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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, July 31, 2012



  1. The formal rejection of something, typically a belief, claim, or course of action.
  2. A document expressing renunciation.
Renunciation is a very strong word.

I remember, as a child, being enthralled by the story of the Renunciation of St Francis after he heard God's voice commanding him to "Rebuild my church." Francis took the command literally to mean God wanted him to rebuild the dilapidated San Damiano, which is set on a slope outside the southeastern gate of Assisi in Italy.

In order to purchase the materials for the repairs, Francis sold some cloth from his father's shop without permission. The priest at San Damiano thought it best to inform Francis' father, who became enraged.

The legend goes that, on a winter day, Francis' father arranged for Francis to be called out into the town square in order to lambaste him. After this public humiliation, Francis said to his father something like this: "You are no longer my father. God is my father. I give you back my name, all of my earthly belongings, even the clothes on my back." With that, he removed all of his clothing.

Some accounts say he was wearing a basic loincloth underneath; some say he was wearing a hair shirt; still others say that he was naked.

The bishop of Assisi covered him with his cope and, after blessing him, Francis walked off barefoot into the snow to begin his life as a monk.

Even to the romantic mind of a young child, I knew that renunciation is serious spiritual stuff. When the nuns asked, I wondered if I would ever have the courage to "renounce all worldly goods" - renounce everything and everyone I had ever held dear - for the glory of God.

It seemed, even to my child's mind, that there had to be something - a few other steps - in between making God happy and renouncing everything that made you happy.

The other time I heard the word "renunciation" was when a priest was ordained or a nun was professed. They, like Francis, wore black as an outward and visible sign that they, too, had "renounced all worldly goods".

I also heard the word "renunciation" when the situation was reversed - when a priest or nun renounced their vows and left their orders and the convent, usually to get married.

Now, that I could very easily understand.  I mean, you can't be "married" to Jesus and married to someone else, right?

I understood it as a kind of "divorce" so you could remarry - except, of course, that divorce and remarriage was absolutely forbidden in the Roman Catholic Church of my youth.  I understand it is still frowned upon and that you have to go before a Tribunal to "annul" your previous marriage, which had to be determined to have been lacking in certain "essential elements" that were never there when your married.

It was as if the marriage never existed - which, my parents told me, meant that the children from that marriage were now considered "illegitimate". Bastards. How horrible is that? It served as a powerful deterrent to divorce. "What? You divorce so you can remarry? You gotta get an annulment and your children will be bastards? You want that for them? Stay married for the sake of the children!"

I don't know what the Roman Catholic Church does about that today, but I think the stigma lingers. I was approached just the other day by a Roman Catholic couple who asked me to marry them because, one of them was divorced and neither of them wanted an annulment because of "we would never do that to the children".

I think I prefer the active role of "renunciation of vows" than a passive, institutional pronouncement of an "annulment" - and, for Gods' sake, leave the kids out of it.

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Basilique Assise,
Of course, priests and nuns who renounce their vows are 'defrocked' or 'laicized'. My aunts who were nuns and uncles who were priests told us of a ceremony they did in the church or convent.

Candles were lit representing each member of the community. Prayer were said and a statement written by the bishop was read and then the candle representing the person who was being 'defrocked' or 'laicized' was snuffed out.

Poof! Gone! Never happened. Never existed. Dead to us. The "essential elements" of your priesthood or religious life were (obviously) not there when you made your vows before God and the community, so you never really existed as a priest or nun.

Remain calm and carry on.

Oh, the mental gymnastics we perform in order to consider ourselves "right" - and, righteous!

I heard the word "renunciation" again a few weeks ago at General Convention regarding A030, which amend Canon III.7.8–10; Canon III.9.8–11; Canon III.12.7(a)–(c); Canon IV.16 for the removal of office of deacons, priests and bishops.

In the past, in The Episcopal Church, an ordained person most commonly renounced his or her vows after a civil or ecclesiastical court trial involving the "moral character" of the person. That was not always the case, of course. Some clergy simply found themselves on another path and couldn't reconcile their priesthood or their Christianity with where their lives were leading them.

Nevertheless, "renunciation of vows" has usually been closely associated with a "failure" of some sort.  Right or wrong, there has always been an inherent judgment associated with the word which is, at the very least, unpleasant.

Resolution A030 removed the word "renounce" from the canons and replaced it with an "expression, in writing, be released and removed from the ordained Ministry of this Church, and from the obligations attendant thereto, including those promises made at Ordination in the Declaration required by Article VIII of the Constitution of the General Convention....".

The back story of this resolution, as I understand it, has to do with all of the unpleasantness surrounding The Great Schism in The Episcopal Church. When bishops, priests and deacons began their Great Exodus to The Global South, they were required to renounce their vows. And, when they didn't, the Presiding Bishop declared that it was so.

Now, *normally* - and I use the word advisedly because schism is not *normal* - when a bishop, priest or deacon was called to another part of the vineyard in The Episcopal Church or Anglican Communion, all that was required was a "Letter Dimissory" from one bishop to another.

However, because the Boys from the Global South like Bena, Duncan, Iker, et. al, wanted it both ways - to have episcopal authority in The Episcopal Church while at the same time building a new 'parallel' church that was more 'orthodox' and 'pure' (read: no girl or LGBT cooties) - that, by necessity, had to change.

As I say, renunciation is a very powerful word. Howls were heard all around the communion. The Presiding Bishop has a "scorched-earth approach to her opponents in TEC". She's a horror and a bully and a witch with a capitol "B".

No, boys. She's smart. Very smart. Smarter than you think she is and, in fact, smarter than you.

I know. The truth hurts, But there it is.

What does hurt, however, is when good priests, exemplary clergy, are now called to serve in another part of the Lord's vineyard in the Anglican Communion, a Letter Dimissory will no longer suffice. What's sauce for the "orthodox" goose is sauce for the "liberal" gander.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 11 January 1494)
So, these good, exemplary, faithful clergy were made to "renounce" their vows in The Episcopal Church in order to work in other parts of the Anglican Communion not associated with The Great Schism. Like, Canada and England and France and....well, you get the picture - anywhere but the Global South where "orthodoxy" reigns supreme.

So, we changed the wording of the canons.

Renunciation is a very powerful word.

I personally think that when you are part of schism in the church, renunciation of vows is entirely appropriate. Indeed, I think it's noble and honorable and has tons of integrity. However, this leaves even the schismatics off the hook of association with judgment or moral failure or character flaw.

I still think there's got to be something in between making God happy and giving up everything that makes you happy, stripping you bare naked in the middle of winter in the middle of the town.

