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

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grandmother God

Everything I ever needed to know about God, I learned from my Grandmother.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I had a very special relationship with my Grandmother. I cherish the memories of our early mornings together in her kitchen, followed by the mile-or-so walk to daily mass and back home again.

I cherish the memories of our conversations, going to and from church or while I helped her cook in the kitchen, when she would tell me the "old, old stories of Jesus and His love."

Often, in my early morning meditation time, a memory of my Grandmother will come to me and hover over my heart, lingering there to stir a deep sense of gratitude for all she taught me and all  the things I learned from her.

It was so this morning. 

So, a few memories and stories and lessons learned.

My Grandmother was far from being financially successful, but her greatest riches were her beauty, her dignity and her wisdom.

I believe that when I see God I will find a beauty that surpasses my imagination - a beauty I only catch a glimpse of, from time to time, when the beauty of a sunset or sunrise takes my breath away. God is even more beautiful than that, I believe.

I imagine God as One who possesses the a countenance of dignity which our Baptismal vows call us to impart to "every human being".

I imagine that God's wisdom surpasses human knowledge - just as my Grandmother's wisdom, born of the experiences of joy and pain - often left me scratching my head in awe and wonder. And to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest".

My Grandmother was a swift to give you a hug for absolutely no reason as she was to show you the back of your hand if you misbehaved. She was even faster to forgive.

I have felt the sting of God's rebuke when my own blindness or stupidity, my stubbornness or willfulness, have led me to an act that caused myself or someone else harm.

More often, I have felt the warmth and comfort of God's embrace when I've been sad or desolate because of something I did - or something hurtful was done to me. I continue to be amazed by God's power to forgive, which inspires me to go and do likewise.

The unconditional love of God in God's gift of free will does not mean "free reign". There are consequences for our choices and actions. God loves us even when we fall short and miss the mark. God loves us even more when we seek forgiveness and forgives us even before we ask for or imagine God's forgiveness. 

My Grandmother's laughter rippled through and shook her entire body - her eyes danced, her shoulders shook, her belly jiggled, her toes did a little tap, tap, tap on the floor.

I feel God's laughter in the wind that blows the trees, ruffles the flowers and stirs the tall blades of grass. I see God's laughter when the sun dances off the hard pavement, or the top of the water, or peeks through the wings of a bird in flight, blinding me with its sudden and unexpected joy and delight.

When my Grandmother tried to convince you of something, she would use every trick and ploy she knew to persuade your opinion. She never relented. Never stopped pursuing you.

God has relentlessly pursued me over these years of my life, presenting me with situations again and again and again, so that I might learn the lessons I need to know. God always, always calls me to my better self.

My Grandmother was always cooking something on the stove or baking something in the oven. One of my favorite images of my Grandmother is standing at the stove in her apron, stirring a pot here, tasting something in another pot there - and offering the end of a wooden spoon for you to taste - peeking into the oven to check on bread or cake or cookies.

God is constantly creating and recreating, continually revealing new delights about God's self or God's creation, beckoning us to come, taste and see the goodness of God.

There was no place you could hide from my Grandmother. She knew all of our hiding places - under the bed, behind the old, round washing machine near the sink, in the hall closet, out behind the woodshed in the yard, or under the thick trellis of the grape vineyard.

She used to say, "I have eyes in the back of my head." I believed her. Indeed, I remember, as a small child, watching her comb her long hair before braiding it and wondering how she kept the teeth of the comb or the bristles of the brush from hurting the eyes in the back of her head. I used to think she put the bun of the braid on the back of her head over her eyes to protect them.

Try as I might, I have never been able to hide from God. I have hidden behind excuses, behind my fear or anger, behind my pride and indignation, behind my hurt or confusion. Still, God calls to me. Sees me. Finds me.

I once asked my Grandmother about saints and how they were different from ghosts. One of the things I remember her saying is that babies, when they are in their mother's womb, can hear everything that is going on in the world. They just can't see through the thick layers of human skin and muscle, fluid and blood, so they don't know.

When newborn babies moved their mouths in their sleep, my Grandmother would say, "They are getting last minute instructions from the angels."

"We are in this world," she would say, "which is our womb. We can hear things and imagine, but we can not know until after we are 'birthed into death' and leave this womb to return to God in heaven."

I imagine Jesus, as Julian of Norwich said, as our Earthly Mother, in whom we are reborn and who will deliver us, at the end, to return to God, our Womb in Heaven.

My Grandmother's house was always open. She only locked the door at night, saying that a lock only kept 'an honest man honest'. You could make yourself comfortable anywhere in my Grandmother's house - even in her bedroom.

However, you could never EVER go into her purse. To this day, I never knew what she kept in there, save for what she would occasionally bring out, like her hand-laced handkerchief or her little tin container of snuff.

There are things about God I will never know, never understand, never be able to explore. There are things about God that are simply beyond my capacity to know or understand.

Yes, I know God through the stories of Jesus, but I also know God because of my Grandmother and her love of Jesus.  In attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus, she revealed something of Him in her life, which was also a window into something about God.

I suppose this was her greatest gift to me - an awareness that, as a Christian, I am not only a representative of Jesus, but I also, by the witness of my life, reveal something of the image of God.

It is said that St. Francis taught his brothers, "Your life may be the only Gospel anyone ever gets to read." That's a profound truth for which I gain deeper appreciation every day.

I think St. Francis and my Grandmother shared an ancient truth from a lived wisdom.

There is also a story about the ancient Rabbis who taught that, before every human being go a hundred thousand angels, all crying out, "Behold! Make way! Make way for the image of God!"

Not because of anything I've read, or anything I've learned in school or at church, but because of my Grandmother, I believe this to be so.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sexuality and Spirituality

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teresa
We have been talking about Sexuality and Spirituality in Pui Lan's class.

The readings have been fascinating: St. Augustine's "Confessions" on his adolescence. St. John of the Cross, "The Spiritual Canticles: Songs between the Soul and the Bridegroom". James B. Nelsons, "Sexuality and Spirituality: Agenda for a Continuing Revolution" in Body Theology.

That gave us something of a foundation for discussion and discovery.

Then, we moved to bell hooks, "Moved by Passion: Eros and  Responsibilities"in Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery. Sean Gill's "From Transgression to Transformation: The Creative Potential of Gay Spiritualities for the New Millennium" in Spirituality and Society in the New Millennium.  And, finally, Marvin Ellison's, "Security and Sanctity of Every Body: Men Confronting Men's Violence" in Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality.

I've come away from these readings with a few observations.

I'm impressed with and deeply grateful for, once again, Nelson's groundbreaking work on the issue of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular.

As a church, our theology of sexuality has been shaped and formed by Augustinian dualistic 'confessions' of "hellish pleasures," running wild "in the shadowy jungle of erotic adventures" with "muddy carnal concupiscence" perched on "precipitous rocks of desire" which threaten to submerge him in "a whirlpool of vice."

Sigh. Poor baby.

Nelson's words about the church's quandary over sexuality are still right on target:
"The combination of our continuing immersion in the sexual dualisms, a middle-class therapeutic mentality (grounded in a mode of pathology), our fear of division, our reactive (vs. proactive) tendencies, and the very complexity of sexuality itself all add up to a picture of the church as "an uncertain trumpet".
I find his call to a more incarnational theology to resonate deeply with my own Christian perspective on life and God and the church. Nelson welcomes the challenge of the "ferment" of the discussion on human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, saying,
"A viable sexual theology for our time will affirm that human sexuality is always much more than genital expression. Sexuality expresses the mystery of our creation as those who need to reach out for the physical and spiritual embrace of others. It expresses God intention that we find our authentic humanness not in isolation but in relationship. It is we who are as bodyselves experiencing the emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual need for intimate communion with others, with the natural world, with God."
The news about this is that it is hardly news. St. John of the Cross, that great celibate mystic, in "Songs Between the Soul and the Bridegroom" uses the rhetoric of erotic love when speaking of God.

