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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who do you think you are, anyway?

“Is this not Joseph’s son?” Luke 4:21-30
IV Epiphany – January 31, 2010
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul - 2010 Annual Meeting
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Just who does Jesus think he is, anyway?

That, my friends, is the question asked by everyone in the Temple who heard the sermon he preached in the synagogue at Nazareth.

The home town boy was doing well. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that come from his mouth. They said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?”

I’m sure some of them said things like, “Isn’t this the kid who came to us in swaddling clothes and was born in a manger?” And, “I knew him when he was in diapers!”

Some were probably thinking, “Hey, I heard he turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Wonder what miracle we can get him to perform here? This could be really big here in the East Podunk, Nazareth in Bethlehem in Judea.”

Jesus was already ten steps ahead of them. He reminded them of God’s favor to the widow at Zaraphath in Sidon and the healing of the leper Naaman, the Syrian.

Here’s the good news he proclaimed: widows and lepers are the recipients of God’s favor, or, as the liberation theologians name it, God has a “preferential option for the poor.”

This should not have come as any great surprise. He had just read to them the passage from Isaiah about bringing “good news to the poor,” and “release to the captives” and recovery of sight to the blind.” He was proclaiming the Year of the Jubilee  -  the “Year of the Lord’s Favor.”

In so doing, he informed them that there would be no magic show, no ‘insider trading deals’, no special treatment for the good citizens of Nazareth. The synagogue was not like being a member of “American Express” where “membership has its privileges.” Indeed, neither is the Realm of God.

Well! Just who, exactly, does Jesus think he is?

As we say in my profession, “Now he’s quit preaching and gone on to meddling.”

When the crowd heard all this, all of them were filled with rage. “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”

Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, once voted one of the Top Ten preachers in America, was once asked when and where she sees Jesus in our world today. Without missing a beat, she said, “I see Jesus whenever someone speaks the truth with such clarity it makes me want to kill him.”

Clearly, being a preacher comes with its own set of difficulties, but none so perilous as preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. I mean, it’s a pretty audacious thing to get into a pulpit and preach a sermon.

Each week I pour over the scriptures, understanding the context in which they were given, applying them to the context in which we find ourselves today, searching for deeper meaning.

I pray. A lot. I have learned that there is greater efficacy in the silent, patient listening part of prayer than there is in constant pleading and harassing and haranguing God for ‘a word of knowledge’ to preach to you.

I mean, just who do I think I am? And so it was, this week, as I wrote this sermon in the midst of preparing for Diocesan Convention Friday and Saturday as well as our own Annual Meeting later this morning.

The Good News from Jesus is always good, but the news from the Body of Christ can be pretty bad – especially when we, like those who heard the first sermon of Jesus, start to believe our own press releases about ourselves, rather that the truth of what God knows about us – and, in our heart of hearts, we know about ourselves.

Just who do we think we are, as the Diocese of Newark?

That was the question that lingered in the air during Convention. I have always maintained that the budget of any Christian church or organization is the best statement of the theology of that church or organization – better than the mission statement or logo or anything anyone might say about who we think we are.

There were lots of controversial elements to the diocesan budget which represented a very serious shift in the theology we have always held about ourselves as a diocese.  These shifts were made manifest in specific line items in the budget - on both the income and expense sides of the ledger.

Now, all of it might well make perfect business sense - indeed, I'm sure it did - but there hadn't been a whole lot of diocesan-wide discussion about them during the actual budget process. 

When did this shift happen? Who allowed it? Who do we think we are? Who do we allow to define who we think – or say – we are? It’s one thing to say, “Money follows mission” – which I believe. It’s another to make a profit off mission. What kind of theology is that? Just who do we think we are?

You may be asking the same questions when the proposed budget for this church is revealed later this morning. There have been some serious programmatic cuts – some serious reductions in some staff positions and some consolidation in others.

What does this say about who we think we are? Have we been living into an illusion? Did what we think we know about ourselves become a false idol? Or, is it still true, so we have to think of new, creative ways to be true to our identity and what we know of our authentic vocation as a unique Body of Christ?

Just who do we think we are?

Here’s the real gospel question: Just who do you think you are?

As I pondered this question, I remembered something Nelson Mandela said in one of his first speeches to the newly constituted South African government.

This is a man who spent forty years of his life behind bars because he believed Apartheid was an Evil that had to be overthrown. The South African government, however, believed him to be an Evil that must be incarcerated as a danger to society. Who do you think you are, Mandela?

Actually, Nelson Mandela quoted something Marianne Williams wrote, and he was using it in a very, very different context than our own. Nevertheless, I think these are words we need to take into our Annual Meeting with us. These are words I wish I had said at our diocesan convention.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us. It’s in every one of us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
These words are an echo of the magnificent words St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about love.  

It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Admitting the truth about yourself is always difficult.  As difficult as it is to tell the truth about your shortcomings and failures, I think it's even harder to tell the truth about your gifts and graces. 

These are words I think Jesus was saying in response to the crowd asking, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’

It’s not so much who you think you are or who others say you are but what God knows you to be. It’s not about the miracles God can perform for you as the miracles you can perform for God.

These are words I think we all need to hear any time, but especially when faced with challenges that sometimes feel daunting.

These are words that are appropriate in the Season of Epiphany – the season of Light – the season of God in humankind made manifest – the season of the divine spark in each one of us.

 We were meant to shine.

Why don’t we?

Just who do you think you are, anyway?


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Postcards from a Diocesan Convention #2: The Last Word

One down, one to go.

Diocesan Convention is over and Annual Meeting at St. Paul's is tomorrow.

The above picture was taken at Friday afternoon's opening Eucharist at The Cathedral of Trinity and St. Phillip in Newark. That's Bishop George Councell, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey in the pulpit who gave a wonderful opening sermon.

His opening story was one I understand he tells everywhere he preaches. Even though I had heard it before, it was good to hear him tell it again. So, here it is:
A deacon, a priest and a bishop were all found guilty of a high crime and sentenced to death. They were each asked for their last request before execution.

The deacon asked for a grand meal: steak, lobster, and a great dessert. The bishop was appalled that a servant of the servants of God should ask for such extravagance. "Before I die, I wish to preach one more sermon for the glory of God."

The priest said, "In that case, my last request is that I be executed before the bishop gives his last sermon."
+George looked out at the congregation and said, "Too bad for you."

There were other really great moments in that sermon but I'll leave that for another time and post.
Here are three members of our deputation: Ms. Conroy, Charlie and Mark, looking very much like they are earning their keep.

They did. It was not an easy convention.

We only had four resolutions, a record for the Diocese of Newark - at least in my recollection and I've been here since 1991. There was one limiting the terms of the Trustees (from 'life' to 5 years). One which asked for the development of a liturgy, suitable for Sunday Eucharistic celebration, which honors veterans and is to be used on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Two resolutions were proposed by the Women's Commission. One asked congregations to utilize the resources at our Bishop Anand Center to bring the issue of human trafficking to the attention of our congregations.

The other asked the Human Resource Advisory Commission and the Women's Commission to survey search committees and vestries in terms of clergy compensation. We are especially interested to see the discrepancies (because we know they exist) of salaries in terms of gender . We will do that and report to Convention 2011.

The rubber hit the road in terms of the budget. My view is that the budget is the most powerful theological statement a diocese - or church, or any body that purports to be Christian - can make. There were some serious theological shifts which resulted in some policy decisions which made us all uncomfortable.

