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, January 15, 2019

3,003,592

A gathering of bloggers Iron bound section, Newark, NJ 2012
I just checked the stats on this blog. I do that from time to time, mostly just to check which blogs are getting the most "page views". I'm also fascinated by the map that shows you the location of the origin of most of your blog viewers.

But today, just now, actually, the number off to the right caught my eye. I think I've noticed it once or twice before but I've never really paid much attention. Today, I did.

It read:
Page views all time history: 3,003,592
Wait just a minute, I thought out loud.

Is that really three MILLION, three THOUSAND, five HUNDRED and ninety-two?

Get out of TOWN and shut the front DOOR!

Curious, I scratched around a bit more. I discovered that, apparently, I've posted 3,293 essays on my blog. Well, with this one, that will be 3,294.

Padre, the lovely Mona and the late, great Laura
Near as I can figure, my first blog post was on June 9, 2006 and it was entitled "Civil Rights and Liturgical Rites are not Special Rights" in which I spoke to the anxieties around two issues which I thought would frame General Convention.

At that point in time, I didn't know how to add pictures or, apparently, how to use the spell check function, and my ability to turn a phrase was in its infancy, to wit: describing +Gene Robinson as "an honestly gay man."

That was apparently followed that same day by a little thing I called "Anglican Communion 101". It was a little something I had written for my parish newsletter, to assist my congregation understand just a wee bit my passion for the institutional church as a potential vehicle for attaining the sort of doing justice, loving mercy and the walking humbly with our God that we say we are about.

We did make our way through that awful time. Mostly. We ended up with Resolution B033 which committed the church to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

Newly elected PB Katherine Jefferts Schori said "it was the best we can do." Indeed, that's what I titled that blog post.  As I re-read it just now, 13 years later, I could still feel the sting of the pain.

So, before I get lost in the weeds on Memory Lane, here's the thing: I started writing this blog in 2006 at the suggestion of my Parish Administrator. I had been a deputy to the 2003 General Convention and had sent daily emails to my Vestry to keep them posted as to the events and issues being debated.

They, then, printed out the emails, copied them and sent them 'round the congregation.

"A blog will be so much easier on everyone," my Parish Administrator said and, after a brief discussion, set it up for me. I called it "Telling Secrets," after my favorite book at the time. I posted something about the one major legislative issue and how Anglicanism works and left it alone for the next week until General Convention began.

A gathering of bloggers and our spouses 2012
I honest to God thought that the only people who would be reading my blog would be members of my Vestry and congregation.

No joke. That's how absolutely ignorant and stupid I was about how technology worked as well as its potential and possibility.

I had heard about "the information super highway" and something called "a search engine" but while Google was founded in 1998, personalized searches only came into being in 2005, a year before I began my blog. I suppose that's no excuse to those of you who are "techies" but it's a pretty big deal for " a simple parish priest".

Today, people who read my blog are mostly from the United States, followed by the UK, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, India and the Ukraine.

Imagine! It still pretty much blows my mind.

Then again, I've expanded the topics of my post from Anglicanism in general and the Episcopal Church in particular. Here are the top five all-time page views.

Feb 18, 2011, 35 comments
49043
Dec 13, 2011, 138 comments
48930
Jul 25, 2011, 14 comments
47586
Dec 31, 2014, 117 comments
38110
Jan 27, 2012, 5 comments

It won't come as a surprise to anyone to know that most of the visits to my blog come through word searches. Which has brought many strange strangers to my blog. I have learned more about "click bait" than I thought I needed to know.

And then, there are the "trolls". Lord, have mercy!

Ally, Padre and the lovely Episcofemme (Eileen)
I've certainly made mistakes over the years, most of which reflected my ignorance about the power and reach of expressing one's opinion in writing and in public.  Or, the one-dimensional aspect of this form of communication and the importance of body language and facial expressions.

Or, frankly, that anyone would really care what I might have to say about any given topic.

I'm not that naive anymore.

I am still surprised by the venom some people have in response to an expressed opinion by someone who is a total stranger to someone who is, to them, a total stranger.

It's usually done anonymously. Of course. Although, I must say, that sort of nasty exchange on a blog isn't so much a thing anymore. Social media provides the opportunity to have disagreements and arguments with total strangers in "real time" which proves much more satisfying to "trolls."

These day, hardly anyone leaves comments. Which is fine. I post on my FaceBook page and people mostly leave comments there. Which is fine.

I don't blog to enter into conversation with people. I blog because it's an outlet of expression.

Mostly, I blog just to work stuff out in my head. To "think out loud".  To reflect on an experience I've had or a thought that has been stuck in my craw.

And, yes, because I'm a "feisty, opinionated woman". I confess. It's true.