The fascinating thing about the poem is the freedom of gender, even gender-bending, of the traditional rhetoric. St. John takes great liberty in adopting the gender of the woman who desires to be penetrated by God's love.
Shown deeper than before
in cellars of my love I drank; from there
went wandering on the moor;
knew nothing, felt no care;
the sheep I tended once are who knows where?

There he made gently free;
had honey of revelation to confide.
There I gave all of me;
hid nothing, had no pride;
there I promised to become his bride.

Forever at his door
I gave my heart and soul. My fortune too.
I have no flock anymore,
no other world in view.
My occupation: love. It's all I do.

The modern reader may view this as homoerotic, but St. John is speaking in the person of the soul, and the soul, in Spanish, is feminine.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Teresa
I'm quite certain most modern, indeed, even postmodern churches, would find this poem a scandal. Then again, most of those who sit in the pews have most likely not read - much less heard of and would be scandalized if they knew of - the Song of Songs in Holy Scripture.

Then, of course, there is Bernini's sculpture of "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa". You can see a closeup of the ecstasy on her face in the picture at the top of this post.

Here is her description of the intensely spiritual, erotic event which Bernini capture in his sculpture.
Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form.... He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire.... In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share.
I'm quite certain that this would be considered an affront to many modern or post-modern Christians, and yet St. Teresa is describing a deeply spiritual, deeply intimate event which is bound up with her sense of physical sexuality.

She's no different from John Donne, an Anglican priest who is considered one of the great metaphysical poets. He went to prison because he married his boss's daughter who was a minor. He drifted around afterward release from prison and supported writing through patronage. He wrote:
To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal'd may look ;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.
Our faith is an incarnational faith. Our God, as made manifest in Christ Jesus, is an incarnational God. It is endlessly fascinating to me that we are so uncomfortable in our own bodies - with what they can and can not do - and yet we are at once, fascinated and horrified by our own incarnation.

The result of that can lead to violence - which we do to ourselves as well as others. It was difficult to read bell hooks again, but heartening to see the fruits of her labor, as well as other Christian feminists like Carter Heyward and Sallie McFague whose writings have obviously shaped and formed the thinking of Marvin Ellis and Sean Gill, who call themselves and other men to re-examine their maleness beyond cultural machismo and violence.

It's the notion of the incarnation - it's profound mystery and foundational understanding - that draws me back, again and again, to the idea of God's love being incarnate in the gift of our sexuality.

"Who do you say that I am?" asked Jesus. The response to that question has varied from age to age, race to race, and culture to culture, giving rise to a rich variety of Christologies.

If we can understand that an individual person's experience of Jesus will vary from person to person, depending on cultural, ethnic, racial and gender, which will find its expression in a plethora of religions and liturgies, then it is really not a impossible connection to make with the spectrum of expressions of God's love in our intimate relationships with others.

Truth be told, I don't think Christians are as afraid of sex and sexuality as we seem to be of intimacy. It may be only my perspective, but I think this is especially true in The Episcopal Church.

We squabble about sex and homosexuality, I think, so we don't have to talk about intimacy - much less be in intimate relationships.

If we talk about intimacy, we'd have to talk about relationships. And, that would make us vulnerable. And, that would mean that we are weak. And, that's simply unacceptable to many Episcopalians who are, not only in name but in their heart of hearts, Anglicans.

Rule Britannia! You can't do that while you're being vulnerable.

I think I've written about this before on this blog, but I am remembering a segment from the book, "Take A Bishop Like Me," written by Bishop Paul Moore, former bishop of New York and now numbered among the saints in Light.

He wrote the book shortly after ordaining Ellen Barrett as the first woman to be priested from the Diocese of NY. She, oh, by the way, also happened to be a lesbian. Her ordination caused a HUGE stir in the church - front page news on the New York Times on the morning of her ordination.

In musing about that whole brouhaha, Bishop Moore said something like, "Wherever it is in the psyche from whence spirituality arises, I am convinced ones sexuality arises from the same place."

I am similarly persuaded and convinced.

I am also convinced that continuing the sexual revolution is an urgent need for the church. I am equally convinced that this is the gift of the LGBTQ community - at the expense of our souls and psyches - to open up the discussion about sex and sexuality so that we might begin to heal the ancient rift between spirituality and sexuality.

I believe, when we do that - when we heal the deep, self-inflicted wounds to our souls and psyche - we might be made more whole - indeed, more wholesome - and return to the path that will lead us into of holiness of life.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Original Spin

If you're in Boston, you can't miss it.

Whenever I tune into the local NBC Boston affiliate to watch "Harry's Law" or "Law and Order", I am bound to see a commercial for "Catholics Come Home."

Ordinary people come on the air for about a minute looking very sincere, and talk about how their lives were empty and without meaning until they re-discovered (or discovered) the Roman Catholic Church.

People say things like, "As soon as I walk in the door, I feel peace." And, "I'm accepted for who I am." And, "I was divorced and left the church. If I didn't have God, I would be back to that lonely stage, that troubled place." And, "When you come home to the Catholic Church, you're coming home to a Catholic family where people just embrace you."

You can watch a clip of it, here:

The commercials all end the same way - by encouraging the viewer to visit the website, "Catholics Come Home."

There's an old saying in 12-Step Programs: "If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you're going to get a haircut."

After a few months of watching these commercials, I finally went over to the site. What I found was not exactly my grandfather's Roman Catholic Church - and, it was almost exactly as I had left it, and as it has been for thousands of years.

The technology and website design are pretty impressive. There's lots of videos of personal testimonies, upbeat music one can click on and listen to, and loads of easily accessible information.

On the sidebar, one can click on a few options.
"I used to be Catholic - Why should I come home?"

"I'm not Catholic - I have questions about your faith."

"I'm Catholic - I'd like to help."
Hmmm  ... Well, Father, I'd like to see what's behind Box #1, please.  So, I clicked it.

There, on the "I used to be Catholic" page, without even clicking on it, a video clip of a very handsome Mexican man who identifies himself as an actor and a model, begins to play.

He says, "I didn't know about my faith. How can you love your faith when you don't know about it?" before he gives the same spin about 'peace and happiness'.

On that page, I found a link to a sort of "Dave Letterman Top Ten" Reasons to Come Back. "

It begins with this introduction, which carries a similar, welcoming theme that is consistent throughout the web site.
No matter how long you have been away from the Catholic Church, you can always come home. You can start going to Mass again (find a parish) and become a part of a parish community that is ready to welcome you with open arms. God is inviting you to dive into your faith in a deeper way than you ever have before.
So, I started to read the "Roman Catholic Top Ten" which includes things I agree with like, "Because we want meaning in life." And, "Because we make mistakes." And, "Because we want to be healed." And, "Because we want our children to have a firm faith foundation."

And, the Number One Reason to come back to the Roman Catholic Church: "Because we hunger for the Eucharist," with the note that "The Eucharist is the number one reason that people come back to the Church."

Pay attention to this list. I'll come back to it in a moment.

I realized that I was starting to feel all gooey-warm in my heart, thinking, "Hey, maybe they have changed. Let me take a closer look."

The banner across the top of the website has a few "drop down menus" including one entitled "Answering Your Questions". The Categories include, "Church Teaching", "Marriage and Divorce", "Moral Issues", "Confession", "Death and Grieving" and "Catholic Resources".

I was curious about "Marriage and Divorce" so I clicked on that first. Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church has softened its stand on divorce - which, I'm assuming, they believe is a big reason why people stay away and don't return to church.

