Come in! Come in!

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Enough is enough

Okay, I'm no 'fraidy cat' by any stretch of the imagination, but this is getting serious, folks.

You may have heard or read about the FBI raid on the Hutaree Compound in Southern Michigan the other day. The Hutaree is a "civilian militia group"

The above 'clip' from Rachel Maddow will help you understand who they are. Religious Dispatches has a really fine article worth the read. ‘Christian Warriors’: Who Are The Hutaree Militia And Where Did They Come From?' which gives a very fine history of Christian apocalypticism and fundamentalism

I understand that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified at least eleven militia groups in Michigan - the most notorious of which was connected with the Oklahoma City bombing in the 90s.

No, wait. I don't understand that. Michigan? Really?

Anyway, even the eleven identified militia groups in Michigan have distanced themselves from from the Hutaree.

The Hutaree have been described as the "wing nuts' wing nuts". Unlike some of the other Militia Groups, however, this group does not seem to be driven by overt racist motives. Indeed, it is reported that they have driven off those who post Anti-Semitic and Racists messages on their web message board.

What makes them unique, reportedly, is their theology. They believe they are preparing to fight a 'second civil war' against 'the Anti-Christ' and that war is immanent.

The Anti-Christ of their understanding is "the government" - which oh by the way, happens to have a Black Man as President. Indeed, they were hoping to set off a war in April by killing a police officer and then bombing the funeral which, they anticipated, would be attended by police officers from around the country.

I know. I know. It's easy to dismiss them simply because they are the "wing nuts' wing nuts". I wouldn't do that if I were you. Not when you understand that part of this movement is also part of the Tea Bagger segment of the Tea Party Movement.

Just the other day, I was listening to FRESH AIR on NPR. Terry Gross was interviewing Mark Potok, the editor of the investigative journal INTELLIGENCE REPORT, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center. You can read or listen to that interview here.

Here are the money quotes for me:
Potok points to race as one of the reasons "anti-immigrant vigilante groups [have] soared by nearly 80 percent" in the past year. He also notes a "dramatic resurgence in the Patriot movement and its paramilitary wing" in the past year — jumping 244 percent in 2009. Potok says that these groups' messages are increasingly moving into the mainstream.

"I think it's very clear that you see ideas coming out of all kinds of sectors of the radical right, from the immigrant radical right, from the so-called Patriot groups, the militias and so on — and you see it spreading right across the landscape at some of these Tea Party events," he says. "I think it's worth saying that much of this is aided and abetted by ostensibly mainstream politicians and media members."

Part of the issue, Potok says, is not what politicians say — but what they leave unsaid.

"I think a lot of these ideas start on the radical right, but they are also being flogged endlessly by Republican officials," he says. "Even those who are sort of considered [to be] responsible Republicans have completely abstained from any kind of criticism of this talk. So even way back when, when Sarah Palin was talking about Obama setting up death panels and so on — what we heard was a deafening silence from the mainstream of the Republican Party."

A new poll from Harris interactive finds that 40 percent of American adults think that Obama is a socialist; 25 percent believe that Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore not eligible to be president; 20 percent say Obama is doing many of the things that Hitler did; 14 percent say Obama "may be the Antichrist."
You can find the SPLC's Intelligence Report "Rage on the Right" here.

Here's another money quote on how some politicians are using the same rhetoric as the radical right:
"After a man flew a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, [Rep.] Steve King, who's a Republican out of Iowa, basically excused the attacks. [He] said, 'Well, basically the IRS is a terrible thing. If it had been gotten rid of as I thought it should some years ago, this never would have happened' — which to me sounds an awful lot like saying, 'If that person wasn't standing in front of the murderer's gun, they never would have died.' "

"In February we heard Tom Tancredo, a former congressman from Colorado. When he addressed the Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn., he made an incredibly off-color speech in which he talked about the problem: Obama was a socialist and so on. He was destroying the country. The problem was that fools had elected him and what we needed was a literacy test. And this, of course, in the context of attacking a black president. Given our history, where we had literacy tests for something like a century to keep black people from voting, I think that's plainly an openly racist attack."
And this, friends, is why we need to be concerned.

Not afraid. Concerned. Deeply concerned.

Enough to take some action.

Because of the theological underpinnings of this violence and racism, Christians, I think, are especially charged to take some action.

I'm starting locally, and I encourage you to do the same.

I'm going to make it my Holy Week discipline to write to my local Republican leaders - starting with those in my town, working up to the state and yes, calling upon our new Republican governor - citing some of the statistics in the Intelligence Report.

I am going to encourage them to continue to maintain their Republican, conservative perspective as integral to a healthy democracy.

However, I am going to ask them to speak out against violent rhetoric. I'm going to ask them to speak forcefully against racist rhetoric. I am going to ask them to call for civil discord in our public debates and insist on peaceful demonstrations.

And, I'm going to send copies of my letter to all my Republican friends and ask them to do the same - to write to their Republican leadership and ask them to stand up against this violent, racist movement that is nothing more than a bully hiding behind the Altar of God, draped in an American flag..

I will post a copy of my letter here which you are free to copy and use to send to your local elected officials. I'm hoping to send it out on Good Friday.

It starts with me.

It begins today.

Enough is enough.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Renewal of Ordination Vows

It happens every Tuesday in Holy Week, whether we need to or not.

The clergy in the Diocese of Newark will gather at the Cathedral at 11 AM. We will listen to the lessons, hear the gospel proclaimed and hopefully, be inspired by to two clergy - one who is fairly newly ordained, the other nearing retirement - preach on the theology and spirituality, the challenges and joys of ordained life.

We'll then renew our ordination vows - first the deacons, then the priests, then, the bishop. He'll bless the oils for baptism and healing from which we'll be able to replenish our parochial supplies and then together, we'll celebrate Eucharist.

Lunch will be served at the offices of NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center), where the Cathedral offices and Parish Hall are located. The Bishop will report on the House of Bishop's meeting during lunch and then, soon enough, it will be time to take our leave.

I've been in this diocese since 1991 and I've never missed one of these days. To be truthful, I'm not sure why.

I don't believe in "renewal" of vows - well, not every year. Perhaps on a major celebration - like, say, the 25th or 50th or something. But, every year? Pretty silly, if you ask me.

Perhaps because it sometimes feels like a last vestige of the way 'the old boy network' used to work. Or, perhaps because there's this queasy feeling that this is a possible manifestation of clericalism, fueled by low self esteem or narcissism which often runs rampant in the ranks of the ordained.

Oh, there have been some really stellar sermons preached - and more than a few clunkers. The music is usually good. There's nothing like a cathedral full of clergy singing at full-tilt.

Except, perhaps, a church full of LGBT people singing praise to the God of our salvation at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist.

And, to be truthful, my most serious vocational crisis always come when I'm in a room filled with other clergy. At some point, the following thought usually crosses my mind: "Dear Lord, what's a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?"

It's all "hail fellow, well met" when you know damn well that some of these boys are hanging on by threads. Six months from now, someone will have had a heart attack or their wife will have left them, or their church will have suffered a major financial loss that they knew was coming. But today it will be, "Fine. Fine. Doin' just fine. Great to see you. Call me, we'll have to have coffee or lunch and catch up."

And, we never will, of course.

I think that's the worst part of the day.

So, why do I keep going back? I'm really not sure.

