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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

As we enter the wilderness of Lent: A Spa for the Soul

Absolutely everyone is welcome to The Episcopal Church of St. Paul's, Chatham to hear the Rev'd Dr. Paul Smith, the former Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY, who is an educator, author, civil rights veteran and activist.

Dr. Smith has also created unique and successful models of multi-cultural worship and interfaith collaboration at churches in Buffalo, NY, Atlanta, GA and St. Louis, MO.

Following his sermons at the 8 and 10 AM services, Dr. Smith and his wife Fran, along with one of their daughters and a few of their grandchildren, will describe their thoughts and feelings as three generations of their family attended the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

To learn more about Dr. Smith, visit his web page:

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul: Come. Grow. Celebrate.

When Affluenza meets Neurosis

It's called narcissism.

I call them "Mad Minivan Moms."

They are the new menace to suburbia. Well, they always have been, but the free-floating anxiety of these chaotic economic times has made it worse.

And now that the President is talking about higher taxes for those with incomes over $250,000 . . . Well, let's just say it's not a pretty picture.

It's not bad enough that the parking lot of my church, which we share with the Borough of Chatham and the Library (A good deal, actually. We let them park, they plow and keep it maintained.), has become hazardous, but the parking lot at the local YM/WCA is down right treacherous.

These mini vans zoom into a parking place or zoom to the entrance of the Y and the next thing you know, the side doors magically slide open and out come a tumble of little kids like clowns in a circus act while the Mom behind the wheel is alternately yelling, "Hurry, hurry, or you'll be late!" and "Careful, careful, you'll hurt yourself."

Never mind that they are a danger to themselves and others. They've got to be 'enriched."

Yesterday, I was traveling one of the side streets of the Chatham Township where the speed limit is typically 25 mph. Except if you are a suburban mom with three kids in the back of a minivan who are on 'enrichment program' overload.

I'm quite certain she was trying to get one to piano lessons, another one to soccer practice and another to God only knows what an 18 month old might need to have enriched, and she was running late. I'm sure she was also thinking to herself, "And, I gave up a very fulfilling job with lots of status, not to mention a graduate degree, for THIS?"

So, she started tailgating. Right on my bumper. I was doing the speed limit in my sassy little VW Convertible Bug. I suppose she thought that, with a sports car, she could count on me to be a little reckless. You know. Go just a little faster.

Uh-uh. Not me. The last thing I need is for the local paper carry the headline "Episcopal WOMAN Priest Caught Speeding. Endangers Neighborhood. (See, didn't we tell you?)"

So, she starts zooming up to my tail and then backing off - zooming in and backing off. So, I took my foot OFF the gas pedal. Slowed 'er down a couple miles per hour. You know, just to return the favor.

The woman behind the wheel was decidedly NOT pleased. Oh, no. Not in the least. In fact, she got even closer to my tail, I assume she was trying to help me read the 'sign language' she was using to communicate her distress.

She was also good enough to get close enough for me to read her lips. I never knew how funny a person can look when you are trying to make sure someone understands that you are mouthing obscenities so your children won't know you are cursing.

I kept driving 25 mph. When I looked at her face again in my rear view mirror, she was deep reddish purple and her face was distorted in a most grotesque sort of way. I thought to my self, "My Goodness. This woman is capable of murder."

And then it dawned on me. She wanted to kill ME.

So, as soon as I could, about 1/4 of a mile from the end of the street, I pulled over into someone's driveway to let her by. She zoomed past me, throwing various obscene hand gestures and lip movements my way.

I shook my head sadly, let the next car pass me and then got back onto the street, only to find my (ahem) lady friend stopped two cars up ahead. The traffic light had turned red.

You could see the steam coming from her car.

I don't know what was so all-fired important. Except, it was all about her.

It was all about whether or not she was late getting her kids to their enrichment programs. Which, of course, would have been a judgment on her abilities as a mother. Which, of course, was now her full time job. The one she had sacrificed her career and education to take. Which is now in jeopardy because of the damn economy.

Well, you get the picture.

Nothing else in the world existed except her and her children and her schedule. Not any other place in the world. Not famine. Not poverty. Not disease. Not drought.

Nope. In fact, in that moment her children didn't even exist. It was just her and The Enemy. Which, of course, would have been moi, in that moment.

I'm sure I was but one of a string of demons she had to slay that day alone.

Understand, please. Not all women in my town are like this. In fact, there are many positively lovely, kind, generous wonderful women who live here. But there are enough of these other women - affluent, neurotic, narcissistic women - who, I swear, would make the Blessed Virgin Mary angry enough to turn the air blue with curses.

I'm sure that the woman in the minivan is one of the posse of women whose children attend the Day Care at the church. It hasn't been so for a while because the weather has been very cold, but as it starts to warm up again, I'll have to start planning to arrive later at the office so as not to disturb the little circle of conversation that gather right in my parking space by the front door.

And. They. Won't. Move.

Not an inch.

I'll pull into my space. They'll look over they're shoulders at me. They'll turn back and continue their conversation as if they didn't see me. I'll wait. Impatiently. I'll start to inch forward, pointing to the sign that says, "Clergy Parking" and then point to me. They'll look over they're shoulders at me. They'll look annoyed. Someone will begin to move S.L.O.W.L.Y. out of the way, while the rest follow at a snail's pace.

We'll enact this ritual at least twice a week. You know. Just so's we don't get 'rusty' or anything.

So, whenever I hear someone talk about driving in Newark or Paterson, and how this posse of young Hispanic or African-American teenaged thugs took their sweet time crossing the street when the light changed, I can't WAIT to tell them about my Suburban Minivan Moms.

Same dynamic from the opposite end of the financial spectrum.

There really isn't a point to this post. This is not a Boomer blaming GenXers or GenYers for their narcissism. There's no real socio-political statement. No stirring social commentary on the state of the economy. No inspiring theological statement on the Baptismal Covenant. No great wisdom I can impart.

Except that a cop did tell me that the worst thing to do with a tailgater is to slow down. The best thing to do, he said, is to jot down the make and model of their car, along with their license plate. Then, he said, you call the cops and they will visit said tailgater and give them a written warning.

Good idea. Note to self: replenish that pad of paper and pencil in the car.

No, this is just a little Saturday morning rant while I wait for the electrician to finish installing the new electrical hookup for the new washer and dryer that will be delivered on Wednesday.

And, he's taking his sweet time. Been at it at least 90 minutes now.

I mean, I have places to go, people to meet, things to do.

I guess he must think the world revolves around him.


(Say, do you think 'Affluenza' is contagious, even if you don't have a lot of money? I mean, I don't have a minivan, but . . . .;~)

Friday, February 27, 2009

A personal statement from the Bishop Elect of Northern Michigan

I suppose our penchant in The Episcopal Church for creating 'tempests in a tea pot' comes to us naturally. It's in our DNA. We inherited it from the Church of England.

The latest 'perfect storm' comes to us from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan which just elected Kevin G. Thew Forrester as their bishop.

While some folks are screaming about 'the process' of nomination (he was the only candidate on the slate), others are tearing their garments about the fact that his man claims that Buddhist teaching and meditative practices give shape and form to his understanding of Jesus and his practice of Christianity.

Indeed, one particularly hateful 'orthodite' blog has started a letter writing campaign in a pathetic attempt to block the confirmation of his election (Gee, where have we seen this hateful dynamic before?)

I encourage you to read "Vocation, Shared Leadership at the heart Northern Michigan episcopal process" by Herb Gunn before you proceed.

As for his inclinations toward Buddhism, I encourage you to read the Bishop-elect's statement below. But first, a few observations:

(1) I think the entire flap about "the episcopal process" and the fact that there was only one candidate nominated for bishop is fueled by a decidedly un-Christian impulse for 'payback'. Like the horrible public Republican flogging of Bill Clinton was payback for the Democratic run impeachment of Richard Nixon, this is payback for the fact that the episcopal election of Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina failed to gain the number of consents of Standing Committees.