In "my Grandfather's RC Church," if you were divorced, you were automatically excommunicated - meaning, you could not receive communion. You could attend church, of course, but you could not come up to the altar rail. Which meant that everyone in the church KNEW that you were "not worthy" by virtue of the "scandal and sin" of your divorce, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

Which meant that you probably stayed away from church - or, like the Samaritan woman at the well, went for "living water" at a time of day in a church where no one would recognize you and when you could be assured that not many people were around to see you receive the Body and Blood of the Living Christ.

Well, the Body, anyway. We were not served wine in our church. Just the priest got the wine. No one else. My Grandmother said it was because the church couldn't afford to provide wine for "all those people".

She gave the same reason to explain why we were served those Very Thin little plastic-looking wafers they called "bread" instead of real bread. Just budgetary constraints is all. I mean, if you want to serve "all those people".

The joke when I was a kid was that it took two acts of faith to receive Communion - one, that this was the REAL Body of Christ (carnsubstantiation vs. transubstantiation) and two, that it wasn't fish food.

That seems to have changed a bit - or, maybe they're just explaining themselves better. The page begins with this statement:
"After a Catholic goes through a divorce, there is so much confusion and misinformation about practicing their faith. The truth is that your Catholic faith is the very key to your healing after a divorce and is vital to living a life filled with promise, peace, and joy."
Turns out, you now CAN receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist if you are divorced as long as you have not remarried before obtaining an annulment. The website explains, in a very matter of fact tone,
"The Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage is that all marriages are considered to be validly sacramental unless proven otherwise through the annulment process, therefore, remarriage without a decree of nullity would constitute a person having two spouses, which is immoral."
Immoral? Even though I am legally divorced?

Well, there it is, then.

Welcome home to a "life filled with promise, peace and joy"!

So much for being "Accepted for who I am." And, "When you come home to the Catholic Church, you're coming home to a Catholic family where people just embrace you."

Yup, even if you're 'immoral'. They won't feed you, but they'll embrace you. (Please note the #1 Reason people return to church.)

Looking further, beyond the slick technology, I discovered that my "Grandfather's Church" still has the same-old, same-old stuff on an all-male, celibate priesthood, with a very interesting section entitled "Why did all the Priest scandal happen?"

It ends with this positive spin:
All situations of scandal, however, do not negate or disprove the truth that Christ transmitted to the world through His Apostles (Mark 16:15). As Christ promised, in spite of the weakness and sinfulness — and sometimes the scandal — caused by priests and other Catholics, “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church. (Continue reading here for more on the priest scandals.)
From there, one can click onto an article from something called "Women for Faith and Family" entitled, "The Catholic Bishops and the Scandals: How Could They Have Done This?" by Kenneth D. Whitehead.

Whitehead is unrestrained in his scolding of the American Catholic Bishops for what he calls their "benign neglect" (Yes, you read that right: Benign. Neglect. I am NOT kidding!), ending with this quote:
Again, as we have seen in the sexual abuse cases driven primarily by a homosexual "culture" that has been allowed to infiltrate the priesthood, most bishops do not appear to recognize or admit the fundamental problems with catechetics, and avoid confronting the source of the problem. Instead, most bishops continue their established pattern of toleration and inaction -- just as, for so long, many of them continued to tolerate the sexual abuse of youngsters by priests in their jurisdiction.
Yup. It's the old "blame teh gays" argument.

"Homosexual culture"? I know lots of LGBT - and straight - people who could be described as "cultured" but I'll be darned if I know what "Homosexual culture is".

Honest to Pete!

I suppose I should not have been surprised by this. It should have been predictable, given what they have to say about homosexuality. You're gonna love this:
Some men and women who struggle with same-sex attractions wonder if there's any hope for them to be welcomed in or back to the Church. The answer to that question is an unambiguous “yes.” (Read here what the Catholic Church says about homosexuals and homosexual inclinations.) God calls each of us, whether homosexual or heterosexual, to chastity according to our circumstances in life. The Church is here to help all of us live in the light of truth.
If I had any "unambiguous" doubt about the Roman Catholic church, that paragraph (and the link to the catechism of the church) confirmed for me that anyone's "homosexual attractions" - or orientation - would most assuredly NOT be welcomed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Unless, of course, we were celibate. You know. Just like "Father". Even then, you would still be "inherently disordered."

Well, not by the "official" hierarchy, anyway. I know many good, faithful Christians who are Roman Catholics - priests, nuns and laity - who simply scoff at this teaching - and, the teachings about reproductive choice, abortion, the ordination of women and stem cell research.

I don't know why they stay in the RC Church, exactly, much less how they can stay. That's really none of my business. That's between them and God. I find myself simply grateful for their presence as a 'witness to sanity' in an institutional church which seems to talk out of both sides of its mouth.

Indeed, Bill Maher talked about this recently on his HBO Show "Real Time". Apparently, he's also seen the "Catholics Come Home" advertisements. Shortly after the debut of these commercials, the scandal about the priests in Philadelphia broke.

Maher quips, "It's sort of like an ad for the Ford Explorer and then they all get recalled." He, of course, has his own suggestion for an advertisement, which he says, "addresses the issue more head-on":

All this got me to thinking about the real issue which is not clearly stated but is the issue which is painfully obvious: People are not going to church. That's a HUGE admission for the Roman Catholic Church (gee, maybe they might get a bit of a hint from their own website), but it is, as well, for any church.

We in The Episcopal Church and other "mainline Protestant denominations" have been beating ourselves up for years about the decline in our membership. Church attendance is at record lows, even as (or, perhaps, because of) the new 'Moral Majority" in the House of Representatives.

Jim DeMint, the ultra-conservative Republican senator from South Carolina, has been recently quoted as saying, "I’ve said it often and I believe it — the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets. As people become more dependent on government, they become less dependent on God.”

So, it's not the fault of "teh gays", it's the Democrats. In the game of "shame and blame," somebody's gotta be the scapegoat.

Truth be told, I think we Christians have bought into the Shame and Blame Game. We've been looking at - and apologizing for - ourselves for years.

Who wants to join the "Church of The Constant Introspection?" or "The Church of The Incessant Apology"?

In other cases, we've "dummied down" our religion, trying so desperately to prove that we're "with it" and "cool" that we've made ourselves irrelevant.

I'm thinking again about the # 1 reason people come back to the Roman Catholic Church: "Because we hunger for the Eucharist."

I understand completely. There were lots of reasons why I became an Episcopalian, but the Eucharist was primary among them.

So, what if we took a 'web page' from our Roman Catholic brethern and did a "Christians Come Home" website for Episcopalians?

We could talk about all the things they talk about, but we wouldn't have to do it out of both sides of our mouths - or bash anyone or apologize about our beliefs.

We could talk about "churchy" things like the sacraments, the priesthood, and the role and status of women in the institutional church - especially our democratic form of ecclesiastical governance.

We could highlight the hot button topics like human sexuality, reproductive rights, abortion and stem cell research. And, tell a truth that is informed by our understanding of scripture, tempered by our God-given reason, and deeply respectful of the tradition of the church.

The present "official" web page of The Episcopal Church is really for "insiders" - which is fine, I suppose. But, if I were surfing the internet looking for information about The Episcopal Church, I would be quickly overwhelmed and confused.

There's not even a link that says, "What Episcopalians Believe" much less anything that says, "Welcome!" Oh, the banner says, "The Episcopal Church" - and then, in smaller lettering, off to the right (interestingly enough) it says, "Welcomes You!". Except you would never know it from navigating the site.

That just doesn't do it for me. I doubt it is convincing to others, either.

Take a look at the website for The United Church of Christ. Their banner reads: "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." Nice, right?

And, just to prove their point, the second tab on the right, just below the tab marked "Feed your spirit" (how wonderful is that?), asks, "New to UCC?" where you can click on and get connected to what it means to be a member of their church.

