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, November 30, 2010

"Once Upon A Time . . ."

Yesterday, from 11 am to 2 pm, the water was turned off.

The signs had been up at the top of the street since before Thanksgiving. I had duly made note of it. And then, promptly forgot it.

I didn't remember until I went to take a shower before running into town for an appointment. I stopped off first at the loo and when I went to flush, there was nothing. My first thought was that the toilet had broken, so I removed the cover on the back of the tank to check, muttering about how much money it was going to cost me to get a plumber.

It was empty. No water. What?

I turned on the faucet at the sink. Nothing. What?

Suddenly, my memory was flooded with images of the signs that had been at the top of the street: WATER OFF. November 29. 11-2. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

"No you're not," I grumbled. I was surprisingly annoyed. At myself for not remembering. At whoever "they" were for having the temerity to leave me without water when I wanted it. At not having water. Now. Right now.

The term, I think, is "On demand".

"For granted" may be more accurate.

After a bit of grumbling, I boiled up some of the water left in the electric kettle in the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea. I think it was more out of spite than an actual need or even want.

At some point, as I was savoring the taste and the warmth of the tea, I found myself annoyed that I had become annoyed. What's wrong with you? You have a lovely, cozy home with a window on creation. Your health is good. You have a fridge filled with more food than you can eat. A wonderful family. Good friends. Meaningful, compensated work. A little savings in the bank. And, you're going to grumble about not having water for a few hours?

What's wrong with you?

And then, her face came to me.

I don't remember her name, if she ever told me. It was 2005. I was in a remote village in Tamale, in the northern part of Ghana.

It was a scene right out of "National Geographic". Clay huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors. No electricity. No running water. Women dressed in garments made of brightly colored African cloth. Naked children scurrying here and there, giggling in the universal language of carefree, youthful delight.

Give a kid - any kid, any where - a stick and a round object to hit, bring along some other kids and, before you know it, you have a game. And, giggles.

Some of the women were returning from the local water pump, a miraculous new innovation which had recently been installed at the village well by a local Christian charity organization.

The women would gather in the morning in small groups of five or six and walk the mile or so to the well where they would, in turns, hand pump the water into large 20 gallon cans which they balanced on their heads.

I marveled at their strength and endurance and balance, even as I worried about how much it was, exactly, that 20 gallons of water might weigh and what that might be doing to their spinal column.

One woman saw me looking at her, slack-jawed and stunned, and smiled as she politely said, "Good day, madam."

I returned the salutation, after a bit of self-conscious stammering, and said something stupid like, "Oh, my, that must be very heavy."

She smiled kindly and said, "It is what we do." And then, smiling slyly, asked, "How else is it to be done? How do you get your water?"

"Well," I said, "I go to the faucet at the sink."

"Faucet?" she asked, feeling the foreignness of the word on her lips.

"Yes," I said, clearing my throat, "I suppose it's like a pump, except you don't have to actually pump. You just turn the handle and the water comes out."

She looked incredulous. I mean, it was enough of a miracle to her that one could now actually pump water instead of drawing it out in buckets and hauling it up the well to be dumped into her 20 gallon can of water.

"You just turn the handle? Oh, my!" She shifted her weight under her heavy load. I wanted to tell her that she could put it down for a minute while we talked and I would help her carry it back to her home, but before I could offer, she continued.

"And, where is this faucet and sink?"

"Well, it's in my kitchen . . . in the place where I cook. . .in my home."

"In your home?" she asked, again, astounded.

"Yes," I said. "Where I live, in the U.S., every home has a faucet with running water. Sometimes several. In the kitchen. In the bathroom . .. . "

And then, I saw her looking at me. She was no longer astounded. She looked . . . sad. Yes, decidedly sad. I immediately thought to myself, "Oh, no! I've become the 'ugly American', boasting of our wealth and conveniences."

"I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't mean . . . "

"Oh, no," she said. "It is I who am sorry."

I looked into her eyes and suddenly realized that her sadness was sympathy. She felt sad for me. Sorry. For ME. I returned her honest sympathetic gaze with my own honest confusion and curiosity.

She shifted her weight again, and sighed, "How do you tell your stories?"

"What? I mean, excuse me?"

She extended her hand to mine, as if she were consoling an impoverished person, and said, "If you do not have a well where you go and get your daily water, how do you tell your stories?"

Slowly, slowly, I began to realize what she was saying.

She was talking about the power of stories to build community. She was speaking the truth about how stories can inspire and educate. How they can hurt and heal. Stories are one of the building blocks of the formation of identity.

Poet and political activist Murial Rukeyser once wrote "the universe is made of stories, not atoms."

The woman I met in Tamale, Ghana, knew that and was teaching it to me, poor benighted soul that I am.

Shortly after I returned home from Ghana, I rediscovered a book on my shelf, "The Faithful Gardner: A wise tale about that which can never die," by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

It begins with these words, "How did stories come into being? Ah, stories came into the world because God was lonely." It continues with an enchanting retelling of the Creation Story:
"God was lonely? Oh yes, for you see, the void at the beginning of time was very dark. The void was dark because it was so tightly packed with stories that not even one story stood out from the others.

Stories, therefore, were without form, and the face of God moved over the deep, searching and searching - for a story. And, God's loneliness was very great."
Estes continues her story of God creating the heavens and the stars and moons and planets, and the land and the waters and the air - and all the creatures of the land and water and air, and then writes:
"Yet even with all these wondrous creatures and all these magnificent stories, even with all the pleasures of creating, God was still lonely.

God thought and paced and paced and thought and finally! it came to our great Creator. "Ah, let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness! Let them care for and be cared for in return, by all creatures of the sea, all those of the air, and all those of the earth."

So God created human beings from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and human beings became living souls: male and female God created them. And as these were created, suddenly, all the stories that go along with being completely human also sprang to life, millions and millions of stories. And God blessed all of these, and placed them in a garden called Eden.

Now God strode through the heavens, wreathed in smiles, for at last, you see, God was lonely no more."
Our bodies may not be able to live without water, but I think our souls die without stories.

Indeed, I think there is a Very Great Thirst in our land, because we have become disconnected from each other's stories. So, we become arrogant and petulant and easily annoyed by minor inconvenience - like not having water, clean water, flowing freely from faucets in our own homes whenever we want it.

Our world becomes smaller and smaller, until it revolves only around us. We become our own planets, in our own orbits, spinning in our own sense of infinity.

If we do not share our stories, why should we share anything else?

Gather a bunch of little kids and say, "Once upon a time. . ." and they will soon be gathered, sitting 'round your feet, listening. There's something of a little kid in each of us, waiting, longing to hear a good story. And perhaps, tell one of our own.

Indeed, our faith is not built on atoms, but on stories. Scripture is filled with them. Stories of scoundrels who became saints. Stories of betrayal and friendship. Of great vulnerability and bold courage. Of tragedy and triumph.

Stories are a part of how we know who we are. And, whose we are.