In the story of St. Francis, after he takes off all his clothes, the bishop puts his cape around Francis. I was always - still am - deeply touched by that image. I maybe missing something in the subtly of the legal language, but perhaps the change in canons is an attempt to do "cover the shame" and blunt the judgment of those whose journey in faith leads them to another path in another part of the Vineyard.

It's not as gentle and kind as a Letter Dimissory but not as awful and an Annulment of Marriage or the Defrocking or Laicizing of Clergy.  No bastard children and no candles snuffed out as you leave, as if you never existed.

It's a little coverage to the spiritual and emotional nakedness experienced when you walk barefoot in the snow to a new part of the Vineyard.

Sometimes, the institutional church, for all of her foolishness and penchant for mediocrity, does some good things. This, I think, was one of them.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cracked vessels

This is Jonathan Merritt, son of Dr. James Merritt, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, who describes himself as an conservative, evangelical, Southern Baptist Environmentalist who is a faith and culture writer.

The internet has been buzzing for a week about the fact that his "friend", Azariah Southworth, described as a "a “gay, former evangelical blogger,” wrote about an "encounter" the two had during which, Merritt says, they "had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship."

Apparently, that "experience" was in 2009 when the two met for dinner to talk about a blog Merritt had written in which he says that "“Christians must love people who experience sexual brokenness.”  It "happened" as the two were saying their goodbyes. 

The "encounter" came to light after Merritt publicly supported Chick-fil-A restaurants and their stance against homosexuality in general and Marriage Equality in particular. Merritt has said he believes that homosexuality is a sin and favors traditional marriage. 

Merritt and Southworth never met again and stopped corresponding “after a period of time.”

He also said that he does not consider himself gay.
“I don’t identify as ‘gay’ because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers. I'm a cracked vessel held together only by God's power. And I'm more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole."
Pop Quiz: Merritt had this "experience" because:
A. It was a set-up - an entrapment by a wicked gay former evangelical to embarrass and shame him.
B. It was an "accident" - because, you know, boys will be boys.
C. Merritt was abused/molested as a child. 
D. Merritt is gay and "struggles" with his homosexual orientation.
E. It is evidence of "The Fall" and further evidence that if you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, you can "follow the right path" to redemption and salvation (read: Get rid of 'Teh Gay' - because, you know, it's a "choice").
F. All of the above.
Here's the thing: I think "outing" is a very personal matter. I think every LGBT person has to make the decision for her/himself about how public they want to be about a very private matter. I'm not thrilled that Sally Ride 'outed' herself in her obituary but, bottom line, that was her call. Not mine.
On the other hand, when a person takes a public stand about a controversial issue...well....people who live in glass houses should never throw stones. 

I'm not thrilled about this "outing" of Jonathan Merritt. I understand, but I'm not thrilled - for a lot of reasons - but mostly because the evangelical crowd has gotten very slick about the spin they use to "explain away Teh Gay". Their natural default setting is that being gay is not genetic but a choice. 

Choice = Sin.  Especially if you choose to be who you understand yourself to be and come out as an LGBT person - but not if you are an LGBT person who chooses to be something you are not.

You have to "submit to God's will" and "follow God's plan" = What we (the Conservative /  Evangelical / Southern Baptists) have determined is "right", based on an "orthodox" ("correct") reading of Holy Scripture.  

Note Merritt's carefully worded response: “I don’t identify as ‘gay’ because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers.”  

Merritt says that, "My story begins at a very young age when an older male who lived in our neighborhood sexually abused me. The experience was followed with a tidal wave of shame and guilt so great that I never told anyone for many years."

When asked how the experience "shaped" him, Merritt replies
"It's bred compassion in me towards others who wrestle with the baggage they carry in life. People like me who passionately pursue God--on His terms and not ours--experience incredible times of struggle along the way. I know what it is like to experience periods of depression, frustration, and confusion. And that's why I live out my calling the way I do, as best as I can, sometimes stumbling along the way."
 So, Merritt may well be gay - he's just choosing not to "identify as gay". 

He "struggles" with his "baggage", "sometimes stumbling along the way." 

It makes him more "compassionate".  He writes:
Although I was unable to choose when I would share some of these painful memories, I am thankful for the opportunity to share it now. I'm thankful that I am able to make better decisions about how to handle a difficult situation. And, I'm thankful that because of grace, I can identify with those who have dealt with similar situations. He said he remains “committed to living the life God demands for those who follow him,” including “the Bible's unambiguous standards for sexuality.”
And, if Jonathan Merritt can do it, why, so can you. And, you. And, YOU! Bonus points: You will become "more compassionate" to others who "struggle" with their sexual orientation and follow "the life that God offers".

See? Just look at those "mean gays" - those "former evangelicals" who "outed" him.  However,
Southworth himself said,
"Exposing this truth of Jonathan’s sexual orientation is not an easy decision for me. I take no pleasure in doing this. As I type this my stomach is turning because I know of the backlash he will receive. I have thought about what all of this will mean for him and for me. I base my reasoning in the importance of living an authentic and honest life. We must have radical honesty in the character, intentions and identities of our leaders.”
Here's the thing: I believe Jonathon Merritt believes every word he is saying. I mean, really, given his family ties and "the life" it offers him, what choice does he have, really? He has made the choice that works for him - even if that means denying an essential part of how he understands himself and his relationship with God and the rest of the world as he knows it. 

As long as he doesn't hurt other LGBT people in the process, or stand in the way of determining how we see God's hand at work in our lives and the grace that comes from that, he has every right to life his life the way it works best for him.

Maybe he won't be so quick to stand up for businesses like "Chick-fil-A" that contribute millions of dollars to prevent LGBT people from living our God-given lives.

I just hate that other "Conservative / Evangelical / Orthodox / Southern Baptists" will spin this into their usual uber-Calvinist narrative about "human depravity". And, they will. They already have.

The hope I have is that we are seeing the emergence of the new face of evangelicals. More tolerant. More compassionate. More understanding and able to accept what is and not try to change everything to their understanding of how the world works and how people are made.

I've never been a big fan of "tolerance" but I'll take it over judgment and condemnation.

I wish Jonathon Merritt well. I trust his faith will guide him through the turbulent years ahead, knowing that this "encounter" and his earlier experiences of sexting and sharing "inappropriate emails" will follow him all the days of his life.

We're are all, as Merritt says, "cracked vessels held together only by God's power". We need to be "glue" for each other's brokenness - not using Scripture verses to clobber each other into shattered pieces, only to be put back together into the image others have of us. Rather we need to be about loving someone into being the person that is the image in God's eye when they were created.

That includes Jonathon Merritt.

