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, June 30, 2012

Miracle, Interrupted

Agnus Day
First of all, let me just say how thrilled beyond the telling that I am that the Supreme Court upheld the Health Care Reform Act.

Is it perfect? Far from it. Do we have a long way to achieve Universal Health Care? Absolutely. Is this an important first step? Undoubtedly.

I sincerely wish that the Medicaid expansion had been upheld. Hundreds of thousands of people are still going to be without health care. I thought the 100% coverage from the feds for 3 years, followed by 90% cost-shifting was a good deal. I simply can not believe the stories from governors about "we simply can't afford it". I think it's a matter of priorities.

It is not an understatement to say that it thrills me to know that Supreme Court Justice Roberts left partisan politics at the door and focused on the constitutionality of the law. That's their job. That's what they are supposed to do. Thank God, they did it.

I'm also delighted that children will be able to be covered until they are 26 years old, that no one can be discriminated against for preexisting conditions and that everyone must be covered by health care by 2014 or be subject to a fine.

Okay, tax.  Better that then to have someone without insurance treated at a hospital and the cost of that person's care be absorbed into higher rates and taxes anyway. It puts the responsibility back on the individual and, where applicable, their employers. In my estimation, that's exactly where it belongs.  I don't understand why Republicans aren't thrilled about that.

This Sunday's gospel fortuitously features not one but two healing stories in a classic "Markan Sandwich". 

It's also sometimes called "Miracle, Interrupted". 

The scene opens as Jesus and the disciples step off the boat and are suddenly greeted by Jarius, the leader of the local Synagogue, who tells them that his daughter is nigh unto death and asks that Jesus heal her, please.

On his way to make a "house call," Jesus tries to make his way through the large crowd which is pressing on him from all sides. As he does, a woman who "had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years" approaches Jesus. "She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse."

Unbeknownst to Jesus, she touches the hem of his garment and is instantly healed. We are told that Jesus "felt the power had gone forth from him" and immediately wanted to know who touched him.

Interesting. No one knew. Not Jesus. Not the disciples. Just the woman who had been healed who finally came forth and "confessed" that it was she who had touched him. Jesus immediately pronounced her healed and sent her on her way in peace.

We come, then, to the second layer of the "Markan Sandwich" - the miracle that had been interrupted - with the arrival of Jesus at the home of the daughter of Jarius. Everyone thinks the child has already died and they laugh at Jesus when he tells them that the child is not dead but asleep (meaning, I'm sure, that she was in a coma)

Jesus ushers everyone out of the child's room - including her parents - and with the words  "Talitha cum," (which means, "Little girl, get up!"), the child is healed and begins to walk.

It is folly to try and impose the gospel template on our modern American reality.  Even with the "miracle of modern medical science," the healing power of Jesus looks like a magician's trick - like David Copperfield flying on stage or a 'mentalist' bending a spoon with a magical glare.

Universal Health Care is not magical.  I think it's a gospel value. It can happen when we establish it as a goal - placed above profit margins and corporate greed.

The fact that we have this first step - reforming the way we have traditionally provided health care insurance - will be no less than miraculous to hundreds of thousands of people.

And yet, there are hundreds of thousands more who remain in need.

Perhaps this part of the evolution of Universal Health Care will prove to be a "miracle, interrupted," as well.  Perhaps, in another decade - with continued progress, changing hearts and minds - we'll get there.

If ever I needed to hear Jesus say, "Do not fear, only believe," it's now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Family Feud

Well, we're not even at General Convention, and the feuding has already commenced.

Except now, we're feuding about how we shouldn't be feuding.

This is how the "family feud" goes. I know it so well, I could write the script for my "orthodox/evangelical" sisters and brothers. You know, the ones who claim that Scripture says what Scripture says and that's the end of that.

At this point, they could probably write my script, too.

Here's the script for those who are opposed to accepting any level of any equality for LGBT people.

First, you claim the majority. You use whatever ground you can scramble. "Most of the rest of the world.......". "Two thousand years of history and tradition......". "Nowhere in Holy Scripture...." "The majority of the Anglican Communion.......".

Then, feet firmly planted in what you perceive to be the 'ground of majority', you deliver a left hook to the midsection with Scripture - your perspective and interpretation, of course - citing the usual passages from Leviticus, Romans, etc., which let "my kind" know that we are an abomination in the site of the Lord. You don't even have to quote it. You just recite chapter and verse.

Then, you swing with a right uppercut to the jaw with Tradition - thousands and thousands of years of tradition - wherein this "innovation" has never been done before and has consistently been rejected by "orthodoxy" and "the church catholic" and is not of "the faith first received by the fathers".

When you find us still standing, you starting plummeting with both fists, citing "scientific studies" that try to disclaim the APA's findings that homosexuality is not a psychological illness or disorder and that we're not "born this way" but, rather, choose to "live in sin" and "defiantly" (also "rebelliously") not "submit" (these guys LOVE that word) to the "will of God".

Amazed that we have not gone away and, in fact, are standing tall, someone will predictably drag out some sordid, perverse practice they read somewhere in some pornographic magazine and try to embarrass and shame us and scandalize everyone else who may be paying attention.

When the booing starts from the sidelines, you begin to yell back that "we are hemorrhaging members" and "our church is dying" and other dire warning from the Chicken Little School of Theology, which gets the attention of the crowd.

Then, it's time to switch back to regain the ground of majority, deliver another left hook, then another right, more plummeting, etc.,etc., etc. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The game changes just a bit when one of us starts talking about "justice". Oh, how they HATE that!  Especially when we use the language of liberation theology and begin to talk about assumed privilege and unexamined entitlement and targeted demographics.

What they hate even more is when we begin to tell our stories. Incarnational faith has always been problematic for those who do not wish to see or hear anything other than what they want to see or hear.

That's when you try throwing out a few crumbs, hoping the minorities will be so busy scrambling for them that you can turn a few people against each other. It's called 'brokering'. The one with the whole pie tosses out 1% and hopes that those without will be so busy fighting over the 1% that no one will notice that you still have 99%.

When that doesn't work, you scream "ad hominem attack" and claim that you have been insulted and we've been condescending. That's when we know we are starting to make you nervous.

When all else fails, you pull yourself up on your high horse and say over your shoulder, "I took an oath at ordination to submit to the authority of Scriptures as the Word of God and the doctrine, disciple and worship of Christ as this Church has received. I am not ashamed of the gospel, or believing in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of his Word and teaching of this Church."

