Come in! Come in!

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

Monday, April 30, 2007

From the "No good deed goes unpunished" department

It was months ago that I agreed to an invitation from one of my seminarians to speak this morning to The Most Holy and Sacred Order of the Society of St. Blandina - the outrageous tongue-in-cheek name for a group of seminarians who are women at General Theological Seminary ("The Seminary") in New York City.

I had originally planned to take the 9:39 AM from Chatham into Penn Station, then the subway down to 175 W. 9th Ave at 21st. Street in Chelsea, the neighborhood with pockets of campy charm.

However, I missed the train, so I hopped into my car and took the Lincoln Tunnel in to 40th Street at 9th Ave and then down to 21st. I had been assured that "at that time of day" parking on one of the side streets would not be much of a problem.


Never trust anyone who has lived more than a year in NYC. They so desperately want you to believe the absolute best about the city they have fallen in love with that they would stand on the grave of their grandmother and tell a big fat lie and not even feel an ounce of remorse.

So, I make it into the city in great time - no traffic jams, no construction stalls, no rubber-necking at an accident or car breakdown. Not even at the Tunnel.

So far so good.

I'm at GTS and, of course, there's no place to park. By my fourth time around the block, I decide to call my seminarian and ask for the location of that parking garage with the decent rates. Was it at 27th between 8th and 9th or 26th between 9th and 10th?

Now my troubles begin.

I turn at the corner and there's a cop directing traffic around a truck that has broken down. He smiles and waves me on, I'm thinking, around the broken down truck.

Not so. I should know by now that it's never a good thing when a NYC cop smiles.

The next thing I know, I'm on 21st street and there's a blue bubble light flashing in my rear view mirror. It's my friend. The cop. Except, he's not smiling.

"License and registration," he barks. "Sure thing," I say, trying to make small talk while I find the paperwork.

"I'm just trying to find a parking place. I'm going to be speaking here at the seminary in about 20 minutes. Here you go, sir," I said, handing him my life on paper, "But can you tell me why? I mean, certainly, I was not speeding."

"Yeah, but you were talking on your cell phone while driving, lady, and you didn't pull over when instructed by a NY police officer."

"You're kidding me, right?" I asked, astonished.

"Just give me your license and registration and your insurance card. Now," he barked.

"Of course," I said, "but officer, you didn't tell me to pull over. You were directing me around the truck, weren't you?"

"NOW!" he commanded.

Okay, I'm dead dog meat, I thought. I opened my mouth and hurt myself.

He kept me waiting for 20 minutes. TWENTY minutes. I gotta give it to him. At least he was paying attention to what I had said.

I actually watched him leave the cop car and go to the nearby deli and get a cup of coffee. No joke. Then, he walked to my car, WITH THE COFFEE IN HIS HAND, and handed me my paperwork - and a summons.

My offense? Driving while talking on a cell phone.

My fine? $50 plus a $40 surcharge.

No joke.

"Thank you, officer," I said, trying to sound appropriately contrite and repentant.

"Just so you know," he said, sipping his coffee, "if you appear in court to plead 'not guilty', if you are found guilty, you will be charged an additional $100. And, if you appear in court to plead 'guilty', you may still be charged an additional $100 charge for taking up the judge's time."

He sipped his coffee again and said, "It's all there on the ticket. Just so you know."

With that, he turned on his heels and walked off.

My time with the seminarians turned out to be wonderful and I'm really, really glad I had the opportunity to talk with them.

You know, for all of the foolishness of the church, and the long, sad legacy of racism, sexism and heterosexism in our hallowed halls, I'm just glad I'm not in the NY City Police Department.

I'm even happier I don't have to live with that miserable human being who is paid to "protect and defend" the people of that great city. Just imagine being his partner or wife or child!

Oh, and I guess I won't be driving and talking on my cell phone in NY City anymore.

At least, not when there's a cop in sight.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Invitation to An Invitation

If you haven't already, head on over to Sarah Dylan Breuer's Blog
Grace Notes: "An invitation especially to 'reasserters'. "

After 4 years on the New Commandment Task Force, you have to know I am hopelessly committed to reconciliation, but I must say my eyebrow has been arched ever since I read Dylan's opening story about an encounter she had with Martyn Minns at the last General Convention.

Oh, that "the present troubles in the church" only concerned theological principles about which we can agree or passionately disagree.

Then again, as Roman Catholic theologian Nancy Ring used to say, back in the day when I took classes with the Jebbies at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, "Hey, everybody's gotta do something while waiting for the parousia."

Won't hurt. Might help.

In case the above link isn't "hot", go to:

The Shepherd and The Sheep

A Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday
Easter IV - April 29, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
Ms. Ellen Sutton, Seminary Intern
The Theological School at Drew University

The words in the Collect jumped out at me.
Grant that when we hear Jesus’ voice we may know him who calls us….

The past few weeks we have been talking a lot about sheep. Today we heard the twenty-third psalm with Jesus being the shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice, and he continually says that the sheep should be fed.

Some time ago I had written a song that I would like to voice. The song raises the question, What do we feed the sheep?

The shepherd is calling…. feed my sheep.
The shepherd is calling…. feed my sheep.
Feed.. my.. sheep.
Feed.. my.. sheep.

What do we feed them?
…Feed my sheep.
What do we feed them?
…Feed my sheep.
Green grass, clean air.
Soft ground, No stress
Comfort, Safety.

Well….That was the old song!

I have since been inspired by you- those that gather at St. Paul’s, to add some new words, which I will sing at the very end of this sermon. (pause) Sooo…when I start to sing- we are near the end…..

I see Jesus, as an exceptional shepherd who knows all the sheep by name. He feeds them and cares for them. He protects them and teaches them. He even lives among them and delights in them. The sheep follow this shepherd because he is kind. They know his voice, which is key to knowing the shepherd.

Now….Sheep are said to be dumb, but they are not so dumb as to follow anyone….For example, sheep do not follow wolves, but run from these predators, frightened and confused- until they hear shepherd’s voice. Then the sheep know where to gather and regroup.

As shepherd, Jesus calls us and calls all those who have gone before us by name….and…

That is a lot of sheep!
The congregation at St. Paul’s may be likened to a herd of sheep. ( I have tried not to say that S word, but that is where this is going.)

We arrive as we are… in all shapes, sizes, colors, personalities, orientations- really an infinite number of diversities in genetics alone.- without even taking into account the varieties of life circumstances we have all had.

We, like sheep, cluster together, go astray, get lost, become found and….. God only knows what else!!

What I am quite sure of is that the dynamics and circumstances of our lives are always changing- often in situations that are beyond our control. It is good to have a shepherd with a voice. It is great to have a shepherd!

What I have found to be constant at St. Paul’s is that people are kind. They take the time to say hello and converse. They use their voices to welcome each other. They listen and show interest in the other person. My experience here at St. Paul’s is one of being “heard” and one of being fed, not only with pancakes, coffee hour, and youthful spaghetti dinners, but with the voice of kindness.

Another thing I like about the people at St. Paul’s is many seem to be engaged in learning, growing, questioning, planning- living fully today, yet mindful of the St. Paul’s of tomorrow. This work in progress appeals to the artist in me because there is no end to expression of new life and possibility.

A place we hear the shepherd’s voice is in the liturgy- a conversation back and forth between the celebrant and congregation. I would be remiss to leave out the voice of the choir bringing beauty and melody to enrich the psalms, prayers, and anthems. The children’s choir and the voices of instruments bring youth and vibrance to our worship in the beautiful sanctuary. What I am trying to say to tie all of this together is that we all have a voice- Like Jesus we are shepherds whose voice gathers the sheep and like Jesus we are sheep that respond the voice of the shepherd. To go further….. we like Jesus are to be newborn lambs- innocent, gentle, vulnerable and open to the new day.

Interestingly, the voice can be heard, but sometimes it can be seen, felt, and intuited- as people at St. Paul’s work enthusiastically- because they have a desire to be working on what they are working on. They pitch in and follow their interests in the great variety and diversity of activity. I don’t hear people doing what they don’t want to do and that is remarkable.

