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

Saturday, April 30, 2011


I love shoes.

No, I just don't love them. I LURVE them.

You'll understand, then, when I tell you that while others were still "oohing" and "ahhing" over Catherine's gown, I was lamenting, "The shoes! I can't see her shoes!"

I was having a bit of a conniption fit over on FaceBook about it. Some kind soul found a picture of them for me. There they are, above.

I was mildly surprised. I mean, they look like something one of the Spice Girls would wear, rather than the future Queen of England.

Clearly, they are elegant, made as they are of "ivory duchesse satin with lace hand-embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework," according to the Royal Web Site.

You can get a pair just like them for a mere $995. Retail. But who buys retail? In any economy?

They were designed to perfectly match her wedding dress. But, those four and a half inch heels!

They're not exactly the Manolo Blahnik's that Carrie Bradshaw ('Sex and the City') wore for her wedding day, but still! YIKES!!!

The little number to your left is called 'Something Blue' and retails for $945. Retail. I've seen them 'on sale' for $300. I love them, but talk to me when they come down under $100 and maybe we'll have a deal.

Not for me - I'd probably kill myself on something that high - but for one of our daugthers.

I'd imagined Catherine might have worn a demure little slipper thing. She is 5'10", after all. William is bit of a tall drink of water, and, even with these heels, he still towered over her, but my goodness! They are rather high, no?

The round toe is ladylike - a saving fashion grace for the future Queen of England.

Then again, I mostly wear Dansko Shoes, purchased primarily online - and only on a Really Good Sale - at the Dansko Outlet.  I have red ones, black ones, plaid ones and these, to your right,  are my favorite pair.

Dansko was the original designer of the 'clog' type shoes worn by the surgical heart transplant team in South Africa, where the first heart transplants were done.

If you've got to be standing on your feet for 8-12 hours, you want something that is comfortable and supports your foot.

They were favored for years by medical and nursing professions - male and female - but they were large, clunky, unattractive things.

And, mostly white. And, washable.

Dansko got smart and started making them more stylish.

Like this red number to your left.

Same design. Similar heel. Just more stylish. And, very, very comfortable, especially if you are going to be up and on your feet from 6 AM to God only knows when in the fast lane of parish ministry.

I packed like a monk to come to spend a semester as Proctor Scholar here at EDS. Just two pairs of knock around slacks, a pair of jeans, a pair of dress slacks, a black skirt and two black dresses - different styles, of course.

I added three jackets, a couple of sweaters, a few shirts and T-shirts, a clerical shirt, three scarfs, and a ziplock bag full of various earrings, necklaces, pins and such. Oh, and a clerical collar and my "Janie"

But, I brought a bag full of shoes.

Like, these Dansko dress boots.

Yes, purple. To go with my purple sweater.

And, black slacks and black jacket, with a purple scarf.

Or, my black skirt or one of the black dresses and purple necklace and earrings. You know. Just to mix things up a bit.

What is it that Clairee (Olympia Dukakis' character) says in Steel Magnolias?: "The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize. "

Shoes, my darlings, are my favorite accessory. I mean, you have to wear them. Why not make a fashion statement when you do?

Case in point: My rain boots.

Anyone can wear galoshes, right?  They are important to have on when it has rained so hard and so long the puddles come up past your ankles.

A rather ugly necessity, right? Au contraire, mon cher.

A stylish pair of galoshes can brighten even the gloomiest of rainy days.

I found these on sale at the end of the season at the Eddie Bauer Outlet Store in Rehoboth Beach.  Paid $25 for them. And, no sales tax.

No, they are not "Wellies".  Everyone has those. So really, what's the point?

Yes, those are pink flamingos on them.

Why? Well, why not!

When it's just damp and drizzly, or if it's warm and sunny,  or if I'm going to the beach or working in the garden, or sprinting around town doing errands, I wear these 'princess style' Crocks.

Jon Richardson and Megan Sanders bought them for me about five years ago when they were my seminarians after I busted their chops for wearing Crocks to church on Sunday.

It was also a joke because I tease Ms. Conroy all the time about wearing Crocks. Well, not about wearing Crocks but wearing them all the time. Everywhere. To every occasion.

See also Clairee's quote about accessorizing.

Yes, I do have the prerequisite pair of Birkenstock sandals that every good feminist / lesbian has in her shoe rack. Black. Suede. Classic.

I just didn't bring them with me. I did bring a pair of flip-flops for the few weeks of warm weather we'll have here in Boston before I leave the end of May. Well, two pair. They took as much room to pack as one pair of Birkenstock and ... well... two pairs of flip flops gives me a choice.

Which, other than the hokey pokey, is really what it's all about. Choice. Options. Selection. Style.

I will get a pedicure before I wear them, though. I'll risk sounding like a total, shallow snob and say that there's nothing worse than flip-flops or sandals on feet with nails that are yellow and curled over in desperate need of a trim, or dry, thick, scaly callouses on heels that haven't seen the scrub of a gentle abrasive soap or a pumice stone in years.

Women are rarely offenders but boys, pay attention. This is not attractive - to gay or straight people. You can get a mani/pedi in most places for $25. Lasts 6-8 weeks - or more if you don't use color. If you walk by a nail salon in any city and look in, you'll often see as many men in there as there are women.

It's very "metrosexual," darlings.

I don't know why, exactly, I have a 'thing' about shoes. I don't think it rises (or, lowers) to the level of fashion fetish, but I admit that, in the past, when I have seen a pair of shoes I Really Like, my hands have gotten sweaty.

It's not really an obsession, either, because I won't positively, absolutely DIE if I don't get a pair of shoes. I really don't much think about shoes until I get dressed in the morning. And then, they just have to match or or compliment or offset what I'm planning to wear.

I think of them as an investment, although I've rarely paid more than $50 for a pair of shoes. Thankfully, living in Rehoboth Beach and near all the discount malls, I rarely have to. And, did I mention that there's no sales tax in Delaware?

I choose shoes to compliment my clothing as well as for style and comfort. It's really that simple. Oh, and to have choice. Selection. Options.

I'm still not sure what I think about Catharine's bridal shoes.

We have seen the face of the 'new Royals', and now we have seen their feet.

The view - from this side of The Pond, anyway - is that it looks like it's going to be a whole, new, brave, fashionable world.

If the shoes are any indication, I'm rather looking forward to it.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The sky of the sky of a tree called life

I awoke this morning at 5:45, as giddy as a Princess Bride myself.

Excited, I was, and inexplicably so, for Catherine Elizabeth Middleton to wed William Arthur Phillip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor at Westminster Abby.

I couldn't wait for the ceremony to begin.

When it was over, I was not disappointed.

It was a day of romance. And, oh, and I do loves me some old fashioned romance.

Catherine's gown was lovely. Elegant. Graceful. Its modern lines were offset by the almost midieval veil and halo tiara, creating just the right balance of mystery and majesty. It was a clear statement about who she understands herself to be and the task she understands is hers as the future Queen.

William was dashingly handsome in his red uniform and blue sash, whispering to his bride when she stood by his side at the altar, "You look beautiful." I love the way he hovers around Catherine - protective, attentive, loving. Clearly, this man is not his father's son, nor does he have the relationship with Catherine that his father had with his mother.

Thanks be to God.

I loved the liturgy, from the more modernized version of the 1662 Prayer book (no 'plighting' but 'giving' of 'troth'), to the singing of Diana's favorite hymn (Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer) and the stunning, specially commissioned Rutter's piece ("This is the day which the Lord hath made").

