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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

" . . .babes in Christ."

It was just a small thing, really. A silly little poem tucked away on page 20 of an otherwise serious, conservative periodical. Just a few lines written down that raised more than a few eyebrows:
It's All In Her Genes

It's all in her genes
She likes to say
When avoirdupois
Won't go away.

Yes, look from behind
To see what she means
No doubt that you'll find
It's all in her JEANS.
- Anonymous Ancient Egyptian
Susan Russell, Senior Associate at All Saints Church, Pasadena, posted this wee ditty on her blog, having been first alerted by Mary Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of LA. Someone named "John" identified the author as a "female octogenarian" in the comment section of Susan's blog.

Now, one might find this little poem vaguely amusing, considering the source. One might even be impressed by the somewhat clever interplay of "genes" and "jeans". One might be further impressed by the use of the word "avoirdupois" - unless, of course, one is a fan of Scrabble or the NY Times Crossword puzzle in particular or of wordsmithing in general.

One might expect such a poem to appear on the pages of the AARP or in a newsletter which features works by people of that generation.

One does not expect something like this to appear in a publication like The Anglican Digest which declares its mission as
"Our goal is to connect the Church by gathering articles that tell the vital story of our faith.

The material in each issue is for a varied audience and includes ministry ideas for clergy and laity, devotional and historical material, as well as humor and news briefs from around the Anglican Communion."
TAD, whose "pocket-size pages are made up of some things old, some things new, most things borrowed, everything true," has been around since 1958. It is published bimonthly by SPEAK, the Society for Promoting and Encouraging the Arts and Knowledge (of the Church) at Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The Editor is the Rev'd Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and well known across the broad spectrum of the church as an outspoken "orthodox" critic of The Episcopal Church and her "progressive" leadership. We have Dr. Harmon to thank for coining the now ubiquitous if not odious and annoying and essentially inaccurate terms "reasserter" ("conservative" or "orthodox") and "revisionist" ("liberal" or "progressive").

Its web page states that the "market" of TAD is "the entire Church, clergy and lay, those highly theologically educated and 'babes in Christ'."

So, as a somewhat highly theologically educated babe. . . in Christ, of course, I took laptop in hand and wrote to Dr. Harmon.

After quoting the offensive poem, I wrote
I don't know what I find more objectionable and offensive - the obvious sexism of the "poem" or the fact that the author is hiding behind a pseudonym.

We have had our theological and political differences in the past, Kendall, but I've always experienced you as a gentleman.

I rely on that personal experience as I anticipate a full apology.

As National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, I insist on one.
I have not received an apology. I'm not holding my breath.

"Wait, what's the big deal?" someone is asking. "It's a little poem - perhaps in bad taste - but it's not like it's the end of the world."

Well, yes. Yes, in fact, it is. Some of us are trying to end of the world of the prominent social paradigm of patriarchy which is resisting its long-overdue but eventual death with every fiber of its still considerable muscle.

There's a word for this. It's called "micro-oppression."

Micro-oppression is subtle, not as obvious and therefore harder to point out or confront than oppression. Sexist micro-oppression occurs frequently and has a tendency to wear a person down over time. All micro-oppression tends to be “invisible” and we often experience the cumulative effect of it as tension between ourselves.

Micro-oppression is death by a thousand paper cuts.

This poem has a particular sting because the mis-education of a woman of a particular generation was published by an otherwise reputable Christian journal.

In December, 1987, in an essay entitled "Spirituality: An African View", Dr. Clarence Glover wrote:
"The greatest weapon that the oppressor has in his hand is the mind of the oppressed."
Media often reduces women to objects of sexual desire and not much else. Women are still seen as the bearer of children and the home maker. Little girls are socialized at a young age to look pretty for men so they can fulfill the life long dream of finding that husband, having that wedding and making those babies.

Now, being a wife and a mother is a noble calling, to be sure, but one person's nobility can be another person's shackles.

When you have been brought up with shame and guilt because you are "the weaker sex," - when you are barraged daily by subtle and not-so-subtle messages and images about the shape and form of a "perfect" woman's body - even "innocent little poems" like this make it easy to give in to the despair and the daunting odds of reversing your negative civil rights and social situation.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".

It's the small, unexpected appearances of sexism which require vigilance - and persistence.

Yes, it's tedious, thankless work. Yes, it is work that is often misunderstood and criticized or minimized and dismissed as insignificant. It is especially painful when other women - knowingly or unknowingly - are the vehicles of micro-oppression.

The price of liberty is worth it. To quote that national hair care product for women: "Because you're worth it." And, so are our children - male and female - who are also being shaped and formed by a culture which is still deeply imbued with the sometimes indelible stains of oppression and micro-oppression.

We may be "babes in Christ" but our baptismal vows charge us to "grow into the full stature of Christ," and to "respect the dignity of every human being."

That journey can lead us, in the words of Martin Smith, to the "crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith."

So, put on your 'jeans' and allow the 'genes' of your faith to carry you forward into that journey - no matter the shape 'avoirdupois' lends to that which is behind you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Handfasting Ceremony

Note:  I am - we are - deliriously, deliciously, dramatically happy. And, thoroughly exhausted. I think we got about four hours sleep last night. I am posting the Handfasting Ceremony we used as I know many of you have expressed an interest in how it all was done. I'll write more on it later and post more pictures - hopefully those done by the professional - later. For now, thank you all for your wonderful kind words of love and support. Mia and Bob make a wonderful couple. We are thrilled that our family is growing in such unexpectedly blessed and wonder-full ways.

A few words about the history of Handfasting

Handfasting is an ancient custom - before the Council of Trent required the presence of a priest - especially common in Ireland and Scotland but also in Poland and Czechoslovakia with roots in the Nordic Cultures, in which a man and woman came together at the start of their marriage relationship. Their hands, or more accurately, their wrists, were literally tied together. This practice gave way to the expression "tying the knot" which has come to mean getting married.

During this particular ceremony, six cords are tied around the couple's wrists, each representing a vow made between them. These particular cords were fashioned by the couple, with "family artifacts" of jewelry from various family members woven in among the ribbon.

Handfasting tradition holds that these cords remain tied together for a year and a day, at which point, the couple gathers the witnesses to their vows and has a celebration of their first year of married life.

The rings exchanged are the lasting and constant reminder of those vows made on this day.

The Handfasting Ceremony

To the assembled:   Greetings and welcome to you all! We are gathered here today to witness and to celebrate one of life's greatest moments, to give recognition to the worth and beauty of love, and to add our best wishes and blessings to the union of Maria Conroy Kaeton and Robert Gordon Leong. We have come here this day to share in their joy as they come now to be united in the state of holy matrimony.

To Bob and Mia:  Know now that since your lives have crossed, you have formed ties between each other. The promises you make today and the ties that are bound here will cross the years and will greatly strengthen your union. With full awareness, know that you declare your intent to be handfasted before your friends and family.

Do you still seek to enter this ceremony?

Mia and Bob: Yes, we seek to enter.

Does anyone here have any objections to this couple being handfasted in marriage? If so, speak now or forever hold it to your heart (wait for the space of three heartbeats).

I bid you look into each others eyes. Bob and Mia, these cords are a symbol of the lives you have chosen to lead together. Up until this moment, you have been separate in thought, word and action. As your hands are bound together by these cords, so too, shall your lives be bound as one.

The First Cord

Mia, will you honor him?
I will.
Bob, will you honor her?
I will.
[To Both] Will you seek never to give cause to break that honor?
And so the binding is made. Join your hands. (First chord is draped across the bride and groom's hands.)

The Second Cord

Bob, might you ever cause her anger?
I might...
Is that your intent?
Mia, might you ever cause him anger?
I might...
Is that your intent?
[To Both] Will you together take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union?
And so the binding is made. (Drape second chord across the couple's hands.)

The Third Cord

Mia, might you ever burden him?
I might...
Is that your intent?
Bob, might you ever burden her?
I might...
Is that your intent?
[To Both] Will you share the burdens of each so that your spirits may grow in this union?
And so the binding is made. (Third chord is draped across the couple's hands.)

The Fourth Cord

Mia, will you share his dreams?
I will .
Bob, will you share her dreams?
I will .
[To Both] Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes?
And so the binding is made. (Drape fourth chord across the couple's hands.)

