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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gaga About Food

It seems that, all my life, I have struggled with the same 20 pounds.

I've gained it. Lost it. Gained it back again.

I'm thinking there is another person, somewhere, out there in the cosmos, who is saying the same thing. I think when s/he gains, I lose and vise versa.

I've been dieting for about two weeks now. I know what to do: high protein, low fat, low carbs, a good amount of fiber.  Vitamin supplements. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day. I've been riding my bike and jogging on my trampoline and using my Wii-Fit to hula hoop and jog and box and having some fun trying to dance my derriere off (literally) with the Wii "Just Dance".

Two weeks. Five pounds. That's it.

I know. I know. Slow and steady wins the race. It's a healthy way to lose. If you look up the word: "impatient", you'll find my picture right next to it. It took me two years to gain back the weight (two years away from the gym 4-5 days per week) and now I want to lose it in two weeks (with no gym within 10 miles from home).  Impatience brings with it its own set of unrealistic expectations.

Into the midst of my latest dieting phase comes the recent picture of Lady Gaga. Twenty-five pounds heavier and completely unashamed. Blames it on the fact that she's been eating - apparently with some frequency - at her dad's new Italian restaurant in Manhattan. 

Look, I know I'm no Gaga. I lost my "bikini bod" a long, long time ago. My thighs dropped in my 40s, but "the girls" are still holding their own. I've grieved and moved on. I know how I look naked and I'm okay with that. Having kids does that to you and I wouldn't trade one of them to lose one pucker of cellulite. I've come to believe that cellulite is the mark of a real, non-airbrushed woman who has had her share of a few miles of laughter and struggle in her life. 

Cellulite is like laugh lines for your body. Don't like it? Don't look. Oh, and grow up.

I just want to feel good in my clothes again - without feeling like I have to wear a full body Spanx. I mean, I just don't buy clothes. I invest in them - at discount prices, of course.

Someone suggested to me the other day that if I want to be successful in keeping the weight off, I needed to "change my relationship with food". She said this with a straight face. I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud. Right over my Grilled Caesar Chicken Salad hold-the-dressing, please and yes, another glass of unsweetened ice tea.

Portuguese egg tarts
I have a GREAT relationship with food, thank you very much.  It's tied to so many wonderful memories that if I thought I'd never be able - just every once in a while - to eat beer-battered fish or fried Ipswich clams and chips or enjoy a cup of blood orange gelato while strolling the boardwalk on a hot summer night, or have a lemon square or a Portuguese egg tart ever again, I'd rather chew a bucket of ground glass right now, if it's all the same to you.

I was telling a friend just this morning that, when mia Voa - my beloved grandmother - lost her appetite, she lost her will to live. Granted, she was in her mid-80s and pretty much confined to bed, but the meds she took to keep her heart pumping - as well as the attendant 'low sodium, heart healthy diet' - also robbed her of her appetite.

I went to see her, one afternoon, a few weeks before she died. She was so depressed, I began to be alarmed. I decided that a little visual walk down memory lane might help, so I pulled out an old photo album and we began our stroll.

We came across a picture taken when she must have been in her late 60s. Her beautiful, formerly blue-black hair was gray and pulled back in her signature, braided bun. Her body was round and full. Her stance was strong, her just-a-little-too-muscular-for-a-woman arm around mine, as I stood next to her, tall and skinny (but I remembered being at least 20 pounds heavier) in my high school graduation cap and gown. She was smiling and relaxed and happy.

She looked at herself, lifting up an arm with skin and muscle clinging to the bone for dear life while the flab that told stories of happier, long-ago days hung from her night dress, and then looked back at the picture. She smiled broadly as I watched the depression lift from her face and body.

She said, in Portuguese, "Ah, we ate well then, didn't we?"

We laughed and began talking about some of the things we used to make together. I got her to tell me a few of the recipes as I wrote them down on the back of a few envelopes of the get well cards or bills she had received. I still have them, to this day, just the way she told them to me.

Fried baby smelts
We talked and laughed and then she said, again, in Portuguese, "Oh, I would love a pan of (I can't spell it in Portuguese, which sounds so much better, but they are) fried baby smelts. I think, when I get to heaven, there will be a whole pan of them, waiting just for me." 

She used to cook up these baby smelts in the big caste iron pan - which I now have (it's my most prized possession) - in EVOO and butter with TONS of garlic and a dusting of semolina flour. 