Or, look at website for The United Methodist Church who also go beyond a polite welcome and say, succinctly, "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors."

They also have displayed, very prominently at the top of their banner, tabs which are labeled, "Our Church", "Our Faith", "Our People", and "Our World."

If you have an inquiring mind that wants to know more about these churches, you'll find easy access to that information.

The web site for The Presbyterian Church USA is not as good as the UCC or UMC - you have to scroll down past the rather off-putting banner which proclaims, "...though I was blind, now I see." John 9:25, and a video about Evangelism to find a link to what PCUSA is all about.

At least, you can find a link for more information. Not so at TEC's website.

Come to think of it, does your parish website have a clearly visible and easily accessible link that explains what it means to be an Episcopalian? Just askin'

And we wonder why our church is in decline?

We're always in the newspapers with some controversy or another swirling 'round. Our website looks like a church that is more consumed with itself - while doing some good works in "advocacy", "community", "networking" and "partnerships" - than bringing people to Christ through our doors.

Oh, I suppose one could "infer" it from those tabs, but it needs to be much more clearly articulated than that. "Innuendo" and "inference" in not the strong suit of the internet. People go on the internet looking for information. Fast. Easy.

I don't think this is an understatement, much less hyperbole:
We're missing a HUGE evangelism opportunity folks. HUGE.
No, I'm not saying that we should have a website to "bash" the Roman Catholic Church. I'm not doing that here. I don't want to "bash" anyone.

I'm offering a serious statement about what I see as ecclesiastical "spin".

Harmful spin. Hurtful spin. For those who are not formerly Roman Catholics, you have no idea how hurtful - and insulting - this is.

Some of us have been denied the sacraments of the church because we're divorced or LGBT (please remember the number one reason people go back to church - The Eucharist).

Others have been denied ordained leadership in the church because of our gender. And yet, former Roman Catholics are being encouraged to 'come home' where we can expect a 'warm embrace' of welcome.

No spiritual food or Eucharistic sustenance. But, someone will welcome us with a 'warm embrace'.

It's obscene.

Here's the salt in the wound:  I am a "Catholic". I'm not "Roman" Catholic. I am an Anglo-Catholic - and I'm not talking about liturgical style or theological position. I'm using it as a short-hand way of saying: "Anglican Catholic."

I object to Rome claiming ownership of that word as strenuously as I object to "fundgelicals" claiming the definition of what it means to be "Christian."

Frankly, I don't think "Catholics Come Home" is competition for our particular "market share of the consumer base", as the marketing folks say, but we've at least got to get in the game in order to score a few points.

If we were to have a website that welcomed people to The Episcopal Church, what would it look like? What would it say? How would you talk about the issues that concern us as Christians?

If anyone responds here, I'm happy to forward a link to this blog, highlighting your suggestions, to the folks at 815 Second Avenue (The Episcopal Church's National Center) in New York.

If we were going to have some commercial air time on network television, what would those one minute advertisements say? (Somebody remind me: I think we started to do a series of these commercials, but I never saw them on television.)

Never mind the expense. If we can find a funding source to gather 1/4 of the deputies in Atlanta to talk about "Equal Rites", surely we can find someone who will provide us with a grant - or someones who will contribute money - for this project.

I have no doubt that we could easily find ordinary, everyday people who would readily agree to being filmed saying things like: "As soon as I walk in the door, I feel peace."

And, "I'm accepted for who I am."

And, "I was divorced and left the church. If I didn't have God, I would be back to that lonely stage, that troubled place."

And, "When you come home to The Episcopal Church, you're coming home to a catholic family where people just embrace you."

Except, we have the evidence to back up those claims. And, we have the courage to tell the truth that "your mileage may vary" in different churches in the Episcopal Church.

That wouldn't be a lie.

Neither would it be "spin" - original or ecclesiastical.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: Crossing borders

Note: My dear friend and clergy colleague, Thomas Eoyang, preached this sermon today. I love Holy Scripture and I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Taylor, so you won't be surprised to learn that I think this sermon totally ROCKS! So much so that I begged Thomas' permission to have me reprint it here, on my blog. To my absolute delight, he consented. If the story of the Samaritan Woman had ever been made into a movie, I think it would have been a script written for Elizabeth Taylor. So, enjoy!

Lent III - Sermon preached at Grace Epiphany Church, 
Philadelphia, PA
27 March 2011 
(the Rev'd) Thomas Eoyang
Copyright © 2011 Thomas Eoyang

Lent 3: Exod 17:1-7; Ps 95;
Rom 5:1-11; Jn 4:5-42

Today’s gospel reading is about crossing borders you’re not supposed to cross, and touching people you’re not supposed to touch.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman should not be talking to each other, both because he’s a man and she’s a woman, and because he’s a Jew and she’s a Samaritan. The relationship between Samaritans and Jews was like the relationship today between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The Jews from Judea knew themselves to be the chosen people; to them the Samaritans were degraded half-Jewish descendents of northern Israelites and Assyrian colonists from eight centuries earlier. Judeans didn’t see Samaritans as fully human, and the Samaritans no doubt returned the favor.

But instead of relating to each other out of centuries of established prejudice, Jesus and the woman have one of the longest conversations that Jesus has with anyone in John’s gospel.

Jesus treats the Samaritan woman as fully human, despite the rules and prejudices that inform his Jewish identity. And there’s something I love about the woman’s attitude in talking with Jesus: she’s not in the least bit in awe of him.

Unlike Nicodemus, whose conversation with Jesus we heard last week, the Samaritan woman has never heard of Jesus before. She takes in what Jesus tells her and challenges his words with complete fearlessness.

The whole conversation about “living water” turns on a double meaning, just like the conversation with Nicodemus from last week turns on the dual meaning of “born from above” and “born again.”

When Jesus asks the woman for a drink and then tells her that he can give her “living water,” she understands him to mean “flowing water,” that is, water from a running stream or bubbling spring.

Even when he tells her that the living water he’s talking about is the water of baptism that will give those who receive it “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” she’s still thinking fresh flowing water, and from his description it sounds like a good deal to her. She wants this handy water so that she doesn’t have to keep coming back to the well.

Then Jesus tells her something about her that he couldn’t possibly know: that she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Notice at this point what the text actually says and does not say. When we hear that she has had five husbands, don’t we immediately begin to make a judgment about her moral character?

But notice that Jesus makes no moral judgment. He does not consider her multiple marriages to be sinful and continues to talk with her. Throughout their dialogue, he treats her as a full human being despite all the rules that say he shouldn’t, and she responds at every turn as if she is his equal.

Today, I just can’t help hearing the story of the Samaritan woman in relation to the most famous multiply-married woman of our time, who died this past week: Elizabeth Taylor. Few people have had more moral judgments made about them in a single lifetime.

Now, I have no idea about Taylor’s spiritual life, her faith in God, or her attitudes toward Christianity. I don’t really care. I am not going to make a case for her being a saint for our time.

What I do want to talk about is what she did for the gay and lesbian community, in particular for gay men, and most in particular for gay men who had AIDS.

First, let us remember her unearthly beauty, which made her eternally “other,” unlike any of the rest of us. Even though we could witness her living a life of recognizable human appetite and human desire, that life was lived larger than any of us would have imagined for ourselves—large diamonds, large marriages, large love affairs, large scandals.

If anyone was ever clearly different from the rest of us, she was. Like the Samaritan woman,she never seemed to be intimidated by anyone, including her public: no weepy apologies for letting us down as she went into or came out of rehab, no calculated series of interviews to restore her public image.

Though we the public have a consistent history of wanting to control the idols we make of other human beings, and destroying them when we disapprove, she faced us down, maintained her independence and integrity, and went on living her life with all its flaws and mistakes played out for all of us to see.

Then, in the early 1980s, a complicated virus appeared that no one had known about before. First a few people died, then dozens, then hundreds, then thousands.