Perhaps I'm simply a creature of habit. Perhaps I have more loyalty than intellect. Perhaps I'm still "the best little girl in the whole world" I was brought up to be and simply do what's expected of me (stop laughing).

Perhaps enough of all that is true, and maybe, just maybe, enough good happens, once a year, to make me go back again. And, again.

Perhaps it is because the liturgy and ritual are powerful enough, in and of themselves, to be compelling. Something happens when we gather together to break bread. Something that is more powerful than our most passionately held assumptions and biases. Something that is transformative - even if only subtly, gently - that renews the spirit despite our resistance.

Besides, it's only once a year.

Every Tuesday in Holy Week, whether we need it or not.


As my sainted grandmother - she who I accompanied on our daily morning walk to Eucharist - would say, "Oh, the things we do for Jesus."

Whether He needs it or not.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Designing Clergy Women

Peace Bang is a blogger in my hometown of Boston who has a great sense of style to match her humorous writing.

I fell in love with Peace Bag, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister, back during General Convention 2003 after I blogged about a melt down I had one night. She came to my rescue with humor and prayer and I've been a huge fan of her's ever since.

She's been featuring these 'clergy Barbi' fashions by the artist the Rev. Julie Blake Fisher on her FaceBook page as well as her blog "Beauty Tips for Ministers: Because you're in the public eye and God knows you need to look good". 

Aren't they just a hoot?

Clearly, this doll is Episcopalian.

I've decided that this Barbi's name is the Rev'd Barbara Hightower Smythe, of the Atlanta Hightower Family, who married into the esteemed Smythe family of Boston.

She is presently rector of St. Barnabas-by-the-Sea in Long Beach, California.

On your left is "Thurifer Barbi".

This picture of Mo. Smythe (AKA "Rev'd Barbi") was probably taken in her days as a seminarian at Trinity Church, Copley Square.

It was one of the rare times incense is actually used there, but the new rector thought it might be fun 'just for a lark'.

Rev'd Barbi was known to have mastered swinging a thurible, demonstrating real skill and ability in executing "Around the World", "Walk the Cat" and the especially difficult, "Holy Mary, Mother of God" swing which smokes the entire church from the Narthex to the Sacristy in three swings of the thurible.

Our Mo. Smythe can also be appropriately 'low church' when necessary.

Here she looks absolutely smashing in her cassock and surplice, tippit and hood.

There's nothing 'low' about this high fashion statement on traditional church wear.

There's something about a woman in a long black dress and a biretta that just screams the question, "And this is traditional clergymen's clothing?"

I mean, who were we trying to kid, anyway?  This was clearly designed with the designing clergy woman in mind.  This is clear evidence of the fact that women should have been ordained centuries ago:  the fashion was obviously designed for a woman. 

Or, for discrete metrosexual girlymen who like their drag understated along with the official imprimatur from Canterbury or Rome.  

Either way, I'm thankful to PeaceBang for a wonderful chuckle at the beginning of Holy Week.  God knows, the rest of the week will hold much intense emotion and deep spiritual soul searching. 

And, being Episcopalian, we most certainly want to look good while we're doing it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Let the same mind be in you

Jon Richardson preached a most excellent sermon for The Sunday of the Passion of our Lord.

It's on his blog is "The Ultimate Word." You'll find it here.

G'won. Go read it. You won't be disappointed.

Racism Redux

The year 2009 marked the 50th Anniversary of the publication of the book, "To Kill A Mockingbird". It's one of those books everyone had to read in junior and senior high school, like "A Tale of Two Cities" (check), "Catcher in the Rye", (check) and "Pride and Prejudice" (check).

I confess that I haven't read it since, which is odd, because what I remember most about the book is the awareness it raised in me about racism, and the commitment it created in my heart and soul for the Civil Rights Movement.

Inspired by the anniversary and confounded by the racism inherent in the Tea Party Movement, I put it on my list of books to read again. That was last summer. I'm just getting to it. Finished it Friday night, in fact.

I thought this would be just a pleasant little stroll down Memory Lane. A little measure of how far we've come, baby. Perhaps, even a measure of how far I've come.

I'm discovering that Memory Lane is not always an enjoyable place.

Yes, I know that it was author Harper Lee's one and only book, which became an instant classic as well as a much loved movie.

Yes, I know that the book is a portrayal of Alabama in the 1930's, so it is about a specific period of time and a specific cultural attitude.

However, it also remains required reading in many junior and senior high schools, and Atticus Finch, the council for the defense of Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of the rape of a white woman, has become something of a role model for the legal profession.

Therein begins my problem.

Let me begin with identifying my perspective. First of all, while I am a voracious reader, I am not a literary critic. I wouldn't know how to begin to critique a great work like this, much less an article in People Magazine. So, if you're expecting an in-depth critical analysis of this work, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Secondly, I am identified in the Census as a fairly well educated Caucasian woman of middle class means who has shared her life for the past 34 years with another woman.

Because I can't separate the prejudice I experience as a woman from the prejudice I experience because of my so-called 'sexual orientation', I tend to see all oppression as being part of an interconnected web.

I am, therefore, passionate about multiculturalism which includes fighting against prejudice and oppression in all of its forms - race, ethnicity, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, class, financial status and physical or intellectual ability.

I am, therefore, highly resistant to the impulse to set up a hierarchy of oppression - as if one were worse than another.

That often causes my African American friends to wince. I understand. The sin and stench of slavery still function like the sting of the master's whip. Were I African American, I would, no doubt, have the perspective many do - that anti-oppression work begins with a full-frontal attack on the evils of racism.

I'm not and I don't. I believe it begins with the sin of the oppression of one human being by another and that collaboration among the wide variety of those who suffer oppression is the key strategy to liberation and equality.

That's my starting point and I do not apologize for it. That doesn't mean that I don't believe we should not have a full-frontal attack on the evils of racism. I do. With all my heart and soul, my mind and strength.

Indeed, whenever I see the evil of racism, I jump in both feet. You may have noticed that I also do the same for the issues that most concern me - sexism and misogyny, heterosexism and homophobia.

And that, my friends, is how it is for me. The personal is always political and structures and systems of prejudice and oppression are highly political beasts which need to be fought at every turn.

I simply don't see the benefit of establishing a hierarchy of oppression when collaborative efforts have, historically, been the most successful (See also the Quaker activism which included a dual approach to the abolition of slavery and activism for the suffrage of women - Frederic Douglass being a prime example of that strategy.)

'Sister Outsider', Audre Lorde, said that you can't dismantle the master's house with the master's tools. In other words, you can't free yourself from oppression by oppressing others - even in the most benign way. Anti-oppression work is whole cloth with many different threads. Pull on one and the whole work begins to unravel.

So, you won't be surprised to hear me say that my first response to re-reading "To Kill A Mockingbird" was to be stunned - an horrified - by the racism inherent in the book - and in confronting my own racism once again.

However, as the story unfolded, I was also horrified by the flat-out misogyny, sexism, heterosexism, and classism that worked hand-in-hand with racism to convict Tom Robinson.

I was even more stunned that I had completely missed that factor when I first read the book at age, oh, I don't know 14 or 16 years old. It even passed me by when I saw the movie as a young adult.

First of all, Atticus Finch is treated as a hero - even among the African Americans in the book - when the guilty verdict is rendered against Tom Robinson. If Finch were a Civil Rights hero, he would be brimming with rage against the unjust verdict. He isn't. He's full of accommodation, not reform.