Estes begins her book with this benediction, "We have an old family blessing,
Whomsoever is still awake at the end of the night of stories, will surely become the wisest person in the world."
Stories, I have come to believe, are the water of life. They flow through you and they flow through me. The challenge is that they sometimes become frozen in place by greed or arrogance and need to be set free to be told and enjoyed and cherished, one by one.

This, in fact, may be why God created water. And fire. And air. And land. To give us a place where we may gather to share and be warmed and inspired by the simple stories of our lives.

So that we might share with others the abundance we have been given.

And, not be lonely.

I have been given a story of wisdom by the wisdom and sympathy of a very wise woman in Tamale, Ghana, who, I'm guessing, is the last one to sleep at the end of the night of stories.

May it be so for you.

May it be so for me.

May it be so for us all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Signs of Advent on Rehoboth Bay

There's a chill in the air these days. Some mornings are a bit more brisk than others.

The gulls no longer call to each other in unbridled delight as they do on Summer mornings. Every now and again, one will make a cry that sounds more like a Kyrie eleison than the festive cacophony of morning Hosannas which used to greet me only a few short months ago.

There are only two boats left in the lagoon that runs along the northwest side of our wee cottage. They were both out for a spin this weekend. Everyone on board was bundled up in puffy down jackets, scarfs and mittens and they seemed to be having a grand time.

The sight of them made me smile and giggle when it didn't strike a cord of admiration somewhere deep in my heart. Bravo! I thought. Brava! Good for you!

Things are different in Lower, Slower Delaware. Very Different.

That includes the observation of the Season of Advent.

The patient waiting of Advent was always connected, in my child's mind, to the coming of winter's first snow storm. We seemed to have more of them, earlier in the season, than we do now.

Then again, New England was my childhood home. Snow is an expected visitor which comes any time between late November through April - too often for some and not enough for others.

I remember one childhood Easter snow storm which rendered our Easter Spring finery as silly as that boat full of bundled up people on on the Bay I witnessed just the other day.

It's not that Rehoboth Bay has not known a good snow storm. Just last February there were 23.5 inches of snow right outside my very door. I know because I measured it myself. Of course, that hadn't happened in 102 years. The memory of the deep chill that took up residence in my bones as I was trying to shovel Lucy True Bug out from under the piles of snow is easily awakened.

Advent, as Sunday's lessons (Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44; Psalm 122) remind us, is about staying awake and looking for signs.

"Keep awake therefore," says Jesus in Matthew's apocalypse, "for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."

A billboard went up, just recently, just outside the NJ entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.

An article in reports that it was put up as part of a campaign to reach out to atheists and encourage questioning certain holiday traditions.

The message reads, "You KNOW it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason," with a silhouette background of the three wise men walking toward a manger.

The campaign is sponsored by the American Atheists, said the report.

Now, THAT'S quite a 'sign', init?

My response? Doh, yeah! Of course it's a myth, but not in the way one presumes the American Atheists are presenting.

My colleague Robert Corbin Morris points out that myth is used in two senses.
For many poets, philosophers, psychologists and theologians, myth is a story, which while not historically true, "is profoundly true, because it symbolizes deep and recurrent realities in human experience." So, for example, many believe the story of the Fall in Eden is mythic, not historical — but a true tale about how human beings in every time and place disobey God.

Some historical events take on a mythic — symbolic — meaning: Pearl Harbor becomes and symbol of sneak attack and treachery, and the death of Christ on the cross speaks volumes of meaning to those who contemplate it.

The atheists who put up the sign are saying the Christmas story is an untrue story about something that never happened (other than the actual birth of Jesus of Nazareth). They have no sympathy with the deeper meanings of the story, presumably.
Which is okay. Really. Just because they say it's not true doesn't mean it isn't. It just means that they don't believe it.

Which is also okay. Last time I checked, the First Amendment still guaranteed freedom of religion. I suppose that also means freedom from religion.

And, myths.

Besides, Christmas has become so enculturated and commercialized that we've lost the meaning of the myth. We've 'reasoned the season' to its lowest common denominator and placed a dollar sign in front of it.

No wonder the 'deeper meaning' of the myth is lost on Atheists. We seem to have lost our way to the depths of the meaning of Advent and Christmas ourselves.

St. Paul writes, "You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep." (Romans 13:11).

That billboard at the NJ entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel has become an Advent wake up call, of sorts.

French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal once wrote, "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know."

Love and hope have a permanent place of residence in the human heart, broken open by suffering and compassion. Reason is neither threatened nor diminished by the contents of the heart. Rather, it is edified by them.

Pascal also wrote, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”.

This year, as one of my signs of Advent, I'll carry with me the image of that boat load of people, all bundled up in puffy down jackets, out for a sail on a crisply cold, sunny day in late November on Rehoboth Bay.

It's not exactly an "armor of light" of which Sunday's collect speaks, but it does give me a sense of "grace to cast away the works of darkness."

It's a symbol of unseasonable, unreasonable love and hope. It's an image which fills that "God shaped vacuum" in my human heart, which is being broken open once again to be filled even more deeply and fully with Jesus.

It's not the same images of anticipation of the Advents of my childhood, when we would awaken in the morning and look out the window for the first flurry of snow, hoping against hope that school might be canceled and we'd be free. "No more teachers, no more books, no more student's looks."

It's not even a classical image of Advent: Electric white candles in the window. Advent wreathes on the door. Advent candles being lit, one by one - blue, blue, pink (because Mary really wanted a girl), blue and then WHITE! Purple or Blue vestments. Advent calendars on the wall. Manger scenes on the coffee table.

Things are different here in Lower, Slower Delaware.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This is your Advent I "Wake Up" Call

Note: As some of you know, the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv (aka HoB/D or "Hobdee), is a place for conversation among bishops and deputies elected to General Convention.

Sometimes, the conversation there is really wonderful. No one's life is transformed and no one's political position converted - near as I can tell - but there are usually lots of things to be learned and insights to be gained.

And then, there are times when my last, poor tired nerve gets pulled.

Yesterday was one of those times.

I really don't think it's helpful - or, for that matter, healthy - for us to talk about the tensions in the Anglican Communion in general or the Anglican Covenant in particular - in terms of "family" or "marriage". Especially when we use those analogies to avoid confronting the real issues on the table.

So, someone did just that, and well, here's how I responded.

Just think of it as an Advent I "wake up" call.

Today's Epistle is: Romans 13:11-14
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


There's an old chestnut of a story about God and Satan out for a stroll when they come upon something in the road. "What's that?" asks Satan. "It's 'The Truth'", answers God. "Here, let me have it," says Satan, "I'll organize it."

Let's stop trying to put lipstick on this pig of an Anglican Covenant. This is not about "marriage" or "families". Follow those analogies and you'll end up where we find ourselves now: talking in circles around each other.

Rowan used to talk about the Anglican Communion as a "mystery" and a "gift". What ever happened to that line of thinking? Ah, perhaps it is because he's discovered that you can't bind up a mystery in rules. Neither is a gift made more valuable by imposing conditions for its use.

