Come in! Come in!

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Fish Tale

"Summer time, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin' . . ."

Did you ever wonder why fish jump?

Ms. Conroy thinks that it is either because:
(1) When the water gets too hot they need to jump out of the water to get cool.

(2) There are mosquitoes and the fish jump to eat them.
For a long time, I believed her and thought both could be true.

BUZZZZZZ. Sorry, Ms. Conroy. It's rare, we know, but this is one time when your pristine logic and the "truth by blatant assertion" style which the RC church of your youth taught you has failed you.

Want to know how I know?

The other day, I walked up to the Mom and Pop store at the top of the road and across the street to buy a few staples and ran into some of the old Delmarva Peninsula fishermen by the Bait Shop.

"Hot enough for ya, Pastor?" one of them called to me.

"Whew, yeah!" I said, trying to sound like a Cool Local. You know, like I had some inside information. "The fish sure are jumpin', aren't they?"

"Yup," said another, "the crabs are runnin' strong."

He said it like the two sentences belonged together.

Like, when you say, "The Lord be with you," in an Episcopal Church, someone will say, "And also with you."
"The fish sure are jumpin', aren't they?"

"Yup, the crabs are runnin' strong."

"Let us pray."
I tried to stay in Very Cool Local Mode, but I stopped dead in my tracks, trying to put the two pieces of information together.

"How's that?" I asked, realizing that I was at risk of losing my facade of Cool Insider.

"Well, cuz the fish is jumpin'" the first one said, as the others caught on immediately, and starting shifting their weight uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Okay, guys," I said, knowing enough to know that they knew that I didn't know what the heck I was talking about. "Tell me. Why are the fish jumpin'?"

They were very kind.

"Well," said one of the guys, trying hard not to sound condescending, "When fish jump it means one of two things:
1. They are trying to loosen the eggs in their skeins before they spawn


2. They are trying to rid themselves of sea-lice.

Either way, crabs are scavengers. They will run to either eat the eggs or the sea-lice."
After I expressed my amazement, I thanked them profusely, albeit with no small amount of embarrassment - which did not go unnoticed - and exchanged a few last comments about the importance of putting really rancid bait in the crab trap, the prediction of rain for the next few days, and my excitement over my brother's visit and our plans to go fishing and crabbing, no matter the weather.

What's really amazing is, after all these many years on Planet Earth, there's so much I don't yet know or understand about this world. In my younger day, I used to be in hot pursuit of "the answers." I just knew that, if I collected enough answers I could be part of the effort to "Save the World" - from itself and the vast multitudes of people who clearly were lower forms of intelligent life.

Ah, such arrogance, right?

I think I'm just now beginning to know what questions to ask. I'm still not entirely certain what to do with the answers, but the knowledge sure does make me humble.

As I turned to go into the store, one of them called to me and said, "Hey, pastor! Didn't Jesus say something about 'If you can't understand earthly things, how can you understand heavenly things?'"

"Yes," I responded, grateful to be back on solid ground, even if just momentarily.

"Well," he smiled warmly, "I think the reverse is also true.. . . You know?"

I smiled at his gallant attempt to rescue my ego.

Some people sure are nice here in (S)Lower Delaware.

That may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with Darwin, but it has an awful lot to do with Fish and Truth - and the truth about why fish jump.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dancing in the Rain

My brother and his wife, my niece and her husband, just left for the long journey home.

The house is suddenly and very strangely quiet. Even in the emptiness, however, the house feels very full.

Perhaps that is because my heart is filled to full measure, pressed down and overflowing. Thank you all so very much for your prayers. You can't possibly know how much of difference it has made.

It has been a rainy, overcast and cloudy weekend, with moments when the sun simply burst through the gray clouds, unable to be contained by the threatening storms.

It has been quite an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of this wee family reunion.

There have been difficult moments. Reliving old, painful, hurtful memories that seemed better, after, for having shared them - validated and affirmed them - together. ("See? I wasn't crazy." "Oh, THAT's what happened. I always wondered.")

Asking question that have taunted the heart and mind - some, for decades. Questions begging to be asked yet hesitant - anxious that the answer we had created would be the correct one. Fearful about the possibility of the truth contained in the answers.

Relieved at some. Comforted by others. Considering and weighing still more.

I am amazed - all over again - at the ripple effects of the family systems dynamic of triangulation and splitting or emotional or physical cut off .

Seeing it "up close and personal" in one's own family has been an eye-opener. These dysfunctional dynamics can and do get (and in some cases already have gotten) passed down from generation to generation.

Which is why it is so important to name them for what they are and raise awareness of them so that these patterns don't have an opportunity to repeat themselves.

This part of the "family tree" - the vine that has been pruned and left to die - has found new soil in which to grow. I believe we are healthier for it.

Mostly, however, we have simply enjoyed each other's company. Stayed in the now. Neither dwelling too long on the past nor trying to predict or be paralyzed by the worst case scenario of future.

Just dancing in the rain.

It has been more than I could have ever asked for or imagined.

I was just going through my email and found the following in a message from Doug (thanks, darling). I think it sums up pretty accurately the attitude we all have, walking with resistant, baby steps, into the Great Unknown with my brother.

At least now, we're going to do it together. Trying to learn from each other how to turn the March of Dread into a Dance of Hope.

Dancing in the Rain

From a surgical nurse..... via the kindness of Doug

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80's arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound.

On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.

I inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's Disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late...He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, 'And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?' He smiled as he patted my hand and said,'She doesn't know me, but I still know who she is.'

I had to hold back tears as he left, I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought, That is the kind of love I want in my life. True love is neither physical, nor romantic.

True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be.

The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have.

Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canine Thoughts About Community.

Ms. CoCo Chanel, the Upper East Side bitch, and Mr. Lenny Bruce Brisco, who takes "the short bus to school", can not - at times - contain their excitement, enthusiasm and joy about having guests at Llangollen.

Sometimes, they get a little TOO excited - jumping on everyone and licking their faces. Which is fine. Except, if someone is allergic to dogs.

Other times, they get TOO enthusiastic and territorial about their "pack". Ms. CoCo, Alpha Dog, extraordinaire, will bark and fuss if anyone dares leave the room. Which is difficult if we are playing games in the Florida Room and one of us gets up to go to the loo or into the kitchen for more refreshments and snacks.

It becomes Major Doggy Drama. Every time.

So, sometimes, when we anticipate lots of activity - like morning showers and breakfast - we put the puppies out in the Florida Room and close the sliding glass door.

Just for 20 minutes or so. Until "the pack" settles down.

Not exactly "banishment" but you would think by the looks on their faces that they had been exiled to Outer Slobovia - for evah.

How pathetic is that?

We're getting ready to leave for an afternoon of shopping at the Discount Malls. The pups will have the run of the house. Even so, they will not be happy until the entire pack is altogether in the same place at the same time.

So, here's my thought for the day: Sometimes, I think, dogs have a better sense of community than some people . . . especially those who profess to be 'orthodox' followers of Christ.

