Come in! Come in!

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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Fr. Jake: Archibishop Akinola and Massacre of Yelwa

Fr. Jake is running a story about Archibishop Akinola and the question of his involvement with the Massacre of Yelwa from a story by Eliza Griswold (yes, that Griswold) in this month's magazine "The Atlantic."

As horrifying as the story is, it is even more daunting to consider that this Primate in the Anglican Church, when asked of his involvement in it as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, his only response is "No Comment."

No comment? Really?

I wonder, at the very least, what those involved in CANA - especially those in American Episcopal Churches - might have to say? If Akinola is implicated in any way, one wonders what, if anything, Archbishop Williams might have to say.

I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for a response from Canterbury, which Jim Naughton at Episcopal Cafe is reporting, has sent a letter to the Diocese of NH, asking for a large contribution to support the expenses of Lambeth. You remember: the same conference to which they have declined inviting either the bishop or his spouse.

I'm not making this up. Go over and read the stories at Fr. Jake Stops the World and Episcopal Cafe.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Voice of Authority Speaks

Well, over at House of Bishops/Deputies List, we got this quote from Kirk Hadaway, staff to the Committee on the State of the Church, who oversees the parochial report information via Deputy Ann Fontaine, c3, Wyoming:

"To my knowledge, this is the first time in the past five years that someone has raised this issue regarding the Parochial Report. Technically, civil unions (allowed in CT, NH, and NJ) are not marriages, so they should not be counted as marriages on the form."

Okay. I get it.

Of course. I understand. It’s logical and reasonable and pragmatic and, God knows, Episcopalians are nothing if we’re not logical and reasonable and pragmatic.

Civil Unions are not Marriage. The Parochial Report computer form asks for Marriages. It’s just a computer form, for pity’s sake, designed to gather data about the work of the church. Marriage is just one of five of the Sacramental Rites of the church. And, we don’t ask about Unction or Reconciliation of a Penitent or Ordinations on that form. It’s not a judgment. It’s just how the church measures the sacramental life and vitality of the church. Just the facts, is all.

C’mon, Elizabeth. Lighten up. Toughen up.

I get it.

I’m not whining. Honest. And, I’m not complaining. Neither am I bitter or angry. I’m too weary, even, to be sad. I should know better about institutional things and forms and the ‘impartiality’ of data collecting.

I get it.

I got it when the state of New Jersey first started talking about Civil Union vs. Marriage which morphed into Civil Union equals Marriage. Which I never believed. Which is why my beloved and I have not entered into a Civil Union and have chosen to stay with our ‘domestic partnership’ until we finally (How long, O Lord, how long?) are allowed the civil right, guaranteed under the Constitution of these United States of America, of marriage,

Why? Our attorney assures us that our domestic partnership, combined with our wills, combined with the ‘present climate of acceptance in this State’ (let the reader hear the word ‘present’), we have everything we need without suffering the emotional humiliation of jumping through yet another legal hoop on our way to the enjoyment of a civil right which is now, was then and will always be available to people who are 'normal', including emotionally and/or intellectually disabled and prisoners who are convicted felons, rapists and murders on death row.

I get it.

I just have a question. It’s not one that you need to answer me – directly or indirectly. I know many of you – a surprising number, as a matter of fact - on this list. You know I love you and I know that you love me, even when you disagree with me or think I’m being – What’s the word? Ah yes, ‘caustic’. That’s what nice, polite white people say when they really mean ‘bitch’ because they really don’t want to hear what I have to say. Imagine! I'm the only one to raise the question - the first time in five whole years.

It’s okay. I get it.

Here’s my question, one that I humbly ask you to take with you into those quiet moments when you reflect on Really Big Questions. Here it is:

How would you – knowing that you are only a teeny-tiny minority in the church, one of only three diocese in The Episcopal Church, representing an estimated 10% of the population, which comprises probably less than 1% of that demographic who are Episcopalian, even so – how would you feel upon hearing that the church doesn’t count your Civil Union and not feel that you don’t count?

Let me ask that once more, without flourish: How might you feel upon hearing that the church doesn't count your Civil Union and not feel that you, yourself, your commitment, your vows before God to each other to keep the values that this very church has said it affirms and values, don't count?

As I said, you don’t have to respond to me. I just hope that, in those quiet moments of reflection that you might offer up a prayer of discernment. I hope that Jesus whispers something in your ear – something that leads you to consider what the gospel might call you to do, and that you are given the wisdom and the courage to do it.

I know there are Really Big Issues which this list considers, Very Important Issues which affect far more people in much more devastating ways. I know there are people who are starving, dying of malaria and plagued by AIDS in the Global South and children who will go to bed hungry this very night in this country. There is trouble in the church and war in Iraq and Afghanistan and genocide in Darfur which rages despite universal prayers for war and famine to cease and prayers and hymns raised to a church 'by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.'

Goodness, there are even people who are not baptized or not known to be baptized who are not adequately alerted to the fact that they must be before they are fed at the Table of the Lord! It is even 'common knowledge' - a very scandal! - that some unbaptized people are openly invited to a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet by men and women who are ordained priests and bishops in the church - a clear breach of the canons of the church!

I get it. How very selfish of me! How dare I speak so caustically of these things?

Even so, of your mercy and kindness, thank you for considering my question.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Remembering Ruth

My friend, Bob Renewick, took these pictures of the Pillsbury Memorial Window in the Lady Chapel of The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland, Maine. Bob sang in the choir for my diaconal ordination there and continues to be a member of that impressive chorus.

If you look closely at the Lilies of the Field, her favorite gospel story, you’ll see two of her favorite things: an olive from her favorite libation: a martini and . . . .

. . . . .a tobacco leaf from her other favorite: cigarettes.

Ruth Pillsbury was ‘Directress” of the Altar Guild, some say, since before Christ wore sandals. I don’t know this to be true but the mythology I remember was that she had a military background. She certainly ran the Altar Guild like a drill sergeant.

All corporals and purificators were to be washed using a specific laundry detergent (Octagon Powder, as I recall) which she measured out in the precise amount she considered sufficient to accomplish the task and distributed to new members of the Altar Guild at the beginning of the month in paper bags, the top folded in two crisp folds and stapled, lest their be any accidental mess. You considered yourself off probation when you no longer got a bag of Ms. Pillsbury’s ‘soap powder’.

She expected the corporal and purificators to be washed, starched, folded and ironed with the same precision. If not, she had absolutely no problem returning them to you to be redone. She never spoke a word. She would simply inspect them silently and hand them back to you. You understood immediately.

She hated waste in any form and was especially distressed if the clergy had consecrated too much wine for communion at the Eucharist, insisting that we consume any leftovers in the sacristy after mass as part of our duties.

One day, in a bit of a flummox because I was doing double-duty – chalice bearer and altar guild – the sleeve of my alb caught the rim of one of the beautiful, large, ornate silver chalices, spilling the consecrated wine all over me. I gasped as the wine soaked through my white alb, through my clothes and even onto my skin. A heavy silence filled the room. Miss Pillsbury pulled herself around to look at me, growling in complete horror, “That’s the consecrated blood of our Lord!”

Everyone seemed frozen in place. Even the two young acolytes, two tow-headed boys who normally stood together with goofy smiles like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee were turned into pillars of salt. One gasped and the other said under his breath, “Uh-oh!” Even the Dean, John Beaven, a man for whom the word ‘affable’ was surely created, stood silent and pale, silently wishing himself to dissolve into the corner he had pressed himself.

I was instantly reduced to tears – not an easy task, then or now. Miss. Pillsbury, who had put her hands on the counter, her head bowed as if in silent prayer, now turned her head slightly sideways to look at my tear-stained face. My voice cracked as I sobbed, “What am I to do, now, Miss Pillsbury?” It was more a plea than a question.

Then, a miracle. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I might not have believed it, but it was there, on the stony face of Miss Pillsbury, just as surely as there was the stain of consecrated wine on my alb. It was a hint, a glimmer, a mere shadow of a smile that slowly crossed her face, ever so slightly lifting the corners of her mouth and brightening her eyes.