I hope he continues to "passionately pursue God" on God's terms - and not those imposed upon him by either the Southern Baptist Church or the LGBT community - so that, when he stumbles again (and I have no doubt he will at least be seriously tempted to "stumble" again), he will know that God's hand will always be there to pick him up, dust him off, and place him back on the path that leads to Truth.

We call that "Grace".

No matter where that Path of Truth leads any one individual person,  it's an intensely personal journey between a human being and God.

And, that "choice"  is one we all have to live with - whether or not anyone else considers that a "sin".

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Grandmother's Tomato Jam

The thing about gardeners is that they are so generous.

I guess that's because we have such a generous God of Abundance.

Now, I'll admit: there's nothing better than a Jersey Beefsteak Tomato. I love them. Can't get enough of them. There's nothing better than a sliced Jersey Beefsteak Tomato on toasted bread, slathered with butter and mayo and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. You don't even need bacon. O...M...G....!!!

Or, stuffed with crab meat or egg or chicken salad (with walnuts and sliced grapes - YUM!)

I prefer Delaware corn - White Silver Queen - to Jersey Corn but I gotta tell you that Delaware tomatoes just aren't the same as the ones from Jersey.

So, what to do with all these Delaware tomatoes? I mean, after you've made a few gallons of tomato sauce and tried to give some away to your co-workers, friends and relatives?

My Grandmother Tomato Jam to the rescue!

She would make up a batch of sweet stuff for the kids which was great on toast or a hot buttered roll in the morning, but she also made some wonderful stuff that was Sweet and Savory which we used the way some people use mustard or mayo on sandwiches or serve tartar sauce with fish.

Think of it as a kind of Portuguese chutney. 

I've made up a batch of it this morning and thought I'd share it with you. I'm going to offer the basic recipe but you can change up the seasonings, depending on your own taste and what you're going to serve it with. 

The cider vinegar is important, but you can use balsamic vinegar if you prefer a very different taste. It's important not to skin the tomatoes before you use them. Something happens to the consistency of the jam that just isn't quite right. If you can't deal with the "skins" just pull them out after you cook it. If you chop the tomatoes into coarse bits, it shouldn't be a big problem.

I love the mixture of cinnamon and ginger and cumin but I have been known to throw in a few threads of saffron (when I can afford it). You can also substitute the cinnamon for coriander or smokey paprika or jalepeno - or, use whatever combination you prefer.

So, here's the basic recipe.

Ladies and gentlemen, start chopping...
Sweet-Savory Tomato Jam

3 1/2 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup cider vinegar
juice of one lemon
Put all ingredients into a 2-quart pot. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cook until it thickens to a jam-like consistency.

It takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to cook and makes about 1/2 pint which you should store in a *sterilized* glass jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for about 2 weeks. Or, you can use a hot water caning bath like my grandmother did and it will keep seemingly forever.

It's a great accompaniment to broiled fish or scallops, but I'm also fond of it with pork or lamb.


Friday, July 27, 2012

The Rennovation of Lllangollen

For most of this year, we've been living with the renovation of "this old house".

We have completely replaced the siding, roof, insulation and all the windows and doors - including the sliding glass door. We have torn down the "sun room" and now have a deck that extends the entire length of the house facing the water and marsh. We had the deck power-washed and will soon stain it. The windows have now all been "treated" with wide-slat wooden blinds. The sliding glass door has a brand new "wood grain" vertical blind.

We have rebuilt the deck railing so the dogs can't slip through them, put up a gate, and, in the front of the house, added new, wider steps and a proper porch. The yard has been refreshed with stone and we have prepared an area by the two sides of the house which face the street where, in the fall, we will plant some trees and shrubs and, perhaps, some Black-Eyed Susans and Day Lillies.

The last thing we'll do this year is to take down the "fish cleaning station" on the deck and put up an outside shower by the laundry room door. And, maybe enclose the area where we keep the trash and recycling bins near the parking pad, so it looks more aesthetically pleasing.  We'll definitely take down the bench on the dock and replace it with a new one.

Today - and until Wednesday - we are repairing the ceiling in the kitchen. We used to have two sky-lights which leaked and caused some damage. The contractor convinced us not to replace the skylights so we now have two rather large rectangle holes in the ceiling which provide a lovely view of the plywood under the roof.

When the skylights were in place, I would occasionally hear a 'tap-tap-tap' coming from above the center work aisle. When I looked up, I would often find a sea gull looking down at me. I don't miss them. They come and sit on my deck which I can see from the sliding glass door.

The kitchen is bright and sunny anyway. It, too, is due for some renovation and updating the cabinets and appliances - stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and washer and dryer - along with a new, double sink and garbage disposal, but that will have to wait until our savings account has a chance to breathe and build up again. We're hope to do that in the Spring of 2012.

Then, in 2013, we hope to update both bathrooms - putting in a whirlpool tub in the master bathroom (which also has a free standing shower) and update the sinks, cabinets and floor.

And then.....well, when you are a home owner, you just never know.

The house - a 'factory build' or 'pre-fab' or 'manufactured' home - is a little over 20 years old and in pretty good shape by most accounts we get from contractors. The weather here can be unpredictable in the fall and winter and the elements can be brutal on structures without protection from trees.

Because there are no trees, however, the sun and wind are fairly merciless on the roof and siding and deck - which has to be power washed every 2-3 years. Then again, we don't have to worry about anything falling on the house - EXCEPT - if a Nor'easter comes up suddenly in the fall and some of our neighbors haven't yet taken their boats out of the water. My worst fear during a storm is that a boat will get caught up in a strong wind and slam itself though the side of our house.

Ah, the joys of home ownership!

Of course, as the house gets totally messy and we have to take everything down, cover everything up, wash it anyway when the job is done, and then put it all back, I've been reflecting on all the conversations we've been having about "restructuring the church". 

In many ways, I hated losing the sun room but we had to face the fact that it was beyond renovation, much less repair. We had to ask hard questions about whether or not we really, really needed it and if we could afford what we wanted. The answer to that was 'no' and so down it came.

I sometimes miss it - who doesn't want more room, especially a 'sun room'? - but the truth of the matter is that we have learned to enjoy the longer deck. The pups absolutely love to run the length of it and it's great when you have several couples over for dinner.

We've adjusted.

I don't miss the skylights in the kitchen and the gulls tap-tap-tapping on them was amusing but the contractors were pretty clear that, in 5, 10, maybe 15 years, we'd have to worry about leaks again. Meanwhile, the roof has a "double lifetime" guarantee without it - meaning that it is guaranteed for us and the next owners, and, since the guarantee is carried by a major manufacturer, the chances are pretty good that if anything goes wrong, it will be covered.

