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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

For SERIOUS cat lovers ONLY.

(I'm highly allergic but I LOVE them. I just can't live with them.)

My favorite part was the cat yodeling. I think these boys were putting their lives in their hands.

The Anglo Files

I’m about half way through my current favorite book, “The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British,” by Sarah Lyall, an American and journalist for NY Times who married an Englishman and moved to London a decade ago.

She’s funny and brash and razor sharp and unashamedly biased in her perspective of life across the pond. She’s also wickedly hilarious and deeply insightful about all the vices and virtues of British society. Indeed, at times, this book reads like a superb social and cultural anthropology. At turns bitter and sweet, Lyall pulls no punches in her analysis of the English, including the hypocrisy, venality, and hopeless confusion about sex.

In a chapter entitled, “Naughty boys and rumpy-pumpy,” Lyall catalogues some of the silly euphemisms for body parts: “private parts” for genitals, “willies” for penises, “front bottom” for the dread vagina, “naughty bits” for the whole package (unless you are talking specifically about a man’s whole package and then you can say, “dangly bits.”). “

She continues, “Not even serious people seem comfortable with using real words for real sex, known popularly as “shagging,” “bonking,” or “having it off.” Private Eye magazine calls it “discussing Ugandan affairs,” a reference to a woman journalist who, when caught in flagrante with a Ugandan politician, claimed they were talking about Uganda.”

One can only imagine, then, the internal British conflict about homosexuality, can’t one?

She reports a typical exchange between her friend Ed and his dad when he was eight years old and hunting grouse on the moors which, “on account of having to pay attention to what they were doing or else they might shoot the wrong thing, they could look at the birds instead of each other”:

“’You’ll soon be going away,’ Ed’s father remarked, peering at the potential grouses concealed in the bush. He fired a shot.

‘Boys will want to interfere with you.’ He fired again.

‘Don’t let them.’”

Right, then. The fascinating thing is the way Lyall points out the connection between homosexuality and homoeroticism and humiliation and physical abuse. She writes: “Spanking or ‘smacking,’ is associated with a shameful sexual thrill, the kind of humiliation laced with pleasure that British people are said to particularly enjoy.

“Le vice anglais,” the French call it. It can evoke nostalgic reveries of one’s nanny, a source of severity and punishment but also of security as she snuggled you inside the safe confines of her large bosom.”

“Spanking in the extreme becomes beating,” she writes, “which has its own sexual undercurrents. Beating was officially made illegal in 1999, and most schools had abolished it by then, but it was once a fact of boarding school education: All those stories you hear are true.”

“It shouldn’t matter so much, because boarding-school students make up such a small percentage of the total population in Britain. But they are disproportionately important: they tend to be the people who now run the government, the judiciary, the military and many of the major institutions in the country (note from me: like, say, the Church of England?). The weapons once used on friends of mine include cricket bats, pool cues, belts, straps, and birch sticks.”

“Like victims of Stockholm Syndrome, not all schoolboys were bitter about their punishments. In 1994, a debate broke out on the letters pages of The Times of London about the late Anthony Chevenix-Trench, who as headmaster of Eton in the late 1960s was famous for getting drunk, flogging the pupils, and then breaking down and tearfully begging their forgiveness. Legend had it that, in what must have been an amateur record, he once beat an entire divinity class of twenty-one students in a single afternoon.”

Lyall continues: “Men my age and from my husband’s background of educational privilege may be the last ones to have gone to all-male boarding schools whose halls were suffused with sexual undercurrents, but it has had a lasting effect on them. The masters leered at the boys; the older boys leered at the younger ones. (My husband’s) school had a teacher known popularly as “Homo Holmes,” who used to hang out and watch the wet naked boys emerge from the shower.”

“Is it any wonder,” she asks, “that so many of them - particularly British men of a certain class – are so mixed up about sex?”

“Is it any wonder, either,” she continues, “that so many of them still harbor erotic fantasies about former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who managed to hit all their buttons at once – femininity laced with masculinity, firmness laced with seductiveness, pleasure interwoven with pain? For the men who worked for her, nothing could surpass the exquisite humiliation of a Thatcher “handbagging,” as they called it when she was cross with them.” She reports, verbatim, a homoerotic spanking exchange reported to her by journalist Christopher Hutchens which he alleges he had with Mrs. Thatcher

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Put this all together with the other ‘vice anglais’: homosexuality, add the ‘natural inclination’ of the British male toward sexism if not flat-out misogyny, remembering that more graduates of the British boarding school are in positions of power and authority in corporate, government and church structures and, after a few more pages of Lyall’s book, a few bells began to go off in my head.

It occurs to me that a major component of the homophobia and heterosexism in the Church of England has nothing to do with a healthy understanding of love between two people of the same sex; rather, it has everything to do with a perverse educational system which is the product of a shame-based understanding of human sexuality which arises out of a deep connection with humiliation and power.

Let me put it another way to underscore this point: The extra-curricular education endured by young boys in the British system of boarding schools was not about human sexuality or homosexuality, but about domination and perversity, along with a prevailing sexism and flat-out misogyny designed to ensure the continuation of patriarchy.

I was telling this to a very dear friend of mine over breakfast last week. He’s a decidedly heterosexual African American man of my age who spent his adolescent years on the South Side of Chicago.

Suddenly, he gasped and said, “I think I just made an important connection, one I’ve been trying to make for years. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time shooting hoops. After a game, the losers would have to buy the winners a slice or a dog and a beer, and afterward, some of the guys would shoot craps.”

He took a deep breath and continued, “But, some of the guys would go off and have sex with each other. It always bothered me, but not because it was ‘on the down lo’ but there was something else, something I couldn’t name, that seemed very wrong. I think I finally understand.”

“The sex was always about the winners and losers. Now I understand that it wasn’t about sex. It was about dominance and power. It was about sending a message loud and clear: ‘You are on our turf. You lost. We won. We are in power.’”

I listened carefully and said, “You’re right. It’s not sex. It’s violence.”

“Let’s call it what it really is: Rape,” he said.

Right. This sort of thing has gone on for centuries under the ancient rubric “To the victor belong the spoils.” It goes on today – the raping of women and men as a weapon of war. It’s not anything that arises out of human sexuality but rather, is born of the violent heart that wants to show dominance and enforce submission.

