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, October 31, 2009

The Witch of Endor

There's a nifty little service in The Episcopal Book of Occasional Services for All Hallow's Eve, October 31. If you have it in your library, you'll find it on page 106.

The Service begins with the Service of Light (BCP 109). After the Phos hilaron is sung, two or three lessons are read, each followed by a Psalm, Canticle or hymn and a prayer.

The first lesson is the story of The Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-25). There is a note in the BOS which reads: It is appropriate that this lesson be read by a narrator, and by other readers for Saul, the witch and Samuel.

If you haven't ever done this service, do try it. At least once. I've been meaning to 'dust it off' and 'spruce it up' a bit - make it less formidable and a bit more accessible for families and children, because I think it can be a valuable spiritual context for the overwhelmingly secular aspects of Halloween.

The story of the Witch of Endor, in particular, makes a very compelling 'ghost story' which is part of our spiritual heritage. If you follow the suggestion from the BOS and turn the story into a little performance piece, you've got a congregation that won't soon forget the experience.

You know the story, right? Samuel has died and all Israel had mourned him deeply, and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul is now on his own in the battle against the Philistines. When he saw the great Philistine army encamped at Gilboa, he became sore afraid.

Saul prayed to God, but God did not answer him, not in dreams or by Urim, or by prophets. So Saul did something that he himself had outlawed: He sought the services of a medium - someone who might raise up the spirit of Samuel to talk with him and advise him.

His servants located a woman at Endor who was known to be a necromancer, so Saul disguised himself (smart thing since he was breaking his own law, the penalty for which was death) and went to seek her services.

Imagine how frightened she must have been when she discovered that it was Saul, himself, who came to her asking that she bring up the ghost of Samuel for him.

Well, as frightened as she was, Samuel was even more angry, saying to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"

Samuel did not advise Saul, but rather told him what was about to unfold - that the kingdom would be given to David and that he and his army would be soundly defeated by the Philistines.

Saul was so distraught that he threw himself to the ground, shaking with terror.

But the woman, the Witch of Endor, was filled with compassion for him and she, together with his servants, convinced Saul to eat. She took a fatted calf - perhaps her food for the next few weeks and months, and prepared a feast for him and his servants.

It was to be for Saul and his men their last Supper, delivered to them by a woman they would have killed for the very service she provided.

What I love about this story is that it raises lots more than the ghost of Samuel.

Like? Well, like the fact that misogyny in Endor is as old as the Garden of Eden. Power that can't be controlled must be Evil and if the power of a woman can't be controlled, she must be the embodiment of Evil.

She's a witch.

Several years ago, when I was in Ghana, I traveled from Accra to Cape Coast where I visited the Slave Castle - which is directly across the street from the Anglican Cathedral. We went from there to Kumasi (where you can get yards and miles of Kente cloth right off the loom) and further north to Tamale.

While in Tamale, I learned of a Witch Camp not far from where we were staying. I later learned that there are six such camps in northern Ghana, and many throughout Africa.

All it takes for a woman to be brought there is to be accused of being disobedient to her father or husband or brother. For that, she receives a 'life sentence' in exile where she lives in extreme poverty and isolation.

I asked to be taken to one of these Witch Camps, but our host demurred, saying that most natives were not allowed to enter the camp and 'outsiders' were most certainly forbidden.

However, he said with a slight twinkle in his eye, he did know of a collective of women who were making Pottery for sale. Perhaps we'd like to see their wares and, perhaps, purchase some?

The poverty in the Camp was breathtakingly stark. Women lived in mud huts with thatched roofs which they had to repair and maintain themselves. There was no running water and no electricity. Water was carried in from a pump five miles away in large 10 gallon barrels which the women carried on their heads.

There were two huts of sick women and children. A pediatric nurse practitioner in our company and I tended to them with what little supplies we had with us. Tylenol, mostly, which is a prescription drug in most of Europe and Africa. Some cough medicine which we had in little sample sized bottles. And, some Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate.

You might have thought we were angels sent from heaven. Several of the women wept openly in gratitude. My colleagues and I cried openly with them. My heart was so heavy I found it hard to draw a full breath.

I think we bought every piece of pottery we could fit in our bags - and some we couldn't but planned to leave with our hosts when we got back to Accra.

Lest you think otherwise, there was no kiln. The raw pieces were "fired" in an open field, with straw under and on top of the pottery. It was a pretty amazing process.

When we left, the women had earned more money in that one day than they had all year. They wept with joy, for now they could afford to purchase things for themselves and their children.

As it came closer to the time to leave, I found I had a hundred questions. At one point, and without thinking, I asked one of the women, "Gee, if there aren't any men allowed here, um . . . gosh . . . where do these children come from?"

My interpreter looked at me as if I were from outer space. Finally, she came close to me and whispered, "Do you really need me to ask that question?"

I felt ashamed for my question. And then, I felt angry when I figured out the answer. The "witches" smiled at me, kindly. I think they knew my question. I think they saw the answer on my face. My outrage provided for them a kind of comfort and they returned the favor with kind smiles.

I am haunted by them. Their faces. Their smiles. Their stories.

The Witch of Eden. The Witch of Endor. The Witches of Salem. The Witches of Tamale.

All of these women continue to inspire me to dust off and spruce up a little ritual in the Episcopal Book of Common Service for All Hallow's Eve for this generation of God's children.

Because, the more the story is told, the more the myths are exposed, the better we are able to move through the superstitions that keep us from the truth.

!Feliz Dia De Los Muertos!

Or, as Mother Jones would say, "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Justice? Perhaps. Peace? Well . . . .

Life, I've found, can get really complicated. And, confusing.

One minute all is well with the world. Next minute, everything has changed.

It can happen in a heartbeat.

Normally, a picture like the one above might inspire a sense of justice being served. The 'perp' has been apprehended. He's in the court room. Guarded. Indeed, surrounded by guards. Chained. Like an animal.

But, that's Jose. Jose Feliciano. The former janitor at St. Patrick's Church and School. Worked there for 17 years. Loved by the parents and the kids. Used to live in the neighborhood with his wife, Marisol, and their kids. Hard worker. Always very kind.

And, he brutally murdered my friend, Fr. Ed Hinds. Stabbed him 32 times with a kitchen knife while they were in the rectory.

I saw a brief news clip of Jose walking into the court room. He looked weak. Fragile. He was shaking. He seemed uncertain when asked if he understood the charges.

"His color's off," I said to Ms. Conroy.

"I'll bet it is," she sniffed.

"No, no," I said, "I think he's sick. Didn't he have kidney problems?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

Turns out, he does. One of my neighbors says that when she talked with him last week, the doctors thought he might have a cyst on one of his kidneys.

She also said that he had just lost his second job at an electronic store and that Fr. Hinds had told him, just the day before the murder, that he might lose his job in the next round of budget cuts.

Indeed, the local newspaper reports that last fact as being in the court documents.

That does not excuse what Jose did. Nothing will ever excuse that. Ever.

It's just complicated, is all. Or, at least, not as simple as it once was.

Turns out, Jose is not who we thought he was. Has used several phony names. Has several social security numbers.

Oh, and he's also wanted on a 1988 bench warrant issued in Philadelphia for an "indecent assault" charge and "corrupting a minor".

Say WHAT? Jose? How could that possibly be?

It's all so hard to get your mind wrapped around.

Evidence. Allegations. Attorneys. Prosecution. Defense. Judge. Jury of your peers.

It's television, right? Not real life. Not our lives.

Home. School. Work. Church. Sports. Love. Kindness. Hugs. Family. Friends.

That's the stuff of our lives, right? How can any of the rest of this be real?

Jose has been formally charged and is being held on $1 Million bail. He has a court-appointed lawyer.

The judicial system is beginning to grind its way through its process.

Justice may be served but, this time, justice will not bring peace.

It can't. Not this time. Not for anyone around here.

Except for Fr. Ed, who now rests in Light Eternal.

That's the promise - the comfort - of our faith.

At least we have that.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Meatloaf

Is this not the grossest dinner presentation you've ever seen?

Is this not absolutely perfect for dinner on All Hallow's Eve?

Well, okay if you are a carnivore. And, have a sick sense of humor. Or, kids - especially the kind that never really grow up.