Oh, see how these uber-Christians love one another! Too bad they love what they believe to be orthodoxy more than those whom God has created.

(2) As for the hysteria about Buddhist-influenced Christianity, well, I think the newly elected bishop states his case very well and needs no defense from me. That being said, I do think the hysteria you hear from the Right side of the aisle is the sound of a line being drawn in the sand by conservatives who, now that the majority of 'orthodites' have left, are 'what's left of the Right."

This 'pissing contest' about Buddhism is just that, on a very deep psychological and spiritual level. This is about marking theological territory. This is about saying, as I read one blogger's lament, "We can not allow this Progressive runaway train to wreck our church."

I understand the impulse, but I question the understanding of how Christianity that is influenced by other cultural understandings is some how 'less-than' or dangerous.

Then again, these are the same folks who make such a fuss whenever any other spiritual practices are incorporated in Christian liturgy or theology.

You know. Like when Native American smudge-sticks were used for purification along with our beloved Anglican incense at the beginning of the service of Consecration of our Presiding Bishop at the National Cathedral.

You know. Like the guffaws that are heard in some circles whenever liturgical dance is employed.

You know. Like the sounds of protest fueled by ignorance when our Presiding Bishop used the words of the mystics and spoke of "Mother Jesus."

It is an attempt at Evangelical Christian hegemony writ large.

So, read the statement from the new bishop-elect. As he says, "There is nothing to defend here, only a gift." Amen. And, welcome to the "Junior House", bishop-elect Forrester. You are a fine, holy addition and I look forward to your leadership.


I now feel free, as the bishop-elect, to state my faith and zen meditation
practice in my own words. Please read below. I need you to know that I am deeply honored to have been trained in Zen practice and that it is integral to my spirituality. I state this below.

I also state clearly that I am a christian and not a buddhist priest. I find it rather tragic, however, that folks might try to put me/us on the defensive for the gift of interfaith practice and dialogue.

There is nothing to defend here, only a gift.

peace, kevin

My Christian Faith & the Practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation
Kevin Thew Forrester
25 February 2009

As a Christian, I am deeply aware that I live and move and have my being in Christ – as does all creation. I am honored to be the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan with the opportunity to serve and work with the Episcopal Ministry Support Team as well as the people of the diocese for the next 10 to 15 years, committed as we are to the ministry of all the baptized.

Each of us is formed in the image and likeness of God. As a Christian, I owe my life to our Trinitarian faith. Over the years my faith and spiritual practice have been largely shaped and profoundly imprinted by the mystics and the contemplative spiritual tradition.

I have grown in my awareness that the grace of God, which is God’s very Presence, cannot be circumscribed. Because of my faith in the gracious goodness of the Godhead, I am open to receive the wisdom from, and be in dialogue with, other faith traditions; not to mention the sciences and the arts.

I am quite honored, as an Episcopal priest, to have been trained in the art and practice of Zen meditation. I am not an ordained Buddhist priest. I am an Episcopal priest eternally grateful for the truth, beauty and goodness, experienced in meditation.

I am thankful for the pioneering work of Thomas Merton in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. I am also thankful for the current elders in our Christian tradition, such as Thomas Keating and David Steindl-Rast, whose practice of meditation (like that of Merton) deepened their own contemplative life and led them to explore the sacramental common ground we share through the grace of God. As a Christian I can be receptive to divine truth, beauty and goodness, because I know that “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”

I have been blessed to practice Zen meditation for almost a decade. About five years ago a Buddhist community welcomed me as an Episcopal priest in my commitment to a meditation practice—a process known by some Buddhists as "lay ordination."

Literally thousands of Christians have been drawn to Zen Buddhism in particular because, distinct from western religions, it embodies a pragmatic philosophy and a focus on human suffering rather than a unique theology of God. “Lay ordination” has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition.

The essence of this welcoming ceremony, which included no oaths, was my resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering. Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ.

My experience continues to be that through the grace of meditation I am drawn ever deeper into the Trinitarian contemplative Christian tradition. I have been able to bring the practice of meditation/contemplation to the wider diocese through the gifts discovery process and through the founding of the Healing Arts Center at St. Paul’s in Marquette.

The Center is devoted to assisting people in their own spiritual journey, which includes the practice of meditation within the sanctuary and the exploration of Christian contemplatives and mystics.

Kevin G. Thew Forrester
Ministry Developer
Diocese of Northern Michigan
906-360-1915 (cell)
906-226-2912 (office)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Secrets of Success.

This comes from 2 math teachers with a combined total of 70 yrs. experience.

Here is a little something that is indisputable mathematical logic.

This is a strictly mathematical goes like this:

What makes 100%? What does it mean to give MORE than 100%?

Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100%? We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.

How about achieving 103%? What makes up 100% in life?

Here's a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:


is represented as:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26.



8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%



11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

But ,


1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%



2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%

AND, look how far ass kissing will take you.


1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+ 7 = 118%

So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty, that while Hard Work and Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, its the Bullshit and Ass kissing that will put you over the top.

Boomers, and Xers and Y's - And Lent!

Note: There anxiety level over at HOB/D has finally collided with the approach of Lent, giving a perfect excuse for some to lob their last insult before blaming everyone else for the tension and walking off as "a Lenten Discipline." Cowards! Others are just saying, "I'm going to remove myself for Lent" and, for them, it's probably a Very Good Thing. But it was the whiny of one especially whiny GenXer who, who LOVES to blame everything on The Boomers, which pulled my nerve. Which was not necessarily a bad thing. It got me to re-examine a few things through the lens of Lent. Here's what I posted over there last night, before I went to bed.

After three Ash Wednesday Services at church, a few home visits, a staff birthday luncheon and a blur of last minute but very important liturgical decisions for The First Sunday in Lent, I still find myself struck by the ironies and paradox that abound on the first day of Lent.

They always do, it seems.

I suppose the gospel sets us up for it. Matthew’s gospel reports some very clear instruction from Jesus about how not to disfigure our faces when we fast and other injunctions against public acts of piety. I dutifully read the gospel and then, off I go – smudging ashes on everyone’s foreheads in a big, unmistakable cross of rich black.

I have something I want to say about one of the ironies I’ve noticed on the HOB/D list before I try to keep quiet – well, quieter – as a Lenten discipline. I’m not signing off, but I am making a Lenten discipline of sorts, which is prompted by the following observations.

There is a delightful if not apocryphal, story about Pompeii, which was buried during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano of Mount Vesuvius. It is reported that graffiti on a bathhouse wall said, “What is happening to the younger generation?” It makes no difference whether this story is true or not. Every generation seems puzzled and bemused by subsequent generations.

Relations among the generations seem to be at a low point right now - and especially on this list. Anxiety over the fragile economic climate and the wars in Iraq and, Afghanistan, the continued civil unrest in the Gaza Strip and genocide, tribal war and epidemics in parts of Africa make that understandable.

Gen Y (defined as people born after 1982) thinks Gen X (born between 1961 and 1981) is a bunch of whiners. Gen X sees Gen Y as arrogant and entitled. And everyone thinks the Baby Boomers (1943 to 1960) are self-absorbed workaholics.

Actually, I’ve never really felt this tension as much as I have in the church. During one session at General Convention 2003, I actually heard one Gen Xer say to a Boomer, “You know, I can’t wait till all you Boomers retire or die off. You are ruining the church.”

Nice kid. Actually thinks of himself as a devout, practicing Christian.

To our defense, I must say that while Boomers are certainly far from perfect, we didn’t exactly inherit a perfect world, which came to us post Depression and post WWII. We were spawned from a group Tom Brokaw has named, “The Greatest Generation.”