She looked away again and then back at me, sideways, cleared her throat and then said, “I suppose we’ll have to burn you.”

The Dean began to giggle, which signaled Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee to guffaw. I felt my initial confusion melt into relief and managed to smile through my tears. That would be enough of that. Miss Pillsbury cleared her throat again, and we all snapped back into work-mode, smiling secretly behind her back. Now and again, someone would walk by and poke my back or put their hand on my shoulder in a silent gesture of sympathy.

The story went forth and it was said that this was the one and only time Miss Pillsbury actually smiled while ‘on duty’ in the sacristy.

You know, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

I suspect she has a new title now. She is Directress of the Heavenly Banquet, where her martini glass is never empty, there is no short supply of olives or cigarettes, and everything is done to absolute perfection.

Yes, of this there is no doubt: Miss Pillsbury is in heaven.

New Math: Civil Unions, Marriages and Parochial Reports

Over at our church offices, we're just finishing up our Parochial Reports, due to the National Episcopal Church Center by March 1st. That's been made much easier in the past few years because we can fill out the forms online and send them in electronically.

For those of you who may not know, Parochial Reports are due annually, required by Canon Law.

We are busy filling in numbers on the prescribed lines and were doing fine until we got to Marriages.

Well, we had 4 Civil Unions and 2 Marriages. Does that mean we had 6 Marriages or 2?

Here's the thing. In New Jersey, anyway, we have been carefully told that "Civil Union = Marriage." We're just calling it Civil Union (wink, wink) so as not to scare the homophobes or the 'traditional marriage' people. But, we know and you know (wink, wink) that we're really talking about 'marriage.'

Well, except that some corporations which have national headquarters in different states that do not recognize Civil Unions have denied domestic benefits to partners because they are not based in New Jersey and claim exemption from our law.

Why? Because it's not marriage, which must be recognized by all states. They're just Civil Unions that = Marriage only for those who say they do (wink, wink).

Here's another thing: The reason we, in The Episcopal Church at least, can perform Civil Unions is precisely because they are NOT Marriage, which would be against our canons which clearly state that "marriage is between one man and one woman."

And yet, Civil Unions are a clear example of the completely legal, civil and ecclesiastical clergy function in the dual (some might say 'schizophrenic') capacity as an agent of the Church and an agent of the State.

Civil Unions are recorded and recognized in the municipality where they are performed as well the State. Why not the church?

Are we having fun yet? Um, I don't know about you, but for me? Not so much.

So, I called our Diocesan Administrator to ask him. His first answer to the question was "Two." Okay, fair enough, but how do I record the Civil Unions? There's no line for it and the computer form does not allow us to alter the entries. If Civil Union = Marriage, why can't my answer be "Six"?

"Right!" He said, himself a gay man in a partnered relationship of over 30 years and in a Civil Union. "See?" he said, his frustration and anger rising to the surface of his normally very calm exterior, "this is just more evidence of the inequality of this law and the injustice of the church."

That was a far better answer than I got from a national official whose answer to the New Math question was also "Two." When I protested that in New Jersey we are told that "Civil Union = Marriage" he said, "Well, you can call a cat a dog, but at the end of the day, the cat won't fetch your slippers and your paper."

Of course, he's right but can't you just see the Milk of Human Kindness dripping from his lips? Is he completely insensitive to the fact that LGBT people are forced, by this computer form, to being invisible in the institutional reality, yet again? Does he not want to acknowledge the reality of the world, hiding behind the Great Cloud of Unknowing, or, at least, the rigidity of a computer form?

Wait a minute. Hang on. Don't bother. I think I know the answer.

It will be interesting to know what clergy in the Diocese of Massachusetts are doing. Marriage is legal there, but clergy can't perform them because it's against the canons of the church. Except, some of them have and have received a 'godly admonition' from their bishop. They've done it again and received yet another 'godly admonition.' And so it goes in the ecclesiastical version of 'Ring around a rosey'. You may remember that this childhood song ends with "We all fall down."

So, here's a shout out to anyone who's reading this who is clergy in one of those hand full of dioceses where Civil Union and/or Marriage are legal:

What are you doing about your Parochial Report? Are you counting Civil Unions as Marriage or not?

When you send in your signed "hard copy" will you add a separate line for Civil Unions, knowing they won't get any official recognition from the institutional church at the national level but our inclusion will force them to deal with our reality?

Shall we be bold for Jesus and add an additional line for Blessings of Same Sex Relationships and make 'em squirm?

To those of you who are not clergy in those diocese, what do you think?

Most importantly, to those of you who are LGBT people or our straight allies who are neither clergy nor laity in diocese where neither Civil Unions nor Marriages are legal, what do you think?

How would you calculate this "New Math"?

BTW, our Diocesan Administrator has put the question on the listserv for Diocesan Administrators and will discuss it in the morning with the bishop. I should have an update for you sometime tomorrow.

Ah, the church! If it's not a whirl, it's a tizzy, but you can always count on the drama.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Humor from the Cat House

One of my favorite stops in the Blogosphere is "I Can Has Cheezburger?"

No matter how bad my day is, or seems, or threatens to be, it never fails to make me giggle. And, I' allergic to cats.

I can't reprint today's 'favorite picture' but you can go see it here.

Are you ever too young to talk about AIDS?

OPEN-EYED INNOCENCE Sevilla Hennessey, 4, with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

Talking With Children About Sex and AIDS: At What Age to Start?

NY TimesPublished: February 26, 2008

What age is the right age to have “the talk,” not just about where babies come from, but also about sex and AIDS?

How about, oh, 4?

A new documentary, “Please Talk to Kids About AIDS,” raises this question in a cute but discomfiting way. So far it has been seen only at film festivals and at schools of public health, including those at Harvard and Johns Hopkins. But the film will soon be available at I saw it last month at a Gay Men’s Health Crisis screening for AIDS counselors.

In it, two incredibly sweet and precocious sisters — Vineeta and Sevilla Hennessey, ages 6 and 4 — accompany their parents, the filmmakers, to the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto. They interview top AIDS experts, gay activists, condom distributors, a sex toy saleswoman, a cross-dresser playing Queen Elizabeth II and an Indian transgender hijra in a sari.

The startling aspect is that, as one childish question leads to the next, they ask things like: “How does AIDS get into your body?” and “How come they want to have sex with each other?”

For a reporter, it is a guilty pleasure to see some of the world’s leading scientists squirm — or not — when grilled by a child.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s instantly recognizable authority on everything viral, seems as relaxed as he does on television or before Congress. People get AIDS from each other, he explains in the documentary. “You know,” he says, “when a man and a woman have sexual relationships they get infected. And also from injecting from a needle that is contaminated with the virus.”

But, with children as with senators, Dr. Fauci glides casually away from the tough follow-up, segueing to: “Do you know what a virus is?”

By contrast, Dr. Mark A. Wainberg, the conference’s co-chairman, dissolves in nervous laughter.

“Well, AIDS gets into your body in ways that can — can be complicated to explain to little girls,” he says, fumbling to a finish with: “In the same way that a mommy and a daddy have a relationship that . . . results in our coming into the world. But you know what, you asked a great question. I’m just not sure I’m qualified to answer.”

The girls get straightforward answers about bodies conjoining, from Craig McClure, the AIDS society’s director, and about trading sex for money, from a prostitution-rights activist.

But the film is hardly a medical lecture. The hallway theatrics — flags, puppets, dancing — give the conference a carnival feel. In fact, an unplanned stop at the Condom Project’s table inspired the filmmakers, Brian Hennessey and Radia Daoussi, to center the film on their girls.

Sevilla thought the bright packages were candy and loved the Cinderella ball gown and tutus made of blue and pink condoms. She asked about them, and a volunteer’s struggle to turn her boilerplate spiel into words simpler than “destigmatize” made it clear that a child’s innocence would elicit good interviews.

But innocence — being fleeting — fled. At one point, Vineeta draws for the camera a picture of two people in bed. “These are condoms,” she explains of the bowl beside them, “that you put in the boy’s penis, so they don’t get AIDS with a woman or with a man. A man can do it with a man if you like it.”