I loved all the pageantry, from the horse-drawn carriages and the flower girls and little boys in their knickered-uniforms, to the living plants and flowers all over the place, to Westminster Abby itself, and yes, even the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury presided at the traditional wedding vows.

It was just enough pomp for the circumstance without being stuffy and off-putting.

There was, actually, a warmth and an intimacy about the whole service that was . . . well . . . romantic. Royally so, without the necessity of royalty. It was something that transcended the monarchy.

My gracious, even the 85 year old Queen couldn't seem to stop smiling.

These are two people who obviously love each other. That simple truth was as refreshing as it was breathtaking. No arranged marriage here, except by the couple themselves who have known each other for more than eight years.

Yes, yes, yes, it was a multimillion dollar affair, coming at a time of global economic insecurity, instability in the Middle East and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Arguments can and perhaps should be made for austerity. Love, however, is prodigal. It is, in and of itself, a luxury made even more luxurious in times of austerity and trouble and strife.

Its worth can not be measured in monetary terms. It has no bottom line, knowing only itself as the ultimate gift.

It is carried in the heart and in the soul of one person for another. It is timeless and ageless. It is, as poet e.e. cummings wrote, "the secret nobody knows"
"(. . . the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart."
Today, we caught a glimpse of that wonderful secret, carried in the hearts of two people in love.

The world needs more of this love. Indeed, we are in desperate need of a bit more romance. It sounds simplistic and sophomoric - and yes, perhaps wildly romantic in a '60s sort of way - to say that if the world had more love and romance, we might not be in the trouble we're in right now.

Today, for a few brief moments, we caught sight of what is good in the world, what is right and noble about relationships, what is elegant and regal about love.

There is something about romance that illuminates and magnifies and reveals something about love that we wouldn't otherwise see.

Love is a luxury which the world can not afford to do without - no matter the two people involved: royal or commoner, black or white, old or young, male or female, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or straight.

So here's to Mr. and Mrs. William Mountbatten-Windsor, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. May their love grow higher than the soul can hope or the mind can hide.

Long live romance!

Long live love!

May we carry it with us in our hearts and make its secret more widely known.

BTW, if you missed the ceremony, you can catch the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Birthers, The Donald and The Princess Bride

I don't know how you could have possibly escaped knowing, but where I am, it's all-William-and-Katharine-all-the-time.

Well, when it's not the clown circus of The Birthers and The Donald, the Comb-over Carnival Barker.

Here's where I disagree with our President. Sometimes we DO need to be at least momentarily "distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers" if we are to "solve our problems".

Sometimes, Mr. President, you just have to engage in meaningless banter at the water cooler, or put your feet up on the desk and watch a few minutes of mindless commercial television, or step outside for that cigarette you know the First Lady does not want you to have because it's not good for you, either, before you can get back to focusing in on what's really important.

I understand. The Birthers are most annoying. I'm sometimes tempted to drink bourbon straight out of the bottle when I hear them.

What's most annoying for me is that they are not only a thinly-veiled disguise for the racism that fuels them, they think no one can see and no one knows what they're all about.

That kind of annoyance CAN be a distraction. But, I'm sorry, Mr. President, that you caved into the Birther Clowns. I can't possibly understand the pressure you and your administrative staff must be under - especially with The Donald turning up the heat - but you have to know that a 'long form' birth certificate won't satisfy them. Ever.

My greater concern is that this Administration may well have slightly tarnished the prestige of the office just a tad by capitulating to them. It's certainly not a bright moment in the history of the office.

It is painfully obvious that The Donald is doing all this to satisfy his own HUGE ego and to bolster ratings for his pathetic television show. And, because, for some reason unknown to me, he has an audience.

The funny thing is that HE is 'the apprentice' in the political arena. Someone needs to look him square in the eye, point a finger and say, "You're fired."

But, no one will. Certainly not the wack-a-doodle right wingnuts who are positively giddy because they think the big, rich, powerful white guy put the black guy in his place.

If you hadn't already noticed The Birthers are fueled by a volatile mix of equal parts of racism and machismo.

Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody has pronounced Donald Trump the winner in birth certificate-gate. Here's what Brody wrote yesterday on his blog:
Chalk one up for “The Donald.” Say what you want about Trump but here’s the reality: When Trump speaks, people listen…and President Obama reacts.

There shouldn’t even be a debate here. Donald Trump wins because he FORCED this White House into releasing the birth certificate. Do you really think there is any other Republican contender for The White House that could have had the same success? Didn’t think so.

This is why Trump is resonating with many conservatives. He’s not ashamed to take on Obama with gusto, arrogance and yes, chutzpah (look it up!).

All the other candidates criticize Obama in a more seasoned, political way. It’s boring. Trump brings the heat. He is the “inside voice” of many conservatives in this country and truth be told, he actually may be the inner voice of many Independent voters in this country as well.
The whole statement practically oozes with testosterone, doesn't it? ("FORCES" in all caps was from Brody's blog. Not me.)

Brody is clearly a "bored" little white guy who has discovered that the pen (or blog) may not be mightier than the sword, but it gives lots of people a lot of power they neither deserve nor understand how to use.

"A little power in the wrong hands can do great damage." My grandmother always said that.

Case in point:

"I have done a great service to the American people....Today, I'm proud of myself," said The Donald, who, I suppose, on every other day skulks around, suffering in silent misery from terrible self-esteem issues resulting, no doubt, from "hair inadequacies".

If Mr. Trump is the driver of the Republican clown car of candidates, I say, bring it on. No, I'm not trilled with Mr. Obama's performance the past two years, but I'm willing to give him four more in order to have a chance at turning around more than thirty years of "trickle-down Reaganomics".

Speaking of clowns, did you read what Mrs. Palin had to "tweet"? The Clown Queen of All Things Inept, Silly and Bizarre wrote: "Media: admit it, Trump forced the issue. Now, don't let the WH distract you w/the birth crt from what Bernanke says today. Stay focused, eh?"

You can't make this stuff up, eh? First, you hound the man because he hasn't produced his 'long form' birth certificate and then you criticize him when he does.

It's positively adolescent - when it's not profoundly evil.

The Birthers, meanwhile, are questioning the authenticity of the 'long form' birth certificate because his father's race is written as 'African' and not 'Negro', which, these highly educated intellectuals claim - because apparently they are experts in these sorts of things - would not have been used at that time.

What they're really questioning is why the "other 'n' word" was not used.

Emily Ramshaw of The Texas Tribune quickly tracked down Leo Berman, the state representative who’s sponsoring the Texas version of the birther bill, and found him — surprise! — unconvinced. Among other things, she reported, the good Representative wants to know why the hospital where the president was allegedly born doesn’t have a “plaque on the door” commemorating the event.

I'll bet they didn't save the future presidential placenta, either. Not to worry. That wouldn't convince The Birthers, anyway.

Meanwhile, across The Pond, the British are preparing a Royal Wedding. I plan to get up and watch. watch. I did it in 1981 when Princes Di married Prince Charles. This time, I'll have a proper hat (left over from Easter), a glass of sparkling cider (last time I drank champagne at 6 AM I had been up all night and I think I got pregnant), and, of course, a feather boa.
Purple. Of course.

William and Katharine (we're all being admonished not to call her "Kate," which I totally get) seem a pretty level-headed pair. They are both rounding the corner to age 30 - a perfectly respectable age to be married - and both seem to have genuine love and respect for each other.