The Anglican Covenant is NOT a way to bring a few "rules" into a "lawless" Communion.

Our Anglican "custom" and "tradition" have been tolerance for the diverse ways and expressions of our common life of faith, fashioned after our understanding of scripture.

We have an unwritten doctrine of "Accommodation".

That's very Pauline. We are held together by bonds of affection not bonds of law. Indeed, Paul tells us we have been 'freed from the law'.

Oh, and BTW, when did the "Instruments of Communion" trump the ABC and the BCP that the Anglican Covenant will now further trump? I must have missed the memo on that one. Come to think of it, I've never seen a resolution from Lambeth, or General Synod or General Convention or any other similar Anglican Province or Diocese, which "legitimizes" or "canonizes" - much less defines - said "Four Instruments of Communion". I suspect, if it had, it would have failed miserably.

No, these "Four Instruments of Communion" have come into being and prominence by the old fashioned Roman Catholic doctrine of "Truth by Blatant Assertion".

Indeed, I always thought that the only "confession of faith" I had to make was contained in the Creeds, which also assures me of my membership in a "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" church, and the only "covenant" I needed was contained in my Baptismal vows.

And, please don't insult my intelligence by claiming that the Anglican Covenant is about "unity" or "unification". I've read the Anglican Covenant, more often than I care to admit, actually, and I have come to the conclusion, each and every time, that it is not about a "covenant" but a "contract", based on "offense" for which there shall be "relational consequences".

1984, anyone?

Rowan has long been known to say "ecumenical relationships" when he means "affection for Rome". He is also known to be thoroughly anti-American. Which is why, when one reads the "final draft" of the Anglican Covenant, one can clearly see a scolding finger being wagged at the Americas from a man desperate for the reader to kiss his papal ring.

His opening speech to General Synod was an embarrassment. In the end, all he could do was appeal for its passage on the basis of loyalty. Essentially, Rowan made the vote on the Covenant equivalent to a vote of confidence in him.

Mark Russell, a General Synod member, picked this up in his speech, "The Archbishop of Canterbury has the most impossible job in the history of the world. It is a lonely task. I have never heard Rowan Williams ask for our support in the way he has. If we say no, we're not backing our archbishop when he asked for our help."

My friends across the pond tell me that rumors were swirling that Rowan "needed" the Covenant in order to be able to meet with the Primates and that, if he failed to get the Covenant, he was considering resignation.

How pathetic is that?

Does anyone remember B033?

Same technique: Emotional manipulation.

Same source: Lambeth Palace.

I find it painfully ironic that while we have been having conversations about Open Communion and Marriage Equality, and whether or not to re-write our canons to be more "permissive" about who comes to the altar rail to be fed and who can come to the church for "pastoral generosity" in blessing the covenants between two people of the same gender for life long, faithful, monogamous relationship, that we are also talking about a covenant/contract of "rules" with "relational consequences" for giving offense to anyone who does not understand the theological integrity of our actions.

Never mind. The GAFCON crowd, which the original Anglican Covenant was designed to appease, has already left the building. Some are still lurking about, trying to salvage the furniture and various endowments and take them with them.

The Anglican Covenant is a tourniquet which has done its job. It stopped the bleeding and the appendage has been self-severed. "Rules" will neither heal us or save us. What has been done has been done. No sense in playing the "shame and blame" game. There's the mission of the Gospel to accomplish.

Part of the problem with the Anglican Covenant - and, I'm convinced it will be its ultimate undoing - is that it was written by theologians who had the temerity and arrogance of writing in a mechanism for legal consequences without consulting canon lawyers.

The first time anyone tries to enforce the "rules" of the Anglican Covenant, it will be like watching Humpty Dumpty come tumbling off the wall which Rowan and the Windsor Group have so carefully built.

What we need now is to acknowledge the losses we have had, grieve them, and begin to engage each other in those "bonds of affection" of which St. Paul spoke with such passion and eloquence, that we may begin to rebuild and edify the Body.

That can't be done while one is either nursing a grudge or devising a way to seek revenge and retribution. It takes a real spirit of reconciliation, assisted by some good olde fashioned Anglican tolerance.

That, my friend, is the real test of our Christianity. To use the sentiments of one great preacher, I fear that, if we were to be charged with the "offense" of being Christian, and the Anglican Covenant were the prima facia evidence used in our defense, we would lose the case and be cast out into the outer darkness.

The Anglican Covenant is not of God.

It will not have out.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Anglican Covenant Domino Effect

Time for Civil Disobedience?

On Thursday, November 25th, while many people in the Northern Hemisphere "gathered together to ask the Lord's blessing" on their Thanksgiving festivities, some also joined the rest of the world in the observance of "16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence".

I've been keenly interested in watching what is going on in this country and in other parts of the world in terms of raising awareness.

Most of the "activism" is designed to raise awareness about that which is obvious to many women and men:
all forms of violence against women is a human rights issue and the act of perpetrating violence against women is a human rights violation.
There are prayer vigils and art shows, candle light marches and church forums. Women and men are trying to do something - anything - one small thing - to raise awareness and encourage action.

Amnesty International has put together this short video clip to bring the issue to the attention of the world. The need to continue to have to make these simple claims for women - to teach women that they have a right to them - is astounding to me:
"You have the right to decide for yourself:
Whether and when to have sex,
to start a family
to have a child
and to receive the education
and health care you need
throughout your life"

I confess that the very fact that we have to raise awareness about these simple truths gets me so frustrated that I occasionally become so angry I want to holler and scream at the top of my voice.

Indeed, I hear the call of Zackie Achmat, at the Center for Law and Social Justice, who writes "16 days of talk, hand-wringing, weeping, listening to “stories” of the survivors or victims of gender-based violence will capture national and international headlines and airwaves. Is it time to ignore the 16 days of talk about gender-based violence? Is it time for sustained civil disobedience by feminist men and women, girls and boys?"

Achmat is asking this in response to an editorial which appeared in the Mail and Guardian last week, which carried this story about the gang rape of a 15 year old girl in South Africa.
The allegations of the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl on the Jules High School campus in Jeppestown rocked the nation.

It wasn’t just that she was drugged; that the heinous, brutal attack was recorded on a cellphone; that the recording of the vicious act was circulated and — if we believe some early reports — that some educators laughed when they saw the video that was so devastating.

It wasn’t the chilling comments from the school pupils, some of whom told our reporters that watching the incident was “like watching soccer” and that the victim looked like she “was enjoying herself” that makes it so shocking.

It wasn’t even the reports of police not initially arresting the boys suspected of being involved because they needed to take their exams; nor was it their later release, reportedly because of a lack of evidence, that makes the incident entirely deplorable. And it wasn’t the fact that the latest reports seem to be an attempt to discredit the victim by saying she was drunk, not drugged. No.