Just a few years into the crisis, which so many people refused to look at or consider a crisis, Elizabeth Taylor called her Hollywood community and her nation to pay attention to the people dying of AIDS, when no one, including her Hollywood contemporary who was at that time the president of the United States, wanted to deal with the growing horror.

She raised hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS research. That money and that research shortened the time it took to find solutions—however imperfect they still are—to the biggest health emergency of our generation.

When she did this, it was a time when gay men were coming to understand that large parts of the population didn’t just fail to care whether we lived, some of them actively hoped we would die.

We got an inkling of this a few years before the epidemic struck. In the mid-seventies, the mayor of San Francisco and a member of the Board of Supervisors were murdered in their offices by another supervisor who had just resigned.

It was a shocking double murder, but even more shocking was the verdict: the murderer was convicted and received a prison sentence of just five years for killing two people.

The gay people of San Francisco were convinced that the murderer got a light sentence because the dead supervisor was Harvey Milk, the city’s most important champion of gay and lesbian civil rights.

Gay men learned from the verdict that people thought if you kill the mayor but you also kill a gay person it makes the whole thing understandable and so you don’t deserve to be punished quite so badly.

In those days of the 1970s, when gay men and lesbian women began to assert our human dignity, to demand that we be treated as full human beings, healthy and whole, we could see that not only did large segments of society not want to do that, but large segments of society — including parts of society that called themselves Christian - would be happy to see us dead.

And so we felt the same thing when a mysterious and rare set of illnesses appeared among gay men in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Later it was found that intravenous drug users and Haitians were also coming down with the same diseases.

Gay men, drug users, Haitian immigrants—all were people that society at large could look down upon and treat as if they were of no account, less than human. The physical effects of the disease were excruciating to experience and excruciating to watch.

The nursing professor who edited the book I published on HIV/AIDS for nurses told me that she had always thought that cancer was the worst way to die. Now she saw that dying from AIDS was much worse.

Those of us who could bear to look watched in grief and terror as dozens and then hundreds of healthy, vital young men took on the physiques of holocaust victims and died in agony within a matter of months.

In this atmosphere of grief and terror, of agony, loathing, and fear, Elizabeth Taylor came forward and went to work.

Now I’m not saying she single-handedly fixed the AIDS crisis. It took hundreds, thousands of nurses, doctors, researchers, and activists; it took a lot of organizing, advocacy, and anger to bring about the day when AIDS/HIV is for many a severe but manageable chronic illness.

But Elizabeth Taylor crossed borders she did not have to cross, and she touched people she did not have to touch. She accorded dignity to people that much of society considered to be scum.

She crossed borders to touch and help people whom many others considered too alien, too sinful, too freakish—and now, too sick—to be fully human, fully deserving of God’s love and the healing water of life.

In doing what she did, Elizabeth Taylor helped change the views of many people not just about those living and dying with AIDS, but about all people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. She helped many people see that LGBT people are fully human despite our differences, despite the centuries of accumulated prejudice and hatred.

And in case you think that that work is done, that the borderlands are now open, that the barriers have fallen, and that prejudice against LGBT people is a thing of the past, let me remind you of the bullying last fall that led to the suicides of several gay teenagers.

Let me remind you of the law that the government of Uganda is still trying to pass to make homosexuality a capital crime.

And let me point out to you that a recent article about me and Grace Epiphany, published on-line in something called Mt. Airy Patch and describing our welcome of LGBT people of faith, has been noticed in the conservative Episcopal blogosphere and the comments, though not life-threatening, are not what you’d call friendly.

The waters of life are meant for all of God’s people, and as the Word of God unfolds through the stories we hear in Scripture and most assuredly as we share in the grace of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, we come to understand that God’s people means all people.

All of us—man/woman, gay/straight, black/white, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jew: fully human, fully beloved of God, fully entitled to share in the abundance of God’s earth, and in the water of life, and in God’s wild and boundless love.

Copyright © 2011 Thomas Eoyang

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bolos do riso

This is a Simnel Cake - somewhat of a tradition in some churches - served on Lent IV.

I know. I know. Tomorrow is Lent III, but I didn't want you to have any excuse not to make one for next week, which is "Refreshment Sunday"

It is also known as "Latare Sunday" but never confused with Gaudete Sunday - which is Advent III.

It is sometimes called "Rose" or "Mothering" Sunday - probably because in the 16th century, people went to the nearest Cathedral or their "home" church (which was most likely the Cathedral) for worship. This is why, in some churches, the vestments are rose or pink in color.

It was also a time when women employed as domestics were given time off and one of the few times during the year that the entire family could be reunited to share a meal together.

My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year.

Except she called them "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes". And, they didn't look anything like the fancy-schmancy one pictured above.

Apparently, in the original British version, on the top of the cake and around the edge one is supposed to put eleven marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus. Judas is omitted, of course. In some variations Christ is also represented by a ball placed at the center.

When I was a small child, mia VaVoa made them like large muffins with two Very Thick gobs of butter frosting, in the shape of a cross, on top.

They looked sort of like an English "Hot Cross bun". She probably couldn't afford the marzipan to make all those little representative disciple balls. That's okay. Her frosting was absolutely to die for.

As more and more grandchildren came and I got older, she would make a huge, single layer cake and put the frosting on squares of it and then cut them into individual servings.

My memory is that they were much larger than the ones pictured here, and the frosting cross was much more generous, but then again, I was a small child, so I suppose I should adjust for age and size.

I mean, I remember snow storms where the snow was up to my waist. Now, I suppose, the snow would come up to my knee. Well, at least, that's the way it was this winter in New England.

"Laughter Cakes" were most appropriate on "Refreshment Sunday" because, as a young, Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, Lent was taken as seriously as a heart attack.

We fasted every Wednesday AND Friday - I mean, no solid food, just lots of juice and water, and lots of milk and sugar in our tea - and didn't break the fast until AFTER we had gone to church and said the Stations of the Cross. At four o'clock. Promptly.

I think I still might be able to say that liturgy in the original Portuguese from memory.

We moved around the darkened church, Father with his prayer book, reading to us of the various stations in Portuguese. As we processed from station to station, we sang the various verses of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. In Latin. Of course.

I can still remember the first verse:
Stabat Mater dolorosa
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius

At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last
I thought it an unbearably sad hymn. It always made me weep - well, once I stopped giggling at all the old Portuguese ladies - "The Widows" - dressed all in black from head to toe, including the black scarf which they wore snugly around their head, tied in a large knot under their more than ample chins.

"The Widows" were also known as "The Wailers" to us kids - which they would start doing as soon as the procession started. Wailing, that is.

As kids, we joked that they were paid to wail. We figured they were as excited for the annual arrival of Lent as we were for Summer Vacation. We surmised that they made extra money every Wednesday and Friday in Lent in addition to being paid to wail at every funeral the church held.

They weren't of course. Paid, that is. We were bad. I know. Actually, we were just being kids trying to make the best of a Very Adult situation.

As we stopped at each station, one of "Father's Boys" would be dressed up in black cassock and cotta - two to hold the candles, one to hold the processional cross, veiled in black, and one to hold a flash light onto the image of the particular Station of the Cross which hung all year long on the walls around the church.

I hated those boys. I was sooOOoo jealous that THEY got to do it and girls weren't allowed. It made me angry and hateful, but since we knew there was nothing to be done about it, we just giggled at the "Widow Wailers" instead.

Now that I know what it probably meant for most boys to be "Father's Boys", I weep for them when I think on it.

'Round about the fourth or fifth week of Lent, we kids stopped rebelling against having to be in church THREE WHOLE TIMES a week during Lent. We were, by then, resigned to our fate and took hope in the knowledge that Lent was Almost Over.