And then, you ride away, apparently forgetting that everyone who is ordained takes the same oath and believes with all their heart that they are being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of which they are similarly unashamed. 

Susan Russell likes to remind us of something she once heard Michael Battle say, "Fish don't know they're wet." Which is a nice way of saying that some people are absolutely clueless about their privilege and entitlements so they hear the Gospel in a completely different way and behave accordingly.

They don't mean to be arrogant. They just don't know that they are.

I had so hoped that this General Convention would be without rancor. I fear it won't. I'm sure there will be at least a few diehard "fundgelicals" who will get up to the microphone during the legislative sessions, committee hearings, and on the floor of Convention and we'll see and hear a few of the same moves we've been seeing and hearing for the last almost 40 years.

You can expect the expected from the progressive side: liberation theology, incarnational stories of faith, and lots of talk about justice. And, we'll still be standing tall at the end.

We are not going away. We are, likewise, unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Integrity has put together a wonderful video of the last 36 years of our "marching in the light of God" toward "all the sacraments for all the baptized". You can watch it here to get a sense of where we started and where we are now and where we hope to be.

Stay tuned. I'm planning to blog daily from Indianapolis, just as I have for every General Convention since 2006 when this blog was first created.

I'm leaving early Sunday morning and will arrive at my hotel in the late afternoon. There are booths to set up and the legislative caucus to organize and old friends to meet and new friends to make.

Hopefully, there will be more of that and less of "the family feud" - which, I'm just now remembering - was all about getting the 'right' answer - the one that most everyone else agreed with (".... And, the survey says.......").

I'm less concerned about being 'right' and much more concerned about doing good.

And, if we do well, you won't hear me complain either - whether or not we have to feud about it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Invitation to Dialogue

This book available at Leader Resources

Note: I am honored to be part of this wee bookee, "Water, Bread and Wine" which considers the question of whether or not The Episcopal Church ought to offer Holy Eucharist to those who have not been baptized.

 It should be noted that The Episcopal Church already practices "Open Communion" in that we believe what we say that "There is one faith, one hope, one baptism". If you have been baptized in any Christian tradition - Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox - you are welcome at The Lord's Table in The Episcopal Church. 

That's what our canons - the laws of the church - presently dictate. That's being challenged by the practice in a growing number of churches who actively welcome those who have not been baptized. And, it's being challenged by a resolution pending before General Convention that seeks to change the canonical requirement of baptism before Eucharist.

Linda L. Grenz of Leader Resources asked a group of bishops, clergy and laity to present their perspectives on this issue as a way to invite the whole church into the conversation. 

They include L. Zoe Cole, an attorney and deputy to General Convention from Colorado, Joe Morris Doss, former bishop of NJ, Richard Fabian and Donald Schell, former rectors of St. Gregory of Nissa in San Francisco which has practiced communion before baptism for more than twenty years, Tobias Stanislas Haller, a parish priest in Brooklyn and deputy from New York, Daniel Martins, bishop of Springfield (IL), Linda Grenz and moi. 

Each essay has a list of questions which are designed to invite conversation. 

I hope you will order this book for yourself and, perhaps, for a group discussion at your church. It may not change anyone's mind, but I suspect you'll learn more about Eucharist and Baptism than you thought you knew. 

And, if you don't know about Leader Resources, you are in for a real treat!

Here's my essay. Enjoy!
Breakfast with Jesus
Elizabeth Kaeton

I’m not sure Jesus baptized anyone.

John offers two conflicting reports: 3:22 reports that he did, but 4:2 reports: “Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples did”. Although we may assume that the disciples were baptized by Jesus, Scripture is interestingly silent on the matter. The disciples did, however, baptize, under – but not necessarily at – His direction. Indeed, the religious leaders of His time noted that “more were baptized and made disciples” under the direction of Jesus than under John the Baptist. (John 4:1-3).

Although it appears that Jesus never told anyone in any of the Gospel accounts to be baptized, all of them report many discussions with numerous people about how to have a relationship with God. We may assume that the disciples were, in fact, baptized and that they did so at the direction of Jesus, but the truth is that these facts were not recorded in Scripture. 

It seems a shaky argument, indeed, to argue from the letter of Scripture and then, when something is not there, to assume that a fact was so obvious that no one bothered to record it.

So, is baptism of primary importance to Jesus, or is how to have a relationship with God which is the passion at the center of the heart of Jesus?

Jesus did say to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5), but does that mean ‘baptism”?  The Greek word used is “hUDWR” or water, not “baptisma” for baptism.

If Jesus wanted to command baptism, why wasn’t the specific word for baptism recorded? Was Jesus telling something to Nicodemus – and, by extension, to us – about the Spirit (Pneuma) of baptism as opposed to the pragmatic ecclesiology of baptism?

It’s not entirely clear to me.

What is clear is that Jesus ate with everyone, without exception. Indeed, He got into trouble with the religious leaders of His day because He and His disciples were pretty indiscriminate about eating with anyone who would break bread with them – even (gasp!) tax collectors and ‘harlots’ and other sinners.

Two of the post-Resurrection accounts – John and Luke – report Jesus eating with His disciples. Apparently, He liked fish. Broiled, please.

I’m not a biblical literalist. Far from it. I didn’t fall in love with and commit my life to Jesus ‘the Word’. Rather, I found irresistible the scriptural words that tell sacred stories about Jesus and paint a picture of a man fully alive and full divine.

Clearly, this man is the Son of God who loves us unconditionally and invites us into a deep, intimate relationships with Godself and Jesus, as well as with our own selves and each other, who nourish and sustain us, by the power of the Spirit, in our earthly pilgrimage.

So, what’s the big deal about “open Communion” – the practice of giving Eucharist to any and all who appear at the altar rail, regardless of their state of baptism?

On the one hand, this is an institutional problem. As a priest, I understand the institutional impulse to conserve and preserve. The church’s tradition and history are filled with examples of this intention about many aspects of our religious life. 

Episcopalians also like order and that which is “meet, right and proper so to do,” so we baptize first and then open Eucharist and all the other sacraments and sacramental rites to all the baptized.

Well, mostly we do.  As a church in the Anglican Communion, we continue to be inexplicably knee-deep in discussions about ordination and marriage for certain people, based on gender and sexual orientation.