As part of their spiritual preparation for the wedding, the couple has had a premarital session of counsel by none other than The Archbishop of Canterbury who will officiate at the ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

I would love to know if he asked them if they had both been celibate, in obedience to the strict teachings of the church, and if not (right), what might be the 'relational consequences' for such an obviously morally offensive activity.

I'm not holding my breath.

Every time I tune in to the local commercial television station to check on the weather or traffic, there's always some reporter standing on some street corner with some identifiable London tourist attraction in the background, breathlessly giving us one more teeny-tiny bit of insider information about some minutia of the wedding plans.

While the reporter prattles on, we are treated to scenes of Katharine - driving with her sister Pippa who is her Maid of Honor. The camera then zooms into some piece of paper in her purse in the back seat with some writing on it. Could it be - gasp! - a poem that will be part of the wedding ceremony?

And, is the Queen Mother not pleased with Pippa because she's reportedly a bit rowdy? To find out the answer to that burning question, tune in next time, folks. Same channel, preferably. Same vapid, breathless reporter with mindless banter that will distract you for a few moments from the 'sturm und drang' of life.

What I love about the Royal Wedding is that the whole world will get a chance to witness the magnificence of good Anglican liturgy - albeit writ large and in gold leaf lettering. What a wonderful evangelism moment.

I remember how awestruck I was, in 1981 and again at Diana's funeral, hearing I Corinthians 13:1-13 ("And now these three abide: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.").

Or, when I realized that the whole of Christendom was praying together the Lord's Prayer. It was a glorious moment I'm looking to experience again.

Once the wedding is over, we can then engage in the media frenzy over the wedding gown, where the couple went on the honeymoon, and whose face looked like what when so-and-so said such-and such.

We'll not even have time to catch our breath from all that when a veritable media industry will be built around the speculation of whether or not Katharine is preggers.

We all need clowns and fairy tale weddings to provide a bit of relief from paying a staggering $4.00 a gal for gasoline, listening to endless debates about cutting Medicare as a way to balance the budget and the deficit, the killer storms and tornadoes that have ripped through the south, the continued instability of the Middle East and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The point is not to let the Birthers, The Donald or The Princess Bride become THE focus. However, a teaspoon or two of foolishness taken every four hours, as needed - with an occasional handful of nuts - may just be the right medicine to help shake the cobwebs from the crevices in the brain and help us come back with fresh eyes to the complexity of problems we face.

We all need a little break. I know I'll be putting aside my sermon prep for Sunday and two papers due in a few weeks, while I vicariously dream the dream of the "little girl within' - who still lives in me and many woman - who was carefully taught to aspire to be a 'Princess Bride'.

Unlike some of my sisters, however, I just wasn't dreaming of a Prince. I'd rather skip down the aisle in my beautiful white dress, holding hands with my other Princess friends.

So, send in the Princess Bride on the arm of her charming Prince - but hold The Birthers and The Donald, if it's all the same to you.

Actually, strike that. I think it's time to turn the spotlight on The Birthers and especially The Donald. Let's demand to see their birth certificates and tax returns and, yes, even college transcripts.

It's time the Clown King of Birthers and all the members of his Realm of Racist Crazies got a turn at the pointy end of the Royal Boot.

While we all won't live happily ever after, we could at least get on with life's occasional foolishness and absurdities while we hang onto the hope that 'dreams really do come true'.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who do you say I am?

Today was my last class in Contemporary Christologies with Patrick Cheng.

I'm thrilled to have had this incredible, challenging, enlightening experience, but I find that I'm also feeling a bit sad.

It's a survey course, really, starting with Biblical Christology and ending with Interfaith Christology.

In between, we've reviewed Historical (or Christ of the Councils) Christology and The Quest for the Historical Jesus. We took a side step into Jesus and Contemporary Art, moved through Western Christology, including Barth, Pannenberg, Bultmann, Tillich, Rahner and Moltmann - all white men, all attempting to understand Jesus through the lens of philosophy.

Then, we listen to voices which are not given too much of an audience among those with a strict adherence to Patristics or "classical" (read: white, Western European male) perspective.

We read Feminist theologians like Daly, Ruther and Johnson, The Black Christ from theologians like Cone, Cleage and Roberts, and the Womanist Christ from theologians like Douglas, Terrell, and Williams.

We moved on to The Latin American Christ, reading Gutierrez, Gonzalez, Aponte, De La Torre, and Recinos, and Latin@, Mujerista Christology, reading primarily to the incomparable voice of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz in "Identificate con Nosotras".

On to the African Christ, then, reading John Onaiyekan and John Mbiti and Benezet Bujo, and the African Feminist Christ, reading, "Jesus", the powerful work of Mercy Amba Oduyoye.

Next up: The Asian Christ, reading Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, Choan-Seng Song from Taiwan, and the Asian Feminist from Sharon A. Bong and Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon in Kwok Pui Lan's "Hope Abundant".

On then, to the Marginality of The Asian American Christ, The Indigenous Christ, The Ecological Christ and the Postcolonial Christ, with voices like Lee Miena Skye, Andrea Smith, Denis Edwards, Jung Young Lee, Archiel Peelman, and Kwok Pui Lan.

I was challenged by the work of Robert E. Gross in The Queer Christ, with the additional voices of Marcella Althaus-Reid, Patrick S. Cheng, Marvin Ellison, Carter Heyward's incomparible lesbian feminist voice, as well as Justin Tanis in "Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith".

Finally, we heard from The Interfaith Christ, listening to Clara Luz Ajo Lazaro in "Jesus and Mary Dance with the Orishas: Theological Elements in Interreligious Dialogue" in the book "Hope Abundant", and the deeply moving voices of Nancy L. Eisland and Thomas E. Reynolds who articulate a vision of The Disabled Christ.

Sound exhausting? Let me tell you something: this is not an exhaustive list. These were just some of the works and some of the theologians who jumped out at me from my copious notes.

This also doesn't tell you about the many varied layers of Christology, from above (divine) to below (human), from ontological (being) to functional (work) and from Transcendent (divine) to Immanent (works).

It's been a rich, abundant feast of the many ways many people strive to answer the question Jesus asks of his disciples in Mark 8:29, "Who do you say I am?"

Truth be told, I am in no way tired and I wouldn't give nothing for my journey now.

If you want a concise summary of these works, I would highly recommend the book, "Christology: A Global Introduction - An Ecumenical, International and Contextual Perspective," by Veli-Matti-Karkkainen. It's pretty comprehensive and gives you a taste for the depth of work that's out there.

In class today, we each presented a summary of our final project in which we are to construct our own Christology from our own social location and personal experience of Jesus.

Let me tell you, it's a heck of a lot harder than it sounds. It's ever so much easier to regurgitate what you've read or learned than to construct your own Christology.

We are to interact with Jesus in Scripture and then choose "one or two" theologians with whom we are to engage in conversation. All in 15-20 pages.


Guess what I'm going to be doing from now until May 16 - by no later than 5 PM Eastern Time, according to the information on my Class Syllabus?

Honestly? I can't wait to begin.

Patrick mentioned in class today that he believes Christology is a symbolic work that can bring us together rather than pull us apart.

I believe that, too. Except I know that, at the root of all of the troubles in the church in general and the Anglican Communion in particular is the insistence that only one of us can have it "right".