I remember that, 'round about the sixth or seventh station of the cross, the drama of the story of the crucifixion finally began to sink in and I was completely caught up as the story unfolded, literally step by step. By that time, the unbearable sadness of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa would begin to hit me.

The notes of the ancient chant found a way into my soul and opened my heart to the suffering everyone endured - especially his mother.

So, by the time it was mid-week of Lent III, rolling right into the fourth Sunday in Lent - having not had ANY meat, not even so much as a hot dog  or even my mother's infamous "Hot Dog Stew" (but we were allowed chicken on Sunday). . . AND having given up candy for Lent. . . AND having done Stations of the Cross twice a week in addition to church every Sunday - I was ready for a little Bolos do riso. Any kind of 'riso'. You know what I mean?

We made the cakes on the Saturday before Lent IV. My grandmother and I would put the raisins to soak in the brandy - homemade by my grandfather - before going to bed Friday night. I was the oldest granddaughter, and we lived right upstairs, so I was allowed and nobody else was. Ha!

We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves.

We would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).

And I, only I, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Ha!

And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe saved only for sorcerers and magicians.

And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do riso - "Laughter Cakes".

Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".

After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.

And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again.

She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"

And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh.

It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.

And yes, she would put the brandy my grandfather made in the cake AND the frosting.

Hmm . . . maybe that's also why she called them "Bolos do riso".

Nah, laughter was the special ingredient that "made" that cake - special for Refreshment Sunday.

Well, so, here's the recipe. Now you have no excuse to bring one to church for Coffee Hour next Sunday. Just remember to laugh into the batter. And, enjoy!
Bolos do riso (Simnel Cake)

1 ½ c. raisins
4 tbsp. (or so) Brandy
1 c. shortening
2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 c. very fine flour (all purpose will do if you sift it)
2 tsp. Baking soda
2 ½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground Cloves
2 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. Salt
1 ½ c. chopped walnuts
zest of one lemon (optional)
2 c. hot applesauce

Soak raisins in brandy overnight.

Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. Pour batter into 8 ½ x 12" pan (greased and floured.) Bake at 350̊ For about 30 minutes (or until done).

When done, cool cake in pan 5 minutes - then remove to finish cooling on a cake rack. Frost generously with Butter frosting.

Butter Frosting
1/4 lb. (one stick) Butter
1 lb Confectioners Sugar (10-X)
about 3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Blend together the butter and sugar. Add in the cream (or milk) and vanilla until smooth. Makes enough frosting for the cake above.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Big Love: First. Last. Home.

Sunday night - from 9 PM to 10 PM - is my time.

Don't call me. Don't knock on my door. Don't plan to stop by for visit.

I'm not watching TV. I'm watching HBO.

Whether it's The Sopranos or In Treatment, True Blood or Treme, Boardwalk Empire or Big Love, I'm watching it. It's the one luxury I allow myself.

Last Sunday night, the final episode of Big Love aired. After five seasons, the show has ended. I've found myself reflecting, these past few days, on what this show has had to say about marriage and family, politics and power, faith and love.

I suppose I should first get everyone up to speed on just what Big Love is all about. Very, very briefly, the show is about a fictional fundamentalist Mormon family in Utah that practices polygamy.

The Henricksons are just your typical American family of typical patriotic values, with a very typical American subscription to "family values". Except, while Bill Henrickson is the only husband, there are not one but three wives: Barbara, Nickie, and Margene.

Big Love stars some of my favorite actors: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloƫ Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Bruce Dern, and Mary Kay Place.

The show was co-created by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, who also served as executive producers. I suppose I should also tell you that Olsen and Scheffer have been in a faithful, monogamous relationship for the past 20 years.

Are your tracking this? A gay couple created a program about polygamy which explores the themes of faith, religion, marriage, family and love.

Just wanted to make sure everyone was on board, here, so you can bail if you want to.

Olsen and Scheffer spent almost three years researching the premise of the show, with the intent of creating a fair portrayal of polygamy in America without being judgmental.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the show and may someday want to - OR - if you haven't yet seen the finale, you'll want to stop reading now. There's simply no way for me to talk about the show without talking about the surprising ending.

Here's a clip about the series in general and the final episode in particular which will help get you up to speed, but you don't have to watch it to 'get' what I'm about to say. In fact, it may make more sense after you've read my piece.

Okay, let me be clear: I do not support polygamy. Neither do I cotton to the idea of 'Open Marriage', which seems rather an oxymoron to me.

Yes, I am perhaps more conservative than some who read this blog might imagine. I really am just an old fashioned girl who loves Jesus and the church and continues to believe in romance and love and marriage.

So, shoot me.

That being said, "Big Love" challenged even my firmly entrenched ideas about love and marriage and what constitutes a family.

It also challenged my equally entrenched ideas about patriarchy and freedom of religious expression and the role of the state in very surprising ways.

Yes, I understand. This was a fictitious family. It wasn't TV, it was HBO, with the usual excellent presentation of fine script writing, superb directing, and powerful acting.

Let me see if I can try and explain.

The theme song in the first three seasons was, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys.
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on, believe me
The world would show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I'd be without you.
The song caused quite a stir when it was first released because, other than "God Bless America", no other song had had the word "God" in the title.

The song itself, however, expresses pretty traditional, romantic ideas and ideals, which calls up notions of love - life-long, called-together-by-God, fulfilling, making-you-whole - love.

Except, as you hear the theme song and watch Bill skate along with Barb, Nicki and Margene, you begin to realize that in this situation, this "old fashioned" idea of love involves one man and three women.

Indeed, 'round about season three, the "family" considers taking a fourth wife.

In the Henrickson polygamous family, the decision to have a 'sealing', or spiritual (verses a 'legal') marriage is a family decision. The 'sister wives' consider themselves married or 'sealed' to each other - and not just in this life but for eternity.

You see, it's their faith that brings them together. "Faith first, family second," is one of the creeds of their faith. And, their faith tells them that "The Principle" of polygamy was ordained by God as the "natural order" of things.

Isn't it interesting that Rome also seems to have determined the "natural order" of things as well? I don't see how a celibate priesthood fits into a "natural order" any more than polygamy, but then again, I'm neither Roman Catholic nor Mormon.

Which, I suppose, is part of the point.

I should point out that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - or Mormons - no longer practice "The Principle". There are, however, many people who consider themselves Mormons who do practice polygamy, having more than one but less than three or four wives, mostly so they might stay under the radar of the law which, of course, prohibits polygamy.

In this last episode, Bill, who has been elected Senator from Utah, has proposed a piece of legislation to legalize polygamy. He believes so much in "The Principle" - and in the goodness and holiness of his family - that he wants to bring polygamy out from the shadows and into the light of every day life.

He has also started his own store front church and discovers, to his amazement, that 480 people are in attendance on Easter Day. Those 480 people are those who practice "The Principle" and believe in it.

"Faith first, family second."

Except, Bill has a moment in the midst of that Easter Day service, which is completely transformational. He has believed, all his life, that if faith is the primary force in your life, it will become the rock on which your family is built. And, your family will be solid.

"Faith first, family second."

Later that day, just before Easter dinner, he explains to his best friend Don and his son, Ben, that he has come to understand that love comes first. Love is the foundation of faith, he says. Love comes first, then faith and family. Indeed, faith and family flow from love.

There is something deeply profound in that idea. Love as the font and foundation of faith and family.  That would certainly be something the co-creators and executive producers, Olsen and Scheffer, would understand.

As two gay men who have been in a 20 year committed relationship, they would clearly understand that it is love that makes a family.

Norman Rockwell would never have painted my family for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, but he might have if he had come to know us.

We are every bit a "real" family as any other constellation of people who are "legally" related to one another, and bound together by the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

So, does that mean that I think polygamy should be made legal? No, I'm not saying that. What I am saying is that no one has the right to narrowly define - or sit in judgment of - anyone else's family.