The saddest part of the entire case is the fact that our outrage probably won’t last another week. We’ve known about this problem in our schools for years. Baby rape is rampant, “corrective rape” of lesbians is accepted practice in some areas, and gang rape all too prevalent. There is a war against women and children in our country and the weapon is rape.

The truth is we leave it to civil society to deal with. We wait for Sonke Gender Justice to condemn leaders such as Julius Malema, who was only backing President Jacob Zuma’s account of his rape accuser when he made his “she enjoyed herself” comment.

Then we shake our collective heads in disbelief when those comments come out of the mouths of babes.

We hope women like Lisa Vetten, the director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, will continue to shout on our behalf, that Gender Links will keep holding 16 Days of Activism each year in its too often unheard effort to tell the world about violence against women. We, the media, tell the story of the victim and unravel the horrific details.

And the next hour, day, week, we, too, move on. Until the next woman or child or baby is attacked.

We can’t leave this up to civil society any longer. We need to shift our national mentality. We need awareness in every crevice of our nation. We need to have the SABC broadcast public service announcements, with leaders like Malema telling the nation that real men don’t rape women — and don’t even utter comments that undermine women’s rights in this way.

We need every type of media to tell the stories of our daughters, our nieces, our grandmothers, our mothers, our wives, our girlfriends, our sisters and our aunts, so that every man, woman and child clearly understands that rape affects us all.

Will this be the one case, because of the shock factor, that won’t allow us to avert our eyes, that will force us to admit how bad it really is? We doubt it. And that might be the saddest part of it all.
I understand.

I feel so overwhelmed, so shocked by the "shock factor" of this story, and so many other stories from around the glob, that it feels paralyzing.

What is to be done?

What can I do?

What can one woman - one person - do from the illusions of safety in our own home and the comfort of our assumptions about what all decent human beings believe?

I think it may well be time to begin to move 'awareness activism' like these annual 16 Day Campaigns into daily, local supportive mechanisms for actions of civil disobedience in places where these obscene acts of gender violence are occurring.

Indeed, I intend to bring up that very issue with the organizers of the 16 Day Campaign. It's going to take sustained, world-wide pressure to change cultural attitudes about women and girl children that are deeply ingrained and embedded in the psyche of many countries.

But, it can be done. It starts with one. It begins with me. It begins with you.

There is still time to raise awareness in your community. Visit the Rutger's web site for more information - especially the link "How to Get Involved."

While you're there, you can download a "Take Action Kit" in PDF or Microsoft Word format, and in English, Spanish and French. Each kit contains:
- a campaign profile & description of dates
- a list of participating organizations and countries
- a bibliography and resource list
- a list of suggested activities
- a current campaign announcement
- supplemental information relevant to this year's theme
You can also visit the Episcopal 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Blog where you can leave your own stories or prayers and/or liturgies.

Next year, I'm hoping we are able to have a way to provide sustained pressure in those places where gender violence is a tragic way of life.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed and powerless to help myself or others, I try to remember the advice of Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can".

Today's "story" from "StoryPeople" seems to affirm that wisdom:
I held out my hands & asked
where I could help &
somebody grabbed me &
pointed me towards the
future & said, You've got
your work cut out for you &
I said, isn't there anything
easier? & he laughed & said
you could dig around in the
past, but it's just busywork
& that made perfect sense
so I shrugged & started
right where I was, along
with everyone else

Friday, November 26, 2010

There's got to be a morning after

I read somewhere that the average American consumes somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving Day - more than double the amount of calories normally consumed on average by most Americans.

I think the amount of butter and cream that came into this house and was consumed yesterday is probably illegal. And, if not, it probably should be.

We probably consumed enough sugar to support the sugar cane industry in the entire Global South.

And surely, the sweet potato industry got a real boost yesterday, just from our family alone.

Here's the thing: I want to know why it is that it takes me 3-4 weeks to lose five pounds but I can gain back those same five pounds overnight after Thanksgiving Day.

It just doesn't make any sense.

Instead of "Black Friday," I think the day after Thanksgiving should be called "Fat Friday."

Just as "Fat Tuesday" is observed on the eve of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, perhaps "Fat Friday" can be cultural precursor of the Season of Advent. Which, believe it or not, begins on Sunday.

Actually, I don't like the way I feel on "Fat Friday". Never have. Oh, I've had other moments of overindulgence on other occasions, but it's just not the same, somehow.

I think it may be the combo of Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and dessert.

Carb overload. Serious. Carb. Overload.

I read somewhere once that carbs are an addiction, especially among Adult Children of Alcoholics, primarily because carbs are metabolized in the system in much the same way as alcohol is. Because alcohol is, primarily, a carbohydrate.

So, if you're feeling a bit, 'hung over' this morning, it's probably because you are.

Well, I suppose there's only one thing left to do - partake in a bit of "the hair of the dog what bit you."

Off I go, then, for a lunch of left over turkey and sweet potato mushroom stuffing. I'll pass on the gravy (there's really only enough for Ms. Conroy) and have a small slice of pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

And then, it's off to the malls. You know. Just to walk this off.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tryptophan stupor in five. . . . . four. . . . .three . . . . . . .

I'm not yet comatose, but I'm getting there. I'll say this much: No one will have to rock me to sleep tonight.

It's been a wonderful day with the family, giving thanks for life and love. The food was wonderful but being with family is the BEST.

And, as angry as I am with the gutless "leadership" of Rowan and the way in which he framed the vote as an issue of "loyalty" at General Synod to send the Anglican Covenant onto the dioceses where it will need to garner 51% - or 44 diocese - for approval, I have not lost my sense of humor.

This little clip is wickedly funny.

One of my friends suggested - with tongue firmly implanted in her cheek - that perhaps The Episcopal Church ought to set up an Ordinariate for our friends in the Church of England. You know. To provide a little sanctuary of pastoral care.

Oh, and then there's this which I nicked from a friend on Facebook.

It's not the way we seat people at our dinner table, but it does strike a familiar note in a cord deep in my memory.

I'm thinking there are lots of people who can "relate".

Laughter is not only the best medicine, I'm finding it actually helps one's digestive process.

So, before you head off to your own tryptophan induced stupor, click on the above video and laugh a bit.

Come to think of it, let's covenant to laugh at The Covenant. I've come to know that laughing at Evil is the greatest statement of faith. You couldn't laugh unless you really believed in God.

So, here's thanks and praise to our Most Abundant God.

And, to laughter, which I'm convinced is the sound at the center of the universe.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Thanksgiving: Sarah Josepha Hale

"Behind every successful man is a good woman."

We've heard that before. It's a backhanded compliment of sorts.

I'm convinced that behind every great idea is a persistent woman.

Sarah Josepha Hale is case in point. Hers is an especially important story to remember as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow.

Hale was born on a farm in Newport, New Hampshire, the daughter of Captain Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesay Buell on October 24, 1788.

She earned a college degree without going to college, having been taught at home by her mother and brother Horatio, who attended Dartmouth College and came home at night to teach her what he learned.