Every trouble, every conflict, every schism, has as its root cause in the idea of a superior or 'orthodox' or correct Christology.

Rather than rejoicing that Jesus is alive in so many ways for so many people, we squabble about who will get an A+ on our heavenly report card.

Who knew what trouble Jesus would have unleashed by asking a simple question, "Who do you say that I am?"

St Paul tells the ancient Church in Corinth:
"Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." (I Corinthians 12:14-26)
No division in the body. That's the goal. We all fall terribly short and miss the mark because of our own pride and arrogance.

I have become convinced, over these past twelve classes, that if we each studied the other's contextual Christology and then did our own, we would be a much healthier church.

We most certainly would not need an Anglican Covenant with its punitive, retributive, Western post-colonialist posture, which tries to keep the communion together by sacrificing the ability of each disciple to respond to the question of Jesus on the altar of the false god of unity.

My class has ended, but in many ways, after 12 weeks of class and 25 years of ordained ministry, my work has just begun.

I invite you to consider, from your own social location, your own experience of Jesus as you have come to understand Him in the gospels, and your own intellectual inquiry, engaging in conversation with other theologians who have discerned their own image and understanding of Jesus from their own social location and experience, to answer the question for yourself.

As a faithful disciple of Jesus, how do you respond when He asks YOU:

"Who do you say I am?"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nunquam non paratus

It's Tuesday in Easter Week and I find myself still pushing through the fog of the aftermath of Holy Week and Easter. I suspect most of it could be credited to the lingering effects of the postprandial stupor I ate myself into on Easter Day.

I mean, just the slice of baklava alone must have contained a pound of walnuts. I don't even want to get into the part about the honey and phyllo.

You'll understand then, that the following hymn, taken from the Orthodox matins service for Tuesday evening in Easter week, hit me like a ton of bricks:
Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is the servant whom he shall find awake. But he whom shall be neglectful is verily unworthy. Behold, therefore, my soul, beware, lest thou fallest into deep slumber, and the door of the kingdom be closed against thee, and thou be delivered to death. But be thou wakeful, crying, "Holy, holy, holy! are Thou, O God. By the power of the Cross, have mercy on us.
Nunquam non paratus.

Never unprepared.

It's a consistent theme in the teachings of Jesus.

Well, if Jesus were to come today, I would be totally, completely unprepared. I suspect I would be much like the Disciple Thomas who missed out on the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. He was probably out running errands, pushing himself through the fog of all that had happened over the weekend and trying to make sense of it all.

Truth be told, if Jesus came into my living room this morning, I'd want to look at the wounds in his hands and feet and put my hands into his side. Well, for one thing, it would be pretty unbelievable for Jesus to show up in my living room on a Tuesday morning in the first place.

Mostly, however, it would be because I am so "non paratus".

Color me "verily unworthy".

Except, here's the thing: I really don't believe that Jesus has carried me this far, every step of the way, just to drop me on my head because I am not completely ready this morning.

Everything I know about Jesus tells me that His Sacred Heart has much more compassion and understanding and mercy than that.

Not that I don't get his message. I mean, the imagery of the "Bridegroom" is not coincidental. I suppose there's a reason it's call it "The Rapture". The thought of this never ceases to raise in me a wicked little giggle.

Most days, I vacillate between being completely ready to meet Jesus and so unwilling to leave this wonderful life and my amazing family and friends. There's so much yet to be done in the gift of this ministry I have been given, that, no matter how wonderful heaven is going to be, I can't even begin to imagine leaving it all.

If Jesus were to come today, I suspect I'd be more like Mary Magdalene at the tomb.

In the lectionary readings for today, we learn about her encounter with the Risen Lord from John, Chapter 20, verses 11-18:

Jesus appears to Mary - Douglas Blanchard*

Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.
They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary was totally "non paratus" for this revelation of Jesus, and still, he came to her and made her the first to witness his resurrection and the first evangelist.

So much for being 'unworthy'. Verily. 

Me? I'm going to be like Thomas and Mary - just push through the fog of the day and do what needs to be done, no matter how tedious or odious or mundane.

Last night, I completed my presentation for Pui Lan's class this afternoon, and my presentation for Patrick Cheng's class tomorrow morning is about 75% complete. I have to check a few more sources, tighten up the language, and off it goes later this afternoon.

First, I'm going to take my pup Theo (AKA "Mr. Wonderful") out for a long, leisurely walk around Memorial Drive. When we come back, I'll heat up the last of the Tomato Basil Garlic Soup I have in the freezer, add a few slices of the left over lamb to it and have it with the rest of the left over corn bread and a nice, hot cup of tea.

I will no doubt slip Theo a few slivers of the lamb. He'll be totally unprepared for this treat I have planned for him, but he'll be ready. Trust me on this.

If I happen to meet Jesus while I'm walking on Memorial Drive, I'll be likewise unprepared but totally ready. I'll say, "Hey" and "How are ya?" and "Thanks so much for the gift of Easter. It's pretty awesome."

And then, I'll invite him to walk back with me and have lunch.

I don't know, does Jesus even like Tomato Basil Garlic Soup? I mean, it is homemade. Oh, but he'll absolutely LOVE the cornbread. Trust me on this. It's pretty amazing.

I should probably pick up the newspapers and magazines that are around the apartment before I leave. Just stack them up in a more orderly fashion, is all, so it looks a bit more presentable. Probably rinse out the bathroom sink and give the toilet bowl a swish.

You know, the way my mother taught me. Just in case Jesus does come for lunch and, for whatever reason, has to use the facilities. He probably won't but, well, just in case.

I'm not so much concerned about being considered "verily unworthy."

I just wouldn't want him to think I was totally unprepared.

* To learn more about this picture from the "Gay Passion of Christ" Series, visit Jesus In Love.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dyngus Day

I had a dear clergy colleague who would call me every Easter Monday with the same greeting, "Alleluia! He is risen! And, I am dead!"

All the various services of the Three Holy Days of the Triduum, followed by Easter Day - especially the food fest - can leave one in somewhat of a holy stupor come Monday.

It's a one-two-three part punch of the busyness of preparation, the out-of-the-ordinary schedule of so many days in church, and the intensity of the experience of the retelling and reliving of the painfully human events leading up to the betrayal, torture and crucifixion of Jesus and ending with His most glorious resurrection.

This is the day when the Orthodox Church celebrates the "trick" Jesus played on Satan by robbing the Evil One of death. Jokes are told and pranks are pulled and all in the name of the great Cosmic Joke of the gift of Eternal Life.

Indeed, Easter Monday - or 'Bright' or 'Renewal' Monday - is a holiday in many, many countries around the world . From Poland to Papua New Guinea, Lebanon to Lesotho, and Greece to Gibraltar, the feast will continue.  Egg rolling contests or dousing people with holy water left over from Easter Day (or, not-so-holy water in squirt guns or 'water splashers') are very common.

In my own Portuguese family, Easter Monday meant gathering up the Easter Eggs which we had hunted for on Easter Day and taking them to the church lawn for an Easter Egg Rolling Contest on the hill which was on the side of the Church. 

This would be followed by a great pot-luck lunch to which marvelous plates of fish (cod and pike, mostly, smothered in onions, garlic and tomatoes) would be served.

You could always find me next to the large mound of periwinkles - steamed in garlic, onion, chicken broth and vermouth.  (Hmm... perhaps it should have been known as "Garlic Monday.")