I wonder what we'll decide, as a church, that we really, really need and what we can afford. I'm sure we'll have to make some difficult decisions - painful decisions - about what parts of our "structure" are not essential to the whole. We'll have to learn from past mistakes - first discovering them and admitting that it's not a particularly good idea.

There are no guarantees in this life - not with our own bodies or the structures we build to house them. We can't predict the future but we can learn from the past. We can take the best of what once was and bring that forward into now, doing the best we can with the information we have available to us at the time.

Llangollen, our wee cottage on the large Bay on the big Ocean, is being renovated from a summer vacation house to a "forever home". At least, that's what we keep telling ourselves as we write another check and furrow our brow at the decreasing numbers in our savings account.

The untold costs are the emotional and spiritual ones - the cost of the discernment of our hearts and souls about what we're tearing down in order to build up, what we're willing to lose in order to gain, what we no longer want or need and what we're willing to work to maintain. 

I wonder: Does the church need renovation or restructuring? Probably a bit of both.

I hope we're ready for the mess. And, the cost - financial, emotional and spiritual.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ashera is alive and well and living in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Skyline
I was in Philadelphia yesterday to tour the exhibit of The Dead Sea Scrolls at the Franklin Institute.  A group from the Lewes-Rehoboth Area Progressive Interfaith Alliance filled two buses with 97 people to make this little pilgrimage to our common ancestry.

It was fabulous. I highly recommend it.

I was especially interested to learn more of Ashera, ancient Hebrew "God-the-Mother" who shows up regularly on pottery bowls and urns in the image of a woman cupping her breasts in her hands. We saw many examples of that in the exhibit - shards of pottery with that unmistakable feminine image near the handle or lip of the bowl or urn. Apparently, she was forcibly removed from Hebrew Scriptures around 400 or 500 BCE, even though Moses and Aaron both carried an Asherah "pole" as a sacred staff of power.

I wrote this down as it appeared on one of the plaques near the pottery: "As the 'official' state worship became increasingly male oriented, and the establishment became hostile toward all forms of Asherah worship, a time of conflict and bloodshed lasting over a hundred years began."

After the exhibit (did I mention that it was fabulous?), I had about an hour and a half before we had to board the bus and head home.  I decided, rather than tour the rest of the museum, I would head out into the City of Brotherly Love in search of "modern artifacts" and evidence of Ashera.

A confession: I am, as I once heard Byron Rushing say, a "sidewalk junkie". Hard core. I get twitchy and jumpy if I'm not around sidewalks with disheveled people muttering and walking with a Thorazine gate or park benches with junkies nodding off.

Don't get me wrong: I love my wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay. I love having Blue Herons and White Herons and Egrets and Sea Gulls as my neighbors. I love being on the water and the relentless quiet and the unpredictable effects of weather.


I also love the City. I love the asphalt and concrete. I love the sights and the smells. I don't even mind the pungent odor of human urine in the subway. Honestly. I don't have to live in the underbelly of the city and I sure am glad for public subway transportation. The smell of humans being basely human is a pungent reminder that people populate the planet - people who are not as fortunate as I am to travel between the City and the Sea.

Besides, I do have to live with Sea Gull poop on my deck and car and occasionally have to wash splashes of it off my sliding glass door. No place is perfect.

So, off I went to see what evidence our modern culture provides of an appreciation of the Divine Feminine.

The short story: Not too much.

Some parts of Philly still look like Berlin after the war.  Other parts look like little European brick row houses and town houses, with sparkly clean stoops and steps and neighborhood stores and shops. Other parts are surprisingly suburban, with neat little single houses and finely manicured lawns.

The architecture of the city itself is very phallic. Everything is large and cylindrical and points up. Tall buildings competing with each other in size and ability to penetrate the sky. And, in case you didn't get the point, there's an actual 'point' on some of the buildings. Some of the points even have points.

I also saw lots of monuments of men - either portly, scholarly-looking men of obvious distinction, usually holding a book, Or, military men. On a horse. With sword or gun. Raised. Ready for battle.

The statues of women were usually around a pool of water with benches all around the perimeter. Reclining. Half dressed. Voluptuous. Beautiful. Serene. Docile. Not a book in sight. Nothing to inspire greatness or intelligence or, God knows, violence. Just rest and introspection.

Now, I'll grant you that I really only walked around for an hour or so and I didn't see the whole city in its entirety, but I saw enough to understand that Philadelphia is not unlike most cities - here or abroad. There is more than ample evidence that "this is a man's world" and men have made and left their mark everywhere. At least, in the 'outward and visible signs' of city life.

I suddenly remembered hearing in the Institute that "Ashera" is often translated from the Hebrew as "She who walks behind", but it is more accurately translated to mean, "She who walks in the Sea". I wondered if my need to have both city and sea was an unconscious or subconscious way to balance my anima and animus, my yin and my yang, my female and maleness. 

I was ruminating about all of this while sitting on a park bench outside the Institute when a small gaggle of elderly Caucasian women came walking through and sat down on a park bench not far from where I was sitting. Some walked steadily and gracefully. One was using a grand wooden cane. Another was using one of those "seat walkers" which carried a portable tank of oxygen.

With them was a tall, willowy, beautiful young African American woman who tended to them, making certain everyone was sitting in the shade. When everyone was settled, she snuggled herself in between two women on the park bench and I could hear them making light, cheerful small talk.

"Oh, my salad was delicious," I heard one of them say. "We're going to have to go back there again," determined another. "I'm glad you ladies liked it," I heard the young woman say. "It's my mother's favorite. Whenever my grandmother is in town, we always take her there."

"Well, are you going to read to us or not?" asked the older woman with the wooden cane.

"I surely will," said the young woman, as she reached into her bag, pulled out a book and started flipping through the pages. "Which story would you ladies want to hear today?"

Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes
"I want to hear more about Judith," said the woman with the portable oxygen tank, as she slipped the nasal canula from underneath her nose and turned off her oxygen. "Me, too," said another.

"Sure," said the young woman, "I'll have to figure out where we left off last week."

"It was the part after Manasses, Judith's husband, died, before she goes off to kill Holofernes," said the woman with the wooden cane.

"Shhhh. Don't go giving it away," said one of the women, adding, "Why do you always have to be such a smarty-pants, anyway?"

"Because I am?" sniffed the woman with the wooden cane.

They all giggled as the young woman said, "Alright, ladies, let me continue."

She wasn't reading from the bible but apparently from a book that had summaries of the scriptural stories about women.  I was fascinated as I listened to the story being told - obviously from a woman's point of view and not at all with the sort of ethical dilemma we read between the lines in the Book of Judith.