Not especially deep or profound or even particularly original, but the best I can do on a rainy Saturday morning in late August on Rehoboth Bay.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Weaving with tattered cloth

My brother and sister in law arrived late yesterday evening. Their daughter and son-in-law arrived shortly after dinner.

It's been wonderful to have them all here.

My brother has lost 30 pounds since I last saw him. It takes a great deal of energy to fight this dreadful disease which will slowly, gradually take over his mind.

For right now, he engages fully in conversations, but needs some direction to remember how to clear the table. He remembers things from our youth that I long ago forgot, but he can't remember how to sign his name. Or, drive a car.

He's 56 years old.

He will begin a new experimental drug protocol next week, which gives him great hope. I take enormous delight in his hopeful, positive attitude.

Right now, we are living in the now. Catching up before we decide how to move forward. Picking up the tattered strips of the fabric of our lives and deciding which to cast off and what to weave into a new pattern of relationship.

I feel richly blessed even as I deal with the occasional, unexpected onset of mild waves of anxiety.

Of your mercy and kindness, please shoot some arrow prayers over to Rehoboth Beach this weekend. Nothing urgent, dramatic or profound. Just a few, gentle prayers every once in a while, if you remember.

Pray that the strips of tattered cloth which we are sorting through may be woven into something whole, something to contain us in our relationship when the challenges of the fierce storms that are predicted in the near future come to pass.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Budget Cuts in TEC and the Ministry of Women

The fallout of the drastic budget cuts made at General Convention in Anaheim, CA included the elimination of the Women's Desk at 815 - the National Church Center.

Our Ecumentical partners in Women's Ministry are also concerned.

I rejoice in this "Open Letter" to the Episcopal Church and pray that the Executive Council will address the concerns stated in this letter and make every effort to restore this important and vital presence at the national and international levels.

If you wish to join this effort, please write a letter to the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies at the addresses below.

An Open Letter to the Episcopal Church

August 2009

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church
c/o Miguel Angel Escobar
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, House of Deputies
c/o Marian Conboy
Executive Office of the General Convention
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Ministry:

As leaders of denominational and ecumenical women’s ministries, we noted with great sadness that the budget presented and approved by both houses at the general convention in Anaheim eliminated several program areas at the national level,including women’s ministries.

We recognize that in these difficult financial times tough decisions are being made, many programs are being cut and good people are losing positions in many national church offices.

But we are concerned that the elimination of national leadership related to women’s ministries will be a significant loss to the Episcopal Church and to the whole ecumenical movement.

Although women constitute more that 50% of the membership of all of our churches, women’s gifts and talents are often undervalued.

While the Episcopal Church and other denominations are working very hard to be inclusive and diverse, elimination of this particular office seems to indicate that these gifts and talents are not deemed necessary at the highest programmatic levels. This raises concerns for us as leaders and ecumenical counterparts.

As many of our denominations seek to become more consultative, women’s skills and experience are particularly relevant. The leadership development provided through
denominational offices for women’s ministries is not only important to the women of the church but also to the denomination as a whole.

The participation of women beyond the congregation (in which they are often the core of the ministry workforce) provides women with a chance to grow spiritually. These opportunities for providing nurture to women are generated by the denominational office in a way that area staff or congregational ministries cannot.

We applaud the commitment the Episcopal Church has made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and we agree that the goals provide an image, an icon or
a lens for how we can build the reign of God in our own day.

We, along with other national and international leaders, also believe that these goals are not achievable without addressing gender violence and gender justice in our church and world. A commitment to overcoming poverty must seriously address the feminization of poverty on a global level. National program leadership is essential in holding up these truths.

The leadership and opportunities that the national women’s ministry office of the Episcopal Church have provided in the ecumenical family and with Ecumenical Women at the UN is just one important example of what is being lost with these budget decisions.

Beijing Circles, Gender Budgeting, and worship resources such as Lifting Women’s Voices – Prayers to Change the World are just a few of the gifts women’s ministries have provided not only to the Episcopal Church but to all of us in the USA and globally.

For over a century women’s mission and ministry has provided the opportunity for women to gather around issues of particular importance to women and children. It is hard to see how this identification of women with their sisters around the world and the potential of women to affect the world for good would continue without centralized leadership.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it,
if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
1 Cor. 12:26.

Although we recognize the difficult budget decisions that faced the Episcopal Church, we believe eliminating the national office for women’s ministries was counter productive to the realization of ministry goals of greater inclusivity and diversity, spiritual and leadership development, as well your communion’s leadership in engaging global issues.

We pray that as the Episcopal Church continues to evaluate the national ministry priorities in these challenging and changing economic times that restoration of this vital ministry will be sought.

As part of the body of Christ, we continue to hold you and your communion in our prayers.


Leaders of Denominational and Ecumenical Women’s Ministries:

Deborah Bailey
Minister for Women’s Concerns
Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team
Local Church Ministries
United Church of Christ

Adonna R. Bowman
Executive Director
Office of Disciples Women
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Ann Ferguson
Presbyterian Women
Program Coordinator

Ruth Y. Hill
Executive Minister, Women Ministries of the ECC
Evangelical Covenant Church

Virginia Holmstrom
Executive Director
American Baptist Women’s Ministries
American Baptist Churches, USA

Rhoda Keener
Executive Director
Mennonite Women
Mennonite Church, USA

Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Women’s Division
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Pam Phillips-Burk
Director of Women’s Ministries
Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Linda Post Bushkofsky
Executive Director
Women of the ELCA
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Mary J. Streufert, Ph.D,
Director of Justice for Women in Church and Society
Church in Society Program Unit
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Ann Tiemeyer
Program Director for Women’s Ministries
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

cc: Rev. Margaret Rose, Center Director, Mission Leadership Center, Episcopal Church
Anne Rudig, Communications Director, Episcopal Church
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches, USA

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The End of Camelot

For some people of a certain age Ted Kennedy will always be the rich drunk who drove off the Chappaquidick Bridge and sent Mary Jo Kopechne to her watery death.

For others - especially those of us with deep roots in New England soil - he will always be the scandal-tarnished baby brother who would never follow in the footsteps of Jack or Bobby but nevertheless did great good.

In fact, Kennedy's fingerprints are all over virtually every major liberal Democratic legislative initiative of the past 45 years and a goodly number of bipartisan ones, as well. These include the 1980 Americans With Disabilities Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

There could be no more poignant a reminder of the greatness of this exemplar of noblesse oblige than when several Senate conservatives openly wept after it was announced that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

With the death of Ted Kennedy late Tuesday night, the dream of Camelot has ended, but the legacy of Camelot continues as vibrant and robust as ever.

Here are Ted Kennedy's words at the Democratic National Convention which nominated Barack Obama to be this nation's next President:
"There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination -- not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation. And this November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. . . . The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."

The torch has, indeed, been passed. The legacy of the dream lives on.