For the first time in anyone's memory, the budget was challenged. That resulted in a resolution which called for greater transparency as well as better communication in the budget process.

That was a good thing, but it took a great deal of work to get us to that point.

During lunch, our deputation went to various workshops - one on Prison Ministry and another on Ministry of the Laity. Both returned enthusiastic about what they had learned.

I was working on budget stuff and the other deputy chose to 'schmooze' with the nuns among us. I won't mention her name, but she's pretty hopeless around women in long black or gray skirts. It's her natural default position.
And here am I with John Donnelly - holding down different ends of the theological spectrum. John and I have had our sharp differences in the past - he, at one point, was the President of the NJ Chapter of the American Anglican Council. He remains solidly 'orthodox'.

He and his wife, Ellen, have served as co-rectors of St. Michael's, Wayne, since 1991. You will note that he and Ellen came into the Diocese of Newark at about the same time Ms. Conroy and I did.

Indeed, when Bishop Spong was diocesan, he would invite new clergy to his home on the first Monday of the month for a home cooked meal (Christine would do the main course and he would prepare dessert).

I'll never forget the occasion. It was All Saint's Day. While seated at the dinner table, +Jack asked John and Ellen to tell us about their family. When they finished, he turned to Ms. Conroy and, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, asked, "Why don't you tell us all about your family?"

She returned his mischievous glint and began to talk about our six kids. I can still remember the looks on the faces 'round the table. Ms. Conroy did so well that +Jack and Chris invited us many times to their home - especially when they had visiting bishops or clergy from conservative dioceses.

At some point during the meal, +Jack would look at Ms. Conroy and say, "Why don't you tell us about your family?" And, right on cue, Ms. Conroy would wax eloquent about our children and what they were all doing.

It was Ms. Conroy and +Jack's special "thing" which has become even more special to me over the years.

If you click on the link on John's name, you will find his position on homosexuality as reported by VirtueOnLine, which couldn't be any further from my own position.

You have to know that John and I really like each other as people. I don't know a more authentically Christian man who holds his positions as passionately as I do my own.

I greatly admire and deeply respect what he and Ellen have done at St. Michael's. Most recently, they closed the church one Sunday and asked everyone in their congregation, instead, to "engage the world" in ministry. At the end of the day, they all returned to the church and worshiped and praised God together.

See what I mean?

I love being in a diocese where John and Ellen and Ms. Conroy and I can live and move and have our being and worship the God of our understanding in our own way: They with a Praise Band, hands in the air, speaking in tongues as the Spirit moves. We with our traditional BCP liturgy and music from the Hymnal.

This is the Diocese of Newark that I know and love.

Diocesan Convention is one part business, one part legislation, one part prayer and worship, and one part 'My Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion'.

And, you know what?

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Postcard from A Diocesan Convention: #1: Birettas Up!

Apparently, this snap has caused a bit of a stir on FaceBook.

Which is exactly the point.

Jon and I decided to be 'Chatham Clergy Fashionistas' at the Opening Eucharist of our Diocesan Convention. We had been informed, in pre-convention material, that we were to process from the Robert Treat Hotel - the epicenter of our Convention - up the street to the Cathedral of The Diocese of Newark.

Not a long walk. Good idea. GREAT witness. Except that it was around 32 degrees with a wind chill factor in the 20-somethings. So, Jon and I decided to wear our Capa Nigra Cloaks - the black cloaks you see in the snap, usually reserved for solemn occasions like funerals and graveside services.

If you're going to wear a Capa Nigra, you might as well wear a biretta - that silly black hat we're both wearing. Yeah. The one with the black pom-pom.

By the way, that's Megan, a priest in our diocese who was also a seminarian at St. Paul's when Jon was a seminarian there as well. She didn't get the memo, but if she had, she also would have been a 'Chatham Clergy Fashionista'.

It's all the rage!

Over on FaceBook, this picture has apparently been the object of some controversy - judging by the comments left. Some have said we'd have been "laughed out" of their diocesan convention. Others said we looked "insane."

Okay. We were going for reaction and looks like we got it.

The brisk walk in cold weather which gave the pragmatic necessity to "bundle up" also provided the impulse to be a bit creative about it. And, to take a wee little poke at patriarchy while we were at it.

To tell the truth, THAT was the most fun we had at Convention. Yes. That silly moment of fun at the expense of traditional Anglo-Catholic fashion.

Convention has been a bit of a rough ride so far. The Opening Eucharist was waaayyy too long - mostly because it was not managed well. That put us an hour behind schedule before Convention even began.

The budget is in real trouble. The service at the Robert Treat Hotel was less than stellar. Cocktail hour was delayed by an hour. Dinner was delayed by 90 minutes. The food was even worse than the service.

All that made our budget woes even more exaggerated. I mean, what were they thinking? (They = hotel staff). Don't they know that wherever three or four Episcopalians are gathered, there's always "a fifth"?

Today is a new day. The Women's Commission Breakfast is scheduled for 6:45 AM. That would be in the morning.

Right. And the topic? Human Trafficking.

I'm on my way.

Ora Pro Nobis.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Diocesan Convention: The church militant here on earth.

I'm about to take my leave for a weekend of Conventions.

The Episcopal Diocese of Newark meets today, beginning with Eucharist at the Cathedral in Newark with business sessions across the street at the Robert Treat Hotel. We'll have our diocesan banquet there tonight.

Tomorrow begins at 6:45 AM with the Women's Commission Breakfast where we'll hear a speaker on the topic of human trafficking. Eucharist again at 8:30 AM but in the hotel (not my favorite) followed by a full day of business.

We've got a few controversial resolutions before us - I mean, we ARE the Diocese of Newark - but, for the most part, the controversy will be around a proposed new Outreach Program (and fund drive to launch it), as well as reduced terms for the Trustees (from 'life term' to a term of 5 years).

The Women's Commission has submitted two resolutions, one entitled "The Evil of Trafficking" which urges all congregations in the diocese during Lent to address the problem by using the resources available at the Bishop Anand Resource Center. This one is on the consent calendar.

"Studying the Stained Glass Ceiling" requests the Human Resources Advisory Committee, in consultation with the Women's Commission, to survey diocesan congregations and search committees about clergy deployment patters and compensation packages, "paying particular attention to differences by gender."

That will, no doubt, pass without much debate. Oh, some tired old windbag will get up and say something about how "there's no gender discrimination in the Diocese of Newark so why are we doing this?" Folks will groan in their seats. The bishop will pound the gavel and call for order. Some folks will giggle.

It's part of the entertainment value of Christians trying to do the work of the church militant here on earth.

This too shall pass - along with the resolution. The controversy will come next year when we report our findings to the Diocese. Stay tuned.

I'll just have time to catch my breath on Saturday night before we get ready for our Annual Meeting at St. Paul's. It's going to be a difficult meeting. Lots of folks are unemployed or now underemployed or scared to death of being 'downsized' and our pledges show it.

We've had to reduce and consolidate some positions and add a line item for debt service to repair the roof (FINALLY!).

The business end of the church may not exactly be the "kosher" part of the body, but it is important, none the less.

I'll try to post updates from the floor of convention. You know. Because it will be sooOOOooo exciting.

I'm told there's WiFi at the Robert Treat Hotel. God forbid Convention should keep us from the "real" work of the church.

See ya in church!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

'Gaybies'? It's complicated.

There was an article last week in the NY Times about children of same sex parents.

'Gaybies' they're called. That's not what the NY Times article called them. That was a term used in an article by John Blevins in Religious Dispatches. More on that later.