The young woman was an excellent reader - articulate, dramatic when necessary, the cadence of her voice quicken or slowing to accentuate a point. Everyone was thoroughly engaged.

When she finished the story, the women had an animated conversation about the character Judith and the complexity of role of women in antiquity as well as modern times. They told stories about themselves and each other and other women in their lives. I caught most of it but lost some of it to the noise of buses and cars and the usual noise of the city streets.

I was fascinated and enthralled by their intelligence and insights, their wit and humor. Their honesty was sometimes painful and some of the bitterness and sharp judgements made me wince.

After they finished their discussion and they were gathering up their things to leave, I walked over and introduced myself, apologizing for eavesdropping on their conversation.

"I wish you had joined us," said the young woman. Everyone nodded in agreement. "Yes," said the woman with the wooden cane, "you look perfectly lovely."

"Is this a weekly group?" I asked, surprised that I was blushing at her compliment.

"Well," said the young woman, "we meet every other week. We go out to lunch and then we discuss a book. Last month, we talked a lot about the work and poetry of May Sarton. This month, the ladies wanted to know more about the women in the bible."

"I'm fascinated and intrigued," I said.

"Well, come join us," said the woman with the walker, as she put on her nasal canula and turned on her portable oxygen tank.

"I'd love to, but I'm just here visiting. I've been at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit over at the Franklin."

"Oh," they all squealed, "we were there last month. Loved it. LOVED. It."

"Well, next time you're in town, come join us," said the young woman. "We think it's really important to lift up and talk about women and our accomplishments."

"Yes," said the woman with the wooden cane, "Because if we don't, God knows, no one else will."

"So I've noticed," I said, motioning my head toward the statue of a man on a horse with a sword.

"Lilith lives!" said the woman with the wooden cane, raising it up over her head.

"And, apparently, so does Ashera," I added.

Silence fell over the group like a warm blanket on the hot day it already was. One of the woman gave me a piercing gaze, then smiled broadly and said, "What do you do? I mean, for a living?"

"Actually,'" I said, "I'm an Episcopal priest."

"Well, that's okay," said the woman with the nasal canula. "We're all Jewish. Except for this wonderful young lady. She's Baptist. Serious Christians, you know, those Baptist. But, she's smart as a whip and just as lovely as can be. We're all friends here. You are who you are. Besides, I've always felt that Episcopalians are really Jews who follow the Rabbi Jesus."

The woman with the wooden cane looked at me and said, "Episcopal priest, eh? Well, I don't care where you live, you have GOT to join us in two weeks. We need you."

"I can't do that," I said, "but I'm with you in spirit."

"Long live Lilith!" she said in a loud voice as she raised her wooden cane again and then we said our goodbyes as they walked back to their "senior residence" and I walked back over to the Franklin to wait for my bus.

Turns out, that young African American woman is the "personal attendant" of the woman with the walker, who tends to her needs a few hours a day as part of the way she works herself through Temple University.

She clearly does this because she loves it. "I'm so blessed to have this job," she said to me, "which is really not a job at all. It's a ministry. My other job is a 'job', you know. I work for (a major company). Customer service. It's a job that does 'the job' if you know what I mean. It's not my career but one that will help put me on my career path."

"I get it. Absolutely. May God continue to bless you," I said as she took my hand and thanked me.

I've decided that, while the "modern artifacts" of the Divine Feminine in general and Ashera or Lilith in particular may be found seriously wanting in the cities of the world, they are to be found if one opens one's heart and mind and ears.

Women have always gathered in small groups - at the well, around the fire, in the tent - sharing the stories of their lives or the lives of other women. We are complex, complicated beings whose intelligence and wisdom and contributions to society and culture are not always valued. Many of us work in 'jobs' that 'do the job', but our real 'job' is life - birthing it, sustaining it, nourishing it.

Our real strength is in the relationships we build with each other, held together as they are by the messy, sticky, sometimes smelly 'human glue' of shared stories.

If you are seeking Ashera or Lilith or evidence of the Divine Feminine, I have a suggestion.

Don't look up.

Don't look down.

Look all around you.

You can find evidence just about anywhere - even in some of the celebrated men of antiquity - but if you see a group of women sitting together on a park bench, pay close attention.

If you listen to their chatter and banter you will hear a story.  Perhaps even several stories.

Some will dismiss it as "gossip". Gossip is a word from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for the godparents of one's child or the parents of one's godchild, generally very close friends. 

The "gossip" they share may be their story. It may be someone else's story. But, in the midst of story, you will hear some of the stuff of what it means to be human - off high horses, away from the battle field, without guns or swords; away from the halls of higher learning and scholarship; encased not in stone or marble or behind climate and temperature controlled glass, but enfleshed, rather, in the very heart of the complexity of human relationships.

Some of it may assault you the way the pungent odor of urine in a city subway station hits your nose. Think of it as evidence of the enterprise of being human, an important reminder in the midst of the sterile technology of smart phones and computers and "distance learning".

She may have been 'forcibly removed' from 'official versions of the sacred text of Hebrew scripture, but Ashera lives! And, so does Lilith! Not in museums or institutes but in the hearts and minds of those who seek the feminine face of God.

I should know. I found Ashera alive and well and living in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ride, Sally Ride!

For some reason, the news hit me especially hard. Sally Ride is dead at age 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. 

It was 1983 when Ms. Ride took her first ride around the orbit of the earth.

Just to give you some context, that same year, Vanessa Williams became the first African-American woman to be named 'Miss America' while segregationist Governor George Wallace was elected to a record-breaking 4th term as Governor of Alabama.  Elizabeth Dole was named as the first woman Secretary of Transportation and a New Bedford, MA woman charged that she was gang-raped by six men in "Big Dan's Tavern".

First Lady Nancy Reagan was beginning her "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign and Margaret Thatcher began her second historic term as Prime Minister of England, engaged in fierce battle with the labor movement.  That year, Martina Navratilova won 86 of 87 tennis matches and singer Karen Carpenter died of complications associated with anorexia.

Therein lies the complicated image of women which began to emerge after the "Second Wave of Feminism" was sparked by Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" in 1963.

In 1983 - twenty years later and two years into the growing world-wide pandemic known as AIDS - women were still struggling to throw off the shackles of the dominant male paradigm while some women continued to live into it, even as they broke barriers of the traditional male definition of beauty and tried to create a place for the voice of women and mothers in the midst of what seemed like a national addiction to drugs.

In 1983, I was just entering seminary, the fourth woman in my diocese to be in the ordination process, endorsed by a bishop who had been a vociferous adversary of the ordination of women, and one of the first 100 to be ordained. 