As King Arthur sang to the young boy, Tom, at the end of the play:
Don't let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment that was known

As Camelot
In the Spirit of Camelot and in honor of the esteemed Senator from Massachusetts, I offer the lovely, lilting "We Will Go Home" - from King Arthur, the movie.

Ted Kennedy has gone home. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Fat is (still) a Feminist Issue

I didn't start this to be a rant, but the more I've been thinking and writing, the more of a rant this has become.

That's not so much an apology as it is a warning of sorts.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I see so many half naked bodies on the beach every day. And, most of them - mine included - look nothing like anyone you can find on the pages of magazines or newspapers, or on television.

No movie stars or super models at Rehoboth Beach.

You know. Just like real life.

Admittedly, I never read Glamour Magazine, even when copies lie around the coffee table of my doctor or dentist's offices, but I'm having a hard time getting my head wrapped around all the fuss over Lizzie Miller's picture in the September issue.

Miller is a 20 year old plus size model standing 5'11", weighing in at 180 pounds, and wearing a size 12-14. Miller is (evidently) on page 194 of the latest issue of Glamour magazine and her semi-nude photos have caused a stir recently with the exhibition of her belly and stretch-marked hips.

The photo to the left has caused even more of a stir because it features Miller in profile with a full view of her belly.

Perhaps we're so shocked because this woman's body is closer to what we know to be. . . wait for it . . . "normal".

So is every woman who is the size she is - no matter what size.

Newsflash: Most women do not look like the supermodels who are on the 'cat walk' during Fashion Week every year in Bryant Park in New York City.

Although lots of women - myself included - love our 'Victoria Secrets', nobody I know looks like a Victoria Secret model.

The average American woman wears a size 12-14, not a size 6. Some of the most beautiful women I know wear larger sizes than that.

Just last week I bought a dress on sale at a well known chain with a store at one of the discount malls here in Rehoboth Beach. It was lovely summer dress made out of a light, gauzy material - sleeveless with a V-neck - perfect for the hot days of July and August.

It was a size large.

LARGE! I wear a size 10-12. When did that become LARGE? What kind of message does that send to women? That a size 10-12 is LARGE?

Some women dress for men. Other women dress for other women. Most of us dress to impress someone or something. We know not to wear certain articles of clothing in certain places. We understand 'dress codes' - in fact, some of us create and maintain them. We know especially the expectation of dress at work.

I choose to wear my collar every day at work, not because I like it, particularly, but because I am keenly aware that, in my very Roman Catholic town, it sends a message every time I walk down the street or into a hospital.

As my old friend, the Large and Lovely Beula Lamont - drag queen extraordinaire - used to say, "Honey, we're all born naked. Everything after that is just drag."

Of course, there are women who are obese. Some are morbidly obese. That is a health issue. So is bulimia. And, anorexia.

And all of them - obesity, bulimia, anorexia, along with the destructive cycle of binge eating and purging - are feminist issues.

They are feminist issues because they speak directly to issues of low self esteem which arise from not having direct control and self determination over their own bodies.

They are feminist issues because ever since the fig leaf, men have defined beauty for women, and as long as men control that definition along with the power and authority to enforce the definition, women will not be in control of their own lives and bodies.

Scientific research and medical anecdotal compilation has shown, time and time again, that the reason women starve themselves or overeat themselves into morbid obesity, the underlying issue is a sense of lack of control, leading to various manifestations of depression.

Food - lack or abundance thereof - becomes a way to self-medicate.

As the old, trite saying goes, "It's not what you're eating, it's what's eating you."

In the 70s, Susie Orbach wrote a book "Fat is a Feminist Issue" in which she exposed the eating disorders of young women in England.

A 1977 US study revealed that one generation earlier, the average female model weighed 8% less than the average US woman. By 1977, she weighed 23% less.

An entire 'weight loss industry' has emerged, making HUGE profits by playing into anxieties provoked by the fashion industry in magazines that promote images of 'perfect' women who wear a 'perfect' size six. Or, four. Or zero.

Young girls and women are deeply affected by this - literally making themselves sick in order to fit into someone else's image of perfection.

Although the problem is world-wide, in the US alone,

* Approximately 7 million girls and women struggle with eating disorders;
* Approximately 1 million boys and men struggle with eating disorders.
* Up to 19% of college aged women in America are bulimic.

It starts early. Of those reported cases of anorexia and bulimia,
* 10% report onset at 10 years or younger;
* 33% report onset between ages of 11-15;
* 43% report onset between ages of 16-20;
* 86% report onset of illness by the age of 20.

With treatment about 60% of people with eating disorders recover completely, maintaining a healthy weight.

Without treatment, up to twenty percent (20%) of people with serious eating disorders die.

Here's the thing: We are women, not objects.

We have thighs and legs, not 'gams'.

We have bellies, not "six packs".

We are soft and round, not hard and stick-like.

We are human beings, not objects to be analyzed and dissected into "perfect" body parts.

We are most amazing creatures. Our bodies can contain and nourish life - before and after birth. We can bleed for days once a month and not die.

Most of us just want to feel healthy and look good in our clothes.

And, most of us do.

It's time to celebrate what we look like beneath our clothes.

God Bless Lizzie Millier and "plus size" super model Emme, and women like Mary J Blige, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Queen Latifah - women with hips and thighs, bellies and stretch marks.

God Bless the folks at Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which shows real women in their advertisements for beautiful women - even if their primary goal is to sell their products.

And, God bless Meryl Streep (60), Stockard Channing (64), Glenn Close (62), and Helen Mirren (64) who are also not afraid to age gracefully - gray hair, wrinkles, crows feet and all.

We need more of these images of the real beauty of real women.

No matter their age.

Or size.

If you have a chance in these last days of summer, rent the HBO movie based on Josefina Lopez's play, "Real Women Have Curves" with America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros. It is a very powerful portrayal of the damaging effects of sexism, misogyny and internalized oppression.

If you can, take the next minute and 19 seconds to watch this video which is part of the Dove Campaign to address the media impact of the definition of beauty on young girls.

This is not a commercial for Dove Products and I'm not asking anyone to take part in this Ad Campaign.

I am hoping that we will have more conversations about taking back the definition of beauty for women - with our spouses, mothers and grandmothers, our daughters, sisters and nieces, our cousins, godchildren and neighbors, as well as our husbands, fathers and grandfathers, our sons and and brothers, our cousins, nephews, godsons and neighbors.

Because the billion dollar fashion and weight loss industry have already given them an ear full - along with belly full of lies about what really makes a real woman really beautiful.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Great Insight Du Jour

Late yesterday afternoon, I walked to the little "Mom and Pop" store up the road and across the street. It's about a one mile walk both ways, and I needed the exercise.

The 'folks' had gathered, as they often do, at the end of their work shift and before they head home for supper. I always enjoy listening in to 'politics at the grass root level'.

The other day, they were talking about health care. The day before that, they were talking about the impact of all the new homes on the local environment.