Even me.

As I think about Bill Henrickson's last words, I would venture to say that faith is a gift that flourishes in the presence of Love. He's right. It begins with love. And, ends with love. And, continues to eternity with love.

The Word that was made flesh was Love Incarnate, Love Divine. And, from that love, faith grows.

Pretty profound for television, eh? Then again, as they say, "It's HBO".

Okay, if you haven't watched the clip above, I suggest you do it now - that is, of course, if you haven't seen the program and you don't care if you know about the ending even before you begin.

The last two scenes of this episode tie everything together very powerfully. You need to know that, for the past two seasons, Barb and Bill have been having marital difficulties, none the least of which is prompted by a calling Barb feels she has to the priesthood.

Bill is horrified and angry, saying (yelling) at one point, "It's not natural!" Barb feels so strongly about this, she ventures away from Bill's church to join a Reformed Mormon Church which accepts the priesthood of women - BUT - does not accept polygamy.

Bill is enraged by this and sees it not only as a double affront to his religious beliefs, but a betrayal on every level by his wife.

In one of the last scenes of this last episode, as Bill lies in the street, mortally wounded, he looks at his three wives with great love and does an amazing thing. He asks Barb for a blessing. It's his last gift to her - and his family.

He's only able to do this because he now knows that love comes first. Then, faith and family. And, not just love - Big Love - for one's present family and the connectedness to families of generations past.

Anything that gets in the way of that love has to be changed. The religious paradigm has to shift in order to accommodate and make room for love so that family and faith will flourish.

It's a morality lesson in the midst of that which many consider immoral. It's a secular lesson for the church about that which is essential and why so many are leaving the church across denominational lines.

The last two seasons had a different opening theme song, "Home" by the Engineers
Is this my home
Been starting over
Bathe in the water
It's a powerful way to talk about Love and Faith and Family as gift and vocation.

Big Love. Called. Bathed in the water. Always, starting over. First. Last.

And always - everywhere, no matter where you go - home.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Say hello, Theo!

This is Theo - formerly known as "Leo", sometimes referred to as "Mr. Wonderful".

Theo is half Standard Poodle, half Jack Russell Terrier - not the prettiest of conception moments to visualize but something that yielded a perfectly lovely creature with an IQ higher than mine.

He's about two years old and was rescued from a hoarding situation - terribly neglected with not much human contact in his formative months. He's been living in a foster home for about a year.

So, he's a bit ...."skittish"... yes, that's a good descriptive word. Not exactly "shy" but rather anxious about new people and places and things.

We had a "home visit" a few weeks ago and then his foster mom brought him for a two week trial visit last Sunday.

I'm already in love.

He's a little guy, as you can see, with big soulful brown eyes and a huge heart. He loves peanut butter on his kibble and looks forward to having a "cookie" when he comes back from his walk.

He's teaching me things about him.

For example, he didn't seem to want to tend to bodily functions the first day and a half he was here. I was starting to get worried about him. Fears of a bladder infection or "bloating" began to taunt me.

Then I remembered that, in his foster home, he would be let outside in a fenced in area after his meals. The only time he was ever on a leash was when he was being taken to the Vet or to go on a visit with a potential foster home. So, for me to expect him to "do his business" on a walk was probably asking too much.

I started to take him over by the fence in the backyard and, Voila! Success! As I lavished praise upon him, he looked at me as if to say, "I wondered when you would finally figure this out. Sheesh!"

I didn't know, but apparently, there's something called "Black Dog Syndrome". The folks who run Animal Shelters say that black dogs are the last to be adopted. Indeed, they say that, for a black dog, going into a 'shelter' is usually a death sentence.

Here's a brief clip that talks more about it.

Choosing a dog based on the color of his coat? I can't imagine it. There's so much more to consider - like temperament and personality and how that fits in with the rest of the family.

A friend let me borrow a crate, and Ms. Conroy bought him a sleeping pad for it along with some toys and a chewie. He is not interested in any of that. At. All.

He sleeps with me, at the foot of the bed and makes not a peep all night long. When I awaken in the morning, he comes to see me, tail wagging, and sniffs at my face in a kind of quasi kiss.

He's still rather nervous about sounds in the apartment. He made a very low growl yesterday when students were coming in an out of the apartment downstairs for a class with their professor.

I was warned that he doesn't like men - barks at them - but that's not been my experience thus far with the two men who live on the first floor. Theo was very calm with them and their dog. He even approached one of them and just sort of checked out his hand - probably to see if he had a cookie. Theo and their dog did their "doggie thing" - sniffing and checking each other out.

We are making progress. Slowly and surely. Indeed, other than that low growl the other day, I haven't heard Theo bark. Once.

I suspect, once I really become "his human", he will begin to want to protect me and bark at an unfamiliar sound or person.

Mostly, he just sits next to me on the futon while I read or work on my laptop.  Which is, quite frankly, lovely. He doesn't seem interested in playing 'fetch' or chewing on toys.

Well, it may be that it's too soon.

He has "his" pillows, as you can see which has become his favorite spot in the house.

That, and the place under the couch where he first sat with his step mom when we had our first home visit where he sometimes hides after we come in from a walk, or he's heard a strange sound in the house and has become anxious.

All I have to do is pat the pillow and say, "Come, Theo," and he comes right out and jumps up onto his "spot",  just happy as a little clam to be with me.

While I think he still misses his 'pack' and his step mom, I think I'm becoming his 'human'. A FaceBook friend suggested that I should spit into the food in his dish - an interesting 'bonding' technique - so he will better associate me with nourishment and caring.

I think it's working. 

I also love the fact that, when we walk together, we walk together. He doesn't pull me along like Lenny and CoCo do - or, in fact, any of our dogs have done. We just walk. Together.

It's lovely.

I can't wait for Lenny and CoCo to meet him. I have no doubt they'll get along famously. And, I'm sure he'll warm up right away to Ms. Conroy. She has a certain way with all four leggeds.

Did I ever tell you about the time that one of our formerly feral cats - a real beauty named Maude - delivered her first (and last) litter of kittens right in Ms. Conroy's lap? Yup. Five of them. It was amazing!

My allergies have been acting up, but I'm not certain if it's him or the beginnings of Spring or something goin' 'round. I've been fighting a fierce headache and nausea for the past 36 hours, but Ms. Conroy says there's a bug goin' 'round, causing the same symptoms.

I don't care. He's staying. I'll take Zyrtec and deal with it.

So, say hello to Theo - aka "Mr. Wonderful".

I sense the beginning of a long and lovely friendship.

It feels like home to me.

It feels like we - Theo and me - are back to where we once belonged.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Half-assed baptized?

Most of the folks I talk to are waxing rhapsodic about the 'historic' gathering in Atlanta with 1/4 of the elected deputies to General Convention and the members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to discuss General Convention Resolution C056 on gathering data about blessing the covenants made between same gender couples.

I applaud the church for taking this important first, brave, bold step - after an almost 40 year journey - towards marriage equality.

Brava, Mother Church! Brava!

You'll forgive me, however, if my applause is slightly less than enthusiastic.

I keep hearing Bishop Barbara Clementine Harris' question at the Triennial Integrity Eucharist at General Convention in LA:
"How can you initiate someone and then treat them like a half-assed baptized?"
Look, I understand full well how the institutional church works - especially in terms of justice. I've been at this most of my adult life.

We take three steps forward and two steps back. We're still a long way from the dream of "full inclusion," and, at the rate the institutional church moves, I have serious doubts as to whether or not we'll get there in my life time.

I understand this. I don't accept it.

General Convention C056 is far from the "whole enchilada" that Susan Russell speaks of, and yes, there's a whole lot more guacamole in there than we've ever had before.