I’ve been calling it “the ick factor” – say the word ‘homosexual’ and, for some people, the image of anal penetration immediately springs to mind, which awakens an almost primal reaction in some people which, in turn, shuts down any intellectual ability to reason or think, much less consider information to the contrary.

I am coming to understand that the deep revulsion of homosexuality which we witness in some corners of the church is, in some sense, in our religious DNA. It arises out of an educational system which began with a deep shame about human sexuality in general and created a deeply misogynist culture which connected “homosexual activity” with power and domination, reducing the status of the male to that of a female. Then, they laced it, just for good measure, with emotional humiliation and physical abuse.

I am beginning to get my head wrapped around the almost desperate need for this position to be reinforced by emotionally-charged literal translations of scripture. We have a long record of using scripture to defend that which is, otherwise, indefensible. Like, the oppression and denial of civil rights of women and people of African ancestry.

Have you ever noticed that some of the worst offenses of the intent of the law or scripture are defended from behind long black robes – of the judiciary or religious systems – or, in the case of religion, long white robes, which, if the offense is really heinous, also has a full hood which allows the coward to hide his/her face.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the love and relationship and sacred commitments made between two people of the same sex. Absolutely. Nothing.

What I have written does not pretend to be an intellectual socio-religious analysis or anthropological study. Rather, it has to do with one person’s making some connections about things which, as Arsinio Hall used to say, “make you go, hmmmmm.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

This is news. Clay Aikens' sexuality is not.

You have already no doubt heard.

The $700 Billion Stock Market Bail Out Plan was rejected by Congress today.

The Dow dropped 777.68 points, or a 7% drop in the New York Stock Exchange.

The vote was 228 - 205, with the Republicans, interestingly enough, voting against the President's plea for the non partisan bail out on partisan terms.

The air in my little community is thick with fear. It hangs in the air like a layer of pollution. Otherwise intelligent men and women seem at a loss to understand how it happened or how to help us get out of it.

Right. I've never known fear to be of any help in the intellectual process. And yet, this is precisely what we are getting from The Present Occupant, who seems more interested in a 'quick fix' to salvage whatever is left of his legacy than a real solution to the problem.

John Stewart has something to say about that

One of my parishioners blogged about the Present Occupant's speech. Here's what he had to say:

I slowly began to realize that his speech lacked hope. It lacked confidence. My mind began pulling for the words that I knew I read somewhere before. This is what our nation needs - hope and leadership.

We had it on March 4th of 1933. Yes, that 1933. The one with the Great Depression. We had a leader with hope - Franklin D. Roosevelt. We had a leader with polio. He was a man who could not stand without assistance, yet he stood against a great diversity and told this great nation not to fear. "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself..."

He went on to create jobs for Americans. He gave people work to do with their hands. He gave the people of this great nation pride and hope.

Here is the speech we should have heard:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.

Hand in hand with this we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. The task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities. It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.

Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

There are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the several States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in all parts of the United States—a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that the recovery will endure.

In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.

With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Action in this image and to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

This is news?

Spend 10 minutes watching Clay Aiken and you know all you needed to know about his sexual orientation. I mean, "Duh!"

So, why is this news?

It's not. Except for the fact that I am struck by the fact that the vast majority of people appreciate honesty and authenticity from anyone who is in the public eye. It's a risk and takes courage for a performer who wants to appeal to a wide audience.

How unlike the church, which professes to be about "The Truth" which has, for centuries, ordained those who are gay as long as they lie.

Well, that's not what is said. It's either "Don't ask, don't tell." Or, "Promise me that you are celibate (wink, wink) and all will be well."

Unless you're in the Church of England and your name is Jeffery Johns.

It's a sad commentary that anyone would enter into any relationship - personal or corporate - and have to hide their integrity in order to fulfill their vocation.

Good on yer, Clay. May you give others the courage to live the truth of their lives.

" . . .and who gave you this authority?"

Matthew 21:23-32
XX Pentecost – September 28, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Well, here we are again, watching Jesus pushing the buttons of “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” Last week it was about fairness. This morning, we hear him pushing The Very Big Button in organized religion:


Authority, in fact, is one of the animating dynamics of The Anglican Church that, in turn, animates The Episcopal Church in our own unique way. Authority is one of the clear strands in our religious DNA.

The Reformation may have been ignited over the issue of the divorce of King Henry VIII but to say it was the reason for the Church of England to come into being is like diagnosing a symptom as the disease – it’s tantamount to saying that a person has a “cough” when the cough may mean anything from a common cold to pneumonia to lung cancer.

The Anglican Church, or the Church of England, broke away from Rome because of the corruption at the time of that religious body. It was part of a deeply held belief sweeping the European Continent and Briton that the authority of Rome had been corrupted by a centralized, corporate power which no longer served, much less cared for, the needs of the people; rather, the religious institution of the Roman Church served and cared for itself, primarily – its own needs, its own wealth, its own future.

The Reformers in England were especially keen not to have a “foreign curia” and to have the words of prayer in the “common language” of the people – not the “universal” language of Latin which was accessible only to those wealthy enough to be educated. This is why, if you haven't already guessed, that we have a Book of Common Prayer.

Religion has often been used as a social wedge – a powerful tool of authority, used to separate out the riff-raff from those “truly worthy of God.”

The impulse against a “foreign curia” was strong enough to be carried to “the Americas” – the “new England.” It should come as no surprise then, that during the Revolutionary War – which I was shocked to discover this summer is still referred to in England as The War of American Independence and is taught to school children that it had to do with British domestic politics rather than the legitimate grievances of the oppressed – those who were the architects of the Constitution of the United States were writing the Constitution by day at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia and the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church by night at Christ Church down the street.

The system of authority in The Episcopal Church closely parallels the system of authority in our government. All resolutions and all changes in canon (church) law must receive a majority of votes in both houses – not exactly the House of Representatives and Senate but very similar: the House of Deputies (made up of laity and clergy and is the ‘senior house’ and the House of Bishops.

We have no royalty here as they do in England but rather, a President of the United States. In Rome, there is a Pope. In England, there is an Archbishop of Canterbury. In the States we have a “Presiding Bishop.” Both the ABC and the PB are considered “first among equals.” Very democratic. Very unlike Rome.

And while the Archbishop of Canterbury is clearly our spiritual leader, unlike Rome, he has absolutely no power or authority over any of the other bishops, Archbishops or Primates in any part of the Anglican Communion. His real currency is moral leadership and spiritual persuasion.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Presiding Bishop doesn’t have any ‘legal’ authority. She does. So does the Archbishop of Canterbury. But the lines of authority are clear and contained.