Mind you, you won't find any high rhetorical flourishes or skilled debating techniques or finely honed political strategies. You have to search for it, but underneath the split infinitives, dangling participles and unmatched nouns and verbs, you will find some fascinating social analysis and commentary.

For the most part, however, it is unfiltered, unvarnished, and sometimes uninformed or misinformed opinion. You know. Like a lot of blogs, except a whole lot more interesting because you can see real faces on real people.

It's just a guess, but I'm thinking that for many of these folks, Fox News is a primary news and editorial opinion source. You know. Like most of those who comment over at SFiF and T19 - except the local folk here are a whole lot more tempered.

Indeed, they seem restrained in comparison. They really like each other and they love Jesus, and that makes all the difference.

Or, maybe it's the iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove moderator who also owns and manages the joint. "Linda" often quiets a conversation headed toward more than a low simmer with the admonishment, "Well now folks, we're all Christian here, ain't we?" Everybody knows exactly what that means, and the conversation immediately snaps back into place.

The conversation du jour was about the recent ELCA decision to accept "partnered" LGBT ministers.

One old fella pronounced that "God don't like gays. It's in The Bible. You can read it for yourself," picked up his bag containing a red pack of Marlboro, a six pack of green bottled Rolling Rock and a package of Ho Ho's and left, before calling over his shoulder, "I ain't no damn Lutheran. Ain't a Methodist, either and they are next, mark my words. My kin is Baptist. We believe in The Bible."

"Linda" shook her head as the others looked at each other and back to her to get their next cue.

"Huh," she said. "How many wives has he had?"

Everyone laughed the kind of laugh that was just a little too loud, the kind of laughter that serves to break the tension more than appreciate the joke.

Someone, a woman, talked about her nephew "up in Massachusetts" who had gotten married last year. "He's a nice boy. A good boy. Brought up the right way. He's gay but he done the right thing. I don't have any problem with how God made you as long as you do the right thing about it."

The others carefully considered her words as many nodded their head in agreement.

A man offered, "We ain't got no control over how our kids and grand kids turn out, you know? All you can do is bring them up with good moral values. I ain't no Lutheran. I'm an Evangelical, and as near as I can figure ain't no one more Christian than an Evangelical, but that don't mean that the others don't try to be Christian."

He considered his words for a moment before adding, "I guess that's why they want their ministers 'partnered' if they're gonna have to be gay."

Another moment of silence before someone else pipped up, "Hey, but ain't these Lutherans 'Evangelical'? That's what the "E" stands for, ain't it? E . .C . .or L . . or C . . . or whatever it is, can't keep it all straight, like L, G, B, T - what the hell is all that about? - but definitely the E is for 'Evangelical' and the A is for AMERICAN. I know that for a FACT."

"Huh," said the Evangelical. "Well, then, they are trying to do their best, I suppose, " then added, "It's a tough call, you know. Trying to be a Christian and an American in these times."

I suspect the "American" part was code for something from another one of their conversations - no doubt something about immigration or, probably the current POTUS.

I found that statement fascinating and, without realizing it, my body moved before my head engaged and I suddenly became visible from behind the display containing large, puffy bags of potato chips, corn chips and pop corn.

"Hey, there," someone said, "You're the Episcopal Priest, right? Live over at the Cove, ain't it? Come on over and join us."

I winced as I heard my stomach fall to my feet. I was praying no one saw me gulp.

"Linda" eyed me cautiously. "Elizabeth, ain't it?" she asked, but her eyes asked, "Don't start nothin' here, okay?"

I nodded to both the spoken and unspoken. I was more than happy to oblige to the later, but not too pleased about the former.

"Well," I faltered, "I really can't stay long."

"Oh, sure," said "Linda," but ain't the 'Piscopalians been doing this for a while now? I mean, didn't ya'll sorta start this ball rolling in the first place?"

"Well," I cleared my throat, "the truth is that the church has been ordaining gays and lesbians for years now. Centuries, actually."

"Yup," said someone in the gathering, "Like the Catholics. Roman Catholics." It was hard not to miss the disdain in his voice.

"It's just that now, gays and lesbians are being more honest about who they are." I instantly hated myself for using the third person plural rather than the first person singular, but I pressed on.

"And, honesty - telling the truth in love - is a Christian value, is it not?" The group murmured in agreement.

One man who had been nodding his head caught himself up short and said . . . oh, you knew this was coming . . .

"But the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong. It's a sin. An abomination in the sight of the Lord. With all due respect, you being a minister and all, are you saying that the Bible is wrong?"

"Yes," I said, a with a little more emphasis than I intended, which I knew immediately by a few of the gasps I heard.

"Well, let me ask you," I added quickly, "The Bible says that the earth is flat. Do you believe that?"

The silence was deafening. I wasn't exactly in the Lion's Den, but I could imagine how Daniel felt. Except, these were my neighbors.

"The Bible also says that mental illness and epilepsy is due to demon possession, and left handed people are not to be trusted. Do you believe that?"

A few folk shuffled their feet.

"The Bible also says that you can't eat pork and I see some delicious ribs and some sliced ham over there at the deli counter. Any of you buy any of that recently?"

There were a few chagrined looks all around.

"The Bible says that you shouldn't wear two different fabrics together, that you shouldn't eat any crop that is at the outer edges of the field because that should be saved and given to the poor, and that you shouldn't earn interest on your savings. Anybody guilty of any of those things?"

One woman said, "Now I don't feel so bad about not having any money to lose in the stock market."

Nervous laughter ensued, for which I was grateful. I may have been 'influencing a few people' but I feared I wasn't exactly making friends, either.

"Linda" came to my rescue. "And Jesus is pretty clear about divorce, ain't he?" Everybody looked to her - the obvious authority in the room.

"Seems to me that all the Lutherans and 'Piscopalians is doin' is asking folks to be honest and to follow the rules. And, rules is rules, right?"

"Well, yes," I said, cautiously. "And some rules have to change as our understanding of the world God made changes. Like the world being flat and our understanding of mental illness and other illnesses change."

"Right," she said, "And, some rules don't ever change. Like takin' care of the poor, and like the rules about divorce that Jesus himself gave us. I ain't never read the whole Bible, but I know what Jesus said and he never said nothin' about no homosexuality. He only said that we were supposed to love one another. Ain't that right, pastor?"

"You are absolutely correct," I said, smiling at her - mostly in gratitude for her deft rescue of the conversation, adding, "In fact, that's the only commandment he gave us, 'Love one another as I have loved you.'"

There were soft murmurs of agreement.

"And now, I'm going to take my leave of you," adding as a little joke, "A good pastor always knows when to end the sermon."

"I wish my pastor did," said one man, as the others laughed and said, "Mine, too." The sound of back slapping and side comments filled the air, dissipating any tension that once had been there.

