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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I think this pretty much sums up where I am tonight, breached on 2009.

May all your dreams for 2009
- and beyond-
come true.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Don't blame me, blame Doug - again!

It is written . . .

I took the afternoon off and went to see "Slumdog Millionaire."

One word: Wow!

Okay, I DO have more to say (but you knew that), but I'm still working it through.

It's not that it's the best story in the world. It's an old story. In fact, it's a couple of old stories: It's a love story. It's a rags-to-riches story. It's the story of two brothers. It's a love triangle. It's a story that grapples with the question of destiny and fate.

It's just that all of these stories are told from the unexpected setting of India. It's because it is told within the context of a game show that is known by many Americans ("So, you want to be a millionaire"), but in an Indian version, that it gives the story an exotic feel that is, at the same time, a perfectly natural setting to be thinking about destiny and love, and the meaning of wealth and the evil of poverty.

It's also one of the best told stories I've seen on the screen. I see a few movies, but I rarely feel compelled to write about them. This one is the exception.

Danny Boyle, the director, is positively brilliant. Authentic. Enormous integrity. He obviously was powerfully moved by his experience of being in India and wanted to be true to the setting of the story.

The movie opens with the image of Jamal Malik, the 'slumdog' who is one question away from winning 20 million rupees, and the question is asked, "How did he do it?"

1. He cheated.

2. He's lucky.

3. He's a genius.

4. It is written.

(I know. The trailer says, 'It is destiny', but that's not what's in the movie.)

When you answer, you have no life line, no 50/50 and no phone call. You have to answer for yourself.

The story is told with the violence and rawness and color that is part of the fabric of India. Some of the scenes are not for the squeamish, of that there is no doubt.

No one walked out of the theater, however, because first of all, the violence is not gratuitous. It is honest and, well, appropriate. And, because that is true, the story is even more compelling.

You find yourself caring deeply about the characters, so you absolutely must know what happens to them - how the story ends - or, at least, how the story continues to unfold. It is fast-paced without being confusing, even with the occasional English subtitles.

In the end, it is his honesty that saves him from being tortured to death. (He is not believed to be telling the truth because he is poor.)

It is the authenticity of his love that drives him to find it and reclaim it (Even though the object of his love, Latika, is hardly "pure", but even she is changed by love.)

It is his poverty that sets him free to take a risk and lose it all. ("Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.")

Of all of the very subtle themes that weave themselves into the delicate intricacy of this story, the one that has been haunting me is the inextricable interconnection of the web of life.

Ultimately, it is everything he has learned in life - through serendipity or formal education - however brief, through gain and loss, pain and joy - that is not only his best education, but the most powerful vehicle of salvation, transformation and the fulfillment of his destiny.

It's a Very Powerful Message.

Plus - and this is Very Big for me right now - it has a Very Happy Ending.

If any of you have seen this movie, I'd love to hear your reactions to it.

Ms. Conroy and I have a dinner date tomorrow night and then off to see the movie "Doubt". Can't wait. What a great way to end 2008 and usher in 2009.

It is written . . . .

The Invocation of an Alternative


An answer to a prayer. . . .as it were.

Quaker Dan and company have a new blog up. It's called "Alternative Invocation" where you will find this message and an invitation to write your own invocation which will be posted on the blog.

After you finish writing to Pastor Warren, please consider writing your own invocation. Some of us will be reading them all while the invocation from the 'not-so-good pastor' is being said.

Here's Quaker Dan's post at "Alternative Invocation."

On January 20, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as our0Anext president. Many of us look forward to this day as a moment of new hope, new direction, and positive change.

Unfortunately, many of us also view this day with mixed feelings. Many Americans are upset with Barack Obama’s decision to have controversial conservative minister Rick Warren deliver the invocation for the inaugural ceremony.

Over the years, Mr. Warren has supported the idea of criminalizing reproductive choice, he has advocated for the assassination of foreign leaders who oppose the policy positions of the American government, and most recently, he gave support to California’s controversial Proposition 8, which outlawed marriage equality for gay and lesbian citizens of that state. He has, in the past, compared gay marriage to incest, child abuse, polygamy, and rape.

As an act of protest against the appearance of Rick Warren at the inauguration, we ask our fellow progressive bloggers that on January 20, 2009, you post your own alternative invocation.

We ask that you post a message of compassion, empathy, tolerance, diversity, and true Christian (or other) love to America. Post a message that stands in opposition to the messages that Rick Warren and those of his particular political persuasion use to divide our country.

If you’re posting, let us know! Send an email or leave a comment, and we’ll add you to the list which will be on our blogroll.

Thanks for your support.


The Episcopal Church in 2009: Time to move on

Note: This article by Drew Haxby from The Nation can be found here. It is an interesting secular perspective of what has been happening in The Episcopal Church. Except for the fact that "the Bishop of Newark" was NOT "put on trial within the church for his ordination of an openly gay priest" - that would have been the Assisting Bishop of Newark, Walter Righter - it is a pretty fair if not one of the most well informed pieces I've seen in the secular press. Let's hope that 2009 will be the year when "The Episcopal Church might finally start to move on."

From your mouth to God's ear, Mr. Haxby. From your mouth to God's ear.

Episcopal Church Splits over Gay Equality
Drew Haxby

In the past five years, the Episcopal Church has found itself pushed to the forefront of the culture wars. After Gene Robinson, an openly gay man with a longterm partner, was elected Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, Anglican bishops from all over the world quickly decried the move. Conservative congregations in the US and Canada left the national churches.

Some aligned themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its outspoken homophobic leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola. On December 3 of this year, these conservatives announced the creation of a new denomination, one that will compete openly with the Episcopalians for congregations and tithes.

While not recognized by the Anglican Communion, the New York Times described this latest move as "the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church," which "threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion."

The Anglican conservatives have argued that the Episcopal Church acted too rashly in its acceptance of gays and lesbians into the leadership of the church. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone of America, called Gene Robinson's election "a slap in the face of the Anglican Church around the world."

Reverend Nyhan of St. James the Just described it as "hubris of Biblical proportions, and that's a polite way of saying diabolical."

But in fact, Robinson's election was less an example of cavalier decision making than the outgrowth of a long and thoughtful debate within the Church. Following a request from the Lambeth Commission, the Episcopalian Church published a 135-page document entitled "To Set Our Hope in Christ," which detailed how the church had come to include homosexuals as equal members of the congregation.

Presenting both a theological and legislative argument for gay and lesbian equality, the document includes a long list of commission findings and carefully worded resolutions stating repeatedly how the Episcopal Church is "not of one mind" on matters of sexuality but is committed to "promot[ing] the continu[ed] use of dialogue."

There's the 1976 Commission on Human Affairs asserting that "homosexual persons are children of God, who have a full and equal claim with all other persons on love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church," or the creation of a moderately liberal guide on sexuality in the 1980s.

One rare moment of drama came in 1995, when the Bishop of Newark was put on trial within the church for his ordination of an openly gay priest. Again, the Episcopal leadership looked to find a middle way: while "not giving an opinion on the morality of same-gender relationships," it refused to convict on the grounds that "there is no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship," and that "the Anglican tradition has encouraged theological diversity."

This glacial move towards equality did not sit well with conservatives within the church, a testament to the inevitable shortcomings of compromise and incrementalism. In 1997 yet another Commission stated in despairing tones: "'Dialogue' has become, for many people, a code word for deadlock," and "Mandated dialogue on human sexuality has run its course."

Unable to convince conservatives within the Church of the basic equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and unwilling to abandon its tradition of plurality and legislative democracy, the Episcopal Church found itself confronted by an irreconcilable crisis despite its many efforts to avoid one.

As Rev. Susan Russell, President of the Episcopalian LGBT group Integrity, put it: "The number of conferences, of consultations, of opportunities for us to come together in different formations, to talk across the divide, meet at round tables, to talk about what unites us instead of what divides us, to find resolutions that have compromised language, that give local options...all of those were never acceptable to the religious ideologues."