He makes excuses for the people of Maycomb, forgiving them their sins from a "sickness" - the inability to see a black man as a human being. All men (men!) he believes, are just alike. Except, of course, when they are not.

When the subject of the presence of the Klan in Maycomb is brought up, Finch brushes it aside saying, "They paraded by Mr. Sam Levy's house one night but Sam just stood on his porch and told 'em things had come to a pretty pass . . . Sam made 'em so ashamed of themselves they went away."

But Finch does not want to deal with the existence of anti-Semitism. He wants to believe in the fantasy of Sam Levy, down the street, giving the Klan a good scolding.

Somebody cue Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"

It's a naive statement - one known to folk across the racial spectrum - that promotes accommodation. However, it is reform, as history proves, lamentably, which is the only path to assurance of some small iota of cultural harmony through compliance with the law.

Finch will stand up to racists. He'll use his moral authority to shame them into silence. What he will not do is look at the problem of racism outside the immediate context of his relationships with people like Mr. Cunningham - the poor white farmer who leads lynch mobs against black people. Or, Mr. Sam Levy. Or, the island community of Maycomb, Alabama.

He refuses to see the structural dimensions of prejudice, much less the systemic problems of racism.

Accommodation does not change prejudice. Change the law, and hearts may follow. Or, not. But, at least there will be the law of the land and consequences for breaking that law. This is an important point to remember when we return to the Tea Party folks.

I want to talk about Mr. Cunningham for a moment because it's a fine example of how class status weaves its way into the mix.

Finch likes Walter Cunningham. Cunningham is, to his mind, the right sort of poor white farmer: a man who refuses a W.P.A. handout and who scrupulously repays Finch for legal work with a load of stove wood, a sack of hickory nuts, and a crate of smilax and holly.

Finch tells his daughter that Cunningham is "basically a good man," who "just has his blind spots along wit the rest of us."

Blind spots? Excuse me? It just so happens that one of his "blind spots" is a homicidal rage against black people. In my book, that considerably diminishes his status as "basically a good man."

This, however, is part of the defense Finch uses for his client. Robinson is the church goer, the "good Negro." Mayella Ewell, the alleged rape victim, comes from the town's lowest breed of poor whites.

"Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells," Scout tells us. "No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings."

They live in a shack behind the town dump, with windows that "were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb's refuse."

Bob Ewell is described as a "little bantam cock of a man" with a face as red as his neck, so unaccustomed to polite society that cleaning up for the trial leaves him with a "scalded look; as if an over-night soaking had deprived him of protective layers of dirt."

His daughter, the complainant, is a "thick-bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labor."

See? The Ewells are trash.

When the defense insinuates that Mayella is the victim of incest at the hands of her father, it is not to make her a sympathetic figure. Rather it is to impugn her credibility.

Finch wants his white, male jurors to do the right thing. But as a good Jim Crow liberal he dare not challenge the foundations of their privilege. Instead, Finch encourages them to swap one of their prejudices for another.

This new insight caused me to gasp out loud and burst into tears. Why hadn't I seen this before? Why hadn't there been any class discussion on this when I was in school?

This is what happens, I suspect, when you interpret the picture by looking only at the broad brush strokes of good and evil, black and white. You miss the nuance and subtlety, the subtexts and subplots - the shades of gray, as it were.

It's fairly easy to spot a bigot. They can actually become humorous to watch - like Archie Bunker - as long as you don't have to live with them. As long as they don't have any power or authority.

Watching the book's hero disintegrate into someone willing to broker class and gender for race was like watching him take his shoes off and discovering he had clay feet.

The author saves the worst for the last. Bob Ewell has become humiliated by the trial. In revenge he attacks Scout and her brother on Halloween night. Boo Radley, the quiet and reclusive neighbor of the Finches, comes to their rescue, and in the scuffle, Radley kills Ewell.

Sherrif Tate brings the news to Finch and asks him to lie about what really happened. The story will be that Ewell inadvertently stabbed himself in the scuffle. Finch buys into the story and then tells Scout, "Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?"


Forget about the good lawyer and the sheriff's complicity in obstructing justice. Forget that they told a flat out lie and engaged minor children to collude with it.

Atticus Finch had been faced with jurors who had one set of standards for white people like Ewells and another set for black folk like Tom Robinson. His response was to adopt one set of standards for respectable whites like Boo Radley and another for white trash like Bob Ewell.

That's when the mockingbird died for me.

I suspect, in that moment in the book, that it did for Scout, too. It just took longer for my innocence to die - 40 years or so, in fact - and for me to begin to understand more deeply how innocence and ignorance continue to be the seeds upon which the Evil Birds of Prejudice and Oppression feast.

So, here's the thing about Tea Party members - especially those groups of Tea Party members who call themselves Tea Baggers - the thing about Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin and the rest of the good folk who, oh gosh, just want to get America back on track and give 'the land of the free and the home of the brave' back to the people of these United States.

I know there are intelligent, educated members of the Tea Party - people like Diana Reimer, featured today in this NY Times video - who were jolted into the movement when the economy tanked.

They were, by their own admission, pretty much asleep - fat, happy, and uncaring about the world of politics or the welfare of anyone else. They had theirs. Why should they worry about yours? Now they are wide awake and angry. One man in the clip calls them "The National Guard" of the political movement.

I'm sure they fancy themselves as contemporary Atticus Finches and Sherrifs Tate. You do what you gotta do. By any means necessary. Even if that means you have to lie - to others and yourself - to protect what's true for you.

The Tea Party members and Tea Baggers talk about 'giving America back to the people' but we all know that is code language - conscious or unconscious - to cover their outrage that a Black man is in the White House.

While that is odious enough, it is critically important to remember that whatever traction this movement gets will be absolutely dependent upon the complicity of issues of class and gender - as well as sexual orientation.

This is about 'brokering' the various prejudices for the preservation of the dominant cultural paradigm.

Think this can't happen? That this is just the stuff of 50 year old novels about what happened in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s?

We only need to look more closely at the "reform" of the health care insurance industry which was brokered on the backs of the reproductive rights of women of poverty - many of whom are people of color.

One of my colleagues has also discovered that, while her health insurance will still be "allowed" to be covered by her partner, who is a state employee, her partner's insurance premium used to pay for her health insurance will now be subject to tax.

Starting to get it? Perhaps you already have. Perhaps you got it years ago.

I'm still mourning the killing of the mockingbird, which, as the myth goes, is a sin.

We would do well to remember that famous quote by Martin Niemöller:
"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Had I only seen this video as a young girl. . . .

. . . . things might have been very different.

Then again, probably not.

Something in the baptismal water

Dallas Bishop Suffragan Paul Lambert's posted the following to the Anglicans United website. I find it revealing and informative:
"It goes without saying that the recent Consent for the Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles has been a topic of discussion among the gathered bishops and how that will impact our relationships with the larger Communion. Although we have not had a plenary discussion on this development we will no doubt do so when the subject of the Anglican Covenant later this week occurs.

Of course, her presence at our meeting makes it difficult to discuss this openly and honestly, both for her and the House gathered. I bid your prayers that we may have a spirit of mutual respect and forbearance for all involved. I do believe that we will do so with sensitivity and concern for all."
"Of course, her presence at our meeting makes it difficult to discuss this openly and honestly."