I picked up my bag of milk and eggs and two bananas and started to make my way to the door. "Thanks, pastor. You were great, pastor. Come back again, pastor," a few of them called out to me, waving warmly. A couple shook my hand kindly. Others looked as if they were still considering my words while still others clearly looked perplexed.

As I walked back home, I thought about all that had been discussed - rehearsing over and over again what I had said. I found myself doing the usual, "woudda-coudda-shoudda" talk in my head. No "Susan Russell, Queen of the Soundbite," I'm particularly brilliant 10 minutes after conversations like that.

By the time I got back home, I realized that most people - even the ones who watch Fox News - are not mean or hateful.

Most people - even those whose kin are Baptist - are just trying to figure out how to live their lives in this rapidly changing world. How to reconcile what they've always been taught and what they've come to believe in the midst of the realities they are facing.

Most people - and not just the Evangelicals - are just asking where the rules - the boundaries - are in the shifting sands of cultural reality. We all want 'timeless truth' and 'infallible doctrine'. We want to know that some things never change.

Like, God's love and mercy and grace - undeserved and freely given.

That's when I came to the Great Insight Du Jour:

It's not the people.

It's not even so much the "Media".

It's the leadership.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kids (really do) say the darndest things

Or, at least, my brilliant grandchildren do.

Mackie and Abbi and their mom came for the weekend - Sunday through Monday - overlapping our fabulous guests from NYC who were here Friday through Sunday. It was a full house but an even more joyous time to be with family and friends.

It's my favorite part of having this wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay we call Llangollen.

This morning started rainy and awful, but by 10 AM everything had stopped and the sun came out. We were in the car by 11:30 and spent two full hours on the beach before Ms. Abbi (who is only three, after all), crashed and wanted to go "home" - back to what she calls "Grammy and Nanny's Beach House".

Ms. Mackie found a carcass of a horse shoe crab with a few of what she insisted were "snails" attached.

She was absolutely THRILLED!

The surf was very rough. One fairly violent wave crashed at her feet and deposited this gem, ripe for the plucking.

"It was like the ocean gave me a gift," she said.

She plans to bring it home and put it next to the one I found for her three years ago.

Yes, she still has it. On her bedroom bureau. Along with some of the rocks and drift wood and other shells she has collected over the years.

Some of the 'pearls of wisdom' out of the mouths of my two babes:

Abbi to Mackie, "I think the ocean is mad at us. Why? What did we do?"

Mackie, to Abbi, "Oh, Abbi (laughing like a wise old woman of 8 years), nobody did anything. It's just the way the ocean IS. Just don't EVER turn your back on the ocean! You never know what it's going to do."

Abbi to me, thinking about the choices for lunch, "I think I'll have the chicken tenders. I don't think I've had enough protein today."

Mackie to Abbi, "Okay, let's have the chicken tenders, but we should have the M&Ms for dessert. We haven't had ANY chocolate today." (My girl!)

Abbi to me, "Nanny (she calls me 'Nanny', not 'Nana') during lunch on the beach, "I love the ocean, and I love chicken tenders, but you know what? I love you more. I even love you more than M&Ms. And I LOVE M&Ms more than anything. . . yeah . . .(giggle and wiggle dance). . except YOU." (This was followed by a HUGE hug that just about melted me on the spot.)

Abbi to Mackie, in FULL drama mode, "I got sand in my bottom. I HATE sand in my bottom. Sand is NOT for bottoms - except the bottom of the ocean!"

Mackie to Abbi, who sat up suddenly while they were working in the sand, "Did you feel that?"

Abbi to Mackie, "What, 'Tenna' (her name for 'Mackenna')?"

Mackie to Abbi, "That ocean breeze. Did you feel it? Isn't it GREAT?"

Abbi to Mackie, "Yeah (agreeing but sounding a little bored), the ocean has been kissing me ever since I got here."

Abbi to her mom, "Grammy and Nanny love us sooooo much. They even love us . . . um . . .(thinking, thinking, thinking, then hands in perfect orans position) . . . when we're all sweaty!"

As they were getting ready to leave, Abbi suddenly stopped short, looked at me and said, "But, Nanny, who's going to stay with YOU?"

"Oh," I said, "I'll be here with Lenny and CoCo (our two pups)."

"But, Nanny, we better call Grammy. You can't be here alone."

"Don't worry, lamb chop, I'll be fine," I said as I folded towels.

When I looked up at her again, she had a big tear running down her cheek, "But, I don't want you to be alone," she said, throwing herself into my arms.

"Where's your cell? I'll call Grammy right now."

Mackie to Abbi, "Oh, don't worry, Abbi. Nana is a priest. She needs to be alone sometime, so she can talk with God."

Abbi, looking at me astonished, "You talk to God?"

"Yup, I do."

"And God talks to you?"

"Yup," I said, "it's called prayer."

Abbi thought about it for a few seconds, shrugged her shoulders and said, "Okay, as long as God is going to be here. I need to go home so we can be with Daddy."

And that was that.

God is, in fact, here. But, you know, I gotta say, God never seems more present when my grand babies are here at Llangollen in the summer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Half the Sky

I'm off to church in a wee bit, having just read a trilogy of stories about the international status and concerns of women in this morning's NY Times Magazine.

A Woman's Crusade
by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is here.

The Gender Agenda
by Mark Landler is here.

A School Bus for Shamsia
by Dexter Filkins can be found here.

There are many other articles in the magazine, with titles like Why Women's Rights are the Cause of our Times, and X Factor Philanthropy.

I commend them all to you in the highest of terms and with this comment:

It's about damn time! Seriously.

I also commend this blog post to you by my old buddy PeaceBang. Check out "Why the ELCA Vote is Nothing Much to Cheer about: A Single, Straight Pastor's View."

Girlfriend defines the term "uppity woman" which is why we love her.

Think these two articles are not related? Think again.

Scripture is absolutely chock-a-block filled to the brim with reasons and rationale why women, who have always represent uncontrolled sexuality (think Eve and the snake in the Garden), must be subdued and controlled by men.

The church has been a bastion of patriarchy, with marriage as its centerpiece - a reflection of God's relationship with the world.

When the Prop 8 and Right Wing Nut Fundgelicals talk about "Marriage Equality" being a threat to "Traditional Marriage Values," many of us have scratched our heads and said, "What? How?"

Indeed, as Ms. Conroy pointed out to me just the other day, in the almost 8 years we've been at St. Paul's, there has not been one divorce.

Not. One.

In eight whole years.

Well, so much for Ms. Conroy and my threat to "traditional marriage values."

That's not the point. The threat to "traditional marriage values" is its role and function in the maintenance of the dominant male paradigm of power.

Which is why the ELCA statement is so clear about LGBT pastors needing to be in a relationship.

It's a little cultural Valium to calm their religious anxieties.

Meanwhile, the Revised Common Lectionary promises an interesting if unintended commentary about all of this from John 6:56-69.