They were a magical combination of cripsy and crunchy, yet they'd melt right in your mouth.  We'd eat them right out of the pan - heads and all - picking them up with Portuguese bread (crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, just the way it's supposed to be) slathered with butter.  They are so addictive, they're like crack cocaine. You just can't stop eating them, and, after you've finished, you begin to dream of a way to get them again.

I said, in my best Portuguese, "I'll go to the market and make some for you now, if you want." To my surprise and delight, she agreed. When I returned, she insisted on getting up out of bed and sat at the kitchen table, watching my every move at her kitchen stove and guiding me through the process. 

It was the best - and last - lunch we shared. We laughed as the butter from the hot bread melted and ran down our arms. I remember her licking the melted butter from her wrists and then, I did the same. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

She died shortly after that, never returning to her kitchen to cook or guide anyone through one of her recipes.  I understand that better now.

We even had a small glass of vinho verde to wash it all down. I reminded her, before I went to fetch the bottle, that her doctor would not be pleased.

I'm sorta glad I can't spell the words in Portuguese which she said in response. Let's just say that it wasn't flattering either to the doctor or his family lineage - or, for that matter, the size of his male, external genitalia. 

Spicy pork and clams.
If I thought I could never eat a plate of fried baby smelt again I think I'd pack it all in right now.  I must be genetic, I guess. You know, it may be the first thing I make in celebration of having lost these last 15 more pounds. 

Meanwhile, I work on balance - diet and exercise, calories in, calories out - while I dream of an occasional treat my favorite foods as I bounce on the trampoline or ride my bike. 

I know that 'yo-yo' dieting is probably worse than any deep fried food or cream-laced dessert I could put in my mouth, but I'm convinced that the culprit this time is the lack of exercise. 

My diet really hasn't been that bad. Two years out of the gym is a long time. It's all about the balance. My biggest work is not the effort it takes to keep food away from my mouth. It's all about regaining and maintaining the balance in my life. 

Yes, I'm gaga about food, but I'm also deeply committed to having at least 20 more years of eating well and forming an even deeper, healthier relationship with and memories of food, which I hope I'll be able to share with my children and grandchildren.  I hope to give them the gift of similar memories as my grandmother gave me.

I don't think it's an accident that Jesus instituted a meal as a way to remember him. Or, that some of the criticism about him which came from his adversaries centered around what he ate and how he ate and with whom he ate.  

Neither is it a coincidence that we break bread and share wine as part of the central act of being a community of faith, which we say is a "foretaste of the heavenly banquet". 

I just know, deep in my soul, that when I arrive at heaven's gate, there will be a large pan of fried baby smelt waiting for me. And, mia Voa will be waiting there, smiling and laughing, one strong arm holding the caste iron pan, the other holding a golden brown round loaf of crusty Portuguese bread.

Food nourishes your body, but food linked with stories and memories can feed your soul.  

When both are well and in balance, there's a beauty there that surpasses all individual assumptions and expectations, as well as cultural definitions and limitations.

I suspect Lady Gaga - like a few of the rest of us - has already figured that out for herself.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Just the other day, within a matter of a few minutes, I happened to be at two different stop lights behind two different cars which cited the one same Psalm for two very different reasons.

One had "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" amidst the instantly recognizable Rainbow Flag of the LGBT community.

The other had "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" next to an image of a fetus, around which were the words: Abortion Stops a Beating Heart.

I had to pull over to the side of the road for a few minutes, just to take it all in.

How can a psalm be both anti-abortion and pro-LGBT at the same time?  I mean, you would be hard pressed to find someone in the anti-abortion group who would embrace any one of the categories of people represented in the "alphabet soup" of God's Rainbow Tribe. Likewise, while there are assuredly LGBT people who are opposed to abortion, the preponderance of LGBT people support reproductive justice for women.

So, how is it that two very different groups can claim the same piece of scripture to support their very different positions?

One answer lies in an understanding of something called "proof texting" - which, by the way, is not something one does on one's smart phone.

Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a verse or very short passage of biblical text to prove or justify a theological or doctrinal position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing.

There are dangers to proof texting. I'll never forget the time I was counseling a RC priest who had been charged with pedophilia. He simply didn't understand why what he did was wrong. 