Some of us would have spent at least part of Holy Saturday at the nearby Horseneck State Beach gathering up the "Poor Man's Escargot" from their places in the crevices of rocks.

After they were steamed, I would sit for hours, my safety pin in hand, pulling out the sweet tasting meat buried deep within the shell.

Served up with some thick-cut slices of crusty Portuguese bread and slathered with butter, I imagined that I had died and gone to heaven.

To my young mind, nothing said "Empty Tomb" quite like a great mound of empty periwinkle shells.

In many places around the world - especially in Poland and in parts of the United States where there is a high concentration of Polish immigrants, today is known as "Dyngus Day".

According to Zygmunt Gloger's 19th-Century Encyklopedia Staropolska, the name for this day can be traced back to a medieval form of the word dingnus, meaning 'worthy, proper, or suitable', and perhaps the German usage of dingen, 'to come to an agreement, evaluate or buy back' – there is an association here with the German word dingeier, meaning 'the eggs which are owing'.

In a Spring custom of pagan (pre-Christian Slavic) times, the Poles 'confronted' (dingen) Nature with their pouring of water and switching with pussy willows to purify themselves for the year ahead. The alternative name for the day comes from smiganie, meaning 'switching'.

One site reports that:
Buffalo, New York is unofficially the Dyngus Capital of America with the largest concentration of festival locations and live polka music. Smaller festivals can be found in communities with sizable Polish-America populations such as South Bend in Indiana, Chicago in Illinois, Elizabeth in New Jersey, Bristol in Connecticut and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Celebrations in South Bend kick off the political campaign season in the City.

As the popular polka anthem explains, "Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!” Many parties begin during the mid-morning on the Monday after Easter with a large buffet of traditional Easter foods (kielbasa, ham, fresh breads, and eggs). It is common to hear polka music on Dyngus Day with the mandatory dancing of at least one polka. Many parties continue well into daylight on Tuesday. (A tip to the first-time Dyngus participant: take Tuesday off from work.)

This is a yearly debate among Dyngus Day revelers. The tradition holds true that on Easter Monday boys would sprinkle the girls with water and tap them with pussy willows. On Easter Tuesday, the women would return the favorite. At modern Dyngus Day parties it is common practice that both men and women trade water and pussy willow equally.
I suspect it's a bit like grammar or middle school courting wherein the boy pulls a girls hair as a sign of interest/affection. Perhaps its a throwback to the old caveman with the club thing. I don't get it but it has its own charm, I suppose, in its own way.

I love this little note about pussy willows at the end:
But, how did the pussy willow get its name? According to Polish legend, many springs ago, baby kittens fell into a raging river while chasing butterflies. The mother cat sadly wept at the river’s edge, pleading for help for her drowning kittens. The willows heard her mournful cries and swept their long graceful branches into the water. The kittens grabbed the branches, held on tightly and were safely brought to shore. Every spring, from that day on, the willows sprouted fur-like buds where the tiny kittens once clung.
You can also hear a fascinating discussion on NPR of the somewhat odd Dyngus Day courting ritual of Pussy Willows and Water that brings people to Buffalo in search of true love.

Easter Monday is all about the joy of Easter and celebrating love - ancient and new - and life - new and eternal - with wonderful if not somewhat childish pranks. And, dancing. And, food. And yes, beer.

Meanwhile, back in what I like to call my "third floor, lonely little writer's garret" in Cambridge, MA, it's a drizzly, rainy April day. I've got two presentations to prepare for my two classes this week, a sermon to write for Sunday, and lunch with a friend in the midst of various errands and other tasks.

I'll just let the drizzle of the rain provide the sprinkling and drenching rites which are being more formally offered in churches and communities around the world. 

I will be preaching this coming "Doubting Thomas" Sunday at St. John's, Bowdoin Street while my rector is away, representing the church at the annual Walk for Hunger in Boston. This provides me with the sublime joy of presiding at that altar - the first time I have done so since October 19, 1986, the day after my priestly ordination.

Did I mention that I am absolutely thrilled and deeply honored?

No time for pussy willows and water or beer and sausage and dancing for me, even if I were so inclined. And, I'm not, actually.

No rest for the wicked, as they say.

Actually, this is the pace I prefer and the one I choose. I want to take in this Great Feast and slowly digest the rich, abundant feast of the past few days with all of it's lows and highs.

I want to enjoy the lingering memories of the luxury of the Easter Dinner I celebrated yesterday with friends of almost 35 years and a few new friends I hope will be in my life in some way for the next 35 years.

I want to claim for myself the sublime mystery of being in 'true love' with Jesus and drenching myself in the profound gift of Life Eternal.

I suspect taking this time will allow me to rise say, "Alleluia, he is risen!" throughout the rest of the year with even deeper, more profound meaning.

Dyngus Day, for me will be about that which gives 'dingnus', meaning 'worthy, proper, or suitable',

Even so, I wonder where I might find a large mound of steamed periwinkles for lunch.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Queen of Seasons

Nothing shouts "Alleluia! He is risen!" quite like the trumpet of a daffodil.

Nothing shouts back, "He is risen, indeed!" quite like the pink blossom of the cherry tree.

We are in the midst of the Queen of Seasons, and after a very long, very hard winter, Spring is in the midst of a glorious reign.

Last night, at the Great Vigil of Easter at St. John's, Bowdoin Street in Boston, we sang that wonderful hymn, "Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain".

The words were written in the 8th Century by John of Damascus, translated in the 1800's by John Mason Neale.
'Tis the spring of souls today: Christ hath burst his prison
and from three days' sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give laud and praise undying.
Well, some sins were committed in the name of Jesus for the Queen of Seasons.

There is a wonderful tradition at St. John's which Ms. Conroy and I remember from our days there, more than 25 years ago.

At that time, Ted Mellor was Chief Sacristan and the Master of All Ceremonies at St. John's. Easter was his favorite time of year. He rehearsed us to a faretheewell for the Great Vigil and did not consider us properly prepared until someone burst into tears.

That's only a slight exaggeration.

One moment of levity, however, came when Ted - unbeknownst to the priest - would sneak an Easter Egg into the ciborium or chalice or place it somewhere under the veil.

We would all wait for the moment when the priest would remove the covering from either vessel and - in his or her exhaustion after five long lessons, five sung or chanted psalms, five collects, the renewal of Baptismal Vows, the Gloria, the Epistle, the Great Alleluia, yet another Psalm, the Gospel, The Homily, the Prayers of the People AND the Exchange of Peace - would have forgotten "the trick" from the year before and dissolve into giggles right there at the Table.

Ted said that some sort of little "trick" like this was a tradition in many Orthodox communities because it symbolized that Jesus had tricked the Devil out of death. It was a great Cosmic Joke, said Ted, that we should give some credence as part of the liturgy.

Besides, after all the preparation for this Queen of Liturgies, we all deserved a bit of a giggle.

Ever since we've left St. John's, Ms. Conroy has always put an Easter Egg in the chalice or ciborium or somewhere under the veil. She has colluded with Altar Guilds up and down the East Coast to make this happen - explaining, of course the (ahem) theology of the act - to their delight and, I think deepening joy of Easter.

The other day at lunch, I mentioned the tradition to my rector, Katharine Black, but she seemed unaware of the tradition. When I told Ms. Conroy, she was horrified. Simply, undeniably, horrified.

So, of course, nothing would be done but that Ms Conory would make sure the tradition would be reinstated and continued, henceforth and furthermore, at St. John's.