Jesus offers a teaching about the true meaning of his presence at the Eucharist and the disciples respond, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (6:60)

But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? (6:61)

Oh, pul-ese, Jesus! You've just told the disciples that the Eucharistic banquet you have just established is one of the most intimate things they can do to be in, well, "communion" with you and each other and God.

You said, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." (6:56).

And, as John points out: "He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum." (6:59)

You thought no one would take offense? I know. It's like thinking about "unpartnered" LGBT clergy living in the rectory or parsonage, and the possibility that they are in there, in the rectory (for Pete's sake), having (gulp!) "sex outside of marriage."

You know, just like their hetero counterparts.

Can't get more offensive than that - except, of course, that the 'ick' factor of homosexuality significantly raises the bar for many.

Just the way an 'uppity woman' in Pakistan is offensive to her husband. Disturbs the cultural paradigm of power and illusions of control.

I have no illusions that anyone in my sleepy little summer chapel is going to preach on this theme. I, on the other hand, will be pondering all these things in my heart - while I'm in the pew as well as while I'm at the beach with my grandchildren later this afternoon.

As Blessed Margaret over at "Leave it Lay Where Jesus Flang It" would say, "G'won, go to church!"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

They did it!!!

At the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Friday were, from left, Orinda Hawkins-Brinkley, Diane Yeager, Marj Ellis and Steven Schnittke. NY Times Photo

Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy

Published: August 21, 2009

After an emotional debate over the authority of Scripture and the limits of biblical inclusiveness, leaders of the country’s largest Lutheran denomination voted Friday to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as members of the clergy.

The vote made the denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the latest mainline Protestant church to permit such ordinations, contributing to a halting sense of momentum on the issue within liberal Protestantism.

By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates to the denomination’s national assembly in Minneapolis approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships” to serve as official ministers. (The church already allows celibate gay men and lesbians to become members of the clergy.)

Just before the vote, the Rev. Mark Hanson, the church’s presiding bishop, led the packed convention center in prayer. When the two bar graphs signaling the vote’s outcome popped up on the hall’s big screens seconds later, there were only a few quiet gasps, as delegates had been asked to avoid making an audible scene. But around the convention hall, clusters of men and women hugged one other and wept.

“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.”

But the passage of the resolution now raises questions about the future of the denomination, which has 4.6 million members but has seen its ranks steadily dwindle, and whether it will see an exodus of its more conservative followers or experience some sort of schism.

“I think we have stepped beyond what the word of God allows,” said the Rev. Rebecca M. M. Heber of Heathrow, Fla., who said she was going to reconsider her membership.

Conservative dissenters said they saw various options, including leaving for another Lutheran denomination or creating their own unified body.

A contingent of 400 conservative congregations that make up a group that calls itself Lutheran Core is to meet in September. Leaders of the group said their plans were not to split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church but to try to protect its “true tenets” from within.

Among so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations, distinguishable theologically from their more conservative, evangelical Protestant counterparts, both the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ already allow gay clergy members.

The Episcopal Church has endured the most visible public flashpoints over homosexuality, grappling in particular in the last few years with the consecration of gay bishops. It affirmed last month, however, that “any ordained ministry” was open to gay men and lesbians.

Earlier this year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected a measure that would have opened the door for gay ordination, but the margin was narrower than in a similar vote in 2001. The United Methodist Church voted not to change its stance barring noncelibate homosexuals from ministry last year, after an emotional debate at its general conference.

But the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s heavily Midwestern membership and the fact that it is generally seen as falling squarely in the middle of the theological milieu of mainline Protestantism imbued Friday’s vote with added significance, religion scholars said.

Wendy Cadge, a sociology professor at Brandeis University who has studied Evangelical Lutheran churches grappling with the issue, said, “It does show, to the extent that any mainline denominations are moving, I think they’re moving slowly toward a more progressive direction.”

Describing the context of Friday’s vote, several religion experts likened it to the court decision last year in Iowa legalizing same-sex marriage.

“In the same sense that the Iowa court decision might have opened people’s eyes, causing them to say, ‘Iowa? What? Where?’” said Laura Olson, a professor of political science at Clemson University who has studied mainline Protestantism. “The E.L.C.A. isn’t necessarily quite as surprising in the religious sense, but the message it’s sending is, yes, not only are more Americans from a religious perspective getting behind gay rights, but these folks are not just quote unquote coastal liberals.”

The denomination has struggled with the issue almost since its founding in the late 1980s with the merger of three other Lutheran denominations.

In 2001, the church convened a committee to study the issue. It eventually recommended guidelines for a denominational vote. In 2005, however, delegates voted not to change its policies.

On Friday, delegates juggled raw emotion, fatigue and opposing interpretations of Scripture.

Before the vote but sensing its outcome, the Rev. Timothy Housholder of Cottage Grove, Minn., introduced himself as a rostered pastor in the church, “at least for a few more hours,” implying that he would leave the denomination and eliciting a gasp from some audience members.

“Here I stand, broken and mournful, because of this assembly and her actions,” Mr. Housholder said.

The Rev. Mark Lepper of Belle Plaine, Minn., called for the inclusion of gay clergy members, saying, “Let’s stop leaving people behind and let’s be the family God is calling us to be.”

Michael Luo reported from New York, and Christina Capecchi from Minneapolis.

Action Alert: Support CEDAW

Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has wasted no time in putting the needs of women on the front stage of international politics.

She is drawing attention to a document known as CEDAW: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which comes up for ratification again.

It is a document of the United Nation's Commission on the Status of Women, which was created in 1946. You can find the text of the document here.

The UN's CSW, working with the UN's Commission on Human Rights, helped to birth the MDGs - Millennium Development Goals - which has been embraced by the Anglican Communion as part of a world-wide, interfaith effort to end poverty and hunger, provide universal education, promote gender equality and maternal child health, combat HIV/AIDS, increase environmental sustainability and create global partnerships.

The United States remains the only democracy in the world that has not ratified the CEDAW Treaty, putting our country in the dishonorable company of states such as Iran, Somalia and Sudan

The Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is the most comprehensive international treaty promoting the advancement of women worldwide.

It establishes a legal framework to which all governments must adhere, to ensure the equality of women in various areas of life including politics, law, employment, education, health care, commerce and domestic relations.

Call your Senators at 202-224-3121 or click here to enter your zip code and send them an email. Urge them to support ratification of the CEDAW Treaty for the Rights of Women today!

The CEDAW Treaty provides a universal standard for women's human rights. It provides a fundamental framework for ending international violence against women, ensuring girls access to education, and promoting economic opportunity and political participation for women.

The United States should strive to be a leader and set an example for the rest of world in its commitment to women and expanding women's rights by ratifying CEDAW.

As Episcopalians and Anglicans who have also fully embraced the MDG's, encouraging our government to sign the CDAW Treaty is part of our deep commitment to our baptismal vows.


1. Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your Senators' offices. Urge your Senators to support ratification of CEDAW.

2. Click here to enter your zip code above to urge your Senators to support ratification of CEDAW.

3. Send this alert to other concerned citizens - your grassroots network, your friends and coworkers. Encourage them to contact their Senators today!