Those were, as Paul Simon wrote in Graceland, "the days of miracle and wonder....lasers in the jungle....the boy in the bubble and the baby with a baboon heart".
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don't cry baby, don't cry
Don't cry
We hadn't found the cause of or the cure for AIDS - which was still being referred to as GRID (Gay Related Infectious Disease) -  and neighborhoods of poor people were being delivered truckloads of #17 cans of peanut butter and great slabs of "Uncle Ronnie's Cheese", and ketchup in their children's school lunch counted as a "vegetable", all of which served as evidence of their "fair share" of the "trickle down economics" of the time, but a 32 year old woman was in orbit around the earth. 

Forty-nine years later, women continue to make great strides, but the struggles with male-defined beauty and anorexia and the 'proper' role of women continue. We continue to try and create places for the voices of women to speak their wisdom to a culture and society gone mad with violence.

Meanwhile, in the background, Sally Ride was quietly creating a feminist movement of her own.

In 2001, Ride founded 'Sally Ride Science', which develops science programs and publications from upper elementary and middle school students.

It includes the Sally Ride Science Academy, a 'train the trainer' program which helps teachers raise students' interest in science; Science Festivals where girls, parents and teachers attend workshops, meet scientists and have fun at a street fair; and Science Camps where middle-aged school girls participate in hands-on science, build things and make new friends who share their interest in science.

"My mission these days is to improve science education and particularly to encourage more girls and young women to go on in careers in science and math and technology or to at least explore the opportunities in those fields," Ride told members of the Allegheny County Women's Leadership Council in 2007.

"The philosophy we have is that we don't have to convert kids, even girls, to science. Let's just give them opportunities to explore those interests and show them that there are lots of other girls, normal kids, who share those interests and that there are lots of women who go on to careers that they love in science and engineering."

I love it that she used the term, "normal kids".

By every account,  Sally Kristen Ride, PhD, was an extraordinary woman.
"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love," says a statement on the Sally Ride Science website, which announced her death.

"Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless."
President Barack Obama said, "Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model."

Mitt Romney called her "one of America's great pioneers" and a "profile in courage".

Indeed!  However, thanks to DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), Tam O'Shaughnessy, Sally Ride's spouse for the last 27 years, will be without federal benefits that even the most undeserving American receives after the death of their spouse.

O'Shaughnessy was reportedly by Ride's side throughout the astronaut's 17-month battle against cancer, and, before Ride became ill, they co-authored four books, including "Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and Its Climate -- and How Humans Are Changing Them" and "Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System."

If either the President or the presumptive Republican nominee for POTUS mean what they say about Sally Ride being a "national hero"and "one of America's great pioneers", the least they could do to honor her memory and her incredible contributions to this nation would be to work to repeal DOMA.

I think that's entirely possible when Mr. Obama wins re-election. Mr. Romney? I'm betting we'll get to see his tax returns before he ever advocates a repeal of DOMA.

I've been wandering around the house and my neighborhood today, trying to make sense of the loss of Sally Ride, the first woman and, at age 32, the youngest American to enter space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

I keep hearing a refrain from Wilson Pickett's song, "Mustang Sally": "Ride, Sally, ride!"

You know, I believe Sally is riding around the heavens right now, seeing in full what she only once saw in part - which was more than many of us will ever see in this lifetime.

Sally Ride inspired a nation to push beyond our boundaries and seek excellence and exceptionalism and led us through the "days of miracle and wonder".  In so doing, she became a role model for millions of women around the world, to move beyond cultural and societal definitions of what it means to be "a normal woman" - in every way.

So don't cry baby, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry. She helped us see what we looked like to a distant constellation that's dying in the corner of the sky.

Ride on, Sally Ride! Continue to take us with you, inspiring us with your life and witness.

As Buzz Lightyear would say, "To infinity and beyond!

Monday, July 23, 2012

One last truth

My iPhone alerted me to "breaking news" from the New York Times.

The N.C.A.A. has fined Penn State a $60 million fine and a four year postseason ban in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former head coach and convicted serial pedophile, Jerry Sandusky.

The Times reports that: "The fine was equal to the average annual gross revenue of the football program. The money will be placed into an endowment for programs that work to prevent child sexual abuse and assist victims. No programs at Penn State can be financed by the money."

Mark Emmert, president of the N.C.A.A. said that no punishment the N.C.A.A. could impose would change the damage done to those Sandusky abused, but “the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics.” 

" punishment....would change the damage done to those Sandusky abused....".

In my experience, that is something of an understatement. 

I have worked with adults who were sexually and physically and psychologically abused as children. Most call themselves "survivors" - not "victims" - of abuse.  They do not deny that they were victimized but they refuse to be defined by it, defining themselves, instead, as survivors. 

Many "recover" from the abuse and go on to live productive lives. The scars are still there. Nothing - no compensatory settlements, no lengthy jail sentences, no sex offender registry, no 'Amber Alert', no 'Megan's Law', no "Zero Tolerance Policies", no amount of therapy - will ever heal the pain that continues to linger.  

I have learned that, when you press, even gently, on that scar, you will get a reaction.

Some drink just a little too much, even though they are, for the most part, "highly functioning". 

Some self-medicate with other dangerous activities. Still others have compensated by becoming caretakers who burn out with sudden frequency and exhibit exaggerated signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many are morbidly obese or vigorously (some say "religiously") athletic.

Some take refuge in highly regimented lifestyles like the military or religious orders. Others find comfort in firm boundaries and rigid, black and white thinking about just about everything.

Sometimes, it shows up in what some would call "quirky" behavior. They are just a little "eccentric". A tad "off base".  I know one adult woman survivor who panicked - literally broke out into a sweat - when she realized that her infant had outgrown her "onesies".

She had unconsciously thought of them as an "extra protection" for her child and hadn't considered what would happen when her infant could no longer wear them - until she could no longer wear them. "And here I thought I had completely healed," she lamented to me.

I sometimes find that if I scratch just below the surface of a pattern of sarcastic humor or the penchant for constant low-level bickering, or 'mood swings' - a flurry of creative activity followed by the incapacity to do anything meaningful or purposeful that are just within the limit of familial or cultural tolerance - what I'll find within is a deeply wounded child.

I continue to pray - and work and hope - for healing, but the truth is that a child never heals from this kind of abuse. Never. Not completely. 

How can any child "completely heal" from such abuse - such a fundamental betrayal of being human?

Shortly after the "breaking news" from Penn State, a reader of this blog sent me a poem she wrote in reaction to the news. The subject line read: "Because you call your blog Telling Secrets". 