My, my, my, how things have changed since we started our family thirty-three years ago. Today, according to the NY Times article:
In 2008 about 116,000 same-sex couples across the country were raising a total of about 250,000 children under age 18, according to an analysis of Census data by Gary J. Gates, a demographer of the gay and lesbian population at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.
Can I just say? This absolutely blows my mind.

I mean, I remember being pregnant with our youngest child. Very Pregnant. I mean, I was huge. One Friday night, late in my pregnancy, I wanted to go dancing. So, Ms. Conroy took me to our local gay bar - aptly named 'Rumors'.

I think we lasted less than an hour. That's about all we could stand. It was awful. The looks we got!

Indeed, later that year, when our daughter was three months old, we packed up all the kiddos (I think there were six at the time) and went to the New England Women's Music Festival. It was there I got my button that said, "How dare you presume I'm straight?"

I wished I had had that button that night at 'Rumors'. I didn't need it for the straight people as much as I did the Lesbian and Gay people (We not only didn't talk about bisexual people, there was open hostility toward them. And Transgender wasn't even a word in our lexicon yet).

That was 1981. We've come a long way, my friends. But, apparently, not far enough.

The NY Times article focused on the testimony given last month in the New Jersey State House in Trenton by the 'Gaybies'. They reported:
In recent years, an increasing number of these children — ranging in age from 10 to nearly 40 — have taken active roles in campaigns organized by Colage (formerly known as Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), and civil rights groups like Lambda Legal and Glad (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders). Their involvement is helping to change the narrative of same-sex marriage to a story about families from one about couples.
Many of these kids, like our own, know well the anxiety LGBT families who don't have the civil and domestic benefits of marriage.

They will tell you that it really isn't about the 'stigma' of being gay. Most of their friends don't give two figs about what makes up a family. It only matters that there is a family.

Our families may not have "the values" of the Religious Right - everything in 'order', starting with the man on top - but we have many 'traditional values' and place a very high value on what it means to be family.

It's about the anxiety of their parents not being able to provide the safety and security of other parents because they're not able to marry.

Again, quoting from the article:
Zach Wahls, a freshman at the University of Iowa whose mothers married this summer in Iowa, one of the few states where same-sex marriage is legal, said in a recent interview: “At the end of the day, it’s really about separate but equal. This isn’t just about lesbian and gay, it’s about tolerance and acceptance.”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York-based organization that advocates for legalized same-sex marriage, said: “There is no good reason to punish children raised by gay parents by denying parents marriage and its protections. It harms kids rather than helping them.”
I know. It boggles my mind but this is actually controversial stuff for some people. It seems to simple and so obvious to me, but apparently, it's a HUGE threat to some.

I'm not sure what that threat is exactly, or how our family is "ruining the fabric of America", but apparently, that's what we've been doing for the past 33 years.

Meanwhile, our kids have been going to school, graduating from college, being gainfully employed, getting married, buying homes, having babies . . . real radical stuff, right?

Except, of course, it's complicated. Or, getting even more so.

A recent article in Religion Dispatches revealed just how complicated it has become.

The adults in our family yearn for the legal protection that same-sex marriage would offer. And yet, our family consists of four adults. It is a relationship, though one without a simple term to define it.

While we are not the least bit interested in securing any legal recognition akin to marriage for the relationship among the four of us, we have struggled to have that relationship recognized when we petitioned the courts for legal recognition of more than two parents in regard to our children.

While the courts in our home state of Georgia were willing to grant parental rights to two people of the same sex, they were not willing to grant parental rights to more than two people—even though all four of us are involved in raising our sons. We consider ourselves parents, have made personal and professional decisions that have put our children’s interest first, and are named by our children as their parents. Sounds like a family to me.

And yet, since marriage presumes two in the context of children, this means that parenting presumes two as well.

Well, I can hear the people on the Right starting to spin out of control. See! They cry. See what's happening! "They" (the nefarious Evil 'they') are changing the definition of 'sacred institutions' like marriage and family. We're all going to hell in a hand basket.

And, I confess, they have a point. The world IS changing. Some LGBT people I know are concerned about families like these as well - might they hurt our efforts to 'ape the cultural stigmata' and obtain civil rights 'just like everybody else'?

I understand the political implications - the political process is a strange beast with a finicky but demanding appetite - but I don't see it as being part of a pernicious plot to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Like it or not, the world IS changing. Families like mine have been part of that change. It is what it is. So, of course, the language we use and our definition of marriage and family will change accordingly.

John Blevin's family is clearly a religious one. He writes:
In the case of my sons, their own lives speak both to gay families and life in Christian communities. Three of their parents are seminary graduates. One parent is ordained and a full-time minister; I am a licensed minister and have served on the faculty of a seminary; all of us have taken our sons to worship in Christian communities.
This is not a family to be easily dismissed as some wack-a-doodle counter-cultural hippie freaks. They sound pretty mainstream to me. And, they sound like a family.

They do not fit the definition of family - not even the one we've worked so hard to establish - but it sure looks and acts and sounds like a family.

And, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . . .

I've always heard these words which Jesus spoke from the cross to be a heartbreaking plea from a dying man to those he loved and those who loved him:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:26-27).
But this wasn't just any dying, condemned man. These are the words of a man who was to die and be resurrected on the third day. These are the words of a man who had come to change everything - to turn it upside down and make it right again - including, or perhaps especially, how we understand the way we are in relationship with each other and him and to God.

Instead of seeing change as a threat - as I was seen in that gay bar in 1981 - perhaps this kind of earth-moving, soul-shaking, sometimes confusing and confounding change to the foundations of our systems of belief and all that we hold dear is all part of the on-going revelation of what Jesus did on that cross.

Instead of seeing it as an Evil, could it be that even the false idol we have made of marriage and family are being torn down so that we might get closer to the truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and the way God ordered the cosmos at Eden?

There are times when I yearn for the simplicity of life. I wish all things in life could be a lot more simple. Things like mercy and kindness. Acceptance and tolerance. Equality and justice for all - not 'just us' - justice.

It's not. Apparently, it's complicated.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Spotlight: John Chrysostom

Every year, beginning with the Confession of St. Peter and ending with the Conversion of St. Paul, Christian churches of every denomination - Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox and everyone at various points on that spectrum and around the world mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In 1908, the Rev. Paul Wattson, a North American Anglican priest, founded the "Octave for unity". The rest, as they say, is history.

Last night it was my privilege and pleasure to Officiate at an Ecumenical Service of Prayer for Christian Unity at the College of St. Elizabeth in Madison, NJ, a Roman Catholic school founded by some of my favorite nuns, the Sisters of Charity.

The preacher was a Roman Catholic priest who was also a Franciscan Friar, and the lector was a local Lutheran Pastor. The Intercessory Prayers were led by two Sisters of Charity.

We didn't celebrate Eucharist, of course - there's only so far our prayers for Christian Unity will take us - but the Spirit was very much in presence.

The Feast of John Chrysostom falls smack-dab in the week after the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unit. He was a bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th century.

Chrysostom means 'the golden mouthed,' as he was undoubtedly one of the greatest preachers of the early church. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care and teaching. He warned that if a priest had no talent for the Word, the souls of those in his (her) charge "will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm."

Indeed, the Episcopal Church thinks so highly of him, we have included his Prayer of Thanksgiving as part of the Daily Morning Office. It's one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer (page 102: " . . . granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.")