She became a school teacher in a day when women were not allowed to be teachers. She met her future husband, David Hale, a lawyer, in her father's tavern, "The Rising Sun" in Newport where they later married in 1811. She was 18 years old. Together they had five children.

David died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in 1822. In perpetual mourning, Sarah Josepha Hale wore black for the rest of her life.

As a widow, she returned to teaching school to support her five children. Indeed, she also started a private school for children. So committed was she to higher education for women, she campaigned successfully for women to become doctors as well as having had a part in founding of Vassar College for women.

She also founded the Seamen's AID Society, which assisted with food, clothing, housing, child care and job skills those destitute women and children of Boston sailors who died at sea.

In 1823, with the monetary support of her late husband's Freemason lodge, she published a collection of her poems entitled "The Genius of Oblivion".

Not long after that, she published her first novel "Northwood: Life North and South" and in London under the title, "A New England Tale", which made her one of the first American women novelists and one of the first of either gender to write a book about slavery.

The premise of her book is that, while slavery hurts and dehumanizes slaves absolutely, it also dehumanizes the masters and retards the psychological, moral and technological progress of their world.

However, a woman of her time, her 'solution' to the problem of slavery was to support the re-Africanization of slaves in the colony of Liberia - a notion which echoed Thomas Jefferson's apprehension regarding the difficulty the races would encounter in living together with the specter of slavery between them.

Her book was widely read and caught the attention of Reverend John Blake, who asked her to move to Boston to become the editor of his journal "Ladies' Magazine" - the first woman to do so. Hale hoped the magazine would help in educating women, as she wrote, "not that they may usurp the situation, or encroach on the prerogatives of man; but that each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere".

She was, after all, a woman of her time. She served as editor from 1828-1836. And, it was New England, after all.

In 1837, Hale became editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a position she held for forty years. The journal - and Hale as its editor - had an influence unimaginable for any single publication today. The magazine is credited with an ability to influence fashions not only for women's clothes, but also in domestic architecture. Godey's published house plans that were copied by home builders nationwide.

Hale wrote many novels and poems, publishing nearly fifty volumes of work by the end of her life. One of the collections was "Poems for Our Children" which included her poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," published in 1830.

In 1887, the year Hale retired at the age of 89, Thomas Edison spoke the opening lines of "Mary's Lamb" the first ever recorded on his newly invented phonograph

So, hearing of all the many accomplishments of this amazing woman, you won't be surprised to know that Sarah Josepha Hale is the woman behind the Thanksgiving Holiday we're about to celebrate.

In Hale's lifetime, Thanksgiving had only been celebrated in her native New England. Prior to the addition of Thanksgiving, the only national holidays celebrated in the United States were Washington's Birthday and Independence Day.

The holiday had begun with a 1777 Presidential proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving by George Washington to celebrate the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

It was issued again in 1795 and the practice was continued by John Adams but Thomas Jefferson declined the national observation on the basis that it conflicted with the principal of the separation of church and state.

But Hale persisted. She wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States -- Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln, also using her position as a prestigious editor to write editorials in her magazine as well as the newspapers of her time.

It was Lincoln who relented. The new national holiday was considered a unifying day after the stress of the American Civil War. The day was not to commemorate the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, but to call the nation to a day of prayer in Thanksgiving for this "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all."

Lincoln's Presidential Proclamation, issued in 1863, said, in part:
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

. . . . .No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."
I don't need to subscribe to Lincoln's image of 'our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens' in order to embrace his theology of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day is not about Pilgrims and Indians (First People, Native Americans). It's about 'gathering together to ask the Lord's blessings'. It's a good time to remember and give thanks for all that we have been given, and to return the first fruits of our harvest of plenty to the one who gave them to us in the first place.

And, while we are 'offering humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience', let us also remember all the victims - the 'collateral damage' - of war.

Let us pray for the healing of the wounds of the nation and "to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union".

Let us strive to share from the abundance of God's bounty with those who have none.

There is no reason - no, not one - for anyone in this nation, indeed, in this world, to go hungry tomorrow. Or today. Or any day.

When we gather 'round the Thanksgiving Dinner table tomorrow, let us also remember and give thanks for the life of Sarah Josepha Hale who gave of her own life so abundantly for the good and welfare of so many.

Let us be thankful that her persistence brought us to our knees as a nation in thankful prayer for God's mercy and abundance.

I can't think of a time in our common lives when we more sorely need persistent women like Sarah Josepha Hale.

Or, to be on our knees in prayer.

CofE General Synod Sends Covenant to Dioceses for debate

No Anglican Covenant Coalition
Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity




LONDON – Responding to the voting on the proposed Anglican Covenant by the Church of England General Synod, No Anglican Covenant Coalition Moderator, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows made the following statement:

“The No Anglican Covenant Coalition is disappointed that the Church of England has voted to continue consideration of the Anglican Covenant. The debate made it clear that many members believe the Covenant will undermine the traditional Anglican comprehensiveness. We have lost this round. We will continue to oppose the Covenant in the Diocesan Synods and work to defeat it when it returns to the General Synod.”

“We note that the GAFCON Primates have said 'the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.' A two-tier communion appears to be unavoidable.'”

Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows (England) +44 1844 239268
Dr. Lionel Deimel (USA) +1-412-512-9087
Revd. Malcolm French (Canada) +1-306-550-2277
Revd. Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384
Revd. Hugh Magee +44 1334 470446

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Preparation is half the fun

Well, I've been keeping one eye on the events across The Pond as the CofE meets in General Synod, and one eye on the momentum gathering for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, while the rest of my body is in the kitchen, baking pies and breads and organizing the kitchen for the rest of the preparation for Thanksgiving.

It can be hazardous - especially around sharp objects and open flames.

It's a lot of work but you know, I wouldn't have it any other way. Part of the joy of family holidays is all the preparation: the menu planning; the marketing; the baking and cooking; getting the dinner linens out; washed and ironed. Even vacuuming and dusting the house feels less of a burden.

And, I LOVE the way the house smells. Cinnamon. Ginger. Nutmeg. Cloves.

It smells like Love. You know?

Every year, I delight in making the "old family favorites" and then finding something new that may become a favorite of my family. Two years ago, I found the recipe for Vegetarian Sweet Potato Stuffing from Charlie Trotter's Restaurant in Chicago. It's now a staple on our table - and not just for our vegetarian daughter.

I think I've found this year's entry. It's Caramel Croissant Pudding.

I made a batch of it earlier today. Can I just say, "OMG"? I almost ate the whole thing at one go, even before it properly cooled. It's going to be amazing, served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - because, well, it's a holiday.

I know, I know. There were no croissants at the first Thanksgiving. But, I'm sure there was a kind of bread pudding. And, if there were croissants, the 'bread' would have been croissants. Trust me on this.

Okay, okay. So you want the recipe, right? You got it. Here it is:

The recipe says "serves two" but don't count on that.
Caramel Croissant Pudding

2 stale croissants
1/2 cup sugar
2 T water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 T bourbon (or, some vanilla extract)
2 large eggs, beaten.
1. Heat the oven to 350.