One of my seminarians once suggested that I used my blog to say the things I couldn't say in the pulpit. I think there may be some truth to that.

Although, interestingly enough, my sermons are pretty much all I post these days.

Will I continue blogging? Probably. Unless I stumble upon a compelling reason not to, I suppose.  I've actually made some interesting friends over the years through this blog.


Indeed, there were a few gatherings of Bloggers  several years back - before FaceBook became the rage.

We met in New York once, at General Seminary. We met again in Southern NJ - Princeton, as I recall. And again in Newark, in the Ironbound section.

There may have been other gatherings that I missed but those three I remember with great fondness and affection.  I've actually scattered a few pictures of our gatherings around this post.

That was then. This is now. I have no illusions that anything like that will happen again.  Had I know that at the time, well, I don't know that I could have enjoyed them more.

3,294 essays in about 12 years. That averages out to about 274 essays per year.

I don't think I'll increase that average. But, I'll probably have at least that many opinions.

As Rachel Maddow says, "Watch this space".

(And, thank you, to all of you who have, over the years.)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Mom always liked you best

A Sermon intended to be preached (but snowed out) for
Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE

There’s probably no one in this congregation who remembers The Smothers Brothers. You’re all way too young to remember their television show in the mid to late 60s and 70s.  Not to worry. You can catch some of the funny bits on YouTube.

If you were all just a little bit older, you’d recall the appeal of these two who performed folk songs (Tommy on acoustic guitar and Dick on string base) which usually led to arguments between the two. Tommy acted “slow” and Dick, the straight man, acted “superior”. 

Tommy’s signature line was “Mom always liked you best.”

I always loved it when Tommy would yell, “Mom always like you best.” And Dick would yell back, “Lower your voice!” And Tommy would say in a deep voice, “Mom always liked you best.” 



Every couple of years, when this Gospel story from Luke appears in our lectionary, I wonder about the relationship between Jesus and his cousin John.

And, every now and again, I hear John say, “…. But one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals . . .” and I recall the Smother’s Brothers and I think, well, Jesus and John are definitely not the Smothers Brothers.

What’s most amazing to me is that Jesus presents himself to be baptized by John. Consider that Jesus, as we say every week in the Creed, is “eternally begotten of the Father” and we not only believed he was “conceived without sin,” we say in the Gloria, he “takes away the sin of the world.” 

It’s really quite remarkable that he humbled himself to be just like every other sinful human being and is baptized.

After he and everyone who had gathered there had been baptized, Luke tells us that “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I suppose that John could have said to Jesus, “God always liked you best!” and be found innocent by a jury of his peers.

As I considered all of this, I began thinking about the power of identity, the power of affirmation, and the power of vocation. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this is a powerful message for you, not only as individuals but as a congregation about to enter the search process for your next rector.

Let me do that by telling you the story of a middle-aged woman I saw privately in pastoral counseling. After 6 months of dancing around the subject, she finally blurted out one afternoon that she thought she might – possibly, I don’t know, what do you think, could I – have a vocation to ordination as a priest, but, well, oh, no, how could THAT be? I mean, she said, she was stupid.

Everybody knew – everyone in her family, everyone at school – had told her in direct and indirect was that she was a very stupid woman. In no way could she POSSIBLY withstand the rigors of seminary.

After we talked for awhile, I encouraged her to test that assumption and be tested - to do the same vocational testing the diocese would ask her to do as an aspirant. After some prodding, she did.

When all the testing was done and she had her appointment to hear the results, the woman at the Testing Facility told her that all the vocational profiles were consistent with a vocation of service but they had one problem - one of the tests wasn't accurate enough to measure accurately, so they were going to send it to another facility to be evaluated.

"Which one is that," she asked,

"Your IQ."

"Oh, right," she said, almost in tears. “Probably can't measure something that low."

“Actually,” said the woman, “we can’t accurately measure your IQ because it’s too high for our measurement instruments.”

“Too high? Did you say ‘too high’?,” asked my thoroughly astonished friend. “What are you trying to say to me?”

“I’m saying to you that your IQ is at genius level. You, my dear, are quite brilliant.”

At which point, my friend started crying in disbelief. Turns out, she had a pretty severe case of dyslexia which no one had ever diagnosed.

As she told me the story I asked her how she felt about all of that information. What did she make of it all?

She said, “I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure. Do you think it means that I AM called to ordained ministry? That I CAN go to seminary and not make a fool of myself?”

“Well,” said I, “I’ve always found that surprise and delight is one of the most effective communication tools God uses to open our hearts and minds to possibility.”

That was in the late 90s. She's an amazing priest – and an incredible preacher – today. As I think about it, she’s probably rounding the corner to retirement just about now.