She went out yesterday afternoon to purchase a chocolate Easter Egg - Cadburry, please - but to her dismay, discovered that every place she went was sold out.

She finally settled for some Easter Egg Bubble Gum, a large rock of a brightly colored pink egg-shaped thing, which would simply have to do for this year.

I tried to slip the egg into the chalice, but there was simply too much frenetic activity for me to do that with any amount of grace or subtlety, so I slipped it into the ciborium which is at the back of the church at the beginning of the service.

This would later prove to complicate matters just a tad.

Katharine didn't uncover the ciborium until the moment of consecration, so she had no idea that this large, Very Pink, Easter Egg gumball was in the sacred vessel.

It had the best effect I've ever seen. Katharine lost it. I mean, full throat giggle. And then, she pulled it together, only to be lost again in giggles. This went on for at least 30-45 seconds but it felt more like several minutes.

Ms. Conroy was very pleased. Some of the folks who were at St. John's when we were there remembered it and were delighted. Of course, we explained what had happened to as many as we could at the Great Lamb Feast which always follows the Great Vigil of Easter (yes, roast leg of lamb, potatoes, asparagus, salad, etc, etc, etc.)

The complication came because, unlike tradition - anywhere, but especially at St. John's - we now had a consecrated Easter Egg. Very Pink. Very Consecrated.

Katharine did exactly the right thing: As she came to distribute the consecrated bread, she slipped the Very Pink, Very Consecrated Easter Egg into Ms. Conroy's hand before giving her the Body of Christ.

After communion, Ms. Conroy looked at me and asked, just a bit off her normal cool, aloof self, "What am I supposed to do with this?"

Darned if I knew. "Put it in the Collection Plate," I suggested.

"No!" she said, "It's consecrated!"

She was right. Of course, she was right.

For no apparent reason, we both happened to look up and there - right in front of us - was the wood carving of The Black Madonna, even more striking with a large vase of Very Pink flowers at her feet.

We both smiled at each other as Ms. Conroy went over to The Black Madonna, reverenced her, placed the Very Pink Consecrated Easter Egg at her feet, blessed herself, bowed, and then returned to her seat.

I'm not sure, but I suspect Jesus was laughing uproariously in heaven. So, too, were the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Now the queen of seasons, bright with the day of splendor,
with the royal feast of feasts, comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem, who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains Jesus' resurrection.
It's a beautiful day here in Boston. The sun is shining. The birds are tweeting happily. The flowers are brilliant in a vast array of amazing colors that span the spectrum of colors known to Nature.

All of creation, it seems, is conspiring together to sing in a cacophony of sounds and a a riot of colors to bring laud and honor to the Queen of Seasons and the King of Creation - the Sovereigns of the Universe.

How could we not but join them?

Happy Easter everyone!

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear Lulu

According to orthodox tradition, Holy Saturday is the day Jesus spent in hell.

Unlike Good Friday, I've always found it hard to be really sad today, mostly because I'm so busy with preparations for the Easter Feast at home and at church, but also because, well, I know how the story ends.

I mean, tonight is the Great Vigil. It takes a lot - even for this mostly mature adult - to be patient through all the readings when you know the ending is going to be so spectacular and wonderful.

There's something in me - the little child within - that keeps jumping up and down whispering loudly, "Get to the empty tomb! Get to the empty tomb!"

There are other stories, however, stories you think are so predictable in their dreariness, that come along and surprise you, any way.

+++Rowan (you know, the Archbishop of Canterbury) has been such a disappointment on so many levels - equal rites for LGBT people, women in the episcopate, the Anglican Covenant - that it's surprisingly nice to have something positive to say about him for a change.

Damien Thompson, religious editor over at the Telegraph, UK, reported this story which first appeared in The Church Times.

Alex Renton is an atheist who sends his six-year-old daughter Lulu to a Scottish church primary school. Lulu's teachers asked her to write the following letter: “To God, How did you get invented?”
Reportedly, the Rentons were taken aback: “We had no idea that a state primary affiliated with a church would do quite so much God,” says her father. He could have told Lulu that, in his opinion, there was no God; or he could have pretended that he was a believer.

He chose to do neither, instead emailing her letter to the Scottish Episcopal Church (no reply), the Presbyterians (ditto) and the Scottish Catholics (a nice but theologically complex answer). For good measure, he also sent it to “the head of theology of the Anglican Communion, based at Lambeth Palace” – and this was the response:
I have to give  +++Himself points for this one.

No, I'm not overly fond of the theology - I do find the play with the words "discover" vs. "invent" to set an interesting and helpful tone - but I'm sincerely impressed that the man took time to write to little Miss Lulu Renton.

"A person is never so tall as when s/he stoops to help a child."

Here's what Lulu's dad reports as her response to the Archbishop:
I found photos of him on the Internet and showed them to Lulu. She rather liked the beard. I explained a little of who he was and what he did and stood for (that would have been harder if we’d had a letter from the Pope).

She listened quietly as I read the Archbishop’s letter and it went down well. The idea of God and his story of the world worked particularly.

“Well?” I asked when we reached the end. “What do you think?”

She thought a little. “Well, I have very different ideas. But he has a good one.”
By Jove, I do believe this child has all the makings of a good Anglican.

Indeed, I suspect she just might grow up to make a really fine Anglican bishop - the Anglican Covenant and +++Rowan's bumblings not withstanding.

Won't it be great fun to wait and see how this story ultimately ends?

We live, as one of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer says, in "sure and certain hope".

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Christa

“Christa” by © Edwina Sandys
The following poem is excerpted from a presentation by Nicola Slee. It is the first of three addresses on Christa that she delivered on Good Friday in 2010 at St. James Piccadilly Church in London. Her other addresses look at the Corporate Christa and the Cosmic Christa.

You can find the full text of all three addresses by following the link over at Jesus in Love, where I first found this picture of Christa and these essays by Slee.

The illustration above is “Christa” by Edwina Sandys - the most famous artwork of a female Christ.

Sculpted in 1975, this amazing bronze crucifix has been portrayed on the pages of the London Times, Time, Newsweek, Life, and other major publications. It has appeared at respected galleries and churches throughout Europe and North America, notably a controversial 1984 showing at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Wherever Christa goes, the sculpture triggers debate on both ends as well as across the spectrum of understanding about the nature of God and the role of women.

Sandy’s “Christa” sculpture and the story behind it are included in Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

In the following excerpt, Slee describes Christa in a poem.

I hope you find it as powerful and deeply moving a Good Friday meditation as I have.
" . . . . the female Christ figure is, itself, controversial amongst feminist theologians. Some consider it merely reinforces, rather than challenges, the stereotype of women as powerless victims of abuse.

Others find it immensely healing, enabling them to realize their own bodies as the site of the divine, even in their mortality, pain and abuse. I leave you to make your own response, as I share with you something of my own, in a poem I have written exploring the identity of the crucified Christa with us today:
Who is the Christa?