". . .a spirit of mutual respect and forbearance for all involved."

" . . sensitivity and concern for all."

Yes, he actually wrote those words in the same paragraph.

Yes, this is a bishop in the church.

We must - absolutely MUST - have "sensitivity and concern" for all those who find it so very hard to talk about "them" when they're not there.

I know. Hard to believe, isn't it?

There must be something in the baptismal water.

Have you read the sentiments recently expressed by the Archbishop of York, posted at Thinking Anglicans titled "General Synod Questions With Answers"?

I first had to stop chuckling at the opening line: "We now come to Questions, which you should now have in front of you in that weighty bundle on your seats'.

Ya gotta love the British way with words. 'Weighty bundle on your seat' indeed!

Toward the end (page 34), Mrs. Gill Ambrose (Ely) asks the Archbishop of York if the House of Bishops would consider "inviting a number of female observers to its meetings so that the insights of women are not lost to the church at this high level of leadership and policy development?"

And, +++York responds, "The simple answer is no. . . ."

Mrs. Ambrose presses the point and asks: "Are we to assume then that the Church can still afford not to hear the voice of women at this level when issues on which women have important things to say come up for debate in the House of Bishops?"

And, +++Himself of York responds: "Many women are, in any event, members of bishops’ staff in their dioceses. Members of the House will consequently have had the benefit of their insights in policy discussions within the diocese which will inform the thinking that they bring to the House of Bishops’ discussions."

It's a bad enough impulse to keep women out of the 'ole boy's club', but how on God's green earth could anyone believe that getting input from "staff" is the same as participating in "policy discussions"?

It's like saying, I know how "other people" (Black, Hispanic, Asian) think and feel because I employ them to drive my car and clean my house cook my meals and tend my garden and they tell me things.

Yes, I know +++York is Ugandan.

Prejudice knows no limitations. And, it destroys brain cells.

Bette Middler is quoted as having said, "When the New Year's Eve ball drops in Time Square, no matter what year it is, it's still 1950 in London."

It would appear that the same is true in parts of these United States.

See also "weighty bundle on your seat."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just in case you're wondering

The public behavior of those who call themselves 'Teabaggers' has engendered sad shakes of the head from both sides of the political aisle.

Watching them reminds me of some of the comments I read on some of the so-called orthodox blogs in Anglicanland - or some of the 'anonymous' comments I've been getting of late.

I mean, where do these people come from? Not any corner of any neighborhood in America I know - or known to many people.

You know, you can think what you like about 'diversity', feel uncomfortable if you have to about 'multiculturalism' and completely reject the idea of 'pluraform truths', but the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly do not give anyone license to spit on politicians, use racial epithets and slur LGBT people as a form of protest.

Actually, I'm no historian, but I do believe that the First Amendment was predicated on the assumption that one had a brain in one's head.

Well, as Forest Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does." It also tends to "follow the leader."

So, just in case you were wondering how this bad behavior persists, here's a Republican leader setting the stage for the backlash on Health Care Reform. I'm hoping this video goes viral. The dignity of the first message juxtaposed with the idiocy of the second is, I think, quite powerful.

I know. I know. Nothing will stop them. They are too blinded by anger and prejudice and bigotry to be able to see that they are not only an embarrassment to themselves, they are, have been, and will be utterly ineffective.

All we can do sometimes is hold up a mirror and let them see how they look to others. Shining a big old flashlight on bigots has always caused them to scatter back into the darkness.

Until the next time.

A luta continua

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Romero

Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Assassination of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador. He was murdered at a small chapel located in a hospital called "La Divina Providencia."

His execution came one day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God's higher order and to stop carrying out the government's repression and violations of basic human rights.

Just the month before, he had written to then President Carter, pleading with him to stop sending military aid to El Salvador, warning that increased US military aid would "undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights".

Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become "another Nicaragua" and thus less business-friendly, ignored Romero's pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government.

Romero was not always a radical Liberation Theologian. Indeed, for the first twenty-five years of his ordained life, he supported the arrangement whereby the Church kept the masses credulous and docile while the aristocracy exploited them and the military enforced it all.

In 1977 he was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, the news of which was met with surprise, dismay, and even incredulity. While this appointment was welcomed by the government, many priests were disappointed, especially those clergy who feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology's commitment to the poor.

Archbishop Romero was unmoved by the concern and unconcerned by the controversy. That's how it had always been in El Salvador - the church helping to keep the peace. That, he thought, was how it would always be.

But the peace of God is not the kind of peace either the government or the church in El Salvador had in mind. Apparently, God had something else in mind for the people of that country. And God had something else in mind for for his servant, Oscar.

Romero’s first task as archbishop was grim: he had to bury dozens whom soldiers had machine-gunned when 50,000 protesters demonstrated against rigged elections. Six priests were also arrested and deported to Guatemala.

Summoning priests to his residence (he had moved out of the Episcopal palace and was bunking in a hospital for indigents) he told them he required no further evidence or argumentation: he knew what the gospel required of church leaders in the face of the people’s misery. All priests were to afford sanctuary to those threatened by the government.

Less than a month after his consecration as Archbishop, Romero witnessed the death of his good friend Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit priest who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos. Grande's jeep was blown up, killing him and his passengers, an elderly man and a sixteen year old boy.

Undeterred, Romero prayed publicly at length beside his friend’s remains, and then buried all three corpses without first securing government permission – a criminal offence.

Next he did the unthinkable: he excommunicated the murderers.

In a dramatic gesture he canceled all services the following Sunday except for a single mass in front of the cathedral, conducted outdoors before 100,000 people.

Grande's death obviously had a profound impact on Romero who later stated, "When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path'".

Thus began Romero's conversion from an ascetical theologian to liberation theology, while at the same time, being an outspoken voice against Marxism and Communism. He worked tirelessly throughout his episcopacy, working to create self-reliance groups among the campesinos.

He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. As a result, Romero began to be noticed internationally. In 1978, 118 members of Britain’s House of Commons nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize (awarded that year to Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

Here are two quotes from two of his sermons:
When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises (8/6/78).

The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being . . . a defender of the nights of the poor . . . a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society . . . that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history (8/6/79).
Romero was assassinated as he elevated the chalice during Eucharist over which he was presiding It was a funeral mass for the mother of one of his friends.

Six days later, two hundred and fifty thousand people thronged the Cathedral Square for his funeral, during which, a bomb exploded. Panic-stricken people stampeded. Forty died.

Viewing this attendance as a protest, Jesuit priest John Dear said, "Romero’s funeral was the largest demonstration in Salvadoran history, some say in the history of Latin America."

In the next two years 35,000 Salvadorans perished. Fifteen per cent of the population was driven into exile. Two thousand simply “disappeared.”

In 1983 Pope John Paul II prayed at Romero’s grave, and then appointed Monsignor Arturo Rivera as archbishop the only Salvadoran bishop to attend Romero’s funeral. The message was plain.

The pope had given his imprimatur to all that Romero had exemplified, bringing with it intense international attention that eventually brought an end to the civil war in that country.

In this morning's gospel (John 12:23-32) we hear Jesus say, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

Days before his murder Archbishop Romero told a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish."

He is not yet Saint Oscar Romero, but he is known throughout Latin America as 'San Romero'. There is a wonderful story about a child who was asked "What is a saint?"