It's meatloaf with onions and cheese which is sitting on a bed of fluffy white mashed potatoes. Cool, right?

She's got another presentation which is sitting on mashed potatoes and surrounded by kale (or, if you prefer, brain matter and swamp greens).

You can find the recipe and detailed cooking instruction - three, count 'em 3 versions - at "Not Martha's" webpage.


PS - I think you can do this 'freestyle' without bothering with the hand gelatin mold. You'll just need to make sure the fingers are 'beefed up' so they don't cook before the rest of the hand.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We already have what we need . . .

......... So, what are we looking for?

That, of course, is a Buddist Koan - a spiritual meditation which has been with me like an old friend during this Clergy Retreat.

We've been following Brueggeman's outline model of "Orientation, Dis-orientation and Re-orientation" as he begins to articulate that perspective in his book, "The Psalms and the Life of Faith".

It's a great model, I think. A model with its roots solidly in the holy ground of scripture. A Christian model.

It seems to me that that which we want most is also our greatest fear. What would I do, really - if I actually got that which I wanted most?

Would that guarantee happiness? Or, is it the pursuit, the chase, the hope, that is most satisfying?

What happens after you've gone through the rain and the sun and found that all of the colors of the rainbow were yours?

Would that be enough?

Or would you stop and choose just the one - or the ones - you want and leave the rest behind? Or, would you reach beyond all the colors for the elusive pot of gold at the end?

I already have what I need.  What am I looking for?

I know this much to be true: I am weary this morning. I realize the weariness I feel is from carrying around so many questions. Questions that do not, necessarily, have answers. Questions whose answers will remain elusive. Questions whose answers, I live in sure and certain hope, will be revealed.

As I write this, I am putting down the questions. I've decided that, at least for the next few days, not to carry them around any more.

I've decided that, at least for the next few days, to just sit with them, like old friends, and visit with them awhile.

Perhaps, in this way, I may not necessarily discover the answers, but I will learn more about them. And, perhaps, they will learn something more about me.

I already have what I need - including the questions.

And I am deeply blessed.

You already have what you need. So, what are you looking for?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"That's so gay!" (audio version)

I am delighted to provide here a link to the website of All Saints', Atlanta where you will find the audio version of the sermon I preached on October 23, 2009.

"That's so gay!"

Neither the camera nor the microphone are particularly generous or kind in their representations of me. I am not very photogenic nor is my voice particularly pleasing to the ear.

Oh well, such is life in the fast lane of parish ministry in these post modern times.

You can still find the written sermon here.

I think I sound much better in print.

Clergy Retreat with Walter Brueggeman

It's always such a treat to be with Dr. Brueggeman but especially so at the Annual Newark Clergy Retreat.

Normally, Clergy Retreats are cause for my annual vocational crisis. Not so with Dr. Brueggeman. Especially his talk last evening on "Post Exile: Telling the Story Faithfully".

This morning's lecture is "Post Exile: Creating a Culture of Interpretation". He argues that we ought not be "Custodians of Cultural Values." And that we, like the post-exilic Jews, are called to move past, "Budget, Buildings and Programs to a 'fresh intentionality' about the gospel."

The conversation has been fresh and exhilarating - even after the second cup of coffee.

How exciting is this?

Monday, October 26, 2009

"She's not a troublemaker . . . .

. . . . . . .. she's gay."

The quote above is from Veronica Rodriquez of Jackson, Miss., referring to her 17-year old daughter, Ceara Sturgis, whose high school will not allow her graduation picture to appear in its yearbook because she was photographed wearing a tuxedo.

She is an honor student, trumpet player and goalie on the school's soccer team. Sturgis said she should get to decide how she looks in the senior photo.

"I feel like I'm not important, that the school is dismissing who I am as a gay student and that they don't even care about me. All I want is to be able to be me, and to be included in the yearbook," Sturgis said in a statement.

Veronica Rodriguez, 47, said school officials are trying to force her daughter – who doesn't even own a dress – to appear more feminine.

"The tux is who she is. She wears boys' clothes. She's athletic. She's gay. She's not feminine," said Rodriguez during an interview Thursday at the ACLU office, which has issued a demand letter to Principal Ronald Greer to publish the picture of Sturgis in the tuxedo. The ACLU says it's giving the school until Oct. 23 to respond before pursuing court action, said Kristy L. Bennett, the ACLU's legal director.

You can read more of the story here. I haven't been able to find the outcome of the situation, but I will be following the story.

I know. In the grand scheme of things, given all that's happening in our private lives, in our communities, in this country and in the world, it seems an insignificant case.

But, you know, in the grand scheme of things, it's these stories of personal liberty that are foundational to our lives together.

I don't really care who you are or who you think you are or where your politics are on the broad spectrum of positions or posture. This is not about religious creed or ethnicity or nationality, but it does strike at the heart of "liberty and justice for all."

I don't care how uncomfortable "drag" makes you feel - male or female. As my dear friend, the Large and Lovely Beula Lamont, now numbered among the Saints, once said to me, "Honey, we're all born naked. Everything after that is all drag."

Ceara's case raises, yet again, the complexity of gender roles and perceptions and expectations. Hers is one more brick in the Wall of Sexism and Misogyny which is being dismantled by the truth of that complexity.

We've got a long way to go before we achieve the foundational ideal of "liberty and justice for all." Ceara's courage helps us take one more step on the path, as a nation, to being "a more perfect union."

Today's "Story of the Day" from StoryPeople, one of my favorite blogs is this:
I don't wear stuff to impress
people, she said.
I can't afford it yet.
"All I want is to be able to be me," Ceara said.

Isn't that what any one of us wants, really?

Seems to me that Ceara is paying a very high price to wear a tuxedo in her graduation picture, not to impress, but to be authentic.

That's a price which all of us help her need to afford.

Otherwise, we're all broke.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Under One Chuppah

Note: This is the Interfaith Service for the Blessing of a Marriage which I designed for last evening's service. I used resources from a couple of places, mostly, however, from the pages of Xeroxed notes which the couple got from the Rent-A-Rabbi. Turns out, he was a great guy - lots more fun in person than experience through e-mail or even phone conversations. Oh, and we clergy were resplendent: he wore his white robe, tallis and kippah and I was in cassock, surplice and festive stole. I'm including the service below so those of you who have never attended one will know what it's like. Or, for those clergy who have never officiated at one of these services will have at least on online resource. I tried to make it as 'inclusive' as possible - a real sharing of the liturgical leadership, which I had not seen in any of the information the Rabbi had given me. Hope this is helpful to you.


Gathering Prayer and Welcome

Priest: Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.

Rabbi: As you know, no Cantor, Priest, Rabbi, Minister or Public Official can marry you. Only you can marry yourselves. By a mutual commitment to love each other, to work toward creating an atmosphere of care and consideration and respect, by the willingness to face the tensions and anxieties that underlie human life, you can make your wedded life come alive today.

Priest: We are grateful to God, the source of all creation, for the loving care of parents and grandparents who are here in body and spirit, the ones that have helped Libby and Wyatt become the individuals that they are today.

Rabbi: From this day forward, you must come closer together, closer than ever before. You must love one another in good times and bad, in prosperity and adversity, but at the same time your love should give you the strength to stand apart. To seek your unique destinies, to make your special contribution to the world, which is always part of us and more than we are.

Priest: Into this holy union Libby and Wyatt now come to be joined. If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now, or forever hold your peace.

Rabbi: I require and charge you both, here in the presence of God, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, and in accordance with God’s Word, you do now confess it.

Priest: Libby, will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

Libby: I will.

Rabbi: Wyatt, will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?

Wyatt: I will

Priest and Rabbi: Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?

Congregation: We will.

Priest: Who presents this woman to be married to this man?

Parents: We do.

Rabbi: Who presents this man to be married to this woman?

Parents: We do.

Priest: Let us pray: O gracious and ever living God, you have created us male and female in your image: Look mercifully upon this man and this woman who have come to you, seeking your blessing, and assist them with your grace, that with true fidelity and steadfast love they may honor and keep the promises and vows they make.

Congregation: Amen.