The Fifth Cord

Bob, might you ever cause her pain?
I might...
Is that your intent?
Mia, might you ever cause him pain?
I might...
Is that your intent?
[To Both] Will you share each other's pain and seek to ease it?
And so the binding is made. (Drape fifth chord across the couple's hands.)

The Sixth Cord

Bob, will you share her laughter?
I will .
Mia, will you share his laughter?
I will .
[To Both] Will both of you look for the brightness in life and the positive in each other?
And so the binding is made. (Drape sixth chord across the couple's hands.)

(The cords are tied together and the couple’s hands are bound in the priest’s stole.)

Just as your hands are now bound together, so too, are your lives. May you be forever one, sharing in all things, in love and loyalty for all time to come.

As it is, you cannot always be physically joined.

(The Handfasting Cords are removed, without untying them, and replaced on the altar.)

And so, we use the wedding ring to symbolize that connection. It is a constant reminder of the sacred bond shared between a husband and a wife.

Who holds the rings?

(The rings are given to the Bride and Groom)

Bob and Mia, you hold here in your hands the wedding rings that you will exchange with one another. When you give a ring to someone in marriage, you are giving them a symbol of your eternal love, a love that, like the circle formed by each of these rings, has no beginning and no end.

As you understand this, and wish to affirm the love that the giving and receiving of these rings represents, please, exchange your rings with one another, and state for each, “With this ring, I thee wed”.

Beginning with you, Bob

(Bob places the ring on Mia’s finger and states,)
“With this ring, I thee wed.”

And now you, Mia

(Mia places the ring on Bob’s finger and states,)
“With this ring, I thee wed.”

Bob and Mia, now that you have joined yourselves in matrimony, may you strive always to meet this commitment with the same spirit you now are now exhibiting. Inasmuch as you have consented together to enter into the holy bonds of marriage; and having pledged, and sealed your vows by the giving and receiving of rings, it gives me great pleasure to pronounce that you are now husband and wife.

Congratulations! You may share the first kiss of your marriage!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Oh, Happy Day!

Could these two people look any happier?

I think not.

Well, we had the rehearsal and the dinner last night.

Everyone and everything looks absolutely lovely.

The Very Big Tent is in the yard - all set up for the reception - complete with dance floor.

The deck - where the ceremony will take place - is beautifully festooned with flowers. Bob and Mia and Bob's parents, family and friends have done an amazing job getting the house and yard ready. I'm so grateful.

The "hand fasting cords" were handmade by the bride and groom into which they wove various "trinkets" from some old jewelry given to them by various family members.

We practiced tying them on their wrists. Celtic tradition says that they come off all bound together and then stay bound for a year and a day, at which point, the couple gathers kith and kin and renews the vows and promises they made, one by one.

I think that's perfectly lovely, don't you? And, inherently wise.

After the rehearsal, we all went out to dinner.
This is our granddaughter, the incomparable "Ms. Mackie J" who is flower girl, and our daughter, "The Fabulous UES Girl, Ms. Julie", who is a bridesmaid.

We traveled together to the restaurant from the rehearsal with Ms. Lucy True Bug's top down, singing along with Black Eyed Peas "Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night" at the top of our voices.

Dinner was several courses in true Northern NJ Italian style - amazing hot Italian bread, mozzarella, tomato and fresh pimento salad, fried calamari. And then, we had dinner. I had the veal piccata, which was incredible.

In between courses, we played "Hangman" and "Tick Tack Toe". And laughed and giggled and tried to contain our excitement, but only barely.

I'm about to run out to do various errands. Gotta get Ms. Lucy True Bug washed and sparkling clean. Hang out with Ms. Mackie J. Get my ensemble for tonight assembled. Hang out with Ms. Mackie J. Get my hair done while Ms. Mackie J gets hers done. Wait excitedly while the rest of the grandchildren arrive later this afternoon.

Oh - did I mention that there's a wedding today?

Why yes. Yes, in fact, there is.

Mia and Bob are "tying the knot". A more beautiful, loving couple you'd be hard pressed to find.

Thanks for your prayers and expressions of love and good wishes. They will continue to hold us all up as we make our way into this beautiful day which the Lord of Life has fashioned to be blessed by Love.

I'll post pictures tomorrow.

Today, I'm just savoring the sublime happiness of this Most Happy Day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Family Artifacts

Part of the difficulty - and the joy - of the last few weeks has been the slow pace of packing for this move.

There's a reason for that.

I call them "family artifacts".

I keep stumbling onto them as I clean and sort and clear and pack - or, pitch.

This is one of them.

Well, not this exact one, but it's the closest image I could find to the original.

Yes, it's an African American Baby Doll. Our youngest daughter, Mia, had one. It was her very first doll.

I clearly remember the day she asked for it.

She was almost three years old. Christmas was coming. We were out shopping, she strapped securely in the shopping cart, and happened to wander by the toy section of the department store. Suddenly, she gasped.

"There she is!" she said.

"What, darling?" I asked.

"Right there! Go! Go! Go, Mama!" she squealed and wiggled in excitement, pointing her finger to the rows and rows of baby dolls on the shelf.

"This one! This one! This one!" she pointed as we got closer. It was hard to tell among the rows of "newborn infants" - looking still and quiet, so unlike a real newborn - in their plastic and cardboard boxes, but promising to "burp" or "giggle" or "wet" or "drink from a bottle or a cup". Just like a "real live baby."

Her choice surprised me on two accounts. First, because she clearly wanted the African American Baby Doll. And second, because this baby doll promised to do absolutely nothing. No bells. No whistles. Just a cute, cuddly baby doll.

Mia spoke in such hushed, reverent tones, it was almost like a prayer. "Could you please ask Santa to bring me that Baby Doll for Christmas, Mama? Please?"

I looked at our youngest child in utter amazement as I realized that this was, in fact, a prayer. "Well, I'll see what we can do," I said. I had learned long ago to never make a promise that I knew I couldn't keep. Anything could happen in the six weeks before Christmas. That particular model could be sold out.

Of course, I resolved right then and there to go back to the store the very next day to buy it for her.

You should have seen her face when she opened the package on Christmas morning! She stood still in utter amazement. Her mouth stayed open long after she gasped in surprise. She actually got pale.

Slowly, slowly, she opened the box as if savoring the magic of the moment. It seemed obscene that her Baby Doll was tied down to a cardboard cradle with those little plastic ties. Arms. Legs. Neck. Waist. As if this doll might run away before she could be purchased and brought to her new home.

I carefully undid each tie as Mia did a "happy-happy-joy-joy" dance in place. As soon as the Baby Doll was free, Mia took her into her arms and hugged and rocked her with such love and gentleness I thought my heart would break.

"What are you going to name her?" Ms. Conroy asked.

Mia picked up her head, pulled back her shoulders, and said, as if she were announcing the Queen, "Baby Kaeton."

Not "Suzy". Not "Anabelle." Not "Carrie". Not "Betsy".

"Baby Kaeton".

And, so it was.

And, rightly so.

Baby Kaeton was soon introduced to "Bun-Bun" - a small blanket in the shape of a bunny that had been Mia's "blankie" since she was an infant. All along the border of the small blanket was a silk ribbon which Mia used to take between her thumb and index finger and rub repetitiously, the way some kids suck their thumb or twirl their hair.

She used to call it "softing". She'd say to her siblings, "Please be quiet. I'm 'softing'." Or, she'd announce in the middle of the afternoon, "I need to do 'a soft'"

Bun-Bun and Baby Kaeton slept with her every night and kept vigil on her bed every day of her life until she was 10 years old. When she had sleep overs at her friends homes, Bun-Bun and Baby Kaeton had to be packed in her overnight case. I suspect Mia waited for everyone to go to sleep before she got up and sneaked them out of her bag and into bed with her.

Then, one day, without any warning or drama, it stopped. Baby Kaeton and Bun-Bun were moved from their residence on bed and onto the chair in her room. A few years later, when Mia went off to college at age 16, they got packed away in a box where they've stayed all these many, many years later.

Mia never made an announcement about it. Never talked about it. We all knew. It was time. Not necessarily to "put away childish things" - but to begin to move on. Grow up. Become more fully the person God created her to be.

And, so it was.

And, rightly so.

Shortly after the sun sets on August 28th, and as the wanning gibbous moon begins to rise in the sky, Mia Conroy Kaeton will be married. She is taking the last name of her new husband.