And, so they were – even though we Boomers rebelled against them in our own way: The Civil Rights, Environmental and Women’s Movements were all initiated on our watch.

We participated in political unrest, protested the Viet Nam War, and saw the assassination of JFK, RFK and MLK, Jr. We also saw a man walk on - and a woman travel to - the Moon. Our generation initiated social and drug experimentation, and defined individualism with transistor radios. And yet we are passionate about our distinct orientation toward social causes.

We were shaped and formed and influenced by music we heard from such disparate sources as the Big Band Sound, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Elvis, The Beatles, Motown and Jimi Hendrix. Actually, that last sentence says more about our generation than most anything else I could write.

Gen Xers have much to live up to and to some degree, have always lived in our shadow. Which is why, I suppose, Gen Yers see them as whiners.

To be fair, while Gen Xers inherited a world absent of a World War, they did grow up under the dangerous cloud of nuclear proliferation. Their world shrunk dramatically from living in “The Greatest Nation in the Free World” to being part of a “Global Village.” And, their generation was severely, negatively impacted by the rising rate of divorce.

Which is why, I have no doubt, those GenXers who have come into, or back to or, perhaps, found The Episcopal Church carry their anxiety about ‘broken homes’ into our current troubles. The threat or reality (depending on your point of view) of schism, is a corporate reflection of what many of them experienced in the divorce of their parents.

So, I get the bitterness. I do. I still experience it as whining, but that’s just the ‘Hey, do something about it, get out there and change the world, individualism with a social conscious’ rant of the Boomer that I am.

The irony for me is that I can usually trust a GenXer to be the first to state loudly and clearly that traditional labels don’t work – political, religious, social, etc. And yet, they are among the first to complain about what’s wrong with the church or the world in terms of the label of this social demographic.

Ask any Gen Xer what’s wrong with TEC, and 80% will include The Boomers at the top of the list. Not difference in scriptural interpretation. Not power and authority. Not the ordination of LGBT people or women. Oh, these are on the list, but make no mistake: it’s predominantly the fault of The Boomers.

To add to the irony, it’s the Boomers on this list, for the most part, who know the power of language and words that hurt, who are the first ones to complain about the tone and tenor of our discussions on this list. We are often the very ones who are least aware of and most resistant to the need for expansive, inclusive language in our liturgies.

Boomers are, most often, also the first ones out the door when the conversation needs less heat and more light. But, I suppose that has to do with all that divorce stuff, right?

Well, this is one Boomer who is not leaving the building. I am, however, going to take the suggestion of one Gen Xer to post no more than once a week. Less that that, if I work at it.

I’m going to do more listening and considering and pondering and wondering. I hope I’ll discover more things about more people. And, in the process, learn more about my self (You knew it would come down to that. Just like a Boomer, right?).

I hope someone will contact those who have left and encourage them to come back. We need each other now more than ever. This is the time to embrace community, not divide with unhelpful labels of shame and blame, even if they are valid sociological terms that describe existing demographics.

I’ll stop with the ‘orthodite’ if you’ll stop with the ‘reappraiser’ vs. ‘reasserter’ and ‘orthodox’, already.

And, I'll throw in dropping the "whiny GenXer" if you'll drop the "Hopeless Boomer."

I’m not saying, “Can’t we all just get along.” I am saying, this is Lent.

Let us discipline ourselves that we might become better disciples.

Lower the setting on our ‘snark-o-meter’.

Exorcise the demons of the need to be ‘right’ (or, ‘orthodox’).

Resist the impulse to categorize, label or dismiss because of our own preconceived notions of that particular demographic.

Banish our base of knowledge to the wilderness of unknowing that we might learn something new.

Turn down the hermeneutic of suspicion in exchange for healthy curiosity.

Lavishly nourish and feed our spirit of curiosity and wonder, our generosity, kindness and compassion, that they may begin to function at an even higher capacity.

As my grandmother always advised, “You never make yourself look good by trying to make others look bad.”

Right - and it occurs to me, ironically, that that's exactly what I do on Ash Wednesday.

Ah we daughters of Eve and sons of Adam are such complex creatures! Why does God, the ultimate 'Pan-Millennialist', even put up with us?

Must be because, even with all of our "human wretchedness" - we are gloriously loved.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

“Everything you ever wanted to know about Lent, but were afraid to ask.”

Note: This is a little 'blurb' I send out to my parishioners at the beginning of the Season of Lent to explain why we do what we do. I would love it if you wrote in and told me what you do in your parish that is different - or if your understanding of why we do what we do is different.

There are forty days and forty nights of the Season of Lent,beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Day. If you count up the number of days in that period of time, however, you will note that the total is 48. That’s because Sundays are always considered a celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and are, therefore, not counted.

Even so, we suspend the use of the “Alleluia’s” in Lent. The children “buried” them under the carpet by the baptismal font on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, and they will be “resurrected” on Easter morning. (Watch out! The children will be listening. If they catch you saying ‘Alleluia’ in church, you will be “fined” and they win a prize!)

We will celebrate Eucharist “Facing Liturgical East”. This is a way to accentuate the transcendence (rather than the immanence) of God, and underscore our time in the wilderness of Lent.

We begin Sunday observations of Lent with the Great Litany, which is chanted in procession, emphasizing the pilgrim nature of our faith. We will process again on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

There are no shiny Eucharistic vessels or ornaments during Lent. Even the cross and Gospel book are veiled. The liturgical color for the season is purple, which points us to the Sovereignty of Jesus – a symbol of the supremacy of His sacrificial love for us.

The Exchange of Peace is moved to its historic place in the Eucharistic Prayer and the Announcements are made at the end of the Service. This is to underscore the solemnity of the Lenten Season.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is “Refreshment” or “Rose Sunday”. We will use rose colored vestments for that day.

Palm Sunday – the Sunday of Passion – is marked by our modern re-enactment of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We do this with Distribution of Palms which begins at 9:45 and a procession up Main Street, following a Jazz Band. The liturgical color for this day and all of Holy Week is a deep red. The mood suddenly changes when we return to the church and participate in a reading of the Passion of our Lord.

The most sacred part of Holy Week is the Triduum – the Three Holy Days – which begins with Maundy Thursday, with the traditional service of Foot Washing and the Agape Meal, a “Love Feast” that is a reflection of the Passover Meal observed by Jesus and his disciples. The altar is stripped and the church is left bare. A Night Watch is kept in the church.

Good Friday
is the most solemn day in the Christian calendar, the day when we remember the crucifixion of Jesus. The children gather at noon to walk the Stations of the Cross, while the adults gather with other Christians in
Chatham for a retelling of the Passion of Jesus. The evening provides a powerful opportunity to venerate the cross and process it into the darkness of the night, hopeful of the promise of resurrection.

The Great Vigil of Easter is our most ancient liturgy which we observe on Saturday evening. Our salvation story is told in the midst of the drama of the lighting of the new fire, the paschal candle, baptism and the first Eucharist. The liturgical color is white. It is high liturgical drama of the first order, and not to be missed! A champagne and chocolate covered strawberry reception caps the evening.

Easter Day is a glorious celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. The Special music and vocal offerings deepen the spiritual experience of this day. The children love to “unbury” the “Alleluia’s” and hunt for hidden Easter eggs.

In preparation for the "Easter Experience,” it is a long-standing Christian tradition to practice some form of Lenten discipline as we deepen our understanding of our “discipleship.” This can take the form of regular fasting (usually on Friday) of meals (imbibing only liquids) from sun up to sun down. Some prefer to eliminate meat from their diet one day per week. Others may “give up” chocolate, alcohol, nicotine or other favorite substances.

Fasting and other forms of sacrifice are not simply “what we do” in Lent. These are intentional acts which bring us into solidarity with those who suffer. In so doing, we open our minds and expand our hearts to greater compassion – a mark of a follower of Jesus.