Rabbi: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Mechlech Ha-olam. Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe: You call us to holiness and invite us to be fruitful and multiply, and You summon us to Your service, inspiring us to sanctify our life. We praise you, O God: You sanctify our life.

Congregation: Amen.

A Reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians (13:1-13)

If I speak in the tongues of humans and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimply, but then face to face. So faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Homily: the Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton

The Marriage Vows

Rabbi: Wyatt, please take Libby’s right hand in yours and state your vows.

Wyatt: I, Wyatt, take you, Libby, to be my wife. Today I love you completely, as I did yesterday and I will tomorrow. I will be there for you when you need me most. I will hold you in my heart as I do in my arms. I will share in your dreams, delight in your joys, and comfort you in sorrow. I will be your confidant, your counsel, your friend, and your lover. As we grow old together and our love matures, I promise to hold on to the passion and affection I feel for you today. This is my solemn vow.

Priest: Libby, please take Wyatt’s right hand in yours and state your vows/

Libby: I, Libby, take you, Wyatt, to be my husband. Today I love you completely, as I did yesterday and I will tomorrow. I will be there for you when you need me most. I will hold you in my heart as I do in my arms. I will share in your dreams, delight in your joys, and comfort you in sorrow. I will be your confidant, your counsel, your friend, and your lover. As we grow old together and our love matures, I promise to hold on to the passion and affection I feel for you today. This is my solemn vow.

The Rings

Rabbi: The circle has always been a symbol of God, without a beginning and without an end and no sign of weakness. The circle is a reminder of the eternal quality of God and God’s unending strength. Thus, these rings serve to remind us of the relationship that Libby and Wyatt have with God as well as with each other.

Priest: Bless, O Lord, theses rings to be a sign of the vows by which Libby and Wyatt have bound themselves to each other. Amen.

Rabbi: Wyatt, take this ring which you have prepared as a symbol of your marriage to Libby and, placing it on her finger, recite these words which will bind you together in marriage:

Wyatt: Libby, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you and join my life with yours.

Priest: Libby, take this ring which you have prepared as a symbol of your marriage to Wyatt and, placing it on his finger, recite these words which will bind you together in marriage.

Libby: Wyatt, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you and joy my life with yours.

The Chuppah

Rabbi: The Chuppah that you are standing under together is a symbol of the promise of your future home. Its openness pledges that there can be no secrets. Friends and family stand at its corners to help support this structure. It teaches us that the Bride and Groom are covered by holiness and the memory of the commandments. It reminds us that the only thing that is real about a home is the people in it. The people who love each other and who choose to be together, to be a family.

Libby and Wyatt, standing under this Chuppah, I want both of you to know that this is the only true anchor of life that will be – that of holding on to each other.

Baruch Atah Adonoy, Eloheynu Melecha Ha-Olam, Mi-Ka-Deish Amo Yisrael, Al Yiday Chuppah V’Ki-du-shin.

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe; You sanctify your people Israel under the marriage canopy.

The Wine

Priest: Holy and Gracious God, we give thanks for all of our many blessings, but in this moment we give special thanks for the love You have implanted within the hearts of Libby and Wyatt. In this hour we pray, O Lord, that You will bless them with health and strength, with an ever-growing understanding and compassion. Continue what You have started in their hearts. In this hour, we pray that the blessing that You have bestowed upon our ancestors, You will bestow upon them. It is in this spirit that I ask you, Wyatt, to offer this cup of wine to Libby and after she has sipped it, I ask you to sip it to as the Rabbi asks the blessing:

Rabbi: Baruch Atah Adonoy, Eloheynu Melech Ha-Olam, B’Orie P’rei Ha-Gafen.
We praise you, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

You found that this wine is bittersweet. It is meant to symbolize all of life. My prayer is that, as easily as you share this cup of wine, so will you continue to share everything in your lives. And perhaps in this wine there can be the magic which comes when people love each other and live together in life. There is inevitable bitterness in life but it will become less bitter because there is someone to share it with. The inevitable sweetness in life will be doubled because there is someone to share it with. Let this cup of wine, which sanctifies your marriage, to be a symbol of that, as you approach the moment when you come before God and before humankind as husband and wife.

The Ketubah

A traditional marriage certificate, a Ketubah, has been prepared and it says: Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li, which translates: “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine. No man without woman and no woman without man and neither of them without their faith.” This is the basis for this Ceremony and the reason we are here today. It is for all of this, all of you who are here today, to witness the marriage of Libby and Wyatt, who will now sign the Ketubah.

The Final Blessings

Priest: I wrap your hands in my priestly stole, the symbol of my vows to the God of Abraham and Sarah and, together with the Rabbi's tallis on your hands, offer these blessings on your marriage:

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who art the source of all gladness and joy. Through thy grace we attain affection, companionship and peace.

Rabbi: Grant O Lord, that the love that units this bride and groom may grow in abiding happiness and joy. May their family life be ennobled through their devotion to their faith. May there be peace in their home, quietness and confidence in their hearts

Priest:. May they be sustained by thy comforting presence in the midst of our people, and by the promise of salvation for all humankind.

Rabbi: Baruch Atah Adonoy. Blessed art thou O Lord, who does unite this Bride and this Groom in holy joy.

The Pronouncement

Priest and Rabbi: Now that Libby and Wyatt have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, we now pronounce you husband and wife.

The Benediction

Priest: And in this spirit we ask God’s blessing on you!

Rabbi: Y’Varechecha Adonoy V’Yishmarecha
Priest: May the Lord bless you.

Rabbi: Yah Air Adonoy Panav Aeylecha, V’Vchunecha
Priest: May God’s spirit shine into your home and into your hearts, and may God give you a life filled with grace.

Rabbi: Ye’Sah Adonoy Panav Aelecha V’Yasein L’Cha Shalom.
Priest: May God grant you fulfillment, happiness and God’s most precious gift, the gift of peace, in your home, in your heart and in your married lives together.

Congregation: Amen!

The Breaking of the Glass

Rabbi: if you did not break a piece of glass, there are people who would say, “They’re not really married.” What this glass symbolizes is that life is fragile, marriage is fragile. You have to coddle it and protect it as I have coddled and protected this glass. I pray that you will be happy with each other, and that you will be good to each other. May you always drink from the full and the empty will crush beneath you. In accordance with the ancient tradition, we wish that the years of your marriage be no less than the time that it would take to fit the fragments back together.

And so, break the glass, and when you do, we will all say MAZEL TOV, which means Congratulations.

Congregation: MAZEL TOV!

The First Kiss

Priest: Ladies and Gentlemen, I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt *******. Libby and Wyatt, you may now share your first kiss as husband and wife.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dying, yet behold we live!

Note: Tonight was the much-anticipated Interfaith Wedding. It was absolutely beautiful.

No, really.

I've done lots of weddings in the past 23 years and this one was really great. Maybe it was because it was also a great learning experience for me. Maybe it's because I've known the bride since she was nine years old. Maybe it's because I've absolutely fallen in love with the groom.

Maybe it's because I've been consumed with my own grief as well as the grief and shock and fear of my community over the death of our beloved friend, Fr. Ed. STATUS UPDATE:.

Or, maybe it's what St. Paul said in his second letter to the church in Corinth - something about "dying, yet behold we live." (2Corinthians 6:9)

So, I thought, before I went to bed, I'd post my wedding "homilette". Let's just call it my "Wedding Love Letter" (As opposed to the Baptismal Love Letters I do.)

I'll post the actual service sometime tomorrow because I think it might be helpful to some of you in the future.

Dear Libby and Wyatt,

Not to worry.   This won’t be long. The Rabbi has already warned us that the longer I talk, the longer he has to wait in line for the Lamb Chops.

Never keep a hungry Rabbi waiting for Lamb Chops. I think that’s written somewhere in the Talmud.

First, can I just say how beautiful you look, Libby? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more radiant bride! And Wyatt, you are so very handsome, you take my breath away. What a perfect couple!

Libby, I’ve known you since you were a nine year old girl – all giggly and silly and fun. Wyatt, we’ve really only known each other for a few short months.

But, I know this much is true: The love you share is real. I see it in your eyes. I hear it in your voices. I feel it in your hearts. It is a precious gift, one to be cherished and honored.

