted it down.
3. The conservatives did what they rarely do - on either side of the Pond: They organized. And, they were effective.
Bottom line: The vote on women in the Episcopacy in the Church of England will not - can not - come up again for another five years.

Justin Welby, ABC-elect
That will be five years into the episcopacy of Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He'll be up to the lace in his cotta with issues concerning the ordination of LGBT people and the blessing of the covenants made between couples of the same gender.

If you've been paying attention to what scholars call the "intersectionality" of justice issues, the convergence of issues of sexuality and gender ought not come as a huge surprise. Sexism and homophobia often walk hand in hand in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously noted that "justice delayed is justice denied". It should be noted  that controversy delayed is NOT controversy denied. Make no mistake: This will not bring peace in the Church of England.

Six votes does not a mandate make.

This can only be described as a Pyrrhic victory. The heavy toll this will take on the spirit and spirituality of the Church of England will be exceeded only by the loss of credibility it will have with a generation of British people who are already leaving the CofE in droves.

Six negative votes have become six votes of separation, driving a wedge further between the Body of Christ and the people it is supposed to serve.

It's a sad day on the church's calendar.

In addition to the news of the CofE vote, yesterday's calendar also held a bit of irony.  Pauli Murray, civil rights lawyer and Episcopal priest, was born on November 20, 1910. She became the first African American person to earn a doctorate at Yale Law School in 1965. Murray also co-founded the National Organization for Women. 

The Rev'd Dr. Pauli Murray
In 1977, Murray made history again when she became ordained as an Episcopal priest. Indeed, she presided at her first Eucharist in the same chapel where her grandmother, then a slave, had been baptized. 

Murray was also a poet who once wrote, "Hope is a song in a weary throat."

There are many in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion who are weary of this 20 year battle for justice.  There will be five more years of hard work to tear down the walls of sexism and misogyny that have obstructed of the work of the Holy Spirit who calls men and women to the councils and corridors of the Church.

This past Sunday, we heard Jesus warn that the end is only the beginning of the birth pangs. This may have been a confounding news flash to the 12 male disciples, but any woman who has ever been pregnant not only knows but has lived the truth of His words. Which is why women are so uniquely qualified for positions of leadership in the church.

This is not the end. Far from it. It is just the beginning of the inevitability of justice.

That is a song of hope worth waiting for, no matter how weary we get from the struggle for justice.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Intensification of relationships

Canon Kenneth Kearon
The Anglican Consultative Council met in Auckland, New Zealand two weeks ago, and we are beginning to hear more of what was discussed.

Apparently they "continued to consider how the life of the communion might be enhanced and deepened" by discussing, primarily, the Indaba process, the Instruments of Communion, and, no doubt because Canon Kenneth Kearon was there, the Anglican Covenant.

Kearon is, of course, the Anglican Communion Secretary General and one of the chief proponents - if not major cheerleader - of the Anglican Covenant. Think of him as the Paul Ryan of the Church of England. Everybody knows he's smart, but he's so thoroughly dedicated to the ideology of the Anglican Covenant ("Rule, Britannia!") more than a few people can't believe some of the dumb stuff that sometimes comes out of his mouth.

He's a bit like a pit bull for the Anglican Covenant. The poor man has sunk his teeth into it and just can't seem to let go, even though his boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, no doubt has his suitcases packed and probably can't wait to leave the stuffy halls of Lambeth Palace.

At a press conference at the end of the ACC meeting, the following was reported.
Not all of the provinces have been able to consider the covenant since it was sent to them in December 2009 because of their governance cycles, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion Secretary General, said during a press briefing.

The communion’s Standing Committee will meet after this ACC gathering to assess where the covenant reception process stands, according to Kearon. There will come a time, he said, after all the provinces have had their say on the covenant when the Standing Committee will no doubt say that the covenant is “operational” for those provinces that have adopted it.