We operate more on the authority derived from relationships – sometimes called “councilliar” or that which comes from councils made up of representatives of the various diverse groups of people that make up the whole.

It’s a state of being that drives some people right round the bend. It’s messy and, at times, can be highly ineffective.

Someone once asked Desmond Tutu to describe the essence of the Spirit of Anglicanism. He said, “We meet.”

We want to be in communion with one another, in conversation with one another, and in relationship with one another on all kinds of levels, both local and international.

We like to say that we are held together by “bonds of affection.” It's about that "new heart and new spirit" that Ezekiel talks about.

In terms of authority, however, well, that has to come from within and not so much without if we are to be in relationship with each other in the name of Christ. It’s a very difficult balance to achieve and requires a great deal of spiritual maturity to attain and maintain.

That’s really the point Jesus was trying to make to the chief priests and elders when he asked about John’s baptism – did it come from heaven or was it from human origin? And, the religious authorities, who hid behind the authority of their offices and did not speak from their own authority, were afraid to respond.

Have you notices? Cowardice often hides behind the robes and uniform of religious or public office.

That’s precisely what happens with authority which is imposed from without rather than coming from a place of authenticity from within. It either shrivels and quakes in the face of authentic authority or is decidedly jealous of it and seeks to squash or kill it.

St. Paul really zeroes in on the matter in his letter to the early church in Philippi. “Be of the same mind,” as the mind of Christ, he writes to a community. He was confronting the Philippians about two factions that had centered around two prominent women and how it needed to cease.

Some of the Philippians thought of themselves as “super Christians” with a superior spirituality which gave them greater authority (Hmmmm . . . where have we seen this dynamic repeat itself?).

To end the dilemma, Paul calls on his own spiritual authority and directs them in this way: Have in you the mind of Christ – and live like it!

He writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself.” In other words, he didn’t lay down new rules about how to behave which favored one over the other. Instead, he admonishes the community to treat others as Christ has treated you. Here again, it's Ezekiel's new heart and a new spirit that God wants.

Christ is the model of our authority. We are to follow Him – His Way, His Truth, His Life. God knows our humanity because God was humbled to come to us in human form in Christ Jesus.

In the parable of the two sons, Jesus tells us that God understands our impulse to ignore or disobey authority – what’s important to God is not so much our disobedience as that which is in our hearts that causes us to think twice, change our minds and do the right thing.

And, here’s the important part: we are to do these things of our own volition.

You see, it's not about writing 10 Rules on the wall and having you follow them to the letter. Rather, it's about being faithful to what God has written on the inside of your heart.

I love the story told about an encounter Mark Hatfield, Senator from Oregon had with Mother Theresa. He asked, “Don’t you ever tire, grow discouraged, when you look around and see this abject poverty and be able to change so little of it?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “for you see, the Lord hasn’t called me to be successful, only faithful.” Her model for life was Christ.

That’s the point Jesus was trying to make to the chief priests and elders of his community about authority. We are not called to be successful, only faithful to the model set for us by Jesus.

The rule used to judge your life when you stand before God, isn’t “The one with the most toys, wins.” God will only ask us if we were faithful to what we understood Jesus was teaching us.

By what authority do you do what you do? Believe what you believe? Pray what you pray? Are you faithful to what you know of the teachings of Jesus? Then, you have all the authority you need to be a Christian in community – because it means that you respect His authority in your life enough to recognize and respect it in the lives of others as well as yourself.

And that, my friends, is the Very Big Button of our spiritual lives – Authority. Not mine. Not yours. But that of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

By what authority to I have to say these things? Only the authority I claim by the trust you invest in me and our relationship together in Christ.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Soul Series

Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Pasadena, one of the Giants of Justice and someone I am privileged to call a dear friend, was interviewed recently on Oprah's "Soul Series".

They talk about religion and spirituality.

You can find the first part of their discussion here.

Check it out. It's "Big Ed" doing us proud. Real proud.

Rest in Peace

"They know the sound of my voice"

A Sermon preached for the Celebration of the Life of
Betty Black Williams
September 27, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
John 10:11-16

When I think about celebrating the life of Betty Black Williams, of the seven metaphorical images St. John reports Jesus used to describe himself, the one of the Good Shepherd speaks dearest to my heart.

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me . . . and they will heed my voice."

Betty Williams was, in her own unique way, a leader in this church. She led quietly, in the background, as the President of the Altar Guild for over 20 years. It was she who made certain the altar hangings were changed for each liturgical season; that there was a fresh loaf of round, crusty bread and an antique bottle of wine on the altar and that the Meditation Garden was set up for the all night Vigil on Maundy Thursday.

She also tallied the pledge cards during Stewardship Season and made sure that everyone who pledged received a box of pledge envelopes and a card to acknowledge their pledge.

And, it was one, Betty Black Williams – with her blessed husband, Powell in tow – who made the runs to Costco for the paper towels and toilet paper for the church, and tissues and small bottles of Poland Spring water for her rector who takes allergy pills which sometimes make her mouth drier than her nose.

Betty did all these things quietly and unassumingly AND, make no mistake, she had “a voice.” I would hear her even before she came into my office: “Elizabeth,” she would say to announce her entrance. It was important to note the tone of her voice because that told you what the next 15 or 20 minutes of your life would be like.

She never raised her voice – but she did, on occasion, raise her eyebrow, and when she raised her eyebrow, you knew someone, somewhere, was in trouble. I once had a conversation with her in the sacristy – her ‘home away from home’ – which, other than my office, is where we had most of our important conversations.

Someone had just come in and pulled my last, poor, tired nerve. Betty just laughed, that laugh that told you that it wasn’t really funny, but if you didn’t laugh you would scream and probably be a danger to yourself or another person.

I said that I had a lot to learn from her, Latina from the North that I am and Southerner that she was, about containing my emotions. “Do Southern women ever lose their temper?” I asked her in exasperation.

She allowed a small, sly smile to lift the corners of her mouth and said, “No, Southern women do not lose their tempers. We just burn the carrots.” If you want to know how often Betty lost her temper, just ask Powell how many times ‘burned carrots’ were on the menu at home. I’m thinking, not too many.

Everything in this service speaks in Betty’s voice. Yes, there are purple vestments in today’s liturgy. Yes, white is the color of the Resurrection and purple is the color of the Season of Lent.