We’ve come a long way and over some very bumpy roads the past several months of our counseling sessions together. If you heard me say nothing else, I want you to remember this:

Everyone says that marriage is for life. Now, it can sound like a prison sentence when you say it that way, can’t it? “For Life.”

I want to say the same thing to you, but I want to change the emphasis of the words. “Marriage is FOR life.”

FOR Life.

Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer, often called Baal Shem Tov, is considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judiasm.  He was a Jewish mystical rabbi. He is credited with writing the following words:
From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven, and when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, the streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from that united being.
That light is the life of the New Life you have created together in your love.

This is the Light of the Life that glows in both of your faces and radiates in your eyes when you look at one another. This is the Life that is a precious gift.

This is the Life that your marriage is about.

This is the Life that your marriage is FOR.

There are many important things – many important people – in your lives – individually and together, as a married couple. Parents are important. Grandparents. Sisters and Brothers. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins, nieces and nephews.

And friends. Friends are very important.

They all said that they would support you in upholding their vows. I heard them. You heard them. I made them say it so you could hear them. That’s very important.

Take a look around. These are the people you will call at 3 AM when you are weeping into your pillow and trying to remember why you stood here, on this day, in this moment, making these vows to each other.

You will need their help, their support, and their love when the going gets rough. And, it will, from time to time. That is inevitable.

The thing to remember is that marriage is FOR life.

From this day forward, everything you do, everything you say, will be FOR life.

From this day forward, your individual lives will be in service of this new life that your love has called into being.

From this day forward, you will live your lives FOR life.

The Rabbi I follow, an ancient Rabbi from a little town called Nazareth near the Sea of Galilee north of the Great City of Jerusalem taught that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.

The light of your love has reached the heavens. So, too, will the sound of your vows. The angels are listening. The saints are watching.

Behold, God has set a choice before you, Libby and Wyatt. Choose wisely. Choose life.

So, now onto the vows. And, the Rabbi’s lamb chops!

Remember. L’chaim! To life! FOR life.


(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Copyright, Elizabeth Kaeton
Please do not reproduce without permission of the author

Broken, yet behold! we are being made whole!

I arrived home around 1:30 from Atlanta to a neighborhood in lock down.

Blue lights flashing everywhere and yellow crime scene tape around an entire neighborhood block. Traffic backed up. School buses filled with somber-faced teachers, parents and children. Small clusters of worried neighbors here and there.

My cell phone rang just as my cab driver, an ebony-skinned man from Sierra Leon, was asking me, "Is this Chatham?"

Fr. Ed Hines, pastor since 2003 at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church,had been found murdered in the rectory, one block up and one block over from the rectory where I live and move and have my being.

Ed was a colleague, but more importantly, he was my friend. A genuinely nice guy. One of the last of a dying breed of gentle souls.

He fully respected the status of my ordination. He was a mentor. A role model. A confidant. A colleague. A friend.

If the entirety of our lives can be summed up in one story, here's my story about Ed:

It was not long after the death of my daughter. I thought I was doing okay. The grieving process was progressing on course. "Thank you, I'm fine," I heard myself saying, over and over again, to kind, caring people who asked how I was doing.

And then, one morning, I woke up and found that I couldn't move my feet from the bed and put them on the floor. Neither could I take a full breath.

My first coherent thought was, "I've got to get to Mass."

The only place I could think of that was close by was St. Pat's. There was an 8 AM daily mass there.

I got up and got dressed. I knew I wouldn't be able to receive the sacrament in a RC Church but I was okay with that.

All I really needed at the time was to be in a small community of people who believed in the Resurrection. Who not only believed in but cherished the idea of Life Eternal. Who willingly and gladly entered into the paradox of understanding the Mysterium Grandum of God's sacramental grace.

I pulled on my favorite old jeans and a hooded sweat shirt, put on my hat, coat and mittens and walked the block up to St. Pat's and took a seat in the back. There were 8 or 10 people already in the church.

When it came time for communion, I sat in my pew, praying quietly to God, my head bowed, my knees bent, my hands and heart open.

Suddenly, I felt something being pressed into my hand. I opened my eyes and saw Fr. Ed standing before me, pressing the broken wafer into my hand, as I heard him say, "The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven."

I took the broken wafer into my hand, gobbling it like a hungry beggar who hadn't eaten in weeks. I hadn't known how hungry I had been.

Right there in front of God and the people of God, I was fed and nourished.

I had received a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which my daughter now enjoyed. I was one with her and she with me and I experienced a wholeness and a healing that surpassed sublime.

What really broke my heart open was the risk this man took for Incarnate Love. For the Gospel. Right there, in the Roman Catholic Church, in front of God and the assembled faithful, he broke a rule, and fed a hungry, broken woman a broken piece of bread which filled me with wholeness and holiness of Life.

Ed Hines found a place deep in my heart in that moment that became all his own. It is that place, tonight, which cries out in the pain of his loss.

I've been on the phone most of the night. Coordinating with area clergy about a collaborative pastoral response. Conferring about what we might do to allay anxieties and assuage fears.

All this while I rehearsed a bridal party of 20 for a lavish, posh Interfaith Wedding tomorrow evening in one of the most 'swankified' country clubs in the area.

It's been a surreal evening.

In the midst of everything else, I've gotten three independent text messages from three different parishioners that are, word for word, the same:

"Are we safe?"

Here's the truth of it which I haven't had the courage to write back: We never were. Never have been. None of us. Any where. If we had been truly safe, Fr. Ed would be alive tonight.

Safety and security are illusions. Always have been. Always will be. We walk a fine line between our illusions and the common every day realities of truth as we perceive them.

Or, alter our perceptions to convince us of our realities as we want them to be.

Who said: "Perception is reality and reality is truth"?

(No, really. Who said that? Aristotle or Socrates? I can't remember.)

Here's the truth of my reality tonight: I am not afraid.

I suppose I'm not afraid tonight because my perception of reality is very different than most people who live here.

I see beyond here. I believe in the Resurrection. I truly believe in Eternal Life. Those aren't just words in the Creeds. I could recite any of the Creeds without crossing my fingers and still pass a lie-detector test.

What I know tonight that I didn't think I'd ever know is the pain of the loss of my friend, Ed. Nothing is more real to me tonight.

Of your kindness and mercy, please pray for the repose of the soul of Ed Hinds. Pray for all who knew his smile, experienced his compassion, called him friend, and saw the light of Christ in his heart.

Pray for the frightened souls of the people of The Chathams.

And pray for me, a sinner of Christ's own redeeming who was once hungry and broken and was once fed and made whole.

And, is deeply, deeply grateful.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That's so gay!

Acts 15:12-22a – I Corinthians 15:1-11 – Matthew 13:54-58
The Eve of the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem
The Twentieth Anniversary of Integrity/Atlanta 
Gay Pride Eucharist
All Saints’, Atlanta, GA – October 22, 2009 
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Grace and peace to you from the Diocese of Newark in the Garden State of North Jersey, Exit 13 off the NJTP (Exit 11 off the GSPW) where we had our first snow fall last week. This mild Georgia weather is a bit of a shock to my system – as is seeing so many people in church! I mean, y’all know it’s Thursday, right? Between the weather and your wonderful Southern Hospitality and cooking, I just may not go back home.

When Bruce Garner, my good friend and brother in Christ, asked me to preach for you today, he explained that Gay Pride is held in October in Atlanta because you couldn’t really march in the heat in June, which is typically Gay Pride Month in the North.

He was telling me about the march and how you will take over the local park and he said something . . . he sort of mumbled it as an aside . . . that tickled my ears, caught me up a bit short and made me giggle.

He said, “Well, there will be thousands of people there, but we’ll clean it all up and. . . (here it comes – wait for it) . . . leave it better than it was when we found it.” 

I confess that I didn’t hear too much after that because I chuckled to myself and I thought, “ . . .’ leave it better than it was when we found it’. Gosh! That’s so gay!”

I know. I know. We’re not used to hearing that in a positive way. “That’s so gay!” has become the last socially acceptable minority slur. All the cool kids say it.

Indeed, GLSEN has a series of fabulous ad spots to raise awareness about how un-cool it is to say, “That’s so gay!” Have you seen them? My favorite is one featuring Ms. Wanda ‘I’ma-Be-Me’ Sykes. When she says, “Knock it off!” you know she ain’t messin’.