Interestingly, only some interviewees checked to make sure that the producer and cameraman were Mom and Dad. To me, that would have been crucial; after all, I wouldn’t tell a child there is no Santa Claus or why I am an atheist without a parent’s permission.

The woman at the sex-worker booth did, as she was decking out the girls in feather boas for a make-believe evening on the street. “I was wondering why you were bringing kids up here,” she said to Mr. Hennessey.

Poor Dr. Wainberg said he had been swamped with running the conference and was told nothing about the girls before meeting them. “I was a bit taken aback,” he later said in a telephone interview. “I wasn’t sure if this was the time and place to go into a long explanation of the birds and the bees.”

Dr. Fauci said he had been briefed by a press aide, and guided his answers by watching the girls’ reactions. I wished I had seen more of those in the film. Were they confused? Bored? Horrified?

When the screening was over, I lingered to meet them. Would they turn out to be traumatized robots parented by publicity-seeking control freaks?

They did not. Mr. Hennessey and Ms. Daoussi are on a mission but with a sense of fun. For example, to protest cluster bombs, which kill children who find the bomblets, they staged a bomblet hunt near the last White House Easter Egg Roll.

And the girls seemed self-possessed and at ease with grown-ups. Asked by an audience member if she had any advice, Vineeta said, Yes; don’t share too much. “It’s like what they say at my school,” she explained. “Don’t share a comb or a hat because you can get lice.”

There is, Ms. Daoussi argues, no right age for the topic. “It’s when they’re ready to ask,” she said. “It’s our own discomfort that’s the problem, not theirs. Kids don’t have taboos.”

I left only partly convinced. It is possible to push very young children, with so little grasp of which fears are realistic, into information that scares them — into, for example, lying awake worrying that sex will kill their parents.

Sevilla did say she was scared twice — once by an African guerrilla theater skit showing a village massacre and an orphaned girl forced into a sugar-daddy relationship, once by learning what a sex worker did. “I know it’s a job,” she said, “but it’s a weird job.”

But the film is not really for children — certainly not in its present form, even its makers say. For a parent, however (and I have a stepson Vineeta’s age), watching someone else’s very young child — maybe even too-young child — grapple with the topic is a powerful exhortation to begin thinking about how to talk to one’s own.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Bishop's Daughter: Telling Secrets with Honor

Honor Moore, the daughter of Bishop Paul Moore, Jr., has written a book in which she struggles to make sense of her life and her father's legacy.

The book is due out in May, but there is an excerpt of the book's Prologue in the March 3rd issue of The New Yorker. You can find a piece of that here.

You can pre-order the book here.

There is also a poignant, powerful, wonderful interview with Honor Moore here on New Yorker Online in which she talks about the 'open secret' of her father's sexuality as she struggles to make sense of her own sexual journey.

There will be rending of garments and much wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the aisle about this book and her revelation.

Some will cry that many LGBT people could have been helped and the church's journey to greater social justice advanced years sooner "if only he had told the truth."

Others will cry that the church and his legacy is soiled by this truth that should have remained secret - that nothing good can come of any of this.

There will be those who will laugh and scorn the Body of Christ in its incarnation as The Episcopal Church and say this is but one more piece of evidence of its 'internal decay' which provides them with one more reason to leave 'this apostate church.'

Still others will say, "I told you so!" and smirk, "See, Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop. He's the first honestly gay bishop."

Is it dishonest not to answer a question if it is never openly asked? Is it a lie to keep a secret when no one has asked you to tell the truth, or when someone assumes the truth about you?

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. The time wasn't right for Paul Moore. The time is right - and, behold has now come - for Gene Robinson. And, me. And, you.

Then, it wasn't. Now it is. But, only you can determine that for yourself. It is still a very dangerous thing to do - depending on where you live and who you tell and the nature of your personal or vocational aspirations. No one can come out for you. You have to do that work yourself.

Now is the time for the part of Paul Moore that had to remain secret to be told. Now is the time for Gene Robinson to tell the truth of his own story. The time for the healing of the secret shame of Paul Moore has come. The time for the end of the shame of what it means to be created an LGBT person has come.

My grandmother used to always say, "Live your life as if everyone will know every detail because, eventually, everyone will." I found some solace in that statement in the darkest hours of my own journey, when I cried out and none but Jesus heard me, and none but God and my beloved loved me.

Honor Moore has lived up to the name given to her by her parents. There is much honor - and much to honor - here in the story of this bishop's daughter. She brings honor to her father, to the church he loved and served, to the God who wonderfully made and even more wonderfully restored his and the full humanity of all LGBT people and, ultimately to herself.

Of this I am quite certain: there is great rejoicing in heaven. All the choirs of angels and archangels are singing. For, as Jesus himself told us, what is bound on earth is bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.

I'm willing to bet that even Paul himself is smiling. The man who was always 'larger than life' finally is.

New from Clumber Labs: Kaetonium

Clumber, that Old Barking Dog, has been putting together a new Anglican Periodic Table from 'elements' in Cyberspace.

'Kaetonium' has been discovered and recently added to the table. There's simply no telling how unstable things will be now.

The description hasn't been completed. All of you Anglican chemical types will have to help Clumber finish it. Here's what he's got so far:

Kaetonium is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Ek and atomic number 96. A radioactive metallic clergy element of the actinide series, kaetonium is produced by bombarding plutonium with alpha particles (Rowanium ions) and was named for Marie Curie (due to her slightly radioactive nature) and her husband Buster Kaeton.

Kaetonium has a unique property in that it’s chemical reactivity with other Anglican Elements seems to change over time. For instance, Kaetonium at one time produced intense and highly flammable reactions with Hostilium, yet in more recent times has shown little to no reactivity, and in fact has been thought to become slightly bonded to Hostilium, although by no means tightly bonded.

A rare earth homolog, kaetonium is somewhat chemically similar to gadolinium but with a more complex crystal structure. Chemically reactive, its metal is slightly pink in color and the element is more electropositive than any of the Standfirmine elements (most trivalent kaetonium compounds are bright pink).

Also, it should be noted that kaetonuium is not related to ketones.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got… it’s up to you to finish the Element description…. and I’m gone again… ta ta.

UPDATE: So - Bill added:

Although found just below and adjacent to Berkelium and Californium on the Periodic Table, Kaetonium is closer in attributes to Thorium, 90 on the table. Like Thorium, Kaetonium is a source of nuclear and ecclesiastic power.

There is probably more untapped energy available for use from thorium and Kaetonium in the minerals of the earth's crust than from combined uranium and fossil fuel sources. Much of the internal heat of the earth has been attributed to Thorium,Uranium and Kaetonium. Much of the internal heat at National Convention is attributed to Kaetonium alone.

When pure, Kaetonium is a silvery white metal which is air-stable and retains its lustre for several months. That luster is noticeably subdued during the Lenten Season when reflection and reconciliation cause the metal to become grey and finally black. Kaetonium oxide has a melting point of 3300°C, the highest of all oxides and is considered fairly thick skinned.

Powdered kaetonium metal is often pyrophoric and should be carefully handled. When heated by hot air in such settings as convention or Lambeth, Kaetonium ignites and burns brilliantly with the pure white light of righteousness.

Whereas Thorium is named for Thor, the Scandinavian god of war, Kaetonium is named for Kaeton, the Iberian goddess of retribution.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

SNL Tina Fey Preaches The Gospel of Sisterhood

The Writer's Strike is over! Thanks be to God!

(Hat tip to Susan Russell ( for this one.

Living Water: John 4:7-39

A Sermon for III Lent
February 24, 2009
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Well, in the church, we are well into the Season of Lent.

In the world, however, we seem to be in the Season of the Underdog.

On the political scene, everyone seems to be competing for the title – not hard when you got the first woman and the first African American striving to be the Democratic candidate for the President of the United Status.

Depending on your perspective – or the latest spin from the political pundits – that could even be the Republican candidate, a man who displeases the staunch conservatives because, even though he is probably one of the few outside the With House who remain in favor of continuing the War, he has made a name for himself by sitting down and talking with Democrats. On the other hand, I’ve heard even those on the Religious Right mutter, “Anybody but Huckabee.”