The sheep are well fed. The voice of the shepherd carries a tune with a whole lot of love- that once heard – is recognizable and causes the sheep/us to look up, and take notice, and move toward the voice that draws a crowd -made up of unique individuals with voices to share.

The shepherd is calling…. feed my sheep….pause

What do we feed them?

…Feed my sheep.

Loving kindness,
Being present, validating,
Peaceful welcome.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

After 1,400 years: It's Girl!

First woman archdeacon for Canterbury
History was made at Canterbury Cathedral as it installed its first woman archdeacon in its 1,400-year history.

More than 500 people watched as Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams led the Service of Installation for the Ven Sheila Watson.

Ms Watson, 53, who was previously Archdeacon of Buckingham in the Diocese of Oxford, is the first woman to join Dr Williams's senior staff team as a senior appointment holder.

Ms Watson, who replaces the retired Patrick Evans, will be able to act on behalf of Dr Williams at the enthronement of new diocesan bishops in 27 of England's 43 dioceses.

Cathedral spokesman Christopher Robinson said today: "It was very good to see another woman installed in a senior position within the church."

The move comes as the Church of England takes the first steps towards the creation of women bishops. The first women priests in the Church of England were ordained in 1994.

Before the service, Ms Watson said: "I feel enormously privileged to be invited to join the team at Canterbury in both diocese and cathedral.

"I have always loved the cathedral with all its historic associations and I am greatly looking forward to getting to know the people and churches of Kent."

Having graduated in Classics at St Andrews University, where she went on to take a research degree, she undertook a preparatory year of theology at Oxford.

After 27 years of ministry she goes to Canterbury via the North East, London, Salisbury and Buckinghamshire. She is married to Derek, who was Dean of Salisbury until his retirement in 2002 and is now Preacher of Lincoln's Inn, one of the Inns of Court in London.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Senior at V Tech: "My family didn't raise me to do what is popular"

Student Adds Memorial Stone for Gunman
Virginia Tech Senior Cites Moral Responsibility

BLACKSBURG, Va. (April 26) - A senior at Virginia Tech said moral responsibility led her to add a stone for gunman Seung-Hui Cho to a memorial for his 32 shooting victims that was set up at Virginia Tech late last week.

The stone was later removed, but was restored by Wednesday morning.

Katelynn Johnson, a senior sociology-psychology major, identified herself in a letter to the Collegiate Times as the person who added the stone for Cho.

"My family did not raise me to do what is popular," she wrote in her letter to the campus newspaper. "They raised me to do what is morally right. We did not lose only 32 students and faculty members that day; we lost 33 lives."

In her letter, Johnson said she feared a backlash from students and possibly faculty members who did not agree with having a stone for the killer included in the memorial. But she said feedback since the letter was published has been largely positive.

The student organization Hokies United put 32 "Hokie Stones" - of local limestone used in university buildings - in a semicircle in front of the administration building to honor the 27 students and five faculty members whom Cho killed April 16.

The 33rd stone was added at about 4 a.m. Thursday, Johnson said.

Cho's stone was gone by Monday morning, and was replaced by a small American flag. On Wednesday morning, there were 33 stones again.

This time, the 33rd was on the far left, unmarked, and slightly apart from the others. It was adorned with tributes similar to those on the other memorials: flowers, candles and beads in maroon and orange.

University spokesman Mark Owczarski said that the student organization did not place or remove the stone for Cho, and that it would not interfere.

"They decided they would allow the expression of grief to take whatever form it needed to," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

Cartoons in honor of NH Civil Unions

Because as wonderful as it is, no one has civil rights until we ALL have civil rights. And, as important a milestone as it is to have achieved, a civil union is NOT the civil right of marriage.

We've come a long way, but we've still got lots of work to do, and many miles to go before we sleep.

Until then, it's important to be able to laugh - especially at anything that stands in opposition to the final goal - you know "justice and liberty for ALL."

Check out the full story here.

Of course, I could be wrong...: The Midnight Jukebox

Of course, I could be wrong...: The Midnight Jukebox

Don't miss this little ditty over at MadPriest's place. It's simply hilarious.

Invitation Declined

It's probably an occupational hazard.

I get invitations all the time to engage in intimate conversations with complete strangers or to appear on talk shows of one sort or another.

You know, it's an amazing phenomenon: an entire industry has been made out of the expression of opinions.

Opinions, as my grandmother always said, are like the orifice at the posterior end of the human body: everyone has one, but it doesn't mean what comes out of them has any value.

I've come to be quite expert at detecting what I call "Daniel Invitations." These are the very politely worded invitations that lead directly into the lion's den.

When promises are made to be "loving and respectful," or the writer or caller expresses sentiments such as, "I really just want to understand your position," you ought to hear that robot from that old TV Program, "Lost in Space" yelling, "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

I've had two such invitations within the past three weeks: one from an affable enough fella named Andy from a University in Pennsylvania and the other from Jacob, this 30 something guy from the Church of God in Christ in Columbia, Tennessee, who hosts, "The Virtual Bible Study," a live, phone-in, email, webcast program.

You can find archives of his show, or listen in live on Thursday nights at 8 PM CDT, by going here.

My grandmother also used to say, "If you lie down with dogs, you may get up with fleas." Still hearing that warning clearly, I declined the invitation.

Here's my note to him. Hey, you think I'm going to miss a chance to express an opinion? I've got one too, you know. An opinion, that is. A few, actually. You may have noticed.

Well, Jacob,

Your invitation to me to appear on your show included the "promise that we would conduct the interview in a loving and respectful manner."

As I responded to you, I was very skeptical of that promise.

The first clue was that you wanted to interview me on the "Three-legged stool of Anglicanism" but you wanted specifically to discuss how I interpret what scripture says about "homosexuality and women clergy," placing them in the same category.

That spoke volumes about your theology and biblical perspective. I know when I am being invited into the Lion's Den, and I could hear them roaring in the background.

I listened to the session entitled "What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?" which I found on your website and it did absolutely nothing to change my mind. Indeed, it simply confirmed some beliefs and assumptions I had from your first note to me.

At the beginning of the broadcast session your father says, "We never express personal opinions but seek to know what the Bible says."

Later, someone else (Chris?) says, "What's important is not what I think but to seek the Truth (you can actually hear him capitalize the 'T' in Truth). We are not trying to bash anyone but to seek the Truth."

You say, "This topic has been in the media a great deal and we need to know how to respond to it because we see people - even religious people - trying to defend it and even promote it."

You and your guests also refer to homosexuality in no uncertain terms as "SIN" (no question in my mind that all letters are upper case). Those who would, in your words "defend and even promote" homosexuality, you describe as teaching a "false way," comparing homosexuality to "adultery and other sinful vices."

I suppose I should not have been surprised but I was when you even raised the old, sad red herring argument about NAMBLA - which has not only been "hammered" in your words by conservative organizations, but by every reputable LGBT organization, religious or not, with which I have ever been associated.

Let's get very, very clear, once and for all: NAMBLA does not represent homosexuality. It is pedophilia, flat out, which happens to be of the same-sex origin. Every reputable shred of scientific data indicates that pedophilia is a disease predominantly seen among heterosexuals - not homosexuals; and men, predominantly, not women.

Pedophiles are also not as interested in gender as they are age and dominance and power and violence - so they will seduce little boys and girls into their evil deeds with impunity - no matter their own gender.

Pedophilia is NOT a sexual orientation. It is a disease. Likewise rape is NOT "having sex." It is an act of violence. Homosexuality, in and of itself, is neither a disease nor an act of violence. It is a sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or bisexuality, given by God before birth.

Which is why pedophilia and rape are crimes and homosexuality is not. Got it?

Well, Jacob, so much for your "promise that we would conduct the interview in a loving and respectful manner."

You know, every single abusive parent I have ever met or counseled always argues that they are not being abusive but providing "loving discipline" - often quoting scripture to defend their violence. Indeed, I have sat with violent spousal abusers who defend themselves by quoting scripture concerning the subservient nature of women "as ordained by God from the beginning of creation."