She has made her own wedding gown - even covering the buttons with material from her 8th Grade Graduation Dress - and festooned with lace and pearls from her future mother-in-law's wedding gown. She will be wearing my pearl necklace and earrings.

She and her beloved have made the cords they will use in the Handfasting Ceremony they have created.

And as I see her coming toward her husband to be, I will think to myself, "There she is! Right there! Baby Kaeton!"

So it once was.

In my heart, so it will always be.

And, rightly so.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reasons of the Heart

I don't know about you, but am astounded that the controversy continues to burn white-hot surrounding the proposed building of Park51 - the Islamic Community Center in New York City (formerly known as Cordoba House).

The arguments seems to come down to "religious freedom" - the foundational, constitutional right, in this country, to practice your religious beliefs - vs. "insensitivity" - the complaint that, since almost 3,000 people at the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center were killed by Muslims in the name of their religious beliefs, Park51 is a painful, "insensitive" insult to the survivors of those who perished. (Some of whom, of course, were, themselves, Muslim.)

I'm not going to rehash the arguments about this. Most of the readers of this blog know how I feel. I know how most of you feel. We'll only just pat each other on the back and move on.

Those who disagree will write me anonymous comments, making outrageous claims about my "insensitivity" or "hypocrisy" or "intolerance" which I won't publish because they are (1) ad hominem attacks and (2) patently banal and vapid. 

I am a great fan but not a great student of history. Although I always find it fascinating and helpful, I have trouble storing all that information in my progressively addled brain.

So, when I saw the following Brief History of American Religious Intolerance in the August 30 edition of TIME magazine, it sparked some thinking for me.

It looks like this:
1654 Peter Stuyvesant, director general of New Netherland, tries to have Jewish Refugees expelled, claiming they would "infect" the colony.

1732 Founders of the Georgia colony, which is seen as a religious haven, draw up a charter that explicitly bans Catholicism.

1844 Mormon founder Joseph Smith is murdered in an Illinois prison by a lynch mob. Soon after, many of his followers migrate to Utah.

1854-56 Nativists form the Know-Nothing Party, which calls for strict limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries.

1866 Riots erupt during Reconstruction, and African-American churches are burned in Memphis and New Orleans.

1882 Strong anti-Chinese sentiment in California leads to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act which suspends immigration of Chinese laborers.

1883 Department of the Interior declares many Native American rituals to be "offenses" punishable by prison sentences of up to 30 years.

1915 The Ku Klux Klan re-emerges on a national level to preach anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism; it amasses more than 4 million members.

1928 New York's Catholic governor Al Smith loses the presidential election to Hoover in a landslide; a Catholic President won't be elected until JFK in 1960.

1938 On November 20, Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest, delivers an anti-Semitic radio address in which he defends Nazi violence.

1942 FDR signs an Executive Order establishing "exclusion zones," which leads to the internment of some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.

1970s Middle-class youths join religious groups such as the Unification Church, the Children of God and the Hare Krishna, spawning fear of cults.
It's pretty sobering, isn't it?

Religious intolerance is always sobering in its shocking, stunning Evil, whenever it rears its ugly head.

With the exception of Fred Phelps and the occasional emergence of a chapter of the Klu Klux Klan requesting a parade permit, I suspect part of the impact this list had on me is that we've gone more than thirty years without a major, significant incident of religious intolerance.

Our country has been more absorbed in racism than religious intolerance. I'm thinking, however, that the current wave of Islamophobia we are experiencing over the proposed Park51 Center is a thread in the same fabric.

The fact that we have our first Black President whose name happens to be Barack Hussein Obama is no coincidence. Franklin (Billy's son) Graham's recent comment that Mr. Obama's "problem" was that he was “born a Muslim” because the religion’s “seed” is passed from the father is a prime example. Here's what he said, in context:
“The seed is passed through the father,” Graham said. “He was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim; the seed of Muslim is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim; his father gave him an Islamic name.”

Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, acknowledged that Obama has said he is a Christian.

"He has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus," Graham said. “That's what he has said he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't, so I just have to believe the president is what he has said.”

“But the confusion is because his father is a Muslim; he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That's why Qadhafi calls him his son. They see him as a Muslim,” he added. “But, of course, the president says he is a Christian, and we just have to accept it as that.”
Yeah, right. Mr. Obama's father was, of course, African. His mother was Caucasian.

If you believe that Mr. Graham believes that Mr. Obama is a "real" Christian, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. He can't be a "real" anything in they eyes of people like Mr. Graham because of his father's "seed".

It's pretty clear to me that statement stands as a manifestation of our xenophobia and racism, hiding this time, under a pulpit gown and behind a cross.

There, I said it.

Now, the vast army of cowardly "Anonymouses" out there will write and say that, when "people like you" don't have a "real" argument" we "always play the race card."

Well, my darlings, if the shoe fits . . . .

The problem with the Racism Shoe is that it always hurts the ones you are trying to force into being shackled by it, and it invariably pinches when someone puts it back on your foot.

The only "exclusion zone" - to use FDRs euphemism - this country needs is the one for intolerance based on race, religion, creed, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, class status, educational background, or physical, emotional or intellectual ability.

No, this is not a Rodney King plea asking that "we all just get along".

It's deeper than that.

I'm asking us all to grow up.

At some point in our growth and development we mature and come to the realization that we can't all have our own way, even if/when we think it's the best way.

I'm asking those of us who are Christian to heed the prayer that was said at our baptism and "grow into the full stature of Christ."

I'm asking that we follow the vows made at our Baptism and confirmed when we were of age to speak for ourselves to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and "respect the dignity of every human being."

As Christians, we are all invited, by the free gift of Grace, to feast at the Table of the Lord. But, Jesus says we are not only invited and welcomed, we must invite and welcome others. Without stipulation.

As freely as we were invited, so must we invite others. In so doing, we are reminded by St. Paul, we may entertain angels unaware.

History gives us a good perspective - especially about what can happen when fear and hysteria rule the day - but I think the lens of the gospel is the perspective needed when looking at the situation at Park51.

Love is not exclusive. Love is expansive.

And, as St. Paul reminds us, perfect love casts out fear.

French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal once wrote: "The heart has reasons which Reason cannot understand."

This is the reason for Park51. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A lot on my plate

Indeed. I've got more on my plate than I can say grace over.

Most of our "stuff" is already in Delaware. There are a few odds and ends in Chatham. We've taken the last load of clothes - just out of the dry cleaner - to Good Will. I washed all the bed linens and some table cloths and napkins and sent them off to Good Will as well.

I keep walking around the house - which now has an odd, annoying echo - with my check list and colored stickers. Stuff for a local church yard sale in October = orange sticker. Stuff for the Good Will = green sticker. Black plastic bag = take to the dump. No sticker = pack in the car and take to Rehoboth Beach.

I've also been closing out stuff at the church. My Parish Administrator is also leaving. He starts his new job September 1st. We've worked together for the past five years. He's really the BEST. I'm thrilled for him but sad the church is losing such a wonderful, talented, skilled, competent staff person. We're having lunch together on Tuesday, his last day. I'm really looking forward to that.

I'm still having looonnnnggg conversations - on the phone and with those who "just drop by the rectory" - with members of the congregation who call me to see how I'm doing and whether or not they can help. Or, to talk about "what really happened".

My gracious! I don't know how some clergy give six months or even a year's notice. It will have been 10 weeks from the time I announced my resignation to the time I leave town. Suffice it to say, it's been an interesting ride on The Kubler-Ross "Grief Train."

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

Check. Check. Check. Check. And, Check - well, not exactly flat out acceptance. Oh, I'm sure there are many who have accepted and moved on, but not the folk who are contacting me. The delicate balance is not engaging with the person as a member of the congregation but, rather, as an individual person, remaining pastoral and compassionate and redirecting the energy.

Oh, and did I mention that there's a wedding on Saturday? Our youngest daughter's wedding? We're having mani-pedi's on Friday at 4. There's a rehearsal at 6 PM and a rehearsal dinner at 7 PM.

The wedding is Saturday - at around 7:30-ish, or whenever the sun sets and the waning gibbous moon begins to show itself in the heavens.

Ms. Conroy and I are the "Mothers of the Bride". I am also the Officiant at what's called, "A Hand Fasting Ceremony." It's really wonderful.  Ancient, in fact.  I can't wait to see it all on video.

Oh, wait. Wait. Wait. You thought this was a complaint, right?  You thought I was whining about all the work and anxiety.