Today’s political landscape is flush with underdogs. Which is okay. Americans of every political party love to cheer on the underdog. It’s in our DNA.

Over in the sports world, when the Giant from New York did slew the David Patriot we all cheered – or, at least, some accepted the outcome with the grace of resigned chagrin. I’m from Boston where those of us who favor their sox in the color red learn the first two words of hope at our parents’ knee: “next year. “

This year’s real underdog was a dog – a noble but humble Beagle named Uno, the first of his kind ever to win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He has a sweet face, full of charm and charisma – but he was, let’s face it, a hound dog – as in, “You ain’t nothin’ but a “.

It was a triumph for the dog next door. Imagine, a Beagle ringing the opening bell on Wall Street. Ah, sweet victory! And, power to the people’s dog!

Over the years, as I have heard and come to cherish this morning’s Gospel Story of the woman at the well, I’m convinced that part of its power has to do with the power of the underdog.

For starters, she is a Samaritan – sometimes referred to with great disdain as the ‘mongrels’ of the Jewish antiquity because intermarriage other ethnicities was common practice.

Of course, she was also a woman, and we know how the ancient world treated them (come to think of it, not too much differently than they do today). This woman, however, is an underdog among underdogs.

She had come to deal with her status by a process of accommodation: coming to Jacob’s well alone in the heat of the noonday, rather than in the early morning with the rest of the other women in the village.

I love her sass – also part of her accommodation When Jesus tells her that he can give her ‘living water’ she scoffs at him. You can hear it in her words.

“Man,” she says, “you don’t even have a bucket and the well is deep. Where you gonna get water to give to me, much less ‘living water’?” What’s that line from that old song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose?” Me and Bobby McGee. She and Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s the thing about underdogs. They know their status better than anyone else. So, they can risk. Which is precisely what this woman did. She risked everything and ran to tell the rest of the people in the city that she thought she had found the Messiah. In so doing, as history will record, she became the first woman to be an evangelist for Jesus.

Imagine that! Not just any woman. A Samaritan woman. And, not just any Samaritan woman, one who had five husbands, and the one she had now wasn’t even her husband! That’ a little like Uno winning Best in Show. It’s like the Giants winning the Super Bowl when the Patriots had been undefeated. It’s like Herbie Hancock being the first jazz musician in 43 years to win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

All any underdog wants is a chance. Someone to believe in them. Someone who sees past all the unimportant minutia of your life and appreciates your potential. Someone who will not blame them for the shame they feel over their status. Jesus didn’t judge the Samaritan woman. He simply told her the truth about herself. He didn’t buy into her defensive sass. Instead, he was fully present to her, despite her status as outcast underdog.

I once had a woman who came to me for spiritual direction who was, she said, unable to pray to God. “God doesn’t listen to me,” she complained, “so why should I bother anymore?”

She then launched into a 15 minute story about her teen-aged daughter who was giving her lots of problems. She had been running with a fast crowd, smoking, drinking and, she feared, she was probably pregnant. She had run away from home and, after two very frightening days, was discovered living in the next state with her older sister.

As she spoke, I could empathize with her turmoil. Clearly, she was worried. She was also angry, but she was also frightened for her daughter. But there was something more. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As she finished her story she said, “So, no matter how hard I pray to God, God doesn’t answer my prayers. My daughter still keeps on doing what she is doing – ruining her life, her reputation, and that of her whole family.”

I looked at her and said something like, “Right.”

The woman looked at me, astonished. Clearly, I hadn’t been listening to her. She took a breath and then launched into another 15 minute exact version of the same sad tale of woe.

When she finished, I looked at her again and I said, “Right.” The woman looked at me again, but this time, she broke out into a smile of recognition.

“Well,” she said, I guess I’d have to admit that I was a bit of a hellion at her age, too.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yes, and look at me now. I guess I’m doing okay.”

“Yes,” I said, “I guess you are.”

“And, I suppose,” she said, “She’ll turn out okay too. I suppose she ran away because she couldn’t stand all the shaming and blaming I was doing. That’s different from making her keep the rules. I can do that without all the yelling and screaming. I just have to keep loving her, right?”

“Right,” I said, “just the way God loves you. And,” I added, “hears your prayer.”

“Right,” she said, “the way God heard my mother’s prayer for me.”

The cycle of shame and blame is a difficult one to break. That’s the dark underside of the dynamic of the underdog. The impulse that leads us to cheer on the underdog is the one of recognition.

We’ve all been there – in second place. Some of us have been in last place. We know what it feels like, so when we see the underdog getting a chance to show her ‘real stuff’ we cheer.

But, when we see our failures reflected in others, we can also be the harshest judge, the cruelest adjudicator of the law. Shame always travels with its companion ‘blame.’ We need to find scapegoats to carry the burden of our blame. When the underdog wins, we are often the very ones to cheer the loudest.

I think we come near Jacob’s well whenever we meet people where they are on their journey, just as God came to Jacob who was changed and transformed after struggling with an angel.

I think we offer living water of hope and transformation when we are fully present to others in the midst of their pain and confusion, their shame and need to blame, which often comes out as sass and indifference. That’s what Jesus did with the Woman at the Well.

We are in the Season of Lent where, it is promised, the underdog shall win. We know how the story ends. The stone that the builders had rejected will become the cornerstone.

So, if this Season of Lent isn’t going exactly as you had planned, if you have already broken your Lenten Discipline, take heart. God knows your weakness and, you know what? God loves you anyway.

God loved the Samaritan woman enough to send her to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day to meet someone who would change her life forever and elevate her status from underdog to the first woman evangelist. God can use your flaws to God’s glory, too.

God works through our pain and our shame, not to place blame, but to transform hearts.

I believe this to be true.

Then again, I’m from Boston. I know there’s always next year.

The Great Lenten Experiment: Facing East

These are not the best pictures, taken as they were with a cell phone from the choir loft, but this will give you a sense of what we've been doing now for our Great Lenten Experiment.

As readers of this Blog will know, we are facing liturgical East during the Great Thanksgiving. To keep the solemnity of the Lenten Season, we have moved the Passing of the Peace from its status as 'half time' - a 'mini coffee hour meet-and-greet and an over correction of six years ago, to a liturgical action and part of the Eucharistic celebration.

The Peace is immediately followed by the Lord's Prayer. I've done that for purely pragmatic reasons. It's a good way to call the congregation back to prayer (Old habits die hard, and the Peace is still fairly raucous.).

As you can see, this is a good Episcopal congregation - everyone likes to sit in the back pews.

We are using Rite I at 8 AM and Rite II at 10. I must say, my experience thus far is that Facing East and Rite I go fairly well together. The more familiar language of Rite II seems to add to the oddity of Facing East.

This is the elevation, which the choir tells me is the most dramatic action of the Eucharist. Yes, we use Pita bread as well as wafers. We also offer allergy-free wafers.

The communion wine is a Tokay - not exactly white but easier on the fair linens and purificators than red wine. It's a compromise with the Altar Guild who are still asking women to blot their lipstick before coming to the communion rail - alas, to no great effect.

We have moved the Announcements to the end of the service, right after the Post Communion Prayer. The Benediction follows the Announcements and then the Dismissal.

It's an adjustment, but I think we've gotten most of the kinks worked out after three weeks. It will be interesting to see how it all flows when the bishop is with us next week.

So far, the response could only be described as 'tepid'. No one is wild about it - including yours truly - but it certainly is an opportunity to do what the bishop has asked us to do: to consider why we do what we do and how it is that our experience of worship glorifies God and edifies the people of God.

We've done a pre-survey and will do a post-survey during the first three weeks of Easter.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dave Walker Takes Us Behind The Scenes

With all the mystery and intrigue about 'secret plans' (see: "Another Plot Development") being hatched, I'm glad Dave over at Cartoon Church explains it all (He's got it wrong about where the Vicar spends the day off - at least for this Yank. You can find me at the gym and then over to Starbucks. Never mind. The 'day off' is just a rumor anyway.).