Lenten Discipline also includes regular times of prayer and meditation, physical exercise, and devotional reading. It may also include challenging yourself to take on a new task, learn a new skill, or improve an old one. Lent is also a time for private confession. Please call to schedule an appointment

The point is that these “forty days and nights” are a time to discipline one’s self to be a better disciple. It’s a time which draws attention in a purposeful way to the things we do and helps us to examine why it is we do them. It is an opportunity to deepen your spirituality and strengthen your faith.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Scenes from a Pancake Supper

Well, there were no masks, no beads and certainly no nudity, but a great time was had by all. There was also no parade - unless you count the one that was in constant procession in front of the kitchen, waiting for more pancakes. Which were, in a word - SCRUMPTIOUS!!!!!

We also make the cutest kids, n'est pas? Les files tres jolie!

I'll understand if you have to shield your eyes from the splendor of their magnificence. They are quiet a handsome, brilliant bunch. If you look closely, you'll also see a few miracles in the group. Truly. Miracles.

Could this child be any happier? I love the love at St. Paul's. Okay, I'll stop before I really start to gush.

And, in the end, the pancakes you take are equal to the love you make.

Everybody ready for Lent?

Fat Tuesday - Take me home

Didn't I just put away the Christmas decorations?

Forget about the Christmas cards I never sent. I said to myself that I would get them out during The Epiphany. Truth be told, I still have a few Christmas presents that never got delivered.

And here I stand, at the brink of Lent. Not ready, am I. Not at all ready.

Even so, it is almost here.

Before we get to "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes," it seems a very normal impulse to "Party like it's 2009." Empty the larders and the pantry shelves. Eat pancakes and bacon until we can't move from our chairs. Giggle and laugh as we race the burned pancakes from one end of the parish hall to the other.

We are such strange creatures, we humans. Dust balls, breathing. Living. Wildly celebrating life in the face of impending doom and gloom. A riot of color - purple, green, gold, white - in the midst of ash gray.

It seems so outrageous and ridiculous. To be so extravagantly wasteful. You know. Like God's love for us.

Yes, let us prepare our hearts and minds for a 'Holy Lent'. Let us consider our own mortality. The limits of our time here on this side of Paradise. Let us, for a season, meditate on the fragility of our little human lives. Let us do these things, being mindful of the greatness of God.

Before that, let us party on, friends.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

And, just to get you in the mood, here's a little something from Marc Broussard - a kid from NOLA whose song will be, for me, the anthem of Fat Tuesday and the funky sound of a Holy Lent.

Take me home, Marc. I been goin' down the road, goin' nowhere, guitar packed in a trunk. I have strayed from the water. Take me home.

For an even better and more complete version of this song, check it out here. Unfortunately, the embedding mechanism has been disabled. ;~(

Monday, February 23, 2009

A little bit of Paradise in Lent

CONTACT: Andy Wang
973-886-6836 973-267-5525 fax



Escape to Hawaii for an evening of traditional slack key guitar, ‘ukulele, and falsetto vocals. Chatham, NJ (February 19, 2009) George Kahumoku, Jr. is bringing his Grammy Award-winning show, "Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" to the mainland in March.

The Hawaiian Treasures Celebration Tour, also featuring Grammy award-winning artists Dennis Kamakahi and Richard Ho‘opi‘i, has added the Episcopal Church of St. Paul, 200 Main Street, Chatham, NJ to its 20–city tour.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit St. Paul’s music program.

When grant funding to appear at Carnegie Hall, NY fell through for the tour, George Kahumoku, Jr. contacted his student and east–coast Hawaiian music performer Andy Wang seeking alternative venues. Wang jumped at the opportunity to present the Carnegie Hall bound program in his hometown.

The performance at St. Paul’s will be the only Hawaiian Treasures show in the tri-state area, featuring a rare east–coast appearance by famed cowboy falsetto living legend Richard Ho‘opi‘i.

Hawaiian slack key guitar, kī hō‘alu, is one of the world's great acoustic guitar traditions.Relatively unknown outside of Hawaii, slack key guitar is often confused with, and actually predates, the more well- known Hawaiian lap steel that developed in the late 1880s or 1890s. Slack key was developed by Hawaiian cowboys who "slacked" the strings of guitars brought by Mexican and Spanish cowboys hired by King Kamehameha III to teach Hawaiians better ranching methods.

Slack key is a finger-picked style, and the tradition continues to evolve from techniques and tunings handed down through the generations.

“Not only are we excited to present award- winning acoustic instrumentalists and vocalists to our community, we are truly privileged to share a unique, authentic cultural experience,” said Andy Wang, show organizer.

“People with connections to the islands will be transported back home. I hope that others will be as moved as I was at my first Hawaiian music performance — more than 15 years ago — by the program, including elements of mele (song), hula (dance), and story telling.”

George Kahumoku, Jr
. is a master slack key guitarist and was also one of the album’s producers. There is plenty to celebrate after winning the Grammy three straight years for Best Hawaiian Music Album.

These three CDs are live recordings from the weekly show hosted by Kahumoku in Maui ( Last year’s release Treasures Of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar features two other esteemed artists that will also be touring with Kahumoku.

Dennis Kamakahi is one of Hawaii’s most prolific composers, having written such famous Hawaiian standards as “Wahine ‘Ilikea,” “Pua Hone” and “Koke‘e.” At the age of 19, his rich voice and superlative guitar skills led him to be honored to replace the late Gabby Pahinui in the acclaimed band, The Sons of Hawaii. Now, after 40 years as a professional musician, he too can claim to be one of Hawaii’s most renowned artists.

Richard Ho‘opi‘i
is a living legend of Hawaiian music and master of the traditional art form of Hawaiian falsetto. For many years, he performed with his brother Sol as the Ho‘opi‘i Brothers. He has received the National Endowment for the Arts’ Folk Heritage Fellowship, America’s highest honor for traditional artists. Charismatic on stage, his lively music, thick white hair and infectious smile make him one of Hawaii’s most recognizable musicians.

Tickets for the Saturday, March 14 show at 7:30 pm are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Tickets are available at (search for Hawaiian Treasures Celebration Tour) or by calling 800-838- 3006.

For additional information, please visit

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"It is good for us to be here"

Note: I hold an equal doctrine of Word and Sacrament, and I consider it a sacred honor of my priesthood to break open the Word of God so that the people of God may be nourished and fed. I gladly share my pulpit on a regular basis with a member of my congregation, Jim Mollo. Today was his daughter's baptism. Normally, I would have preached one of my "Baptismal Love Letters." It was a delight and a joy to my heart to hear this father preach this sermon filled to the brim with love to his infant daughter.

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
The Baptism of Georgia Gail
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
Mr. James Mollo

"It is good for us to be here" Mark 9: 2-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, our Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

It is good for us to be here. It is good, indeed.

It was good for Peter and James and John to be up on that mountain seeking peace and quiet and reflection. And it is good for us to be here, at St. Paul’s.

It is good for us to join together on Sundays in worship, prayer and reflection. It is good for us to join together on Wednesday evenings for Vespers, it is good to join together on Fat Tuesday for fellowship and pancakes.

It is good to be here during the Christmas Bazaar and the Auction for fun and fundraising. It is good to be here for baptisms and yes, even funerals, to celebrate our personal community of saints.

Even if, at the time, Peter didn’t quite get what was going on, it was good for them to be on that mountain, in part, for the same reason it is good for us to be here today.

It is food for the journey back down the mountain. It is preparation for the very hard work that needs to be done in the world. It is good to be here so that we are ready to love and to serve the needs of our neighbors.

This is one of the reasons why, as parents, St. Paul’s is so important to Kim and I. We started coming here 15 years ago because of what we needed.