Those of you who are liturgically astute are, perhaps, wondering about this, and you would be right to do so. However, these vestments were purchased about six years ago when Betty had her first serious operation.

The Altar Guild and I decided to use part of the money of a bequest we had received to purchase a proper Lenten Array and to honor Betty’s contributions to this church instead of waiting to memorialize her.

They are beautiful, aren’t they? Let the liturgical police come and fine me heavily for using them, but she loved them and it’s what she wanted and I’ll suffer the cost.

The last time we readied the church for Lent, she looked at the altar, pointed to the fontal and said, “When it’s my time . . .,” and said nothing more. She didn’t have to. That’s all I needed to know about what to do today.

Even so, her favorite season was Christmas, and we will sing a Christmas Hymn together, after we celebrate Eucharist together.

The 84th Psalm, which we recited together, and the hymn we sang just before the reading of the gospel was also Betty’s voice, singing the praises of her “home away from home” where she found sanctuary and peace in “this lovely dwelling place.”

There are others, many others who have heard Betty’s small, quiet voice, which was often larger than our own lives. I’m going to ask two people to come forward, Bob, her son-in-law, and Robin, a daughter of her own heart, to give voice to their stories of Betty.

Betty Black Williams was one of a kind and part of a generation of women who came through a time of incredible change in our country and in the world. To give but one example, this is a woman who listened to music on 78s and 45s, then tape cassettes and 8-Track tapes, then CD’s and iPods.

Just let those images sink in for just a second and you will begin to understand how small the world once was and how large our personal worlds once were. Paradoxically, the world has become a “global village” and our personal worlds of sound have been reduced from a large 78 record to a small iPod which can contain an entire library of 78 recordings – and, with greater clarity of sound.

This is a woman whose life was filled with paradox. She lost her mother at a very young age and, soon after, a father, but she knew, instinctively, how to be a great mother and parent.

One of the highest accolades I heard from her daughters as well as the women who were her contemporaries and the husband of her heart for over 50 years was this: “She was my best friend.”

Betty Black Williams was a great friend to many. Her loss leaves a huge hole in our lives, a heavy emptiness that cannot be filled and, at times, feels unbearable to carry. She has followed the voice of The Great Shepherd and now rests eternally in her arms, a sheep of his own flock, a lamb of his own redeeming.

Never doubt, Betty, that you will be terribly, terribly missed. I will miss the sound of your voice just outside my office. I’ll miss the sound of your laughter, especially the wicked laughter we sometimes shared rather than be a danger to ourselves or others.

I’ll especially miss the way you would throw your arms around me and hug me. No rector or pastor has ever known such unconditional love.

One last thing: The only argument – well, no, it wasn’t exactly an argument but a disagreement – Betty and I ever had was about the candles. She hated waste, so she would recycle the candles.

She would, occasionally, set out previously used candles on the altar and in the pew candles. I would come into the church on Saturday evening, as is often my wont, and frown when I saw them, and then silently replace them. When I would come in to the 10 o’clock service, they would often and just as silently be replaced.

Betty, you have probably noticed that there are new candles at the altar this morning. I am a proud graduate of the Betty Williams School of Pastoral (albeit ‘Southern’) Theology.

I don’t burn the carrots, but I have burned new candles – but not because I have lost my temper. I burn these new candles to the glory of God and in your honor. Even now, I can see that small smile lifting the corners of your mouth.

I will miss the sound of your voice, my dear, sweet friend. I will listen for it when it is time to make my way to Heaven.

Rest well in the arms of Jesus, Betty. God knows, you deserve it.

Hear the voice of Jesus as he says to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done, indeed. “

And, let the church be united in one voice and mind and heart say, “Amen.”

Presidential Debate #1: Yawn!

Former President Ronald "The Great Communicator" Reagan must be rolling in his grave after last night's debate.

Truth be told, I didn't think either candidate did particulalry well. I was waiting for Obama to shine. He didn't - except sortakinda when he was speaking about the economy. McCain had a few moments in the spotlight when it came to foreign policy and then he didn't so much shine as he threw a few well-placed sucker punches at Obama's "inexperience" and Obama didn't really defend himself.

NY Times Op-Ed Columnist, Gail Collins wrote this morning: "This was supposed to be the foreign affairs debate, and it’s hard to beat down McCain on foreign affairs — anybody who can start a sentence with “I’ve been to Waziristan ...” has a natural advantage. But Obama really more than held his own."

Okay. I'll take that. But, I also think Obama needs to come up with a counter-strategy to that sucker-punch, and it has to be smart, but it can't be subtle.

Collins also writes: "This campaign has been so chock full of excitement, however, that the debate lost some of its normal most-important-moment-in-history sheen. The real tension, after all, had been getting McCain there in the first place. A simple trip to Mississippi turned into a saga featuring many, many rapidly changing story lines:

* Cancel the debate!

* Maybe cancel the debate!

* No debate unless Congress passes a financial rescue bill!

* No debate unless Congress has a plan to pass a financial rescue bill.

* Oh, what the heck.

After all that, when the wandering debater finally showed up Friday night, he just looked like a smallish, grayish, slightly grumpy guy with a grizzly obsession."

Mostly, it was boring. I know it was "history in the making", but it was boring. Debates are not exactly a thrill a minute experience, but they don't have to be boring, either.

This nation is in the third week of the greatest financial disaster since Wall Street collapsed in the 1920's. I'm not asking for entertainment - every time Sarah Palin is interviewed on television we are provided with more than enough mawkish entertainment for my gullet (no wonder the Republicans keep her in the back room) - I'm asking to hear and see something that gives me some hope and confidence that somebody has a plan to lead us out of this.

My pension plan has lost thousands of dollars in the past few weeks which will take 7-8 years to recover.

Yesterday, there was a whisper of a rumor that WaMu bank was teetering on collapse. By noon, the branch at the local strip mall was closed.

The emergency squad just put out a call about a "potentially suicidal young man." Ms. Conroy said, "We're going to be getting a lot more of those calls."

The importance of these debates are more than historic. They can be used as a means to communicate a plan, a strategy, that makes sense - and give us hope instead of a frustrated yawn.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear . . . .

Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric:

"It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is — from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to ... to our state," she said.

My favorite quote from Letterman on John McCain's bailing from an appearance on his show: "This is not the behavior of a hero of our country. I'll tell ya what: I think somebody is putting something in his Metamucil."