2. Tear croissants into pieces and place them into a small gratin dish that holds about two cups

3. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and swirl around to help dissolve the sugar before placing the saucepan on a burner over medium to high heat.

4. Caramelize the mixture by letting it boil for 3 - 5 minutes or until it turns a deep amber color. (If you haven't caramelized sugar before, know that it will foam and then become hard and lumpy. Don't panic. It will then melt and, as you break up the clumps, begin to liquefy before it begins to turn brown.)

5. Reduce the heat to low, add the cream and, while whisking, add the milk and bourbon. Any solid toffee that forms in the pan will dissolve easily if you keep whisking over low heat. Take the pan off the heat and, still whisking, add the beaten eggs until it forms a custard. (It will be a bit thin, which is okay.)

6. Pour the custard over the croissants, and - if the croissants are extremely stale (never in my house) - let the pudding stand for 10 minutes to steep.

7. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve.

Note: I think I might experiment by adding some walnuts next time. I can also report that it tastes yummy cold and served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Yes, I bake like this every year. Just ask my family. This year is a bit different, however. This year I'm on Sabbatical, so there's no trying to write a sermon and dashing out to make pastoral calls, doing emergency crisis intervention with a family in need who "just happens to drop by the office" at 3 PM Thanksgiving Eve - all the while trying to keep the office and staff running while attempting to get everything done.

This year, the focus is on the family, to coin a phrase. The stress level is much, much lower, which simply intensifies the joy of preparation.

I am so deeply grateful for this time, for my friends and family, for my health, for our wonderful, wee cozy cottage on the Bay, and for furry, four-legged critters who love unconditionally.

Oops! It's back to the market for me. I make lists and lists of things, but there always seems to be one or two more things I've forgotten - or thought I had enough of on the pantry shelf.

Off I go, then.

It's all good. It's all fun. I can't wait for Thursday!

No Anglican Covenant Gathers Momentum

No Anglican Covenant Coalition
Anglicans for Comprehensive Unity



LONDON – As the Church of England General Synod prepares to debate the proposed Anglican Covenant, a group of unlikely campaigners have worked hard to ensure that there is a serious debate about the potential risks involved.

Started just three weeks ago after online conversations among a small number of international Anglican bloggers, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has built on the work of two English groups, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, to set the shape of the debate.

“A month ago, General Synod and the entire Communion were sleepwalking into approving the Covenant without a proper discussion of the issue,” according to Coalition Moderator, the Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows. “In some places, the Covenant was being presented as a means to punish North American Anglicans.

In Britain, the United States and Canada, it was being spun as nothing more than a dispute resolution mechanism. I’ve spoken to many Synod members who were only dimly aware of the Anglican Covenant, including one who thought we were referring to the Covenant with the Methodists.”

The week preceding the General Synod debate has seen a flood of articles criticizing the Covenant, including:
an article by Canadian canon law expert, the Revd Canon Alan Perry, challenging the assertion that the Covenant would have no impact on the constitution and canons of member churches of the Communion;

an article by the former Chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Hon. Ronald Stevenson QC, a former judge of the Court of Queen's Bench, critical of the lack of clarity regarding the disciplinary procedures in the Covenant; and

an article by the Bishop of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, the Rt. Revd. Pierre Whalon, challenging the idea of enhancing communion by excluding those who disagree with the majority.
"We are all strongly committed to the Anglican Communion, but we are not convinced that this proposed Covenant will do anything to keep the Communion together," according to the Revd. Malcolm French, the Coalition's Canadian Convener. "Covenant supporters have hurt their case by being dismissive of critics while failing to make a compelling case for this proposed Anglican Covenant. And no one has been prepared to explain he initial and ongoing costs to implement the Covenant."

Within the last three weeks momentum has gathered to encourage the Church of England to wake up. The first test will come tomorrow, when General Synod debates the Covenant and votes on a motion for initial approval, the first step towards final approval at a later session. Although significant decisions such as women in the episcopate normally require a two-thirds majority, questions should be asked about why the English House of Bishops has proposed only a simple majority for the Covenant.

The articles referred to, and several others, can be found at:

Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows (England) +44 1844 239268
Dr. Lionel Deimel (USA) +1-412-512-9087
Revd. Malcolm French (Canada) +1-306-550-2277
Revd. Lawrence Kimberley (New Zealand) +64 3 981 7384
Revd. Hugh Magee +44 1334 470446

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

The Church of England General Synod is poised to vote on the so-called Anglican Covenant. Word on the street is that the vote to "receive" The Covenant will be taken some time on Wednesday. Once it is "received" then the discussion will begin and the vote to accept or decline will follow.

Supporters dismiss the opponents as not having read the document.

Trouble is, we HAVE read it.

This little piece is not only proof positive of that fact, it's thoroughly brilliant.

To find out more about The Anglican Covenant, check out the "No Anglican Covenant" Website for lots of resources and information.

If you are on Facebook, search for "No Anglican Covenant".

Want to be part of the conversation? Check out the "Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Blog".

Stay tuned. I'll try to keep you updated as the proceedings unfold. Meanwhile, enjoy this little piece. It's a lovely antidote to the heavy-handed arrogance we've been hearing in the press.

My favorite reason to vote against the Covenant is this:
"Let me put it simply: We can’t even agree on what the Covenant means; so why should we imagine the Covenant will help us come to agreement on anything else?"
-- Tobias Haller
Somebody give this man an "Amen"!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Remembering RFK

I remember the day Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot. I can tell you where I was and what I was doing.

My memories are also vivid on the day his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed. The same is true for the day Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot.

There are certain events which burn themselves into your mind.

I remember this picture. The horror of his limp body, his right hand closed in a fist, as if he were holding on for dear life. The stunned look on that bus boy's face that mirrored my own and those around me.  He was holding RFK's left hand for all the rest of us.

I remember waking up to the news. It was June 5, 1968. Kennedy had been shot just after midnight, right after learning that he had won the California primary election in his bid for President of the United States.

He had been walking through the pantry on his way back to his hotel room at the LA Ambassador Hotel.  Two young men - both immigrants - would cross his path.  Kennedy's life would be ended but two lives would be forever changed and transformed by what was about to transpire.

The first was Sirhan Sirhan, a  Palestinian immigrant.  Reportedly, he was angry about the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Kennedy's support for Israel and decided to assassinate the man who might be President.

Sirhan lived in Pasadena, and a search of his apartment led to the discovery of several documents, written the month before, which said "RFK must be assassinated". He later claimed he was drunk and didn't remember anything.

His lawyers entered a not-guilty plea by reason of "diminished mental capacity". He was found guilty of first degree murder, sentenced to death, and was sent to San Quentin State Prison. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court invalidated all pending death sentences imposed in the state prior to that year.