Every woman forced to have sex who didn’t want it
Every girl trafficked out of her own home country
trapped in some anonymous bedsit in someone else’s city
working all the hours men want to have her body
making a fast buck for her pimp

The woman you meet in the street with bruises all up her arm
which you don’t see because she covers them up in long sleeved blouses
and thick sweaters
(Harder to hide the gash on her face but make-up has its uses)
Every woman who is too frightened to go out alone because of what has happened to her in the past or what she imagines might happen to her

The woman sleeping in the underpass
in her makeshift room of cardboard
who wards off the unwanted attentions from the drunk two streets up

The smart young graduate climbing the career ladder
who can’t get through the day without shooting up
The anorexic teenager starving her young body
that is strange to her and she cannot seem to love
The classrooms of self-harming girls

The nine-year old orphan caring for three siblings all under five
in a shanty town in any African city
Her parents dead from AIDs

Every street girl and boy scavenging on rubbish tips
Every child working in sweatshops making cheap tee-shirts for Primark
All the women raped in war or, worse, forced to watch their daughters raped
Husbands shot in front of their eyes

Women who walk a thousand miles through a war-zone
with babies on their hips and children dragging along beside them
Desperate to make it to a refugee camp
where they might find food and shelter

Christa, our sister,
have mercy
Christa, God’s beloved,
show us your face
where we have not wanted to see it
where we resist your presence among us
Nicola Sleeis a theologian and poet based at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, where she teaches feminist and contextual theology.

She also works freelance, doing a wide range of writing, speaking and retreat work, with a particular interest in women’s spirituality, faith development, liturgy and poetry. The author of numerous articles, her previous books include Faith and Feminism (DLT, 2003) and Praying Like a Woman (SPCK, 2004).

She is the author of the new book Seeking the Risen Christa.

She lives with her partner and two cats in Stirchley, Birmingham.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Queen of Lemonade

I was born on the Feast of St. Anselm more years ago now than I care to admit, thank you very much. Let's just say no one asks for my ID anymore when I order a glass of wine with dinner.

A friend of mine reminded me of Genesis 6:3:
"Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years'".
So, with every passing year, I'm moving closer and closer to that goal. I just hope I can stay as feisty on my 120th birthday as I am today.

Otherwise, what's the point?

One of our daughters sent this lovely vase of flowers for my birthday. She chose it, she said, because she admitted rather sheepishly, "I'm a marketer's dream."

If you look below the beautiful daisies, you'll notice the lemons in the pitcher. The arrangement is called, "Making lemonade out of lemons."

She said, "Mom, I HAD to get this for you. You are the absolute Queen of Lemonade from Lemons."

My daughter knows me well.

Part of that, of course, is the essence of being a Christian. I am, alas, as St. Paul writes, a "prisoner of hope". Another part of that is being a second generation Portuguese immigrant. I was infused with a sense of The Great American Dream in utero. The 'Spirit of Can-Do' was present at the moment of my first breath.

I have come to understand, however, that the greater part of being the Queen of Lemonade from Lemons is simply part of my nature. Baby, I was born this way.

One of the characters in Rita Mae Brown's book, Southern Discomfort, is a male hooker/drag queen known as Chablis. Her philosophy in life is this: "Look, honey, you got two choices in life: You can spit it out or you can swallow."

Mostly, I swallow. Unless, of course I have to spit it out. And then, I make lemonade.

I mean, otherwise, what's the point?

So, today is Maundy Thursday. I'm preaching and presiding at St. John's Chapel here at EDS at the noon Eucharist and then I'm preaching and co-presiding tonight at St. John's Bowdoin Street tonight.

That's a lotta feet to wash on any day of the week.

One of my daughters asked, "Mom, do you HAVE to spend your birthday like that? I mean, I know you love church and all, but the WHOLE day? Washing feet?"

I said "I can't imagine a better way to spend my birthday, really. It's a wonderful liturgy. It's especially great drama at the end when the altar is stripped and the door slams. Some people in the congregation will have never attended a service like this. How lucky am I to be doing something I love which may inspire others to love Jesus - and all on my birthday?"

My daughter sighed deeply. "Well, alright, Mom. Whatever makes you happy, but you WILL go out to dinner after church, right? Have a fabulous meal or something?"

Well, maybe. I just may be too tired at that point. Besides, the nifty thing about being a Christian is the idea of an Octave of celebration of my Natal Feast Day.

It doesn't have to end until after Easter. See?

Besides, tomorrow is Ms. Conroy's birthday. As I write this, she is making her way to Boston so we can spend the Triduum and Easter together. Oh, and celebrate our birthdays.

Yes, we were born in the same year. Two and a half hours apart. In the same city. In the same hospital.

I know. You can't make this stuff up.

She's already tormenting me about being older. It's what we do. Torment each other. Not always. Only when necessary. That's why we're still together, I suppose, after all these years. Thirty-five, actually, in October.

The ability to torment someone you love on occasion is part of the glue of life.

I mean, otherwise, what's the point?

So, off I go into this beautiful, sun-shiny day, into the vineyards of the Lord to listen to the old, old story of Jesus and his love, preach what I hope will be an inspiring meditation about Servant Leadership, wash some feet, make some Eucharist, and create a little liturgical drama.

You know, it just doesn't get much better than that.

If that's making lemonade out of lemons, then get my tiara and ermine robe, put some sugar in my royal Ceremonial Mace and crown me Queen for the Day.

This day was simply made for some Royal Lemonade.

I mean, otherwise, what's the point?

Royal Lemonade for everyone today!

It may be the Queen of England's birthday today, but The Queen of Lemonade has spoken.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Sermon for Holy Week

Burning of Sodomites for Homosexuality

The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused of sodomy, are executed for homosexual acts by burning before the walls of Zürich in 1482.
Source: Diebold Schilling, Chronik der Burgunderkriege, Schweizer Bilderchronik, Band 3, um 1483 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek) via Wikimedia Commons.
In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts. The church killed thousands of LGBT people for homosexuality over the next 700 years.
More info on the sad history of LGBT and queer people burned at the stake by the church for homosexuality at the Jesus in Love Blog:
I encourage you to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" this "Sermon for Passion Week". I found it posted by Dan Savage on "Slog". You can find it here.

It is written by Briallen Hopper, a divinity student at Yale.

It is breathtaking in its lament.

It is prophetic in its call to hope.

It is, for me, a powerful meditation on the betrayal and torture and crucifixion of Jesus while still offering a way to a re-imagine a church that is more faithful to the resurrected, wounded, Body of Christ.

She writes,
"If necessary,
Let us tear down our churches
And rebuild them on this story,
This broken body,
This cornerstone.
Yes, my friends, there is great hope in this. Hope for authenticity and truth. Hope for mercy and compassion. Hope for the justice and peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding.

Let the church say, "Amen."

A Sermon for Passion Week

My text today is from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 31.

“Thus says the LORD:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.
Thus says the LORD:
Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the LORD:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future, says the LORD:
your children shall come back to their own country.”

It’s been thousands of years now,
but Rachel is still weeping for her children.
She’s still refusing to be comforted.
But she’s not in Ramah.

Right now Rachel is in suburban Minnesota.
Her son Justin bravely came out at age thirteen and endured merciless bullying for two years.
He killed himself last August.
Rachel found his body.

Rachel is also in Indiana.
Her son Billy was called a fag at school.
His classmates told him to kill himself.
And so he did.
Rachel found his body too.

Rachel is in California,
Where her son Seth hung himself from a tree in his backyard
After being sexually tortured at school.

Rachel is in Texas.
Her thirteen-year-old son Asher shot himself in the head
When he was tormented for being gay.

Rachel is in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Her son Tyler jumped off a bridge
After his college roommate secretly filmed him having sex
And outed him on the internet.

Rachel is in Wisconsin.
Her son Cody felt unsafe at school
So he tried to form a gay-straight alliance for Safe Schools.
Before he could create a safe space for himself,
Cody was gone.