I am of the opinion that the actions of evangelical Christians like you and your guests, in your "alarm" about thwarting the "temptations of a corrupt society that are threats to the people of God," are tantamount to the arguments which try to justify domestic violence and other acts of abuse. It is patently, painfully obvious that you use scripture as both your "sword and your shield."

Despite your warm words of invitation and protests to the contrary, your views on homosexuality are set, your mind is made up, and my words will be empty and meaningless to you. You can't understand my position because, if, in fact, you told the truth or at least were honest with yourself the Truth is this: You really don't want to understand my position. Your mind is already made up. You know "The Truth."

To be perfectly blunt, the REAL truth about this, at least from my perspective, is that you want me on your show to boost your ratings. After twenty years of ordained service in the public practice of ministry, I know media titillation when I see it. You may dress it up in Sunday best and put a Prayer Book in its hands, but it remains as cheap and as vile as when carried by the Tabloids. Shame on you.

You are correct about one thing: Jesus did say, "If you love me, keep my commandments." So, let me ask you this: What commandment did Jesus - or for that matter, that other great biblical prophet and leader, Moses - ever make about homosexuality? Indeed, if homosexuality is so all-fired important to God, why isn't it clearly spelled out as being contrary to God's will and law in the Ten Commandments?

Oh, I know what you are going to say: "It's right there in the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." This all becomes so pathetically predictable, doesn't it? I mean, we could probably write each other's script.

I recently had a phone conversation with a man from Pennsylvania who "just wanted to understand," who, blithely and breezily compared my more than thirty year faithful, monogamous, loving relationship with my beloved, and the family of six (heterosexual, by the way, because I know you're dying to know) children we have raised to healthy adulthood, to incest and greed.

He was quite pious and very earnest in saying that people who commit incest do it "out of love" and that he, himself, needed the discipline of tithing in order to deal with his fallen, wretched human nature as made manifest in his personal sin of greed. Mind you, he prefaced all of this by saying, "I do not mean to be offensive, but let me say this to make my point."

As we say in the NY Metropolitan area, "Yada, yada, yada," which, in fact, is Yiddish for "Nothing, nothing, nothing."

Despite your father's claim that you "never express personal opinions" and your claim that you do not seek to "bash" anyone, you are judging and condemning me and my people on an uneven claim.

Adultery is defined as sexual relations outside of bonds of marriage, right? If LGBT people are denied their basic CIVIL RIGHT (not to mention the liturgical rites) of marriage, how can we be adulterous? You have set up an impossible situation and then judged and condemned an entire group of God's children who are gloriously made - male and female, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - by this man-made impossibility.

I know. I know. You are only interested in "what the Bible teaches" and with "the rules set forth in scripture." Oh, and of course, THE TRUTH.

Here's the fundamental difference between you and me, Jacob, and the way our individual faith systems work: I believe that the Bible is neither a Book of Instruction nor a Rule Book; rather, I believe that the Bible is a GUIDE book.

You believe that the Bible is inerrant. I believe the Bible has been - is - wrong on many, many things: the shape of the world, the sinfulness of left handed people, the inferiority of women, that illness is a curse from God for a specific sin (or the sins of the father), that epilepsy is evidence of demon possession - just to name a few.

You believe that the Bible begins with the Fall of humankind in the Garden. I believe the Bible begins with God's blessing that all of creation and creatures are "good". You don't believe this, I know, but I believe that the Bible is absolutely correct in having at its core the love of God for all of creation, including the human condition and the human enterprise.

The truth, Jacob? I'll leave you with this piece of biblical truth.

In the farewell discourse in John's gospel, Jesus says, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, s/he will guide you into all truth; for s/he will not speak on her/his own, but will speak whatever s/he hears, and s/he will declare to you the things that are to come." (John 16:12)

Unlike you, I take no delight in the ability to quote scripture, chapter and verse, from memory. Unlike you, I do not claim ownership of The Truth. I do believe that scripture is an unfinished book, the fullness of its truths are yet to be revealed "because we cannot bear them now."

My prayer for you, Jacob, is one of the ones I say daily to myself. I give it now to you. It is this: That you will one day gain the true, authentic humility which is necessary to prepare the fertile ground in your heart and soul into which the seed of truth may be implanted and, ultimately, revealed in your life, that all who see and know of your good works will give glory to God.

Our Katharine wades into "Dirty Water"

I'm a "Dirty Water Girl."

Remember the song by the Standells? No?

Oh then, please, allow me to refresh your memory:

I'm gonna tell you a story
I'm gonna tell you about my town
I'm gonna tell you a big bad story, baby
Aww, it's all about my town

Yeah, down by the river
Down by the banks of the river Charles (aw, that's what's happenin' baby)
That's where you'll find me
Along with lovers, fuggers, and thieves (aw, but they're cool people)
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home (oh, you're the Number One place)
Frustrated women (I mean they're frustrated)
Have to be in by twelve o'clock (oh, that's a shame)
But I'm wishin' and a-hopin, oh
That just once those doors weren't locked (I like to save time for
my baby to walk around)
Well I love that dirty water
Oh, Boston, you're my home (oh, yeah)

Ah, there. I do believe I can start the day now.

ANYWAY, to hear and read that Our Katharine was in Boston yesterday was almost as exciting as the FOUR HOMERS IN A ROW as played in the brilliant winning game by The Red Sox against the NY Yankees last Sunday night.

(One more shameless piece of Dirty Water Pride: The Sox are #1 in the League standings with 13/7. The Yankees are in #4 with 8/11. Woo hoo! I have a T-shirt that says, "I have two favorite teams: The Boston Red Sox and anybody who beats the Yankees." It's dangerous to wear in the NY Metro area, but hey, a girl from Dirty Water has gotta do what a girl living in The Garden State's gotta do.)

You can find the audio of her interview with Boston Globe Reporter here.

If that link isn't 'hot' you can also find it half way down the report of her visit which you can find here.

I've also printed it below for your convience.

Episcopal leader holds firm on gay rights
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff April 25, 2007
Saying "I don't believe that there is any will in this church to move backward," the top official of the Episcopal Church USA said yesterday that the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire has been "a great blessing" despite triggering intense controversy and talk of possible schism.
In an interview during a visit to Boston, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori compared the gay rights struggle to battles over slavery and women's rights, and said she believes that it has become a vocation for the Episcopal Church "to keep questions of human sexuality in conversation, and before not just the rest of our own church, but the rest of the world."

Jefferts Schori said that it could take 50 years for the debate over homosexuality to be resolved, but that she believes it will happen. She said she hopes that the Anglican Communion, an umbrella organization including the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, will stay together.
"Where the protesters are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless," she said. "That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well."
Jefferts Schori, a 53-year-old oceanographer who was ordained an Episcopal priest just 13 years ago, has been attempting to guide the 2.4 million member Episcopal Church through controversy since she was elected the 26th presiding bishop last summer, three years after the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire triggered the controversy by choosing the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a long-term partnered relationship, as its next bishop.
The Anglican Communion has been embroiled in a debate about whether and how to punish the American church for its consent to Robinson's election, which some Anglican primates view as a violation of biblical teachings about sexuality.
"This is an issue for some clergy and a handful of bishops in our own church, and for a handful of primates across the communion, who believe that this issue is of sufficient importance to chuck us out, but the vast majority of people and clergy in this church, and I would believe across the communion, think that our common mission is of far higher importance," Jefferts Schori said. "If we focus on the mission we share, we're going to figure out how to get along together, even if we disagree about some things that generate a good deal more heat than light."
Jefferts Schori was in Massachusetts to visit with local Episcopal clergy, who are meeting in Brewster. She spoke to the Globe yesterday morning in the office of Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, leader of the Diocese of Massachusetts, at the diocesan headquarters in downtown Boston.
"This is a ministry filled with joy and challenge, and for somebody who thinks that the cardinal sin is boredom, it's feeling like a good fit," she said of her new role. "Anglicans have always said that our role is to live in tension and to live in the midst of tension, and, frankly, the only thing that doesn't exhibit tension is dead."
Asked about her message to those who are critical of the direction of the Episcopal Church, she said: "If we are not willing to reexamine our assumptions about who is in and who is out, I don't think we are adequately faithful in our spiritual journey. We may come to different conclusions about who is fit for inclusion in the community, but I don't think it excuses us from a willingness to wrestle with that question."
Michael Paulson can be reached at
Photograph by George Rizer/Globe Staff

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Ministry of Presence

Phyllis Robin Cohen died on Thursday, April 19, in a nearby community hospital.