She writes:
 ", maybe I'm just venting ... but there's a thing most people don't know, a thing that traps us in a self-defeating spiral into an abyss of our own making, and their making, somehow inescapable even when we speak, tell the secrets ... pray and try and fail ... use it if you wish ..."
She has given me permission to use her name. The poem is powerful. It is disturbing. It is painfully honest. It is her truth.  Here it is:
One last truth
Marthe Walsh

On the day Penn State paid a partial price
for protecting a predator, hiding
in silence a vile pedophile to keep
money flowing, protect a legacy,
institutional “honor” and a game,
a truth only a survivor can tell:
the “closure,” the “healing” you all so crave
will not come for those abused, no “relief”
no neat final chapter while this culture
deifies “winners,” dismisses victims
grubby, imperfect, trapped in the lesson
that liars forfeit pity, compassion,
all while teaching us to lie just to live,
lie, to keep loved ones from walking away,
lie, to therapists expecting “progress,”
lie, to stop seeming damaged, a problem
to those weary of the burden of our
tragedy, our failure to overcome,
make lemonade, become ever “stronger”
because it did not kill our flesh –not yet-
lie, to satisfy your need to believe
we’ve “outgrown” the nightmares, “processed” the shame
into an appropriate attitude
of fierce resilient positivity.
No, it was not our fault, but the assault
continues with every set of eyes
turned away, uneasy with our ugly
truth, reinforcing our unworthiness
with queasy silence or pale platitudes.
No one wants to “get over it” more than
we do, so we pretend to be okay,
lie, to you, to ourselves, hide our failure
to bootstrap, rise above, ever trust love.
We try to be like you, but that’s a lie,
mostly we hide … and pay and pay and pay …
Do yourself a favor: try not to make it "okay". Try not to "fix it" for her.  And, please, don't offer her any well-intended advice. 

She's been living with this, she tells me, for over 50 years. I suspect, no matter how solid and good and noble, she's heard it all before.

At any rate, this time, this isn't about me or you.

It's about her.

Just let her truth sit with you for awhile and then share it with anyone who feels self-satisfied about the punishment of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State or says something about "justice being done". 

I'm not saying that Sandusky - or any perp - shouldn't be prosecuted to the full extent of the law or that Penn State - or any institution, including the Church - should not be held accountable.

I'm not saying that the "justice system" didn't work in this case. I'm just saying that, sometimes, justice isn't enough.
Sometimes, nothing is enough - especially if our expectation is that someone will be "completely healed' after this kind of abuse.

I'm just saying that the next time you or I even get a whiff of child or young adult sexual abuse ........well.......remember this poem. Remember this scar. Remember this truth.  

Maybe, just maybe, if more adult "survivors" told their truth - felt that it was okay to tell their truth, even though it will make us squirm - there would be fewer victimized children.

That's my hope, anyway. It's all I've really got, so please don't try to take it from me, okay?

Truth be told, hope that this will never happen again is the only truth any of us have. It's a fragile truth and an even more fragile hope, but what else have we got, really, except that that fragile truth combined with that fragile hope will lead us to strong, preventative action.

Because Mark Emmert is right:  The truth is that nothing can change the damage done to those who have been sexually abused.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


It shouldn't be that complicated.

I don't know why it is.

If someone has a rifle and uses it for hunting and they eat - or make a living from - what they kill, I have no problem with that. Some will. I understand. I'm a carnivore.  Guilty as charged.

If someone has a gun in their home for self-defense, well, I do have a problem with that but, as they say, it's a free country (well, for some) and we do have Second Amendment Rights.  So, there's that.

Me? I have a baseball bat by the door and I know how to swing it.

But why would anyone need semi-automatic assault weapons and canisters of tear-gas is beyond me. Why are these weapons so easily available?

And how in the name of God did all that explosive material get stockpiled in an apartment? Didn't anyone see him bring that stuff in? Didn't anyone think to ask a question?

And why would anyone let a man into a movie theater dressed in black with a mask over his face and all those weapons? Did someone not think to stop him? Ask a question - or maybe three?

The shooter has been described as a brilliant young man. Quiet. Well-mannered. An honor student.
"Gifted," many called him. He was working on his doctorate in neuroscience.

Clearly, the man who committed this horrific crime lost his foothold on reality. He may have been de-compensating for a while but no one noticed because he was quiet and well mannered and was working on his doctorate in neuroscience.

Just another 'geek'. A 'nerd'. Just a little 'odd', a bit 'off' but nothing to worry about. Would have passed the 'smell test' in any gun store.

Except, I go back to my original question: Why would anyone, sane or not, need automatic assault weapons and canisters of tear gas? Because the Second Amendment says we can? Really? Or, is it because the NRA (National Rifle Association) has become a very wealthy, very powerful lobby - so powerful that even our President has not curtailed their activities on Capitol Hill?

I grow very weary of the conversations I'm hearing about gun control, many of which are either along the line of "guns don't kill people, people kill people," or "if guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns."

On either side of the issue, these 'catchy phrases' offer a simplistic response to an unnecessarily complex situation in this company. The facts, however, do not lie. In countries where the citizenry - and even police - are not armed, there are lower rates of violent crimes. Far lower than in this country.

I grow even more weary of people talking about "evil" and how the shooter is "evil". Yes, the situation was a manifestation of evil. The shooter, however, is obviously ill. Mentally ill. We'll know more about that illness in the days and weeks and months to come.

Here's the thing: If you have a loved one or friend who suffers from mental illness, you know how hurtful it is to have someone who is mentally ill described as "evil" or "demonic".  Please, if you find yourself using that kind of language, please stop and consider what you're saying.

I know. We're all angry. We're all confused. How could this happen? Why did it happen? What happens in the mind of someone who deliberately, intentionally - legally - stockpiles weapons and ammunition and explosives?

There are many questions - most of which will be answered as the forensics are done and the legal system sifts through the facts and tries to uncover the truth. But, there will be other questions - deep, moral, ethical, spiritual questions - that we'll be wrestling with for years to come.

For now, all we can really do is pray for the souls of those who have died and for all those who grieve their loss. We can pray for the citizens of Aurora who will spend the rest of their lives trying to understand why this happened to them.

And, we can pray that we, in this country, can find some sanity in our laws, respecting the Second Amendment and balancing that with some common-sense laws that keep semi-automatic assault weapons out of the hands of citizenry.

That shouldn't be complicated to achieve - if we have the will and the heart and the courage to protect the innocent while guaranteeing constitutional rights for all.

May God have mercy on us, one and all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Soul Work

I love serendipity.  I think it's the playground of the Holy Spirit.

I love it when you have "accidental" conversations with people that have unexpected results.

Like the one I had earlier today with the bank teller at my local supermarket. Now, there's a combination that is absolutely ripe for serendipitous conversation.