But Rachel is weeping for more than her dead sons.

Rachel is also in New Haven.
Her daughters go to Yale.
They are hardworking, talented women.
They have been called sluts.
They have been raped.
Last year,
when one of Rachel’s daughters was raped by a classmate,
The daughter went to people in authority for help.
Traumatized and fearful,
She told her story over and over.
But nothing was done,
And now she sits in classrooms with the man who raped her.
Rachel’s daughter will survive,
But the damage will never be undone.

When Rachel’s daughter told her mother what had happened,
Rachel held her and they clung to each other and wept together.
And Rachel knew that even though her daughter was still alive,
The trusting, joyful girl she used to be
was no more.

Rachel is still crying.

We know these stories.
We read them in the paper,
And we see them close to home.
We know that Rachel and her children are nearby.
We know they might be in this room.
But it’s hard for us to know what to say or do
After reciting this long litany of loss,
And registering the endless hurt.

Sexual violence, sexual damage, and sexual shame.

They invade our bodies and pervade our culture.
They wound us
and haunt us
and dissolve our spirits in nausea and nothingness.

I grew up in a church that had a rich vocabulary for describing sexual darkness.
As young people growing up in the church,
We knew vividly the damage and sorrow that sexuality could cause.
Of course, the church was also the one doing the sexual violating,
and shaming.

That is why I am no longer there.
That’s why I am a liberal Protestant.
But sometimes I worry that mainline Protestantism
doesn’t know how to talk about this dark side of sexuality.
Our language about sexuality is so resolutely cheerful.
When it comes to straight sexuality,
Our main message is that sex is good.
We’re not like the evangelicals with their chastity rings
And their abstinence education and their crazy hangups.

And when it comes to gay sexuality
We just want to make it clear that church is a safe and happy place,
And we signal that in the language for our stances on LGBT issues.
The Congregationalists are “open and affirming,”
the Baptists are “welcoming,”
and the Methodists are “reconciling.”
The Episcopalians talk about “Integrity,”
and the Presbyterians say “More Light.”

We love to talk about welcome,
Even justice.

But “Justice” cannot do justice to the stories
Of the people who come through our doors
Reeling with pain,
Trapped in cycles of trauma,
Covered with scars and bruises in their spirits or under their clothes.

Sometimes when I think about all the children who are bullied to death
Because of their sexuality,
And all the vulnerable people with no one to protect or defend them
From rape and sexual abuse,

I get angry—
Especially because I know that when Rachel and her children come to our churches
They sometimes feel that they are welcomed and affirmed,
But only on condition that they are normal and happy.
They are welcome to be gay or lesbian or bi or trans,
but they have to be relatively unscathed by their experiences with homophobia.
They are allowed to be a rape victim or a sexual abuse survivor,
but they have to have gotten over it.
They have to move on.

When I think of Rachel and her children and what they require,
I think of what should be written on our church signs and banners:

“East Rock Methodist Church. Welcoming the Disconsolate.”
“New Haven Baptist Church. We Mourn with those who Mourn.”
“Grace Presbyterian. A Weeping and Wailing Church.”
“First United Church of Christ. God is Still Weeping.”

So far this has been a sermon about lamentation:
About being aware of sexual sorrow
And making space for it in our congregations.
I think this is urgently important,
But I don’t want to stop there,

Because the Scripture doesn’t stop there.
In the words of Jeremiah:

“The LORD said:
There is hope for your future:
your children shall come back to their own country.”

Or, to put it another way—
In the words of Harvey Milk—

“You gotta give ’em hope.”

But giving hope isn’t easy.
For some people, it doesn’t get better.
Their pain is never going to be fully healed in this life.
For years or forever,
They will be too wary to get too close to people.
They will wake up in the dark with racing hearts,
Reliving their nightmare.
Their children will remain dead until the Last Day.
What does the church have to offer them?

In addition to creating space for suffering,
The church needs to provide strong narratives
That show people how devastated God is by their suffering,
And how lovingly God sees them.

The church needs to make sustaining religious meaning for people dealing with sexual damage.
And the phrase that came to me as I was thinking how to do this,
Inspired by liberation theology,
Was “a preferential option for the gays.”
Or maybe, “a preferential option for those who have suffered sexual violence.”

The idea of a preferential option for the poor comes from Catholic social teaching.
It reminds us that on the last day
We will be told that whatever we did for the least of our brothers and sisters,
We did for Christ.

The doctrine of the preferential option for the poor reminds us
That through their vulnerability, the poor are identified with Christ.
I believe that those who have been sexually hurt.
Are also closely identified with Christ.
I believe the beauty of God’s love is uniquely revealed in them.

As we near Passion Week,
I want you to think about the Passion Story in a new way.
I want you to imagine Our Savior
As a thirteen-year-old American boy.
For a few years now he has found the courage to tell the truth about who he is.
Everyone at his school knows that he is different.
There are a few people who hang out with him,
Who love him and who look up to him and love to repeat the things that he says,
But most of the students avoid him or spread rumors about him.
And there are groups of students who follow him around at recess and after school,
Telling him why he’s wrong,
Trying to get him in trouble,
Trying to set traps for him.

He feels isolated from his family.
His religious community doesn’t support him.
Sometimes the stress is too much, and he has to go away by himself
To just pray and try to find the strength to go on.
It’s clear that he isn’t fitting in.
He’s a source of disruption in the school.
Kids have created a facebook page to mock him.
Graffiti about him is scrawled all over the bathrooms.
Something has to be done.

A teacher sends him to the Principal’s Office.
The Principal says:
“What do you have to say for yourself?
Is it true what they say about you?”
The boy says, quietly,
“If you say so.”
The Principal says,
“Look, I don’t think you’re a bad kid,
But the other students seem to think you’re strange,
And a lot of the teachers have trouble with your lifestyle.
Personally I don’t have a problem with who you are,
But don’t look to me for any favors.”
And the Principal sent him back out into the hallway.

This happened on a Friday.

It breaks my heart to tell this next part, but I know it’s true.
After school, a group of students were waiting for him.
They gathered around him and beat him up.
They kicked him to the ground.
They smeared him with lipstick they’d stolen from their big sisters
And they called him Queen of the Fags.
They wrote it on his forehead.
They tore off his clothes
And they flipped a coin to see who would get his ipod.
When the boy stumbled home hours later
It was getting dark.
He went into the house.
No one was home.
He found his father’s gun
And then he went out into the garden in the backyard and sat down,
Too tired to move.
He texted all his friends,
Hoping for a word of encouragement,
But none of them replied.
He was alone.
He clutched the gun, and in a broken voice, he prayed,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
I don’t want to do this.
Show me another way.”

I don’t know whether this boy lived or died that night.
But here’s what I do know.
I know, in the words of Isaiah,
quoted by the Ethiopian eunuch,
That in his humiliation, justice was denied him.
And I know that in the words of the Psalm,
This boy is the stone that the builders rejected.
And I know that if he is alive, he is in our church.
And I know that if he has died, his family is in our church.
I know that his story is not something to be ashamed of
Or silenced
Or gotten over.
His story, and the story of all who have suffered like him,
Is the story of Jesus.
It is the foundation of the Good News on which we build our lives.

Here is our hope:

“The stone that the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone,
And it is marvelous in our eyes.”

If necessary,
Let us tear down our churches
And rebuild them on this story,
This broken body,
This cornerstone.