Now we come, in part for ourselves, in part for worship, but also to help prepare our children to come down from the mountain. This community has played an enormous role in Olivia’s life. Frankly, more than I had thought possible for someone only five years old.

So it should be no surprise that it played such an important part in the life of Georgia, even before she was born. This past summer I outted our family from the secrecy of Kim’s pregnancy from this pulpit. This community was there for us when we struggled through decisions about which tests to have.

As always, this community was there for us making meals, lending support and in prayer. Some of you even helped us with discussions on baby names.

Kim and I rarely argue. But man-o-man we could not agree on a name. I wanted an old Italian family name. Kim wanted something traditional, yet original. Luckily, we have a five year old who has a flair for the original and an unbridled ability to negotiate.

Olivia named her sister. One morning at the breakfast table Olivia informed us that she knows what we should name her baby sister. “Georgia!” she proclaimed. If given the opportunity, I’m sure she could have helped negotiate the most recent economic stimulus package with less partisanship than our elected officials.

Baptism is intended to be a public act in the presence of a congregation. As the Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff said in his guide on Holy Baptism, “Theologically at baptism we give up our children for adoption into a new family, a family that accepts them and promises to support them along with their parents and godparents in their life in Christ.”

During the pregnancy, we began thinking about Georgia in light of our church community. We began thinking about her coming public baptism and what outward role the church would have in her life.

Now, let’s be realistic, when I say what role would the church have in her life, I mean little c (church) not big C (Church). I mean, what role, would St. Paul’s and the people of this community play in her coming life?

During the pregnancy we lost a dear friend who was a member here at St. Paul’s. Gail MacNeil suffered from cancer as long as I knew her. And in all those years, I never once heard her complain about her pain or health. She joined the Vestry during the height of her illness.

Think about that. Serving on Vestry is no small undertaking. She was in service to this community and to God in the last year of her life. She helped found Kalediescope of Hope, an organization that helped raise over a million dollars for ovarian cancer research. She chastised me, as only Gail could, with a look, when an inappropriate word slipped from my mouth and she helped us through some rather stressful times. Our daughter Georgia Gail shares her middle name in honor to her wonder and strong spirit.

As you know by now, I usually refer to Georgia as Gigi. Yes, I’m a guy who likes nicknames. But the name Gigi was not random. The love and service of Anne Bennett in this community are traits that I envy and respect.

Yes, I stole Anne’s nickname. Her Grandchildren call Gigi. And occasionally, I call her Gigi. Names and nicknames may seem random, but in so calling our children by a particular name we are, in part, proclaiming the life we hope for our children. What role do you hope God and a community of fellowship play in your families futures?

I imagine Olivia and Georgia sitting in pews sixty or seventy years from now, their children visiting, grandchildren running around the pews much like the two great church matriarchs I’ve described.

I see them thirty or forty years from now, sitting in pews like these, like us and the Pishkos and the Yates and Mary Foster with our kids sitting around us. I see them with Max and Ella and Catherine ten years from now, making their confirmations right here at St. Paul’s surrounded by a loving community of support, surrounded by the prayers of those in this sanctuary and those who have come before us. I know they will be surrounded by the prayers that have been pleaded and repeated and have become imbedded in these great wooded rafters.

I am reminded of a story I read in Marianne Micks’ Deep Waters. She was present at the campus of the University of British Columbia on an evening in 1984 when approximately 3,000 Christians gathered for an ecumenical vigil for peace and justice. The invited guest of honor was Bishop Desmond Tutu. There were people there from all over the world. Remember back to that time in history and it shouldn’t surprise you that the government of South Africa was not going to allow him to leave the country.

However, at the last minute his government relented and granted him an exit visa. He walked in to the worship tent around midnight. He was escorted to the podium to thunderous applause. Micks recalls him saying, “When I look at the state of the world today, I say, ‘Thank God, I’m not God.’ But when I come into a body of Christians like this, I say, ‘Thank you, God, that you are God.’”

That is how I feel today. At times, I am completely overwhelmed with the state of our world. The economy creeping downward, joblessness creeping upward, plane crashes, wars, terrorist bombings, and evening news shows reporting increases in violence perpetrated on our brothers and sisters living around us.

Yet, in the midst of that I look at out all of you and thank God. I thank God that you are here to help us raise our children. You are here to show them what their lives can be. I thank God that you are here to be models of service for them in our communities and with our neighbors. I thank God that you are here to help them down the mountain and to show them how important it is to love God and serve neighbor.

Do you remember the book, Fahrenheit 451? You probably read Ray Bradbury’s most famous book in highschool. It is a wonderful book. It is a social satire set in the, perhaps, near future, when ‘firemen’ burn books forbidden by the totalitarian ‘brave new world’ regime. The hero, according to Mr. Bradbury, is “a book burner who suddenly discovers that books are flesh and blood ideas and cry out silently when put to the torch.”

Toward the end of the book Montag, the reformed firefighter, is trying to make sense of his life. He meets up with a bunch of refugees living in the woods.

The leader of the group, Granger, tells Montag the story of his Grandfather. “When I was a boy my grandfather died, and he was a sculptor. He was also a very kind man who had a lot of love to give the world, and he helped clean up the slum in our town; and he made toys for us and he did a million things in his lifetime; he was always busy with his hands. And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for all the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he could never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the back yard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did… He shaped the world. He did things to the world.

The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”
Granger’s grandfather is Gale. He is Betty Williams. He is those of us dead and alive. He is Anne. He is Allison and Mary. He is Betty Stockly. He is Liz Hollar. He is Eleanor and Elizabeth and Barbara and Doris and Roxie and he is you and me. He is us dead and alive. His actions mattered in this world. Others around him were impacted by his life.

Our actions matter in this world. And we have the power to choose how we will impact others. That is what we are called to do. That is what Christ would have us do as we come down from the mountain. Make a positive impact on those around you. It really is simple. Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and give love to those in need. Be purposeful and meaningful in how you live and love.

Shortly, when we baptize Georgia, I hope you will join me in truly renewing your baptismal covenant. Join me in remembering Gail and all she did for us. Join me in envisioning what it is Georgia and you and I will do when we come down from the mountain this day.

Across space and time, Peter looks out from that mountain and speaks directly to us, “It is good for us to be here.” It is good indeed.

Let the congregation give a loud Amen.


An Open Letter to Dogs and Cats

The following was found posted very low on a refrigerator door.

Dear Dogs and Cats:

The dishes with the paw prints are yours and contain your food. The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.

The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Racing me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn't help because I fall faster than you can run.

I cannot buy anything bigger than a king sized bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will continue sleeping on the couch to ensure your comfort, however. Dogs and cats can actually curl up in a ball when they sleep. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other, stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out on the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.

For the last time, there is no secret exit from the bathroom! If, by some miracle, I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, meow, try to turn the knob or get your paw under the edge in an attempt to open the door. I must exit through the same door I entered. Also, I have been using the bathroom for years - canine/feline attendance is not required.

The proper order for kissing is: Kiss me first, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough.

Finally, in fairness, dear pets, I have posted the following message on the front door:


(1) They live here. You don't.

(2) If you don't want their hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture. That's why they call it 'fur'-niture.

(3) I like my pets a lot better than I like most people.

(4) To you, they are animals. To me, they are adopted sons/daughters who are short, hairy, walk on all fours and don't speak clearly.

Remember, dogs and cats are better than kids because they

(1) eat less,

(2) don't ask for money all the time,

(3) are easier to train,

(4) normally come when called,

(5) never ask to drive the car,

(6) don't hang out with drug-using people;

(7) don't smoke or drink,

(8) don't want to wear your clothes,

(9) don't have to buy the latest fashions,

(10) don't need a gazillion dollars for college and

(11) if they get pregnant, you can sell their children.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sex and the Seminary

I just read a very interesting survey sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing and the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

The survey of 36 seminaries and rabbinical schools discovered that more than 80 percent do not require a full-semester course on sexuality for graduation and that two-thirds of them do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals.