And so it is that, among those Episcopalians who've been involved with this conflict, the general attitude is one of frustration.

Rev. Ian Douglas is a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, and is quick to disparage the conservatives' move to bring in the African churches. "I find it fascinating," he said, "that those who claim to be traditionalist, particularly when focused on matters of human sexuality, which I would grant they are, have been drawn to a radical innovation in Anglicanism that contravenes the ancient councils of the church."

In the Anglican Communion (the international confederation of churches that trace their ancestry back to the Church of England) the individual provinces operate more or less autonomously. As Rev. Douglas notes, the conservatives' inclusion of likeminded African churches is in violation of this tradition, a reworking of the most basic structure of the church.

Still, the fact that the conservatives were forced to do this is telling in itself. Roughly 100,000 Anglicans in the United States and Canada have left their respective national churches, less than five percent of the 2.3 million members.

"It's a tiny fraction of the church," said Jim Naughton, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. "Yet it's being played as if the church is splitting."

As many Episcopalians have pointed out, the conservatives did not have the internal backing to overturn Robinson's election--even with the efforts of the African Churches and several fundamentalist lobbies.

Their recent decision to disaffiliate is a last ditch gamble to assert their preeminence in North America.

How it will play out remains to be seen, but in the meantime the Episcopal Church might finally start to move on.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Baptism in Christmastide

A Baptismal Love Letter
I Christmas – December 28, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Garrett and Cooper,

There are moments in the life of a community of faith that are difficult enough to break your heart and there are moments that are sweeter than gospel honey.

The baptism of the two of you boys is one of those very sweet moments for this church. For whatever it’s worth, this is your church home. Your mother’s parents, Fred and Suzy settled in this church when they were newly married.

Your grandfather Fred was very active in this church before his sudden death took him from us about eight years ago. Your fathers moved that memorial statue which was given in his memory into the church last night so we could remember him in our prayers today.

Both of your mothers were baptized and confirmed in this church. Both of your parents were also married in this church. Cooper, your sisters Lindsey and Riley were also baptized here. Lucky me, I got to officiate at the wedding of Garrett’s parents, Meredith and Sean – a memory I will always treasure.

Both of you boys are being baptized into this wonderful family story and church tradition in the midst of the re-telling of the story of the Nativity of Jesus.

The Service of Christmas Lessons and Carols on the first Sunday after Christmas has become a tradition here at St. Paul’s. It’s a little unusual to have Lessons and Carols with Eucharist, but well, we make it work out pretty well, I think.

I can honestly say that I’ve never heard of a service of Lessons and Carols, Baptism and Eucharist before. In fact, it may well be the first of its kind. Imagine! In the midst of all this history and tradition comes that which serves the needs of the people.

And you know what, boys? That’s when the church is at its best. And, you know, that’s not far from the essence of the story of the birth of Jesus.

You’ll learn all of this in church school, boys, but the history of the Jewish people, our religious ancestors, is one where they prayed for a King – but not just any old King. They prayed for a King who would be their savior – a Messiah.

Someone strong and brave and bold like King David who would smite the Roman Occupied Forces and liberate the Jewish people from the oppression and corruption and cruelty of the likes of Caesar and Herod.

That had been the tradition and history of the Jewish people – a strong King who started bloody wars and won by force. But, this time, God had something different in mind. God had another way of freedom – another path toward liberation – to offer.

Into the lives of the people of Israel, through a young girl who was reportedly still a virgin but engaged to be married to a man much older than she, God sent Jesus. Not the strong son of a warrior, but the child who was to be the son of a carpenter.

Not a brave man with a strong arm to wield a sword and cut down the enemy, but one whose hands would take iron to wood to hone and polish it while he himself grew in wisdom and maturity and strength.

God sent Jesus to save the world, but not exactly in the way the world at that time thought it needed to be saved. Their vision was too small. Too short-sighted. God was sending someone for the long haul. Someone to save the world not as everyone now knew it, but the world as it was about to become.

Brute force can only change things in the short term. Long-term change is something that is won through perseverance and persistence. And, a strong foundation.

Jesus is that strong foundation, boys. It is Jesus who changes hearts and minds not through brute strength or cunning deceit. It is Jesus who nurtures and sustains so that you can persevere and persist. It is into a life in Christ that you are being baptized today.

The story of your life will become part of the ongoing story of the Nativity of Jesus and his life will be revealed to others through your life.

Cooper and Garrett, I write these Baptismal Love Letters in the hopes that your mothers will keep them for you so you can read them in preparation for your Confirmation. I hope that you embrace all of the rich history and tradition of the Christian faith into which you have been baptized today.

It is also my prayer that you will take inspiration from this service and make this faith your own, taking all that is good from the legacy of the institutional church and hone and polish it for yourselves, just as Jesus did with the wood in his father’s carpentry shop.

Your job is to become who you truly are – who God intended you to be – in your own unique way. A wise man once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oh, there will be times when in pursuing your goal, you’ll break your parents hearts. Not purposefully, or intentionally, but you’ll do it anyway.

They have dreams for you. All parents do. You have to live the dream God has for you. That’s your job. That’s what your baptism in Christ empowers you to do. That’s what the church – when it’s at its best – enables you to do.

Garrett and Cooper, you have a rich family tradition and the stories of your lives will become part of the story of the life of your family. You are part of the story of this church family now. Indeed, you were even before you were born.

And, the story of your life will become part of the ongoing revelation of the story of Jesus. Every time the story is told.

Every Christmas Pageant in which you play a sheep or a shepherd, a Wise Man or a Star.

Every time you participate in a Service of Lessons and Carols.

And, every time you receive Holy Communion you will be nourished and sustained to live into another chapter in your life in Christ.

Welcome, Garrett and Cooper. Welcome to your part in the story.

It will be such a treat to watch you grow up. I can’t wait to learn what you will teach us – what your lives will reveal to us – about Jesus.

And, when your lives do that, when your lives reveal something else, something more, something new about Jesus, it will be another one of those sweeter-than-gospel-honey moments in the life of this community of faith.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Warren Controversey - It's Still Got Traction!

I was surprised to see this segment on Rachel Maddow's show earlier this week. I'm surprised because I really thought the whole story would be "old news" by now.

I mean, Melissa Etheridge, the soulful guitar-jamming diva of 'The Lesbian Nation', wrote "The Choice is Ours Now" on Huffington Post, asking us to keep our hearts and our minds open about Rick Warren.

That was on December 22nd, when all are hearts were starting to get 'merry and bright.' That ought to have done it, right?

Apparently, not so much.

The comments are still rolling in over at Skeptical Brotha's place. He calls Warren an "assclown."

One of my friends pointed me to a site that's new to me. It's "Kitchen Table," the blog of two amazing African American women, which features conversations with Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University and Dr. Yolanda Pierce, Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Even though they are on Winter Break, they are having a very lively discussion about the Warren Controversy and are taking Mr. Obama to task for a very bad choice.

One of the interesting alternatives they mention is having an "alternative invocation" written and circulating it widely around the Internet to be read by everyone as Warren is delivering his invocation. I've suggested Joan Chittister's "Prayer for Leadership" which I've posted there but you can also find here.

Kevin Eckstrom of RNS (Religion News Service) has an interview with Bishop Gene Robinson on the issue. Bishop Gene was asked:

Q: So let's cut to the chase. What's wrong with Rick Warren offering the invocation at the inauguration?

A: I actually have a lot of respect for Rick Warren; amongst evangelicals, he's taken a hit for his compassionate response to AIDS, his commitment to alleviating poverty. He's done some good things. The difficult thing is that he's said, and continues to affirm, some horrendous things about homosexuality -- comparing it to incest, bestiality, that kind of thing. This is not a choice that really represents everyone. This choice was just really, really unfortunate.

Okay, so I thought, We're really done with this now. They've let the Gay Man have the last word on this. They'll be moving on.

Apparently, not so much.

This morning's New York Times has an op ed piece, You're Likable Enough, Gay People, by Frank Rich.