He took out a picture of Jesus, which he kept in his bible. It depicted Jesus sitting on a rock, a lamb around his neck, a gaggle of children at his feet. On the bottom of the picture was this citation from scripture which he understood as scriptural warrant to what he did not yet understand as his illness. It was from Matthew 19:14: "Jesus said, ''Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"

Elizabeth Tokar retells a story every seminarian has heard about the dangers of proof texting in her book, "Humorous Anecdotes Collected from a Methodist Minister": 
"A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, "Then Judas went away and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5b) Closing his eyes again, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, "Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" (Luke 10:37b)
I've seen the same thing done with the scriptural passage: "All love is of God" (1John 4:7).  In the early days of the movement for Liturgical Rites of Blessings of the Covenant of Same Gender Couples, it was a constant refrain. That was met with the expected rant from the Right about how LGBT "love" was evidence of the "corruption" of The Fall.

And, we were off. Scriptural gymnastics, I call it. I don't advise it. You can hurt yourself - and others - in the process. I won't even get into the violence it does to Scripture.

Even St. Augustine thought the practice of proof texting was a sin. Then again, St. Augustine saw sin lurking under every fig leaf. 

There are all sorts of variations on these examples of proof texting, but you get the point. 

Scripture has been used to argue for and against all sorts of social issues, from slavery to the subjugation of women, to corporal punishment for children, to....well, name an issue, any issue, and you can make an argument for or against it, using Scripture to support your position.

Truth be told, I am decidedly for reproductive justice and comfortable with my sexual orientation because of Psalm 139. Maybe that's because I'm also decidedly Anglican.

I don't know if I can explain, as a member of the Queer Community, the comfort I draw from these words, when you are told that you are an abomination in the sight of the Lord:
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity.
To know that nothing about me is hidden from God - not even my sexual orientation - as I was being "knit in my mother's womb" is a source of solace and comfort and peace that surpasses all human understanding, and allows me to continue to delight in the great variety and goodness of God's creative expression as it is exhibited in my very being.

At the same time, I can embrace and draw comfort from these words in my work in reproductive justice. These words tell me that the life of the woman who is considering abortion is also valuable to God. The words . . . . .
"How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; to finish, I would need eternity," 
. . . . . remind me that I am not in control of anything in this life - not even another person's decision to do what she deems best for herself.  God is. Whatever she decides about this pregnancy is between her and the God of her understanding.

It is not my decision to make. It is not my place to judge or condemn. I can only affirm for her what she may have once known but may now have doubts: She is a child of God and precious in God's sight. Along with the divine gift of sexuality, she is also given the divine gift of intelligence.

God has also bestowed us with the gift of free will and, if we mess up and make the wrong choice - even if people judge and revile us -  God is the source of boundless forgiveness and mercy.

It's called grace.

So, yes, it's all there in Psalm 139. It's not a polemic statement. It's a statement of fact. It's not doctrine. It comes from scripture, which is not a rule book. It's a guide book.

It's a statement of the irrefutable fact that, at the center of life, there is a mystery greater than our wildest imaginings.

And, the name of that mystery is Love.

We are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. The world would be a much better place if we treated each other as if we actually believed that were true. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What's stoppin' ya?

I've been having some interesting conversations with some folks about the Committee on the Structure of the Church which came into being via resolution C095.

The resolution creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration. Their work will culminate in a special gathering of people from every diocese to hear what recommendations the task force plans to make to the 78th General Convention. Its final report is due by November 2014.

The resolution passed the House of Deputies unanimously and sailed through the House of Bishops.

When Tom Ely, the bishop of Vermont, asked who was going to pay for these gatherings, several bishops responded, "Vermont". Once they stopped laughing at their own joke, and Bishop Ely started breathing again, it was reported that structural reform had been allocated $200,000 in the budget.

So, our answer to changing the structure of the church was to create another structure and to fund it at approximately $67K per year. General Convention also voted to return to a 10 day schedule for the 78th Convention, verses the 8 day structure we worked with at the 77th Convention. Oh, and we voted to look at relocating our national headquarters at 815 Second Ave, including the possibility of selling off that piece of property.

Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Florida, who chairs the committee on structure, said that the committee: “is so thoroughly convinced of the process of the Spirit, that it will be blessed. We believe $200,000 may become half a million, like the loaves and fishes that the Lord will provide. Don’t let the money stop you right now."