Those provinces will have voluntarily agreed to an “intensification of relationships” that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has suggested the covenant would create, Kearon said.
“That’s where the difference will be seen for those who have actually adopted the covenant; not whether you are in or out communion because of what you’ve decided, which I think is sometimes the question,” Kearon said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Kearon sounds to my ears like some members of the Republican Party. They simply can't believe that they lost, fair and square, despite all of their attempts at voter suppression and smear campaigns and other dirty tricks.

I thought the Covenant was "operational" when the first province signed on to it. Silly me! Turns out, it seems that it is the Standing Committee of the ACC that will declare the covenant "operational". I didn't read that in the covenant, but apparently, Kearon has also become "the man behind the curtain" who determines reality in Life After the Covenant.

My other question is, just what does "intensification of relationships" mean, exactly? What does that look like, do you suppose? And, precisely what difference will it make for those who have actually adopted the covenant? 

Furthermore, if it means, as Kearon says, that it's "not whether you are in or out communion because of what you've decided," then what does the covenant mean? What purpose does it serve?

See also: The Covenant is dead and, like the GOP, the losers just can't accept reality so they continue to create one of their own. It was the "takers" who stole the election from the "makers".

Apparently, "governance cycles" have been a deterrent to full acceptance of the covenant - which was first released three years ago.

Three years. Not enough time, apparently, governance cycles being what they are, for provinces and synods decide to sign onto the thing.  Oh, and did we mention that the Church of England has failed to sign on to the thing? Ooopsie! So sorry. Nasty little detail, that. You don't suppose that has anything to do with the hesitancy of some provinces and synods to sign on, do you?

Nah! Just keep calm and carry on!
During the hour council members spent hearing a summary of each other’s thoughts on the covenant and the instruments of communion, they learned that “in places where the covenant is contentious, people remain committed to the communion, to talk, to share, to relate to each other,” according to Helen Biggin, Church in Wales.

“Some groups feel we simply don’t need a covenant,” she said. “There was strong affirmation for sections 1 to 3, but considerable caution for section 4 [which outlines a process for resolving disputes]. Some of the reasons for that included a reluctance to give one group authority over another; a concern that it would make Anglicanism confessional in a way it wasn’t before [and] the thought it might be punitive.”

Biggin also noted that some provinces expressed “an anxiety about whether they would then become second-class members of the communion” if they did not adopt the covenant.
That shouldn't be a worry. Kearon would never allow the CofE to be second class to any other constituent member of the Anglican Communion. The whole, unstated purpose of the thing - besides having a means by which to "discipline" The Episcopal Church - is to centralize power and authority in the See of Canterbury.

Well, if would please m'Lord, I rather like my membership in the Anglican Communion messy, not "intense", thank you ever so much. I've got enough "intensity" in my life. I certainly don't need it in the Anglican Communion.

In the meantime, might someone please find a way to 'de-intensify' the good Canon and tell him to just put a sock in it? I mean, Synod is meeting in a special gathering to decide on women in The Episcopacy in the Church of England. Isn't that enough "intensification" of relationships in the Church of England?

Perhaps we could start by repeating this to him:

The Covenant is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's the end of the world!

The end is near – and it is just beginning. (Mark 13:1-8)
Pentecost XXV – Proper 28B – November 18, 2012
All Saint's Episcopal Church - Rehoboth Beach
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

I don’t know if you’ve yet heard the news. If you haven’t, I’ll give you the Bad News straight up. Here’s the stone cold, unvarnished truth: Hostess has filed for bankruptcy.

Yes, yes, children. It’s sad but it’s true. Unless someone saves the company – now owned by two Hedge Funds who would rather declare bankruptcy and walk away with a profit than negotiate for fair wages with its 18,500 employees – there will soon be no more Twinkies or Hostess Golden Cupcakes or HoHos or Devil Dogs or Ring Ding lining the shelves of grocery stores. 

You won’t be able to grab a secret guilty pleasure off the shelves of a WaWa or a Seven Eleven to go with your cup of coffee while traveling in a different city where no one can witness your indulgence of that which has absolutely no redeemable nutritional value whatsoever.