Episcopal Life Online: Women's Sacred Music Project

Contest seeks choral anthems based on works by women
By Jerry Hames February 22, 2008

[Episcopal Life] An international competition for a choral anthem setting that uses the work of women from Voices Found: Women in the Church's Song, a supplement to the Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church, has been launched by the Women's Sacred Music Project.

Inspired by the 12th-century abbess and composer Hildegard of Bingen, the project's mission is to support, develop and perform sacred music by, for and about women at the highest standard of excellence, said Lisa Neufeld Thomas of Philadelphia, president of the organization since its 1996 inception.

"Our vision includes education, performance, composition, promotion and spirituality, all focusing on women. What we are doing now is launching a competition that will promote use of Voices Found," she said. "We ask composers to submit scores for anthems that are based on material found in texts from Voices Found and do a musical setting, or take a hymn text and tune from the book and make an arrangement from it."

The text or tune from the hymnal must have been written by a woman, but the anthem competition is open to both men and women, Neufeld Thomas said. Scores must be choral works, ideally of three to five minutes, set for a cappella choir or with keyboard accompaniment and no more than two optional instruments. Applications must be received by May 1, and winners will be announced by October 1, 2008.

Three prizes totaling $6,000 will be awarded. Winning compositions will be performed at the Princeton University Chapel at a symposium sponsored by the Royal School of Church Music, Westminster Choir College, Princeton Theological Seminary and the chapel.

Voices Found was the major production of the Women's Sacred Music Project, which collected hymns and texts created and written by women from 1997 to 2003, with a leaders' guide produced the following year.

"As we carry this major project forward, we also continue our work of searching out other worship music by women, of conducting workshops giving voice to the needs and concerns of women and offering concerts," said Richard Conway Meyer, financial campaign chair.

Performing music by women, historical and contemporary, is an important part of the organization's work. The WSMP sponsors a small ensemble of singers, with occasional instrumentalists, called the Lady Chapel Singers because they first began to sing in the Lady Chapel of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The group has recorded two CDs.

More about the work of the Women's Sacred Music Project, the competition rules and recordings by the Lady Chapel Singers is available here.

Kissing Tinfoil Part II

Hey, Momma,

Today was "free" so we explored the City. It's still a very poor and hard city but not as bad as Delhi or Agra. That having been said, the beggars are MUCH more aggressive here--they pull and grab at you. And they all have small children on their hip only the women beg and their teeth are rotten, they are very dirty and have flies all around them.

In general, there are a lot of flies here (more in Delhi and A TON in Agra--where the Taj Mahal is) so that's extremely unsettling. We gave in and decided to take the anti-malaria despite the risk/liklihood of psychotic dreams side effect b/c even though we're in the City and not in the country, there are a lot of flies and bugs and mosquitos and it's just not worth the risk. It's bad and scary b/c they are everywhere. It was 98 today and the only exposed skin I had was my face.

I like that there are more women in Hyderabad and the majority of them are dressed in beautifuly colored and jewled saris. There are also a lot of Muslum women here. I find them so alluring and beautiful and mysterious.

The men here are more so dressed in traditional Indian clothes whereas in Delhi they all wore pants and shirts and sweaters--even though it was 80 degrees! In Delhi and Agra there was 1 women for every 100 men and that 1 woman was working in field whereas here women are same as men in terms of the number and they are in the streets as well.

It's funny--they are just as curious about us as we are them. I've had my picture taken at least 100 times. I don't mind it with women but the men stand very close and want to touch my hair and skin. I don't want to be rude but they are always like 10 of them and they stare hard. It's uncomfortable. B** and A** are there and she is sometimes asked to get in the pict so it's fine but uncomfortable.

The school kids are so cute but they swarm you and want to shake your hand and take pictures and touch you so it's a lot. Constant. But it makes them so happy. I do feel badly though b/c I don't want them to touch me and I am constantly using Purell and baby wipes. I feel AWFUL admitting that but there it is.

We haven't seen another "Western/white person" in days. Weird but I guess true and not touristy so part of the experience.

I'm trying to roll with it. We leave for Bangalore tomorrow and then 2 days later we're in Mumbai/Bombay. Then....HOME :o). I'm so ready. I mean, I'm eager to see more and compare and experience but I will be very happy to be home. I still have many questions keeping me up at night but my brain has slowed down a bit.

I think I've always been aware of the many blessings I have in life--family, friends, job, health, etc., but, it's the basics here that they just don't have--water, electricity, health care, etc., so, I'm still processing. It's a lot.

I attach another pict. I feel badly that the other one may have upset you. I didn't realize that it was obvious how much I was struggling. I'm sorry. This one is far away so you can't see my tears :o). Kidding!

There is less pollution here (it's still very polluted but there aren't as many open fires burning for warmth b/c it's much hotter here) so there is actually color and flowers. Check it out--attached.

I love you so much, Momma.

Hey, Kiddo -

Great picture of you at the Qutb Shahi Tombs and great to hear what you are continuing to experience. Think of what you are seeing as images that are like 'negatives' on film. You'll understand more of what you see after you take them into the 'dark room' of your heart to be 'developed'. That's probably outdated language now, in the age of the digital camera, but I think you understand what I mean.

Begging - no matter who does it or how few or how many people do it - is always deeply upsetting, especially with babes on hips. It's especially so when those who do it do so because it's their life, and their lives depend on it.

This was hard for me to take in, but when I was in Dubai (Saudi Arabia) for a 6 hour layover that got delayed to a 10 hour layover on the way home from Ghana and Nigeria, I went for a walk away from the Market Place where all the tourists are and everything is bright and clean and new. I stumbled onto a pretty rough section of town and was 'rescued' from some swarming beggars by some alert citizens who had seen me wander.

One of them scolded me and said, "Do you not understand that they only beg because they can not kill you? If they had a knife or a gun, they would use that and make their jobs much easier. But, when you are poor, you have to work hard at everything - even begging."

I was thinking about that as I was thinking about you and hearing that a man had been pistol whipped in broad daylight on West 67th Street after he withdrew $100,000 in cash from the walk up CitiBank machine (I didn't know you could withdraw that much at one time) and walked a few hundred feet past the Starbucks. I suppose the man who pistol whipped him would have begged, but hey, he had a weapon, why not use it? Makes it so much easier - and so much more effective.

I know. I sound cynical, right? Well, I guess that's part of what happens when you see that kind of poverty and injustice and you feel helpless to change anything. There are those who rob in NYC and then there are the poor who beg, but I guess I'm wondering who the real 'bad guys' are anymore.

I guess I'm wondering why the hell anyone needs to walk around NYC with $100,000 in cash. Just because he can? Am I resentful and cynical because I can't - never will have that much money in cash to walk around with in NYC much less in my own bedroom? But, if I had it, would I? Would I share it with "the poor"? Which poor? How would it help? And, if I didn't have it and were really, really desperate, would I beg for it? Would I harm someone for it?

Well, there you are, sweetheart. These are the kinds of questions that places in the Global South provoke in us. It's not the poverty, because we see that here. It's the honest brutality of poverty which is so obvious and omnipresent. It's the cultural, social and religious acceptance of poverty as fact of life rather than an impulse to relieve suffering. It's the acknowledgment of poverty as a state of being for which you thank God for having been spared, but God forbid you should pray or work to change it.

I'm not saying that we do it better here in this country by hiding it away. I'm just saying that seeing it in different countries raises a whole host of other questions that go deep into your soul.

And, that's the real journey.

I love you. Mom

Friday, February 22, 2008


Oh, my aching back!

It's been snowing since early morning. We've had about six inches so far. I took advantage of the lull to make a dent in the driveway and walkways. There's a promise of icy rain which is predicted to begin within the next couple of hours. It's sputtering a mixture of snowy rain as I write this.

The snow is beautiful but very, very heavy. Our pups, CoCo and Lenny HATE it! I took them out for their 'constitutional' a wee bit ago. They got as far as the deck when they both put on the brakes, turned around and looked at me as if to say, "You're kidding, right?"

I must say that I love the way I feel after I've been out shoveling. My face is tingly-cold, my muscles are achy in the way they might feel if I had actually been able to get to the gym today, and my head feels wonderfully clear. After battling the norovirus this week, I must say, this feels good.