As Episcopalians, we are very rational people. We value intellect as a gift from God. We want people to know and understand that Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist are two primary sacraments of the church and not merely symbolic rituals.

This raises an interesting question about infant baptism and Eucharist, about which the church in some locations continues to be strangely conflicted. 

One still can find churches and priests and parents who insist that Communion ought not be given until after a child undergoes careful preparation and receives the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation.

Those who hold this view do not do so while standing on shaky theological or ecclesiological ground. 

The Exhortation (BCP 316) calls upon us to “consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup”. 

It further warns, “For as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body,” adding, “Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.”

Still, hundreds and thousands of baptized infants and children come to the altar rail, Sunday after Sunday throughout the Anglican Communion, and receive the body and blood of our Lord, perhaps still harboring in their little hearts and minds a burning but unspoken desire that Mummy and/or Daddy would drop dead on the spot because, just last night, they were forced to eat their broccoli; or, just moments before to walking to the altar rail, told to stop kicking the back of the pew and disturbing Mrs. Smith and, not heeding that parental directive, told they were to miss an hour of television.   

Jews In Church

I recently met a woman who identifies herself as a “practicing Jew” and therefore is restricted from receiving communion. She regularly attends church with her friends. She had been told by her friends that she would not be allowed to receive Communion, but comes anyway, she says, because she loves the community, enjoys the music and is challenged by the sermons.

When I first met her, I did not know that she was a “practicing Jew”. I sought her out at coffee hour because I had noted that she did not come to the Communion rail. “I can’t,” she said, more as an apology than an explanation, “I’m Jewish.”

“Oh,” said I, a bit startled. There was no mistaking the spiritual hunger in her eyes, so I risked it saying, “But, I’m thinking you want to receive Communion. Is that right?” It was her turn to be startled. “Well, I’m Jewish, so I can’t and that’s that.”

I don’t know what lines she or others drew around her to prevent her from receiving Eucharist. I just know that looking at her was like seeing an image of spiritual anorexia, watching someone presented with spiritual nourishment and sustenance but refusing, or being denied, the opportunity to partake of the banquet. 

I’m quite certain that no one has explored the issues with her. What does her self-identification as Jewish mean? Does that have cultural or religious implications for her – or both?  What does it mean to be a “practicing” Jew as opposed to an “observant” one? Does coming to church make her a better Jew? What is it about the Eucharist that compels – or repels – her? What are the costs involved for her to learn more about – and embrace – the teachings of Christ?

Apparently, she visits quite regularly and has made several friends in the community. I’m wondering why no one in this congregation (particularly the clergy) has not engaged her in this conversation. I don’t think there has to be any pressure; just some gentle questioning that lets her know that her questions – and hunger and longings – are welcome in this place.

Are we afraid of her response? Do we fear that we inadvertently might offend? What if we asked her some gentle questions, and she responded as best she could? Would it be such a terrible thing if she heard what we had to say and still said, “No thank you”?

What if she said, “I am a Jew. I’ll always be a Jew. But I know something amazing happens at Eucharist and I’m spiritually hungry. Will you still feed me with your spiritual food, even though I am a Jew?” What would we do? How would we respond?

Is she right? Is “that” really “that”? Meanwhile, there she is, week after week, getting half a loaf of bread – Word, but no sacrament. What are we to make of that?

I want to be clear that I am not talking about “inclusion” simply for the sake of inclusion or political correctness or Christian hospitality.  Although, I have had the experience of being excluded from Eucharist and I must say, I was surprised by the pain of it.

An Experience of Exclusion

I recently attended a Greek Orthodox celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter at the invitation of a dear friend. I thought the liturgy was magnificent and dramatic even though the congregation did not have many opportunities to participate in the liturgical event, save for a few ‘Amen’s’ here and there. 

It delighted me that the service was in Greek and English as it heightened my understanding of and appreciation for the liturgy.

At the highlight of the Vigil, the priest carried a large cluster of flaming candles which broke the darkness, causing gasps all around the sanctuary as the flame “wooshed” when he carried it. He came down the aisle of the church and, row by row, lit our tapers and we followed him in solemn procession to the front door of the church.

After we gathered on the steps of the church - the place was PACKED and the crowd spilled out onto the street - holding our lit candles and proclaiming and singing many, many times, "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is Risen) and responding "Alithos Anesti" (Truly, He is risen), Fr. Dimitri said, "I beg you. I implore you. Please don't leave now. Please come back and celebrate Eucharist. Give thanks for this Great Mystery of our faith."

He paused a moment for effect and then said, "I promise that you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay. I'm begging you. I'm imploring you. Don't leave. It has only just begun! I promise this from the bottom of my heart!"

And then, less than half of the congregation followed him back into the church while the rest slipped quietly away.

A few moments later, as we were preparing to celebrate Holy Eucharist, Fr. Dimitri stood on the chancel steps and said, "Only those who have been baptized in the Orthodox tradition - in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit - in an Orthodox Church can receive Communion."

This, after Fr. Dimitri had promised, ".... you will have no other meal that will satisfy your hunger, no greater drink that will satisfy your thirst, than to have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us all. So, come. Stay".

I did. However, because I was not baptized in the Orthodox church, I was excluded from a "foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all". I wondered, does “all” mean “all,” or not?

I sat in my pew and wept – from the bottom of my heart.

I have previously attended other Greek - and Russian and Armenian - Orthodox churches. I have always been invited to partake in the blessed – not consecrated – bread.  Called the antidoron, it is sometimes described as ‘rejected’ loaves and crumbs; other times it is actually carved out from the loaf before it is consecrated to the Lamb. 

It is a form of hospitality offered those who cannot partake of the Lamb. The actual consecrated bread and wine, as I understand it, are reserved for those who have been baptized in the Orthodox Church.

I confess that I didn't like the practice and I don't pretend to understand the theology, but I was grateful to be invited to share in at least part of the sacred meal.

I'm not sure why this young priest decided to make this exclusion so obvious - especially after his invitation and his begging and imploring on the church steps. I’m even more befuddled as to why he didn’t let us know about the antidoron. If there was any antidoron about, I didn’t see it. 

I asked my friend and she said, simply, "I don't know. It's just the way Fr. Dimitri has done it in the three years he's been with us."

She looked pained and I didn't want to ruin the celebration or festivities by making her more uncomfortable, but I did ask, gently, "Has no one asked him about this?"

She looked away, "'s... well, he's…….. the priest."