On one hand, that's a thoroughly predictable episcopal response: Got an issue? Create a task force and throw money at it. On the other hand, if the Spirit is, in fact, moving over the face of The Episcopal Church, we need to put all of our best resources - including people and money - into making certain that nothing impedes the working of the Spirit. 

As I read the resolution, the committee is charged with "gathering ideas from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration". They will then make "recommendations", three years from now, to the 78th General Convention.

The composition of that task force has not yet been revealed, but we do know that more than 750 people nominated themselves or were nominated for 150 positions in the church. I'm thinking that a large part of those volunteers wanted to work on that task force.

The purpose, of course, is - ostensibly, at least - is so that we can become more "nimble" for mission.

As my friend, Byron Rushing likes to say, "The church doesn't have a mission. God has a mission and a church to help realize that mission." 

Think about that for one red hot second. What I hear him saying is that God’s expansive love and extravagant grace are so much bigger than the agendas or mission statements of any one group, religious or otherwise.

As I've been talking with groups of folk, lay and ordained and some not involved at all in the church, much less The Episcopal Church, I've gotten some interesting insights about the way the institutional church works - or, at least, is perceived to do the work of - the gospel.

I've listened to both clergy and laity register deep disappointment with the leadership of their bishops. They hear bishops calling for a "missional church," whilst encouraging clergy to be "entrepreneurs" and "bivocational", and asking everyone to live a "sacrificial life" (often translated to mean: work full time for part time pay and increase your pledge to the diocese).

Meanwhile, there is not a shred of evidence that the bishop is acting to make the diocese more "missional" - diocesan staffs stay in the same configuration, with salary increases - and the bishop is not considering becoming an "entrepreneur", much less "bivocational". any time soon. Many often note that the budget lines for the bishop's salary, expense and travel continues to increase.

One lay woman, who used to be very active in her church but fell away after the "politics got to me" and now works in an amazing community-based organization that helps the unemployed find work, said, "What we need to be a more missional church is the one thing a structure task force - or any church structure - can't give us: COURAGE."

She continued, "Sometimes, when I see church leaders - especially bishops - walking around the church in their finery or driving cars that I've never been able to afford, all I can think of is the Cowardly Lion. They puff themselves up in their finery and roar from their pulpits or their chairs about mission, and maybe they go, once a year, on a "mission trip", but they aren't living it. They talk about it, but they aren't doing it."
Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got? 
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage! 
Cowardly Lion:  You can say that again!
The consistent theme in all the remarks I'm hearing seems to be "If we want to be a more missional church, we need more missional bishops who will fill their dioceses with missional priests - both of whom are so passionate about the work of mission that they do it themselves and call others to work with them."

That may sound like a top-down strategy that is doomed to fail, but, you know, I think we have to face facts: Like it or not, we are a hierarchical church. It's going to take more than 24 people, $200K and two years to change that.

Indeed, if you read the canons of our church, the underlying assumption in all of them is that the bishop is the "Chief Missioner" and "Church Planter". One of the reasons that, after a rector leaves a church - resignation or retirement -during the interim period, the bishop is the rector. Or, in a church which does not have parish status, the priest is either the Vicar or the Priest-In-Charge. Unless otherwise noted in the diocesan canons, the bishop is the rector of all "mission churches".

How many bishops support their clergy who are taking the risks of the gospel - even when the congregation objects so strongly they want to rid themselves of "this meddlesome priest"? How many bishops spend time in their congregations - sleeves rolled up - doing the work of mission side-by-side with the people, inspiring them and encouraging them to "go and do likewise"?

Seems to me, that's what Jesus did. What's stopping us? Is it that my friend is right? Do we lack the courage of our convictions? Do we need to spend less time "talking the talk" and more time "walking the walk"?

Do we have the courage to restructure the office of the episcopacy as well as the priesthood to make us better able to do the work of the Gospel?

I hope one of the things the Structure Task Force considers is how it is that a hierarchical church structures itself for mission. What role do bishops and priests play as leaders in this movement? From whence will the institutional leadership arise to inspire the institutional, hierarchical church to do the work of the Gospel? What will that require of us as a people who are members of that institution?

As the institutional church lumbers its way through selecting 24 people who will structure themselves around the question of the structure of the church, I thought I'd ask a few questions for your consideration and ask that you leave your comments here.

Here are three questions:
1. What in the structure of TEC is preventing it from being a more meaningful witness to the Gospel as we interpret it in our particular work?