It was his devotion to the Eucharist, however, that I was thinking about last night and again this morning as I reflected on his 'spot' in the calendar this week, reminding us of just how far we remain from Christian unity, no matter how fervently we pray.

Chrysostom was especially passionate about lay participation in the Eucharist. "Why do you marvel, he wrote in one of his sermons, "that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns?"

I don't know when it was that the Roman Catholics decided that the Orthodox couldn't receive communion from them, and the Orthodox decided that the Roman Catholics couldn't receive communion from them, and neither will "officially" feed Protestants, no matter how piously we sing that Taize Chant "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

It's just a guess, but I suspect Chrysostom would have been much more Anglican in his approach and fed whoever came to him who was hungry and thirsty for the Living Christ.

The Sisters of Charity, however, did an interesting liturgical innovation. As Father read the gospel, the story of the Road to Emmaus was interspersed with the congregation singing Marty Haugen's hymn "On the Journey to Emmaus."

So, it went like this: Father would read a few of the verses of the 24th Chapter of Luke's gospel, and then we would sing one of the four verses of the hymn.

The last verse is really wonderful:
On our journey to Emmaus, in our stories and feast
With Jesus we claim that the greatest is least:
And his words burn within us - let none be ignored
Who welcomes the stranger shall welcome the Lord.
I think the one they called 'the golden mouthed' might have approved.

As I was reading over the liturgy in the sacristy before the service, one of the nuns walked in and asked me what I thought of it.

I told her that I found the Gospel reading . . . "interesting." She smiled, immediately understanding how we use the word "interesting" as code - leaving that which needed to be left unsaid in its appropriate unspoken place.

Then she came close and whispered, "It's one way to get lay participation in proclaiming the gospel."

I smiled, nodding my head in the direction of the clergy and whispered, "And 'they' don't object."

She giggled softly and said, "They haven't even noticed."

Well, in that moment, we were two women who may not have been exactly united in prayer, but we were united in a wonderful Gospel conspiracy of which I think even John Chrysostom might have approved.

I will leave you with our closing prayer:

Holy God, take us from where we are, to where you want us to be;
make us not merely guardians of a heritage,
but living signs of your coming Kingdom;
fire us with passion for justice and peace
between all people;
fill us with that faith hope and love
which embody the Gospel;
and through the power of the Holy Spirit make us one.
That the world may believe,
that your name may be enthroned in our nation,
that your church may more effectively be your body,
we commit ourselves to love you, serve you,
and follow you as pilgrims not strangers. Amen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"I am the Christ eternal"

Those are the words spoken by Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, when he was released last week from a Turkish Prison.

As a youth, he became a petty criminal and a member of street gangs in his home town. He became a smuggler between Turkey and Bulgaria. He reportedly received two months of training in weaponry and terrorist tactics in Syria as a member of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Communist Bulgarian government

After serving nineteen years behind bars in a prison in Italy for the attempt on the life of the Pope, he was deported to Turkey, where he served another sentence for the murder of Abdi İpekçi, a left-wing journalist, in 1979.

He was released on January 18, 2010.

Three decades behind bars later and the man sounds every bit as deranged as the young man who was forgiven for attempting to take the life of the Pope.

Although, he is now trying to sell his story so that 'history' will have the 'correct' version of what happened.

Which raises a few questions.

Is this man insane or is he crazy like a fox? Is he mentally unstable or merely acting the part?

Would any amount of time in prison 'rehabilitate' this man, or incarceration strictly for punitive purposes?

Who would pay him for his story and who would buy the book?

What does this teach us about the nature of terrorism and the character of terrorists?

When the Pope visited him in prison and forgave him, and formed a relationship with him, and met with the man's mother at the Vatican, and when Agca converted to Christianity in 2007, what did it accomplish? Did it further embolden Agca's purposes or that of the Pope?

All of these questions are deeply troubling. However, if his book helps to give us some insights into the answers to some of them, maybe, just maybe, it might be a good thing.

Meanwhile, I find myself sitting with the deeper implications of the uncomfortable question posed on the cover of Time Magazine back in 1984:

Why forgive?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gotta Luv the 1st Ammendment

Just so we're all clear from Jump Street, I didn't take any of these pictures of Anti-Abortion Protesters, but they all could have been part of the demonstration that occurred Sunday morning in front of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, NJ.

And, they all made about as much sense as this sign.

In fact, of all the placards I saw on the web, this one is most iconic of my experience of the logic of the Right Wing Nuts who protest against choice.

Let me put this into perspective. The New Jersey Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (NJRCRC) met on Sunday afternoon at 4 PM at St. Paul's, Chatham.

The event was entitled, "A Gathering of People for Choice". The purpose of the gathering was to build an even wider coalition of faith-based people - a new generation of leadership - for this very important pro-choice organization which advocates for the intelligent life choices of women.

NJRCRC works on a variety of issues related to Reproductive Rights. You can get a sense of this from our website, but I've been most active in lobbying congressmen and senators around efforts concerning abstinence-only education, providing training sessions to prepare "Partners in Peace" (escorts who protect patients entering Women's Clinics from the harassment of Anti-Abortion Demonstrators), and working to provide pastoral counseling sessions for clergy who are either helping people make choices or dealing with grief issues after the loss of a pregnancy due to either miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, birth defect or inability to conceive.

Doesn't matter to the Right Wingnuts. All they are able to think about is "Abortion" and how it is "M.U.R.D.E.R."

After that thought, their minds snap shut. They are unable to listen to or hear logic or reason. They certainly don't want any more information. Their minds are made up.

When you do talk with any of them, they make as much sense as the sign in the picture above: "Everyone who supported slavery was free.  Everyone who supports abortion was born."

If someone can translate that and tell us what it means, I'd be grateful.

On Sunday morning, in an overcast and cold-drizzly winter rain, about 30 minutes before the principal Eucharist was to begin, a parishioner alerted me to the fact that there were protesters on the sidewalk in front of the church.

"She was screaming at me," she said. "Something about 'baby killers'," she added, her face frowning, "These are really nasty people."

One of my parishioners had also had an encounter with the same woman. He's a lovely older gentleman of a certain vintage who doesn't even know how to be rude, especially to a woman.

She was holding a sign that said, "Episcopals Kill Babies."

"Umm . . ., " he said, "Actually, that should be, "Episcopalians."

"What?" she asked.

"It's 'Episcopalians' not 'Episcopals'," he said.

"Oh," said she, "should I change it?"

"Well, only if you want to be grammatically correct," he said.

"Okay, so it should say, 'Episcopalians Kill Babies', right?", she asked.

"Yes, that's right. Well, it's wrong, but it's grammatically correct."

The woman looked confused but seemed pleased with her corrected sign.

Sort of gives new meaning to the term, "civil disobedience," right?

At any rate, the Anti-Abortion folks didn't come back for the four o'clock meeting. The wisdom of some of the NJRCRC folks is that they were trying to intimidate the good people of St. Paul's into rescinding our invitation to host the NJRCRC event.

Didn't work.

We held it any way and had a great discussion.

I see a new placard in the making "The Episcopal Church - Changing the Way People Protest. One Placard At A Time."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Incarnation of The Word

“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:14-21
III Epiphany – January 24, 2010
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Everyone, it seems, is looking for a sign. Or, at least, they are looking at signs in the world and wondering what in the world it all means.

That’s not unlike the people in the time of Nehemiah, about whom we heard in the first of this morning’s lessons.

Now, Nehemiah was part of the royal household of King Ataxerxes , when Judah was part of the province of the Persian Empire. He had heard from his brother, Hanani, of the desolate condition of Jerusalem and was granted a leave of absence from the King to help restore his beloved city.