I’m still allowing that information to sink in to my reality. Some of you may recall her name only from our weekly prayer list. Others may remember her attendance in this church when she was a child. A small group of folk may remember her from the letters and cards which they wrote and sent, unsure, exactly, to whom they were writing, what to say or how it would be received.

I presided at her graveside service at 10:30 AM this morning, where Phyllis was laid to rest in a family plot at the Presbyterian Cemetery in Springfield, NJ. Her "security" bear - a stuffed character of Garfield through whom she often communicated when she was scared or very sick - was buried with her.

I was joined by Linda Coogan and Bill Schatzabell, her pastoral visitors, as well as her foster brother and his wife, who came from Troy, MI to settle her affairs.

Phyllis was born on June 17, 1963 and was placed in foster care as an infant with her foster family, whose lifetime ministry it was to take in abandoned children. She was developmentally challenged but seemed to thrive with the love and care of her foster family in the Summit home.

After her foster father died in 1994 and her foster mother in 1998, she lived for a time with one of her foster brothers in the family house. After he died in 2002, it was determined that Phyllis could no longer manage to live by herself.

She was sent to an adult extended care facility, where her health further deteriorated. She developed severe diabetes which was rarely in good control and had to be carefully medically monitored. She took comfort in food, and carried over 450 pounds on her five foot two frame when she died. (Yes, that's right. She weighed more than 450 pounds at her death, having gained about 100 in the last year or so.)

She was frequently in and out of the hospital with a variety of lung and serious skin infections, and was and was placed in a skilled nursing facility in Elizabeth, NJ in January of this year. I and her pastoral visitors grew increasingly concerned about the quality of her care in this particular facility.

The one thing I know about institutions of any sort is that the level of quality declines in direct proportion to mechanisms of accountability.

With the help of Linda Coogan, Pastoral Assistant at St. Paul’s, we sought to coordinate care between the clergy and members of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Elizabeth and members of our congregation.

We were blessed to enlist the help of Deacon Cy Deavours, canonically resident in the Diocese of New Jersey, but who resides in the Diocese of Newark. Cy and his wife Lyn were invaluable in assisting with the coordination of care and gracious and generous in their pastoral visitations.

Phyllis loved getting visits and phone calls, as well as cards from the church school children and various cards, notes and letters from members here. Her foster brother and his wife commented that she would always call them and read the notes to them over the phone. It gave them comfort to know that she was being cared for and tended to.

Equally important, however, is that the nursing home clearly became uncomfortable when they saw the steady stream of visitors as well as the increased volume of cards and letters being delivered to her room. They were also clearly annoyed when one of us would ask about the status of that special bed she needed, or whether or not that dessert belonged on the tray of such a brittle diabetic.

The last time I spoke with Phyllis, just before Easter, she delighted to tell me that arrangements were being made for her transfer to another nursing home closer to Chatham. Indeed, she was to have been moved to the new facility on the day she died.

A ministry of presence may seem like an insignificant thing. It’s such a simple thing to do – almost anyone can do it – that we often devalue its impact.

However, it is a powerful tool, capable of gladdening the heart of the lonely, as well as challenging the apathetic heart of those who are charged with the sacred trust of what it is to “care.”

A ministry of presence is a bit like the Gospel Ministry of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. From little bits and scraps of visits and conversation, the souls of so many are nourished and fed - and work of social justice is simultaneously carried out.

In one of her last conversations with Phyllis, Linda Coogan reports reflecting on all of the visitors and cards she was begining to have, saying, "Well, Phyllis, you're not alone any more." And, Linda reports, Phyllis burst into tears and said, "I know. I know. Thank you."

Phyllis clearly and fondly remembers being a torch bearer at St. Paul's. She hoped one day to come back to the church and take up that sacred task before she died. "I may need a little refresher course," she said, "but I learn real fast."

She is now bearing a different light in the heavens, the one and the same she was given at the moment of her creation. She is now bathed in Light Eternal, safe and secure in the arms of the loving God who is the Source of Light and Life.

May Phyllis rest in peace and rise in glory, and may the souls of all of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Symbols of Faith and Honor

Wiccans Settle Military Grave Lawsuit
MADISON, Wis. (April 24) - The Wiccan pentacle has been added to the list of emblems allowed in national cemeteries and on goverment-issued headstones of fallen soldiers, according to a settlement announced Monday.

A settlement between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Wiccans adds the five-pointed star to the list of "emblems of belief" allowed on VA grave markers.

Eleven families nationwide are waiting for grave markers with the pentacle, said Selena Fox, a Wiccan high priestess with Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wis., a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The settlement calls for the pentacle, whose five points represent earth, air, fire, water and spirit, to be placed on grave markers within 14 days for those who have pending requests with the VA.

"I am glad this has ended in success in time to get markers for Memorial Day," Fox said.

The VA sought the settlement in the interest of the families involved and to save taxpayers the expense of further litigation, VA spokesman Matt Burns said. The agency also agreed to pay $225,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.

The pentacle has been added to 38 symbols the VA already permits on gravestones. They include commonly recognized symbols for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as those for smaller religions such as Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie.

"This settlement has forced the Bush Administration into acknowledging that there are no second class religions in America, including among our nation's veterans," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the Wiccans in the lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the agreement also settles a similar lawsuit it filed last year against the VA. In that case, the ACLU represented two other Wiccan churches and three individuals.

VA-issued headstones, markers and plaques can be used in any cemetery, whether it is a national one such as Arlington or a private burial ground like that on Circle Sanctuary's property.

Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. Variations of the pentacle not accepted by Wiccans have been used in horror movies as a sign of the devil.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Sopranos: Family (and addiction) redefined

Hello. My name is Elizabeth. And, I'm a Soprano-addict.

I think it was in the middle of the first season when I was finally able to admit that I was powerless in front of the television set and that on Sunday evenings at 9 PM my life had become unmanageable.

I also came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity, but if sanity meant that I couldn't find out what would happen next week to Tony or Carm, or their children Meadow and AJ, I would simply have to do without it for that season.

I know. I know. The violence. The gratuitous sex. The profanity.

Okay. The violence is still very troublesome to me. The sex? Well, it's less gratuitous and far more violent and noisy than the most violent scenes, which are mostly noisy and bloody - but sometimes, so is the sex.

The profanity? Well, you know what? Once you get used to it, it actually becomes silly. Ridiculous, actually. As over-the-top as the rest of their extreme lives.

Like, when Tony, no lightweight himself, says to Bobby, who takes care of Uncle Junior, "F**k you, you f***ing fat f**k!"

Most of the writing is much, much better than that. Like, when Uncle Junior, looking out the kitchen window of his Belleville home at the FBI surveillance car across the street, mutters, "Those g**damn feds have their f**king heads so far up my a**, I can smell their g**damn aftershave."

Or, when Carm finds her son AJ and his friends on the day of their Confirmation in the garage smoking pot while everyone else is enjoying themselves at the reception in their Caldwell McMansion, she screeches, "G**damn it, AJ! Can't you be a g**damn good Catholic on your g**damn Confirmation Day?"

I mean, really! It just doesn't get more hilarious than that!

Except, of course, for the names: Paulie Walnuts.

Or, Sal "Big Pussy" Bompensiero.

Christopher (Pronounced "Chris - toe - FAH.") Moltisanti and his girl Adriana "Aid" LaCerva (who was whacked - pathetically, as she scrambled on her knees, whimpering and whining - in season three by Silvio "Sil" Dante).

Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni (who died last Sunday of lung cancer while in the slammer).

Or, Philly "Spoons" Parisi.

Or Giacomo "Jackie" Aprile - who also died of lung cancer but in the very first season.