The power of identity.  The power of affirmation. The power of vocation.

We see it in the story of the Baptism of Jesus. We see it in the story of my friend, struggling with her vocation which was so influenced by who she thought she was and what she had been told of her intellect and capabilities. 

We’ve all heard the saying that “The truth will set you free.”  I think it’s humbling to accept the truth about yourself – especially when the truth about you comes as a surprise and that surprise is that you are much better than you thought you are.

In that moment of facing and accepting the truth, it’s as if we are rising through the swirling waters of uncertainty to hear God say to us, “This is my beloved child.”

Some refer to this process as “Baptism by fire.” In my experience, that’s an apt description.

Fire and Water and Spirit. 

Identity and Affirmation and Vocation.

As you begin to enter the search process for your next rector, I urge you to keep this story of the Baptism of Jesus in mind.

Let your search begin with yourselves – as individuals and as a congregation, a community of faith.

Search what is it that makes you, you. What makes you unique? What have you absorbed as truth that others have told you about yourself? Is it true?

If there’s something you’ve always believed about yourself that is holding you back from what you feel called to do, test it. Put it to the test. How else will you know if it’s true?

Search for surprises and let those surprises be an affirmation of what you have learned about yourself. You may be surprised that the assumptions you’ve always held, once challenged, open doors you never knew existed.

If you find yourself scratching your head and asking, "What am I supposed to make of this?" Or, "What am I supposed to do now?" Those are the questions which almost always lead to vocation. 


Know that  those questions are calling you into co-creative status with God - to make something, to do something together with God.

With this information in hand, begin the process of fearlessly searching your vocation. What is it that you were called here – in this time and in this place, together with these people – to do?

After that search process, you will be better equipped to search for your new rector.

Remember, you are calling a rector, not a savior. 

You already have a savior. 

You are calling a rector – the person who can come here and know who your are and affirm that identity and love you enough to  help you be faithful to your vocation, to what God is calling you to do and be; to that vision God has of who you are and what God needs you to accomplish in this time and this place.

Mind you, this is not easy work. It’s difficult. It’s especially hard to test your assumptions. It’s humbling accept the surprising truth about yourself that you are better than you thought you were.   

In those moments, remember that you were blessed to be a blessing. You are baptized.

In those moments, hear God say to you, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.”

Or, if you prefer, “God always liked you best!”

Amen.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Epiphany: "Is it you again?"


Artist: Emily Balivet
A Sermon for The Feast of the Epiphany
Christ Episcopal Church,  Milford, DE
January 6, 2019


Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

I want to tell this little story and leave it right here for now. I’ll come back to it, but I just want to leave it here before I go on.

In her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris tells a story that is said to come from a Russian Orthodox monastery. A seasoned monk, long accustomed to the ancient tradition of monastic hospitality that welcomes all guests as Christ, says to a young monk, “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes,” the monk continues, “I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, “Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?”

So, I’ll leave that story there and begin with a confession: I think I love the Season of The Epiphany even more than I do Christmas – and, I LOVES me some Christmas!

You might know that in some parts of the world, Epiphany is also celebrated as Women's Christmas. Originating in Ireland, where it is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas began as a day when the women, who often carried the domestic responsibilities all year, took Epiphany as an occasion to enjoy a bit of respite and celebrate together at the end of the holidays.

Sounds like an idea whose time has come again, right ladies?

In my family, The Feast of the Epiphany was when my family exchanged Christmas gifts. Indeed, my own family has continued this tradition. We are all meeting later this month – children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles – to exchange gifts and have a fabulous meal together.

When I was a child, we got one small gift, which we were allowed to open right after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. We got one more gift and the contents of our Christmas Stockings on Christmas morning. But, the Big Gift Exchange was saved for the Feast of the Epiphany.

Now, we weren’t Irish, but Epiphany did seem to be Women’s Christmas in our family.

My grandfather and uncles would prepare the Epiphany feast, which usually began with a hearty bowl of Portuguese kale soup with linguica, a spicy sausage. 

This was followed by a big pan of Baked Cod, smothered in onions, garlic and tomatoes and cooked with carrots and turnips and potatoes from my grandfather’s garden. It was served with baskets of my grandmother’s freshly baked bread – crusty on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside and thickly slathered with butter. 

(You don’t think I got these hips from eating salad and drinking Diet Coke do you?)

Oh, and the joke in my family was that the dessert table was so large it had its own Zip Code.

And then, my favorite part: After the dishes were done, after everyone was feeling fat and happy after a good meal, after the all the presents were opened, after everyone’s glass or cup was filled, we would retire to the parlor (remember those?) and my grandmother would bring out her Portuguese guitar and sing fados – a Portuguese folk song with a characteristically mournful tune and lyrics which speak of the sea, or life of the poor, and infused with melancholia, resignation and fate.