Here's the "money quote" for me: "Timothy McCarthy, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an unabashed Obama enthusiast who served on his campaign’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council. He responded via e-mail on Christmas Eve.

"After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that “it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.” This means Warren should “recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.”

"McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”

I'm not thinking that BHO will rescind his invitation. And, Warren's ego is waaaayyyy too big for him to decline.

But none of McCarthy's suggested course of action will take place unless we keep the pressure on both Warren and Mr. Obama.

What's fascinating - absolutely fascinating - is how the media is letting the LGBT issue take the lead on the Warren Controversy. That's only one of his heinous theological positions. He's equally odious on the issue of reproductive rights, the status and role of women and assassination as a tool of political expedience in Iran.

That's okay. We could use a little more time in the spotlight if we want to have LGBT marriage taken seriously. The only way we're going to make headway in this uphill battle is to keep the issue front and center.

Hey, if straight people want to take the lead on that for awhile, we should not complain. Indeed, this is a reason to rejoice. A similar thing happened when Caucasian people began to join and then lead the fight against racism.

No oppressed people or people who are the object of prejudice and bigotry should have to bear alone the additional burden of responsibility for social change.

And, yes, I think we should write our own 'alternative invocation' and circulate it widely before the inauguration.

Let's take a page from the Obama Campaign Trail: Be the change you seek.

Somebody give me an "Amen."

And, pass the paper and pencils. We've got more letter writing to do.

UPDATE: This just in from the Chicago Sun Times, "Why Rick Warren hasn't got a prayer." (hat tip to Doug):

"I think we are all entitled to ask and to keep asking every member of the Obama transition team until we receive a satisfactory answer, the following questions:

• • Will Warren be invited to the solemn ceremony of inauguration without being asked to repudiate what he has directly said to deny salvation to Jews?

• • Will he be giving a national invocation without disowning what his mentor once said about civil rights and what his leading supporter says about Mormons?

• • Will the American people be prayed into the next administration, which will be confronted by a possible nuclear Iran and an already nuclear Pakistan, by a half-educated pulpit-pounder raised in the belief that the Armageddon solution is one to be anticipated with positive glee?"

Get your pencils sharpened, kids, and keep asking questions.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

From Accra to Easton: A Cautionary Tale of One Anglican Church

This is a picture of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Easton, MD. Actually, it is an "independent Anglican Church" in what it describes itself as "The Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake" which was organized, I believe, in 2005.

I don't know if it has any connection to an Anglican Province anywhere. Their web page is pretty devoid of those kinds of details.

As you will later read, St. Andrew's was part of the original formation of the Anglican Communion Network and Common Cause Partnership, but there is no information about that on its web site. I'm not sure why that is; it seems curious to me.

It's a pretty little church, isn't it?

Just today, it was put on the Auction Block. It sold for $700,000 against a total mortgage debt of $884,657.

It is important to pause and note the story of this church that begins in high hopes and ends in bankruptcy and homelessness.

It would be easy to follow the "orthodite" (I join "Muthah+" in refusing to call them 'orthodox') tradition and look for "signs and messages from God" in the midst of this very sad situation that support what it is I believe.

I'm not going to do that, and I strongly urge readers to resist that temptation. It's not the way I understand how it is that God works. I think God's got a lot more on God's hands than to be smiting and punishing, much less casting people into the outer darkness of bankruptcy because I happen to disagree with their theology.

Yes, I know what Bishop Duncan has said about how "God is replacing The Episcopal Church". Please also resist the temptation to gloat. Gloating is simply not edifying for anyone's soul.

To quote one of the pastors in one of the articles cited below, "Pastor Unrau said people at churches are sometimes not realistic enough in their thinking. “ ‘Well, maybe God’s just going to make this go away,’ ” he said. “But, actually, we have a responsibility for the situation.”

This is a cautionary tale which demands that we all pay attention.

I really don't like linking to conservative blogs that are highly toxic, but in order to be able to tell this story from my perspective, I'm going to do just that.

It began for me here, with the story of how Robert Ihloff, then Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland (and former rector of Grace, Madison, NJ), had dis-invited Bishop Justice Akrofi of the Province of West Africa, from preaching at the Cathedral in Maryland.

I had met Bishop Akrofi in his office in Accra when I was in Ghana in early January of 2003. He would not license me to preach or preside in his diocese because, he said, it did not allow the ordination of women.

He did, however, extend the invitation to my brother clergy, Phillip Dana Wilson, rector of Redeemer, Morristown, with whom I had made the trip. Phillip, gentleman that he is, graciously declined, saying to the Bishop, "If Elizabeth's priesthood is not honored here, neither is mine."

I later learned from The Rt Revd Daniel Allotey, the Bishop of Cape Coast, just down the road from Accra, that this wasn't exactly true. The Province had, in fact, voted on the ordination of women, but had not yet ordained any women. However, it had always allowed women who had been ordained elsewhere in the Anglican Communion to preach and preside in their churches.

Bishop Allotey then graciously invited me to con-celebrate with him the next day at the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of The Cathedral of Cape Coast (Which is directly across one of the notorious Slave Castles).

Bishop Ihloff had dis-invited Bishop Akrofi from celebrating Palm Sunday Eucharist because he had joined other African bishops in refusing to celebrate Eucharist with Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, allegedly because of her "revisionist ways." I suspect that was secondary to being concerned about the status of her ordination.

That's when I first heard about Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson and the Anglican Diocese of The Chesapeake. I quote from the aforementioned article:

"On hearing the news, The Rt. Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, Bishop of the Diocese of The Chesapeake and rector of St. Andrew Anglican Church in Easton, MD, promptly wrote the African archbishop and invited him to preach and celebrate the Eucharist at St. Andrew, an independent Anglo-Catholic Diocese in Maryland.

"I wrote the archbishop immediately after I read the news about Ihloff's rejection," Bishop Johnson told VOL. He had not heard back from the primate, believing he is on the road back to Accra. "He is most welcome here and we will extend him every courtesy and hospitality."

In his letter to Akrofi, Johnson said, "It is with deepest respect and admiration that I invite you to preach this Palm Sunday, 1 April, 2007, in Saint Andrew Anglican Church in Easton, Maryland, on the beautiful Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay...our arms will be open to welcome you, and to receive the inspiration of your apostolate."

Johnson said he would not comment on Bishop Ilhoff's letter of dis-invitation, but said St. Andrew's and its mission works had struggled faithfully for fifteen years, the Diocese eleven; and that he himself had celebrated the 10th anniversary of his consecration.

"Our work overlaps that of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton, which is among the most revisionist in The Episcopal Church, and which has openly attacked us. Though we are not part of The Episcopal Church, we are co-religionists with our brethren of the Anglican Communion Network and its Common Cause organization. We marched together at the opening Eucharist at its conference in Pittsburgh in November, 2005, where with you and your colleague Primates I was honored to assist with the ministration of the Holy Communion to that massive congregation."

Johnson said he hoped the archbishop would also consider conducting a quiet day retreat on the same Tuesday in Holy Week. "Our people here have ears to hear, and eager spiritual appetites."

I don't know if Bishop Akrofi was able to accept the invitation. I can find no story that follows up on that initial report.

That article was publish on February 24, 2007.

Now comes this article dated December 27 from The Wall Street Journal

In Hard Times, Houses of God Turn to Chapter 11 in Book of Bankruptcy
Strapped Churches Can't Pay the Mortgage After Borrowing Binge;
St. Andrew at Auction


EASTON, Md. -- The auctioneer told the small crowd huddled outside the Talbot County Courthouse that the property would be sold "as is" -- rectory, bell tower, oak pews and rose-tinted stained glass windows included.

"Who gives $700,000, 700, 700?" he called out. One man, a representative for a local bank, raised his finger. The auctioneer tried in vain to nudge the price up. "Sold!" he cried. St. Andrew Anglican Church had just been bought by the bank that had started foreclosure proceedings against it.