Back to the writing, which is second only to the excellent acting. The domestic fight and threatened divorce between Carm and Tony in season three was a prime example. Tony adored his mob boss father (whom he considers himself most like) and hated his manipulative, scheming mother (in whom he sees qualities of his sister Janice, who he also hates. She also plotted once with Uncle Junior to have her son whacked.). One considers that Tony will strive to emulate his father. And, he does. But, more and more, he is becoming his mother.

A brief moment in the midst of the heated exchange between Tony and Carm give us a window into his soul. Carm screams that she needs a divorce lawyer as she has no money of her own, no bank account in her name, no way to legally claim half of his income since most of his income is, as they say, "under the table."

Tony looks at her and, his words dripping with sarcasm says, "Oh, poor you!"

Now, what you may not know is that those words, that expression on his face, that tone in his voice were all a striking, eerily exact replica of his mother, Livia Soprano. It was a chilling moment captured perfectly in three little words.

In the last two episodes, we can see more and more of Livia in her son Anthony. He forces Bobby, who has married his sister Janice, to execute a murder for hire as his penance for getting into a fist fight which began because Tony tormented him. He is also losing patience with Pauli Walnuts and begins to fantasize about whacking him.

These are the last episodes of the last season of The Sopranos - undoubtedly the series that has changed television forever. It has given us a window into the soul of evil. In so doing, it has given us a window into the potential each one of us carries in our own souls.

I knew I was hooked as the episode of the rape of Dr. Melfi unfolded. Dr. Melfi is Tony's psychiatrist who is attacked, robbed and raped in the stairwell of her office building. Her case is bungled by the police department, which loses the DNA samples taken in the Emergency Room after she is treated.

She eventually learns the identity of her assailant, and discovers where he works. For a brief moment, she seriously considers telling Tony, knowing that, as she says, "justice will finally be served."

I understood completely. More than that, I found myself secretly cheering her on. "Go ahead. Tell Tony. Tell him. Tell him!" I whispered loudly at the television set, unashamed and fully convinced of the rightness of the thing.

Frankly, I don't blame Tony for wanting to whack Pauli Walnuts. He is an irritating hypochondriac and a real jerk who rejected the woman who brought him up because she didn't tell him that she wasn't his biological mother. That would have been her sister, who was a nun who had had an affair with a priest.

Besides, Pauli talks too much and may jeopardize Tony and the whole Family, in fact, one day.

And, you know what? I don't think I'll ever forgive him for smelling Aid's underwear in front of Chris-toe-FAH.

See what I mean?

Hello. My name is Elizabeth and I'm a Soprano-addict.

Sophie's Nap

Spring has FINALLY arrived in the Northeast Corridor.

A dear friend from Maine just sent this as proof positive evidence.

Here is his beloved Sophie, sunbathing among the crocus.

Ahhhhh . . .to sleep, perchance to dream.

Life is good, is it not, but most especially in the early awakening days of Spring after a long, dreary winter.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Baptismal Love Letter

My Lord and my God!"
(John 20:19-31)
A Baptismal Love Letter to Keira Olivia Lenninger
Easter II, April 15, 2006
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Keira,

Let me begin with a confession: I’m always concerned when parents want their children baptized on the Sunday after Easter. Why? Well, first of all, it’s notoriously known – in clergy circles, anyway – as “low Sunday.” As in “low attendance.” That’s not exactly true, but compared to all the people who come to church on Easter Day for their once-a-year visit, it can seem like very low attendance, indeed.

The first Sunday after Easter is also known as “Doubting Thomas Sunday” – because the gospel selection is always this passage from John. That’s not so bad, really, except that Thomas has traditionally gotten a bad rap in the church for “doubting” the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was sort of the Bishop Spong of his day. Jack Spong, like Thomas, gets a bad rap for questioning and touching into old wounds, and insisting on facts and answers.

You know, Keira, unlike what some Christians will tell you, doubting and questioning are very important to an active and lively journey in faith. I write these Baptismal Love Letters to all the babies and children I baptize, hoping that your parents will keep them someplace special so that, as you prepare for Confirmation, you’ll know just how important is this day, the day of your Baptism. I hope this will give you some things to consider, some difficult questions to ask, some answers to insist on so that your faith may be real and lively and satisfying to your soul. Because if it’s not then, frankly, why bother?

So, let me begin by pointing out a few things about Thomas. The first is that, after Jesus was crucified, the disciples went into hiding. Who could blame them? I mean, if you had just witnessed the horrible things that had happened to Jesus, someone you knew and loved, and you were one of his followers, you would be in hiding too. I’m willing to bet that the first thing on your mind would be, “Well, it’s just a matter of time before the authorities will be coming to kill me.”

It’s no real surprise that they were hiding with the doors locked, so Jesus breathed on them and said, “Peace be with you.” Well, not all of them were hiding. Thomas was not with them when Jesus first appeared to him. Which does not mean, necessarily, that he was hiding someplace else.

In fact, that would be absolutely the opposite reaction from what we’ve come to expect from Thomas. John has previously reported that Thomas is quite brave and bold. When word comes to Jesus and the disciples that his friend Lazarus is dead, Jesus says “Let us go to him.” And Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is not a statement of cynicism, but rather, one of courageous loyalty. (See John 11:5-16)

No, I suspect that Thomas was not hiding in that room or anywhere else. I suspect Thomas was already out in the world – checking things out, waiting to see when the time was right to bring his fellow disciples back out into the world to begin spreading the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

You see, Thomas gets it. He knows that there are worst things than death. What could be worse than death, you ask? Well, for me it would be never having fully lived at all. Like living your whole life ruled by anxiety and fear, instead of having it filled with hope and possibility. Yes, of course there’s danger in that. Possibility is a very dangerous thing. When you believe in possibility, and you put your belief into action, well, you might make a mistake. In fact, you could make a whole lot of mistakes. You might open your mouth and unintentionally hurt yourself – or, someone else. Or, do something that has unintended and unexpected outcomes.

Your plan might not all go exactly as planned. But, where would you be if you hadn’t tried? If you hadn’t been bold enough to risk coming out of what is safe and secure and trying to live what it is you say you believe?

Yes, of course, there is danger out there in the world. Thomas is not ruled by fear but by hope. He knows that the life of a disciple is hopeful and fully engaged with the world. But, Thomas is onto something even more important. When Thomas stands before the Risen Lord, he wants to touch him. That’s because Thomas knows that the risen Jesus is the real Jesus, and the real Jesus is a wounded Jesus. We know the authentic Jesus not by choirs of angels singing ‘round his throne, or rose petals falling all around him like soft rain from the sky, and a voice over by Charlton Heston saying, “This is Jesus, the Christ.”

Thomas knows that it is by his wounds that we know Jesus. If you want to see the real Jesus, if you want to know that Jesus is alive and at work in the world to touch and heal, look for the wounds. The wounds are the surest sign that this stranger is really the risen Christ. Thomas gets that. He gets that he’s going to know the risen Christ when he seeks to touch the wounded Christ.

Where are the wounds of Christ in the world? How can you seek them yourself? Well, I can not predict the exact state of the world 12 or 13 years from now, but I can tell you that today, the world is filled with wounded members of the Body of Christ. There are over one million deaths every year – one child dead every thirty seconds – from malaria, a disease that can be prevented with a mosquito net costing two dollars and fifty cents. One in five people in the world survive – or don’t survive – on less than a dollar a day. One person in seven tries to stay alive without access to clean water. A child dies in extreme poverty every three seconds. Over one third of all the children in Newark live below the poverty line.

These are the wounds of Christ in the world today. But, you don’t have to go to the Global South or the inner city of Newark to see the wounds of Christ. All of Christ’s followers can touch the wounded Body of Christ because Christ’s risen Body consists of every one of us – every baby, every grandmother, every teenager, every woman and man and child – who is in Christ, has been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Every time we take someone’s hand as we exchange the Peace, we touch the risen, living wounded Body of Christ. And, whether or not we want – or chose – to admit it, we are all wounded. We all hurt. We all have been deeply hurt. That’s part of what brings many of us to church. To experience the healing that happens when our wounds are touched by someone in the love and peace of God in Christ.