He was then transferred to California State Prison in Corcoran, near Fresno. After 9/11, following allegations that Sirhan Sirhan was somehow forewarned about the attack - despite the fact that he and his brother were devout Eastern Orthodox Christians - he was transferred to a harsher lock down facility and kept in solitary confinement for over a year.

In March 2006, Sirhan was denied parole for the 13th time.Sirhan is "very hostile. He hates Americans. ... He continues to pose a risk to public safety," said state Board of Parole Hearings spokesman Tip Kindel at the time. According to The Associated Press, Sirhan did not attend the hearing at Corcoran State Prison or appoint a lawyer to represent him. He comes up again for parole in 2011.

Juan Romero was the skinny 17 year old busboy who knelt at RFK's side after he was shot. That's him in the photo above. He and his family had moved to California from Mexico when he was 10 years old.

The story goes that when Kennedy called for room service a few nights before the California primary, Romero paid off another busboy for the privilege of delivering his food. Even though he was just 17, Romero knew that RFK was a man of empathy who had walked with Cesar Chavez, and he felt more accepted as an immigrant — more American — just knowing that Kennedy might become president.

When Kennedy shook Romero's hand, in the presidential suite, Juan was transformed. In that firm grip, he felt appreciated, he felt whole, he felt like a man. Two nights later, when Kennedy won the primary, Juan raced to the Ambassador pantry and shook RFK's hand again as the candidate went to deliver his victory speech.

After the speech, Romero pressed through the crowd again, his pride swelling. Once more, he shook Kennedy's hand. And then came the gunshot. Four and a half years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby lay dying from an assassin's bullet.

He was shot while holding Romero's hand.

On November 21, what would have been RFK's 85th birthday, Romero, now age 60, made a pilgrimage to Arlington Cemetery to visit the graveside of the man who was shot while he held his hand.

He has been severely traumatized by the event and his friends encouraged him to make the visit for his own healing. Romero reportedly holds himself at least partly responsible for Kennedy's death, and in his private moment at Kennedy's graveside, he wanted to ask forgiveness. If he hadn't been so intent on shaking Kennedy's hand, he might have seen and stopped the assassin. He would have taken the bullet himself, if Kennedy could have been spared.

His friends have tried to convince him that he had done nothing wrong. He didn't run, he didn't take cover. He tried to help, thinking perhaps that Kennedy had merely been pushed out of harm's way and hit his head on the concrete. When the young busboy realized the situation was grave, he took his own rosary beads out of his shirt pocket, twisted them around Kennedy's hand and prayed for him.

I hope he found a bit of solace and peace during his visit. I hope a bit of the burden he feels was lifted. I hope he was comforted by his faith and in the achievement of his goal to "make sure Mr. Kennedy knows he is remembered."

Two immigrants to this country. Two of the men from two very different immigrant status whom RFK dedicated his life to helping.  Two men with two very different reactions to the work of RFK. Two men living two very different lives after that tragic event over 40 years ago.

As I've been baking and getting ready for the holiday on Thursday, I've found myself giving thanks for the life of John and Martin and Bobby. So much of what they taught and believed has shaped so much of my life. So much of what my future still holds before me.

I've also found myself praying for Romero and Sirhan and all he immigrants who come to this country - on their own or with their families - in search of hope. Of freedom. Of opportunity.

Some find it. Others don't. Some find peace. Others remain angry.

None of that changes what we must do - what all Americans must do - what all Christians are bound to do - in welcoming the stranger.

That does not mean that we don't hold people accountable to the law. It also doesn't mean that we make immigration to this country next to impossible, for in doing so, we kill the very dream that is at the core of this nation, and stifle the flames of hope that brought many of the rest of our ancestors here.

There are two quotes on RFK's graveside that continue to inspire. They are from two different speeches he gave while he was Senator from New Yor.
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance." South Africa, 1966

"Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?'
I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'"
Oh, that we might have some of that same "diverse acts of courage and belief" that might set forth tiny ripples of hope that cross each other and lead us to ask 'Why not?', that we might sweep down the mightiest wall of oppression and resistance.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In paradisum

Note: Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, St. George's Chapel in Harbeson, DE will also be celebrating its anniversary in something they call "Heritage Sunday." I am delighted to have been asked to preach. The 1684 Book of Common Prayer is used and Elizabethan language spoken throughout the service. Everyone dresses up in period costume - including the clergy. I have a black cassock, white surplice, tippet, academic hood, preaching tabs, and will, of course, be wearing a Cappa Nigra and Canterbury Cap. Oh, yes. And a powdered wig. Of course. I'll update this post of my sermon with pictures when I return from the day's festivities early this evening.

They say they do this every year here. It's entirely more fun than is absolutely necessary. (Can you tell I'm already getting into character?)


"Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23: 33-43) – The Feast of Christ the King
Heritage Sunday – November 21, 2010
St. George’s Chapel – Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Good morning. First, I should like to thank your Vicar-for-the-day (Ahem, your rector any other day), on this Heritage Sunday at St. George’s. On this day, we use the 1684 Book of Common Prayer and all English is spoken in its Mother Tongue – from Elizabeth I, the Sovereign Mother of the Church of England.

I’ve been listening to Helen Mirren and Dawn French for days - and we saw the latest Harry Potter movie last night - so if I sound like a cross between Queen Elizabeth I the Vicar of Dibley and Lord Voldemort, I shall be ever so grateful for your kindness and mercy.

It’s an odd thing – no doubt a great perplexity for some – that a woman should be in this pulpit, preaching the Word of God – in any tongue – to the assembled faithful. In 1719, when this church was built, such an event would be so preposterous as to be considered heresy worthy of severe punitive measures, lest the church by schism be rent asunder.

Indeed, my thoughts this morning go back to our historic sister in Christ, one Anne Marbury Hutchinson, a Puritan with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who met a tragic, horrific, violent end and is now numbered among the saints and resting deservedly and eternally in the arms of Jesus. One of her descendants, one Sam Beling, writes of her thusly:
“Anne Marbury, my 10th great grandmother, was the daughter of Reverend Francis Marbury and Bridget Dryden and was born in 1591 in Alford, Lincolnshire, England. She married William Hutchinson, a merchant, 9 Aug 1612 in London. She and her husband came to America in 1634 with Reverend John Lothrop's group on the ship "Griffin" and settled in Boston.

No stranger to religion, Anne grew up during the persecution of the Catholics and Separatists under Elizabeth and James I. Her father, Rev. Francis Marbury, had been imprisoned twice for preaching against the incompetence of English ministers, though he later became the rector of St. Martin's Vintry, London, rector of St. Pancras, Soper Lane, and finally rector of St. Margaret's, New Fish Street. He was holding two of these offices simultaneously when he died in 1611.

Anne began her involvement with religion quite innocently, using her intelligence to interpret the only book available to her - the Bible. She had followed her beloved minister, Reverend John Cotton, whose removal to New England a year earlier, had been, she said, "a great trouble to me...I could not be at rest but I must come hither."