I know. It’s unbelievable, right?  I mean, Twinkies have been around – believe it or not – since 1930 – and they are filled with so many chemicals and preservatives that they are rumored to be able to be found after the Rapture.

Sometimes called “the cream puff of the proletariat,” they were created by James A. Dewar, a Illinois baker, for what was then the Continental Baking Co. The firm produced a cream-filled strawberry shortcake and, when strawberry season was over, Dewar saw no reason the machines needed to sit idle. He formulated a banana cream cake which, amid World War II rationing, became and remained vanilla cream.

The golden confection developed into a finger-shaped sugar sponge that was injected with a gooey filling so sweet it is capable of turning small children into google-eyed rocket boosters. My mother used to put them in our lunch boxes as a special treat, no doubt to take the sting from the daily monotony of a bologna and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich - made, of course, with Wonder Bread ("Helps build strong bodies 12 ways") and the ubiquitous piece of fruit.

It was also a sign and symbol of our emerging affluence after my mother returned to work when my youngest sister started kindergarten. We were saving up to buy a home of our own, but, along the way, we could afford "store bought" desserts, and wasn't that just a symbol that the American Dream was real? If you work hard enough, and "pick yourself up by your own bootstraps," you, too, could afford to have store bought treats in your lunch box.

That’s all gone now. The American Dream is in peril. We’re doomed, I tell you. Doomed! Take away the Twinkies and who knows what’s next? Apple Pie! Chevrolet!  It’s the end of the world as we now know it! Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone run for cover!

Some of you have stopped chuckling and are beginning to shake your heads and ask whatever this has got to do with the Gospel appointed for today. Let me remind you of it.

Not long before his arrest, Jesus was with the disciples in the temple. As they came out, one of the disciples exclaimed his awe of the structure. "Look, Teacher, what large stones and large buildings!" he said. Indeed, ancient historians wrote that the temple in Jerusalem was magnificent. If its massive size was not impressive enough, much of it was covered in gold.

Jesus' response must have caught the disciples off guard: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

The disciples too must have been in a mood to discuss the end times because next, when Jesus was sitting opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives, some of them asked for further explanation. "When?" they wondered aloud, "What will be the sign?" Jesus responds in his trademark roundabout way.

Jesus warns of those that would lead them astray. He tells them not to be alarmed by "wars and rumors of wars.” A more troubling time would be coming, Jesus explains. It will include war, earthquakes and famines. But they are not to be afraid since, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs"

Since the beginning of time, human beings have always looked around for “signs”. We often attribute “acts of nature” and “weather events” to God’s judgment or wrath. Depending on the source of your information, Hurricane Sandy was either a Godsend to the presidential reelection or evidence of God's wrath on liberal New York and New Jersey. 

Others fault 9/11 on "the homosexual agenda," whatever that is. Many argue July's shooting in Aurora, CO, would have been prevented were it not for liberals – or conservatives. Or, maybe it was gun control. Or, maybe not.

To all of this, Jesus' response is reminiscent of the first century equivalent of the famous propaganda poster produced by the British government during World War II that boldly proclaimed, "Keep Calm and Carry On." 

What we sometimes think of as ending is just the beginning of something new. Something God has had in mind all along. Or, perhaps, God had it in mind from the beginning. Or, maybe God is just making it up as S/he goes along.

Now, I hasten to say that I’m not a big subscriber to the “God has a plan for me” school of theology. I just can’t get my head wrapped around the thought that there’s a big file cabinet in the sky and my life’s work is to locate the file, thumb through the gazillions of folders, find the one with my name on it, read it, ‘learn, mark and inwardly digest it,” and I will live happily ever after.

And yet, I know that I am where I am today because of where I've been, and I'm really not sure how that all came together, exactly. 

I’m not even sure I know what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason”. Some things just don’t make sense – and, I don’t think they are supposed to.

Like, why good people die young and evil people live to a ripe old age. Like, why one home is spared the destruction of an earthquake or fire, and another stands intact. Like, why it was that Hurricane Sandy moved just 75 miles from the Eastern Shore and hit the Jersey Shore and the cities along New York, displacing millions of people, destroying their homes, and killing over 100 people.