"It's probably good for my soul to be taken down a notch," said the Right Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, the rector of St. Andrew, after the auction.

The church was, apparently, originally Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, St. Andrew's Church had problems with mice in the undercroft and bats in the belfry, along with creeping black mold in the church which was costly to get rid of.

The church had also counted on drawing from the Hispanic population it served, but lost that demographic when the local Roman Catholic church began offering masses in Spanish.

Then, there's this story from The New York Times.

St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Easton, Md., exemplifies the optimistic assumptions that fed church lending. St. Andrew’s had only 35 members in 2005 when it moved from a rented storefront to a Gothic revival-style chapel built in 1866. The building cost $795,000, but the church borrowed $50,000 from one lender and $850,000 from the Talbot Bank of Easton, according to W. David Morse, a vice president of the bank.

The church hoped its congregation would expand at a time when some Episcopalians were leaving their churches to join Anglican parishes. But by early this year, St. Andrew’s had not grown much and had fallen behind on its mortgage. By August, as interest racked up, it owed Talbot Bank $884,657.

At auction this month, Talbot took possession of the church for $700,000, giving the congregation weeks to move out unless the auction is contested."

This is a very sad story which I reproduce here to urge us all to pray for our sisters and brothers at St. Andrew's Anglican Church, the bishop and the staff, the wardens, vestry and people of that church.

Pray for all churches which have been newly planted in the hope of growth in the Lord which have fallen on hard financial times.

Pray for all churches which have undertaken capitol fund drives in the past year which are now struggling to close the gap on what was pledged and what was budgeted.

This is me, breathing deep sighs of relief that we decided to postpone our capitol fund drive for a year. I confess that my ego really, really wanted to raise tons of money and build up the church. There but for the grace of God . . . which sometimes comes in the guise of wise financial counsel . . . go many of us.

Pray for the World Wide Anglican Communion.

Pray for The Episcopal Church.

Pray for God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Note: A special thanks to a "sister angel" who helped me connect the dots on this story. You are the BEST.


We haven't gotten much sleep around here the past few days.

Ms. Conroy, in addition to being an RN, is a nationally certified EMT. She's also a nationally certified AIDS Nurse, Hospice Nurse and Gerontology Nurse.

It's not easy living in a house with two over-achievers. Just ask any of our kids.

"The Squad" has been very busy - mostly people slipping on ice and breaking ankles or legs. A few very bad cases of asthma and one cardiac episode on Christmas Day.

That last one was a parishioner of mine. I went directly from the Christmas Service to the hospital ER to see him. He had dropped off his wife to pick up his medicine at the pharmacy at 10 AM and was due to circle back and come to join her for the rest of the service.

He never made it. The next thing we knew, a Chatham police officer was at the receiving line in Church, asking for his wife. One of the parishioners and his wife drove her to the hospital and I followed as soon as I closed up shop.

He's going to be okay, but it was very frightening. A cardiac episode is frightening on a good day, but there was something terrifying about the way it all unfolded on Christmas Day.

You know, the one day when there's supposed to be "Peace on earth." You open your heart to the possibility and live in the luxury of that idea for a few moments and then when danger strikes it lands like a sucker-punch to your soul.

We've also had two house fires in two days. The first was an apartment building where 16 families lived. The house burned right down to the ground. Thank God, no one was seriously hurt and no one lost their lives. But, they lost everything else.

Ms. Conroy was out until 3:30 AM for that one.

The Red Cross has been amazing. Simply amazing. They do everything and what they can't do, they coordinate with local agencies to get done. Many of them are volunteers. I think what they do is ministry. Very Important Ministry.

One of the Red Cross workers is a member of my congregation. Bill is incredible. There was a house fire in nearby Summit just a few weeks ago. Thirty-three people living in a building with two apartments. They were immigrants - day workers and their wives, children and other assorted relatives - living in a building owned by a Vietnamese man who was most uncooperative in terms of helping to do the basic things required of property owners when there's a fire.

You know - like boarding up the windows so there's no looting. Like helping to find alternative temporary living. For him, this was about business. Hard. Cold. Bill was outraged, of course. I wish you could have seen the Irish flare in his eyes whenever he spoke of the landlord.

He said to me, just the other day, "I never want to look into another person's eyes and have to say, 'Your home is gone. You can't go back in there.' It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do."

Ms. Conroy is out right now on another call. Another house fire in Chatham not far from where we live. I could hear the sirens of the fire trucks, police car and EMT squad cars wailing as I began to write this.

I don't know how bad it is. Hopefully, no one will be seriously hurt. I'm trying to stay calm and centered in prayer for them, but I may have to put on my hat and coat and go down there myself. It's so much easier to pray with someone than sit here and pray for them. I am, alas, not as strong as I'd like to think I am.

As you pray on this day of the Holy Innocents, please join me in holy prayer for those innocents who have lost their homes.

Pray also for the firefighters, EMTs and other first responders.

Whenever I do an Instructed Eucharist, I always teach about "Representative Presence." We stand at the altar - priest, deacon, Eucharistic minister, acolyte - to represent at The Table of Christ Jesus those in the pews and those who are not able to be with us in church.

Together, we join those saints who have gone before us and those who are yet to come in celebrating Christ's presence among us always and everywhere.

I believe that the church is present through the 'first responders' - the Bills and the Ms. Conroys - who are nourished at Christ's table for the work they are doing. They represent us in times of crisis and tragedy because we can't all be there.

The church is there because they are.

Pray for the church.

UPDATE: First: No one was hurt. Second: Looks like the living room and the room above it will need to be gutted and replaced, but the rest of the house is okay. They will have make sure the electrician etc, check it and they will have to secure the back end of the house from the elements, but they will be able to move back it.

Thanks for your prayers.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas, Dale Evans!

Note: This is "mostly" the sermon I preached on Christmas Day at the 10 AM Service. It was what I intended to say, anyway. I have no idea what I actually said because I preached it from the center aisle without notes and from a 'prepared heart.'

A Sermon on the Nativity of our Lord - December 25, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

This year, my goal was to have every Christmas present wrapped before this service began. That meant, of course, that I had to get all my Christmas shopping done by Sunday evening.

I met both my goals, but I watched a lot of commercial television in the process - it was just mindless "background" noise to keep me company as I wrapped presents.

I rarely watch commercial television - oh, for 'Law and Order' and 'ER' on Thursday nights. I do catch the local weather if there's a storm coming or a local tragedy, but for the most part, I get my news from BBC and CNN.

I guess they don't call it 'commercial television' for nothing. There are LOTS of commercials on commercial television. Lots. TONS.

And, the interesting part is that they keep playing the same two or three in a ten minute period. You'd have to be an idiot not to get the message. Which, I guess is the point, right?

The commercial for one luxury car is quite clever. There's a male and female version. The male involves his memory of getting a Hot Wheel for Christmas which was "The Best Christmas Present Ever," which morphs into his getting this luxury car for Christmas.

The one for the woman is an interesting stereotype: She remembers getting a pony and screaming with delight so long and so loud that the next door neighbors come running over. The Best Christmas Present Ever is not only the pony, but the envy on her friend's face as she realizes she got a pony for Christmas. Fast forward to Christmas morning with her imagining how her girlfriends are going to be green with envy when they see her new luxury car.

That inspired my own Christmas memory.

I didn't envy Dale Evans. I was in love with Dale Evans.

I wanted to be Dale Evans. Dale Evans was a girl and yet she could do everything a boy could do. She could ride a horse - her horse, Buttermilk (I can't believe I actually remember that) - and not side-saddle, either. She could shoot a gun from her holster just as fast as a boy could. She was smart and she could get the bad guys.

She could also cook and be a good wife to her husband, Roy Rogers. She didn't even have his name. She had her very own name, her very own identity, thank you very much, and yet it was clear that she loved Roy and loved being a woman - soft spoken yet very strong. She was the prototype of the 'feminist' of the 70's and 80's.

I wanted to be just like Dale Evans.