Absolutely. No. Way.

I have never felt more alive. More connected with the cosmos. More in tune with God.  I am, all at once, thoroughly exhausted and positively exhilarated - if that makes any sense at all.

If it doesn't, it's okay.  It's exactly the way I fee.

My life - our life - is rich and full and deeply profoundly blessed.  We are surrounded by a wonderful, loving family. Some amazing things are happening.

Even more amazing things are about to happen. It's right there. Just around that corner. Or, perhaps, the next.  I can feel it. Smell it. Taste it.

I just can't see it right now because my plate is so full.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'll just graze on all this for awhile until some of this begins to disappear and the way forward becomes a little more clear.

Even with the bad stuff and the hassle and the annoyance and the unknowing - the beginnings and endings and beginnings all over again - it's a great time to be alive.

I'm so very, deeply grateful. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A place of our own

That chair you see above used to be in the office at the rectory. We've carted it around for the last 15 years in three different rectories.

It sits, now, in Ms. Conroy's favorite spot in the sun room at Llangollen, our wee cottage which used to be our vacation/retreat place, which we are now making our year-round home on the marsh lands of Rehoboth Bay, part of the Delmarva Peninsula, in the 'first state' of Delaware.

Ms. Conroy's position as Clinical Director of an inpatient hospice unit in Northern New Jersey is not as "portable" as mine or some others. In a little over a year's time, she will transfer to a new inpatient hospice facility which is being planned just up the road a piece.

Until then, she'll stay in a small apartment with a friend in NJ. We'll commute as often as we can - she coming here two or three weekends a month and me going up to NJ for various commitments I still have to things diocesan and local.

We've done this before, this "commuting thing". It was 1991 when I took my first position in the great Diocese of Newark. It was only supposed to be "for a few months". She and our youngest daughter moved to NJ from Baltimore, MD in 1993. We've called NJ "home" ever since.

On September 1, Delaware will officially become our home. I've just put in a bottle of champagne to chill for the occasion. It's a bit like waiting for Christmas.

If "home is where the heart is" then this has really been our home all along. It's just taking some time to finally "arrive".

It seemed important to me to create a space - a place - for Ms. Conroy in her favorite spot in the house. It's in the South West corner. If she looks toward the West, she can see Indian River just past Long Neck Road where the sea bass have been especially plentiful this year, I understand.

If she looks toward the East, she can see Rehoboth Bay and the boats coming and going on their way to go fishing or crabbing or just the experience of the sheer joy of being on a boat in the water.

If she looks directly ahead, to the North, can see into the living room, the new office/library, and the front door - the place where our two dogs, Mr. Lenny and Ms. CoCo provide endless entertainment in what we've come to call "Dog TV".

Sometimes, for absolutely no discernible reason, Lenny and CoCo get what Ms. Conroy calls "puppy crazies". They chase each other round and round - from the living room to the window in the library/office and back again.

They run and run and run. Stop suddenly, panting. Then, they take off again. Until someone calls - or 'barks' - uncle. And then, it stops and they collapse in an exhausted heap at our feet.

It's great fun to watch them. "Dog TV". We never grow tired of the reruns. And, they're all reruns.

This spot is "her" place. Here. At home. Where the heart is.

We all need that place. Doesn't have to be very big. Indeed, most of the places of the heart are not very fancy or opulent. It needs not be large at all.  It simply needs to be big enough to hold your genuine hopes and dreams, your sincere longings and the deep desires of your heart.

This is that place for Ms. Conroy. Mine is directly across the room, past the table where we gather when the family is all together and share a meal, play board or card games, or talk long into the evening with a glass of wine or mug of steaming hot tea.

Sometimes, when it's quiet, we'll both look up from our places, aroused by the memory of laughter or conversation that sometimes floats above that table.  And we share a deep, satisfied smile before we return to reading, or needlework or our laptops.

It will be good to have her here, full time.

Until then, she has a place of her own.

Waiting for her. Here. At home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fish Dance Prayer

Have you ever been so tired - or your mind so full of stuff - that you couldn't sleep?

That's the way I was last night.

My body felt like lead. My eyelids were heavy. But my mind was in such a whir, I couldn't turn it off, causing my body to toss and turn around in my bed like the so much flour and butter, sugar and eggs in my KitchenAid mixer.

Finally, a little after midnight, I got up, made a steaming hot cup of tea, and sat out on the deck in the delightfully cool night air.

It had rained on and off most of the evening. Bursts of gentle, warm rain that were sometimes preceded by loud claps of thunder and a few streaks of lightening.

Mostly, though, it sounded gentle. Soothing. Like a shower of blessings come down from heaven.

The storms rolled past Rehoboth Bay, one by one. At one point, the Internet service was knocked out for about four hours. I found myself slightly annoyed to be inconvenienced, but then found a sort of satisfied delight that a gentle rain had the strength to take down the power of communication in cyberspace.

I imagined the cosmos playing "Rock. Paper. Scissors," with Cybernerds. "My rain stops your electric waves." Or, whatever it is that carries messages in cyberspace.

There was a Waxing Gibbous Moon high in the sky, more than half-lighted but less than full. The word gibbous comes from a root word that means hump-backed, the thought of which always makes me giggle.

I love the phrase, 'waxing gibbous moon'. I also love 'waning gibbous moon' - when the moon is past full but still fully lit.

Sounds like poetry, doesn't it? 

No sense looking for The Summer Triangle — the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair — which highlights the eastern half of the sky in August. Too many clouds tonight.

There will be a full moon tonight, which, in August is known as the Grain Moon or Green Corn Moon. It's also the smallest full moon (say my Islamic friends - who are observing Ramadan, so it's important to know) and it will be 15% less brighter than the regular full moon.

The full moon will become a waning gibbous moon for our daughter's wedding this Saturday night, which, she tells me, should happen at "around 7:30-ish, whenever the sun sets". No, she's not Jewish. Neither is the groom. That's just the way they are.

"We were married at sunset by the light of a waning gibbous moon." Sounds positively romantic, doesn't it?

Did I mention that there's a wedding this coming weekend? Why, yes. Yes, in fact, there is. Our youngest daughter is getting married in just a few days.

These were a few of the things whirring around in my rapidly addling brain - that and things like, "Should I put the wine glasses on that shelf or the one closer to the wine rack?" And, "Is that really the best place for the Christmas Lenox?"

I tried to take some slow, deep, meditative breaths, but something kept disturbing my concentration.

I wasn't out on the deck more than five minutes when I first heard it.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"


I looked up and down the pier to see if I might see someone doing a little fishing, but there was no one in sight.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"


Curious, I got up from my deck chair and went over to the rail,  and was richly rewarded for my efforts by a magnificent sight.

The light of the waxing gibbous moon was dancing on the water when up popped a fish - probably a pike - maybe three, four inches long.

Before my throat could gasp in surprise, there popped up another. Then another.

It looked like a Summer Fish Dance out on the marsh, after midnight, in the cool, clean just-washed-by-the-rain air, and all by the light of a waxing gibbous moon.

As I watched them for awhile, I wondered what caused them to dance like that. Was it the light of the moon? The beautiful clean night air?

Perhaps they danced because it was now safe to do so - no birds flying about to pluck them out, mid-dance, from the water?

Was this their midnight prayer? Dancing in praise and joy and thanksgiving to the glory of the God of their creation?

Nah, probably just sea lice, all stirred up by the rain on the water. I'm told by some of the Bay men in the neighborhood that fish often jump to rid themselves of the bother and itch of them.

Still, it was a beautiful sight. I felt a bit like a voyeur, a very privileged spectator watching them in their unabashed display of whatever it was, just after midnight, distracting me from the myriad of mundane thoughts that had been whirring around in my head.

That's when I remembered something.

Entering into actual prayer while presiding at a Eucharistic Service can sometimes be an impossible task. There are so many details to which one has to attend. What are the acolytes doing? (The rule of the Adolescent Acolyte: "It's all fun until something goes wrong. And then, it's hysterical.")

Where is the lector for the second reading? So-and-so looks distressed - I wonder if s/he got downsized? Has her husband's condition gotten worse? Didn't she have some tests this week? Is the surgery this week or next? Make sure to connect with him . . her . . . them . . . after the service.