A lot of us have had that experience here, at St. Paul’s. Around shared joys or tragedies, in a bouquet of flowers or a casserole or a phone call or a note in an hour of need from a friend or someone we barely know. We experience the Risen Lord in a moment of shared vulnerability in a discussion at Christian Education Class or Confirmation Class or at Coffee Hour or Bible Study. In all of these ways, we’ve seen and served the risen, wounded, triumphant Christ in each other.

This is the real gift of your Baptism, Keira, a gift you will claim as your own at your Confirmation. You will be a full member in the risen wounded body of Christ. It is an amazing company of people, Keira. I know your parents well enough to know that they love Jesus and want you and your two older brothers to get to know Him and love Him and serve Him, as they have when they were members of the Peace Corps and as they continue to do in their vocation as parents to your wonderful family.

So, rejoice that you are being baptized on Doubting Thomas Sunday! May you always question. May you always seek after answers. May you be bold and courageous and loyal to what you say it is you believe. Our world needs more Doubting Thomases, Keira – more people who are willing to come from behind closed doors of safety and security to touch and heal the wounds we have in each other and ourselves.

When we do these things, then it is that we, like Thomas, will find ourselves exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!”

With love,

Rev'd Elizabeth

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hope and Evangelism.

He smelled of fish, gasoline, cigarettes and stale beer. His pale denim jacket matched his jeans, right down to the rips and tatters here and there. His gray hair was as long, thin and wily as his body, and his face was filled with the sort of deep wrinkles known to those who spend most of their days fishing and crabbing the waters of the Delmarva Peninsula.

He was in front of me at the local Deli, his purchases spread out on the counter like modern artifacts of his life: two cartons of menthol no-name brand cigarettes, a six pack of beer, a large bag of potato chips, a pack of dried beef jerky, and a box of 12 chocolate cupcakes, on sale for $1.99. I suspected that was his supper.

As he completed his transaction, counting out the coins to the exact amount, he took the last dollar in his wallet to purchase a Lottery ticket. Turning to me he hesitated and stammered a bit before he said, “Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure,” I said, “what?”

“It may sound a little strange . . .” he cautioned.

I looked at him and then at the cashier who had been engaging in friendly chatter with him while she rang up his order. She smiled at me and her eyes indicated that it would be okay. I looked back at him and tried not to look astonished as he asked, “Will you kiss this bill for me? I need all the luck I can get with this Lottery ticket.”

I smiled and said, “Sure,” putting my hand out to take the bill.

“No, no!” he said, “I have to hold it. And, you have to kiss it right here, right where it says ‘In God We Trust’. That’s what happened the last time I won.”

“You’ve won the Lottery before?” I asked, astonished,

“Well, I won $500 on the Pick-Six. That was about six months ago. I figure, any day now, I’m bound to win again. But, this time it’s gonna be big. BIG,” he smiled, revealing an uneven row of teeth as yellow as old, worm eaten corn. “The odds are with me.”

I shook my head sardonically, and then did exactly as he requested, which seemed to bring him great delight. “Now, can I ask YOU something?” I said as I put my few grocery items on the counter.

“Sure,” he said, “It’s the least I can do for a beautiful woman whose kiss is gonna make me a millionaire.”

I smiled as I finished my transaction and then joined him outside where he sat smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer at the picnic table where the local crabbers and fishermen gather to swap tips and stories about their day.

I declined the beer and the cigarette he politely offered and assured him that I wouldn’t take much of his time. “Oh, hey, take whatever time you need. The boys will all be killing themselves when they find me sitting here, talking to a beautiful woman.”

He may have been old and weathered, but he still had all the lines and moves of his youth.

“Okay, here’s my question: Why do you do it?” I asked, “Why do you buy Lottery Tickets? Why do you spend you hard earned money on something that is such a long shot?”

He looked deep into my eyes, in that disquieting way of someone looking for authenticity and integrity. Clearly, this man had encountered human life in its lower forms and had learned that careful scrutiny was the first line of defense.

He looked away, took a long drag from his cigarette and then took a swig of his beer before he returned to look me hard in the eyes again. Suddenly, he smiled broadly and as he did, the hard crust of his exterior seemed to melt away. He became 15 years younger as he shrugged his shoulders playfully and said one word: “Hope.”

“Hope?” I asked, wanting to be sure I heard him correctly.

“Yeah,” he said. “Some days, it’s the only thing keeps a body alive, you know?”

“Yes,” I said, “in fact, I do.”

“You?” he said, astonished. “What’s a pretty thing like you got to despair over? You probably got a husband whose crazy about you – and if he isn’t then he IS crazy –and kids and a nice house in . . . hmmmm . . .let me guess. . .D.C. . .and a summer home here. . . .and all the right things. Life has been good to you, anybody can see that.”

“Oh, my friend,” I said, looking him square in the eyes as I tried to smile, “the stories I could tell you!”

He returned my gaze and, obviously believing me, said with the tone of disgust I’ve heard only from women who knew their subjects well, “Men! They can be such assholes!”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I laughed which sent him into a deep laughter that touched off a lengthy paroxysm of smoker’s cough.

When he recovered, he shifted the conversation and engaged me in the sort of light, superficial banter that made us both comfortable before we returned to the conversation we both knew was inevitable.

“Hope,” he said, after a long silence. “That’s what you wanted to know about, right?” “Yes,” I said. “What gives you hope? That Lottery ticket?”

He took a long drag from his cigarette and then said, “Nah, not the Lottery ticket. It’s the IDEA of the Lottery ticket is what gives me hope.” “The IDEA of the Lottery ticket?” I asked.

A wry smile crossed his lips as he took a long drag from his cigarette. “Yeah, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have had half the trouble your eyes say you’ve had, you know what it is to be without hope and you know what it is to have the idea of hope."

"For you, that idea is probably Jesus. Lots of women feel that way. For me, that idea is a Lottery Ticket. It’s my religion. My ritual. It’s something I know. When the choice is spending my money on a thick steak or put it in the collection plate at church where the Reverend is only going to remind me what a 'wretched sinner' I am, or buying a Lottery ticket, it’s the Lottery ticket every time.”

“Why?” he asked before I could as the question danced in my eyes, “because the steak feeds my body today. The Reverend calls everygody a sinner, but he don't thank God for the beauty of God's Creation - including people. The Lottery ticket feeds my soul until the winning ticket is announced.”

He took a long swig of his beer, burped quietly into his closed fist and said, “Something that feeds your soul. Now, that’s what I call hope.”

Before I could fully consider what he had said, he continued, “But, so does this conversation with you. So does your perfume. Damn, woman! You smell so damn good it breaks my heart to think that someone who looks like you and smells like you would sit here and talk with me on a Thursday night. It makes me think there still may be a woman somewhere for me. Someone I can come home and talk to. Tell my stories to. Laugh with. Share my dreams with."

"Now, that’s what I call hope and you give it to me, just sitting here talking with me for a bit.”

“And you think a Lottery ticket will buy that for you?”

“No, no, no!” he said, “You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said. “It’s like I said. It’s not the Lottery ticket. It’s the IDEA of the Lottery ticket. It’s the IDEA of you. It’s the IDEA of possibility – the IDEA of hope – that gives hope. See?”

“Look,” he said, giving it to me one more time, “You fish?” “Yes, I said, off the end of my pier. Do some crabbing, too,” I rushed to add, hoping to regain some credibility with my mentor.

“Then you know about the idea of hope. You know about baiting your line and sitting and waiting for a nibble. And, while you wait, you imagine what’s swimming around under your hook. If you’re hungry, you pray to God that something big will get hooked for you to bring home for supper, and when it does, you pray your best prayer of thanks and the hope that the next time you go fishing, you’ll catch another fish.”

“See?” he asked, watching the glimmer of insight beginning to register somewhere in my brain.

“Yes,” I said, “Yes, I think I do.”

I suddenly realized why Jesus, a carpenter by earthly trade, chose fishermen Simon and Andrew, James and John to be his first disciples. He knew they would know about the idea of hope. They became, in fact, trawlers of hope – and anglers of the resurrection.