You know what? I want to take that back.

I want to take “That’s so gay!” back from the lips of adolescent-at-any-age bigots and turn it into a positive. Because, it is, you know. It is a very positive thing to be ‘so gay’.

Let me start with St. James. It’s his feast day tomorrow, and all the lessons appointed for this evening give us a little window into the man. We aren’t really sure of his lineage – some church historians dispute whether he is the brother or half-brother or cousin of Jesus – but we sure can be glad that the ‘birthers’ haven’t started a search for HIS real birth certificate (Give them time. They will. They are already re-doing scripture.)

History does name James as the first Bishop of Jerusalem and the passage from the Book of ACTS which was read tonight records one of the first major decisions of his episcopacy.

There was a great controversy among the early Christians (I know. Imagine! Controversy in Christian Community! How could THAT be?), and guess what it was about? You’ll never imagine. Not in a million, trillion years!

Okay, I’ll tell you. The controversy was about who could be a REAL Christian!

I know, right? Glad they got that settled way back then so we don’t have to rerun that argument! Some were saying that only Jews could become Christians – certainly not Gentiles. I mean, not only did Gentiles not keep strict dietary laws, but they weren’t even circumcised, and everybody then knew that there’s no salvation outside of circumcision.

You may go to church and give honor and glory to God, and then perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, and be led by the Spirit to bring more souls to God through the power of the Resurrection, but if you had an extra piece of skin on a certain part of your body, well, everything was null and void. In those days, the only response an uncircumcised male got was the ancient version of “That’s so gay!”

So, Paul and Barnabas were sent out on a mission trip to Phoenicia and Samaria (of all places!) and when they came back to Jerusalem they told all the brethren (and probably a few sistren who were no doubt chuckling up their sleeves about this whole circumcision controversy anyway) about the conversion of the Gentiles and all about “what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.”

Now, when they heard this, there was great joy among the brethren, but some who belonged to the party of the Pharisees (they call themselves ‘orthodox’ today) rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to change them to keep the law of Moses.”

Well, James, being a good bishop, listened very carefully to both sides of the story – especially when Peter got up and said that God knows the human heart and makes no distinction based on external matters. Indeed, said Peter to his brethren, “we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as they will.”

After a silence fell on the crowd, James stood up and declared, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” And that, as they say, was that.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a bishop like James – able to make a decisive, albeit unpopular decision, like that for inclusion. No surprise. Every bishop since then knows how it ended for Bishop James. His reward was to be thrown from the top of the Temple and cudgeled to death. “No good deed goes unpunished.” The cudgeleding of bishops is a strong incentive NOT to make decisive, albeit unpopular decisions.

No matter. The Gentiles were in. They were accepted in the community – just as they were, without one plea and with everything intact, thank you very much.

Now, THAT’S. So. Gay.

Hear me clearly: I’m not preaching that James was gay. I don’t know about that and frankly, I don’t care. I don’t think God does either. I’m saying that what he DID was so gay. In the best possible meaning of that phrase. Let me explain.

Eleven years after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, I've been reflecting on issues of repentance and forgiveness, confession and restitution. And, a little thing called ‘metanoia’ which I’ll explain to you in just a few minutes.

I'm coming to believe that the death of Matthew Shepard is one of three major acts of sin, three ways in which the LGBT community have been the objects of hate and evil, three seminal events in the LGBT community which have broken open the prevailing cultural norm so that we may find healing from the sin and psychosis of the social disease known as homophobia.

Like any movement, there are small but none-the-less significant fires that spark the movement. One was lit in November 1950 when Robert Hull, Charles Dennison Rowland, Dale Jennings, Rudi Gernreich, and Harry Hay formed the Mattachine Society, which was successful in securing a deadlocked jury and dismissal of the case against Dale Jennings for “lewd and dissolute conduct.”

That may not seem like a significant victory, but it was the first of its kind AND, it was the first to break the public silence about homosexuality. It did not launch a movement, per se. That would come later.

It did inspire the launch the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in San Francisco in 1955.

Both organizations had national newsletters / magazines. The Mattachine Society had ONE. The DOB had THE LADDER. We now had a voice. Separate and not exactly equal (it WAS the '50's!), but a voice. We were talking to each other in our own limited circles of gender, but at least we were talking.

In my mind and in my lifetime, there have been three major events which happened in the LGBT community, but there are other - unfortunately many, many other - smaller acts of sin and evil and psychosis which add fuel to the Hell Fire of homophobia.

This is just my perspective. You may have another. I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. I'm not even saying I've covered it all. This is a sermon, not a book or exhaustive history. I'm just saying this is how it looks from where I sit, 33 years after my own coming out.

These are the Three Turning Points – Three Moments of Metanoia of the LGBT Movement: The first, of course, was the Stonewall Riot in June of 1969. The Stonewall Bar was raided by the New York City Police Department because . . . well, because that's what cops did back then. And, in some parts of the country and the world, even now.

Routinely. Just for fun, I suppose. Round up the fagots and the dykes the Drag Queens. Load them up in the Paddy Wagon. Make it a Very Big Show. Assure the citizenry that all is well. No vice or weirdness in this community. Nosireebob.

Except, this time, the Drag Queens stomped their pointy stiletto heels, held onto their fabulous wigs, allowed their mascara to smudge, and refused to be harassed. Gay historians report this as the turning point - the metanoia - which gave birth to the Gay Rights Movement.

The second event came in a far less dramatic way. On June 1, 1981, buried in a single paragraph on page five, the MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report - which contains data on specific diseases as reported by state and territorial health departments and reports on infectious and chronic diseases, environmental hazards, natural or human-generated disasters, occupational diseases and injuries, and intentional and unintentional injuries) reported the incidence of what was later called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the United States.

1981. These were the Regan Years. We didn't say words like 'homosexual' publicly - rarely in political circles – and never in polite company. Even if you, yourself, were 'homosexual'. Don’t want to scare the horses. We would soon discover that our invisibility and our silence were complicit with an administration that chose to ignore what was originally known as GRID = Gay Related Infectious Disease.

I mean, if the disease was gay-related, why bother? And so, no one did. No one in the government, that is.

And so, GRID became AIDS.

And AIDS became AFRAIDS (A fear of AIDS).

And the stage was set for AIDS to become an epidemic.

And, children, this is how an epidemic became a worldwide pandemic.

The LGBT community learned some very important lessons.

Ignorance = Fear.

Silence = Death.

And so, we, like the Mattachine Society, the DOB, and the Stonewall Drag Queens before us, learned to find our voices. This time, however, we weren't just talking to each other or at the NYPD.

We learned to "just say no" to government apathy and institutionalized homophobia.

We learned to ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and organized protest marches, die-ins in front of the White House and State Houses and Governor's Mansions all around the country. It was "street theater" at its best - and, most effective.

We learned how to work with scientists and to 'fast track' the research on certain potentially life-saving drugs. We actually changed the traditional scientific method in the research process to suspend the two-track placebo vs. actual drug study on potentially life-saving drugs in the midst of an epidemic.
And, we vowed that we would no longer die silent, private, convenient, polite deaths - actual or societal or spiritual.

If the Stonewall Riots launched a political movement, AIDS helped us to find our voice - and our minds - our spirits - and, our souls.

We began to understand something about 'community' and 'collaboration' which some of us had learned from our work in the Civil Rights Movement.

We understood the value of "Each One Teach One."

We began to organize our communities, collaborating with other justice communities and organizations to bring about change. Life-giving, mind-altering change. We had experienced our second metanoia.

We made great strides in the next decade. Realizing that Audre Lorde was right, that our silence would not - could not protect us - more and more of us 'came out' publicly in the late '80s and early '90's. For many of us, that was at great personal cost. I know my dues are marked "paid".

We came to believe, however, that personal sacrifice was worth it, leading not only to our personal benefit, but that of the entire community - gay and straight. It was a revolution in our community and in this country.

And then, there was Matthew. Matthew Shepard. A young gay man. A college student. An Episcopalian, for God's sake! Battered and beaten to death by two young men who had sunk to the psychotic, deep dark depths of homophobia. His senseless, brutal death was a serious wake-up call to the LGBT community, to this nation and to the world.