One must also be ever-mindful of one's 'audience'. I mean, my task is to lead the people of God in prayer. It's what a 'presider' does. That's difficult to do when one looks like one is distracted and not actually in prayer.

I remember Ms. Conroy saying to me once, years ago, "You know, we see you. You may be fooling yourself, but you're not fooling us. We see you counting us. Stop that. Let the ushers do it. You just lead us in prayer."

Sometimes, the only time I can really pray is during the hymns. I know many of them by heart. Yes, after 24 years of singing them, it's not hard. Sing a hymn that many times over the years and memorization is not a difficult task. It just happens.

The truth is that sometimes, when I'm on retreat, or when I'm going through spiritual dry spells, singing hymns is the only way I can pray.

Little bits of verses, memorized by heart, will float up through the cracks in my broken heart, soothing and surrounding my weary soul.
"Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart. . . such a joy as none can move. . . such a love that none can part. Such a heart as joys in love. "

"Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee. In my heart though not it heaven, I can raise thee. Small it is in this poor sort to enroll thee. E'en eternity's too short to extol thee."

"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love He sought me, and on His shoulder gently laid and home rejoicing brought me."

"Each newborn servant of the Crucified bears on the brow the seal of Him who died."

"Oh day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams . . . Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small. As beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all. . . ."

"And, when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on . . . . . And through eternity, I'll sing on . . ."
There are many, many others, but those are among my favorites.

Sometimes, right there in the middle of the service, I'll close my eyes and sing the words that have inscribed themselves on the walls of my heart and come as close as I ever do to really praying in the midst of the very public practice of presiding.

Every now and again, I'll open my eyes and look out over the congregation. Ninety-nine percent of the congregation will have their noses buried in the Hymnal. Every now and again, some will lift their eyes from the page, tilt their heads toward heaven, close their eyes and, like me, sing from the words written on their hearts.

I always loved to see parents with children who were just beginning to read words and/or music singing together from the hymnal.

Some parents juggle a babe in one arm, holding the hymnal in the other, while trying to fish out a toddler from under the pews.

But there are always the same small handful of people, staring at me. The same ones who have been my sharpest critics. Every Sunday. Without fail.

There were some really mean-spirited people in some churches. Not many. Enough to make it really difficult. Predators. Like pike. With bland tasting white flesh. So filled with tiny, prickly bones that fishermen often throw them back into the water. Definitely not a good catch.

I remember one man who always looked at me with a sort of cynical bemusement. The expression on his face was always, "Hmm . . .Look at that. . . she seems to know all the words . . .nice trick."

One or two others were clearly disgusted, the expression on their faces clearing communicating their thoughts: "Harumph! Show off!"

But the other four or so were clearly curious, "What is she doing? Looks like she's . . . hmmm . . .what is that?. How odd! Father 'Whatshisface" never did THAT! Whatever IS she doing? Why is she doing that? How does she remember the words?"

At least, as I read their expressions every Sunday and heard their gossip, that's what I thought they might be thinking. A few of them in one church eventually stopped coming into church for the Service of the Word. They would hang out in the glass Narthex, having animated conversations. You know. So I could actually see they weren't paying attention. Popping in just for the announcements and for communion.

Maybe I confused them by actually praying in public.

Nah. Probably just thought I had a bad case of sea lice.

Besides, while most people in churches are wonderful, the few who make it difficult are also among those in the community who disdained of any PDAs = Public Displays of Affection. And prayer for me is often a sublime act of love. Ms. Conroy and I would be scrupulous to avoid PDAs in church. Don't want to scare the horses with even a hint of 'the ick-factor'.

Interestingly enough, I would find myself being embarrassed. Like I had been caught with all my clothes off in public. Public prayer - like preaching - is often times the most naked thing I do.

The term, "resident alien" comes to mind.

Never mind, I would tell myself. Lead by example. Show them what real prayer can be like. Maybe they'll actually try it sometime in the not-too-distant future.

"Bloop. . . . . Bloop. . . . .SPLASH!"

My wandering, whirring thoughts wound their way back into the beautiful night on my deck over looking the marshes off Rehoboth Bay.

Suddenly, it was I who felt embarrassed, watching their naked dance.

Just then, a cloud moved away from the moon and I felt its light bathe my face, melting my embarrassment and pulling at my feet. Suddenly, I found myself dancing with the fish by the light of the waxing gibbious moon.

I felt healed of some ancient, unknown wound. I felt release and freedom. I felt joy and peace.

I heard myself begin to sing one of my favorite hymns as prayer,
"The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife clothed in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God."
I finished my tea, came in the house, and slept, as they say in Ghana, "like a foolish man."

Prayer will do that for you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Almost home.

Slowly, slowly, it's coming together.


We've been gradually converting this wee vacation/retreat cottage we call Llangollen into a year-round home.

Phase I was completed this weekend. We moved all of our "stuff" here. Well, most of it. Those things about which we haven't yet decided  -  or what will be in the way during renovation  -  we put in storage on Saturday.

Renovation is Phase II, which will begin in a few weeks. All new insulation, siding, windows, doors, a new sun room and deck.

More on that. Later.

What you see above is the former dining room which has been converted into a library/office.  My beautiful antique desk is off to the left. The bookcases will eventually be replaced with an entire wall unit (During Phase III next year. Phase IV is the yard, car port and outside shower - next summer).

That's Ms. Manning's rocking chair in the middle of the picture. She gave it to me just before she died in 2000, and I've had it in my office ever since. She was an amazing woman. Truly.

I'll tell you that story. Later.

That table is the one our daughter and future son-in-law made for us last Christmas. The top is a mosaic tile of a Celtic tree. I'm delighted to finally have a place for it where it can be used and seen.

Oh, did I mention that the wedding is this Saturday? The 28th?

I'll be telling you that story. Later. Count on it.

I confess to being very proud of that ficus tree you see up against the window. It was a gift to our youngest daughter when it was just 'this big'.   That was about five, six years ago.

I can't believe we actually fit it in the back of the U-Haul Truck. That it made the trip here unharmed. That it actually seems to Really Like the light in that window. I'll be watching it very carefully over the next few weeks.

I have another plant - an Elephant Ear  (at least, I think that's what it is) - which I've put in the corner in the sun room. It was a gift six years ago. It almost died once, but I nursed it back to health. I'm afraid I'm going to have to move it, but right now, it's the only place I've got where it fits. I've drawn the shade so it doesn't get direct sunlight.

I sure wouldn't mind if anyone has any experience in moving plants and would like to share any helpful hints or 'tips' for longevity.  I'm really rather fond of these plants - especially this ficus tree.  She's a beauty, isn't she?  The real miracle is that they are alive and thriving.

Because, you see, I really don't know what I'm doing. They are thriving despite my ignorance and stupidity.

It's a real miracle.
This is the breakfast nook that's part of the kitchen. That window overlooks the water.  There, near the window, are my two Christmas cactus.  Got them about five years ago when they were only 'that big'. They are Very Happy with the sunlight in the kitchen. (The door to the left goes out to the laundry room which leads out to pier.) 

Our dear friend Bill (who worked like a dog to help us move - on both ends of the trip) took down the old table (which was attached to the wall) and then moved the dining room table and put it in the kitchen.   (Thanks so much, Bill!) We have a Huge Table out on the sun porch which comfortably seats eight to ten. This little nook is a lovely option when it's just me and/or Ms. Conroy.

Now this, THIS is my favorite place in the whole house. It's where I say my morning prayers. Drink my morning coffee. Do most of my writing. Out on the sun porch.  Facing the water.  Where it's so peaceful it sometimes takes my breath away.

Tonight, I got all the bins of clothes emptied and put in the bureau or hung in the closet.  I've still got some summer shoes, cosmetics, my TV with VCR/DVD to bring here. The coffee pot. Some odds and ends.  We've still got to clean up the rectory. Polish the floors. Wash the carpets. Like that.

That's a Very Boring story I don't want to tell and you don't need to hear.

That place is rapidly becoming part of the past.

This is rapidly becoming home.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Big Move

Today was the day of the Big Move from New Jersey to Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

Not the Big Chill. Not the Big Lebowski. The Big Move.

We moved all the furniture we were going to take with us - a desk, a bureau, a few book cases (of course), two rocking chairs (of course). Pots and Pans. Pictures. Books - lots and lots of books (of course). Like that.

Traffic on the NJ Turnpike was noting less than horrific until we got past Exit 6 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike). I have no idea what the problem was - if there had been an accident and this was the left over congestion - but it was like a parking lot out there.