Is it even reasonable to think that a force of Nature, a random collection of winds and tides and phases of the moon and tilts of the earth’s axis actually, consciously planned to spare us by deliberately choosing a path 75 miles from us? 

I don’t think so.

And yet, what are we to make of this? Is God in control or not? Did God do this for some unknown reason? Or, is everything in life simply random? Who is in control around here, anyway?

I am intrigued by something written by author Mark Helprin. I stumbled upon it as I was reading what has become one of my favorite books, “A Winter’s Tale”. I recommend it highly. This amazing piece is actually the preface to the last section of the book. Helprin writes:
Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in gold dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another.

Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one can be certain.

And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple: Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined.

No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given – so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is – and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful.

In the end, or rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.
I would like to say that I will miss my beloved Twinkies, but I really can’t say that. Truth is, I haven’t had a Twinkie – or a Ring Ding or Devil Dog or HoHo – in so long, I can’t remember the last time I actually ate one. I will miss the idea of them. The thought of them. The delightful memories associated with them. 

Life will go on. It always does. What seems to be passing is simply that which is becoming new again. You can begin to understand that if you stop looking for signs about what is to come, or lament about what once was, and enjoy what is, here and now. This day. This moment. 

It is here and then it is gone and we are poorer for not taking the gift of the present for what it is – a gift. A present. And, then the next moment comes and we understand that that death of the last moment was only the birth pang of the next. And so on into all the days of our lives.

It is, in the great intelligent design of our Loving, Generous, Abundant God, finished and becoming and all quite astonishingly beautiful.  All that we can do, as faithful followers of Christ, is give thanks and praise to God, who created and is creating, still, and will continue to create all creatures and creation. 

And, calls us all home, in due time, to live Life Eternal. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Save the Twinkie!

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do with a package of Twinkies was to pop the cellophane wrapper. My mother said it was the sound of "freshness" - which seemed odd to me, given the fact that even I knew that there were enough chemicals in the thing to preserve my body long after my death.

The other favorite thing to do with a Twinkie was to take a bite, chew it up, and then stick out my tongue and gross out my sisters and brothers with the masticated mess in my mouth. We'd howl with laughter and feigned revulsion and fall on the floor in hysteria. I'm not sure why that was so funny, but I remember it being hilarious.

Mother always tried to put a Hostess Treat in our lunch boxes. Twinkies were a favorite, but so were the Golden Chocolate Cupcakes, HoHos, Devil Dogs, and Ding Dongs.

Hostess Fruit Pies, on the other hand, were a bit too substantial. I could never finish the thing without my sides hurting and my belly feeling way too full. I often saved it for an after school snack.

Hostess Treats were a little something special my mother provided for us kids, no doubt to take the sting from the monotony of a bologna or peanut butter and jell sandwich and a piece of fruit.

It was also a sign of our emerging affluence after my mother returned to work in the sweat shop. We were saving up to buy a home of our own, but, along the way, we could afford "store bought" desserts, and wasn't that just a symbol that the American Dream was real?

If you work hard enough, and "pick yourself up by your own bootstraps," you, too, could afford to have store bought treats in your lunch box.

That's all gone now. Hostess has declared bankruptcy, a victim of a prolonged and difficult labor dispute. Some blame Obamacare on its demise (of course - just like Hurricane Sandy was responsible for the re-election of Mr. Obama).

The truth is that Hostess is owned by two private hedge-fund companies. You know, the kind Mr. Romney ran that favors bankruptcy over actually finding compromise with the workers for fair wages so the "investors" can leave the table with money in their pockets. It's the same think that might have happened to GM and Chrysler if the government hadn't stepped in.

Twinkies were called “the cream puff of the proletariat,” so I suppose, since the election campaign was all about saving the middle class, we shouldn't be surprised that there was no government intervention to Save the Twinkie, much less the HoHo or the Ding Dong.