The "Sex and the Seminary" study recommends that competency in sexual issues should be required for ordination.

You can find the survey here, complete with a PDF version which you can download and print.

Of the 36 seminaries surveyed, those that were Episcopal included General Theological School and the Episcopal Divinity School.

Others seminaries, just to name a random few, included: The Theological School at Drew University School (Methodist), Andover Newton School of Theology (United Church of Christ), Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC), Princeton Theological School (Presbyterian)and the interdenominational Schools of Theology at Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Vanderbilt and Howard.

The section on the survey's criteria of "a sexually healthy and responsible seminary" was fascinating to me to read, and included this statement as summary:

"Sexually healthy religious professionals examine their own sexual attitudes and histories; are knowledgeable about sexuality, including sexual behaviors, sexual response, sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal relationships; have a commitment to gender and sexual justice; undertake periodic theological reflection on the integration of sexuality and spirituality; have the skills to provide pastoral care, worship, and referrals on sexuality issues; and are versed in their sacred texts, tradition's teachings and history, and denominational policies on sexuality issues."

The Executive Summary says this: "Religious leaders have the potential to change society's understanding of sexuality through the power of the pulpit, pastoral care of individuals and families, and their presence in the media, politics and civil society. At a time when many denominations and faith communities are embroiled in sexuality issues, there is an urgent need for leaders who understand the connections between religion and sexuality.

Seminaries are not providing future religious leaders with sufficient opportunities for study, self-assessment, and ministerial formation in sexuality. They are also not providing seminarians with the skills they will need to minister to their congregants and communities, or to become effective advocates where sexuality issues are concerned."

I don't know about you, but I am not at all surprised by these findings. This is especially so given the criteria for determining "a sexually healthy and responsible seminary."

Quite frankly, I've grown really weary of The Great Debate on Human Sexuality - because, well, it's not about Human Sexuality. It's always about Homosexuality and Reproductive Rights - especially abortion.

It has also long ago ceased being a 'debate' or even a discussion. It's more just a religious 'shouting match' which, at this point, the opposing view could write the response for the other perspective.

It seems to come down to two things:

1. What the Bible says - including the infamous Seven Clobber Verses and an interesting if not controversial definition of "life" and "murder".

2. The "ick factor": Those who can't get beyond their own personal revulsion of the graphic pictures of aborted fetuses so popularly promoted by Anti-Abortion folks (an admittedly difficult task, which is precisely why they do it), or of "sex acts" in general, but homosexual (especially male) sex acts in particular.

I am also convinced that we allow ourselves to be stuck here because it's a nifty way to avoid discussing other, more controversial subjects.

Like, say, MONEY - and all of the issues that flow from that one topic. Like, say: what is an effective response Christians can make to reversing the devastating effects of poverty, hunger, lack of education, limited access to quality health care.

You know. Like that. Nah, it's much more fun to have a shouting match over abortion and/or homosexuality. It's much more, you should excuse the expression, 'sexy.'

So, I've been considering this survey and wondering how it might be even more informative when compared with the results of a survey which asked folk in the pew what they might expect from their clergy person.

I mean, they are the 'consumers' of this pastoral care, education and advocacy for sexual justice - whatever that REALLY means - right?

The judicatory heads of the various denominations pretty much inform the deans of seminaries in terms of how they expect their seminarians to be educated, shaped and formed for ordain ministry.

The politics of that alone, as they vary from denomination to denomination, cause my head to spin.

I wonder what the person in the pew wants or expects from their pastoral leader.

So, those of you who are not ordained, enlighten me, would you? As you read the criteria above, or go to the web page and read the actual report, what do you think? Is your criteria different? If so, what would be on your list of criteria?

Do you think that 'sexual competency' should be required for ordination?

And, just what would that 'sexual competency' look like?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Information Super High Way is Getting Crowded

Doug sent this to me and I am blown away.

Check it out.

First Fruits

It's been quite a run lately. If Lent were actually a time of 'quiet reflection' for me, I might be looking forward to it. It's not. Oh, there are moments, but the liturgical Ferris Wheel just starts to gear up again and before I know it, it's Holy Week and we all know the joys that brings.

Added to the frenzy is the fact that last night was the first Vestry meeting of the new year and after our election and retreat. Three new members to get on board. And, a Very Full Agenda. I got home 'round about 11 last night. I did lounge a bit this morning, but pastoral calls and organizing for a Very Big Event on March 14 (more on this later) would not allow me to tarry long over my coffee.

I did have one thought that I managed to get written down.

There's a bit of a flap (and rightly so) over on HOB/D about the cut of funding in the national church budget for the MDGs. Oh, they did some financial smoke and mirrors, but most of us saw right through it.

The discussion called up a very powerful memory for me, which I share here. Hope it is helpful to you. If you are an Episcopalian and feel strongly about this, I urge you to contact the Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, and let her know what you think.

Here are my thoughts on the matter, most of which made it to an e-mail to Ms. Anderson.

Like many others on this list, spoken and unspoken, I am stunned by the decision of the Executive Council regarding the funding of MDGs. I hope what I have to offer might be helpful to this discussion.

One of the best stewardship presentations I ever heard was from a Deacon who was the Treasurer of a local Baptist Church, a congregation which had a reputation for vital, life-giving ministry in the community, which included, among many, many wonderful services, a Cooperative Food Bank, a low-cost Pastoral Counseling program with a large component which dealt with domestic violence and addiction, an after school computer and music programs for kids, and a low-cost restaurant "The Promised Land" which not only served the poor and the hungry but provided jobs and training and an opportunity for social dining as a positive, healthy alternative to the local Burger King and MacDonalds.

She said that in her church, the first 10% of the income - 'the first fruits' - went to Mission / Outreach. Then, they funded the rest of the budget according to a priority their Board of Deacons had established. If they couldn't afford a church program or a staff person, that line item, in order of priority, was seriously reconsidered. The "sound" of that deficit was heard not as defeat or failure, but rather as a "call" to greater evangelism and ministry efforts and they redoubled their efforts in those areas - always to great effect.

I'll never forget what she said: "If you touch your tithe to the Lord (which is how she described the 'first fruit tithe') - you inflict a wound on the Body of Christ which may not be immediately visible, but from which you will never recover. You will send a shock wave to the rest of the Body that will begin to paralyze the other sources of income. You do damage to yourself, your community, your church, and insult the Lord who gave it all to you in the first place."

The 0.7% MDG line item is an integral part of our 'first fruit tithe' to God. We can choose to hear the fragility of our present economy as a call to cut expenses or a call to greater evangelism and ministry.

I certainly hope this decision will be seriously reconsidered.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What's cooking for Lent?

Stone Soup Supper Lenten Series

Why is it that often when we get what we want,
we still feel empty?

We work so hard to succeed,
but our lives just end up becoming more about us?

Is there another way to live?

Come explore the elements of your life
and your relationship to God.

View a 10 minute video and then join the conversation.

March 3: RAIN - Where is God when it hurts?

March 10: FLAME - What's Love got to do with it?

March 17: TREES - Do our lives really matter?

March 24: BREATHE - Are you inspired / inspiring?

March 31: RHYTHM - Are you in sync with God?

Evening Prayer at 6:30 PM in the Sanctuary
Simple Lenten Soup Supper at 7 PM in the Parish Hall
Lenten Series 7:30 – 8:45 PM in the Parish Hall
Compline 8:45 – 9:00 PM in the Parish Hall

Absolutely everyone is welcome!