So, when my parents bought me a Dale Evans outfit for Christmas, well, I was over the moon! It had a skirt and vest with real fringe, and a cowboy girl shirt, and a ten-gallon hat and yes, a gun and a holster.

When I put that outfit on, I WAS Dale Evans. At least, in my imagination.

It wasn't until April or May, however, when the weather started to get nice again, that I ventured out to play one Saturday morning dressed as Dale Evans. The reaction was interesting. Most of the girls thought it was really cool and they wanted one, too. That's a good kind of envy - you know, the kind that is the best compliment.

It was Maureen, one of the more affluent kids in the neighborhood, however, whose reaction surprised me. It was envy - raw and green. If she could have ripped that outfit off me, she would have and left me standing there naked and humiliated.

Maureen didn't talk to me for weeks and I didn't understand why. I mean, if she wanted her own Dale Evans outfit, all she had to do was ask her parents and they would have gone right out and gotten it for her that very day.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I began to understand.

Laura, our financial coordinator said to me, "You know, I saw you in your little VW bug convertible the other day. You had the top down, the radio up and you were singing your lungs out."

I laughed and said something like, "I know. I'm probably an embarrassment to the church, right?"

"No, actually," she said thoughtfully, "we hate you. It's not that we hate you because you have a VW Bug convertible. We could afford to have our own if we wanted one."

"We hate you," she said, "because it's so clear that you absolutely LOVE that convertible bug. We hate you because you can be so happy with so little."

I learned something then, about envy. The destructive part of envy is when we want to take away that which makes other people happy. It's not the things they have that we want, necessarily. We want their happiness.

Real envy, I've come to understand, flows from a very unhappy heart. It is the bitter fruit of discontent and insecurity. It's not so much a sentiment that says, "If I'm not happy, you can't be happy either." It's more, "Maybe if I have what you have, I can be happy, too. But, I can be the only one to have this, so I must take it away from you."

Which brings me to the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem this morning. There is no greater happiness than being who you are and doing what it is God has called you to do. "Things" don't - can't - do that for you.

Even the dumb sheep and the lowly shepherds recognized the miracle of birth when they saw it. The story of the Three Wise Men reminds us that they were wise because they recognized and celebrated the birth of the newborn king and didn't try to ruin the beauty and gift of the moment for this new family.

There would be other kings who would become consumed with the insecurity which envy brings and try to take away the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for others.

But right now, in this moment in the Story of the Life of Jesus, there is no envy. There is no greed. There is no avarice. There is only the newborn miracle of divine, heavenly bliss.

There is nothing under your tree that will bring you that kind of happiness. It's what's around your tree, the family and friends in your home that will bring you that kind of bliss.

I hope you go home after this service and enjoy the real presents in the presence of those whom you love. For, that's what Christmas is all about.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Merry Christmas, Dale Evans. Thanks for the memory and the lessons you taught me.

It's pretty amazing, isn't it, what deep thoughts you can get from the mindless activity of wrapping presents and watching commercial television?

Everything has a hidden gift. If you keep your heart as open as a child, everything holds the potential to connect us to the possibility of a miracle.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.”

Note: Christmas at St. Paul's was simply amazing this year. The 5 PM service was filled despite the sloppy slushy cold rain outside. It was so wet outside that couldn't even put up the luminaries - which is a HUGE custom in Chatham.

Oh well! The sermon consisted of my sitting on the chancel steps with the kiddos and retelling the Christmas story as we put together the creche. No great lines this year, but one kid decided that, if he were going to be any character in that scene in Bethlehem, he was guessing it would be good to be one of the Kings. I have a friend who says that preaching a children's sermon is like "being thrown into a bucket of live bait." He's absolutely right.

The 11 PM turnout was surprisingly good - again, despite the weather - probably because the word is out that the music program is nothing less than spectacular. What a GREAT organist/choir director we now have! There's something really magnificent about singing all those wonderful old Christmas hymns with timpani and brass.

I'm going to try to reconstruct this morning's sermon, which was done without notes. I preached "from a prepared heart" - not something I do often, because it's so difficult. But, the service on The Feast of the Nativity is 'just the family' - less than 50-70 people who simply couldn't be anyplace else on Christmas morning than in church and with each other. I have my notes. I'll put them together later

For now, here's last night's sermon:

“I am bringing you good news of great joy.” Luke 2:1-14
The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord – December 24, 2008 - 11 PM
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

It is always wonderful to be here with you on Christmas Eve – the eve of the nativity of Jesus. This is the night when the Light of God will shine into every dark corner of the world, bringing the promise of hope and joy and peace.

There are some pretty dark corners in our world – places of hunger, famine, war, and disaster. Some of us have felt backed into some dark corners – places of anxiety, fear, illness, death, and loss.

But tonight, tonight the Light shines into the gloom of our doubts and fears. Tonight, we are filled with hope that war will cease, that no child will go to bed this night hungry or thirsty, and that avarice and arrogance will be transformed into compassion and selflessness.

Tonight we suspend all reason, put aside our skepticism, and enter into myth and miracle.
Tonight, everyone is young again as we nestle ourselves into the very lap of God; and, as we sing familiar hymns and listen to ancient scripture, we find that we have entered once again into the story of the Nativity of our Lord.

The thing of it is, you know, is that it is not a very pretty story. The world was a very dark place, filled with the same doubts and fears, the same wars and rumors of wars, the same avarice and corruption.

“In those days,” begins Luke’s gospel, “a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” You understand that this wasn’t for the purpose of gathering demographics for social-political analysis. The registration was being done so that Augustus could know if his empire was growing and, oh yes, to collect more taxes.

You understand that a census-taker didn’t come and knock on your door. This meant that someone like Joseph, “went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.” You also understand, of course, that Joseph could not buy a ticket on the Acela and make the journey in the business class comfort of Amtrak. This was a several-days journey, which was made on foot. Oh, but he had to take Mary, who was to be his bride, so they did have a donkey. Oh, and she was expecting a child. Any day.

In fact, the story is told that shortly after they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth but since there was no room anywhere because everyone was in the city for The Registration, she delivered her child in a manger which had been built for oxen and sheep.

“I am bringing you good news of great joy,” announced the angel to the shepherds. On one level, it makes no sense, absolutely no sense at all, that this should be a story of hope. On the surface, there seems to be no reason to join our voices with the angels and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace and goodwill on the earth.”

And yet, we hear the story and we are become as little children – trusting, believing, hoping beyond hope that it might be true. That miracles do happen. That a miracle might happen in our very lives.

Well, here is the good news of great joy: Miracles do happen. Every day. In your life. Little miracles happen like little bubbles of oxygen which move invisibly and unnoticed through our lives and keep hope alive.

Here’s just one example: I don’t know about you, but it’s at about this point in the year when I need to be reminded of those little miracles. I begin to go into melt-down, secondary to sensory overload. I sometimes find myself in a bit of an identity crisis and I forget who I am. Am I a mother and grandmother? A priest and a preacher? A liturgical coordinator? A social worker?

These days I am all these things. I become the things I do not necessarily who I really am. Sound familiar to anyone here?

But then, something will happen in the midst of all the insanity and a little miracle will break into my life. It happened just this morning.

A priest from an inner city parish called and requested some assistance for a family in his congregation. They are Haitian immigrants. Mom and dad both work as personal care attendants. They have three children - an 18 month old, a 3 year old and a 6 year old.

When I asked him what they needed, he said, "Furniture."

"Yes, well, I understand," I said, remembering my time in the city, "but this is for the children. We can work on the furniture later, but right now, let's work on Christmas for the kiddos."

Again came a long silence. "They don't have beds," he said softly. "The baby doesn't have a crib. The boys sleep on newspapers that have been crumpled up to cushion them from the floor, covered over by a sheet."

"And food," he said, "they could use some food because most of their income goes to pay for the rent and transportation costs to get them to and from work."

Oh, God, I thought. Oh, God.