The child answered, "Saints are people, like the ones in the stained glass window in the church, who help you see the Light in beautiful colors."

Thank you, San Romero, for the light you shed on El Salvador and on all the beautiful colors of the truth of the gospel. May your eternal light continue to guide us to truth and justice.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The once and future church

I've been reading, with no small amount of sadness, about what is happening to one of the churches in our diocese. Their story is, I believe, a modern parable about what is going on in mainline churches around the country and what God is calling us to do and be about that.

Pay attention and file this under, "Coming soon to a neighborhood near you."

Some of us have been lulled into a trance induced by the mantra, "Money follows mission." It's been offered as an anxious prayer - a 'silver bullet' - to ward off the Evil Spirits of decline induced by an inward-focused, 'maintenance-minded' ecclesiology.

That could not be said about St. Paul's, Paterson. Here's what they say about themselves:
St. Paul's Episcopal Church is a gathered community of "all sorts and conditions" of people who are committed to the Christian life and witness in the urban setting of Paterson. We are Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian. We are native born and newcomers from many lands. We are young, old, and in-between. We live in cities and suburbs. We are gay and straight, married and single. Some of us dress up for church, and others don't.

Through worship, outreach, education, parish life, pastoral care, and stewardship, our diverse community seeks to celebrate and proclaim God's justice and mercy; to live out the good news of God's kingdom for all people, and to be a healing sign that the things which divide us from each other may be overcome in the oneness of God.
And, they mean it. Take a look around their web page and you'll see what I mean. Their services are vital, alive and innovative, with good music and preaching. And, they are fully engaged in God's mission in the world.

Check out the link to St. Paul's CDC. They go beyond soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters to address systemic issues of poverty. Some of their programs are Housing and Neighborhood Development, Next Steps, and AmeriCorps.

And yet, this recent article in the NJ Star Ledger truly makes the heart sad.

An anonymous, 'private collector' has offered the church $2 million dollars to purchase their 12 priceless Tiffany stained glass windows.

The window frames are rotting and it would cost an estimated $520,000 to repair them. However, the roof also needs to be replaced, stone work needs to be done on the exterior of the church, and work needs to be done in the Parish Hall.

Mind you, I have not spoken to the rector or any member of that congregation. All I know is what I read in the papers. It sounds to me as if most of the profits earned from the sale of the windows would go right back into the maintenance of the building.

Which leads me to ask, "Really?"

Granted, lots of wonderful, indeed amazing, ministry and mission happens from that building, but it does beg lots of questions about what we call 'stewardship' of the building, especially as that issue comes into tension with the rest of the mission and ministry of the church.

As a rector who has been consumed by "property issues" for the last eight years of my tenure, and now confronts a church building which needs a new roof and renovations to insure that the entire building is handicap accessible, I tremble when I realize that we have spent more of our time, resources and money on the 'stewardship' of the building than on either mission or ministry.

The dollar amounts spent on 'bricks and mortar' are staggering, but when I compare that to the amounts we have spent on mission, I feel a total and complete failure in terms of my responsibility for both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

In my most despairing moments, I lament that I went to seminary and finally, after 10 years, freed myself of the enormous debt that incurred for me and my family, to become a missionary for Jesus, an evangelist of His gospel, a minister of His Word and a priest of His Sacraments - not a general contractor for building projects or a caretaker of a Museum of Liturgical Arts that is only used 4-5 hours, once a week.

In my most hopeful moments, I rejoice that 'generations of generations' will praise the name of God in that place and pray that it will become a portal - a gateway - to even greater opportunities for evangelism, mission and ministry in the sacred name of Jesus through the particular inspiring liturgy and music of The Episcopal Church.

Faithfulness has often looked like foolishness, and vice versa, n'est pas?

At least, that's what I tell myself when I look in the mirror in the morning.

There are lots and lots of other, compelling aspects of this complicated and complex issue, none the least of which is the whole bureaucratic structure of the church with layers of hierarchy of priests and bishops.

That bureaucratic structure and hierarchy have become Very Expensive - more than most congregations can afford. Indeed, I think most of us have been unable to afford the lifestyle we've been living and enjoying for a very long time. As my sainted grandmother would say, "You've been drinking champagne on a beer budget."

At about this point, all the "anonymous" readers who write me hateful comments - and expect me to actually post them - are laughing up their sleeves about 'what do you expect' and 'Episcopal covens' and blahdity, blah, blah apostasy and heresy.

Spare me, okay?

I'm not going to publish your cowardly anonymous statements. Indeed, I've come to find great pleasure in hitting 'reject' when such hateful, toxic waste appears on my screen.

What's interesting about the news that Saddleback Church received $2.5 million in its call to fill a $900,000 budget deficit is that everyone is marveling at the $2.5 million response - which is, admittedly, pretty marvelous.

However, don't miss the subtext: Even Saddleback Church had a $900,000 budget deficit. They of the "walk right, talk right, think right do right" evangelical, so-called orthodox faith. They won't talk about it, but even their Average Sunday Attendance is significantly down.

The theology that maintains that outward prosperity is a sign of God's favor and that poverty is a sign of God's judgment is, in actuality, an outward and visible sign of spiritual bankruptcy.

So, what is going on? How are we to make sense and understand all these things?

I do believe that "God is doing a new thing" in the church. God always has - always is - always will. We're always 'catching up' to where God is - and has been - and is going next.

I believe we are called to the struggle to understand what it is God is - has been - calling us to do and to be. The answer, I believe, is in the struggle - not in easy answers and quick fixes.

The world is too dark and broken a place, and God's people are in too much need, for us to play simplistic theological games with one another.

I don't have any answers, but I know we've got to start struggling with the questions. Not so we can find the answers, necessarily, but in order to deepen and enrich our faith.

I only know this much to be true: You can't know the fullness of Easter joy without a Good Friday walk through Calvary.

Monday, March 22, 2010

They are fallin', all around me

Robert Carter, right, with Dan McCarthy, left, Bernard Lynch and John McNeill at a gay pride march in the early 1980s.

I spent a wonderful lazy Sunday afternoon, reading and catching up on articles from the New York Times while keeping an eye on C-span for the historic Health Care Reform Bill - which, thanks be to God - finally passed.

My excitement and joy were dampened, however, to read this obituary of Fr. Robert Carter, one of the bravest Roman Catholic priests I've ever known. He died February 22nd in the Bronx at the age of 82.

It was he, along with John McNeill, who started organizations like the National Gay Task Force (later the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force), as well as DignityUSA.

That was the early 1970s - right after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 - the very beginning of the Gay Rights Movement.

Let me help put this into some perspective and quote from the obituary:
Father Carter’s coming out was a very public one. In October 1973, Dr. Howard J. Brown, a former New York City health services administrator, announced that he was gay and that he was forming a civil rights organization for homosexual men and women. . . .

. . .An article about the group in The New York Times said: “A number of homosexual and lesbian organizations were represented on the board. One member was the Rev. Robert Carter, a Jesuit priest and professor of historical theology.”

Soon afterward he was visited by a subprovincial of the Jesuit order. “It seems that they were afraid I had had a psychotic break or something,” Father Carter wrote in an unpublished memoir.

Although there were calls for his expulsion by irate “Jesuits, parents and alumni of our schools,” Father Carter continued, he was not disciplined. In those days, the church and the Jesuit order were somewhat more accepting of gay people.
Even so, it was not easy to come out as an LGBT person back in the day. It was even more difficult for a Roman Catholic - especially one who was ordained - to tell the truth about our lives and our love.