“So,” he asked, “what do YOU hope in?” I smiled at him and said, “You.”

“Me?” he asked, incredulously. “Yes, you," I said. If you can find the idea of hope in the midst of your life – hope in fishing – hope in crabbing – hope in my perfume, then there’s still hope in this dark, broken world. And that, my friend, gives me hope.”

“Yeah?” he asked suspiciously, “And, why is that?”

“Because,” I said, getting up to take my leave as a deeper idea of Jesus began to enter in my soul, “As long as there’s the spark – the idea – of hope in the human heart, there’s hope for the world."

"And, as you said, it’s the idea of hope, the rituals of hope, the religion of hope that makes us think there maybe someone – or even a whole bunch of someones – in the world who will wait for us to hear our stories. To laugh with. To share dreams. And, if there are someones of hope, there can be a whole community of hope. And, as you so rightly pointed out, this woman calls that person ‘Jesus’, and that community ‘church’.”

“You have that in your life now, don’t you?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered, “Yes I do. A whole bunch of someones I love very much and who, by the grace of God, love me right back.”

“Lucky you,” he said, looking away.

“Nah,” I said, “not luck. That’s for Lottery tickets.”

“Hey,” he called me, “If you come around here again, maybe we can talk some more. About your idea of hope.”

“You bet,” I answered as I got into my car and put the key in the ignition.

“Nah,” he said, laughing, calling out over the sound of the motor of my car, “that’s for Lottery tickets.”

You know, Episcopalians aren't very good at this sort of thing, but I think that was ‘an evangelism moment’.

Funny thing about that - evangelism changed me more than I could ever hope to change anyone else. My friend will probably always buy Lottery tickets - there are some rituals we will always maintain - and he'll probably never join a church. The church may be a "hospital for sin-sick souls" but the institutional church, with all its corruption and hypocracy, is not for the faint of heart.

My friend taught me more about hope and Jesus and evangelism than I realized I needed to know.

Maybe that's what Jesus was really trying to teach when he said, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you."

Which, in the end, is the best form of evangelism there is.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Our Prejudices, Ourselves

April 13, 2007

New York Times: Op-Ed Contributor

AMERICA is watching Don Imus’s self-immolation in a state of shock and awe. And I'm watching America with wry amusement.

Since I'm a second-class citizen — a gay man — my seats for the ballgame of American discourse are way back in the bleachers. I don't have to wait long for a shock jock or stand-up comedian to slip up with hateful epithets aimed at me and mine. Hate speak against homosexuals is as commonplace as spam. It's daily traffic for those who profess themselves to be regular Joes, men of God, public servants who live off my tax dollars, as well as any number of celebrities.

In fact, I get a good chuckle whenever someone refers to “the media” as an agent of “the gay agenda.” There are entire channels, like Spike TV, that couldn't fill an hour of programming if required to remove their sexist and homophobic content. We've got a president and a large part of Congress willing to change the Constitution so they can deprive of us our rights because they feel we are not “normal.”

So I'm used to catching foul balls up here in the cheap seats. What I am really enjoying is watching the rest of you act as if you had no idea that prejudice was alive and well in your hearts and minds.

For the past two decades political correctness has been derided as a surrender to thin-skinned, humorless, uptight oversensitive sissies. Well, you anti-politically correct people have won the battle, and we're all now feasting on the spoils of your victory. During the last few months alone we've had a few comedians spout racism, a basketball coach put forth anti-Semitism and several high-profile spoutings of
anti-gay epithets.

What surprises me, I guess, is how choosy the anti-P.C. crowd is about which hate speech it will not tolerate. Sure, there were voices of protest when the TV actor Isaiah Washington called a gay colleague a “faggot.” But corporate America didn't pull its advertising from “Grey’s Anatomy,” as it did with Mr. Imus, did it? And when Ann Coulter likewise tagged a presidential candidate last month, she paid
no real price.

In fact, when Bill Maher discussed Ms. Coulter’s remarks on his HBO show, he repeated the slur no fewer than four times himself; each mention, I must note, solicited a laugh from his audience. No one called for any sort of apology from him. (Well, actually, I did, so the following week he only used it once.)

Face it, if a Pentagon general, his salary paid with my tax dollars, can label homosexual acts as “immoral” without a call for his dismissal, who are the moral high and mighty kidding?

Our nation, historically bursting with generosity toward strangers, remains remarkably unkind toward its own. Just under our gleaming patina of inclusiveness, we harbor corroding guts. America, I tell you that it doesn't matter how many times you brush your teeth. If your insides are rotting your breath will stink. So, how do you people choose which hate to embrace, which to forgive with a wink and a week in rehab, and which to protest? Where's my copy of that rule book?

Let me cite a non-volatile example of how prejudice can cohabit unchecked with good intentions. I am a huge fan of David Letterman’s. I watch the opening of his show a couple of times a week and have done so for decades. Without fail, in his opening monologue or skit Mr. Letterman makes a joke about someone being fat. I kid you not. Will that destroy our nation? Should he be fired or lose his sponsors? Obviously not.

But I think that there is something deeper going on at the Letterman studio than coincidence. And, as I've said, I cite this example simply to illustrate that all kinds of prejudice exist in the human heart. Some are harmless. Some not so harmless. But we need to understand who we are if we wish to change. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess to not only being a gay American, but also a fat one. Yes, I'm a double winner.)

I urge you to look around, or better yet, listen around and become aware of the prejudice in everyday life. We are so surrounded by expressions of intolerance that I am in shock and awe that anyone noticed all these recent high-profile instances. Still, I'm gladdened because our no longer being deaf to them may signal their eventual eradication.

The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently.

Harvey Fierstein is an actor and playwright.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

It's been a long, difficult winter - more so for some than others - but hope always springs eternal, for we are a people of hope.

Tonight, my dear friend Wayne and I celebrated Easter and that promise of the new life of Spring with a wonderful dinner at Dos Locos in Rehoboth Beach (We had the Thursday night special "Black and Blue Louisiana Style Hamburgers." Yum! Friday nights are one full pound of Alaskan King Crab Legs - 1/2 price. My favorite!)

As we were finishing our dinner, it grew dark and began to rain. Hard. The way it does in the mid-Atlantic states. It begins with a wild frenzy, then the rain comes down in sheets, and then it gradually tapers down and ends with a sputter of spray.

Just as we were preparing to leave, I looked out the window and both Wayne and I were speechless! There, rising in a perfect arch above the ocean was a double rainbow.

Wayne grabbed his camera and snapped this from the middle of the street.

I ran and got my umbrella from my car and, arm and arm, Wayne and I made our way down the 1/2 block to the ocean, along with several others, to marvel at Mother's Nature's evening show.

Isn't this absolutely amazing?

It reminded me of that wonderful song, which I first heard performed by Jane Oliver in Boston in 1977 - "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows."

Okay, okay, boys. I know. I know. It was first sung by Judy Garland in the film ZIEGFELD GIRL in 1941. I'm just sayin' that the the first time I heard it was in 1977 and when Jane sang it, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I wish I had MadPriest's ability to play music on my website. Maybe he'll grace us with the tune. Until then, here are the words.


I'm always chasing rainbows,
Watching clouds drifting by.
My schemes are just like all my dreams
Ending in the sky.

Some fellows look and find the sunshine,
But I always look and find the rain.
Some fellows make a winning sometime,
I never even make a gain.

Believe me,
I'm always chasing rainbows
Waiting to find a little bluebird in vain.

Words by Harry Carroll, music by Joseph McCarthy, 1918

Brisbane Times: A fundamental wrong

Someone just sent me this parody from the The Brisbane Times When humor is applied to divisive issue, you know you've turned the corner on the long and winding road to justice.

A fundamental wrong in letting some marry
Lisa Pryor March 31, 2007

The views I am about to express are not very fashionable. They are certainly not politically correct. But I believe what I am about to say must be expressed to protect the institution of marriage.