The death of Matthew Shepard galvanized and mobilized the Gay Rights Movement, which led us, a few months short of one year after Matthew's death, to witness the equivalent of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall for LGBT people.

Brick by bloody brick. Inch by bloody, lavendar inch.

In 1999, California became the first state to adopt a statewide domestic partnership ordinance, which established a statewide domestic partnerships registry available to same-sex couples. The original policy granted hospital visitation rights and nothing else, but over time a number of benefits--added incrementally from 2001 to 2007--have strengthened the policy to the point where it offers most of the same state benefits available to married couples. Not exactly out of the Woods of Homophobia but on the path to Marriage Equality.

And, make no mistake: we WILL overturn Proposition 8.

In the year 2000 Vermont became the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples. The law states that these “couples would be entitled to the same benefits, privileges, and responsibilities as spouses.” It stops short of referring to same-sex unions as marriage, which the state defines as heterosexual.

V. Gene Robinson, once called 'the most dangerous man in the Anglican Communion', was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003.

In November of 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that barring gays and lesbians from marrying violates the state constitution. The Massachusetts Chief Justice concluded that to “deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage” to gay couples was unconstitutional because it denied “the dignity and equality of all individuals” and made them “second-class citizens.” Strong opposition followed the ruling.

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases, seventeen years apart (Bowers v. Hardwick - 1986, and Lawrence v. Texas - 2003) that all sodomy laws are unconstitutional.

Listen to that: All sodomy laws everywhere were struck down. That was five years after Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder.

At that time, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy wrote in the Majority Opinion: “Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve to oppress. As the constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

I would note that the same is true about church laws, as well.

I am convinced that these events - Stonewall, AIDS and Matthew - are not unconnected. I have come to know them as three major events of psychological and spiritual metanoia in our community.

In theological terms, this Greek word is often translated "repent" - to "turn around" - to change a thought or action, to correct a wrong and gain forgiveness from a person who is wronged. 

Carl Jung, the preeminent psychologist, used the term 'metanoia' in a different way. In Jungian psychology, metanoia denotes a process of reforming the psyche as a form of self-healing, a proposed explanation for the phenomenon of pyschotic breakdown.

I think we – the LGBT community, The Episcopal Church and our culture – are in this moment of ‘metanoia.’ We are reforming our individual, communal and corporate psyches as a form of self-healing. We are refusing to participate in our own – or anyone else’s – oppression. We are taking back the language which has been used to shame and scapegoat and blame us for society’s ills.

We are emerging from the cultural and religious psychosis of homophobia and becoming more and more authentic as individuals and a community.

If the church is in turmoil about this, I want to claim it and name it as a process of institutional “coming out”: The initially disorienting truth-telling, family-disturbing, identity-claiming process that leads one into the woods of terror and shame and out into open meadow of the full acceptance of who we are – and WHOSE we are – just as we are, without one plea.

There is a reason, when we get to the other side of the process, that we call that “Gay Pride” and celebrate it. We turn heart-breaking pain and debilitating shame into a moment of joy and celebration. That’s sooooOOOOoooo gay!

We, as a community and a church, are living into that great prayer we pray at the Great Vigil of Easter, as well as at services of ordination: “. . . things that had been cast down are being raised up, the old is being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection through Christ Jesus.”

Being saved and transformed by the grace of God is so Christian – and, so Gay.

It’s so gay to be like Morty Manford, one of the Stonewall Drag Queens, and stand up for yourself and claim the right to bear arms. . . or legs . . . and wear makeup, wig and stilettos – because, as St. Peter taught, God isn’t concerned with external things. Rather, God knows the human heart and loves us just the way we are.

It’s so gay to be like Dale Jennings who took on the homophobia of the court system and secured for us the first victory over oppressive, unjust laws.

It’s so gay to be like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who broke through the double barriers of homophobia and sexism – in the gay community as well as in our culture – to establish safe harbors of community and education and hope against a violent, misogynist culture.

It’s so gay to be like Louie Crew, Gene Robinson, Michael Hopkins, Tracy Lind, Susan Russell, Mary Glasspool, and a whole host of other LGBT Leaders and straight allies like Ed Bacon, Sam Chandler – and bishops like Jon Bruno, Jack Spong, Walter Righter, Tom Ely, Mark Beckwith, and Steve Lane – who are willing to put the truth of their lives – their careers – on the line for their sisters and brothers of God’s Amazing Rainbow Tribe.

Yes, let’s take back the words that are meant to hurt and silence and shame us and turn them into vehicles of healing and love and pride. Let’s take back the dark night of the soul we’ve been through in the AIDS Crisis and the brutality of Hate Crimes and walk boldly forward into the Light of Day – on the Peachtree Streets and Ways and Lanes and the Main Streets and Avenues and Broadways all over this country.

Let us resolve to be part of the ‘church militant here on earth’ and leave it a better place than when we found it.

Because . . .well. . . that’s just so Gay!


Copyright 2009 Reproduction only with permission of the author
Elizabeth Kaeton
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
200 Main Street
Chatham, NJ 07928

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hot'lanta, here I come

I'm leaving in a few moments to fly to Atlanta where I will be preaching this evening at All Saints' Episcopal Church for their Ecumenical Eucharist before Annual Gay Pride Weekend which they hold every October.

October? Not June like the rest of the country?

I suppose that makes sense. I mean, they don't call it Hot'lanta for nothing.

Pray for safe flight and good weather and that the preacher inspires the congregation.

Off I go then. Peace out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Do you believe in equality for Gay and Lesbian People?"

Meet Phillip Spooner from Biddeford Maine.

This is his testimony at the open hearing on Maine's marriage equality bill on April 22, 2009. Nearly 4,000 people attended the hearing, with marriage equality supporters out-numbering the opposition 4 to 1.

Listen carefully for his answer to the question.

Wow. Just, WOW!

Today's story

I have so much less stress, he said,
now that I've given up on ambition.
From: StoryPeople.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hello? Anybody home?

There came in this morning's mail an announcement from Lambeth Palace concerning the "special and different" set up of the pseudo-Church that Pope Bennie has set up for "disaffected Anglicans.

This is, perhaps, yet another strategy for dealing with the shortage of Roman Catholic priests. The Onion has already reported one strategy. This would seem to be yet another, perhaps more satisfactory, approach.

Seems that +Rowan and +Vincent have put their seal of approval on the deal. Read and weep - or, rejoice, as the case may be:
Pope Benedict XVI has approved, within the Apostolic Constitution, a canonical structure that provides for Personal Ordinariates, which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.
The "close cooperation" is that married Anglican priests may now become Roman priests, but not bishops. They seem to be saving that particular office for closeted, gay, Anglo-Catholic men.

NCR (National Catholic Reporter) is also carrying the story with this interesting note:
One apparent implication of today's announcement is that the current leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion, Australian Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth, could not be recognized as a bishop in a new personal ordinariate. Hepworth, a former Catholic priest, has been married twice and has three children.
Meanwhile, there's been 'radio silence' from Lambeth Palace concerning the new law in Uganda making "aggressive homosexuality" a capitol offense. Those found "guilty" are sentenced to death.

The "crime" has carried with it a life sentence and prohibition from any treatment for HIV/AIDS, but this is a much more aggressive attack on those the Ugandan government considers "aggressive homosexuals".

Guess the law hasn't been "aggressive" enough.

'Radio silence' has also been deafening from the Anglican church there. Oh, except for this little gem:
"Who is going to occupy Uganda 20 years from now if we all become homosexuals. We know that homosexuals don't reproduce," James Nsaba Buturo told a press conference.

"There is now a globalisation of homosexuality and people in Uganda are attempting to take advantage of the globalisation," he said. "It is an attempt to end civilisation. It is that serious."

Buturo, a devout member of the Church of Uganda, part of the Anglican Communion, called for anti-gay legislation to be enacted.
You can't make this stuff up!

The Muslim's in Uganda have already weighed in:
Sheikh Ramathan Shaban Mubajje told reporters of his plan following last October after a much publicized meeting with President Yoweri Museveni.