I don't think my experience of exclusion at that Great Orthodox Vigil of Easter Eucharist would have been quite so painful if I hadn't been given such a great build up to Eucharist.

I believe what Fr. Dimitri said. I know it to be true. So, why would I be excluded, just because I hadn't been baptized in the "right" church? Don't we believe that “there is one Body and one Spirit; one hope in God's call to us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God who is (Creator) of all"?

That's not just a clever liturgical innovation that marks the opening liturgy of our baptism (BCP 299). Those words come right from St. Paul. I'm assuming Greek Orthodox also read the Epistles of St. Paul.

If Eucharist is truly a 'foretaste of that heavenly banquet that awaits us all', why was I being excluded from having the foretaste now?

No wonder more than half the church left before Eucharist. I know I considered leaving. I suspect they all knew what was coming. And, I suspect many of them came to church that night with relatives or friends - perhaps even a spouse - who had not been baptized in the Orthodox church.

Hi, God!
So, is if it’s not about hospitality – and I don’t think that’s the central issue here – is it about knowing and understanding the Gospel before one is able to receive? 

Does the answer constellate around the question Jesus asked his disciples in the Upper Room, “Do you know what I have done to you”?   

Is this about efficacy of the Eucharist? Do we need to have our eyes opened to the scripture before we can see Jesus in the bread and wine and understand the transformative grace being offered to us? 

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

If I ever had any question about the efficacy of the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, despite our intellect and intention and state of baptism or mind, it was settled for me early on in my priesthood.

It came in the form of a telephone call I received one Sunday afternoon from a young married father, with two small children. We had been talking about how Peter, their 4 year-old son, had been wanting to receive Communion. He and his wife were on the fence. Both parents grew up in the church when Eucharist was withheld until after confirmation. Would allowing their very young son to receive defy and deny all they had been taught and understood about Holy Eucharist?

Finally, one fine Sunday morning, Peter came to the altar rail and piously cupped his hands to receive the host, as he often did. I looked into his eager, pleading eyes and then at his parents, as I often did. Fully excepting them to shake their heads “no,” I was taken aback by their exchanged glances and uncertain smiles. Finally, they both looked at me and nodded “yes”.

I knelt at the altar rail to be at Peter’s level, looked into his eyes, and said, simply, “Peter, this is the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven.” Peter looked at it for a long moment and then reverently took it in his hands, closed his eyes and popped it into his mouth. He kept his eyes closed for a long time and then whispered, “Amen.”

In that afternoon’s phone call, Peter’s father related that, on their way home in the car, their child suddenly called from the car seat, “Stop the car! Stop the car!” His mother turned to the back seat and asked, “Peter, what’s wrong?”

“Stop the car,” said Peter, “I have something ‘portant to say!”

Peter’s father dutifully pulled over to the side of the road and both parents turned to the back seat to listen to what their young son had to say. He remained silent for a while, seeming to weigh his words very carefully.

“What is it, son?” asked the father. “What do you have to say to us that is so important?”

Peter sat up in his car seat and, at the top of his voice exclaimed, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven!”

His father, in reporting the experience said, “He “got it,” Reverend Elizabeth. You were right! He understands!”

Just then, Peter came into the room and insisted on talking with me. “Reverend ‘Lizbeth,” he said, “guess what?”

“What, Peter?,” I asked, “What is it?”

“This morning? I had breakfast with Jesus!”

“Yes, you did, sweetheart,” I said. “You did indeed.”

I immediately remembered that wonderful passage from Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus called for the little ones who were being shooed away from Him by His well-meaning disciples saying, "Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all." (Luke 18:16-17)

I don’t think young Peter “got it” because he was baptized. I think he “got it” because he experienced the living presence of the Word who is beyond our human comprehension.

Would that we all received the body and blood of Christ “as a young child”.

Communion Before Baptism?

Baptized or not – whether rational, intelligent, well-behaved adults or small, rambunctious children – we all long to have “breakfast with Jesus” – to share a holy meal with the Divine in the midst of community that breaks our fast from our sense of unworthiness and gives us that peace of God that passes all human understanding. 

It’s not just about “hospitality” or “radical inclusion” – although there’s a great deal to be said for that. It’s also about how we embrace and share the mysteries of our faith, over which we, ultimately, have no control – a horrifying thought, indeed, for an institution that concerns itself with the business of controlling and defining and owning Mystery.

This is why I do not check baptismal certificates at the altar rail.

Oh, if I know that someone has not been baptized, I can assure you that I will have some conversations with that person about the what and why and how of Holy Eucharist. 

I will not neglect to read them the Exhortation in the prayer book. We’ll discuss Jesus and what He had to say to Nicodemus about being born again of water and the Spirit, pointing out that it was Nicodemus who questioned Jesus about “new life”.  

 And Joseph of Aramathia, a friend of Nicodemus , the religious leader of his day was someone was never baptized but nevertheless took responsibility for the body of the crucified Jesus an  had Him buried in one of his own tombs.

Imagine! An un-baptized person being an unknowing but important participant in the Resurrection! How can that possibly be? 

No doubt as possible as Mary Magdalene being the first witness to and evangelist of the Resurrection, even though the church does not count her as one of The Twelve and many parts of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church have, for centuries, denied the sacramental rite of ordination to women.

I’ll also note that Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, and yet he was the one Jesus called “the rock” upon whom the church was to be built.

After Jesus’ resurrection, two of the evangelists report that He ate breakfast with his followers, of whose status of baptism we are not completely certain.

Why shouldn’t we?

The Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth is an Episcopal priest who loves Jesus unconditionally and struggles with the institutional church continually. She is currently on the staff of All Saints Church, Rehoboth Beach and St. George’s, Harbeson, DE and has a private pastoral counseling and consulting practice.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stop me before I.........Oh no!..........eeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

One week from today, I will be in Indianapolis (God help me!), setting up The Caucus booth at General Convention, ordering last minute supplies, organizing all the various resolutions our Legislative Team will be following and making assignments, getting ready to co-host the UBE Legacy Dinner with Bishop Gayle Harris on July 3rd, making sure we have everything we need for The Caucus Breakfast on July 8th, getting my tribute ready for Louie Crew at the Integrity Reception (before their fabulous Eucharist) on July 9th, and otherwise running around in circles, chasing all sort and manner of detail.

Oh, and meeting and greeting friends I haven't seen in years - well, three, to be exact. Since the last General Convention in LA. And then, I'll meet friends I know only from FaceBook or this blog or the HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies Listserv).