Still, it makes me very sad. The Twinkie is so much a part of American culture, it's hard to imagine what life will be like without it. I mean, with all those chemicals in it, I thought they would last forever. There's even a scene in the animated film “WALL-E”, which is set hundreds of years in the future, where the only surviving species is the cockroach, and its favorite food is an abnormally fresh Twinkie. (Folklore aside, a Twinkie’s shelf life is two to three weeks.)

Even though I haven't actually eaten any Hostess pastries (and, I'm being very liberal with that term) in - oh, gosh! -  it's got to be at least 25 years, there was something wonderful about going into the WaWa or Seven Eleven and seeing rows and rows of the stuff. 

Fast food places like MacDonalds or Burger King will have to become the defense for erratic, homophobic, homicidal behavior that killed Harvey Milk. Remember? It was the "Twinkie Defense" that spared Dan White a Murder One charge and got it reduced to voluntary manslaughter.

Mr. White apparently didn't learn the lesson of jurisprudence and kept on eating them, which apparently led - a few years later - to his suicide.

I don't believe Twinkies - or, HoHos, Devil Dogs and Ding Dongs - are intrinsically evil. I ate lots of them growing up and never once shot and killed a homosexual person.

I do occasionally struggle with homicidal ideations about Hedge Fund Companies but I don't think that has anything to do with Hostess Treats. It probably has more to do with indigestion caused by an overindulgence in too much MSNBC.

Here's the thing:  18,500 people are out of a job, and an iconic product will cease production unless another firm scoops up the brand.

If GM and Chrysler are worth saving, isn't there anyone who is willing to Save the Twinkie? Workers, arise! Save the "cream puff of the proletariat"!

I mean, what are the cockroaches of the future going to have to eat? How will archeologists of the future find our bodies without the soft glow created by all the various preservatives and chemicals in just one Twinkie?

Does this signal the death of the American Dream?

I think I'm going to have to go out and buy a package of Hostess Twinkies. Or, a HoHo or Ding Dong. The next time I feel the urge to find an owner of a Hedge Fund Company and slap him silly, I'll take out a Twinkie, listen for the pop of the cellophane wrapper, remove one of the always super-moist finger cakes, and take a big bite. Then, I'll chew it up and keep it in my mouth.

I'll have to have someone take a picture of me, sticking out my tongue with a masticated mess of Twinkies on it and send it to the Hedge Fund owners of Hostess. 

It won't change anything, I'm sure, but it will make me feel better.  I may even laugh and laugh and laugh, until I fall over on the floor.

Just consider it my own form of "Twinkie Defense" against the depression and sadness I feel losing all these symbols of my childhood.

Is nothing sacred any more? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

When one Rite makes a wrong

the Rt. Rev'd Scott Anson Benhase, Diocese of GA  

The Bishop of Georgia (NOT Atlanta) has issued a pastoral letter concerning his decision about a "local adaptation" of the provisional Rites of Blessing which was approved by General Convention this past July.

He writes, in part:
The Rite approved by General Convention in July of this year failed, in my judgment, to plainly distinguish between Holy Matrimony and a Blessing. The enabling resolution for the Rite that was passed, however, provided Diocesan Bishops with the ability to "adapt" the Rite for use in their respective dioceses. I had hoped the language would have authorized something more expansive than "adaption," but that did not happen. So, we must work within the structures of what the Church has decided. None of this is perfect. We all look "through a glass darkly," as St Paul reminds us. I am unconcerned by what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion. I am concerned with doing what is right in the eyes of God.
I am always alarmed when people - especially bishops - talk about "what is politically, socially, or culturally expedient, or what will be the majority opinion " vs "doing what is right in the eyes of God," - as if the church isn't in the culture and the culture isn't "in bed" with the church in terms of "traditional marriage".

I was, at least, glad that at least "something" would be offered to LGBT people in the Diocese of GA.

Until I read the "rite".

You can find it here in Appendix 1. The criteria can be found in Appendix 2.

Wow ! Talk about "holier than thou"!