“I asked President Museveni to get us an island on Lake Victoria and we take these homosexuals and they die out there,” Mubajje said. “If they die there then we shall have no more homosexuals in the country.”
Nice guy, eh? What compassion!

Well, what did we expect, really? Just last year, the government passed a law - a LAW! - banning mini-skirts. Mr. Buturo said, at the time,
"What's wrong with wearing a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are mentally weak. Wearing a miniskirt should be regarded as indecent, which would be punishable under Ugandan law."
Gives a whole new connotation to 'road rage', eh?

There's not been a peep much less a word from our own leadership at 815 Second Avenue - the national offices of The Episcopal Church.

***However, Rick Warren - yes, THAT Rick Warren - the evangelical leader of Saddleback Church - has responded to a plea from a group called "Other Sheep". You can read their mission and focus statement here.

This is part of their 'focus statement':
* Other Sheep is particularly, although not exclusively, directed to serving in geographical areas where information and organizations are still relatively scarce.

* To share the good news that God loves all people and calls us into inclusive communities;

* To provide programs, support, and counseling that build self-esteem and wholeness,
capacity to love and the freedom to participate fully in religious and community life;

* To network with and equip those who seek to challenge existing prejudices and discriminatory practices, especially in the areas of theological and pastoral training, human and civil rights, and HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
***This is part of Rick Warren's statement:
I am writing you because I am greatly distressed about proposed legislation in Uganda which if passed could lead to the systematic elimination of a certain segment of society. Already, citizens have left Uganda out of fear for their safety. I am writing about the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 that would, by use of the death penalty and imprisonment, effectively purge Uganda of LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) and any who would speak out on their behalf.

I am aware that, for the most part, evangelicals worldwide view same-sex sex between consenting adults as immoral. Nonetheless, I cannot believe that evangelicals can stand silently by and watch the Parliament of Uganda vote this inhumane bill into law, especially since evangelicals are so vehemently vocal on the issue of homosexuality.

Therefore, I am asking you to demonstrate that Yusufu Turaki’s inflexible and dogmatic article on “Homosexuality” is not to be misused by any evangelicals in Africa as an argument for the endorsement of the inhumane Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 by your swift denouncement of this bill. I urge you to openly denounce this bill.
You can read the whole thing here. (Hat tip to Paige for this source.)

The proposed new Ugandan is so awful, so heinous, so Evil that even Rick Warren is encouraging Evangelicals to speak out against it.

And yet, nothing - nada, zip, zilch, zero, bupkus - from Lambeth Palace or 815.

What's wrong with this picture?

I encourage you in joining me to write the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to speak out against the inhumane Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009.

Write to or call your own bishops, too. Encourage him/her to write to the ABC, the PB and the PHOD and ask for a swift denouncement of this bill.

What's that old bumper sticker from the 60's?

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

As Audre Lorde famously said, "Your silence will not protect you."

Sacrificing Anglicanism on the Altar of 'catholic' Unity is one thing. It's quite another to sacrifice the lives of LGBT people on the Altar of Bigotry and Ignorance.

***Update Note: My bad. The letter is not FROM Rick Warren but TO Rick Warren FROM "Other Sheep." My apologies.  Still 'radio silence' from Lambeth Palace and 815

Monday, October 19, 2009

Religious Thought for the Day

Oh, and this fascinating article from this morning's Religious Dispatches.

A quote to whet your whistle:
Consciousness, he argues, and all the things that that word means (thinking and feeling and the fact that the world shows up for us, to use Noë’s turns of phrase) does not originate from the brain the way digestive acids originate from the stomach, or the way light originates from the lens of a movie projector. Consciousness is the product of a living organism dynamically interacting with the world around it. Noë argues for a biological understanding of who we are. And if the clarity and force of his case doesn’t change everything, it changes a lot.
Read the whole article "Why You Are Not Your Brain (and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness) By John Stoehr.

It's fascinating.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"I am the greatest!"

XX Pentecost – Creation Season – Mark 10:35-45
October 18, 2009 – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

I recently saw a rerun of the movie “Ali,” with Will Smith – a tribute to the life of the boxer, Cassius Clay, who later became known as Mohammad Ali. I’m not a fan of professional boxing, but I don’t think there are too many people who don’t remember Ali for saying, over and over and over again, “I am the greatest!”

Turns out, he was pretty close to being right. I don’t know if he was “the greatest” but even I can see that he was a great professional boxer. He won the Heavyweight Championship three times – fighting giants like Joe Frazer and George Forman.

Prior to that, he had won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1960. He both ignited and mirrored the controversies of our times, taking on the law, the status quo, and the Vietnam War with an inner grace and outer feistiness that reflected his boxing style: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

This morning’s gospel has some things to say about greatness. James and John, the ‘Sons of Thunder’ of Zebedee – who sound like the forbearers of Mohammad Ali – had the chutzpah to ask Jesus for a place of honor when he ‘came into his glory’.

I prefer the story told by Matthew (20:20-28) which has the mother of James and John asking Jesus for their place, one on his left, one on his right, when Jesus became “King”. The initial response Jesus makes in both stories is the same, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”

Jesus is talking specifically about the particular burden of his vocational leadership, but I think the same could be said of anyone who actively seeks the greatness of the office – as opposed to being led to serve through leadership. Fred Wolf, my ordaining bishop, once said, with no small amount of chagrin tinged with undeniable sadness, “Anyone who actively seeks the office of bishop deserves exactly what s/he gets.”

You’ll forgive me a brief, personal stroll down memory lane. Today, the Feast of St. Luke, also marks the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the sacred order of priests. For obvious sentimental reasons, I am wearing both the suit and the alb I was wearing when I was ordained. Twenty-three years ago I was raised, theologically and spiritually, at a time in The Episcopal Church when the term ‘Servant Leadership’ was hot on everyone’s lips.

The Roman Catholic Theologian, Henri Nouwen, had written his 1979 book, “Wounded Healer,” which was becoming widely read and very popular in ministry circles. The book draws its inspiration from this well-known story among the Hebrew people.

It concerns a Rabbi who came across the prophet Elijah and said to him:
“Tell me—when will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”

“Where is he?” said the Rabbi.

“He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” said Elijah.

“But how will I know which one is he?”

The Prophet said, “He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and bind them up again, but he unbinds only one at a time and binds them up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed; if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”
Henri Nouwen adds, “What I find impressive in this story are these two things: first, the faithful tending of one’s own woundedness and second, the willingness to move to the aid of other people and to make the fruits of our own woundedness available to others.”

This image of the wounded healer, the wounded Messiah, became a metaphor for practicing the ancient ministry of Jesus, the Servant Leader, in a contemporary world.

Nouwen maintained that one had to be faithful to one’s own woundedness as well as – indeed, in order to – tend to the woundedness of others.

Nouwen felt that, unless we are able to name and tend to our own wounds as the groundwork of our ministry with others, we will not be practicing authentic Christian ministry. It becomes, instead, an issue of ministry as a vehicle of personal power, ‘lording it over’ others, even in kindness.

You can hear this as an echo of the words of Jesus in this morning’s gospel: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; also Mark 10:42-45)

This found deep resonance with many, including Bennett Sims, then bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, who founded the Institute for Servant Leadership in Hendersonville, NC in 1983. Bishop Sims believes that Servant Leaders will:
• Engage in a spiritual journey rooted in a worshiping community and a personal spiritual practice.
• Enhance the power and freedom of others.
• Value all people, with special compassion for the least privileged in the human family.
• Celebrate with gratitude the sacredness, abundance and interconnectedness of all creation.
• Embrace a simplicity of life that honors work and the willingness to be held accountable, while leaving time for rest and play.
• Recognize the gifts of each person, and seek discernment through dialogue as the context for all decision making.
• Call others to be Servant Leaders.
I think this last one captures the essence of the ministry of Jesus. “Call others to be Servant Leaders.” It’s all the rage, these days, to look for ‘team players’. My experience of leaders who want ‘team players’ is that they are really looking for something that’s more about the ‘captain’ than the team – or, more specifically, the individual players.

Even in the church, if you want to really sideline someone who doesn’t agree with the ‘captain’, just say, “Well, he’s not a team player,” and the rest will take care of itself.