Things are reaching the boiling point over the budget. There are now four proposed budgets - no, seriously, four - two from Executive Council, one from the President of the House of Deputies and one from the Presiding Bishop and her staff.

It's embarrassing. Really. As one of my friends said, it's like the schismatics are right that the liberal left can't organize itself to get out of the driveway.

You can read some of the shenanigans over at Katie Sherrod's blog "Desert's Child" and her post "Balancing Act". It's a real eye opener.  Katie is a deputy from Fort Worth, TX and a member of Executive Council.  She's been "in the trenches" of schism and has gained lots of wisdom.

Please do take the time to read the whole thing. Here's the "money quote" as they say in the newsroom:
I’ve experienced what happens when the balance among the ministries of bishops, priests, deacons and the laity gets out of whack. Things get toxic very quickly. And when one-sided unchecked power moves in, trust dies and soon love moves out.
Let those who have ears, hear.

Deputy Mike Russell from San Diego blogs over at "The Anglican Minimalist". His comments about the Presiding Bishop's Proposed Budget is here. He's proposed another budget - which you can find here - but his last post is a real barn-burner. In "I'd like the truth, please," he writes:
We now have wildly different versions of events from the Presiding Bishop, the Chief Operating Officer, Katie Sherrod and other members of Executive Council.  

I expect all politicians to lie, but I do not expect leaders of my church to "spin" events to their own purposes.  What we have here is the perfect post-modern meltdown, I suppose, in which multiple perspectives are somehow masked as truth.  It is one of the reasons that postmodernism is so unsatisfying, it allows saints and sinners to all cloak themselves in notions of personal truths.

As a deputy I have am deeply aggrieved that there are multiple versions of the truth of the genesis of the various budgets.  I am sickened to think it possible that one part of our church sabotaged another, presumably with the best interests of The Episcopal Church at heart. 

If I had my way I'd fire everyone and start over.  I do not want to waste the time it would take to adjudicate the competing claims. To everyone in our leadership I say.... own what you did or get out.
Is Mike right? Is that what this is? Are we in a "post modern meltdown"?

Sometimes, I think I've been around the institutional church too long. I've been a General Convention Geek since Anaheim in 1985. I blame my bishop. He sent me there as a seminarian because he thought it was important for me to understand how the church *really* works.

Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. Then again, I have learned more about the Holy Spirit from attending General Convention than many other areas of institutional church life.

I was mentioning to a dear friend offline that this time in our institutional life cycle reminds me of dealing with families after the death of a family member who has "fought the good fight" over a number of years against cancer, ALS, MS or AIDS. They've put all their energies into battle and, when it's over, they don't know where to put that energy, so they usually squabble over the will along with the furniture, photo albums, dishes and jewelry.

I think a similar dynamic is going on here.

I have a dear friend - a psychologist - who is convinced that most bishops and many ordained and lay leaders of the church are suffering from "Compassion Fatigue".

I know, I know. It sounds like psychobabble, right? Actually, it's a legitimate clinical term - a form of PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Wiki says:
Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt
I think my friend may be right.

We've spent so many years "fighting the good fight" over issues of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular that I don't think we really know where to put all that energy - especially since we seem to be rounding the corner and closing the circle on that "good fight".

It's not that it's over - by any stretch of the imagination - but we're moving closer to an image of what Dr. King described as the "Beloved Community" of Jesus.

A part of us has died. The way we once saw ourselves is no longer what we see when we look around the church. Our identity has changed. We're not as sure as we once were of who we are. We're unsure of our mission, if we ever really knew.

Bottom line: Whatever once was of our sense of identity or mission, that has now changed. We've lost members. We've suffered schism. We continue to be embroiled in litigation.

We can't seem to let go of the past - to wit: We continue to call the "Report to General Convention" the "Blue Book", even though it hasn't been blue in a number of years (I will personally organize a standing ovation for the deputy who is successful in getting a resolution passed in both houses to stop calling The Triennial Report the Blue Book).

Because we cling to the past, we can't embrace the future, much less envision it. Our leaders call us to "go out" while they remain clutching line items in the budget which will provide them the security of remaining in places of power and authority.

So, we fight over the budget and structure. It's embarrassing and it's awful and we've got to get through it. And, being Episcopalians, we will. We've been in tighter spots than this.

Here's what I know: First, you cry. Then, you dry your tears, wipe your nose, pick up your socks and get on with the life that's in front of you. You make sure the children are warm and dry and have food. You care for the elders and those you are infirm. You tend to the sick and dying, pray for the dead, and, as Mother Jones said, fight like hell for the living.

I personally don't give two figs about how many CCABs (Committees, Commissions Agencies and Boards) of Executive Council there are or how they structure their work. I just want the work to be done.

Just don't talk to me about "funding mission at the grass roots" while retaining staff at the top. Don't talk to me about cutting funding for a canonical requirement like the GOEs (General Ordination Exams) while funding the College of Bishops.

And, if one person in a purple shirt asks anyone to "stand in a crucified place" without giving evidence that s/he has done - or is planning to do - the same, well, I suspect that person will receive an unexpected lesson about the limits of institutional power and authority they didn't learn at the College of Bishops.

Yes, Jesus is in the boat with us in the middle of the storm, as we heard in Sunday's Gospel. Thing of it is, I don't think there's a storm. I don't think it's Jesus saying, "Peace, be still". I'm pretty sure it's The Purple saying that to The Peeps who are rocking the boat.

You gotta let some stuff go. Focus on what's important. Get with "the vision thing". Somebody, somewhere, please stand up, slap your hand on the table like Peter did in that upper room and say, "Let's go fishing". Others will follow. Or, not.

Don't take it personally if they don't follow you. They are just handling their grief differently, is all. But, make no mistake: It's grief manifesting itself in various stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

And, it's okay. Do what you know. Do what you love. Jesus is coming back, just as He promised. In the meantime, get on with the Gospel.

Me? I'm packing my bags for Indianapolis, God help me, where I plan to do some Gospel work right in the midst of General Convention! Imagine that!

I'm also planning on this being the absolutely, positively final, last time I go to General Convention any time, anywhere. 

Some of my friends call that "Denial". I'm calling it "Done".

At least, that's what's getting me through thinking about this General Convention.

If not, and I start making noises about going to General Convention in 2015, somebody put me out of my ministry and shoot me.