My favorite new joke

The rector decides that God is calling the parish to a new vision of
what it is to be and to do. So, at the next vestry meeting he presents
the new vision with as much energy, conviction and passion as he can
muster. When he finished and sat down, the senior warden called for a
vote. All 12 vestry members voted against the new vision, with only the
rector voting for it.

"Well, Father, it looks like you will have to think again," says the
senior warden. "Would you like to close the meeting in prayer?"

So the rector stands up, raises his hand to heaven, and prays, "LORD,
will you not show these people that this is not MY vision but it is YOUR

At that moment, the clouds darken, thunder rolls, and a streak of
lightning bursts through the window and strikes in two the table at
which they are sitting, throwing the rector and all the vestry members
to the ground.

After a moment's silence, as they all get up and dust themselves off,
the senior warden speaks again.

"Well, that's twelve votes to two then."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Silence of the Lambs

Today at 6 PM, hundreds of Episcopalians will gather with people of many faiths at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC for an interfaith witness to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The event is being organized by The Anglican Observer at the United Nations (Note: Martha Garnder, member of the Standing Committee and Deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Newark also works there).

The Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferst Schori will officiate. The Archbishop of York, the Most Honorable Dr. John Sentamu will be the guest preacher.

Meanwhile, in places like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and China young girls will gather, as they have for centuries, in small lines outside bars and nightclubs in a witness of another kind, one which reveals the human condition in its most base and repugnant form:

Sex-trafficking. That's the "nice" word for it.

The reality is that this is the 21st century version of slavery - the selling of young girls, some as young as ten or twelve, for prostitution. They are "sex slaves" - not the titillating fantasy of porn movies, but the harsh, brutal reality of young girls who are forced to perform "sexual favors" for men - some of them "business men" from around the world - who will use their bodies with cruel, depraved indifference.

Often beaten and sometimes tortured, they are constantly humiliated by those who "own" them and profit from their abuse.

New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, has an article in today's paper, "A Heroine from the Brothels," which I urge you to read.

Kristoff writes about Somaly Mam, one of the bravest and boldest of those foreign visitors pouring into New York City this month. Somaly is a Cambodian who as a young teenager was sold to the brothels herself and now runs an organization that extricates girls from forced prostitution.

Now Somaly has published her inspiring memoir, “The Road of Lost Innocence,” in the United States, and it offers some lessons for tackling the broader problem.

The work of Somaly Mam provides a powerful counterpoint to the lethargy which often characterizes the response to the fact that young girls all over the world are living in brothels until they die of AIDS.

What can be done? Prostitution has long been described "the oldest occupation" - as if it were a career path choice. People of good faith often sigh and say that it's inevitable - sad, tragic, awful, but inevitable.

The truth is that sex trafficking is the 21st Century version of slavery, full stop, and it must end. It can end. Somaly Mam offers us a way to understand the clear links between poverty, sexism, misogyny and the sex trade from her own life and the lives of other women whom she has helped to free from the bonds which have held them as slaves to insatiable world-wide appetite for sex and greed.

I'm betting that one will be talking about this at the United Nations this week. I'm hoping that the work of the Anglican Observer at the United Nations to raise this issue will find support and commitment to join them in ending this abomination.

If you can make it to the service, please do. It will be preceded by a "teach in" on the steps of the Cathedral at 5 PM. When you go there, ask questions. Ask about sex-trafficking. Ask about the work of Somaly Mam.

Yes, let's witness to the achievement of the MDG's. Support the efforts in your communities of faith. And, while you're at it, do what you can to raise awareness and stir the consciousness of good people of faith to end the slavery of young girls all over the world.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street. It is easily accessible by subway.

Go there. Be there, if you can.

If you can't, help do what you can to raise the awareness to hear the silence of these young lambs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tom Rush

Eventually, we all get to this place in life. If you find yourself here and can't laugh, you're really lost.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Episcopal Church is "Coming Out"

So, it's been quite a day! Let's just file it under the title, "Life in the fast lane of parish ministry"!

I had just settled into the first part of Clergy Day in Denville when I got the call that we've had yet another death of another "major" person in our community - the President of the Altar Guild for the past 20 years and a dearly loved member of our church for the past 40 years - so you know what a huge loss this is in our community. However, I am quite certain that Heaven is infinitely more organized now that Betty is there than it was eight or so hours ago.

I've spent the better part of this day doing the things that pastors do in these situations - you know, holding your own grief at bay while you tend to the grief and shock of the family. And then I spent the rest of my time chasing down all the details that are required to really celebrate this amazing woman's life while still creating a space where we can grieve our enormous loss.

And, I do it all without a net!

But, before I can "get into the zone" where I begin to select a few biblical passages and hymns for her service so that the family can make some choices tomorrow when I meet with them, I made the mistake of opening my email.

There was another letter from one of the brothers who is still struggling with how to do justice and keep everyone at The Table - or, at least, in the church - when we meet at General Convention next July.

This is what I just wrote and posted. I'm posting it now because I'm not sure I'll have much time to post much of anything profound in the next couple of days.

Only the names have been removed to protect the innocent - and the guilty:

. . . Let me offer this, from my own perspective:

In the late 80s, early 90s, in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, there was a slogan going around that said, "The Episcopal Church has AIDS." It was meant to say that, if one of us has AIDS, we all have AIDS.

I want to create a new slogan: "The Episcopal Church is Coming Out."

What we are going through is not unlike the "coming out" process every LGBT person suffers through when s/he understands her/his sexual orientation as being other than the prevailing, accepted "norm."

Sometimes, a part of you has to die. Sometimes, a part of you is bullied into submission. Sometimes, a part of you is brutally murdered in cold blood.

Sometimes, the death is one of peaceful acceptance. Other times, the struggle to find the path to wholeness and health and self-acceptance is littered with the artifacts of violence and self injury - or, the injury done to you by the judgment of others - family, friends, "society," "religion."

For me, several parts had to suffer and die: The part of me that was carefully brought up to be "the best little girl in the whole world." The part of me that was carefully taught that my role in life was to "find Prince Charming (handsome, rich, successful and would "make me happy"), get married, have children (2.5, preferably, a boy for you and a girl for me, but an heir and a spare would be fine, too) and live happily ever after." The part of me that carried the American Dream for my immigrant family.