Tomorrow, however, when the muscles I don't normally use begin their protest, it will be another thing. Right now, however, it feels wonderful. I'm giving thanks for the great joy it is to live in the Northeast Corridor of God's Realm where God gets to show off in four full seasons of beauty and diversity.

Christian Sex Toys

Well, if the title didn't catch your attention, I thought surely this picture would.

I was over at the NPR site, looking for an article on a completely different subject which I remembered hearing on Valentine's Day, when this popped up.

It's about Book, a Christian entrepreneurial website that caters to heterosexual, married, 'conservative' Christians who are looking to improve their romantic life with 'sexual enhancers'.

This is how they describe themselves on their website: "The twenty-second book of the Bible is Song of Solomon. We believe that God intended that such love, as spoken of in Song of Solomon, be a beautiful and normal part of marital life. Unfortunately this gift from God has been grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern people. Book22 is offering quality products to enhance the intimate life of God's children. Our hope is that our products will serve as intimacy enhancers for your marriage."

"We pray about things before we add them to our site," owner Joy Wilson says. "We live our lives very openly in front of Jesus, so we just kind of pray for direction about which way he would have us go, and I have to be honest with you — he's really surprised us. ... Almost our whole entire 'special order' page has come about from that."

She also says, "There are a lot of people who are repressed in this area; they've forgotten that sex is a gift from God. I want them to know that there is such freedom in Jesus."

Having said that, however, she counts 'homosexuality' as one of the five sexual expressions forbidden in scripture, including bestiality, incest, prostitution, and fornication which she defines as sex outside of marriage. No mention of rape - hopefully because she sees that as an act of violence and not an expression of sexuality. Well, I would move 'bestiality' and incest' from sexuality over to the category of 'violence' but then again, I don't read the King James version of the bible.

Joy says they 'try' not to sell to anyone but married Christian couples, because, well, "homosexuality is a sin." But, hey, you know. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, and this girl's just trying to make a living, just like everybody else.

'Money' as they say, 'talks' - apparently, for some, even louder than what they understand from reading scripture.

So, if you're looking for something to 'enhance' your sex life (yes, even LGBT relationships can get boring in the bedroom), go see what Joy may have in store for you.

Who knows? If she gets enough of 'us' as customers and prays on it enough, God may just open her heart to see that a gift from God is a gift from God, no matter what package it comes in or how God wants you to use it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thinking Anglicans: Behind the 'bonkers' headline

Note: Andrew Brown over at Thinking Anglicans brilliantly writes about the flak in the aftermath of the Archbishop of Canterbury's remark on Sharia Law.

You'll find other brilliant articles on this and many other subjects over at Thinking Anglicans by Paul Vallely, Monica Siddiqui, and Grace Davie.

I don't know about you, but I can't hardly WAIT for Lambeth!

AT ABOUT 12.55 p.m. last Thursday lunchtime, I was trying to persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury to come on a radio programme about the nature of religious belief. I had got as far as Marie Papworth, the acting press secretary, and we had a long and friendly conversation.

So far as I could tell, she had no clue that her boss was ten minutes away from the biggest PR débâcle in the history of his office.

Lambeth Palace continued to ignore what was happening all through the afternoon. I know that, by four o’clock, someone there was warned by a friend in the business that there was a catastrophe under way. Other people had similar experiences until just before the lecture was actually delivered at seven.

By then, the damage had been done, of course. It was a commonplace of commentary afterwards that the row was over the Archbishop’s lecture. But it was not. The row was entirely set in motion by his interview on The World at One, and in particular his remark that sharia law seemed unavoidable in this country.

Quite a lot of the later backlash in favour of Dr Williams took the view that this remark was taken out of context and wilfully distorted. But there need have been no wilful distortion, and, to a very large extent, there was not. Of course it was taken out of context — if by context, you mean the Archbishop’s subsequent redefinition of “sharia” to mean something that almost no one else, Muslim or otherwise, understands by the term.

But what he said was faithfully transmitted, and, to anyone who works in the media, it is obvious why. All over the country, there are people who are paid to listen to The World at One with half an ear in case anything interesting or unexpected is said on it. “Archbishop Welcomes sharia” is about as interesting and unexpected as anyone could hope for. They will write stories about it immediately. Some will be scrupulous, and some will not, but all will give the impression that the Archbishop believes that some sharia jurisdiction should be recognised by British law. As far as I can work out, this is, in fact, what he believes.

So the first wave of criticism did not come from journalists who had misunderstood his lecture or been too idle to read it. It came from journalists who had read the transcript of his interview.

It was not pretty. The Sun’s “What a Burkha” headline was the most famous, and obvious, but it came a good 12 hours after Ruth Gledhill had posted on her Times blog an article headed “Has the Archbishop gone bonkers?”

The Daily Mail had no doubt. Stephen Glover’s column was headed “A batty old booby, but dangerous with it.” But this wasn’t a routine Rowan-bashing. Glover’s column is a symptom of a deeper disaster, in that he had clearly taken on board the arguments, and would normally be reasonably sympathetic towards any Archbishop of Canterbury. Not on Friday: “How can a reputedly highly intelligent man and self-proclaimed liberal hold such antediluvian opinions?

“Let us try to follow his batty logic. He starts from the position that we live in a ‘fragmented society’. That is sadly true, after four decades of multiculturalism.

“In Dr Williams’s view, one of the reasons for this fragmentation is that some Muslims do not relate to the British legal system — or, to put it in Rowan-speak, which is like wading though cold porridge with a lead weight attached to one’s feet: ‘What we don’t want is a stand-off where the law squares up to people’s religious consciences.’

“When Dr Williams says that the argument that ‘there’s one law for everybody . . . I think that’s a bit of a danger’, he is talking dangerous, reactionary nonsense. . .

“One secular law for everyone, evenly applied and without discrimination, is the mark of a fair society. And, of course, his prescriptions would have exactly the opposite effect to that which he says he wants.

“Far from increasing social cohesion, separate sharia courts would be resented by the non-Muslim majority, and they would encourage Muslims to entrench themselves further as a distinct social and cultural group, not only with their own religious values but also with their own legal means of enforcing those values. Sharia law, in fact, would be liable to deepen the kind of ‘hostility’ which Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, recently suggested Christians encounter in some Muslim areas.”

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, in The Independent, was more direct: “What he did on Thursday was to convince other Britons, white, black, and brown, that Muslims want not equality but exceptionalism and their own domains. Enlightened British Muslims quail. Friends like this churchman do us more harm than our many enemies. He passes round what he believes to be the benign libation of tolerance. It is laced with arsenic.

“He would not want his own girls and women, I am sure, to ‘choose’ to be governed by these laws he breezily endorses. And he is naïve to the point of folly if he imagines it is possible to pick and choose the bits that are relatively nice to the girls or ones that seem to dictate honourable financial transactions.

“Look around the Islamic world where sharia rules and, in every single country, these ordinances reduce our human value to less than half that is accorded a male; homosexuals are imprisoned or killed, children have no free voice or autonomy, authoritarianism rules and infantilises populations.”

Again, this is significant because it is one of his own natural allies rounding on him.

I do not want to be too critical of the press operation, or lack of it, at Lambeth Palace. There is nothing that any press officer can do to protect themselves against a principal who will say that he believes sharia law in Britain is unavoidable, except to stand behind him during interviews with a cosh ready to knock him unconscious as soon as he opens his mouth. That would at least provide an alternative story.

Short of that, Lambeth Palace did what it could, and made the full text of the lecture and the transcript of the interview available.

FROM THEN ON, the coverage split into three streams. There was the straightforward abuse, typified by The Sun’s (surely otiose) demand that its readers “Bash the Bishop”, with a helpful illustration of a pretty girl in her underwear.

This, with its demand that Dr Williams resign, merged into the coverage by people or papers who should have known better — the Telegraph, The Times, and the BBC, all of which concentrated on the non-story of whether the Archbishop should resign.

That was actually the most helpful PR of all, since it meant that his welcome by the overwhelming majority of the Synod would appear as a triumphant vindication. I am not sure it was meant helpfully.