The Episcopal Church of St. Paul welcomes you!
200 Main Street – Chatham, NJ 07928
973 635 2045 –

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Transgender Curriculum for Churches

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force


Pedro Julio Serrano
Communications Coordinator
(Office) 646.358.1479
(Cell) 787.602.5954
(e-mail to:pserrano@theTaskFor

New transgender education resource for churches from the Institute for Welcoming Resources

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — The Institute for Welcoming Resources (IWR), a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, today announced the release of transACTION, a new curriculum designed for churches and religious institutions to help congregants and members understand and welcome transgender persons into their congregations and faith settings.

“Too often transgender people looking for a place to worship can’t find one to call their spiritual home because most congregations and religious institutions are not ready to welcome them as their companions in faith,” says the Rev.. Rebecca Voelkel, Institute for Welcoming Resources and faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

“Yet, many transgender people of faith are searching for the same things that other believers want: a loving community where worship and working for equality and justice are the focus of their faith experience.”

transACTION is designed to help churches and institutions address this issue of understanding and welcome by providing step-by-step training about the needs, apprehensions and fears of transgender people — as well as the wealth of gifts and graces they bring — while responding to the concerns of the church or religious institution.

The program can be used in three sessions:

How Do We Get to Understanding,
How Do We Get to Acceptance, and
How Do We Get to Welcoming.

All sessions include discussions and activities to go along with the information provided in the curriculum.

“We tried to make this a learning experience that would go beyond just the basics of gender identity and gender expression in order to give participants an understanding of the issues and concerns that transgender people have when trying to express their faith and spirituality in a church or any religious setting,” says Barbara Satin, author of the curriculum and a transgender advocate around issues of faith and aging.

transACTION is available for download from the Institute of Welcoming Resources Web site at
____________ _________ _________ __
The Institute for Welcoming Resources (IWR) is a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, whose purpose is to achieve the full acceptance and participation of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the church. IWR, located in Minneapolis, Minn., provides resources and programs to support the welcoming church movement and develops coalitions to broaden the results of its work in a wide variety of faith groups.

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement.

Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies.

As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge. The Task Force is a 501(c)(3) corporation incorporated in Washington, D.C. Contributions to the Task Force are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law. (C) 2007 NGLTF

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
1325 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 600,
Washington, DC 20005.

Phone 202.393.5177.
Fax 202.393.2241.
TTY 202.393.2284.

(e-mail to: theTaskForce@ theTaskForce. org) .

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scenes from HAPPENING

I think I can finally feel my body again.

The best way to describe it is that I am in a state of euphoric exhaustion.

That's Michael, the Vicar and Grace, the Rector of "Happening 23" the diocesan retreat for kids, by kids, which just took place at St. Paul's this past weekend.

It's amazing what can happen when adults get out of the way and let kids find their own center and source of spirituality and then lead other kids to do the same.

There were 19 "Happeners" this weekend, representing 13 churches in the diocese and three kids who have no church or religious affiliation.

How's that for evangelism?

There's Grace on the left, a member of St. Paul's who I baptized six years ago when she was 12, a high school senior headed off to college in the Fall. She's with Tim, the Missioner for Youth and Young Families at St. Pauls and "Dad" of Happening, along with Caitlin, another member of St. Paul's and a high school senior, bound for college in the Fall.

I'm so proud of them, I could just burst.

The Vicar (Michael, this year) led all the prayers for Morning, Noon and Compline.

There are eleven "Talks" to Happening. The Rector (Grace, this year), gives one at the beginning and one at the end. The Spiritual Directors (this year, there were three of us who 'tag teamed' around our schedule) give one talk on Reconciliation and one on The Sacraments. We also participated in the Way of the Cross and the Foot Washing, and led the Healing Service on Saturday night.

We also had the enormous privilege of presiding and preaching the closing Eucharist yesterday. Other than that, we hung out with the kids, talking with them about everything from "apps" for their iPhones, to problems with absent fathers, to what to do about a serious allegation that was told in confidence in the context of small group conversation.

The other seven "Talks" are given by kids, mostly high school seniors, who have already "happened". They were, in a word, remarkable. Okay, they were also amazing. There are many other words to describe them, but if I start I'll just get all girly-burbly again.

It's the music I want to talk about.

Yup, that's a bunch of Young Episcopalians, singing praise music in St. Paul's Parish Hall, without prayer books or hymnals, reading the lyrics from a projector.

One of the Spiritual Directors described the music this way - it's like: "God is a GREAT God / God is a Very Big Man with Very Big Muscles who is strong enough to lift me and rescue me from anything / God is in complete control / God makes everything GLORIOUS / Did I mention that He has Very Big Muscles?"

Right. The songs are also sung while dancing and twirling and come with a whole set of hand motions to illustrate the words and lyrics.

It's all great, high-energy, frenetic fun. You know, the way adolescence is supposed to be when it's not all-drama-all-the-time.

Our "Music Man" was John, a very talented musician and devout Christian who came to NJ by way of Ft. Worth, TX. It would be something of an understatement to say that his music is very different from what we have been singing.

For as long as I've been connected with Happening and Diocesan Camp and Youth Events, we have used what we call "The Fishy Book." I don't know that I've ever known the real name of it. It's a sort of aqua color and has a Christian "Fish" symbol in white on the front.

It's pretty much a compilation of secular songs which have a religious theme - like, "Lean on Me" or that one (Umm . . . "The Legend of Billy Jack"???) with the refrain: Go ahead and hate your neighbor / Go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of Heaven / You can justify it in the end. / There won't be any trumpets blowing / Come the judgment day, / On the bloody morning after.... / (stomp, stomp, stomp - and you haven't really sung the song unless you've stomped your foot three times at this point) / One tin soldier rides away."

There's also Camp Songs like the "Pharaoh / Pharaoh" song ("Let my people go {now thrust your pelvis and sing} HUH! Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya"), and "It only takes a spark (to get a fire going)", "The Lord of the Dance."

Like that.

Here's the thing about John: He believes what he sings. You can hear the truth of that from the bottom of his heart. So it totally works.

He and I had a conversation about his music and the words and images of some of the prayers in our Happening Prayer Book for Morning, Noon and Compline.

He admitted that he's not very good with the feminine images of God. Which is good because many of us in the Diocese of Newark are not very good with the predominance of the male images of God in our liturgy.

We agreed that it's important for kids to get exposed to both. Heck, it's important that we ALL get reminded that God is, in fact, so glorious as to be beyond our wildest imaginings. No one has been able to get God to stay in our safe little box of who we think God is and what we think God is capable of doing in our lives.

I described it this way: When I'm worshiping in a place or country that is 'foreign' to me, I may not understand every word, and I may not agree with the words I do understand, but I do understand that the reality and integrity of the cultural context I'm in is different from mine. I try to be a gracious guest.

Adolescence is its own little world, a world where there are few shades of gray and where the hormones racing through their changing bodies leads them to feel insecure and sometimes even scared. In the midst of a rapidly changing world, they are consumed with working on their own identity and developing their own systems of belief and understanding and faith.

In that context, it's comforting and important to them to have one thing they can understand, one thing that is unchangeable and reliable. "Happening" helps them find that place, that compass.

I always tell my kids that this is where they are now. They won't always be in that place. Something, or some things, will happen in their lives that will shake those beliefs and those images of God to their very foundation. Some will find it helpful to return to that foundational place and stay there for the rest of their lives.

Some will feel betrayed and need to walk away from it all - some permanently, others for a sojourn into the wilderness. Some will modify their images and understandings of God - some permanently and others will stay open to even more changes.

Still others will find the face of God revealed to them in startling different and disturbing ways. Some will walk away and others will embrace this image of God, integrating it into the truth they come to believe about God's interaction with the world and God's people.

And, I tell them, it's all good. God is beyond our human understanding and we do not serve God well when we force God into a small box. In any event, what they will discover is that God will refuse to stay contained in a human understanding - much in the same way that they are now refusing to stay contained in an identity and image their parents or teachers or family members or peers have of them.