When the priest, Ezra, opened the books of the scriptures in front of the Water Gate in Jerusalem, the people were inspired to learn more about God, and from that flowed the miracle of the rebuilding of that ancient city in an amazing fifty-two day span.

This story has inspired many faithful Christians who seek to renew the inner cities of this country to name their projects after Nehemiah. No signs. No wonders. Just the miracle of people inspired by God to do the hard work of restoration and renewal.

And yet, we still look for signs and wonders and miracles to come from above and land in our laps – or front yards, or cities, or churches.

We build up our expectations about our leaders to unbelievable, unattainable proportions, and then, when change doesn’t come as quickly as we’d like, we are just as quick to cry and moan and wail and turn our backs, looking for the next great Messiah. Someone to save us from ourselves. Someone to make us feel good again. We make a direct connection between our affluence and God’s favor.

Where are the signs in this Season of the Epiphany in our time? What are they and what can we learn from them? This morning, I want to talk about three secular epiphanies, three signs in our world.

There are many, many more, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus our attention on these three and how the real epiphany is not out there, somewhere, but in here, within you and me.

I am indebted to my ‘fashionista’ friends for the first ‘sign’, without whom I wouldn’t have known that last week was Men’s Wear Fashion in Milan. Yes. Who knew?

The buzz, apparently, was all about fashion designer, Dame Vivienne Westwood, who presented a menswear show in which the models were supposed to look like "rough-sleepers" - AKA "the homeless".

It was reported that: “The catwalk was carpeted with old cardboard boxes. The models’ hair was disheveled and discolored by something silvery. This, said Westwood, was to make the young men look “like they were sleeping rough and they’d got frost in their hair”. The style is called ‘homeless chic’.

Reportedly, the crowed of “several hundred fashion experts burst into rapturous applause as the cameras flashed."

Dame Westwood was not entirely without empathy. She conceded that she herself had no experience of being homeless. “The nearest I have come to it is going home and finding I don’t have my door key,” she said. “I mean, what a disaster that is, dying to get in your house and you can’t. And what if it wasn’t there any more?”

I am not making this up.

So, I’m going to ask because somebody has to: Have we lost our minds? “Homeless chic?” Have we lost our sense of compassion? Does this mean that the obvious greed and conspicuous consumerist consumption which brought us to is point is, alas, not dead? Have we learned nothing from the fragile economic situation in which we find ourselves?

At long last, have we lost all sense of decency?

The second sign came to me from John Bennett, without whom, I would not be able to keep tabs on one of my favorite writers, Peggy Noonan. I disagree with about 95% of what she says, but my, oh my, the way she says it! The woman clearly knows how to turn a phrase. She is also no stranger to hyperbole – especially when she smells blood on the water.

She’s been looking at the election process – especially in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts – and writes “Our national politics are reflecting what appears to be going on geologically, on the bottom of the oceans and beneath the crust of the Earth: the tectonic plates are moving.”

See what I mean? What a powerful metaphor. And, you know, she may be right. Is the earthquake in Haiti a sign? Yet another sign after Katrina?

An earthquake – like the one in Haiti – is due to a shift in tectonic plates in the earth. I find it sadly, tragically ironic, that the poorest nation in the world has been further devastated by this shift. Is there a sign in this? A message we ought to heed?

Is there theo-political significance to the tragedy in Haiti, as there was in the devastation after Katrina?

Which brings me to the third ‘epiphany’ – Pat Robertson – who was right about one thing concerning Haiti. (Don’t get excited. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.) If you don’t already know or have banished his hideous remarks from your memory banks, he upbraid Haitians for their “pact with the devil.”

Robertson said Haitians joined forces with Satan’s Army: “They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok, it’s a deal.’ They kicked the French out … ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

His callous comments drew immediate pushback, and rightly so, but Robertson is right about one thing – we Americans equate prosperity as proof of God’s favor.

People of all faith traditions believe God rewards those he loves best with material blessings. This idea is not new. It has been part of the fabric and soul of this country since the Puritans landed with their understanding of divine enlightenment and armed with their Calvinist work ethic.

This theological position is now known as “The Prosperity Gospel” which maintains that God wants us to have bigger homes, better cars, that job promotion, and better health.

It is most often linked to the Word of Faith movement and to its leaders – Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts and now America’s most popular preacher – Joel Osteen. Osteen urges his followers to “expect God’s favor.”

Indeed. I don’t know about you, but I grew up being very carefully taught that if you tithe to the church, God will pay all your bills.

Like most television evangelists, Robertson preaches the “Law of Reciprocity” – give money to God and he’s going to give it back to you ten times over.

Embedded in this theology, however, is the misguided belief that material goodies come our way because we’ve been faithful to God. And if bad things are happening? Then, we need to straighten up, fly right and return to God.

Where do Robertson, Hagin, Copeland, Roberts and Osteen get this idea? Well, from the Bible, of course. This passage from Nehemiah is often cited as prima facia evidence.

No longer is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” the most quoted Bible verse. It’s been replaced by Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

We profess, however, to be followers of Jesus, whom we name the Christ - not John or Jeremiah. We follow the teachings of the Messiah. What does Jesus say?

This morning we receive d a copy of the first sermon he preached in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. He read from the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah which tell us that God will bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.

When he was finished he rolled up the scrolls, gave it back to the attendant, sat down, and preached one of the shortest sermons in the history of homiletics.

“Today," he said, "this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Behold, Jesus, the original orthodox revisionist, preaching about the incarnation.

Which, in my book, is the only sermon to preach, if you want to be true to the ‘Good News’, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation is the real epiphany, the real miracle of God. The rest is just details.

You see, it’s really not about who voted for whom or who wears what or the shifting of tectonic plates. Jesus did promise us: “In this world, there will be trouble.” (John 16:33) and he said, “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. “(Mark 14:7).

As I look at the signs in Haiti and Milan, in Virginia, New Jersey and my home state of Massachusetts, as in our own neighborhoods and towns and cities and this church, I do not have answers, but I do have some questions.

What if our eyes and ears were opened to possibility, like the eyes and ears of those who heard Ezra read them the scriptures?

What if our eyes and ears were opened to what Jesus has to say to us this morning? What if we believed – really believed – in the Incarnation, and not the Madison Ave. hype about Christmas?

What if you were one of the signs and wonders of God?

What if you – yes, you! – were the miracle God was wanting to unfold and reveal to the world about the power God can do and the miracles God can perform through unworthy, broken clay pots of humanity when we open our hearts to compassion and open our minds to possibility?

St. Paul reminds the ancient church in Corinth as he reminds us today that we are all part of the Body of Christ.

We are – this church is – the living incarnation of Jesus. Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

And “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (I Cor 12:12-31a)

St. Paul also tells us, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. But strive for the greater gifts.” Strive for the greater gifts.

I don’t know if we can rebuild our country or our church budget in fifty-two days, but I’ll tell you this: When we put our faith into action, when we live out in our lives what we profess with our lips, miracles happen.

I have seen it and I know it to be true.

Jesus says, “Today scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

I believe that to be true. I believe scripture is fulfilled in the power of the Incarnation – when you and I embody the beliefs we espouse and put them into works of compassion and mercy, kindness and justice.

Today, scripture is fulfilled – made flesh, made incarnate, manifested, is an epiphany – in your hearing.

Of that, there is not a question in my mind.

The only question is: Are you listening? Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Homeless chic?