Please. Before I fall off the cliff again and wind up in the middle of this mess called "the institutional church".

Friday, June 22, 2012


The guy who was scheduled to do my window treatments, I was told, is named Bruce. I'm still not free of stereotypes, so when you put "window treatments" and "Bruce" in the same sentence, I assumed he was gay.

God knows, I couldn't have been more wrong.

I think my jaw fell to my face when I answered the door. He stood there, all 5'11" and 280 beefy pounds of him, dressed in a wrinkled buttoned shirt, tan shorts and sneakers (no laces), his long, shaggy, thinning grey-white hair combed back but still looking like he had just stepped off a fishing boat. His hands were huge and adored with a few band aids.

He was Very White - what my children would describe as "carved out of creme cheese" - with piercing blue eyes, just a bit clouded over from years of "livin' the vida loca".

Clearly, this man had some stories to tell. I knew we were going to become fast friends.

He was from the same company that managed our exterior renovations so he knew to immediately compliment me on the appearance of the exterior of the house.

Charming. Smart. So far, so good.

He took a look around the house and said, "So, we're going with cool colors, right? Are you looking for neutral or something that makes a statement?"

Wait a minute.....  window treatments that "make a statement"?....could my gay-dar be broken? Nah, he's just learned the language, is all.

"I think I'm going to need to look at some of your samples first," I said. "Hold them up to the window frame. Check them out in the light."

"Sure," said Bruce, "first let me measure your windows so I get a sense of proportion."

I was really starting to like this guy.

We moved from room to room, Bruce taking down the measurements as we made "small talk". At some point, I offered to make a pot of coffee, which he accepted.

He asked me how long I had lived here. I told him we had just really moved in but had owned the house for 10 years.

"Where from?" he wanted to know.

"Jersey, by way of Baltimore and Boston," I said in the shorthand way I've learned to speak since arriving in Lower, Slower Delaware, where most everyone comes here from someplace else.

"I came here from Philly," he said. "I was 23 years old, just graduated from college. Came here for the weekend with some of my roommates. I took one look around and said, 'I'm home'. I went back once to pick up my stuff and I've never left."

"Really?" I said. "Just like that?"

"Just like that," he smiled. "When you're home, you know it. I knew it then and I know it now. I love this place," he said, his arms wide open, taking in everything he could.

We talked a bit about the downside: no public transportation, far from many cultural opportunities like museums and the symphony and the theater, the summer traffic.....

He had an upside to everything: no pollution, lower cost of living, moderate climate, 70 minutes from Wilmington where you can either visit museums or symphony or theater there or hop the Amtrak to Philly or DC or NYC and, as he said, 'overdoes on culture' in just a few hours.

Intrigued, I pressed him a bit further on this. "How did you know? What was it that 'told' you that this is where you belonged? That you were 'home'?"

He stopped for a minute and carefully considered my question.  "You know," he said, "I've never been exactly sure. My parents always told me not to start a family and have children until I was done playing with my own toys. I suppose I looked around at this place and saw that this was where I could play and have fun. Boating. Fishing. Crabbing. Sailing. All kinds of water sports. At least, that's what made me fall in love at first sight."

"You talk about this place the way some men talk about their wives," I chuckled.

His face brightened. "You know," he said, "that's pretty much on the money. Huh!" he said as he slicked back his hair, making sure it was in place.

"What, 'huh'?" I asked, "What insight did you just have? I mean....if I can ask. I don't mean to intrude."

"Nah," he said, "I was just thinking that I got married once. She was a nice girl. A beautiful woman.  Met her while she was here on vacation. But, she wanted to move back to Nebraska. Start a family. I said, 'Me? In Nebraska? You're kidding me, right?' She was not kidding. I told her what my parents had said about not having children until I was done playing with my own toys. 'I'm not done,' I said. 'Well,' she said, I am', and she left two weeks later. Haven't seen or heard from her since, except to sign the divorce papers."

"Hmmm....," I said, after a few moment's pause, "Any regrets?"

"Well, yeah....duh!," he said, "But suddenly, I understand. This place is like my lover. It's the place I fell in love with. I think she knew that and wanted me to leave my lover. I wanted both - a wife and a lover. She said no. I understand that now. I didn't before. I won't ever make that mistake again."

"You never re-married?"


"Suppose," I said, carefully, "Just suppose you find a woman you can love who also loves this place....would that work? Would you marry again?"

He smiled and stirred the coffee I had set before him, "I've been with the same woman now for about 10 years.....yeah, it's been about 10 years, I think. Shelly. She's great. She doesn't want to get married again, either. We're happy this way. She does her thing, I do mine. I pretty much freelance - window treatments, a little interior design. I repair and maintain and build boats - got two of my own - but I learned enough stuff to take care of other people's boats and make a decent living. I have a house of my own on five acres of land - can't see my house from the street - and about eight cars. I race a few of them. It's a good life," he said, adding, "I guess I'm not done playing with toys."

"This place is a lot like my parents," he continued. "It allows me to be me. No apologies. I'm still learning and growing. See? It's 'home'."

He looked at me with his cloudy, piercing blue eyes, "But haven't yet settled in yet, have you? I mean, it looks like you have. This place is very homey. Very comfortable. But, it's not yet 'home', is it?"

"I'm getting there," I said quietly. "It's a big transition. Huge. This ain't the Northeast Corridor."

"Thank God for small favors," he laughed.

"All I can say is that it's a gift, you know? A blessing. To know that, when you're here, you're home. When I get to heaven, I hope it looks just like this."

I smiled. "I don't know what I expect heaven to look like. I guess I hope it's a montage of places - a little bit of NYC, a little bit of LA, a little bit of Kansas, a little bit of Boston, a few dashes of Portugal and the Mediterranean, a piece of Africa and Asia, a big chuck of Hawai'i, and lots and lots and lots of ocean."

"Well, look how lucky you are!" he exclaimed. "You have so many places to call 'home'. I suspect you'll be more ready for heaven than I will."

We laughed again and then suddenly, he looked at his watch and we realized that we had to get down to the business of picking out window treatments. I listened to his advice, wrote down some style numbers to check later with Ms. Conroy and get some input from some friends.

We said our goodbyes and he said, "I'm looking forward to coming back to install your window treatments. Maybe I can bring Shelly? I think you'd like her. Maybe I can convince her to bring some of her wild blueberry muffins (she owns her own catering business) and you can sit and have coffee with her while I'm working."