Fer shur, those parts of me needed to die. I just didn't need to have them brutally murdered in what was the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, MA where the coming out process was imposed on me and my family,

The emotions run the gamut - very similar to the ones described by Kubler-Ross in the death and dying process, but the impulse to shame is very, very strong, reinforced by "traditional" religion.

It used to be considered a "disease" by the medical profession, as you well know. The power of influence of these two institutions continues to promote a strong social stigma in many communities, in many parts of the country and the world. Some "traditional" churches continue to collude in that process.

I'm not talking about shame as the kind of embarrassment that comes when you find that you've been chatting away with someone and discover you have a piece of spinach on your front tooth.

I'm talking about deep, paralyzing shame. I'm talking about a shame that comes from without, not from within - a a "shame of intimidation" that tells you that who you are, the way God made you is "defective" when you know in your heart that this is absolute, unmitigated mendacity.

I'm talking about the kind of imposed shame or bullying shame that understands that, if you do this, if you are honest about who you are and who you love, you risk loss of family and friends - all your social, emotional and spiritual networks.

Emotional and actual physical "cut off" and abandonment are the all too well known possibilities and, sadly in many cases, eventual realities of "coming out."

Many families who support their LGBT daughters and sons go through a very similar grief and shame and blame process. Friends and allies of LGBT people are also no strangers to the "collateral damage" of "coming out".

Hello? Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

The Episcopal Church has been "coming out" as a church which understands that the diversity of the human condition is as necessary to our lives as biodiversity is to the environment. That's neither "liberal" or "progressive." That is radical orthodoxy.

To welcome and embrace human diversity is nothing less than the radical hospitality of Jesus, whom we proclaim as our Risen Lord and whose commandments to "love one another" as he loved us we claim to follow.

I believe that, for the past thirty or more years, The Episcopal Church, as an institution, has been in the grieving process. We have been allowing parts of ourselves, the "idealized images" we have had of ourselves, to die. Sometimes, those parts have been bullied or brutally murdered by resolutions in the legislative process. (B033 comes to mind, as do the "recommendations" of The Windsor Report.)

The attempts to bully and "shame" The Episcopal Church on a world-wide stage and "blame" her for all that is wrong in the Anglican Communion strikes a very familiar note for many LGBT people, our families and friends.

We, as an institution, are feeling the effects on a macro level that have been known on a micro, personal level. As an institutional church, we have been grieving the loss of the once grandiose ideas of parts of our identity. We have come through this and said, "This is who we are" and have been on the road to claim our wholeness and health.

We are now in the 'shame and blame' stage which is a last-ditch effort to get us to deny the fullness and wholeness of our identity. I trust it won't work. We've come too far. We have a much clearer sense of who we are. We are getting greater clarity in terms of what Jesus wants us to do. We need to get on with that mission.

Yes, we need to hold out the hope of reconciliation with our so-called "orthodox" sisters and brothers. Some have left. A few more will follow. We need to keep the porch light on and the key under the mat for them. But, you know and I think would agree that it's really pretty futile to do much more than that.

Yes, we need to hold out the hope of reconciliation with our sisters and brothers in the World Wide Anglican Communion who don't understand our actions and why we won't "conform" to their understanding of the way the love of God in Christ Jesus is made manifest in our time and in our place. Perhaps we will see a resolution or two which speaks to the initiation on our part of an effort to work constructively toward the goal of increasing understanding and awareness and widening the path toward reconciliation.

Yes, we need to work toward reconciliation with our conservative sisters and brothers who still feel the stigma of shame because we have these "weird" sisters and brothers who love "differently" (but, not really, truth be told) than they do. This is where I want to put my greatest efforts, and I think you do, too.

I'm perfectly fine if **** or **** or ***** or **** or any one else does not want to bless the covenant I make with Ms. Conroy, my beloved partner of 32 years (this October 13). I just don't want any of them to stand in the way of any priest (or bishop) who does.

There are services in the BOS to bless all sorts of "things". There are no authorized liturgical rites to bless animals and yet I'll bet even *** and *** and **** and ******* will be blessing lots of four legged and winged and even slippery-slimy creatures on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis. They are not 'required' to perform these blessings, and my guess is they will do it with joy and without anyone standing in protest, trying to bully or shame or blame them for heresy.

Thanks be to God!

Yes, we'll have to discuss, as a church, what we do about the fact that our clergy have functioned as civil magistrates in marriage in those places where same sex marriage is now (or will soon be) legal, but the canons of our church presently forbid them to preside in those services. That's a HUGE piece to reconcile on so many levels, it makes my head spin. And yet, that's precisely where I want to put my energy - where it will make a difference.

The Episcopal Church is Coming Out. We are not going to be bullied back into closets of shame and secrecy and dishonesty.

I am happy to work with you to achieve that goal, which I know you share.

Profligacy wears a Conservative Mask: A cultural parable

The following article appeared in "Daily KOS," which I read almost daily. I reprint it here because I am positively slack-jawed by the parallels between what is happening in our country and what is happening in our church.

The "new Conservatism" as embodied in the Present Occupant is as appealing as the 'new Feminism" as embodied in the Republican candidate for VEEP. The "new Anglicanism" as embodied in the leadership of some of the Global South is as appealing as the "new Episcopal Church" as embodied in the "new evangelical orthodox."

We are in the midst of a real shift in ideology as well as theology. The days of government or religion as "empire" are numbered.

Read it and tell me if you see what I mean.


Former National Review publisher endorses Obama
by kos

Wed Sep 17, 2008 at 01:44:34 PM PDT

Wick Allison, current editor-in-chief of D (Dallas) Magazine:

In 1964, at the age of 16, I organized the Dallas County Youth for Goldwater. My senior thesis at the University of Texas was on the conservative intellectual revival in America. Twenty years later, I was invited by William F. Buckley Jr. to join the board of National Review. I later became its publisher [...]

[T]oday it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt.

Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for dem ocracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

That is, in a nutshell, the conservative argument against Bush/McCain. Elegantly done so, but he's not the first to make this case. But Allison then does something I had yet to see -- make the conservative argument for Obama.

I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as wha t Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a libera l named Barack Obama.

How can Allison claim Obama has a "deeply conservative view of the world"? Because of his definition of "conservatism".

Conservatives are skeptical of abstract theories and utopian schemes, doubtful that government is wiser than its citizens, and always ready to test any political program against actual results.

That's a romanticized definition, no doubt, but one I had embraced in my Republican years. My break with the Right came when 1) it was hijacked by cultural conservatives, attempting to impose their theocratic abstract theories and utopian schemes on society at large, and 2) when that "skepticism" over solutions to our problems manifested as outright hostility to change.