"Look," I said, trying to regain my focus. "Let me do this: I'll give you some gift certificates to Shop Rite so they can get their own food, and I'll leave a check for you and you can do with it what they want. If buying beds for the boys and a crib for the baby will make them happy, then that will be Christmas enough."
That is against all my guidelines about ‘charitable giving’. It’s about relationships, I say. It’s about ministry, I preach. But, what to do when there’s no time and the need is so great? Charity is the least we can do in the face of the impossible demands of poverty.

I know what he's going to do. He's going to get some beds and bedding for the kids. I understand. So, I called a friend to helps to coordinate a local "Toys for Tots". He’s a great bear of a guy with a HUGE heart.

I got him to set aside three presents for the kiddos. He called earlier this morning. He was going to deliver them himself to that inner city church around 10 AM.

Food, toys and a place for these little babies to lay their sweet heads away in a shabby inner city tenement apartment owned by a heartless man who lives in Brooklyn.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. When we do things for the least of these, we do them for you.

I hung up the phone and went back to my own personal 'to do' lists. I started the Baked Ziti for tonight and began to marinate the meat for tomorrow. I made a chocolate cream pie and finished this sermon (one of five I will have written in less than a week's time).

Somewhere in the midst of it all, a miracle happened. I remembered my true identity: I am a child of God, a new creation in Christ Jesus, born again by the power of the Spirit in the humility of the ministry God sends me.

This happens every year. I lose myself and find my true self again as I kneel before the newborn Jesus I see in others. I am all those things that define me and some things I have yet to discover about myself.

I know my true identity will unfold and be revealed to me in the midst of the frenetic pace of the holiday, but it is always a surprise and a miracle when it happens.

It's not so much about what we get, but what we can give.

It's the paradox of Christmas: It's not about you, but it can't happen without you.

It's about the incredible privilege of having God working through us, flawed and faulted as we are. It's not about us, but it is in knowing that it can't happen without us.

We are, each one of us, God's Christmas present to the world. We are just waiting to be unwrapped with the great joy of the miracle of life to discover the true humility which can bring lasting peace to the world.

It's the most amazing gift of Christmas.

You are. I am. Because Jesus is.

I think the Nativity Story brings us hope because intuitively, we know that hope is an impossibility wrapped as an unexpected gift.

The gift of hope, when it is true, humbles us and stirs gratitude deep within our heart.

Hope leads us to dream, to think beyond that which is possible or our carefully constructed guidelines and rules.

Hope inspires us to reach into the darkness of the improbable, searching the heavens to follow a star, that we might find the miracle of The Light that makes all things possible.

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” “Glory to God in the highest, and peace and goodwill on the earth.”

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Merry Christmas.

May the Babe of Bethlehem bring you Joy,
May the Youth of Nazareth bring you Hope,
May the Man of Galilee bring you Strength,
May the Risen Lord of Jerusalem bring you Love,
And the Blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Be amongst you and remain with you always. AMEN!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Annual Identity Crisis

I've been in a bit of a melt-down mode.

Not to worry. It happens every time about this year.

See, it's like this: I'm not sure who I am, or even who I'm supposed to be at this point in the 'holiday festivities'.

I suspect it may be happening to you, too.

Am I a mom who is scurrying around, tending to the gift wrapping and the meal preparation for her beloved children and family?

Am I a priest who is tending to the pastoral needs of the people God has sent her to care for, love and serve?

Am I an activist, writing letters to arrogant evangelical pastors, railing against injustice?

Am I a preacher, struggling to be certain that the words I preach to a church half-filled with people I've never met before or only see once or twice a year will hear the "good news of great joy" that unto us a child is born?

Am I a liturgical coordinator, walking around with my 'to do list': Service bulletins in baskets? Check. Candle tapers? Check. Someone to dim the lights at the end of the service when we sing, "Silent Night"? Check.

Am I a social worker, listening to stories of tragedy and loss, and trying to find the resources so that the children of 'the working poor' - right here in Chatham - and those of desperate poverty in the inner cities which are less than 10 or 12 miles from this veritable lap of luxury, know something of the wonder and miracle of Christmas?

Yesterday, one of the grandmothers of one of the families came to pick up the Christmas presents we had assembled for her son and grandsons, age three, six and eight. Her son has been out of work for the past three months. A single parent, he lost his apartment about six weeks ago and moved in with her.

There is good news: A blue-collar worker, he found himself another job in a factory which begins on New Year's Day. When I asked him what he needed for himself, he said, "Nothing. Really. If my boys are happy, I'm happy."

I pressed him a bit further and he finally admitted that he didn't have a pair of good work boots. "What size?" I asked. He hesitated before answering, "Nine."

Done. I also included $100 worth of Shop Rite gift cards so he and his family might enjoy a good holiday meal.

His mother called me last night. "When I picked up the gifts, I think I might have been a little rude and I want to apologize and explain," she said.

"My son didn't want to pick up the presents. He's a proud man and this embarrassed him. But, the last thing I needed to do was to come over here and pick up presents, you know?. But, I'm a mom," she sighed. "I think you might understand."

"Yes," I said softly, "but you don't have to apologize, honest."

"Oh, yes I do," she insisted. "I was a little annoyed at my son until I saw all the presents, and then . . .," she sniffled, "I was just overwhelmed."

"I don't think these boys have ever had a Christmas like this," she cried. "Ever."

There was a long silence and then she whispered through the knot of emotion that had caught in her throat, "Thank you. Thank you so much."

I had no sooner recovered from that call when another call came in. A priest from an inner city parish who had requested some assistance for a family in his congregation.

They are Haitian immigrants. Mom and dad both work as personal care attendants. They have three children - an 18 month old, a 3 year old and a 6 year old.

When I asked him what they needed, he said, "Furniture."

"Yes, well, I understand," I said, remembering my time in the city, "but this is for the children. We can work on the furniture later, but right now, let's work on Christmas for the kiddos."

Again came a long silence. "They don't have beds," he said softly. "The baby doesn't have a crib. The boys sleep on newspapers that have been crumpled up to cushion them from the floor, covered over by a sheet."

"And food," he said, "they could use some food because most of their income goes to pay for the rent and transportation costs to get them to and from work."

Oh, God, I thought. Oh, God.

"Look," I said, trying to regain my focus. "Let me do this: I'll give you some gift certificates to Shop Rite so they can get their own food, and I'll leave a check for you and you can do with it what they want. If buying beds for the boys and a crib for the baby will make them happy, then that will be Christmas enough."

I know what he's going to do. He's going to get some beds and bedding for the kids. I understand. So, I called a friend to helps to coordinate a local "Toys for Tots" and got him to set aside three presents for the kiddos.

He called earlier this morning. He's going to deliver them to the church himself around 10 AM.

Food, toys and a place for these little babies to lay their sweet heads away in a shabby inner city tenement apartment owned by a heartless man who lives in Brooklyn.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. When we do things for the least of these, we do them for you.

So now it's back to my own personal 'to do' lists. I'm going to start the Baked Ziti for tonight and begin to marinate the meat for tomorrow. I've got a chocolate cream pie to make and tonight's sermon to finish (one of five I will have written in less than a week's time).

Somewhere in the midst of it all, a miracle will happen. I will remember my true identity: I am a child of God, a new creation in Christ Jesus, born again by the power of the Spirit in the humility of the ministry God sends me.

This happens every year. I lose myself and find my true self again as I kneel before the newborn Jesus I see in others. I am all those things that define me and some things I have yet to discover about myself.

I know my true identity will unfold and be revealed to me in the midst of the frenetic pace of the holiday, but it is always a surprise and a miracle when it happens.

It's not so much about what we get, but what we can give.

It's the paradox of Christmas: It's not about you, but it can't happen without you.

It's about the incredible privilege of having God working through us, flawed and faulted as we are. It's not about us, but it is in knowing that it can't happen without us.

We are, each one of us, God's Christmas present to the world. We are just waiting to be unwrapped and discovered with the great joy of the miracle of life and the true humility which can bring lasting peace to the world.