I understand. Susan is a very wise leader. She has more political acumen in her baby finger than I have in my whole body. I am deeply grateful for her leadership and that of the leaders in Integrity and Claiming the Blessing.

Me? I'm still hungry.

Actually, I'm really tired of being hungry. I'm sick and tired. Truth be told, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I'm weary of the knowledge that the church is baking cakes - feasting on them, in fact - and giving out crumbs. Indeed, the bow on the package is bigger than the crumb of justice we've been tossed.

I understand. The charge of Resolution C056 was to gather data and resources about pastoral care and liturgical rites of blessing and to offer "pastoral generosity" to those bishops in those dioceses in those states where there is marriage equality.

Given all that is happening in the Anglican Communion and in The Episcopal Church and all that's swirling around about the Anglican Covenant, the SCLM is most probably very wise to stay within a narrow focus of that charge.

And yet.... and, yet....

This sure feels like "separate but equal" to me. At the end of the day - or, actually, even at the beginning or middle or any part of the day - that doesn't feel very equal to me.

Because, in fact, it's not. Far from it.

Separate but equal works for the fruit in the above picture. Or, vegetables. But, not people. Funny, but I thought we had figured that out during the Civil Rights Movement.

The worst part is that Mother Church is being caught up short on Her whole theology of marriage.

There are a few embarrassing frays in the theological fabric of "Holy Matrimony".

It begins with the first sentence of the theological introduction to marriage in the Book of Common Prayer (p 423). You probably know the words by heart: "Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony."

We do not 'marry' anyone. The two marry each other. We 'witness and bless'. The 'marriage' part is a legal contract which the church performs as an agent of the state.

That's just the beginning of the confusion.

The church must begin to challenge herself about this 'unholy' alliance between church and state. We don't allow the state to dictate to us on any other sacrament or sacramental rite of the church. Why do that with marriage?

That's my first question.

The next few have to do with the veracity of the claims made by this rite in the next few statements of the theological framework of marriage.
"The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation . . ."
Really? Somehow, I don't remember a word about marriage in either of the two stories of creation in Genesis. We are told that God made humankind in God's own image - male and female God made them.

I don't recall God ever saying to Adam and Eve, "I now pronounce you man and wife". It's just a wild guess, but I'm thinking we've imposed our own 20th Century understanding of marriage onto the scriptural story.

We do it again in the second part of that second sentence:
"... and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee."
Really? I guess I've been reading the story wrong all these years. Seems to me that Jesus was present at the wedding because he was an invited guest - not to make a statement about marriage, one way or the other. He showed up because he was invited.

The only comment we have from Jesus about that marriage is when His mother points out to him that the wine is running out. "What does that have to do with me?" he asks, rather impertinently.

Then, at the request of His mother, Jesus turns water into wine - not as a sign of approval of the marriage, but at the request of his mother for generous hospitality.

I mean, the whole thing does beg the question: If Jesus was so high on the subject and institution of marriage, why didn't He, Himself, get married?

Mind you, I don't think Jesus wasn't supportive of marriage. Indeed, He had some very harsh things to say about divorce. Funny. We don't listen to those words very closely, now do we?

So, I'm left questioning the whole scriptural underpinnings of marriage as outlined in "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" in the Book of Common Prayer.

Here's where the church and I agree:
"Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God."

Well, okay. Strike those last five words. I don't think marriage was 'instituted by God'. It was instituted by good men of God who believed with their whole heart and mind and soul that marriage is inspired of God.

I do, too, but not in the way that those good men of God first imagined it.

Let's face it, "traditional marriage" is a legal contract between two men wherein the woman is the subject of the legal agreement. That's why the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle and "gives her hand in marriage" to the groom.

She's property, is all. The church has been complicit in this legal transaction since the fourth century.

Marriage is best understood as a sacred vocation. It's a calling from God that the two shall live as one. Not everyone receives that call. Not everyone - heterosexual or homosexual - is able to live into that high calling.

That does not diminish the fact that it is a vocation. God does not put barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation on vocation.

I think 'holy matrimony' is at its best when understood as being inspired by good people of God based on what we understand in the story of creation when God says, "It is not good for humankind to be alone."

That's 'holy matrimony' at its best.

It's a covenant made between two people which mirrors the covenant God made with humankind in creation. And, of course, the church can and should bless that covenant and make it 'holy'.

That's the church at its best.

Funny that it should take LGBT people to call the church to its 'orthodox' understanding of the covenant of marriage.

Indeed, we've been doing this for about 40 years. It's interesting to watch and listen to some people come to these understandings as if they were "new insights".

Outwardly, I smile and nod and say, "Yes! Right! Good for you!" On the inside I can feel something in the pit of my stomach calling out, "What the hell do you think we've been talking about for the past 40 years?"

It must be the way some of my African American friends feel when I come to yet another insight about the subtleties of racism. I'm grateful for their kindness and generosity as a model for the way I need to behave. I can only imagine that they must roll their eyes and say, "Well, she's just a nice White girl, trying to make a difference."

I don't know about the 'nice' part, but I do try to make a difference.

Even so, you'll excuse me, then, if my enthusiasm for what the church did in Atlanta this past week end, and is about to do in Indianapolis at General Convention in 2012, is tempered by all of this.

I guess I'm particularly chagrined by those who say to me, with great enthusiasm, "We'll finally get liturgical rites of blessing passed next year at General Convention in Indianapolis and then we can get on with the work of justice."

Excuse me?

First of all, C056 does not provide for authorized liturgical rites of blessing. It only provides for a gathering of data and resources. In order to get authorized liturgical rites of blessing, that's going to take a separate, new resolution.

See? I know how the institutional church works.

I fully suspect that General Convention 2012 will authorize the development of Liturgical rites of blessing to be submitted for authorization in 2015.

When that does happen - and, I have no doubt that it will - my prayer is that the liturgical rite of blessing won't promote "separate but equal". My prayer is that whatever rite is developed, it can be utilized for the covenants made between same and opposite gender couples.

Then, I hope someone else will submit a resolution charging both the House of Bishops and Deputies as well as the SCLM to study our theology of marriage and return to General Convention 2015 with a report, and a revised theology of marriage, along with a proposed new rite which supports marriage equality.

Because I know how the institutional church works, I know that I'll probably get a "Task Force" which will study our theology of marriage and gather information about what is already being done in terms of marriage equality.

Then, in 2015, General Convention will review, discuss and debate that report and, not only authorize the development of liturgical rites of blessings, but pass a resolution to authorize a Task Force to write a new theology of marriage equality which will be reviewed, discussed and debated at General Convention 2018.

That's if all goes well and the Anglican Covenant doesn't scare everyone into stepping five steps back with the threat of "relational consequences", we just might get those authorized rites and theology of marriage equality in 2021.

So, I say to my enthusiastic friend, this issue is a work of justice. And, the work of justice on this issue is far from over. Indeed, it is a continual work of justice.

There is no hierarchy of injustice or prejudice or bigotry. Neither is there a hierarchy to the work of justice.

Yes, there are priorities, which Jesus named: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for all those in need.

We do those things - tending to the basic human needs of people first. That being said, justice denied is justice delayed. And, whenever justice is either denied or delayed to anyone, justice is diminished to all.

Bottom line: Separate but equal is a lie. Always has been. Always will be.

I hope what the SCLM is able to provide in its report to General Convention is proof positive, beyond-a-doubt evidence that the Church has been participating in the sin of 'separate and unequal' and ought not take a move to participate in the lie of 'separate but equal'.

I pray that the church will take a bold step, this time, and move to marriage equality. It's not great leap. Not for those who profess to follow Jesus and pledge in their baptism to "grow into the full stature of Christ".

I'm not half-assed baptized.

I am, as Luther said, baptized.

I'm only expecting to be treated as such.

Is that so much to ask?