Welcome to the latest edition of "All The World's Gone Mad." This chapter is from our Fashionista Department in The Style Section and is entitled, "You can't make this stuff up."

The other night at Museo della Permanente, Milan, fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood presented a menswear show in which the models were supposed to look like "rough-sleepers" - AKA "the homeless".

According to the TimesOnLine article,
"Some carried bedrolls. Another emerged from his cardboard box with a sleeping bag, slung it around his neck and quickly walked away.

Several hundred fashion experts burst into rapturous applause as the cameras flashed."
And, this, my friends, is called "Homeless chic".

It was further reported that:
The catwalk was carpeted with old cardboard boxes. The models’ hair was dishevelled and discoloured by something silvery. This, said Westwood, was to make the young men look “like they were sleeping rough and they’d got frost in their hair”.
God forbid, any one of these beautiful young men should ever know what it might actually be like to "sleep rough" much less get actual frost in their hair.

Dame Westwood was not entirely without empathy. She conceded that she herself had no experience of being homeless.
“The nearest I have come to it is going home and finding I don’t have my door key,” she said. “I mean, what a disaster that is, dying to get in your house and you can’t. And what if it wasn’t there any more?”
Oh, poor darling. To have the trauma of actually imagining that you lost the key to your house. I mean, where ARE the servants to let you in? Tsk, tsk, tsk! It is sooOOOooo hard to get good help this days. The "little people" have no idea!

Or, imagine - actually imagine - that your home might not be there anymore. You'd have to spend a few nights in a five-star hotel and that would be such a waste of money!

See how she suffers for her art?

But, you know, there really is nothing new under the sun. There are no "original thoughts". As the article points out:
"It’s a radical theme, but one prefigured in the film Zoolander, Ben Stiller’s 2001 parody of fashion. In it, a character called Mugatu markets a new fragrance: “Let me show you Derelicte,” says Mugatu. “It is a fashion, a way of life inspired by the very homeless, the vagrants, the crack whores that make this wonderful city so unique.”
One might feel better about this exploitation if one were to know that Madame Vivienne might have contributed the profits earned from this line to the effort to end homelessness, or, perhaps, improving the plight of those who are homeless.

Perhaps she and her fashionista friends and male models might volunteer in a soup kitchen or, say, work with those who are addicted or volunteer in a clinic for those who suffer from debilitating psychiatric disorders, or raise money for research so that a cure or new medicine might be found for diseases like schizophrenia and autism.

Unfortunately, darlings, the world is a harsh, cold place. There are impressions to be made, drama and entertainment and fashion to be created. This is "cutting age" stuff, you see, broaching a "delicate subject" for the sake of haute couture.

Oh, yes, and profit margins.

Meanwhile, back in Milan, the show must go on, as they say.
At the end of the show — part of Milan’s menswear fashion week — Westwood was wheeled out on a paramedic’s stretcher from which she received the audience’s applause.
Maybe she was being taken to the hospital for a heart transplant.

I could go on and on about the obscenity and insanity of greed, but you already know that sermon.

I'll just say this, as statement of my own about this . . . this . . ."fashion" . . . and as prayer:

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Just call me a "Prayer Fashionista". I hope it becomes all the rage.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Newark-Uganda Connection: It's a small, small world

There have been some interesting discussions, on this Blog and on many Blogs in the Anglican corner of cyberspace, about prayer.

I practice it. I believe in it. I confess that I don't know how it works. I only know that it does.

Oh, perhaps not in the way I would like. Sometimes, my prayers are not answered in the way I would like or have asked for. Sometimes, it takes years before my prayers are answered. Sometimes, I'm not even sure my prayers have been answered - or, should be.

There's an old joke about the woman who cried, "Lord, give me patience." So, God sent her four children.

Sometimes, I think, the challenges life brings to us are the way in which we work out the prayers we have made to God.

So, is there ever a way that prayer could be bad?

Well, a dear friend sent me a link to this article about The PrayforNewark Project. That would be Newark, New Jersey, where the historically high crime rate remains one of the highest in the country.

The idea is that "ordinary people" from all walks of life and all denominations (that would be Christian, of course) will "adopt" a street, walking and praying street by street, city block by city block, city ward by city ward for the people and businesses on that street.

Organized at the MLK, Jr. breakfast in 2008, the project claims a 97% "prayer coverage" of the city.

Sounds good, right? A great idea. Not a particularly Episcopal or even Anglican idea - far too bold an effort for us to take ourselves and our prayer out to the streets - but one in which some of us might actually participate.

Still, a good idea, nonetheless.

So, what's the problem?

Well, for starters, there's this: The project is tied directly to an international organization with direct links to the folks who played a significant role in organizing and inspiring Ugandan politicians who have backed the internationally notorious "kill the gays" bill, the heinously Anti-Homosexuality legislation currently proposed before Uganda's parliament.


Here's a link to a video Transforming Uganda which was produced by a man named Bruce E. Wilson. It is very clear that this international movement "The International Transformation Network" is using Uganda and inner cities like Newark as a prototype for an aggressive effort to take over governments and businesses and "Christianize" the world.

I've embedded it below, if you'd like to take a peek right now.

Transforming Uganda / high resolution from Bruce Wilson on Vimeo.

If not right this red hot second, I do urge you to take the time to watch it. It isn't anything some of you already know, but it is still sobering.

This group claims complete "transformation" of homosexuality through baptism in "His Holy Name." They have "documented evidence" of such "transformations."

They also claim to replace "Witchcraft" with complete healing of HIV/AIDS through "the Lordship of Jesus Christ." Never mind that the nation of Uganda has promoted abstinence and fidelity in marriage as the primary weapons against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Or, that billions of US dollars have gone into education, prevention and early intervention.

And yet, the incidence of HIV/AIDS has continued to rise in that country.

Never mind. See what I said above about how the answer to prayer can come in surprising and unexpected and challenging ways.

It is the links to folks like Os Hillman, Rick Warren and the "believers" of The Family which concern me. The goal of these "transformation" movements is "Christian domination in business and the marketplace". They talk about the "Unification of the marketplace and the pulpit."

I don't know about you, but this makes me very, very nervous.

Visions of "brown shirts" dance a hideous dance of domination before my eyes.

I'm all for prayer and the positive effects of prayer, but here are my questions:

Does anyone really want to be in 'prayer partnership' with people whose ultimate prayer is the 'transformation' of the world to the image of God which THEY have in mind?

Does anyone really want to be in 'prayer partnership' with people who want dominion over the lives of the intimacy and love expressed between two people?

Does anyone really want to be in 'prayer partnership' with people who promote a form of genocide for people who do not fit their image of what it means to be 'sanctified' and live a 'righteous life'?

I don't know about you, but I am suddenly very concerned about this effort of prayer in the City of Newark. And, Uganda. And, everyplace else where this international "Transformational Network" has established its "ministry of prayer".

I suddenly find myself praying the most humbling prayer I know, "O God, not my will, but your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Can I get an 'Amen'?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

St. Paul's ERD Haitian Pledge Challenge

The rector, wardens and vestry of St. Paul's voted unanimously at their meeting on Wednesday night to contribute $2,500 from the earnings of our Christmas Bazaar to be earmarked as a contribution to the Episcopal Relief and Development efforts in Haiti.

We would like to challenge the congregation to match that grant through their individual contributions and make that a total of $5,000.

To members of St. Paul's (and, even if you're not and want to be part of this effort): If you have already sent in a check to the ERD, please let us know the amount.