Very frustrating. Especially in 90+ degree weather.

But, we're here. And now, the unpacking begins. We have a couple of guys coming tomorrow morning at 9 AM. What we can't decide on - or, what will be in the way during renovation - goes into storage. Which, thankfully, is just up the street about 10 minutes away. And, is accessible 24 hours a day. If that becomes important.

We also have to return to NJ on Monday and clean up the rectory. Some of the guys who helped us move today will come back to take a small load of dishes and glassware to Good Will, the microwave to the Red Cross and a small load to the dump.

We also have bed linens, a printer, some odds and ends to bring to LSD = Lower, Slower Delaware.

Oh yes, and then there's our youngest daughter's wedding next Saturday. Which is why we decided to do The Big Move this weekend. Pretty smart, right?

Yes, it's been pretty frenetic around here.

I'm about to take a hot shower, slather my shoulders, neck and arms with some Cryoderm, eat some ice cream and be in bed by 10 PM.

That's my plan and I'm sticking to it.

Oh, did I mention that it feels so good to be "home"? To be in a house that is "ours"? That we'll own next year when the mortgage is paid off? Where we can stay until we say it's time to go? That's not dependent upon where we work?

I know. That's a very middle class attitude. I know. Many, many people don't have - will never own - their "own home". Many more don't have a roof over their heads.

I am - we are - most blessed. And, I am deeply grateful.

And, tired.

Thanks to everyone who held us in prayer. It really made the difference.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This ride called 'Justice'

Well, it's not been boring.

Watching the proceedings on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 on the "Left Coast" from my perch on the "Right Coast" has been a little like being on a roller coaster.

Marriage Equality passes in the State of California (YAY!)

Prop 8 passes. (SHREEK!)

Prop 8 gets challenged. (WHEE!)

Prop 8 is over turned on August 4th by Judge Vaughn Walker. (YAY!)

Two days ago, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put the whole issue on hold until the week of December 6th, when an a panel of three judges will rule on the appeal. (SHREEK!)

This is seen as a good strategic move, I'm told, since it will now go to the U.S. Supreme Court. While this is not seen as a "slam-dunk" win, it accomplishes, among other things, two very important things:

1. Gives more states the opportunity to approve Marriage Equality.

2. Settles the issue on a federal level as opposed to state-by-state.

I feel as if I'm on that part of the roller coaster ride where you're in your little car, going up the hill or about to make a loop, and you can hear the "tck, tck, tck, tck, tck" of the wheels on the track as your heart pounds in your chest in perfect sync with the rhythm of the ride.

Did I mention that I hate roller coasters?

While others are giggling with anticipation, readying themselves to throw their hands up in the air as their car reaches the peak and they plunge down and around at break-neck speed, I nervously check to make sure the safety bar is locked.

Then, I check it again. And again. My knuckles turn white as I grip that sucker with all my might, shut my eyes, and vow never to get on one of these things Ever Again, no matter how much my children or grandchildren plead with me.

I'm always relieved at the end - mostly that (1) I'm alive and (2) I didn't pee my pants in public.

Well, kiddies, get ready. This roller coaster ride for the justice of marriage equality has not ended just yet. We've got a few more hills to climb, a few more loopy hair-turns to make, a few more lows to dip into before this ride ends.

Here's the thing: I think this ride will end with marriage equality. In fact, I am convinced of it.

At the end of the day, I believe we'll have won not only in California, but in every state in the union.

Of course, "the other side" will believe we have lost "the sanctity of marriage" and that the "world as we now know it" has come to an end.

You know. Like in 1967 when the Supreme Court deemed "anti-miscegenation"  (interracial marriage)laws unconstitutional. While that case was winding its way through the legal system, many states choose to legalize interracial marriage at much earlier dates.

You know. Like in 1976 when The Episcopal Church changed canon law to allow the ordination of women. While that case was winding its way through General Convention, eleven women were ordained in Philadelphia and four more were ordained in Washington, DC.

You know. Like in 2009 when The Episcopal Church said that it would not stand in the way of LGBT elections to the episcopacy. While that case was winding its way through the Anglican Communion, several diocese were already nominating LGBT people - who had already been ordained deacons and priests - as bishops.

Ahem! Are you paying attention? Are you catching my drift here? Get your head wrapped around those three things for a moment before you allow yourself to slip into depression.

While the institution was debating the "issue" of marriage equality or ordination, the "fact" was that interracial couples were already married and women or LGBT people were already ordained or consecrated.

It's easy to argue in the abstract when you don't have to deal with reality.

It's scary to deal with reality when "issues" are being argued in the abstract - and your life, your marriage, is "the issue".

Yes, it's an abomination in the site of a loving God to have prevented interracial couples from marrying. The Good News is that, in the end, justice triumphed. And, and, and. . . . this also means that we have some recent case law upon which to build the case for marriage equality.

None of this will be easy. None of it. It's dangerous and scary and wonderful and awful - all at the same time.

So, stand up nice and tall. Remember: You had to have been "this tall" to get on the ride in the first place.

If you've made a commitment to another person to live in faithful, life-long monogamy, you can also make a commitment to the long, scary roller coaster ride of Marriage Equality.

Oh, and by the way: "This tall" = "The full stature of Christ."

The ride continues in December. Hey, if I can do it, you can do it. I'll be the one with white knuckles, holding onto the "Holy Crap!" safety bar, but we'll end up in the place we always do in this country - that sacred, hallowed ground where the rights enshrined in our constitution are more important than majority opinion or mob rule and justice prevails.

Fasten your seat belts, kids. The roller coaster called 'Justice' is ready to roll. It's gonna be a helluva ride!

I don't know about you, but I'll be drowning out the ominous sound of the "tck, tck, tck, tch" by saying over and over again, at the top of my voice, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
"The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice."
I say those words as fact. I say them as belief. I say them as prayer.

I say those words as my daily mantra until we arrive, one wonderful day in the not-too-distant future, at the end of this ride called justice.

As Frederick Douglass once said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

In the Portuguese words which became the mantra to end the oppression in Mozambique A luta continua. (The struggle goes on.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I remember Martha

It was my first DOB event - Daughters of Bilitis - the national lesbian organization which began in 1955 in San Francisco by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons.

It was November, 1977. DOB was having its Annual (Imagine that, I thought - this has happened before and will continue to happen, every year.) Thanksgiving Dinner in the basement of the Unitarian Church in Cambridge, MA.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had never even been in a Unitarian Church, much less the basement of one, which was about to be filled with lesbians.

I was there with Ms. Conroy. We were elbow-deep in the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, MA. We were scared. We didn't know any other lesbians other than our friends, Sheri and Lois, who had founded the Boston Chapter of DOB. But, we knew that we needed to network with other lesbian women. We knew we needed the company of other women who had experience in dealing with the oppressive, regressive, punitive laws at that time - especially in the Family Court System - against women in general and lesbians in particular.

There was so much we need to learn - and, unlearn.

So, there we were. Early. Very early. We had driven down from our home in Maine and, thankfully, the traffic had been light. We had been greeted warmly at the door and told to make ourselves comfortable. Someone would come soon to put us to work, if we wanted, or we were free to come back when dinner was ready in about an hour. Some women were in the kitchen, setting up. A few other women were busy with last minute arrangements and plans.

I looked around the room, nervously checking out the other women. Had we over-dressed? Under-dressed? What does one wear to one's Lesbian Social Debut? In Massachusetts - the place of both of our births and the very birthplace of 'Thanksgiving'?

As I was pondering these and other weighty questions of the newly "out", I saw her coming toward me. Her name was Martha, she said. "How do you do?" she asked, arms folded across her chest, hands nervously gripping her sides.

She said she worked as a secretary at MIT. She looked like a caricature of a frumpy clerical worker: an ill-fitting brown tweed suit, blue pin stripped Brooks Brothers buttoned down shirt, clunky brown shoes, rumpled hair tied in a bun on the back of her head, thick horn-rimed glasses, not even a hint of makeup.

She was more than shy. Socially awkward in a painful sort of way. We made some small talk and then she moved nervously away like a mouse that had been scared away by the scent or silent padding of a cat.