It's the most amazing gift of Christmas.

You are. I am. Because Jesus is.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ask and ye shall receive . . .

. . . . Or, good things really do come to those who wait.

Baldwin named honorary co-chairwoman for Obama's inauguration
State Journal staff
(Note: Hat tip to Ann for the lead)

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly lesbian member of Congress, has been named an honorary co-chairwoman of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration — days after Obama announced evangelical pastor Rick Warren, who supported California's ban on gay marriage, would give the inaugural invocation.

Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman for the inauguration, said she couldn't say whether criticism from gay rights groups over the Warren announcement contributed to the selection of Baldwin. But she said the co-chairs were picked based on "their service and what they've done for their country."

Jerilyn Goodman, a spokeswoman for Baldwin, said the Madison Democrat was asked to co-chair the inaugural "a few weeks ago," before the Warren controversy erupted.

Goodman said Baldwin would have no comment on Obama's pick of Warren to lead the invocation.

Baldwin is among 16 co-chairs, who include former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter along with relatives of Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

In a statement, Baldwin said: "It's a great honor to be named an honorary co-chair of the presidential inauguration. Every inauguration holds special significance, but the swearing-in of Barack Obama as president marks a turning point in American history."

During the Democratic primary, Baldwin endorsed Obama's rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

She later served as a co-chairwoman of a steering committee on gay and lesbian issues for Obama's general election campaign.

"We're very excited to have Wisconsin represented in this way," Mesloh said. She said Baldwin will "play an important role" on Inauguration Day, but specifics have not been worked out yet.

Rick Warren: Part Deux

Well, I went back the the Saddleback Web Page and, to my amazement, tons of stuff have been taken down. Like, what they believe about homosexuality, marriage, abortion, etc.

Even one of the videos which always popped up when you googled his name is gone.

There may be lots of reasons for this, and not all of them are good or noble, but I'm willing to entertain the notion that bigotry and prejudice never hold up well under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

It may also be true that there is a method in what appears to be the madness of Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

I'm thinking he and his advisers are thinking, "Hey, you thought Jeremiah Wright was bad. Take a look at this good ole White boy."

Eating crow is never tasty. Eating the LGBT equivalent to 'Jim Crow' segregation has to go down sideways. Denying civil rights is, well, denying civil rights. And, it is undeniable that LGBT people are being denied our civil right to marriage. Why else would you need to change the constitution?

Pastor Warren has, apparently, recently met with Melissa Ethridge which left the poor woman gushing and hopeful. She wrote about it at Huffington Post entitled "The Choice is Ours Now." (Hat tip to David of Montreal for sending it to me.)

Here's how she ends her essay:

"When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket.

But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.

I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families."

Okay, Melissa, you are a dreamer. Nothing wrong with that. If we cease to dream, we live without hope and life without hope is, well, life as we have known it for the past eight years.

And, goodness knows, we could all do a lot more to help bring hope into the world - to be vehicles of hope in action.

The global pandemic of HIV/AIDS is one good example. Melissa's right: a much better protest than an angry vigil around his house would be for 'the great homosexual unwashed' to show up at one of his ministries and volunteer to work.

And no, I don't think Rick Warren has experienced a personal transformation.

I'm betting that he still wants that for you, however. I have not doubt, that he is already thinking the same hopeful thoughts about Melissa as she is thinking about him.

(It's fascinating to me but while many evangelical (and non evangelical) heterosexual, white men of privilege find themselves repulsed by gay men of any color, they are positively fascinated by lesbians. I guess it's the old thing of wanting most what you can not have.)

Even so, I think Rick Warren is at least beginning to change the way he is perceived publicly. Or, at least, wanting to change his public persona.

If he can do that, well, it might not exactly be a chink in the old Evangelical armor, but it might move him to find other ways of thinking and being.

Clearly, he wants to be on "Team Obama."

It will be interesting to see how much of his social-religious capital he's willing to spend for his time in the political spotlight.

It will be even more interesting to see what sitting at the table with LGBT people, breaking bread with us, getting to know our families, understanding the normality of our lives, will do to soften his heart.

It just might change his mind. Eventually.

Okay, I don't trust him completely. I trust that creating a climate of change can, actually, change things.

There used to be a popular song by Destiny's Child which went, "Free your mind and the rest will follow." That may be true, but I think it was Vaclav Havel who said that "the transformation of the world begins with the transformation of the human heart."

One human heart at a time. Rick Warren's heart is a good enough place to start.

This nation is dedicated to the idea of a 'more perfect union'.

Not perfect.

'More perfect.'

We are perfected in the doing. One day at a time. One person at a time. One human heart at a time.

Let's do it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

An Open Letter to Pastor Rick Warren

Dear Pastor Warren,

Congratulation, I suppose, are in order on the occasion of your having been invited to deliver the invocation at the historic inauguration of President Elect Obama.

You will excuse me if I don’t stand and cheer.

Like you, I share the privilege of being a pastor. I know that, as pastors, we cannot be ‘all things to all people’. Many people have expectations for us that even Jesus himself couldn’t meet. We are God-representatives. We are not God. Alas, we are very, very human. And, therein lies the rub.

So, let me begin with the first sentence in your book, “A Purpose Driven Life.”

“It’s not about you.”

I take comfort in that sentence whenever I think about your invocation at that historic inauguration. You are the representative of one of the largest religious groups in America. I suppose, then, it is fitting that you should lead us in prayer on what e e cummings must have had in mind when he wrote the words ‘most this amazing day’.

I thank God, however, that it’s not about you.

I heard you laugh when Ann Curry asked if you were ‘homophobic’. And, you were right to do so. Being opposed to marriage for LGBT people does not necessarily make you homophobic.

It does, however, make you heterosexist.

Heterosexism is a social disease, the root cause of which is straight, white male privilege. It is the assumption that the ‘normal’ societal paradigm for marriage and family is male-female which has its basis in the ‘family values’ of scripture.

That is a decidedly false assumption. The biblical family was hardly male and female with 2.5 children. Polygamy was the norm, and the ‘family’ included slaves, male and female, adult and child. Furthermore, miracles aside, by ancient and modern cultural standards Mary was an unwed teen and Jesus was an illegitimate child.

But we know that scripture doesn’t tell the full story. John’s Gospel ends with these words, “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25).

Jesus himself said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

Gracie Allen, one of my favorite saints, is reported to have said, “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

Or, to quote the opening sentence of your book, “It’s not about you.”

You would be wrong, however, to think that you are not homophobic. Your ministry with people with AIDS is deeply commendable. Admirable, in fact. But to respond to the accusation of homophobia with the defense of your AIDS ministry is to find you guilty as charged, even though you probably would not be convicted by a jury of your Saddleback peers.

AIDS does not equal Gay. Hasn’t for a very long time, if it ever did. AIDS is now a pandemic, thanks, in part, to the homophobia fueled by the Religious Right which prevented earlier, more aggressive research and inhibited intervention.

To provide pastoral care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people only when we are dying - or to care for them only if they adhere to your demand for celibacy - is prima facia evidence of homophobia and therefore, pastor, not very pastoral. Although, I suppose, better late than never.

I thank God the inaugural invocation is not about you.

You have compared abortion to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a most heinous form of ethnic cleansing, aimed at eliminating the entire Jewish race from the face of the earth. Abortion is, perhaps, the most impossibly difficult, personal decision a woman will ever make in her life about her body, her life, her present, her future.

The Holocaust was - and is - an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

Abortion is not; at least, not according to either Moses or Jesus. Neither did these two great prophets say a word about homosexuality. I checked. You might want to check, too.

Funny how some people pick and choose among the Levitical codes. For example, while your ‘reverse tithe’ is commendable, even it is not scriptural. Indeed, it is an in-your-face defiance of a venerable scriptural norm which is very clear about returning 10% of all that we have been graciously given to the Lord.

The only contrary statement to that standard is from the lips of Jesus who instructed the rich young man to “sell everything and give to the poor.”