And then, my grandmother would tell her Epiphany story. It began with her decision, as a 15 year old girl, the youngest and only girl with six older brothers, who had just lost her mother. 

She took a look around and saw her father and her brothers and understood exactly what her future looked like. 

So, she convinced her father to allow her to spend the summer with some of her aunts, her mother’s sisters, who had moved to America and were working as domestics on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Saudade (1899), by Almeida Júnior
She promised to return home at the end of the summer, but had absolutely no intention of keeping that promise. 

She packed a small bag with a few changes of clothes and a few bits of some food, slung her guitar on her back and boarded a ship which carried her into Boston Harbor. She never returned to Portugal.

For me, her story was every bit as good and exciting as the story of the Three Wise Men – Kings, we are told – reportedly from the East, following only a star and a story. 

It was a rumor of a story, really, that was so amazing that it brought a hope that burned so bright it formed its own light.

My grandmother, like so many before her and since – even up to and including this very moment – risked a great deal, sacrificed people and places she loved, following only the light of a story – a rumor of a story, really – of a land which was filled with hope and possibility and potential.

She had a hard life, a difficult life. She had twenty pregnancies and twenty-two children, nine of whom lived to adulthood – two of whom are alive today. She lived through two World Wars and a Great Depression. 

Her brothers lived in poverty in Portugal because there was no work. Her husband and sons and daughters at least had jobs – hard work – in the many mills and factories of New England.

However, finding that disparity, inequality, and corporate corruption know no national boundaries, my aunts and uncles committed themselves to becoming successful labor union organizers. 

When there were strikes and negotiations were stalled, my grandmother would make big pots of soup and great loaves of bread and I would go with her as we fed the men – and, eventually, their families – who were fighting for their part in the great story of America.  

As difficult as her life was, however, she never really forgot the story of promise that brought her here. She never lost sight of the star that guided the journey she made. 

Although she often felt melancholy for what she left behind, she never regretted her decision.  Every election day she would get dressed in her Sunday clothes and walk to the polling place, taking a few of her grandchildren along by the hand. “I couldn’t do this in Portugal,” she’d say, “but in America . . ah, in America. . . even I have a say in the governement.”

My grandmother used the Feast of the Epiphany as a way to remind her children and her children’s children about following their own star, of dreaming dreams that others might scoff as impossible, to create your own ending to your own story, even if it means getting to home a different way or creating a new home in the new place where you found yourself.

And, she said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That was her mantra, because some people looked at her and saw a young immigrant woman with no skills who couldn’t even speak the language. 

And, they looked at her children and her grandchildren as ‘less than’ because our skin was darker and our hair curlier and our food looked and smelled different.

On The Epiphany, she would remind us, “The rest of the world saw a helpless baby in a manger, but the Wise Men were wise because they saw beyond what was right in front of them. They saw the bright light of hope. They saw the shining star of promise. They saw unconditional love who only wanted love. They saw Jesus, and, in seeing Jesus, they were able to see God in a new way.”

Which brings me back to that story I began with. It’s the lesson the old monk learned. He said whether prostitute or prime minister, he had learned to accept people as they are. Our baptismal covenant asks us to promise to, “respect the dignity of every human being.”

We also promise to “seek and serve the Christ in others.” Because, you know, the story isn’t over. It hasn’t ended. Not yet. God continues to be with us and interact with us. The story of God and the people of God is still being written. Sacred stories are still being lived out and told. The wise still seek Jesus and follow his Light.

As that great modern theologian, Gracie Burns, once said, “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

This is why we continue to tell the story, year after year. We live the mystery of our faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. We continue to tell the story to remind us that when Christ returns, he may not look or sound or live or even pray the way we expect.

Wise Women Also Came - Jan Richardson
But, if you are wise, you, too, will take the risk of following a star – even if it’s only the dim light of an idea or an intuition or a hunch. 

You, too, will know the wisdom of following a story – the rumor of a story, really – in order to be part of it. 

You, too, will follow a dream, even if it means that, at the end, you have to go home by a different route – or, perhaps build a new home where you find yourself.

If you are wise, you will be faithful to your baptismal vows to ‘seek and serve Christ in every person’ – even if that takes the rest of your life to achieve. That faithfulness to a promise will enable you to greet the stranger in your midst with the same exclamation that old Russian Orthodox Monk used. 

"Jesus Christ, is it you, again?"

And, no doubt, the Three Wise Men exclaimed it first, as they knelt in front of that manger, long, long ago, in a country far, far away:  “Jesus Christ, is it you?”

Amen.