If you would like to contribute to the ERD, there are two ways to do that:

1. You may make out a check to St. Paul's and earmark it "ERD - Haiti Relief Effort"

2. You may make out a check to ERD and earmark it "Haiti Relief Effort" and either send it to the church or place it in the collection plate in church on Sunday. We will forward all checks, along with our own, and a report of the contributions that have already been sent in to ERD. We will also send a report to the Diocese of Newark which is keeping a tally of our efforts to help Haiti through ERD.

The Diocese of Newark has dug deep and contributed $10,000 to ERD. Already, churches in the diocese have added to that amount. The "unofficial" running total to date is over $50,000 pledged.

I trust we can follow the urging of St. Paul and "outdo each other in generosity". (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Please take a moment to watch the video of a WSJ interview with Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. The devastation is heartbreaking to see.

Bishop Durcain looks very tired, but he keeps saying, "We must keep the faith."

If he can, we must.


No time to write a whole lot this morning, so I nicked this from OCICBW which was sent in by mi amigo, Dahveed.

I am still fuming over the loss of Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts to someone who supports torture and does not support universal health care.

As if that weren't enough, there was this article in this morning's NY Times, which begins:
President Obama signaled on Wednesday that he might be willing to scale back his proposed health care overhaul to a version that could attract bipartisan support, as the White House and Congressional Democrats grappled with a political landscape transformed by the Republican victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.
"Might be willing to scale back"????

Are you kidding me? More than he already has?

I am sure there is a committee somewhere right now that is working on a monument to the Obama administration.

Whatever it is, it's going to have to have the ability to please everyone on both sides of the aisle while leaving everyone frustrated and angry. It's going to have to not offend anyone while being deeply offensive to all. It's going to have to promise change while offering the same-old-same-old wrapped up in a "colorful" new package.

It's going to have to offer hope while throwing many into despair.

I know the hole left by the previous administration is very deep and wide. The Bush Administration's legacy is one of rampant greed, insurmountable debt, hideous torture, wide-spread discrimination, and two unnecessary, stupid wars.

Admittedly, that's a lot to have to turn around in one year.

My grandmother used to say that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

Will the real Mr. Obama please stand up? You know. The one I and many of us voted for?

Somebody find him, please, and throw him a shovel.

He seems to be getting in deeper and deeper every day.

I would hate to see the Obama Monument be that of a statue of him at the bottom of the Dubya Monument, broken shovel in hand, still calling for hope and change.

I wouldn't go visit.

It would break my heart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Don't like the parochial system of the Church?

Blame Fabian.

No, not the teen heart-throb of the 50s. St. Fabian, Bishop of Rome.

Although, I do find it humorous that Fabian, the teen idol of American Bandstand Fame ("Turn Me Loose" and "Tiger") had his star on the Walk of Fame installed on the Feast of St. Fabian, 2002. For his Italian momma, no doubt. (His surname is Forte.)

I confess that I could barely stifle a giggle when I learned that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had a crush on Fabian when she was a young girl. She has also admitted she was the "president of the Fabian fan club." "There were 3 of us in it. But we took it very seriously," she said.

St. Fabian seems to have been the reason for others to have swooned.

After Pope Anterus died in 236, a council was called to elect his successor. A crowd gathered 'round and in that crowd was a farmer named Fabian (Fabianus). According to the story told by ancient historian Eusebius, a dove flew into the building and lighted on Fabian's head.

The crowd, in their infinite wisdom, determined that this was a sign that Fabian should be the next bishop of Rome. He was then ordained - deacon, priest and bishop - all in one day.

That may not exactly qualify him as a bone fide heartthrob but it does give him pretty good credentials as a 'charismatic figure'.

Fabian apparently did many good things and turned out to be a pretty good bishop, even for a farmer. It was he who gave us the parochial system that is still in place today.

Perhaps some of the common sense required to organize and run a farm is the best preparation for organizing and running a diocese.

I'll leave the obvious connections to your imagination.

Alas, Bishop Fabian was martyred when Christian persecutions began again in a widespread state effort to blot out those troublesome religious folk.

You can still catch Fabian on tour with other stars from the '60s - like Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee and the Vees, the Chiffons and Chris Montez.

Fame is fleeting, but martyrdom, apparently, is forever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Road Back

I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite movies, "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" the other night. I know. A real "chick-flick". Mother-daughter stuff. The way women relate to each other.

Stay with me, now. It's not what you think.

It was a throw-away line in a scene between Siddalee Walker, played by Sandra Bullock, and Shep, her father, played by James Garner.

I can't even remember the context - I think Siddalee is just learning the extent of her mother's mental illness and is coming to terms with their rocky relationship.

Her father says, "Ah, the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

She laughs and asks, "Yeah, well what's the road back paved with?"

"Humility," he says.

That's more than just a great line, you know?

I have come to learn that the most powerful words in the English language are these, "I'm sorry."

If said with authenticity and true humility, they can begin to mend a broken heart, heal a broken relationship, or place one on the path toward reconciliation.

If it is not, however, if it is said in a perfunctory or insincere manner, it can make matters worse. Much, much worse that whatever the initial situation involved.

I'm not talking about the kind of apology you probably gave to one of your siblings when your mother forced you to, "Say you're sorry. Now. Right now."

I remember those. Hand on hip. Left foot tapping. Shoulders slumped. Looking off into the distance. Barely audible. "So'reeeee . . . ."

I'm not sure how I feel about the apology that was issued by the student newspaper at Notre Dame. The viciously anti-gay "cartoon" above appeared in last week's edition and the editor has apologized.

If you can 't read it, it says, "What's the easiest way to turn a fruit into a vegetable?"

"No clue," says the guy in the second frame.

The answer is in the third frame: "A baseball bat." The punchline in the cartoon was originally going to be "AIDS," but the artist "didn't want to make fun of fatal diseases."

Right. GLAAD is on the case.

The Observer’s editor, Jenn Metz, relayed a tearful apology by phone to the folks at GLAAD. She explained that she was not present when the decision to run the cartoon was made, and that she was incredibly upset that others on staff had made that decision.

An apology printed in the paper included the following:
The editors of The Observer would like to publicly apologize for the publication of “The Mobile Party” in the Jan. 13 edition. The burden of responsibility ultimately lies on us for allowing it to go to print. 
There is no excuse that can be given and nothing that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done by this egregious error in judgment. 

Allowing this cruel and hateful comic a place on our pages disgraced those values and severely hurt members of our Notre Dame family — our classmates, our friends. For this, we sincerely apologize. Unfortunately, the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society.”

Makes me think of myself when I said, "So'reeee" when my mother was standing over my shoulder.

". . . no excuse that can be given . . ." Well, that's right. Unfortunately, however, one was given in the last sentence. " . . ."the language of hate is an everyday reality in our society."

That's a true enough statement, but I think it diminished the "sincere apology" in the immediately previous sentence. Sometimes, you should just let an apology be sincere and let it go, because, as the statement also says . . .

". . . noting that can be said to reverse the damage that has already been done . . ."

Well, I'm not so sure about that.

Now that the "cartoonist" (who has not yet been named) whose not-so-good intentions have nevertheless dug himself and the university into some fresh hell, the only road back is one paved with humility.

Actions speak much louder than words. The President and Dean of the University of Notre Dame - a Roman Catholic school NOT run by the Jesuits, by the way, but an "independent Catholic university" founded by the order of the Congregation of the Holy Cross - needs to put some Christian principles into action.