I didn't know what to make of her, really. She was odd. Very odd. Then again, I felt pretty odd myself. Queer, you might say - although we didn't say that word back then. It was like the 'n' word for the African-American community. Just saying the word 'lesbian' was a bit of a stretch. I rather liked the more innocuous but still risky sound of 'gay'.

"Hey, girls," someone said, "We need help setting up tables? Can you do that?"

"Sure," we said. All five of us. That's when I noticed Martha. Her hands, actually. Big. Strong. More like a man's hands. She was also incredibly strong, moving and setting up tables all by herself, while the rest of us struggled in pairs to lug and haul and tip and pull.

Later, after a marvelous dinner, I remember going over to Sheri and asking about Martha. "Oh yes, Martha . . ." she mused. "Do you find her a bit . . . odd?"

"Yeah," I said. "I mean, really? C'mon, Sheri. Admit it. She's odd."

Her face was as serious as a heart attack, "Well, darling, of course she is. You see, she was once a man. Now, she's a woman. She's had the surgery, but psychologically, she's still transitioning."

Sheri looked at the confusion on my face as her words sank in and, being Irish, couldn't resist the mischief of compounding my befuddlement by saying, "Oh, and, she's a lesbian."

"Wait. Wait. Wait," I managed to sputter out, "Okay, I get that she's a male to female person - although I'm still getting my head wrapped around the fact that I've actually met. . . one . . . but . . . if she was a he and now she's a lesbian . . . Wait. Wait. Wait . . . she can't REALLY be a lesbian. She was a he and now he's a she and she still likes women. Why, that means she's still . . . heterosexual. . . I mean . . .doesn't it?

I remember Sheri smiled and said, in her matter-of-fact way,"It's a brave new world out there, honey. Better get used to it."

You know, I don't have a conscious memory of my first-time meeting of a person of color - African American, a person of the First Nation, an Asian. Or, an Italian, Mexican or Puerto Rican, much less an Iraqi, Pakastani or Egyptian. I also don't consciously remember meeting a Jew or a Muslim or a differently-abled person for the first time. But, I am blessed to know a great diversity of people now.

Perhaps I was very young. Perhaps it's buried deep in my subconscious.

I remember Martha.

It was 33 years ago, but I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

I remember learning later, from a conversation that Ms. Conroy had with her, that Martha used to be Marshall. He, when he had been he, was a professor at MIT. After Marshall became Martha, she took a position as a secretary in her department because she felt that was a more "appropriate" role for a woman.

"Wait. Wait. Wait," I said. "You're kidding me, right? I mean, it's 1977, for Pete's sake! She can still be a professor. Surely, at MIT, there are lots of women who are professors. What the what?"

"I know," said Ms. Conroy,"I don't pretend to understand it either."

Martha, without knowing it or, I'm sure, even intending or wanting it, started my journey into exploring my own assumptions about gender and sexuality. The memory of Martha has become a touchstone for the work I was to do - and continue to do - on my own sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia.

I think the real gift of transgender people is that they challenge these assumptions about our identity as well the entire theology of creation as articulated in Genesis. We are forced to go "back to the beginning" - to Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.

Many biblical scholars, including Phyllis Trible, professor of biblical studies at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, offer an analysis the Creation story in Genesis 1 that defines that the original ‘earth creature (ha-adam)’ is not a man, nor a woman, possibly not even sexual but a human being.”

If we accept that premise, where does that lead us in terms of a theological understanding of the gift of gender and sexuality? What does the church have to say about - and to - our transgender sisters and brothers?

I was remembering Martha as I read "Beyond Adam and Eve" By Becky Garrison in this morning's Religion Dispatches.

My trip down Memory Lane was inspired by this paragraph:
The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco recounts how this gay-positive church struggled with how to welcome a very attractive transvestite man who walked through their doors in the mid 1980s. Some straight men in the congregation felt odd when they learned the woman they'd felt attracted to was a man, while some women did not want to share the bathroom with a male—even though she dressed like a female. After a month or so this person ended up leaving the community because at this time, the church could not create a welcoming space for those on the outer fringes of the LGBT community. By the time distinguished evolutionary biologist and transwoman Joan Roughgarden came to St. Gregory's around 2002, the community had learned enough that she could call this church her home.
I suppose every movement has its "firsts". But, I think, it is the "personal firsts" who are the real pioneers. They are the quiet revolutionaries who make us think - and re-think and challenge - what it is we really believe about ourselves, our life, our place in culture and our roles in society.

It's not been an easy journey. I've come a very long way since that day in 1977. My friends and clerical colleagues Cameron Partridge and Gari Green have been an enormous gift to me and my own personal growth and development.

I am deeply grateful for their generous spirit and patience with me as I learn to navigate my way around culturally-ingrained assumptions - not to mention pronouns.

I've still got a long way to go. There are some trans folk - mostly male to female trans people who like to act and dress like women but invoke male privilege whenever they can. I remember one woman at a hotel in San Francisco. Drop dead gorgeous. Flirty and sexy. Obviously young and strong, but when it came time to take her wheeled luggage to her room, she insisted that the also young and strong but obviously female bell hop carry her luggage for her.

Not because she couldn't, but because she was acting out the role of a "typical" female. It made me angry. I'm not sure why, exactly. I think I know, but I'm still exploring why anger was my reaction. Anger is always a secondary emotion. It's important to go deeper, to examine what's so important under the anger that sparks that as the reaction.

Like I said, I've got a long way to go.

As this article point out - and is an example of - so do many other people.
RD contributor and pastor Dan Schultz preaches against those who claim to be for LGBT rights but focus solely on issues pertinent to gays and lesbians — such as same sex weddings and ordinations.
Look, this is really simple. Either you accept the entire span of the LGBT community, or you don’t. More to the point, perhaps, either you spend the time getting to know the LGBT (or LGBTQQ+ community, as they say), or you don’t. You can’t say, “Well, gays and lesbians are okay, but transgendered people are weird and threatening and not deserving of protection.” The fact is that gender reassignment surgery is an accepted medical practice and legal in the United States. Scruples don’t count in making the law. So either demonstrate the legitimate policy interest in denying transgendered folk equal protection under the law, or admit that you’re caving in to moralistic bigotry. You can’t have it both ways.
It's interesting to note that the article in Religion Dispatches quotes lots and lots of people, most clergy - some of them lesbian, gay and bisexual - but none of them, themselves, transgender.

I wonder about Donald Schell's comment about there being more male-to-female transpeople than female-to-male. I don't know that that's true, but that's certainly the perception.

And while many, many of the clergy quoted in the article are allies from the Episcopal Church, members of our own Trans-Episcopal - like Cameron and Gari - are not quoted.

Oh, and, the term is "transgender" - not "transgendered".

But, you know, it's a good article. I encourage you to read it. There's lots of good stuff and some good links.

Every body has to start somewhere.

Like me. With Martha. Whom I remember. With enormous gratitude.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oberman: There is no 'Ground Zero Mosque'

I don't know about you but I am sick unto death of the talk about the "Ground Zero Mosque".

It is an enormous embarrassment to listen to otherwise intelligent people display raw, naked xenophobia.

My friend June sent me the link to this video clip. Keith Oberman's drama is sometimes enough to make me change the channel, but when he's on, he's right on.

And, this time, he's right on.

Give a listen. If you are opposed to Park 51 (formally called "Cordoba Center" but changed because Newt Gingrich - God help us! - said it was a tribute to Muslim's overtaking Christianity in Spain, and we all know that if Ole Newt said it, it must be true, even if it isn't), you don't have to listen. You will probably not be persuaded by this or anything else I could post here, anyway.

Your mind is already made up. God knows, I wouldn't want to disturb you with facts.

If you are supportive of Park 51, please give a listen. Not so you'll have "talking points" in an argument. Not so you'll be further convinced.

Rather, it may give you something to think about when someone you meet prattles on and on and on about why this center should not be built because the Muslim boogie-men will infiltrate our government, brainwash our children, rape our women and run sabers through our babies - six times before breakfast and all before they bomb another building like the Pentagon or the White House.

This is America, damn it.

We have the right to religious freedom.

We also have the right to free speech.

It's just really important to engage your brain before you open your mouth.

Otherwise, you have also have the perfect right to look like a xenophobic idiot.

Here endth the rant.

Stubborn Hope

American Nuns are - have been - under siege.

The Leadership Conference of Women's Religious (LCWR) has gone through a difficult year. The organization is under the cloud of a Vatican doctrinal study; meanwhile, U.S. women religious communities are in the middle of a three-year Vatican investigation, officially called an Apostolic Visitation, into the quality of life in their communities.