I've known her for about a year. We had a great conversation as I was opening up my new local bank account. She had just moved here from Brooklyn with her husband and was, like me, still finding her way around town. She knew things I didn't and I knew things she didn't and we had a wonderful gabfest, sharing information. Whenever I'm in the market, I always stop by to see her, just to say hey.

I mentioned to her that she looked tired but, at the same time, had a wonderful glow. "What's up with you?" I asked.

"Why do you ask?" she said.

"I don't know, exactly," I said, "but by the looks of you, I'd say God is doing something in your soul."

She looked a bit startled and then laughed and said, "Well, actually, it's a bit lower. I just found out that I'm pregnant."

We exchanged delighted squeals and huzzahs and hugs and then she grew quiet before she asked, "Why did you say 'something is going on in my soul'?"

"Well, isn't it?" I asked.

"Actually, I think it is," she replied, "but I'm not sure what it is exactly." She paused for a moment and then said, "I'm due for a break. Do you have time for a cup of coffee .... I mean, milk or juice or water (giggle)?"

I didn 't really, but my curiosity decided that this would be a good investment of my time.

We went over to the little cafe (yes, a grocery store with a bank and a cafe), ordered our stuff while chatting excitedly about baby clothes and furniture, and then took a seat at one of the small tables.

She stirred her juice with her straw as if it were coffee and then said, "I think I'm changing. I mean. not just on the outside. Okay, right, I'm changing on the inside, too, but....well....I you something is happening in my soul. What IS that?"

"Well, what does it feel like?" I asked.

"I don't know, exactly," she said. "It's like....well...I'm thinking about things that are important to me. You know? I mean, like what do I really value in life? I don't just want to pass along DNA and blood and tissue and bone. I mean, what values do I want this child to have?"

"And that," I said, "is causing you to examine and reexamine what's in your soul?"

"Yes, exactly," she said. "I mean, I can't sleep at night. Sometimes, I lie awake waiting to feel the baby move. I know it's too soon for that, but still, I keep waiting for it. And, while I'm waiting, I keep trying to imagine what she...or, he...will look like. I try to imagine teaching her...or, walk, or ride a bike, or skip rope, or .......well, you know. Like that. It's just so hard to imagine it and yet, I know it will happen and I can't wait....and yet, I don't want to rush it....I want to enjoy my pregnancy....but then I wonder what kind of mother I'll be and if I'll be good enough and if I'll make the same mistakes my mother did, and how I can be different, and how I can be the same - the good things, you know?"

She sighed and laughed and said, "I'm not making any sense, am I?"

I smiled, remembering my own pregnancies. "Of course you are. You're pregnant. Pregnancy has its own logic. It doesn't have to make sense to anybody else. The truth is that it doesn't make sense and yet it's all perfectly logical."

She frowned and sat back in her chair. I could see the little rise in her belly where new life is growing and, despite my best efforts to remain professional and cool, I broke into a wide grin.

"I'm already showing, right? Oh, my God. I'm going to be as big as a house," she said.

"Nah, probably more like a whale," I said as she tossed her napkin at me.  "At least, that's the way I always felt. Like a beached whale."

She groaned. "I already do! Holy crap, how do women do this?"

"Sometimes with grace and style," I said, "and sometimes, well, not so much."

"So," she said, "What is it that's going on in my soul?"

"You are becoming more of who you are," I answered.

"Yeah, well, we've already covered the 'beached whale' thing," she said.

"Actually, the questions you are asking yourself about values and principles and what you want to pass on to your child are questions of the soul. It's 'soul work'. It's hard and it's exhausting but this is one of the great gifts of being part of new life."

"Some people experience it for the first time during pregnancy, but you don't have to be pregnant - or even female - to experience it. Soul work happens whenever life happens - but especially when life throws you a curve-ball. It could be a pregnancy or it could be a death. It could be a very carefully planned event or it could be something that just happens - even a tragic accident."

"Soul work," I said, "is about becoming more of who you were created to be. It's about being authentic and honest. It's about gaining clarity about what makes life worth living - and, what you are willing to die for. It means letting go of the parts of yourself that need to die so that other parts of you - the parts that have been over-shadowed by the carefully trained "public you" - can come into the light and be nourished and grow. You become more of who you are so you can give more of you away. I think we call that 'love'."

She thought over my words carefully and said, "You know, just last night, I said to my husband that I thought pregnancy was all about giving birth to a baby but it turns out it's about giving birth to myself, too. The funny thing is that I didn't even know I was going to say that, and I'm not sure what I meant when I said it, but the amazing thing is that he looked at me and said, 'I feel the same way.' Is he doing soul work, too?"

"Undoubtedly," I said.

She sat quietly for a while and then said, "Wow, all that stuff about the 'miracle of new life' is really true, isn't it?"

"Yes," I said, "yes it is. And, pregnancy is just one manifestation of it."

"Soul work," she said. "I can't wait to tell my husband about this. He's doing 'soul work'. I'm doing 'soul work'. And," she added, her eyes averting mine and a blush coming up on her cheeks, "We don't even go to church. Maybe we should, eh?"

"Maybe," I said. "And, if you're lucky, you just might find a church that is open enough to handle your questions and your doubts, your anxieties and your certainties, your values and your principles."

"Right," said she, now brightening, "And that would be The Episcopal Church, right? I mean, I've been reading all about it in the newspapers. It's really very cool - and, very courageous - what you all have done. What you stand for. The values you have."

"We have certainly had to let parts of us die in order to get to this moment, that's for sure," I said. "I can point you to three church in the area that are progressive. One of them is bound to fit. But, if they don't, keep trying. I don't know how anyone lives their life without being part of a community of faith."

"It's sort of like what you were saying about pregnancy," she mused. "I mean, for The Episcopal Church. It's like part of you - the old part - has died and now you're pregnant but you don't know what that new life is going to be like."

I smiled and laughed and found that I couldn't resist saying, "Well, I guess we've been talking about human sexuality for so long, we shouldn't be too surprised to find ourselves pregnant."

We both laughed and chatted some more and then it was time for her to go back to work. She promised to show me the pictures of the sonogram after her doctor's appointment in two weeks and then I went on with my shopping chores.

The Episcopal Church is elbow-deep in conversations about re-imaging and structure. I hope, in the midst of those conversations, we are aware that what we are doing is 'soul work'. We're not just passing along DNA and tissue and bones (structure).

We are clarifying our values. Deciding what makes life worth living. Determining what we're willing to die for. And, all so we can pass them onto the next generation of Christians.

Soul work. 

It's about doing the hard work of dreaming something into being and discovering that, in the process, you are becoming more of who you were created to be so that there's more of you to give away.

I think we call that 'love'.