Bishop Gene Robinson left a comment over at Episcopal Cafe that sums up some of my feelings:
If I were a committed gay couple and looked at this, my reaction would be: "Is that it? Is that all? A 2-minute sidebar diversion, buried in a eucharist?! The blessing of a new altar frontal takes longer!". And can you imagine what committed straight couples would say if this were all THEY were offered in blessing their relationships??!!

I suppose the Bishop of Georgia has the right to do what he has done, in "adapting" the authorized rite -- although even in Parliamentary Procedure, when a resolution is so profoundly altered that the original is no longer remotely present, it is not an "amended" resolution, but a "substitute!"

IMHO, Bishop Benhase offers a "substitute," and a deplorable, weak and unacceptable one at that!
When will the institutional church and some of its purple princes learn that you can dress prejudice up in fancy vestments, use theological language and blow holy smoke from a turible all around it but that won't change a thing? It still looks and smells like prejudice.

Then again, I'm thinking at least some of the folks in GA are quite familiar with "separate but equal".

Separate water fountains and sitting in the back of the bus (but at least ON the bus) were eventually ruled for what they are: "prejudice". As I recall, the church assisted in the process of helping the government to see through the charade and to look at the injustice.

Isn't it interesting that now that the shoe is on the other foot in another issue, the church is the one saying, "Segregation yesterday. Segregation today. Segregation forevah."

LGBT people may have a seat on the liturgical bus in the Diocese of GA, but it's not even the back of the bus. We've been thrown under the bus. Because, apparently, this is, as Bishop Benhase says, "doing what is right in the eyes of God".

Look, I appreciate the difficult situation the bishop is in. He writes:
For some my decision will go too far. For others my decision will not go far enough. I understand. Nevertheless, as your Bishop I must lead us through this in the best way I can given the constraints present and the diversity of positions we respectively hold in the Diocese of Georgia.
For me, it's not about not having gone "far enough". It's sprinkling stale, dry crumbs when Jesus promises us the Bread of Life.

Bishop Benhaus has the right to "adapt" the Church's provisional rite in his diocese, but if the old proverb "two wrongs don't make a right," -  a wrongful action is not a morally appropriate way to correct or cancel a previous wrongful action - is right, then I need to say that this one Rite makes a huge, hurtful, demeaning, insulting Wrong.

I don't expect any of what I've said in this blog post - or anywhere else in the blogosphere - will change the bishop's mind, but I do hope it brings some comfort and hope to LGBT Episcopalians in the Diocese of GA.

Allow me to offer some words of truth and assurance: You're not crazy - or selfish or 'immature' or not a good Christian - for thinking this is insulting.  

I don't have anything more than that assurance to offer you at this time, except the fervent prayer that you will continue to be a witness to the love of God as you see it reflected in each other's eyes. 

And, that your bishop's heart will grow in love so that he may lead the people of the Diocese of GA more nearly into the Light of Christ, that, eventually - one of these days, soon, please - you all may do "what is right in the eyes of God".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A little bit of discrimination?

Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England?

That's the question asked by journalist Riazat Butt for the British newspaper, The Telegraph, in a recent article entitled, "Women bishops will have to accept discrimination to exist."

Here's the back story for those of you who aren't either feminists or Anglophiles.

The Church of England authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1992 and began ordaining them in 1994.  In the 20 years since the decision was made, the debate about women in the episcopacy has been raging.

In 2008, draft legislation which would allow women in the episcopacy was finally proposed to General Synod which has been the subject of many angry debates, failed deals, fudges and great turmoil and angst.

In July of this year, a resolution - intended to reassure opponents of the ordination of women - was passed unanimously by the House of Bishops but it failed to achieve consensus among clergy and laity and was defeated.

In September of this year, the resolution was further tinkered with and clause 5 (1) (c) was proposed to the House of Bishops by Synod member, the Rev'd Janet Appleby. Depending on who's talking, the clause is either a brilliantly nuanced compromise which will allow women - finally! - to be "appointed" to the episcopacy - OR - another bad batch of Anglican fudge.

What is clause 5 (1) (c)?
Section 5 of the the draft measure on women bishops states that the House of Bishops must draw up a code of practice on implementing the measure.