John McNeill's book was life changing for me and for many LGBT people. It was the first time anyone from the religious community spoke openly about being LGBT in a positive, life-affirming, intelligent way, which laid the foundation for a theology of sexual orientation upon which we continue to build today.

Mc Neill is quoted in the obituary as saying:
I refer to him as the heart of Dignity,” Father McNeill, the author of “The Church and the Homosexual” (Beacon, 1976), said in an interview. “I was doing all the writing, but he was on the front line, meeting with people, counseling people.”

When the Catholic authorities said Dignity could not meet on church property, Father Carter celebrated Mass in apartments all around Manhattan. He led blessing ceremonies for gay couples. He testified in support of the gay rights law proposed by Mayor Edward I. Koch before it was passed by the City Council in 1986. He urged Dignity to march in gay pride parades and marched himself, in his clerical collar
I am deeply indebted to Fr. Carter and all those men and women who took a huge risk and came out to themselves, to God, and to us when it was dangerous to do so. There is 'no greater love' than those who will lay down their lives for their friends.

Their actions helped the arc of history bend toward justice.

In his memoir, Father Carter wrote:
“Since Jesus had table fellowship with social outcasts and sinners, those rejected by the religious establishment of his time, I consider myself to have been most fully a Jesuit, a ‘companion of Jesus,’ when I came out publicly as a gay man, one of the social rejects of my time. It was only by our coming out that society’s negative stereotypes would be overcome and we would gain social acceptance.”
Thank you, Fr. Carter. Thank you for your life, your work, and your witness.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done. Rest well, now. Your work on this side of Paradise is done. May the memory of your life continue to inspire the work for justice and bring us ever closer to the Realm of God.

This one's for you, and all those brave souls who took a courageous stand for justice and inspired us all
They Are Falling
By Bernice Johnson Reagon

They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
They are falling all around me
The strongest leaves on my tree

Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
Every paper brings the news that
The teachers of my life are moving on

Oh, death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Death comes and rests so heavy
Your face I will never see, never see you anymore

But I'm not really gonna leave you
I'm not really gonna leave you
You're not really gonna leave me

It is your path I walk
It is your song I sing
It is your load I take on
It is your air I breathe
It is the record you set that makes me go on
It is your strength that helps me stand

You're not really gonna leave me

I have tried to sing my song right
(I will try to sing my song right)
I have tried to sing my song right
(I will try to sing this song right)
I have tried to sing my song right
Be sure to let me hear from you
May your soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Judas or Mary?

“Envy and Gratitude.”
(Isaiah 43:16-21 Philippians 3:4-14; John 12:1-8)
V Lent – March 21, 2010
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

How odd, in that wonderful way of gospel oddness, that we should be visited by Mary and Martha on this last Sunday before Holy Week begins.

Indeed, we are witnesses, in this gospel account, of a dinner served in their Bethany home in honor of Jesus and Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha and dear friend of Jesus, who – oh by the way – Jesus has just raised from the dead.

Indeed, some biblical scholars point to the raising of Lazarus from the dead after three days in the spiced tomb as the breaking point for the Pharisees. Mind you, it was not that Jesus actually raised Lazarus from the dead; rather, that he performed this miracle on the Sabbath.

Imagine! How uncouth!

Nevertheless, it was the ‘last straw’ – the one that finally broke the back of the Pharisees and set in motion the events leading up to the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

That couldn’t have happened, however, without a little help from one of the disciples – namely, one Judas Iscariot – who must have also been feeling a tad anxious about this ‘final straw’.

St. John, our evangelist this morning, is none too kindly in his reporting of Judas. You can practically hear him sneer as he writes, “(Judas) said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief.”

Perhaps this was so. Perhaps it was not.

Here’s what I think: I think Judas was scared. And, overwhelmed.

Scared about the fallout he knew would happen after the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Overwhelmed by the lavish generosity of Martha – who prepared a banquet in honor of her brother and Jesus, and Mary – who took a pound of costly perfume and, with it, anointed the head and feet of Jesus and then, in an outrageous act of sensuality, wiped his feet with her hair.

Oh, yes, and Judas was envious. Yes, envious.

As Judas considered what Jesus had done for his friend, and watched Mary of Bethany lavish Jesus with expensive perfume, he was filled with envy.

Psychologist Melanie Klein wrote a book entitled “Envy and Gratitude” in which she posits that these emotions are polar opposites of each other.

More on this later, but sufficient to say that as I read this gospel account, I see Judas filled with envy – which was his breaking point. And, I see Mary filled with gratitude, which was her turning point.

We all have our breaking points – which can also be turning points. It’s a choice. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus was not what broke Judas Iscariot. I think he had come to expect miracles from Jesus.

What he couldn’t expect, what he couldn’t imagine, was the gratitude that flows from the transformation of the heart when one experiences a miracle in the name of Jesus.

That’s the real oddity – the problem with this morning’s gospel – as we watch gratitude vs. envy as a response to the miracle of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. It is an oddity of human nature – to watch extraordinary human behavior and treat it as odd.

The truth is that we are all capable of extraordinary behavior. It’s a choice we make. Dr. Klein says that when this happens, we either strive to emulate it by being generous in our gratitude or, thinking we can’t possibly attain it, become envious and allow our envy to try to destroy it.

Envy and Gratitude. They are two sides to the same response – two polar opposites of human nature – both of which arise from passions that are stirred deep within us.

One can lead us to prodigal acts of generosity, the other can lead to destructive behavior like gossip or complicity with those in power who can destroy. Both result when our hearts are stirred with passion.

Next week we will observe what the calendar notes as Palm Sunday – but our liturgical calendar notes as “The Sunday of The Passion of our Lord.” It’s not just about palms – those are just the props of the drama.

It’s about passion. The real unfolding drama of the Passion of our Lord.

We often come to equate passion with suffering, and part of that is true. Passion almost always invites sacrifice of some measure. It often doesn’t feel like sacrifice because, well, we’re doing want we’re passionate about – what we love to do.

And that’s the point of the suffering – the passion – of Jesus: Love. Deep love. Love that is forgiving. Love that is reconciling. Love that is willing to sacrifice everything for something more. Something bigger. Something greater than anything we could ask for or imagine for ourselves or others.

We think of these stories as ancient and therefore, not really relevant in our lives. I mean, how do we really know that they are true? Oh, they are good stories. Inspiring stories. But, hardly about things that happen now.

I want to tell you a story which came out of the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, which was established after the end of Apartheid in that country as a way to give both the victims and the perpetrators a chance to be heard so that healing might begin to happen.

One of the accounts is that of an frail, elderly Black South African woman who sat and listened carefully as one, white South African man named Mr. Vanderbrook, confessed to the savage torture and murder of this woman’s son and husband a few years earlier.

It was reported that the elderly woman was summoned – indeed, forced – to witness this torture and murder of her family, who were burned alive.

She also listened to the last words of her dying husband who said, amazingly enough, “Father, forgive them.”

During the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, the woman was asked ‘how do you believe justice should be done to this man who has inflicted such suffering on you and so brutally destroyed your family’?

The old woman replied that she wanted three things. “I want to be taken first to where my husband’s body was burned so that I my gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial,” she said. She stopped, collected herself and then went on.