That seems to make sense to them. I love it when the young adults I helped prepare for Confirmation come home from college and we revisit that conversation.

It's all about giving them roots so they can grow wings.

God is their roots, I tell them. Jesus is their wings.

I suppose that's why my body is so tired this morning. That tends to happen when you do the back breaking work of planting divine seeds and trying to teach kids how to fly so that, one day, they can soar with Jesus.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"I do choose. Be made clean!"

“If you choose, you can make me clean.” Mark 1:40-45
VI Epiphany – February 15, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Freedom of choice. It is understood as the bedrock of American democracy. Our constitution guarantees the idea of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” People are drawn to America – ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ – from around the world by that idea. My grandparents were. Perhaps your grandparents or ancestors were, as well. As Americans, were very keen about this idea.

What I’ll bet you don’t know is that it is also a foundational value of Christianity. It’s all about choice of how to live our faith – the good choices and the bad – because we know that we sometimes learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

We know that ours is a gracious and loving God who always provides us with an opportunity to repent, to seek forgiveness and find plenteous redemption. We believe what St. Paul says in Romans 8:28, that, “all things work together for the good for those who love God.” I’ll have more to say on this in a wee bit.

Today’s lessons from Hebrew Scripture, the Psalm, and the Gospel Lesson all speak to making choices – some for the good and some which are in direct disobedience of what was spoken.

The leper says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus says to the leper, “I do choose. Be made clean!” And, so he was. But Jesus also gave him very explicit instructions about keeping quiet and following the rituals of cleansing as prescribed by Moses which the leper chose not to follow.

Freedom of choice. It’s a gospel value and a standard of the good news of Jesus Christ. Now, admittedly, for some of you this ‘good news’ is news, indeed! I’m willing to bet that this is not the message you got when you first started reading the bible.

Indeed, the bible for many Christians is still a Book of Rules which is to be followed closely or we risk placing ourselves in peril of life eternal in the fiery furnace of Hell.

Walter Brueggemann is a prolific author, Hebrew scholar and one of my favorite modern prophets. I once heard him say, “Martin Luther’s conviction that you have to make a distinction between the Gospel and the Bible is a terribly important one . . . It’s very scary now in the church that the Gospel is equated with the Bible so that you get a kind of Biblicism that is not noticeably informed by the Gospel.”

The Gospel is the Good News. That’s different from The Bible which time bound and written through the filter of ancient cultural structures which must be sorted through in order to get to that which is, in fact, “Good News for Modern Man – and women!” - which is timeless.

You know, I really don’t give two figs about what you think the Bible says or what you think I think the Bible says. What I want to know is: how does what you read in the Bible make a difference in your life? What is the Good News of Christ Jesus that you hear? And, how would I find evidence of that in your life?

For example, I recently spoke with someone who had a very annoying inclination of backing everything she said with scripture. Maybe you’ve spoken to someone who does that same thing.

The conversation goes, “So, I did this, because as you know, it says in Scripture in the Book of St. Swithin, Chapter 12 verse 22 . . . .”

The hardest part is not rolling my eyes as a response.

She said to me, “You know, I believe with all my heart what St. Paul says in Romans, Chapter 8, vs. 28, that “all things work together for the good for those who love God.” Right, I said. So, how’s that working out for you?

Her head snapped back as if I had hit her with a ton of bricks. “What?” she asked, stunned.

“How’s that working out for you in your life? I mean, what have you done lately that lives out that belief? Where’s the Good News of Jesus Christ for you that caused you to take a risk of the Gospel because you believed that, no matter what happened, even if it wasn’t what you wanted or desired or prayed for – even if it turned out you had made a HUGE mistake – that it would all work for the good?”

Funny. She was not at all pleased with me and didn’t answer my question. She just kept quoting the bible, chapter and verse.

I suppose that was because the point of her conversation with me was really just to impress me with how much she knew about what scripture said, while I was more willing to be impressed by how she was living the Gospel message she heard.

That’s a choice we have to make. It’s not a choice about good or bad, right or wrong. It’s a choice about how we live out our lives. It’s a choice about blindly following the words of the Bible, or opening our eyes to the Living Word of the Good News of Christ Jesus. One is much riskier. Much costlier. It’s often not what the world would expect us to choose. However, it is what Jesus would ask us to consider.

Let me give you an example by way of a story I once heard Jon Bruno tell. It’s been a number of years, so I may not get it exactly right, but like the Good News, it’s not about precision of detail but the substance of the message.

Jon is now – and has been for over a decade – the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of LA. You only have to lay eyes on him was once to know that he was once a professional football player. Denver Broncos, I think. Fullback, I believe.

When he left professional football, he became a cop in the place of his family heritage – in the barrios of his East LA. It was his work there that inspired him to eventually pursue ordination to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church.

As evidence that God has a sense of humor, Jon found himself, fresh out of seminary and with a clean white collar around his neck, as vicar in one of the scruffier churches in the barrios. Early one evening, as Jon tells the story, a young man rang his doorbell. Jon recognized him immediately as one of the gang members who often gave him trouble when he was a cop.

The young man had a strange request. He wanted Jon to hear his confession. Right now, please. And then, after you hear my confession, please take me downtown where I will turn myself in to the police.

A good priest, Jon put on his stole, took out his prayer book and listened as the young man confessed to murdering a young man as part of his rite of initiation as a gang member.

Jon remembered the murder well. He knew the boy and his family. Rage flared in his heart as the memory of his brutal death flashed in his mind.

The young man said that, at the time, he felt he had no choice. Now, he said, he knew better. He had chosen not to kill another since that first murder. And, that was becoming a problem in terms of his continued membership in the gang. He had decided that prison was better than continuing the path of murder. So, he wanted to make his confession and pay for his crime.

Jon listened carefully and then said, “I will give you absolution, but not until you come with me to the boy’s mother’s house. As your penance, I want you to tell her your story and then I will give you absolution and bring you downtown to the police station.” Much to Jon’s relief, the young man agreed to the plan.

When they got to the woman’s home, she invited them in and insisted on serving them coffee and dessert. After that pleasantry, the young man cleared his throat and revealed the purpose of his visit.

The woman listened carefully to his story, then rose quietly and went to the window near her kitchen sink. She looked down into the courtyard and Jon suddenly realized that this was the spot where her son was murdered, execution style. He wondered what hell she must have lived through in the past few years – how many times a day she must have looked out that window and relived her son’s death . . .

She began to weep – great uncontrollable sobs – as Jon and the young man sat there, immobilized. Finally, she wiped her tears and returned to her place at the table. Clearing her throat, she pointed at Jon and asked, “Padre, were you wearing your stole when you heard his confession?” Jon was bewildered by this question, but answered truthfully, “Why, yes,” he said, “Yes, of course.” “Good,” she said, “then you are bound by the seal of confession.”

Turning to the young boy she said, “And you, you will not be going to the police station.” “But . . .,” started the boy. “No,” she said, cutting him off, “You will be staying here. With me. You will be my son. You will not take the place of my son. No one could ever do that. But, you are the son the Lord has sent me. You will live with me like a son and I will live with you like a mother. You have chosen not to live your life for violence. No more gangs. Choose family. This is what I choose. I choose no more bitterness. No more anger. No more death. I choose life.”

It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? I don’t know if I could have made that same choice. Could you? I do know that that choice is not outlined in the Bible. I can’t recite chapter and verse that tells you that this is the choice – the only choice – she had to make. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad. It is, however, a clear choice of the message of Good News as she heard it. It’s her freedom of choice as to how she is going to live out what she hears in the Bible.

The leper said to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” And Jesus said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” That’s a Bible fact. I can quote you chapter and verse. So can you. That’s not the point. The point is this: How is that working out for you in your life? What message of Good News do you hear in this Bible verse? And, what are you doing about it?