Too often in the media, currency is given to the theory that everyone should be allowed to marry regardless of gender, outlook and whether the two people are creating a suitable family environment in which to bring up children.

Well, it is time to ask some hard questions about this attitude. The only way we will save marriage is to reclaim the institution for the mainstream. Marriage is for normal people who want to raise children in a healthy and secure environment. This is why we should ban religious fundamentalists from marrying.

Fundamentalists of all religions engage in unnatural practices. The unconventional views they hold inevitably lead to their children being teased in the playground and, no matter what studies may show, there is surely a greater risk they will grow up to be fundamentalist themselves if they are exposed to dangerous ideas from a tender age.

No matter what fundamentalist propaganda may claim, fundamentalism is not sanctioned by nature. There is not a single species in the animal kingdom which stresses the infallibility of the Bible or adheres to the teachings of the Koran. Even in the higher orders of primate, no species has conclusively shown faith in the virgin birth or the second coming. Animals tend to be atheist, pagan or animist, which shows that these views are surely instinctive, normal, natural and right.

Maybe you think it is OK for humans to differ from animals. Maybe you think consenting adults should be able to do what they like regardless of whether the average person agrees with their views.

Such a liberal approach is a slippery slope. When we allow fundamentalists to marry it says that fundamentalism is OK. It encourages these people to foist the fundamentalist agenda on the rest of the community. Before long they will be trying to "convert" people to their "religions". Should we risk this? Fundamentalists are a small minority of the population, so only a small number of people would be inconvenienced by a ban. It would not even be discriminatory as fundamentalists would still have the right to marry - so long as they renounced their religion.

Let's not forget that we are not just talking about consenting adults. When you allow fundamentalists to marry it encourages them to have children. Sure, they might still have kids even if they cannot marry in the eyes of the law, but why legitimise it? Children are the true victims of fundamentalist marriages. Children don't get a say when they are born into a household practising a fundamentalist lifestyle. Tiny children should not be subjected to cultural experiments and social engineering. Imagine how confused and guilty children would feel when they were indoctrinated with the bizarre idea that they were born with the stain of original sin and were in fact so inherently bad that a man had to bleed to death to make it all OK.

Imagine also the teasing that children who have grown up in these "families" would be subjected to in the playground when other kids find out about their unusual views and practices. What are normal parents supposed to do when their children arrive home asking uncomfortable questions because they have been exposed to these groups at an age when they are too young to understand?

Before you know it, fundamentalist parents will be insisting preschool children read storybooks about the fundamentalist lifestyle in order to better understand it. There will be colouring books directed at four-year-olds showing Jesus turning water into wine and walking on water, as if it were gospel.

What hope does a child indoctrinated with this sort of propaganda have of growing up to be normal? Can you really tell me they will not be more likely to grow up fundamentalist themselves?

Before you accuse me of hate speech, I should point out that I bear no grudge against fundamentalists personally. "Love the fundamentalist, hate the fundamentalism" is my policy.

I suppose one chink in this argument is that banning a minority from marrying is utterly unfair, inhumane and intolerant. Kind of like the ban on gay marriage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where the buck stops

Lots of questions have emerged, but let's get this much straight, right from Jump Street: What Don Imus said about the Rutgers' Scarlet Knights Women's Basketball Team was, as coach C. Vivian Stringer is quoted as saying, “despicable and an abomination.”

Was it sexist? Absolutely. Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick, and chair of the Black Congressional Caucus, said that this was “an affront to all women.”

Was it racist? Without question. Framing the magnificently played championship game between Rutgers (mostly African American) and Tennessee (mostly Caucasian) as “The Jiggaboos verse the Wannabees” leaves no doubt.

Was it homophobic? Despite the appalling lack of media coverage about the more subtle but nonetheless painful remarks Imus made about these “. . .big women . . . did you see some of the tattoos? . . .on some of those arms.. . .rough girls . . . .” well, there's no doubt in my mind.

Clearly, the word picture which emerged from the deep, dank crevices of his classic pre-Neanderthal male mind was one of physically, psychologically, and because they were African American, sexually aggressive women which threatened (when it didn't titillate) his obviously fragile ego system.

Should there be consequences for his behavior? Most assuredly.

Should he apologize? Yes. Definitely. He has, apparently several times and in several places, including an appearance on the Al Sharpton Radio Show wherein he was repeatedly and appropriately grilled by the flamboyant activist. To his credit, Imus has indicated his anxious willingness to meet with the Scarlet Knights and their coach to apologize in person.

Is a two week suspension (with or without pay), enough? That depends on who is talking. Clearly, African American activists like Sharpton and Jessie Jackson and various public figures like Woopie Goldberg and Spike Lee are saying a resounding, “No!” They want him fired. Period. They want ‘financial consequences’ for his actions – even though two sponsors (Staples, Proctor and Gamble and Bigelow Teas) have already withdrawn their support of the program and this is, after all, ‘sweeps’ or ratings week in the world of audio media.

Others question the place of redemption and reconciliation. Coach Stringer says she and her team will wait until after they meet with him, “look him in the face” and, as Team Captain Essence Carson says, “hear what he has to say for himself” after “he meets us and gets to know us.”

Isn't there a double standard here? Just four years ago Jackson called New York City “Jewtown” on national television. And, while Jackson and Sharpton, among others, have decried the sexism and homophobia of rap artists, they have not been successful in reversing the tide of prejudice from within their own community. What, besides FCC regulations, makes what Don Imus said - a white, middle aged male - any different?

Are we surprised by Imus’ remarks? No. At least, I'm not. C’mon. He's not called a ‘shock jock’ for nothing. He's said these things before. Worse. It's just that this time, he picked on a team of women who are stellar athletes who maintain a 3.0 average; who were valedictorians in their high schools; who are future doctors, music prodigies, and Girls Scouts; and whose drive for the championship earned them a place in the hearts of everyone who has ever struggled against formidable odds to earn a mark of excellence for themselves.

Oh, yes, and they happen to be African American women.

I maintain that while these questions are important ones to ask, they are the wrong questions to lead us to a solution to this problem. Let me be clear: the deeper problem is about racism and sexism and homophobia in particular and prejudice in general in this country – the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

This is hardly news. It is a problem of long-standing and of epidemic proportions. While we have made significant gains, it will take years, indeed, generations, to completely reverse the scourge and curse of prejudice and bigotry based on gender, race, sexuality, age, class and other physical and psychological differences.

The presenting problem, however, begs the more immediate questions: What will we, as a civilized, postmodern culture, hold as ethical standards of public discourse? Should we regulate ‘free speech’ and ‘artistic expression’ in the marketplace? If so, then how? What level of prejudice, if any, will we tolerate?

Is it okay for African American comedians, Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy, to repeatedly use the ‘N’ word, but not anyone else? I mean, they are just making a living, right?

Is it okay for Snoop Dog or Eminem or rap artists of any race to refer to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s’ but not anyone else? It's just artistic expression, right? We don't want to stifle that.

Is it okay for gay activist and author Larry Kramer or lesbian humorist Kate Clinton or any other LGBT person to call another a ‘fag’ or a ‘dyke’ but no one else? It's just entertainment, all done in good fun, right?

Who decides the ‘standards of decency’? And, what are the consequences, if any, for not honoring or respecting, or maintaining those standards?

Which brings me to the one question I believe will lead to a solution to the immediate problem: Do you listen to Don Imus? If you do, you are, quite literally, where the buck stops. The radio program ‘Imus in the Morning’ exists only because there is an audience for what he has to say. It's the old truth of supply and demand. If there were no demand, there would be no one like Don Imus to supply the need.

So yes, let's hold Imus accountable. Let's hold everyone who breaks the standards of decency, however they are defined by the community, accountable for their actions. Let's have zero tolerance – in the public and private sectors – for prejudice and bigotry on any level and toward any person or group or class of people.

In order for that to be effective, it has to start with me. It has to start with you. Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic once said, “The transformation of the world lies in the human heart.” I have never believed that to be more true than it is right here, right now.

The buck stops where the transformation begins – in the human heart and with the human resolve that prejudice and bigotry in any form is not to be tolerated anywhere in the world.