That would be everything. As in 100%, not 90%.

I’m just sayin’ . . . .

It's not about you and what you want, no matter how noble or how good it makes you look. It's about what God wants - and God's desire for us is a very personal thing, something which is worked out between the individual and God, with the counsel of a wise and earnest priest and in community.

As Bishop Jack Spong once said, "Literalism in any form is little more than pious hysteria."

Indeed, were you to take scripture literally, you would be compelled to pick up a rock and stone me to my death. For, while I am enormously privileged to have been ordained an Episcopal Priest for almost 23 years, I have also been in a faithful, monogamous, life-long, loving relationship with another woman since 1976.

We have raised six children to adulthood, and are now grandparents to five beautiful children who are growing up in a country which is moving on, thanks be to God, from judging a person by the color of their skin – or their age, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability or economic status – and more by the content of their character.

To wit, the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President of these United States.

In the end, I take great comfort in the fact that this inaugural invocation is not about you. It’s about the invocation of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

It’s about the invocation of the spirit of Abigail Adams and Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. It’s about the invocation of the life and times of Harvey Milk and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons.

It’s about all the saints who will rise up on that glorious morning and, in spite of all that you stand for, invoke in us all that is honorable, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, in the spirit of the Apostle Paul, we shall think about these things.

Truth be told, your invitation to provide the invocation is a very shrewd move on the part of our President-Elect, who has described himself as ‘vigorously supportive of LGBT people’, and stands on a solid record of reproductive choice for women.

Mr. Obama is probably weary, by now, of hearing the expression of outrage over your invitation. I suspect this will place you much deeper in this administration’s debt than you either care to admit or can possibly imagine.

This is the way change begins – by bringing disparate factors to the same table. If stroking your ego – a huge undertaking, to be sure – is what it takes to get you to the table with others of differing opinions and theologies in order to bring about change, then, there is a method to what, at least on the surface, looks to some like madness.

You see, it’s not about you, Pastor Warren, but I pray that something will be inspired in you when you give that invocation and enjoy the privilege of standing in most that amazing and historic moment. I pray that something in your soul will be stirred to work for the fulfillment of the prayer which was spoken at the inception of this great nation – “liberty and justice for all.”

Because, in the end, it’s about all of us. Not some, Pastor. All.

The words are: Liberty and justice for all. Not ‘just you’ or ‘just us.’


That’s the hope our hearts earnestly desire. That’s the prayer we fervently invoke. That’s the change we seek to be.

That’s the reason many of us will stand up and cheer.

Not for you, but for all.

(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
Rector and Pastor, The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
President, The Episcopal Women's Caucus
Member, Steering Committee, Claiming The Blessing
Member Integrity, USA

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah!

My old and brand new favorite Hanukkah's songs! A little gift for my Jewish friends who begin to light the Menorrah this evening.

Adam Sandler still totally rocks!

Or, as he would say, "Not too shabby."

This is the newest version of the Dreidel Song from Erran Baron Cohen (Sacha's brother). It's from 'Songs in the Key of Hanukkah'.

It's been years between the two songs. This should make a lot of people - Jewish or not - very, very happy.

It's got a good beat and you can dance to it. I'll give it a 95, Dave.

So, call your Aunt Veronica and have a Happy Hanukkah!

(Sorry for the Christian ads at the bottom of the screen. How annoying is that?)

Penguins in Bethlehem

The Annual Christmas Pageant - Luke 1:26-38
Advent IV – The 8 AM Service - December 21, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: I preached this at the 8 AM Service. The weather was horrible - icy rain and snow made for really awful weather. But, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dead of night will stop the Annual Christmas Pageant. I hope to have pictures up tomorrow. Perhaps even a video! I know I say this every year, but it was the best Christmas Pageant EVER! (And yes, a penguin did appear unto us in Bethlehem. Well, Bethlehem, New Jersey, that is!)

In just a few hours a miracle of sorts will occur. On this very day. Right here in this very church. St. Paul’s. On Main Street. In Chatham. In New Jersey, of all places.

Soon and very soon, this sacred space will be filled with shepherds dressed in bathrobe and towels, wise men, resplendent in old vestments and crowns from Burger King which have been covered with sparkly things, the tiniest of angels tinkling of tin foil who will cling shyly to each other as if God were watching their every move and listening in on every naughty thought.

There will also be childlike animals of every sort and manner – cows, sheep, and donkeys, and while I understand this year there will be neither frogs nor unicorns named Jerome, there will be an as yet unnamed penguin whose face will look hauntingly familiar if not a bit older than in years past when he came as the unicorn and a frog.

Oh, and of course, Joseph and Mary will be here, looking serene if not just a tad confused. Mary was once Baby Jesus, a little miracle in and of itself, I suppose. She’s been studying for the part for seven long years. She knows exactly what she’s to do and she is more than ready for her close-up, Mr. DeVille.

But Baby Jesus, ah, Sweet Baby Jesus meek and mild will have come to us this year from Taiwan so if she still looks a bit confused by all of this activity, you will understand. Actually, I saw her in rehearsal last week, and she looked positively to the role born. One look at that angelic little cherubic face and your heart will melt.

Well, that is, if she keeps still long enough for you to actually catch a glimpse of her beautiful little face. When I saw her last week, she was absolutely fascinated by the cow, and while both Mary and Joseph did a good job of distracting her, it was pretty clear that she really, really wanted to get up into the pulpit.

Once again this year the choirs of angels and heavenly hosts will be assisted by “the band” – our junior high and high school kids who will play a few solo’s and lead us in the familiar hymns of Advent and Christmas.

I met one of the two narrators in Modell’s yesterday, doing some last minute Christmas shopping which his mother who tells me that he has been standing on the stairs at home, working on his projection. He seemed a bit nervous about it all, but I assured him that I just knew he was going to do a great job.

As I looked up, several mothers in the check-out cue were smiling and nodding their heads. I suspect their kids had been narrators once, too, and, look – they lived to tell the tale.

I can’t wait to hear his lovely voice announce in child like wonder the words of this morning’s gospel, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." (Luke 1:26-28).

This year we have three walkie-talkies so that Tim and Melissa can cue each other from their respective positions in the sanctuary and narthex without waving their hands madly over the crowd.

It will be fun to watch them whisper into these large black boxes in soft conspiratorial sounds, “Cue the angels. In four, three, two . . . Good. Standby penguin donkey and cow. . . Standby . . . now the Wise men . . . fix his crown. His crown . . .FIX THE CROWN!!!”

Before we all know it, we’ll be singing Silent Night and parents and grandparents will be wiping tears from their eyes, and it will all be over for another year.

Another story of the Nativity of our Lord re-told and re-enacted.

And . . . “Nobody got hurt.”

The miracle of Christ’s birth will come to us again in the miracle of the Christmas pageant. He will appear in wayward angels with tilted crowns, and in the anxiety of young narrators of the story.

He will be with Tim and Melissa as they whisper into their walkie-talkies and in the waddling, creative fun of this year’s penguin. He will be there in the proud hearts of parents and grandparents.

These are all reflections, bits and pieces of the original miracle of The Light of the World, who came into the darkness of our lives, to show us the path to peace and joy.

Yes, a miracle will come to Main Street, Chatham, NJ later this morning, and into this very sanctuary. They tell me it happens every year, whether we’re ready for it or not.

This is the stuff of miracles. They happen whether you’re ready or not and in very surprising ways. But, they can only happen if you, like Mary, say ‘Yes.’

‘Yes’ to entering the story and following your script. ‘Yes’ to the chaos and the noise. ‘Yes’ to timid angels and boisterous sheep.

That’s when miracles happen. In this sanctuary. On Main Street. In Chatham. In, New Jersey. In our lives. Mine and yours.

Just a few weeks ago, Tim mused, "Wow. We're going to have an African American as President and an Asian baby as Jesus. Imagine that!"

Yes, imagine all that - AND - the possibility of penguins in Bethlehem.

And the angel said to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God." Amen.