Some questions need to be seriously explored and prayed over. Like:

How can a school whose founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., said, “This college will be one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country,” actually embody that vision? 

How can a school, a university of higher education which espouses Christian values, create an environment where that kind of attitude is simply not tolerated and a "cartoon" like that would never "slip by" when the editor wasn't looking?

Can a Roman Catholic institution which holds a theology that homosexuality is "inherently disordered" still take responsibility for the violence that position can produce while maintaining its theological position with integrity?  How can they use their "independent" status to do some good?

I'm not talking about 'humiliation'. I'm not talking about 'shame and blame'.

I'm talking about humility. Big difference.  Humility means accepting the truth about yourself - warts and all - the good, the bad and the ugly.

I don't know about you, but it takes an enormous amount of humility to admit the truth about something good about myself - sometimes more humility than it takes to admit the truth about the bad stuff about myself.

It's a long road back from the hell that was created by this vicious assault on the children of God as well as the image of God we have in Christ Jesus.

It begins with "I'm sorry." But, I think, it continues from there.

Actions speak much louder than words. The actions taken by Notre Dame in the weeks and months ahead will demonstrate the kind of humility required to follow the commandment given to us by Jesus:

"Love one another as I have loved you."

UPDATE:  University president apologizes.  
“The University denounces the implication that violence or expressions of hate toward any person or group of people is acceptable or a matter that should be taken lightly,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president.

In accordance with Notre Dame’s Spirit of Inclusion, a formal statement adopted by the officers of the University in 1997, at Notre Dame “we prize the uniqueness of all persons as God’s creatures” and welcome " all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality."

Further, “we value gay and lesbian members of this community as we value all members of this community. We condemn harassment of any kind” and “we consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

The University respects The Observer’s status as an independent, student-run newspaper and appreciates that the editorial staff has issued an apology in its January 15th issue and that the cartoon’s authors also have expressed their regret. Notre Dame administrators will work with the Observer staff, as they say in their editorial, to “move forward, and….to promote…a culture of acceptance and support for all.”
Read it all here.   It's a good start.

Thanks, GLAAD!

Monday, January 18, 2010

We Shall Overcome: The Spiritual Art of Resistance and Celebration

There are struggles and battles that are carried out on a global scale - world hunger, grinding poverty, diseases like tuberculosis, dysentery, HIV and AIDS, the pollution of our environment resulting life-threatening smog and global warming and the need to take better care of Mother Earth.

There are those that are more local or centralized - wars and rumors of wars of human fashion as well as those disasters of and in nature: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.

There are also interpersonal struggles and battles on the very human scale - racism, sexism, heterosexism and homophobia, classism, abelism, to name a few. They harden the human heart and become the cornerstones of systems of oppression in agencies, organizations and governments.

An argument could be made that, on some level, all of the above struggles are part of a global struggle. It's what Howard Thurman called "the tragic fact of life."

Sooner or later you and I are visited by "the tragic fact" - individually, as a neighborhood, a nation or a global community.

"The tragic fact" causes suffering, and suffering is part of the human condition. Our ancient forebears tried to understand it and explained "the tragic fact" with a story about The Garden of Eden.

The moral of that ancient story is that if there is suffering in the world or in our lives, it must be because we have "angered the gods" - or, at least "God." It must be "divine retribution" for a misdeed or serious act, even if it is "the sins of the fathers" which are visited upon us.

The theology of Atonement is built, in great part, as an answer to the question of suffering. Somebody (might as well have been Adam and Eve) did something (might as well have been to have eaten an apple) somewhere (might as well have been Eden) and thus, we needed God to rescue us from our wretched selves.

It's a simple theory and, at a very basic level, it does contain its own logic. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all of life were that simple?

Problem is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus did not put an end to human suffering. His saving grace seems to end at "natural disasters." Doesn't seem to extend to stop prejudice and bigotry and the violence that arises from it. People and nations continue to go to war over the absolute conviction that God is on their side.

Ah yes, you say, but there's 'eternal life'. That's the real gift of Jesus. That's what Jesus redeemed for us. Now, we have a chance to get 'back to Eden' where we'll be in Paradise once again. No more pain and suffering. No more weeping and mourning. There are no "tragic facts" of life in life eternal.

But, what to do about the here and the now? What to do about 'the tragic fact' of the human enterprise?

Well, there are lots of ways to respond to that question. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s response, based on the work of M. Gandhi, was to resist oppression and all oppressive forces. In doing so, he developed a spiritual grounding for the local and global work of active resistance and passive non-violence.

Resistance - refusing to participate or contribute to "the tragic fact" of our own suffering or that of another - is not only a political strategy, it is "good medicine" for the soul.

So is celebrating. Even small victories. And so it was that a small victory of huge proportion was celebrated last night.

Pictured above is Ms. Conroy and our dear friend Pam. Ms. Conroy lost all of her hair due to an hereditary condition known as alopecia universalis. Pam lost all of her hair as a side effect of the chemotherapy she's been taking after she was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer.

Before the Chemo, however, was the surgery. Two of them, in fact. Then, a third to put in the catheter through which these many long weeks of chemotherapy could be administered.

It's been a rough go. A really, really rough go. If you've ever known anyone who has gone through Chemo, you know what I'm talking about.

Pam has had a week's reprieve from the end of the Chemo and before she begins the next few weeks and months of radiation. She will get daily radiation treatments, Monday through Friday, until March 4.

This . . . this radiation . . . the doctor warned her at the beginning, is reportedly going to make her feel exhausted - especially as the treatment progresses. It's going to "kick her butt," the doctor has said. I don't know how else to describe what the Chemo did.

Here's the thing - Pam, and everyone who loves her, refuses to participate in 'the tragic fact' of cancer or the ugly side effects of Chemo or radiation. It's King's spiritual strategy of resistance practiced on a very deeply, personal level.

This is not some Pollyanna, fiddle-dee-dee fantasy of wishing all the bad stuff away, or simply thinking "positive thoughts" of sunshine, lollipops and roses.

This is hard work. This is active, non-violent resistance against being overwhelmed by a very formidable foe called Cancer and the struggle to kick its butt, thank you very much, if not completely rid her body of its presence.

This is a global struggle being waged on the cellular level which requires the same stamina, the same courage, the same focus of energy as does any other battle.

So, last night, we had an "After the Chemo, Before the Radiation Celebration Party" at the Rectory. Just a few friends from the church for a couple hours, snacking on cheese and stuff and sipping wine.

Then, we toasted Pam with some champagne. She is a s/hero, of this there is no doubt. There is also no doubt - especially in Pam's mind - that she would not be able to wage this spiritual and physical warfare without the support of her community of family, friends and faith.

Somewhere in each of our souls, we understand that every time we bring over a casserole or make a random phone call or send an email or offer to watch the kids or make an entry on her FaceBook Support Page, or remember that she had "a treatment" today - or the other day and might be feeling poorly right now - and shoot over an arrow prayer, we are participating in a radical, revolutionary act.

All of it, all of it, is prayer. All of it, all of it, is how common, everyday, ordinary s/heroes are made.

So, here's to you, Pam, and here's to us and The Spiritual Act of Resistance and Celebration. We need both - resistance and celebration - in our lives, if we are going to triumph over "the tragic fact" of life.

It make take a village to raise a child, but I am convinced that it takes an entire community to beat Cancer.

We shall overcome, my dear friend. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, one fine day in the not too distant future.

We shall overcome.

We'll just keep resisting. And, celebrating. Every step of the way.