The religious climate in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was oppressive. As the colony took hold, ministers emphasized everyone's pious duty to pray, fast and discipline oneself. Noting that the male members of Boston's church met regularly after sermons to discuss the Bible, she started to hold similar meetings for women in her own home. At first the women discussed the previous Sunday's sermons, but before long Anne began telling them of her own beliefs which differed from those of the Boston ministers. She attracted hundreds of women - aided by her reputation as a skilled midwife - and men, too, soon joined her discussion group.

Brilliant, articulate and learned in the Bible and theology, she denied that conformity with the religious laws were a sign of godliness and insisted that true godliness came from inner experience of the Holy Spirit.”
Ann taught (because she wasn’t allowed to preach), that salvation came by grace, not works. Good Pauline theology, that. However, it was anathema to the Puritans.

Anne further exacerbated the local elders by claiming that only two Boston ministers were "elect" or saved, John Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright.

Well, there it is, then! A religious upstart, just like her father before her! So you see, ‘tis a true saying and worthy of all to be received: “The apple doth not falleth far from the tree.”

Or, in the sacred words of Holy Scripture, as found in the Book of Sirach, chapter 26, beginning at the 10th verse: “If thy daughter be shameless, keep her in straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.” (RSV translation: “Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter or else, when she finds her liberty, she will use it.”).

Anne did just that. And thus began her troubles. As her reputation grew, the gatherings attracted men, too, including the governor, Henry Vane.

In addition to stepping outside the bounds of conventional women's behavior, her denunciation of the colony's ministers and her belief that "he who has God's grace in his heart cannot go astray" set her at odds with the religious establishment. They moved to prosecute the woman.

Massachusetts's new governor, John Winthrop, criticized for having "a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man." Despite her vigorous defense of her beliefs, she was excommunicated and banished in 1638.

Then Reverend Wilson, whom she had once tried to evict from the Boston church, delivered her excommunication. "I doe cast you out and in the name of Christ I doe deliver you up to Satan, that you may learne no more to blaspheme, to seduce, and to lye."

"The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth," she retored. "Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ." She moved with her husband, all sixteen of her children and 60 of her followers to Rhode Island, where they purchased land from the Narragansett Tribe and founded the area now known as Portsmouth.

She is considered one of the founders of that colony, the first to establish complete separation of church and state and freedom of religion in what would become the United States.

After her husband's death in 1642, Anne Hutchinson moved to Long Island, in New York in what is now known as Pelham Bay. Tragically, she and all but her five eldest children were killed the next year in an Indian raid. If you’ve been following her story carefully, you will note that her death came only nine years after she first landed in America. She was 52 years old.

Mindful as I am of the history of women in the church, it is, then, that I proceed with great caution to this morning’s gospel which proclaims Jesus as King of King and Lord of Lords – a radical claim for the first century as well as our Mother Country of England – or anywhere else in the world that has a monarchy, for that matter.

The Episcopal Church would not come into being until 1789 – a full seventy years after the establishment of this chapel in the “first state” of Delaware – so proclaiming an earthly monarch would not cause much difficulty by observing this day as the Feast of Christ the King.

Still, it is a fearful thing to my trembling heart to note that Jesus himself spoke from the cross of salvation by grace.

I trust your vicar will not have me expelled from this pulpit and this community for what I am about to preach – although, as this gospel clearly indicates, one can never be too certain of the consequences of preaching the Good News – no matter the century or setting – or, one’s gender.

We meet our Lord this morning at the place called ‘The Skull’, where he had been crucified with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Many in the crowd mocked him, including the religious leaders of his day, as well as the soldiers who stood guard.

Here, you will be pleased for me to quote scripture:
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.’ But the other answering rebuked him, saying, ‘Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds : but this man hath done nothing amiss.’ And he said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. ‘And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’”
Well, there it is, then, isn’t it? Straight away and full stop, from the lips of our Sovereign Lord. Even criminals shalt be allowed entrance into Paradise. Not by things which they hath wrought – or, not. Yeah, verily I say unto thee, thou cans’t earn one’s way into heaven. It is a gift, this grace of God, given freely and clearly to all – whether deserved or not – judged as we might be by earthly standards. For it is God alone who judges and decides.

As the Outline of the Faith,which would eventually be articulated, centuries later the 1979 Book of Common Prayer states, echoing St. Paul, “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I know it may be considered quite impertinent of me, a mere woman, to say, but I would suggest that nothing – not even the institutional church, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. No man. No woman. No government. No church tribunal. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

And that’s the greatest heresy, you know, of which I speak with boldness and certainty of faith. That we shall all one day, in that great by and by, be welcomed into heaven by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I think the greatest cosmic joke that awaits us, one and all, is that when we arrive at the gates of heaven and peer in, we shall all be thoroughly scandalized by who is there. Yes, even drunken great, great Uncle Josiah and that scoundrel great Aunt Amelia. Even some here present this very day whom you dislike and distrust. Yes, it’s true! All of us – each and every one – shall one day be in Paradise with Jesus – who loves us whether or not we like each other.

Indeed, I believe that today, yes, this very day, we are in a paradise with Jesus. The greatest sin is that we don’t believe that and behave accordingly. Just think of it, dear friends.

If we truly believed that this earth, this marvelous gift of God’s creation, were our paradise here on earth, just think of how differently we would treat Mother Earth. Think of the pollution we would not havoc on this planet. The toxins we would not unleash. The good food and water we would have for everyone in abundance.

Think of how we might treat each other differently, if we knew that we would, one day, be spending eternity with one another. Now, there is a thought that would sober even the most severely anesthetized dolt.

Does not our Lord say, “Today, shalt thou be with me in Paradise”? How would life be different if we believed that today was that day?

"Courageous Exponent of Civil Liberty and Religious Toleration" says the inscription at the bottom of a statue raised in her honor in my hometown of Boston.

But the most fitting tribute to Anne Hutchinson's influence – proof that her ideals ultimately prevailed over her opponents' – is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Yes, yes. I know. There is a certain lady from this great state who recently questioned that First Amendment. Never mind. Even lack of intelligence and education will not separate us from the love of God. Jesus loves her, too. And yes, she too will one day be in Paradise.

I know these are scandalous things to proclaim. Heresy! Some will shout. Making such proclamations may well result in my being pilloried in the churchyard latter this afternoon by your Vicar. I may well be run out of this fair state and sent packing back to New Jersey, from whence I most recently hailed or to my home state of Massachusetts.

Indeed, some may try to burn me at the stake for such heresy. Such as been the lot of women far greater than I.

As Anne would say, “"Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ."

Nevertheless, I speak of my faith with "a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man." I am assured, however, that, when I meet Jesus, my Sovereign and my Lord, at the gates of Heaven, I shall hear Jesus say unto even one such as I, as he once saith unto Ann Maubry Huntchinson, and will say likewise to every one of you – even those who persecute me, - "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

"S/he who has God's grace in his or her heart cannot go astray."

This is my belief, founded on the scriptures. I have no other.

Here I stand. I can do no other.