“My husband and son were my only family. I want secondly, therefore, for Mr. Vanderbrook to become my son. I would like for him to come two times a month to the ghetto where I live and spend a day with me so I can pour out to him whatever love I still have remaining in me.”

“Finally,” she said, “I would like Mr. Vanderbrook to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband."

"So I would like now for someone to lead me across the courtroom so I can take Mr. Vanderbrook in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven. “

The assistants came to help the elderly woman across the room and, as they approached, it is reported that Mr.Vanderbrook fainted.

Those in the courtroom, all family and friends of those victims and perpetrators of unspeakable violence and oppression, began to sing ‘Amazing Grace’.

That is a true story. It was taken from the reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The breaking point for the elderly South African woman should have been the brutal death of her husband and son. Instead, it became a turning point – a time when she turned all of her sorrow and grief, her pain and anguish into an act of radical love and forgiveness.

I don’t know what happened to Mr.Vanderbrook after he fainted in that courtroom. He had some choices to make about what he was going to do with his life. How he was going to receive the gift of sacrificial love, fueled and inspired by the sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus.

I want to suggest that there are parts of each one of us in each of the characters of both of the sacred stories we heard this morning.

There is part of that old South African woman in each of us – we recognize her, but only dimly. Some of us are stunned by her generosity and wonder if, under similar circumstances, we could emulate what she did.

Some of us, inspired by her, seek to do just that.

Others of us want to dismiss this as ‘saintly behavior’.

I want to suggest that if we dismiss the story as something unbelievable – unattainable – we are only doing so because we are envious of her gratitude and generosity, just as envious as Judas was of Jesus and Mary.

Here’s the oddity of the gospel: There is an old South African woman in you and there is an old South African woman in me.

There is that part of each of us that knows that, without someone upon whom we can pour out whatever love we have remaining in us, our entire personhood is so diminished, we might as well be dead from living with the constant pain of grief and sorrow.

And there is a Mr. Vanderbrook in me and an Mr. Vanderbrook in you – so overwhelmed by forgiveness that the only thing to do is collapse into unbelieving while others look on with equal astonishment and sing Amazing Grace.

I pray Mr. Vanderbrook learned to anoint that old South African woman with his tears and allowed her to anoint him with her forgiveness and love.

There is a Martha of Bethany in you and a Martha of Bethany in me – who pour ourselves and whatever little we have into preparing outward and visible sign and symbols of our gratitude – like Babbette’s Eucharistic feast.

There is a Mary of Bethany in you and a Mary of Bethany in me – who is so overcome with gratitude that we become prodigal in our gratitude and perform unspeakable, outrageous, almost scandalous acts of generosity.

There is also a Judas Iscariot in you and a Judas Iscariot in me, whose turning point is a breaking point and we allow ourselves to be consumed with envy. Instead of trying to emulate behavior we admire, we try to diminish it, or discard it or destroy it.

We allow envy, like a thief, to steal our potential for gratitude and acts of kindness, generosity and even potential nobility.

It is a choice we have. It is a choice we make. Every day.

We can choose to be filled with gratitude or we can choose to be consumed by envy. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, because both come from a place of deep passion. But, we can and do make that choice.

As we prepare for The Passion of our Lord and begin to enter into Holy Week, I have a few questions for us to consider.

What do you do to express your gratitude for the passion of our Lord for you and what God has done in your life?

What have been the ‘last straws’ in your life? What have been the breaking points in your life? Have they also been turning points?

Have you, like Mary, chosen the better portion? Or, have you allowed envy to lead you to destructive behaviors like gossip and slander, rumor and innuendo?

We admire acts of social service – but only from afar, as long as they don’t come to our back yard, and then the NIMBY effect (Not In My Back Yard) kicks in.

Have you – knowingly or unknowingly – participated in an act that caused the destruction of someone else – or the destruction of the potential to help others?

If you have, I want to encourage you to consider the source of your passion and ask you to consider whether or not you are responding in gratitude or envy.

Don't worry about being forgiven. That's already happened for you on 'that old rugged cross'.

Where is the passion for The Passion in your life? Where is the passion – the gospel fire – that lights the path you travel and shows you the way to the reconciling truth of God in Christ Jesus?

Do you allow that passion to be the breaking point or the turning point in your life?

God is about to do a new thing in our lives, as Isaiah foretold. God is always doing a new thing, if we but pay attention.

The Sunday of The Passion of our Lord is upon us – the ‘last straw’ of God’s reconciling love in Christ for us. It is both a breaking point and a turning point in salvation history.

It is a mere seven days away. Easter will follow seven days later.

Odd, this juxtaposition of events. And yet, this Way, this Truth, this Light, this Sacred Story is nothing less than the path of our salvation in Christ Jesus.

We can choose to take it or not.

Judas Iscariot or Mary of Bethany? Envy or gratitude?

What will you choose?


Friday, March 19, 2010


I love it when a good plan comes together from out of the blue.

I've been needing this day off. Bad. The only real way I can have a day off is to get outta Dodge. And, the best place I know outside of Dodge is, of course, Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

As I was driving down late Thursday afternoon, I called my dear friend, Mark Harris, who lives in Lewes. Just on a whim. Thought we might get together for a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze about - what else? - The Episcopal Church.

I've known Mark since 1986 - back in the day when he was National Coordinator for Campus Ministry and I was a brand new Chaplain at The University of Lowell.

I took one look at him, fell in love, and there's never been any other man for me. We keep in touch from time to time. It had been a few months since I had gotten one of his wonderful hugs, so I thought I'd ring him up and see about fixing that.

What I didn't know is that, in the few months seen I'd seen him, he'd become "The Old Man of the Sea."

That's him. Up there. In his new - well, to him - boat.

That's the new 'boy toy'. The Amity is her name.

Isn't she sweet? Got lots of character, don't you think? Like her new captain.

We met at our favorite coffee shop in Lewes, the Azafran, got our beverages of choice and were off on a tour of the back side of Cape Henlopen.
We watched a few momma osprey getting their nests together, spotted a magnificent Blue Heron, and marveled at the Very Ugly turkey vultures who seemed to be having a small political caucus on the side of the water.

Meanwhile, we chatted away about our families - grandchildren, mostly. And, what our respective spouses and children were up to these days. Oh, yes. And a bit about The Episcopal Church.
But mostly, we were just two friends of very long standing (I refuse to say 'old'), who were out enjoying the beautiful day. Temperatures in the low 70s. Not a cloud in the very blue sky. A slight breeze in the air. Very calm waters.

It felt like the weather on Rehoboth Bay was redeeming itself after three Nor'easters in six weeks time.

And here I thought I would just lounge about in my PJs all day.

And now I'm off to meet up with my friend Wayne to have dinner at Dos Locos - only the best restaurant in Rehoboth Beach.

Alaskan King Crab Legs are half price tonight. Served with lots of drawn butter, a side of yummy salad and some amazing rice.
I'll leave you with an image of the marina where I hope to meet up with The Old Man of the Sea in another month or so for another wonderful little ride on The Amity.

It just promises Spring, doesn't it?

Life is good. Especially when you aren't expecting it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A renewed creation in Christ

I saw this 30 second clip just before the news of the consents to the election of Mary Glasspool's election was released.

I'm obviously very impressed.

Oh, I'm not talking about the technical stuff, although that is impressive - well, to me at least, for whatever that is worth.