Friday, August 21, 2009

More-than-much fine gold

Note: There is another article in this morning's NY Times about Caster Semenya, the 18 year old South African woman whose Olympic Gold Medal for the 800 meter Track and Field event is being challenged, based upon questions of her gender.

This morning on the House of Bishops / Deputies (HOBD) listserve, I posted a link to the story along with these comments.

Caster Semenya is an 18 year old South African woman who won the Olympic gold medal for the 800 meter Track and Field event this week in Berlin. However, her gold medal is being challenged some of her team mates because of her speed - and because she doesn't "look" like a woman.

“Just look at her,” said Mariya Savinova of Russia, who finished fifth. Elisa Cusma of Italy, who was sixth, told Italian journalists: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

We can get philosophical and ask, "What does it mean to be a man or a woman?" but the issue is far more complicated than that.

As a woman, I find the comments made by the athletes from Italy and Russia deeply insulting. If you check out the story in the NY Times and look at the picture of the three winners, Caster does not look as traditionally-defined 'feminine' as the other two women on the stand.

But to say that an 'unfeminine looking woman' who is muscular and strong enough to 'run like a man' is someone ("these kind of people") who "should not run with us" displays an alarming level of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, based on the conviction that women are, in fact "the weaker sex."

Some South Africans and others have suggested that there might be an anti-African bias at work. “The question I ask is if this were a European person, would these questions be raised?” said Ruben Ramolefi, a track athlete for South Africa. “It seems there’s hypocrisy behind it.”

The NY Times article reports:
Complicated cases are common. For example, a disorder known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia gives women excess testosterone from a source other than the testes — the adrenal glands. In mild cases, genitals may appear normal and often no one suspects the problem. Women with the disorder are allowed to compete as females.

The Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, often are hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia, said Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. They are genetically female yet have both testes and ovaries.

To spot the condition, doctors sometimes must do a laparoscopic exam, remove tissue from the gonads, and biopsy it, New said.

Then there is a list of rare genetic disorders that can confuse sexual identity. Some genetic males, for example, have mutations in a gene needed to form testes. Although they look like women, genetically they are men, with an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.

I bring this article to the attention of this list because of our conversations in Anaheim about Transgender issues - specifically, the resolution to include "gender identity and expression" in our anti-discrimination canons.

As I recall, the resolution passed the HOD but was seriously altered by the HOB. All of the many years of careful discussion about each of the classifications of people against whom the canons prohibit the church to discriminate were wiped away with the well-intended by ill-advised word "all".

The Senior House wisely - if not without difficulty - defeated the resolution which had been amended by the HOB. The difficulty we had was due to the fact that we now must wait another three years before we are able to provide canonical assurance to our Trans sisters and brothers of protection against discrimination in the church.

The case of Caster Semenya, dear members of the Junior house , is why "all" does not necessarily mean "all".

At the end of the day, I trust Caster Semenya will be allowed to keep her Gold Medal, but what she has really won is the more-than-much-fine-gold respect, admiration and appreciation of Trans groups and women around the world for helping us all take another look at the strength and beauty of women- and men - that is not defined by cultural assumptions, prejudice, bigotry and ignorance.

Dr. Alice Dreggor, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University is quoted as having said:
“But at the end of the day, they (the IAAF) are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said.

“And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”

I feel a psalm coming on, singing the praises of the Holy Messiness of God's Creation, which praise the One who created the Holy Mess.

Oh wait! I think it's already been written: Canticle 12 (BCP 88) "A Song of Creation" Benedicite, omnia opera Domini (Song of the Three Young Men, 35-65)

"Room for one more" to be "closer to heaven"

Charles Atwell, with Mary Alice Martus and the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, after services in Lewes, Del.

The title of the NY Times essay is "Sea, Sand, Faith: Far From Home but Closer to Heaven".

That "closer to heaven" place is Rehoboth Beach, DE.

And, one of the "angels" pictured above is none other than Mark Harris.

One of the stories told about this place is that "Rehoboth" was the name of King David's Palace compound, which was built on a hill over-looking the great city of Jerusalem.

King David built a huge palace, large enough to hold all his many wives and children, as well as the men of his vast army. The palace expanded as David added wives and they had children. It also expanded as the army expanded, and more slaves were brought in to tend to both the family and the army.

"Rehoboth," it is said, can be translated loosely as "room for one more."

I was thinking about that yesterday as the traffic on Route One was so heavy, it took me 30 minutes to get to the Beach - normally a 15 - 20 minute ride this time of year.

The beach was also very crowded, for a Thursday in August. Then again, it was a perfect beach day and everyone was enjoying it.

The best news is that, after having a delightful breakfast with Max Wolf, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Rehoboth Beach, I attended the 11:30 am Healing Eucharist, as is often my wont when I'm here.

Well! There were 25 people in attendance.


On a Thursday.

In the summer.

When I first started going to this service, about 15 years ago, there were four, maybe five people in attendance.

Max is stridently unapologetic about being inclusive in this fairly conservative seaside resort town. I think it's paying off.

Then again, it always does.

See also "closer to heaven" and "room for one more".

Sea, Sand, Faith: Far From Home but Closer to Heaven
Ryan Collerd for The New York Times

BACK home in Baltimore, Miriam Zadek rarely attends synagogue. But it is summer, and on a recent Saturday morning, like nearly every Saturday when she is at her second home here, Mrs. Zadek was in her purple kippah and matching gauzy prayer shawl, her husband, Bob, by her side, at the Seaside Jewish Community, the resort area’s synagogue.

Every Sunday morning at 7:45 or so that Charles Atwell is in Lewes, Del., he walks from his weekend home, over a bridge that fords the marina, through the quaint town center of cafes and boutiques to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Storeowners and his fellow congregants greet him as they enter the churchyard.

Mrs. Zadek, 80, and Mr. Atwell, 54, of Silver Spring, Md., are among those across ages and faiths who have made their spiritual home where they vacation. Sometimes it is the sense of tradition in a place they came to as children and now return to year after year as adults. Some are inspired by sermons or a religious leader. For others still, like Mrs. Zadek, the smallness of many vacation congregations makes them feel more accepted and needed than they would be at a bigger church or synagogue back home.

“I feel this place is truly us,” Mrs. Zadek said, “that every one of us has a stake in our learning, in our services. We muster the fervor for our services here.”

This Saturday was particularly important for Mrs. Zadek: it was the first anniversary of her sister Sylvia’s death. Sylvia, like many in Mrs. Zadek’s family, was born deaf, as were her two children. Mrs. Zadek brought them and their spouses to the synagogue, arranged for a local sign language interpreter to translate, and stood at the lectern to read the drash, or sermon, for the service.

“Today I observe the first anniversary of my sister Sylvia’s death,” Mrs. Zadek began, her voice cracking. The Torah portion for the day was about Moses’ exhortation to the Jews to enter the future from Sinai. She continued, “They are faced with the imperative of moving on to a new place, without him.”