In other words, I'm not afraid to try new solutions to our problems even if those solutions sometimes involve the government. Skepticism is healthy, and a demand for accountability is crucial, but being paralyzed in fear of change does nothing but impede progress.

Modern conservatives have long abandoned Allison's definition. As he states clearly, Republicans are now the party of "abstract theories and utopian schemes". Witness the failure of deregulation currently costing taxpayers tens of billions and financially destroying countless people, or the failure of utopian schemes to "defeat evil" around the world, costing us thousands dead and closing on a trillion taxpayer dollars.

Yet Republicans shrug off the painful lessons and insist on staying the course. The results are irrelevant, their ideology trumps all.

Remember, conservatism can't fail, only people can fail conservatism.

But when you get past ideological blinders, it's clear that modern-day conservatism has utterly failed. If reality-based conservatives want to claim Obama's pragmatism and realism are "conservative", then all the power to them. We should embrace them with open arms.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Who's the elitist?

Skeptical Brotha

My friend, Marcia, tipped me off to this picture and this essay.

I found it deeply, profoundly moving.

It speaks to me of the many layers of hope we need in this country - hope that the personal situations which frame our political perspectives have found an accessible ear, a compassionate soul, a brave heart and an intelligent mind deeply committed to leading us to the change we seek.

This is one snapshot, one important image, one critical, complex perspective of what hope for the future looks like.

Go ahead and read it. Just bring a few tissues.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's not fair!

Painting by Monika Teal

“Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Matthew 20:1-16

Pentecost XIX September 21, 2008
the Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton,
rector and pastor

It’s not fair! I mean, really! It’s totally not fair!

Be honest. As you heard this gospel story read about the laborers in the field, how many of you shook your heads and said, “That’s just not fair!”

If you work for a full day, you should get a full days pay, right? And, if you only work part of the day, your pay should be prorated so that your wages equal the amount of work you have done.

It’s not fair that someone who only worked a couple of hours should get the same pay as someone who labored under the hot sun all day, right?

Not only is it not fair, it’s outrageous! Why, it’s downright un-American! We believe in the rugged individuality of the Marlboro Man (remember him?). We’re a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps kind of people.

But, hey, if someone needs a helping hand, we’re the first on the scene. We are a generous and compassionate people, we Americans. We always respond to disaster-relief efforts.

But THIS . . . this gospel. . . is just Jesus being WAAAAAY off the mark.

It’s just not fair!

I hear you. I hear you because I know you, and I know myself. I’ve gotten a pretty good appreciation for the human condition over the years. I don’t always understand it, but I appreciate its complexity as well as its universality.

There have been times, from time to time, when I see myself in this morning’s story about Jonah. Remember the story? God had sent Jonah to Nineveh – a place where people - 120,000 of them - “didn’t know their right hand from their left, and also many animals” – to preach a word of repentance and conversion.

Jonah didn’t want that assignment, so he fled from Nineveh in the opposite direction to Tarshish and ended up in a shipwreck and found himself in the belly of the whale. By the grace of God, he finally did end up in Nineveh and, to his astonishment, the people headed the warning, and turned from their evil ways. God had a change of heart about the calamity God had promised and did not do it. And, Jonah got very, very angry with God.

Indeed, he was so angry that God didn’t punish the people of Nineveh who had been so disobedient to the word of God for so long (conveniently forgetting his own disobedience), that he stormed out to a place east of the City and sat down to see what God might do to Nineveh.

There he sat, under a bush, which at least gave him some shelter from the hot sun, until a worm infected the bush and it shriveled up and died. That made Jonah so angry, he wanted to die rather than live in this unjust and unfair world. “It’s just not fair!”

Even St. Paul seems to struggle with the dilemma. He is writing this letter to the people of Philippi from a jail cell. Life or death, for him, is a daily question, the answer to which may not necessarily be in his hands. He wonders, as he writes, whether it might be better to simply surrender to death and be with Jesus, or fight like hell for the living to continue to do the work of the Gospel.

I have spoken with many people this week – and overheard many other conversations in the grocery store and on the train – who have felt boxed into a similar situation.

The economic situation is quite alarming – even for the most fiscally conservative people in what they thought to be secure jobs. People are wondering out loud about their future. Their pensions. Their savings. Their investments. One of my brother clergy reported that he had taken all of his substantial investments out of the stock market and the bank.

That old saying by Edmund Burke was never more true, “Desperate people in desperate times do desperate things.” Anxiety can often spill into a sort of miserliness, with the potential to make us all like Scrooge. People clutch even more tightly to what they have – or think they might lose.

Prepare yourselves to hear a lot more people say a lot more often, “That’s not fair!”

And, it isn’t. But, here’s the thing: fair isn’t part of God’s vocabulary. That’s the language of the world. . In a sense, we are all envious of God’s generosity and abundance.

God has another language, one we once spoke and one we will speak once again, when we all get back to Paradise. I don’t know this for certain, of course, but my hunch is that “fair’ won’t be one of the words we’ll use in heaven.

And, you know, that’s the point.

Let me try to explain it this way: When I was a kid, my favorite textbooks were the ones that had the answers in the back. I don’t know if they still make textbooks that way, but I loved it. I also love that you can find the answers to the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. And, even People Magazine provides the answers to their idiot puzzles in the next edition.

No, it’s not because I figured I could cheat. It was because knowing that the answers were somewhere gave me a sense of confidence. I knew, even if I got the answer wrong, that the right answer was somewhere and that, if need be, I could find the right answer myself. It took a great deal of anxiety and frustration out of the exercise of learning.

It gave me confidence.

Confidence. That’s what it takes. That’s the antidote to the toxins that arise when we make that all too human cry, “It’s not fair.” It is a cry from the human condition which has fed too much of the Bread of Anxiety.

And, it's not the kind of confidence that is the parody of the Monty Python movie, "Life of Brian." I'm not whistling, "Always look on the bright side of life," while we hang from our cross.

For the Christian, confidence comes from knowing how the story ends – how all the stories of all our lives will end when we eat the Bread of Life and not the Bread of Anxiety.

You’ve heard me say it before: We are all going to heaven. That’s what this parable is about: It’s not about the fairness of the world, but the glory of heaven. It’s about seeing the present situation in the context of the bigger picture.