In May, the House of Bishops inserted a new clause 5 (1) (c):

It says male bishops or priests looking after objecting parishes should exercise their ministry consistently with "the theological convictions as to the consecration and ordination of women" of the parishes.

The redraft agreed on 12 September says male bishops and priests should be selected "in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3."
The House of Bishops overwhelmingly approved of the Appleby Amendment which now comes before a specially convened meeting of General Synod on November 19th - four days from now.

I'm sure the bishops were quite relieved that a woman who is a priest proposed it, hoping to put an end to the matter and getting back to doing.....well, whatever it is CofE bishops do. I'm quite sure they want this issue off their plate before Justin Welby, bishop of Durham and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, takes over for the beleaguered Rowan Williams.

If the Appleby Amendment passes, they'll soon enough be onto the next contentious issue: The blessing of LGBT covenants and marraige and ordination of LGBT people - which, I think, will make the 20 year battle for the full inclusion of women in the church seem like a day eating oysters at the beach at Whitstable.

Sally Barnes, from the campaign group Women and the Church (WATCH), says that, at the July Synod, people were “so angry”, when stronger legal safeguards were suggested for traditionalists, that it took the bishops and archbishops by surprise. “They couldn't see what they had done and we had to spell it out.”

Some laity are thrilled because it also means that, for the first time in recent memory, the laity have had enormous influence on the decision-making of the institutional (male, clerical dominated) church hierarchy. The hierarchical paradigm, they say - at least on this issue - has been inverted.

Not so fast, say the "traditionalists".  Forward in Faith, a group that wants greater accommodation for traditionalists than is currently being offered, has dismissed the Appleby Amendment. Members of the Catholic Group in Synod, Reform and the Church of England Evangelical Council have already said they will vote against the legislation.

Justin Welby, new ABC
Sally Barnes, from WATCH, said:
“The House of Bishops needs to have women in it. Some people have had enough - it's not a ringing endorsement- but we've had 20 years debate and it's essential. A two-thirds majority is needed – the bar is very high – and I am resigned to whatever happens. People are very weary. We want women bishops very much and it's not credible or tenable that there aren't any. If it [the legislation] falls then we will have to keep on until there are women bishops.” 
It's important to note that the ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Anglican Communion for a long, long time.  It's the one place where Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics find common cause.

Time does march on - even in England where it always seems to be 1950. By 2012, 28 of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion ordain women as priests and 17 have removed all barriers to women becoming bishops.

So, back to the question:  Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England?

It sounds to me that folks are leaning toward answering that question in the affirmative.

Is that a good thing?

You ask that as if you believed that having women in the House of Bishops will completely eradicate sexism in the church.

You know, like the fact that Barbara Clementine Harris was the first woman to be bishop in the Anglican Communion, and Katharine Jefferts Schori is the first woman to be Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, means that there's not even "a little bit of discrimination" in the church.

Or, like the fact that Barack Obama is the President of the United States means that there's not even "a little bit of discrimination" in terms of racism in this country any more.

Even if General Synod rejects the Appleby Amendment in favor of full, unequivocal, flat out inclusion of women in all orders of ordination, discrimination will continue to persist - in the church and in the world.

With the Appleby Amendment, discrimination will most certainly persist BUT with women in the House of Bishops in the Church of England - who have voice - and, vote - on issues that come before that governing body.

Which means that discussions in the House of Bishops about - and votes on - issues of reproductive justice, human sexuality, ordination and marriage equality will take on a very different tone and texture.

Not immediately, of course, but over time, there's bound to be an impact. It's completely unavoidable.

Do you really think the laity would have had an impact on the last Synod vote if there hadn't been women ordained to the priesthood in the Church of England for the last 20 years?

Is a little discrimination a lesser evil than no women bishops in the Church of England? 

Is sexism a greater evil than misogyny? 

A little bit of discrimination?

Women have been dealing with discrimination since the beginning of time. With one hand tied behind our backs.  Six times before breakfast.

Imagine what we'll be able to do in the Church of England with both hands free.

And, after breakfast.