It's been a bit of a tough go for Women Religious in the Roman Catholic Church. Just last May, LCWR, along with a number of other Catholic organizations, split with the U.S. bishops in their assessments on health care legislation.

The women religious supported the legislation, saying it would bring needed health care to 33 million; the U.S. bishops opposed the legislation, saying it allowed federal funding for abortions, an interpretation of the bill that LCWR did not share.

Then, of course, there was the case, in November, 2009, of Sr. Margaret McBride, Vice President of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, AZ, who was excommunicated by her bishop, Thomas J. Olmsted, because she approved the abortion of an 11 week fetus of a 27 year old mother of four in order to save the life of a mother.

As I said, it's been a particularly tough year for Women Religious in the RC Church. Then again, being an Roman Catholic Nun in a male-dominated, hierarchical system is an impossible vocation.

I have said it before, will say it again, and will continue to say it with my dying breath: I am the priest I am today because of the nuns of my youth.

Oh, I know the horror stories. Kids shamed and physically abused by nuns. I do remember some of the kids in my First Communion Class who were left-handed having their left hands tied to a chair so as to force them to learn to write "the right way". Some of the nuns told us that left-handed kids were 'sinister' - from the Latin 'sinistr', meaning something that threatened 'evil'.

Oh, I got smacked by a nun as a child. Once. Hard. I was six years old. Sister had just asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said, "I'm going to be a priest."  After sternly warning me that "girls become nuns, only boys become priests." I said, "Well, I'm going to be a priest."


I went home and told my mother who said, "Well, what did you expect? If you ever say that again, you'll see the back of my hand, too."

It was a very different time, back in the day.

I'm not offering any excuses, but many of these women - or, their parents - were right off the boat from "the old country" who became "brides of Christ" because their parents couldn't afford to care for them or they refused to be "married off" they way they would have in the old country.

I know one, nice Italian family. Three girls. It was the Depression. "Father" came over to the house one afternoon to "help". The next day, all three girls - then ages 14, 15 and 17 - found themselves in the local convent. All three were told that they were to become "brides of Christ."

One left the convent in her early 30s, married a former RC priest, had three children and is now an Episcopalian. One left shortly after he sister, married a widow and helped to raise his children. The third is still in the convent - and, happy about it, as near as I can tell.

That's not an uncommon story among women of that generation.

One of my aunts was a nun. She's now 81 years old. She worked in an orphanage where living conditions could be generously described as "bleak". They "did their best", she says, but "sometimes, when there wasn't enough food, we always made sure the children ate."

Whenever she talks about her convent days, she always says, "I had to leave. I had anemia, TB and got really close to a nervous break down. The doctor said I had to go. I just wasn't cut out for that kind of life." She lowers her eyes and her face burns with shame as she adds, softly, "It's a high calling. I just couldn't take it. I was weak."

It breaks my heart every time I hear her say that.

Ms. Conroy, on the other hand,  was educated by the "Les Mademe" -  Religieuses du Sacré Cœur de Jésus or Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You know. The female equivalent of the Jesuits. Where the Kennedy and Shriver girls went to school. Oh, yes. And, Lady Gaga. But, back then, she was enrolled as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.

Obviously, Ms. Conroy's experience was much, MUCH different than mine. Well, most of us, in fact. Had to change into her Jonathan Meyers suit and white gloves to go to dinner in the evening. Like that. Suffice it to say, she got an excellent eduction. I think she's done them proud.

The nuns of my youth were women in leadership in a male dominated church hierarchy. They were strong, feisty, independent, passionate women who dedicated their lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They often stood up to "Father" in defense of the children of the church. Unfortunately, too many looked away when they knew - in their gut - that something was wrong, something was very, very wrong, about "Father" and "his boys."

From what I hear from my friends who are RC nuns, that's the very reason the Vatican is after them.

It's their land, you see.

Many Women's Religious Orders own property. Very valuable property. Some of it in prime real estate locations, located in pristine, bucolic country settings. Or, on the ocean front.

Some of the nuns I know believe that their order will be forced into doctrinal belief systems that will be impossible for them to live with. If they don't "comply" and "submit" and are "disobedient", they will be forced to close down.

Why on earth would the Roman Catholic Church do that? The way my friends see it, it will be done so the Vatican can take over their property.

They will sell it and use the money to bail out dioceses that have had to declare bankruptcy in order to settle the hundreds of thousands of law suits brought about by victims and survivors of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of priests.

It's ironic, but not such a far-fetched theory. There are many, many diocese that have already declared bankruptcy. I know bankruptcy proceedings have happened in the Archdioceses of Spokane, Davenport, Portland and San Diego, and last week, a judge lifted the one year delay of the proceedings in the Diocese of Wilmington, DE.

There are probably more. These are the ones I know of in this country. Other dioceses around the world - Ireland and Australia come immediately to mind - are also facing bankruptcy.

Hey, it's nothing personal. Certainly nothing theological or doctrinal, much less having to do with the "quality of life" in their religious communities. It's just business - or, more specifically, business-as-usual. The millions of dollars gained from the sale of prime real estate will provide a quick and necessary infusion of cash into a severely depleted system.

I know. Sounds really crass and jaded. A very low opinion of the very lofty position of the "Princes of the Church". Well, if you begin with the sexual abuse of children, there's really no where left to go but down.

Except, these women have a 'stubborn hope'.

On August 13, Leadership Conference of Women Religious president, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Marlene Weisenbeck, delivered her last address as head of organization. She said:
“Let us remember, however, that we will be known more by what we affirm than what we deny. Our whole being tends toward what we hope for. But we also know that the prophet, who is always concerned about a better future, is not known for nuance. Its two greatest enemies are conformity and comfort. Grounded in a sublime principle of the Second Vatican Council, we wait in stubborn hope for truth to impose itself by virtue of its essence as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.”
Her words are the best example of the kind of nuns who educated and trained me in the Gospel of Jesus and "raised me to the full stature of Christ" in my baptism.

It's the reason I have a "stubborn hope" in my soul about the church.

I pray for my Sister Religious every day in my morning prayers. I do believe they hold the key to the future of the Roman Catholic Church. And, I'm not talking about the value of their property to bail out bankrupt dioceses.

As long as they continue to educate our youth, they will continue to produce young adult men and women who know about justice and mercy. They will continue to inspire leaders in the church - even if that means young men and women must leave the Roman occupation of their souls in order to fulfill their vocation.

They will continue to instill a love of Jesus in the hearts of the young and a fiery passion for the gospels in their souls.

They did it for me.

And, Ms. Conroy.

Um . . .okay, so Lady Gaga is not exactly a shining example, but, moving right along . . .

In her closing speech in Dallas, Weisenbeck called upon the women to express hope as prophets, artists, healers and lovers.
• Speaking of prophecy, she said that it is necessary to discover the art of touching the heart and holding the hand of victims of injustice while also calling to truth the authors of scandal.

• Speaking of art, she said that any artist will tell us that making art can be an analogy to the experience of spiritual transformation. “When doing one’s spiritual work or creating a piece of art, a certain abandonment of the self is important,” she said. “Likewise, the artist offers herself to the creative impulse and worries not what is given the soul to reveal.”

• Speaking of healing, she said: “Today the big ecclesial questions are about who has power and authority over sacraments, governance, and how the crisis of abuse is handled. Yet these are not the central questions about deep longing that reside inside and underneath the elemental human experience lurking through our worries and complaints. Under all this are our holy longings for healing and wholeness, an ache for the infinite , and a yearning for love.” No one, she emphasized, “should come into contact with us without receiving mercy.”

• Speaking of love, she said: “Religious life must be founded on a love relationship with Christ, first and foremost. If this is not the bedrock of our life form, nothing else will have efficacy – not community life, not social justice, nor any other effort at renewal or ministry that we take on."
See what I mean about an 'impossible vocation'?

See what I mean about a 'stubborn hope'?

Please join me in keeping these women in your daily prayers. Especially Sr. Mary Hughes, incoming President of the LCWR, and Sr. Pat Farrell, elected VP who will become President the next year.

Of your mercy and kindness, please 'drop a bead' or two for these amazing women of faith.

Even though their faith is wonderfully alive and their hope is marvelously stubborn, they are going to need all the help they can get.