"That would be wonderful," I smiled, shook his hand and he left.

It's amazing to me how wrong we can be about our expectations of others, based on what we think we know of them by their names and occupations.

It's astounding to me how we think we can have 'small talk' and not realize that underneath the questions of how we 'decorate' our home or 'treat' our windows, are interesting conversations about personal politics and philosophy and even deeper theological questions about 'home' and 'heaven'.

I suspect Jesus loves it when we worship in church with grand music and finely crafted language and beautiful vestments. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that He loves to pop into casual conversations about our relationships and our loves, sharing a bit of the stories of our lives.

And, I'm guessing, it delights God to no end to surprise us with the knowledge that God is in the midst of wherever we are, and is at home with us wherever we hang our hats - or our window treatments - whether or not we call it 'home'.

I suspect God doesn't really concern Godself with that very much. This whole 'round earth - this whole cosmos - this whole universe - belongs to God and is God's 'home'.  We are just invited to share it for a time. Care for it. Play in it. Enjoy it. Enjoy each other.

I think I'm finally understanding and coming to peace with an understanding of 'home'.

It really is where your heart is - wherever that may be.  You just have to be present to your own heart and then, suddenly, you find yourself at home.

Ah, the things you learn when you slow down a bit in Lower, Slower, Delaware. My new home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Nuns on the Bus

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I was educated by nuns and, in fact, have a deep admiration for them.  Oh to be sure, they were strict and employed liberal use of physical punishment (usually a crack on the knuckles with a ruler), and they were no strangers to "shame and blame". Truth be told, these really weren't any different from the "parenting techniques" we knew at home.

Most of them were immigrants - either born "overseas" (in my neighborhood, mostly Ireland, Italy and Portugal) - or the first generation of immigrants born in this country. For most of them, the convent presented a way to live the American Dream of education and self-actualization while still providing a safe community of their peers in which to live out their religious values.

I have an aunt, now in her 80s, who joined the convent in her late teens and left the convent in her late 20s.  Her mission, and that of her order, was an orphanage where she worked as an LPN. Her life there redefined the term "self-sacrificial service".  Indeed, when she left on "medical leave" she had tuberculosis and was suffering from malnutrition.

She went home to her parents where she spent a year in recovery. When she tried to return to the convent, "Mother" told her that she would have to re-enter as a novice. She was deeply disappointed but refused to start all over again. Within two years, she met a man, fell in love and they had two children together.

I remember Sunday afternoon visits - especially in the summer - to see "Sr. Mary Augustine". We'd sit out on the lawn and play with "the orphans" and invite them to share in the feast we had brought.

My grandmother was delighted. Not only could she visit her daughter and have her family together, she was also sharing in the work of the Gospel in feeding "these poor things" - as she would call them in their presence as they (and we) cringed - while clucking that my aunt looked "too skinny" (Whatsa matta? You no get no food here? You hungry? Eat! Eat! C'mon, eat!)

As I look at the pictures of the "Nuns on the Bus," I recognize many of their faces. No, these were not the same nuns of my youth and they are not in the habits I remember, but I'd know their faces anywhere. My "nun-dar" is still highly accurate after all these years.

If I didn't recognize their faces and demeanor as nuns, I'd know them by their shoes. Black. Leather. Laced. Or, for those with arthritic fingers, Velcro straps.  In the summer, they sometimes get really crazy and wear white sneakers. Spotlessly clean, white sneakers.

These were the women who taught me that to be lukewarm about the Gospel was a sin against the very nature of Jesus Christ. They taught me that it wasn't enough to sing, "Jesus loves me, this I know," or to confess that you, in fact, loved Jesus - you had to put that love into action. And, they said, the best way to do that was to do something for "the poor".

They told us that while Jesus loved us, He loved the poor best. That was long before I learned that the foundational principle of liberation theology was "God's preferential option for the poor".

They not only taught it, they lived it and modeled it.

They are doing that now.

The "Nuns on the Bus" tour is traveling from Des Moines, IA to Washington, DC, making 25 other stops on the way.

They are hitting the road to raise awareness about the current current House Republican budget, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

"We do so," they say,  "because it harms people who are already suffering."

NETWORK (a RC political lobby group) Executive Director, Sister Simone Campbell, said in a recent media interview that Catholic Sisters “know the real-life struggles of real-life Americans.”  It is this knowledge that impelled us to organize this bus trip. When the federal government cuts funding to programs that serve people in poverty, we see the effects in our daily work. Simply put, real people suffer. That is immoral."

Atta girl, sister.

Predictably, these nuns have done their homework. You can visit their website and click on a link where the Sisters will be happy to tell you how the proposed Ryan Budget directly affects the states they will visit: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In a press release, NETWORK listed the ways in which the Ryan budget causes “harm” to Americans
• Undermining the food stamp program (SNAP) at a time when millions need it to feed their families
• Beginning to shift Medicare to a voucher program, thus driving more seniors into poverty
• Giving large tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of protections for struggling families
• Drastically cutting funding for health insurance programs for low-income people, causing millions to lose access to healthcare
• Increasing Pentagon spending while cutting programs that serve people in need — despite the Pentagon saying there are military programs that should be cut.
Sr. Simone Campbell at the microphone
"Bill Moyers and Company" is traveling with them on their 15-day journey to spotlight social justice issues.  You can visit that website  and follow them in their travels.

As reported there, on the 19th of June,  the nuns rolled into the office of the budget’s namesake, Rep. Paul Ryan himself.  Ryan, a Catholic, has said his faith played a role in the drafting of his budget.
“The Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict, has charged [that] governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations, and living in untruth….
Our budget offers a better path consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith. We put faith in people, not in government.”
But Sister Simone Campbell, who organized the Nuns on the Bus tour, has a different interpretation, which she explained to "Moyer's and Company's" producer Andy Fredericks:
“Pope Benedict says that until people have justice you can’t give charity; justice is what is owed by society to a person, and charity is largesse above it….
We try to live in relation to people at the margins of society and lift all up for justice. Where there is one bit of injustice, we all suffer.”
Obviously, Rep. Ryan did not learn a fundamental lesson from the nuns of his youth: Never, ever argue scripture or religion with a nun. And, don't ever argue with them about what the Pope has said. These nuns listen. They listen to Jesus more seriously, but they also hear what the Vatican says.