I'm talking not about the medium but the message.  And, how timely it is. 

Ancient, but timely.  Words that are centuries old but still ring true.  Still serve as an important reminder about what is at the core of our faith.

I'm struck, in this video, by the clarity of the message of our identity as Christians who are Episcopalians.  It is a timely message in Lent which calls us to return to - or rediscover - our own houses of worship in order to celebration Easter Resurrection in our communities of faith.

There are already those of the "Chicken Little School of 'orthodox' (note: small 'o') Anglican Theology" who are wringing their hands over the Glasspool election and consent process and moaning that the Episcopal part of the Anglican sky is falling - has fallen, and can never again get up.

"We have erred and strayed like lost sheep," they wail. Others make mean-spirited remarks about how The Episcopal Church ought to be punished ("disciplined"). Some continue to work to make that a reality - mostly through the "Anglican Covenant".

What The Episcopal Church did in consenting to the election of Mary Glasspool is to affirm the core values of our faith. We not only affirmed our faith, we put that faith into action.

That's always the hard part, isn't it?

Blah, blah, blah FAITH. Blah, blah, blah LOVE. Blahdiddy, blahdiddy, blah MERCY. . . JUSTICE. . . .PEACE.

Living those values, putting them into action, taking a stand for what we know about ourselves and what we believe about God, always involves risk. Always involves sacrifice. Always involves a journey to what Martin Smith calls "the crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith."

In my experience, the paradox of that journey is that it always leads to a clarification process from which we emerge clearer about who we are and whose we are. It's akin to a 'forty days and fourty nights' experience in the wilderness. We understand who our people are and what God is calling us to do.

It's a journey deep into the four foundational cornerstones of spirituality: identity, mortality, intimacy and vocation. The process of 'coming out' out as an LGBT person is a profoundly spiritual process. It is about diving deep, exploring these four corners of our faith and then surfacing.

It is a spiritual baptismal process of water and fire and spirit from which one emerges with the kind of conviction and commitment to continue the journey in faith. By faith. Through faith.

"I am a new creation in Christ" says St. Paul. With all due respect to Himself, I'd like to rephrase that to read "I am a renewed creation in Christ."

When you have come through that kind of clarifying process, you are more of who you always were - who you were created to be - just clearer. Stronger. More authentic. With greater integrity.

Here's what I think: I think The Episcopal Church, as an institution as well as the Body of Christ, is 'coming out' - to itself and to God and to each other and to the world.

LGBT people know this journey well. We have been blessed that we might be a blessing. I do believe it is our gift to the church. It is our particular blessing of and to the church.

And, the church is finally ready to receive it. The sacred covenants we make between ourselves for faithful, lifelong monogamy will, one day, be blessed by the church. But that will only be because the church has finally recognized the gift of our blessing to the church - as well as the blessing of the sacred vows we make to each other before God.

I believe we will emerge from this time clearer, stronger, and better prepared to begin to catch up with God's reconciling mission in the world, which has been going on since before the advent of time.

We are, as an institution, moving through a prolonged season of Lent and into the joy of an Easter celebration.

Oh, it ain't over till it's over, and we've got a few more hurdles to jump before we land on Canaan's side. But, we're on our way.

In 1997, at the Integrity triennial Eucharist in Philadelphia, I was privileged to havepreached the sermon. The Eucharist was held just before the special hearings on the Authorization of Rites of Blessing for Same Sex Couples.

Yes. 1997. It took twenty years, from the founding of Integrity, to get to that point - and, you might have noticed, we didn't win. Indeed, we lost that resolution by one vote. Yup. One.

We've been at this a long, long time. Don't even try to start with me about this being "a new thing" or, "but...but...but we haven't done the theology."

Just. Don't. Start. Okay?

I will never forget the sound of that great church, Christ Church, Philladelphia, filled with close to 1,000 people - and much more than a few bishops - singing with heart and soul, mind and body: "We're gonna keep on walking forward. Keep on walking forward. Keep on walking forward. Never turning back. Never turning back."

Six years later, we elected and consecrated the first honestly, openly LGBT bishop in The Episcopal Church. Seven years after that, we elected, have consented to and will consecrate the second honestly, openly LGBT bishop in The Episcopal Church.

We have set our faces toward Jerusalem and decided to follow Jesus. We haven't arrived, but we are on the journey. We're not out of the woods, but we are on the path. We have won the battle but the war is far from over.

Even so, I believe that it's a great time to be a Christian. It is a privilege and a joy to be alive and to have been part of a movement which has led us to this moment of justice.

Even though I know the 'other shoe' has not yet dropped, I have nothing but hope in my heart and joy in my soul.

It's a great day to be an Episcopalian.

It will be an even greater day when the election and consent process of an LGBT person does not make headline news.

Then we'll know that we are a truly, fully, a renewed creation in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Glasspool Election Receives Consents

O my God! O my God!! O my God!!!

That's about all I can say right now.

When I try to talk about it, I start to weep and get all girly-burbly.

Not to worry. I'll find my voice tomorrow. Right now, all I can say is O my God!

I'd say "A*****a" but we can't in Lent, so I'll just say this:




Integrity joins with the Diocese of Los Angeles in celebrating today's announcement that sufficient consents have been received from both Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to the election of the Reverend Canon Mary Glasspool as a bishop suffragan. We look forward to the May 15th ordination service where Canons Bruce and Glasspool will become the 16th and 17th women bishops in the history of the Episcopal Church and to the work and witness they will offer on behalf of the gospel, not only for the Diocese of Los Angeles but for the whole church.
"Integrity continues in its commitment to turn the resolutions of General Convention into realities on the ground for Episcopalians in every diocese," said the Reverend David Norgard, Integrity President. "Today's affirmation of the election of a superbly qualified candidate as a bishop in the Episcopal Church is good news not just for those who work for the fuller inclusion of the LGBT baptized, but for the whole church."
"Today the Episcopal Church said 'Amen' to what the Holy Spirit did in Los Angeles in December when we elected Mary Glasspool," said the Reverend Susan Russell, chair of the Diocesan Program Group on LGBT Ministry and Integrity's immediate past president.. "I've never been prouder to be an Episcopalian or a daughter of the Diocese of Los Angeles--where we are ready to turn this election into an opportunity for evangelism."
"Integrity is part of a nationwide campaign called 'Believe Out Loud'--resourcing congregations to explicitly welcome LGBT people into their work and witness" said Louise Brooks, Integrity's Communication Director and a resident of the Diocese of Los Angeles.  "We are proud to be partners with those across this church and across the country committed to working on both national and local levels for full inclusion. And we believe the election of Mary Glasspool will be an inspiration, not just to those working in our churches, but to those standing outside of them wondering if they are truly welcome. The answer is, "Yes--come and see!"
"As openly gay and lesbian people become a common and unremarkable aspect of the cultural landscape," said Norgard, "more and more bishops will ordain LGBT persons, more vestries will elect them to serve as rectors, more congregations will elect them to vestries, and most importantly, altar guilds will be setting up weddings for two grooms or two brides. We are past the turning point and the forecast for full inclusion in the Episcopal Church is brighter than ever before."
The ordination service for the new bishops suffragan will be held on Saturday, May 15, 2010 beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Long Beach Arena in Long Beach CA. For more information, contact:
Louise Brooks
Director of Communications, Integrity