We’re all going to get to heaven Those who are wealthy and those who are poor. Those who are beautiful and those who are not so beautiful. Those who are wise and those who have been foolish. Those who are too young and haven’t lived long enough and those who are old and perhaps stayed too long in this life. Because God made us and loves us, each individual one of us, unconditionally and beyond our wildest imaginings.

I understand. That doesn’t change the unfairness of life. Life will often seem hard and unfair. What I have found is that living a gospel-centered life, like having the text book with the answers in the back, gives you a sense of confidence. That confidence will carry you through whatever goes wrong in this life, no matter how unfair it may occasionally – or often – seem to you.

No matter how anxious you are tempted to be, I pray that, because you have seen the ‘big picture’ and know how the story ends, you will face into the situation with the kind of confidence that allows you to display a certain sense of generosity and graciousness and kindness.

Because, you know, generosity and graciousness and kindness are just as infectious as anxiety and anger and resentment.

You can decide to choose how it is you will respond. You can choose to be envious of God’s generosity which will turn you into a miserly Scrooge, or you can choose to embrace God’s generosity to everyone and become more confident of your ultimate destination in life.

Indeed, generosity and graciousness and kindness are often mistaken for someone who is “fair”. And, maybe that’s so in this life. But, those are the qualities of all the angels in heaven. So, you might as well practice them a bit while you’re here – for as long as you’re here – so you’ll know how to behave once you get to heaven.

Or, as St. Paul says, “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ . . . standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.”

No, there’s not a great deal about the present economy that gives us confidence. You still have a choice, however, in terms of how you respond to it. If you face into this present economic crisis with a sense of confidence that, no matter what happens in this life, you’re still going to heaven, your perspective will change.

When the cloud of anxiety lifts from your eyes, you’ll be able to see new things. New opportunities. New ways of saying ‘no’ to the greed that got us into this mess in the first place and ‘yes’ to the confidence and graciousness and generosity that comes from knowing that all things – every thing – is of God. We are just the stewards of this life which God has given us.

And, we know how the story ends.

We’re all going to heaven. Let that give you confidence and set you free from anxiety so that you may turn to practicing generosity and graciousness. Even though that may sound unfair in this life, it’s nonetheless true in the next: We’re all going to heaven.

And, as they say, you can take THAT to the bank.


I want to know why

Apparently, there was a HUGE rally in midtown Anchorage, Alaska recently and none of the major media - audio, visual or print - reported it.

Well, it was Alaska.

And, it was organized by about 90 women and attended by over 1,400 women. Apparently, in Alaska in mid-September, that's HUGE.

And, it was in protest of their Governor's nomination as VEEP.

The story about this is below. You can check it out on SNOPES where there are lots more pictures and even a home video of interviews with some of those in attendance.

I've posted the story from SNOPES below.

So, here's what I want to know: Why?

Why hasn't this been covered in the media? Why hasn't it been on the Nightly News? Where the heck is Geraldo Rivera when you need him? Or the terminally chipper Deborah Norville from "Inside Edition"? Or even that rogue Billy Bush from "Extra"?

I'm sending a copy of this to NBC Nightly News, CNN and the BBC (I can usually trust the Brits to carry this kind of story.)

At this point, I don't care if they televise it or even report on the story. I have every confidence that the women's network in cyberspace will do a good job of circulating this and making this news.

Then, THAT will become news and they'll report on the story of the power of women and that will be even better.

I encourage you to write your favorite local news station, send them a link to the SNOPES article, and ask them why they didn't report on this event.

This event lifts my spirits and gives me hope for the future.

I don't know for certain, of course, but here's what I think: I think the spirit of Lilith, who left Paradise rather than be dominated, is rising.

She is rising so fine.


[The] Alaska Women Reject Palin rally was to be held outside on the lawn in front of the Loussac Library in midtown Anchorage . Home made signs were encouraged, and the idea was to make a statement that Sarah Palin does not speak for all Alaska women, or men. I had no idea what to expect.

The rally was organized by a small group of women, talking over coffee. It made me wonder what other things have started with small groups of women talking over coffee.

It's probably an impressive list. These women hatched the plan, printed up flyers, posted them around town, and sent notices to local media outlets. One of those media outlets was KBYR radio, home of Eddie Burke, a long-time uber-conservative Anchorage talk show host.

Turns out that Eddie Burke not only announced the rally, but called the people who planned to attend the rally 'a bunch of socialist baby-killing maggots,' and read the home phone numbers of the organizers aloud over the air, urging listeners to call and tell them what they thought. The women, of course, received some nasty, harassing and threatening messages.

I felt a bit apprehensive. I'd been disappointed before by the turnout at other rallies. Basically, in Anchorage , if you can get 25 people to show up at an event, it's a success. So, I thought to myself, if we can actually get 100 people there that aren't sent by Eddie Burke, we'll be doing good. A real statement will have been made. I confess, I still had a mental image of 15 demonstrators surr ounded by hundreds of menacing 'socialist baby-killing maggot' haters.

It's a good thing I wasn't tailgating when I saw the crowd in front of the library or I would have ended up in somebody's trunk. When I got there, about 20 minutes early, the line of sign wavers stretched the full length of the library grounds, along the edge of the road, 6 or 7 people deep! I could hardly find a place to park. I nabbed one of the last spots in the library lot, and as I got out of the car and started walking, people seemed to join in from every direction, carrying signs.

Never, have I seen anything like it in my 17 and a half years living in Anchorage . The organizers had someone walk the rally with a counter, and they clicked off well over 1400 people (not including the 90 counter-demonstrators). This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state. I was absolutely stunned. The second most amazing thing is how many people honked and gave the thumbs up as they drove by. And even those that didn't honk looked wide-eyed and awe-struck at the huge crowd that was growing by the minute. This just doesn't happen here.

Then, the infamous Eddie Burke showed up. He tried to talk to the media, and was instantly surrounded by a group of 20 people who started shouting O-BA-MA so loud he couldn't be heard. Then passing cars started honking in a rhythmic pattern of 3, like the Obama chant, while the crowd cheered, hooted and waved their signs high.

So, if you've been doing the math. Yes. The Alaska Women Reject Palin rally was significantly bigger than Palin's rally that got all the national media coverage! So take heart, sit back, and enjoy the photo gallery. Feel free to spread the pictures around to anyone who needs to know that Sarah Palin most definitely does not speak for all Alaskans. The citizens of Alaska , who know her best, have things to say.