Finally, there was the coverage by thoughtful and scrupulous journalists who had read and made sense of the Archbishop’s lecture. One of them, Deborah Orr, in The Independent, was even a little sympathetic: “I have to confess that it lifts my heart to imagine a legally and religiously recognised board of religious Muslim people, widely supported, and committed to taking a lead in plotting a modern yet Islamic attitude to the rights of women in Britain and around the world.

“It could be rather wonderful, and is quite a different proposition from the one we have been led to believe that Williams made.”

But every other thoughtful commentator disagreed with the Archbishop, from Matthew Parris in The Times to Simon Barrow in The Guardian and the leader writer of The Financial Times.

I do not know how much these hurt the Archbishop, but it is hard to imagine a greater humiliation than being patronised by his predecessor in two national newspapers on Sunday; Lord Carey finding the time in his busy retirement to write for both The Sunday Telegraph and the News of the World.

BY THE TIME that Dr Williams rose to speak on Monday, the outline of a defence was clear. He had been brutally and unfairly attacked for things he never said. What the press had done was an assault on the very possibility of nuanced discussion — and this is true. But it is much more important and just as true that he was brutally and fairly attacked for things that he did, in fact, say, and quite probably meant.

AT PRESENT, the decisions in Lambeth Palace about this sort of thing appear to be made rather in the fashion of decisions about where a bus should next stop. Any number of passengers may pull the string requesting the driver to halt at the next marked stop, but he can, if he will, ignore them all.

What is needed is something much more like the communication cord on a train. If that is pulled, the train stops, just like that. Of course, there is a penalty for improper use. But it saves accidents, and sometimes the driver is the last man to know when a catastrophe impends.

Kissing tin foil: Letters to my daughter

This is one of our daughters. She's on a business trip in India for the next month and sent this picture of her at the Taj Mahal.

A mother knows her child and I know when she's not happy. She's not happy in this picture. It didn't take long for her to write:

"India is hard. I'm hanging in there. B*** said yesterday--"I've never been so concerned for my personal safety". A*** keeps saying that she's "very stressed"--about everything from bug bites to the food to being taken away and never seen nor heard from again. For me, it breaks my heart--makes me quiver and cry--to see the extreme level of poverty. It doesn't seem fair at all! The little ones are so cute and tender and it's so hard not to give them money or want to make them smile. It would be so easy. But, it is hard when 20 or more kids and teens swarm you and reach to touch you and ask you for something that you could so easily give them but are told not to. Why them and not me? You? Others I know and love? Who says? Why? It's really really scary to think about. How do they do it? Do they know how hard/bad they have it? Do they think so? How awful for me to be so wasteful to use bottled water to brush my teeth--but, if I don't I'll get sick, so, I do. It's just so disturbing and upsetting and frightening. I don't know what to do with it all. Does that make sense?"

My beautiful, intelligent, successful daughter is having a spiritual awakening. This is her very first experience of poverty this close up. Nothing like traveling first class and staying in in four-star hotels amidst abject, grinding poverty to disturb your soul, eh? Mind you, she works and lives in NYC, but the Upper East Side might as well be as far from the South Bronx as Delhi, India.

She asked about my experience in Africa and the Global South. What had I seen. So, I wrote:

I've been to Nigeria, Ghana, Belize (not the tourist part) and South Africa (in the early days of the AIDS crisis, right after Mandela was elected) with a quick side trip to Mozambique. God willing and my grant comes in, I'll either be back in Belize or in Cidadae de Deus - the poorest of the poor section of Rio de Janerio - this time next year for three months. I've also worked in the slums of Boston, Baltimore NYC (South Bronx) and Newark, NJ.

Honestly? I don't know which poverty is worse - here in our own country or in the Global South.

It's shocking, isn't it? In a remote village in Kumasi, Ghana, where people live in mud huts without running water or electricity, I saw babies set outside the hut to die because they had developed dysentery from the water - they wanted to keep them from the other healthy babies - while I carried around bottled water in my back pack.

In Nigeria, when I questioned why they put 'eye makeup' on the babies, I was told that it was a root that kept worms from infecting their eyes. Again, we were in a remote village. It broke my heart when several of the babies and little kids cried when I came near them. They were afraid of me. Thought I was a ghost or a demon. They had never seen a Caucasian before.

In the remote mountain village in Belize where we were last summer, I visited an old man who was dying of stomach cancer who was living in a hut with no electricity and no running water. No bed. No furniture. He was lucky, though, because he slept in a hammock his neighbors had strung on the roof of his hut. He was in terrible pain, but the family had no money to give him medicine. We gave him some Aleve which is nothing, but his family reported the next day that it had made him feel more comfortable and thanked us profusely. He died the next day. I'd like to think he wasn't in as much pain as he might have been without the bottle of Aleve.

There was an epidemic of warts among the children there. Beautiful little children with almond shaped eyes and beautiful caramel colored skin with hideous warts on them. Made me weep. We drove three hours into Belize City to buy wart medicine and gave it to the Village Chief and taught him how to administer it. The biggest treat? Toothbrushes and tooth paste. The kids went nuts for them. We noticed that in the little store in town, which had things like deodorant and snickers bars and bottled water and ice cream, there were no toothbrushes or toothpaste for sale. Imagine!

Then again, I remember a man who lived in one of the housing projects in Baltimore. Working poor. AIDS - no matter how he got it. He wanted to keep working, so the nurses set him up so he could get his medicines intravenously while he slept. We got an hysterical call one night from his wife at 3 AM. Turns out, a rat had chewed through his IV line.

This was 1987 or 88 in the United States of America - the land where you have to be brave because not everyone is free.

This is why I do what I do, sweetheart. I'm now in a community that I can inspire to send resources and money to help flood victims in Louisiana and victims of drought in Mozambique. Or, kids and adults on a mission trip to repair the porch of an elderly person in Appalachia one year and build a playground for children in a remote village in Belize the next.

Or, give temporary shelter and hot, home cooked meals to homeless families in Morris County in our parish hall one week and bring phone cards and clothing and personal care items (shaving creme, deodorant, etc.) to foreign, stranded sailors at the Seamen's Church Institute at Port Newark and NYC. I can't do it all, but I can inspire others to give and to do the work.

It's tempting to ask questions like, "Why me?" but it really does no good. Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you." He said that over 2,000 years ago. I think he might have known something more about the human condition that we do, eh?

You'll have to discover the question you need to ask for yourself. One might be, "What is God calling me to do about this?" I can almost guarantee you that the answer won't be: "Sell everything, move to India, and become the next Mother Theresa."

There's a great story about an American who visited India, after which she wrote to Mother Theresa and offered to sell everything, donate it to her religious order, and in exchange be given the opportunity to sleep on a mat on the floor and work for her.

Mother Theresa sent back a two word response: South Bronx.

There can only be one Mother Theresa. There can only be one you. Maybe God is calling you to be the best YOU you can possibly be: to be even kinder and more generous than you already are. To be a better steward of the gift of creation. To think globally and act locally. I don't know. God knows and you'll find out through meditation and prayer.

We'll talk more about it when we take our next "Road Trip." Or, maybe we'll make a "movie bed" the next time we have a sleep over and watch "A Passage to India" together. Until then, take deep breaths. Breathe through your mouth (it helps with the smell). Wash your hands frequently and pray even more often. And, of course, don't drink the water or anything that hasn't been cooked for at least an hour.

Know that I love you and I am so proud of the journey you are on I can hardly put it into words. Not just the journey to India. The one you are making into your soul.

I love you, too, my darling.

My beautiful, sensitive and very smart daughter wrote back this morning:

Thanks Mom! I read your e-mail a number of times and cried a lot but it was good. It is good. Thanks Momma! We left Delhi and are now in Hyderabad. I'm taking deep breaths, tipping very generously and trying to find a balance between searching for answers and being so very very appreciative for my many many blessings. I'm going to head to bed. G'Night. I love you.

Here's what I just wrote:

I love you, too, my darling.