They have to. You may have also heard that the male hierarchy of the Church, all the way up to the Vatican, have censured the sisters for “spending too much time and energy caring for the very poor instead of fighting against issues like abortion and marriage equality.”

I mean really! Where are their priorities?

I must say, when I think of that old evangelical litmus-test - "What would Jesus do?" - I have to confess that a wicked smile crosses my face.

I'm thinking Jesus would take out his whips and turn over some tables in The House, while resisting the urge to crack a few knuckles with a ruler. Then, he'd jump on the bus with those nuns.

Indeed, I have no doubt that He's with them every step of the way.

I'm with them, too, holding them in intentional prayer in the morning and in "arrow prayers" throughout the day.  I hope you'll join me.

Today, the 21st of June, they are visiting Chicago, IL and South Bend, IN. You can find their itinerary here.

Are YOU ready to roll for justice?

PS: You can also make a donation (not tax-deductible) here. 

If you prefer to mail your donation, please make your check out to NETWORK, put “Nuns on the Bus” in the memo, and mail it to:
25 E Street NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20001-1630
Because NETWORK lobbies the federal government, donations to NETWORK are not tax deductible. You may make a tax-deductible contribution to NETWORK’s educational partner organization, NETWORK Education Program and send your check to the same address as above.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Bogalusa Daily News
I clearly remember the day I invited one of my dearest friends, an African American man, to come celebrate July 4th with my family. "We'll go to the parade and then come home and feast and sing and dance," I said, with my usual enthusiasm.

He grew very quiet and somber. He was obviously trying to be polite but I instantly knew it was simply more than that he had another invitation or just didn't want to attend and was trying to find a polite way to decline.

"What are you celebrating?" he asked.

"July 4th!" I said, as a quizzical statement of fact. "You know: Freedom! Independence! Liberty and Justice for All!"

"Really?" he said. "Liberty and Justice. For all? Or, for some?"

His words - and the reality behind them - hit me so hard I suddenly felt nauseous and dizzy.

Right. How very White of me!

It was yet another time when I realized that racism is so much a part of my life - my White Privilege is so blinding - that I didn't even see the possibility that a national holiday like July 4th would be a reminder of how we still have not lived into the ideals set forth by our founders.

Indeed, I'm quite certain our "Founding Fathers" didn't understand the full implication the idea that "all men (sic) are created equal" and are "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights".

Juneteenth - Emancipation Day
The room got very quiet and I tried not to let him see that my eyes were filling with tears.

"Look," he said, softly, kindly, "I don't want to ruin your celebration but the truth is that 'my people' still don't have what the constitution guarantees. Not really. Just because the law changed - and, I'm not saying that I'm not grateful for that - it doesn't change people's hearts and minds."

I took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry," I said. "I....I...I guess .... I don't know....didn't know....didn't realize..... I'm so sorry," I stammered.

Now he was feeling bad because I was feeling bad. I hate the awkwardness of moments like this between friends. It's part of what makes us friends - that we can have awkward moments because we love one another enough to tell the truth - but that doesn't make it any less awkward.

"So, let's think about this," he said, running to his head and away from his heart. I was willing to follow him there. It's a defense mechanism I engage with some regularity.

"July 4, 1776. That's when this country signed the Declaration of Independence. But, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't come until when?"

"Ummm... after the Civil War? Late 1800's?," I guessed

"January 1, 1863," he said.

"So," I asked clumsily, stupidly, the way a three-year old asks questions when s/he doesn't see - can't see - the larger picture, "is January 1st sort of your July 4th?" 

"Actually, no," he said. "January 1st is New Year's Day. Remember?" he teased.  I blushed.

"The truth is that many of the slaves, especially in the south, wouldn't hear about their freedom for another two and a half years. It wasn't until somewhere between June 17-19 when Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, TX and announced the end of the Civil War and read the Emancipation Proclamation that people who were slaves knew they were free."

It was the first time I learned about the celebration known as 'Juneteenth'.

Freedom Day
My awkwardness knowing no limits in these situations, I asked, hopefully, perhaps with just a little too much cheeriness in my tone, "So, is THAT your July 4th?"

He smiled sadly and looked away for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts.  God, I honestly don't know why this man is still my friend!

"Do you know when the Civil Rights Act passed?" he asked.

"Ummm... I know that it was sometime in the sixties, right? '62? '63?"

 "July 2, 1964," he said, smiling as he added, "And no, that's not our 'Independence Day'. Have any idea why?"

I may be stupid but I'm not dumb. I tried to smile as I said, "Because, real independence, real 'liberty and justice' have not yet come for people of color, even after 1776, or 1863, or 1865 or 1964."

"That's right," he said.

"I understand," I said, quickly adding, "Well, I don't. Not completely. How could I?"

"That's right," he said.

We both grew very quiet. It was the kind of silence that friends often have between them. It's not an empty silence. Rather, it is rich and full, respectful and painfully honest. It's the silence that allows each friend the space to be alone with their thoughts, taking in more fully what the other has said. It's a tension that both tests and confirms your friendship.

"Look," he said, finally, "I'd love to come to your party. But, let's be real clear: I'm coming for your potato salad. You make a mean potato salad."

We laughed, then - that awkward kind of laugh that marks the end of one difficult conversation and signals that you can both move on now, having grown a bit in your relationship."

"Okay," I laughed. "No parade, but potato salad. Got it."

We both laughed again - it was so good to laugh again, and then he was silent for awhile before he said, "I can observe all kinds of holidays, but I can't yet celebrate. You know?"

Juneteenth Remembrance
"I think I do, actually," I said. "Truth be told, I don't think I can celebrate, either. Not the way I once did. It's hard to celebrate after your eyes have been opened. But," I added, "I think, from now on, I'll be observing Juneteenth. It's an important reminder of the work that still needs to be done."

"It reminds me," I continued, "of the wisdom in the saying that no one is free unless all are free."

He smiled. "I look forward to the day when you and I can really celebrate freedom and 'liberty and justice for all'."

"Me, too," I said. "Me, too."

"Until then, there's always the potato salad," he laughed

"Absolutely," I said. "If nothing else, we'll celebrate potato salad."

Many miles now separate us. We won't be gathering to observe July 4th together this year. But, when I do, I won't forget Juneteenth and the lessons learned about freedom and justice.

But, tonight, I think I'll make some potato salad and celebrate the way some of our friends love us enough to liberate us from our own blindness - even years after we've been set 'free'.