It would never have occurred to her, Mrs. Zadek said afterward, to do something so intimate at a large urban synagogue: to read a sermon about the deafness that runs through her family, to invite her deaf relatives to the front where they signed the prayer at the end of mourning while she read it aloud, to slip into tears. But she considers Seaside her home congregation, even if she lives most of the time in a city two hours away.

Often the beauty of the mountains or the sea opens vacationers and second-home owners to a deeper spiritual experience. A break from the routine of work and children’s activities gives them a chance to think about the bigger questions of life.

“Part of it is when you’re down here and walking on the beach and there is nothing between you and Mauritania, you start taking yourself not as seriously,” said the Rev. Thomas Wilson of All Saints Episcopal Church near Kitty Hawk, N.C., on the Outer Banks. “The tide comes in and the tide goes out, and you can’t control it, and the things you worry about don’t seem as important.”

Seaside Jewish Community began about 12 years ago at a bagel shop in Rehoboth Beach when local and vacationing Jews began discussing holding Shabbat services. The first services were in a living room, but over time they moved to a simple white clapboard building down a quiet road. People raised in all the different branches of Judaism — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist — come to Seaside Community, and the services vary depending upon the tradition of the lay leader conducting them, as there is no rabbi.

Invariably services are informal and friendly, with about 40 to 50 people attending in the summer. Dressed in shorts and polo shirts, people take turns with readings and prayers. They make mistakes, laugh and start over.

“It’s not a rabbi telling us what to do,” said Howard Menaker, 57, a resident of Washington who is here most weekends, as he stood near Mrs. Zadek after services. “The word ‘community’ in Seaside’s name is very important — it’s not accidental — to these people.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

" . . . nature is a slob."

This is one story to watch as it unfolds.

Caster Semenya, a muscular 18-year-old from South Africa competing in her first senior championship, is undergoing sex-determination testing to confirm her eligibility to race as a woman in Olympic Track and Field.

She has just won the Olympic 800 meter race but now her gender is being questioned. Pierre Weiss, general secretary of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), the sport’s governing body, stressed that the testing had been initiated because of “ambiguity, not because we believe she is cheating.”

Semenya broke free of her much more experienced competitors on the final lap and won by the huge margin of more than two seconds, finishing in 1 minute 55.45 seconds. (That was still more than two seconds slower than the world record.)

She won fair and square, but some of the finalists do not agree.
“These kind of people should not run with us,” Elisa Cusma of Italy, who finished sixth, said in a postrace interview with Italian journalists. “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

Mariya Savinova, a Russian who finished fifth, told Russian journalists that she did not believe Semenya would be able to pass a test. “Just look at her,” Savinova said.
And therein lies the rub.

Is gender in the eye of the beholder or the microscope?

Or is gender identity something far more personal?
“It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review. . . . ”

. . . .Weiss said that the two-pronged investigation was being conducted in South Africa and in Berlin in hospitals that specialize in sex-testing issues. He said that Dr. Harold Adams, a South African on the I.A.A.F. medical commission, was helping to coordinate the work in South Africa.

(IAFF Spokesman Nick) Davies emphasized that the testing is extensive, beginning with a visual evaluation by a physician. “There is chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans,” he said. “It’s very, very comprehensive.”

Dreger, the Northwestern professor, said the doctors could examine genes, gonads, genitalia, hormone levels and medical history.

Well, I suppose that's better than simply having to suffer the indignity of being watched while you pee in the toilet - which is exactly one of the indignities Olympic athletes had to endure, I'm told, before more specific testing became available.

The official medical term for that is "visual examination," which will be - if it has not already - part of the "extensive, comprehensive testing" which will include "chromosome testing, gynecological investigation, all manner of things, organs, X-rays, scans."

So, what happens if the tests 'prove' that Ms. Semenya is a transgender person?

The Olympic races have always only had two categories: Male and Female. Will a third category be created to accommodate Trans people?

The Olympic Committee is not saying. Yet.

Right now, organized "scientific" confusion seems to be the only communication coming from the IAAF.

That's what happens when people don't fit in nice, neat little boxes.

Any of this beginning to sound even vaguely familiar?

General Convention 2009 in Anaheim came "this close" to adding gender identity and expression to the Canons which list the categories of people against whom we may not - must not - discriminate.

The resolution died in the House of Bishops because some of the esteemed theologians in the Junior House of Bishops simply could not get their pointy little mitered heads around the concept of a transgender person.

We will pick up the discussion in three years. You can bet that organizations like TrasEpiscopal, IntegrityUSA and the Episcopal Women's Caucus will be helping deputies and bishops do their homework on this subject before then.

It's not just The Episcopal Church or the Olympic International Athletics Foundation who are being asked to tolerate ambiguity.

As more and more Trans people find the courage to stand up, identify themselves, and tell their stories, more and more people around the world will wake up to the fact that God is the very One who created ambiguity.

The God of Our Understanding is One who surpasses our understanding.

I believe God is calling us not only to tolerate ambiguity, but to embrace it, love it and celebrate it.

Because God does.

I believe Transpeople have now taken on the task of doing the final, heavy lifting as we continue to work to break down barriers that divide us as God's children and dismantle the oppressive structures of sexism and misogyny.

Good thing they're not alone. Those of us who have been long-time (for some of us, life-long) activists in the LGBT and Feminist/Womanist/Mujerista/Asian communities will be right there with them, helping to shoulder some of the burden.

It's very important work, the next step of the long journey to create a place where we may catch an even greater glimpse of the Realm of God on this side of Paradise.

As Dr. Dregger says,
“But at the end of the day, they (the IAAF) are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said.

“And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”

I'm giggling here, imagining the Holy Messiness of Heaven.

When we get there - and I do believe that we're all going to heaven - some of us are in for a Very Big Surprise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

We are no longer alone: WOO HOO!

August 19, 2009

ELCA Assembly Adopts 'Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust'

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" Aug. 19 with a vote of 676 (66.67 percent) to 338 (33.33 percent). The passing of the social statement on human sexuality required a two-thirds vote.

The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELC voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."

Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust is the denomination's 10th social statement. Social statements assist Lutherans in their moral deliberation, govern the ELCA's institutional policies and guide the church's advocacy work. The statement addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective.

More details to follow.

Information about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at on the Web.

For information contact:

John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog:

When the going gets tough . . .

. . . the snowy white egrets take a break.

This is just part of the flock I mentioned in my post the other day that flew up from the marsh and directly into the rising sun.

As the day begins to heat up, they take to the trees.

One of our granddaughters calls it "the popcorn tree."

I like that image, especially because they seem to have "popped" in the heat.

There's another whole tree of them to the left of this gathering.

Sometimes, they will feed together in one of the small ponds in the marsh to the right of our house.

We have come to call it the "vast white-winged conspiracy."

I'm here all week. Please try the buffet.