You know, VisaVaVoa (my grandmother, your great grandmother), who refused to buy toilet paper and used to save old calendars, tearing them neatly into squares and putting them by the side of the commode, used to tell me to kiss the tin foil gum wrapper before I threw it away, so I would think about the value of things before I got rid of them.

I hadn't remembered that in years. As a kid, I just thought she was just a weird old peasant woman. Your experience of poverty helped me recover that memory and think, that maybe, just maybe, if a few more people kissed the tin foil of their gum wrappers before they threw them away, this country - this world - might be in better shape.

I love you and I'm so proud of you. Have a wonderful time, sweetheart.

Ah, my daughter, my self.

'Twas a marvelous night for a moondance.

My friend, Bob Renwick, from Portland Maine took these pictures of the Total Lunar Eclipse. The last total eclipse of the moon took place on 28 August 2007. The next is predicted to take place on 21 December 2010.

Somebody cue Van Morrison

One more moondance with you in the moonlight

On a magic night

La, la, la, la in the moonlight

On a magic night

Cant I just have one more dance with you my love
Can I just have one a more moondance with you, my love
Can I just make some more romance with a-you, my love

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prayer Request for Chrissy Iker and her family

A prayer request from Jack Leo Iker, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth:

Chrissy, our oldest daughter (37), suffered a very serious heart attack on Friday afternoon, caused by cocaine and heroin. Though it appears that she will survive, at least at this point, the long term prognosis is not good. She has severely damaged her heart again, having already had a very similar heart attack in '97. She has only 25% of her heart functioning.

Your prayers are most appreciated.


Note: The courage and humility it took to send out this note is both humbling and inspiring. Of your kindness and mercy, please lift up Chrissy before God in your prayers. Pray that God will provide healing for her body - especially her poor, injured heart - her mind and her spirit. Pray that her family may receive the consolation and hope of their faith. Pray all these things in the Blessed Name of Jesus Christ, our great high priest who knows our suffering, and inspired by the Spirit who hears the sighs and groans of our hearts and souls that are too deep for words.

The Power of A Wafer: 'Open Communion' to 'Authority' to 'The End of the Church'

Over at HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv, we're still yammering on and on about 'Open Communion". I know. Can you believe it?

Interesting, though. Our Lutheran Sisters and Brothers, with whom we're in communion now, practice what they call "Open Communion" to all the baptized. Perhaps this is the reason behind the switch to the less elegant but more specific term of "Communion of the un-Baptized."

One leading conservative, evangelical theologian wrote: "Although this is significant in and of itself, it is also more significant of a symptom of something else, namely a loss of an agreed sense of authority. Communities that lose this are in danger of disintegrating."

Surprised by this, I responded: "I would argue that arguing about "an agreed sense of authority" is part of what it is to be Christian. We see it in scripture whenever Jesus speaks to Pharisees and Sadducees. Whether the issue is circumcision or dietary laws, we see it when Peter and Paul argue about membership in the early church. There is great documentation for this debate in the tradition of the church - sometimes causing new manifestations of the Body of Christ to be called into being (like our own). Anglicans in general and Episcopalians in particular have been arguing about 'an agreed sense of authority' since the beginning. Some might argue that is the core issue of our faith."

Well! The wrath of the Lord was upon me! Several evangelical conservative (male) priests wrote me, offline and on, to tell me that I was wrong, wrong, wrong. One wrote: "It is in the postmodern critique of modernity that we have the whole questioning of authority, lack of metanarrative, deconstruction of language, and so on, that seems so well to fit (the) concern of lack of an agreed sense of authority. I would also point to serpent in the Garden of Eden who first questioned authority when it asked, "Did God really say?"

One even gave evidence of this "loss sense of agreed authority" in the fact that "I hear clergy change the language of the prayer book rite because they disagree with the language, Part of the catholic tradition is that we are under authority. I am under the authority of my bishop. I am under the authority of the prayer book. I am under the authority of the canons. That's what I signed onto when I was ordained. I don't have the right to change the language of the prayer book based upon my own theological preferences"

So, here's my current natter on the subject. I'd love to hear yours.

First question: “How is this ‘what it means to be post-modern’?”

To my knowledge, limited as it admittedly is, the weight of evidence in scripture and tradition clearly outweigh the claim that this is a post-modern phenomenon. I’ve already made brief mention of how I read scripture and tradition. How do you read? Are you not standing on only one leg of the ‘three legged stool’ of Anglicanism. I get your ‘reason’. Where, then, is scripture and tradition?

Which leads me to ask, “So who is now insisting on his own way?”

No one has changed the language of the BCP. Neither has anyone changed the language of the ordination vows, which I took right after I signed the Oath of Conformity without crossing my fingers behind my back. If asked and administered today, I am confident that I would pass a lie detector test.

How is “the agreed sense of authority” diminished or challenged for clergy - or anyone, for that matter – by offering prayer in the context of public worship in the manner in which they believe and in the language that makes sense to them? Is this not the modern application of Cranmer’s philosophy of a ‘common language’ – not the mass in Latin but in the common language of the people? In a diverse culture such as ours, is this not why we take pains to translate our public worship into Spanish, Creole, Native American, Asian, etc.?

What of the feminist theologians in those cultures? Are we to sit as women of stone?

I understand completely that the image of God you hold and the one I pray to are probably vastly different. It would, of course, follow that the language we use would be different. And yet, through the mystery that is the God we both worship and adore, we are praying to the one and the same God who hears both of our prayers and takes them to heart.

Is this not a manifestation of the redemption of the Tower of Babel at Pentecost? Why the insistance that I and everyone else pray the way you do in order for our prayers to somehow be ‘authentic’ and in conformity with ‘authority’?

That’s not an accusation. I’m just trying to understand.

Which leads me to another, perhaps predictable, question: “Whatever became of Anglican tolerance (AKA ‘comprehensiveness’ or ‘Pragmatism’)?

Help me understand this need for ‘every knee to bend” in exactly the same way and “every tongue” to speak in conformity. As I’ve said before, “Anglican Covenant” is an oxymoron to my understanding of the great history and tradition of being a member of the Anglican Communion.

We have taken great pride in not being a ‘confessional’ church; neither do we constellate our spirituality around the personality or piety of one religious leader. We are not strictly an ‘experiential’ faith, like, say, the Pentecostals or Assemblies of God who have a particular experience of God and the Holy Spirit which directs or frames our worship, piety, doctrine or polity.

Ours is what has been described as a ‘pragmatic’ faith. True, at worst we can become what someone once called “flabby theologians” – not exactly ‘anything goes” but not exactly the kind of clarity of theological thought which has been a hallmark of Anglicanism.

But we have always been protestant AND catholic AND evangelical AND orthodox. We remain so to this very day. Just look at Eucharistic Prayers A, B, C and D in the 1979 BCP for evidence of that. What has changed? Why?

Here’s my curiosity behind the term “agreed sense of authority”. I don’t think there’s any accident or coincidence that this term is being used at this particular point in our history as Episcopalians.

We presently have a woman who is Presiding Bishop and a woman who is President of the House of Deputies. We presently have more and more women who are priests who hold positions of rectors in significant parishes, deans of and canons in cathedrals, and bishops.

We have one diocese which has already left TEC which does not ordain women, one diocese which is considering leaving TEC which does not ordain women, and one diocese which is considering leaving TEC which does ordain women, but whose bishop has said, in a remarkable call to tolerance, that the disagreement over the ordination of women in their ranks is something that would have to be worked out among them over time.

You know where this is going. One ought not be surprised by the curiosity behind my perspective. I’m a woman. I’m an ordained woman who is a rector of a fairly significant parish. The challenge to my authority as a woman in a role, which has been traditionally male, comes with surprising frequency even in a diocese like Newark.

Are we really surprised, then, that suddenly the buzzword du jour is about “the agreed sense of authority”? In that sense, I’ll concede your point that this particular aspect of the present discussion regarding authority is a post-modern phenomenon.

All things carefully considered, I would have to re-affirm my original conclusion: This is not the deal-breaker for me. Indeed, I see it as a sign of health.

The minute we stop arguing over ‘an agreed sense of authority” I’ll know we’re really in trouble.