There’s a great story about basketball player, Magic Johnson. The captain was giving the team a pep talk, saying, "Remember, there's no 'I' in 'team." Magic reportedly responded, "Yeah, but there is in 'win'." I think that sums up what I think is really going on here in the gradual transition from 'servant leader' a few decades ago and 'team players' of today.

I don’t want ‘team players’ on my staff – or, involved in the ministry of the church where I am rector. I don't want or need anyone to 'yes' me to death. I want Servant Leaders. I want to empower people to their own sense of ministry, acknowledging their own gifts and graces, recognizing that many of the skills and abilities to do ministry are gained from the wounds that we all have.

That may not spell ‘success’ to the world, but it does spell ‘ministry’. I hasten to point out that there’s no ‘I’ in success, but there is in ministry. Two of them, in fact. In our consumer-oriented culture and society, we all want ‘success’. We all want the numbers to crunch, the bottom line to balance, and the dollar signs to be plentiful.

That’s what the world wants. That’s not how Jesus measures success. We are all wounded in some way. Being a Wounded Healer is what makes a good Servant Leader. Perhaps Mohammad Ali had to shout “I am the greatest” in the early days of the Civil Right’s Movement just to get people to look at him as a person, but his greatness came not from his flamboyant style but rather, his ability to understand the gifts he had been given as an athlete.

It was also GREAT entertainment, and sports like boxing is nothing if it’s not about entertainment. Ali knew that and made it work for him.

In South Africa, people greet each other in their Zulu language with the words "Sawu bona" "I see you." If you are a member of the tribe, you respond by saying, "Sikhona" which means, "I am here." The order of the exchange is significant. It means that, until you see me, I do not exist. When you do see me, you bring me into existence.

As Bishop Sims once wrote: "In all of us there is something that does not want to be seen - either by others or by our own selves. Self-protection operates as a barrier in all human interaction.

But the "I see you" of servant leadership activates the mystical power of love and begins the process of release, in both the leader and the led, from the fears that inhibit the exchange of truth and drain the energy of collaboration."

If I have learned anything over the last 23 years of ordained ministry it is that, now more than ever, the church needs Servant Leaders. THE Church. OUR Church. THIS Church. And yes, the world.

We need to see each other into being and hear each other into speech. We need to start humbly, painfully, with the recognition, the binding and unbinding of our own wounds in order that we might tend to the wounds of others. The world is in great darkness and even greater despair.

We need a Savior in our lives, now more than ever. And, according to the ancient Hebrew story, that Savior could be you. The one at the gate. Binding and unbinding her wounds. At the ready to lead by serving.

We drink from the same cup as Jesus drank, and were baptized in the same baptism as Jesus, but to sit at his right or left hand is not for any of us to decide, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. Jesus said, “. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

And, therein, my friends, lies the kind of true greatness that never has to raise its voice, but rather, is whispered and echoed over the wings of time until it rests, finally, and discovers a place of inspiration in the heart of a Servant Leader.



I know, I know. It's Sunday. You stopped by to check in on my sermon. I know. It's coming. Later. Besides, I've really been writing it all week, here and there in various blog posts. You really aren't missing much.

But, this . . . THIS is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Someone sent it to me yesterday evening and it continues to make me laugh until my body starts to betray and embarrass me.

So, put down any liquids or food. Stand back a bit from your laptop screen anyway because the normal amounts of 'spitage' that flies from your mouth when you laugh will suddenly increase ten-fold.

Oh, and keep cats and other small animals away from hearing distance while this is playing. It will only upset them.

If you want to know what that background noise is that you hear whenever you visit the comment section of any of your favorite "orthodite" blogs, this is it - the pure hysterical sound of a sense of betrayal.

You have been warned.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

As seen on FaceBook

Who took the 'Grand' out of "Grand Old Party"?

Sheesh! It's not even a fair fight anymore.

Abortion: An Uneven Progress

It's no secret that I am pro-choice. Anyone who is familiar with the writings on this blog will also know that I am not necessarily "pro-abortion".

As I've often said - and written here - I have never counseled a woman to have an abortion. Neither have I ever counseled a woman not to have an abortion. I have enough 'respect for life' that I also respect the life - and the intelligence and the wisdom - of pregnant women.

I see my role as helping a pregnant woman to explore all the options available to her and to chose the one that is best for her and her family.

I think abortion ought to be safe, legal, necessary and rare. And always, always, always, it is a woman's decision which is hers and hers alone to make, after careful and prayerful consideration and, optimally, conversation with her husband (or the man who impregnated her), her family, friends, and a trusted member of the clergy.

I think the way to achieve those goals is to begin to confront the major reasons women have abortion: poverty, inadequate education, and lack of access to quality health care, including information about and access to contraceptive devices and/or medicine.

We've been making some progress - uneven progress, but progress nonetheless.

The Guttmacher Institute's report "Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress" has just been released and it estimates that the number of abortions worldwide fell from 45.5 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003 — the latest year for which global figures were available.

However, they also reported that 19.7 million of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe — either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners, or carried out in unhygienic surroundings.

A key reason for that drop, the new report said, was that the portion of married women using contraception increased from 54 percent in 1990 to 63 percent in 2003 as availability increased and social mores changed.

Guttmacher's researchers said contraceptive use had increased in every major region, but still lagged badly in Africa — used by only 28 percent of married women there compared to at least 68 percent in other major regions.

The report notes that abortions worldwide are declining even as more countries liberalize their abortion laws. Since 1997, it said, only three countries — Poland, Nicaragua and El Salvador — substantially increased restrictions on abortion, while laws were eased significantly in 19 countries and regions, including Cambodia, Nepal and Mexico City.

Despite this trend, the report said 40 percent of the world's women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, virtually all of them in the developing world. This category includes 92 percent of the women in Africa and 97 percent in Latin America, it said.

The survey concluded that abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in countries where it is legal and where it is highly restricted. A key difference, said the report, is the high rate of deaths and medical complications from unsafe clandestine abortions in the restrictive countries.

"Legal restrictions do not stop abortion from happening, they just make the procedure dangerous," Camp said. "Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access."

Listen again to that statistic: the report estimated that 19.7 million of the 41.6 million abortions in 2003 were unsafe — either self-induced, performed by unskilled practitioners, or carried out in unhygienic surroundings.

"Almost all of them occurred in less developed countries with restrictive abortion laws," said the report, which estimated that 70,000 women are killed annually from unsafe abortions and 8 million women suffer complications because of them.

70,000 women are killed annually from unsafe abortions.

8 MILLION women suffer complications because of them.

So much for being 'pro-life', eh? How can anyone make that claim when illegal abortions kill 70,000 women annually? The study's findings show that making abortion illegal does not eliminate abortions.

It just makes them unsafe.

And, deadly.

Religious organizations which prohibit contraception or promote "natural family planing" as the only allowable form of birth control are complicit in these startling facts and figures.

Although the Vatican remains officially opposed to the use of contraceptives, the report said the institute had detected a shift in approach.

"The Catholic Church has informally at least stopped fighting against contraception to the degree it once did and put more of its energies into fighting abortion," an institute spokesperson said. "On the ground there are priests and nuns who refer people to family planning services."

Here are some interesting facts from the Guttmacher Institute's Site about abortion in The United States:

* Nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are unintended; four in 10 of these end in abortion.

* About half of American women have experienced an unintended pregnancy, and at current rates more than one-third (35%) will have had an abortion by age 45.

* Overall unintended pregnancy rates have stagnated over the past decade, yet unintended pregnancy increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.

* In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million abortions in 2000.
* Nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

* A broad cross section of U.S. women have abortions:
  • 56% of women having abortions are in their 20s;
  • 61% have one or more children;
  • 67% have never married;
  • 57% are economically disadvantaged;
  • 88% live in a metropolitan area; and
  • 78% report a religious affiliation.
While the hysteria remains unabated from the Radical Right, there's nothing quite like statistics to mark the inevitable progress of education and enlightenment.

We certainly have farther to go. Praise God for the progress we've made!

May God continue to give us strength to continue to eradicate poverty and hunger, provide education for women and girls, and continued expanded access to adequate health care, including contraceptive information, devices and medication, as well as safe, legal abortion.