2. What does it mean to Progressives to change structure? Might Progressives and Conservatives be operating under different assumptions about what it means to be a "missional church" and how church structures support or impede mission? Are the two assumptions reconcilable?

3. What are you doing - in your church, in your place of work, in your life - that is remarkable in terms of providing what you consider to be a meaningful witness to the Gospel? 
For my part, I will take your responses - anonymously, of course, unless you indicate otherwise - and send them on to a group with whom I'm working which has access to some of the leadership of the structure committee.  If you'd rather send them to me privately, leave me a note and a way to get hold of you and I'll send you my email address. Or, message me on FaceBook. 

If we're ever going to put on our ruby slippers, step out on the Yellow Brick Road and get to "The Emerald City" of the vision of the Church, I think we need to know that we already have what we need: A heart, a brain, and "da noive".

And, an awareness that there really is "no place like home".

Everything else - including how we structure ourselves - is just details.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Clergy Day Hospitality

I usually anticipate Fall Clergy Day with the same enthusiasm I have in anticipation of going to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned.

You know you have to do it. You know it's important. You know you'll feel better when it's all over. But, man, it's just hard to get excited about sitting in a room filled with clergy, everyone smiling - some through grit teeth - everyone saying how wonderful everything is - even though you know they may be going through a rough patch in their marriage or family or congregation - but everyone being rigorously and relentlessly hail-fellow-well-met and keep-calm-and-carry-on.

Someone usually picks up a bag of bagels and doughnut holes and a few boxes of coffee that is lukewarm after an hour and stone cold by break time.  Lunch is often a couple of foot long subs someone picks up from the deli and a bucket filled with ice and soda can. 

You know. 'Cuz it's so healthy.

Today was my second Fall Clergy Day in the Diocese of DE and, when I woke up this morning, I found myself not exactly excited and enthusiastic but unexpectedly and pleasantly happy.

It wasn't just because I had a 15 minute ride to get there as opposed to the 90 minute ride to Wilmington. It was at the parish hall of St. George's Chapel - which is in partnership with All Saint's Church in Rehoboth Beach. My rector is rector of both (very different) congregations - one rural and the other in the midst of a resort area. It's a herculean task which he does with great skill and a spirit of generosity and compassion.

There are some very fine clergy in this diocese. No, really. Beginning with my rector, but certainly not limited to him. It's a small diocese (32 congregations) and, it's not the Northeast Corridor so things tend to move a lot more slowly here - even slower "below the canal" where I am - and, while there are the usual "clunkers" here and there, there seems not to be as many, proportionately, as in other dioceses where I've served.

The agenda was packed, as usual, and there was the expected report from the bishop - newly elected chair of CGP (applause, applause), a "report back" (a minor irritation of mine about the redundancy of that term which everybody uses with such frequency that everyone thinks is correct form) from the General Convention Deputation and a nifty little exercise that got us talking with each other in small groups and served to help the planning committee do some programmatic planning for the year.

Here's what made the difference: Hospitality.

When we arrived, there was not only fresh, hot GOOD coffee awaiting us but also homemade (not from a box) fresh, hot out of the oven banana, apple, and peach pastries AND some fresh, hot, homemade (not from a box) muffins. Really.

My rector had assembled a cooking crew - including former wardens and a present warden who is a retired Presbyterian minister - who arrived at the Parish Hall at 8 AM, rolled up their sleeves, and were in the kitchen, slicing and dicing to a faretheewell. 

They do this sort of thing all the time. Really. We joke that the "unofficial mission statement" at both churches is, "Hey, ya gotta eat."

After we broke for noonday prayer in the Chapel, lunch was a whole, 12 pound salmon on the grille as well as a cheese, veggie philo delicacy for the vegetarians in the crowd. There were assorted grilled veggies and, I hear, an amazing dessert. All made in the parish kitchen.

I couldn't stay for lunch - had a one o'clock that had been on my calendar long before the schedule for Clergy Day came out - but I saw the salmon grilling and I've already heard about it from some colleagues who called to ask why I wasn't at lunch. They simply RAVED about the food.

That's been my experience of clergy here. They mostly genuinely like each other and, even when they don't, the hospitality is gracious and genuine and always errs on the side of generosity.

You know, I think that is not only a model of servant leadership, I think that sets the tone for the rest of the diocese. It makes a difference. A huge difference, in my experience.

Are there problems? Absolutely. Are there difficulties? No doubt. Is it perfect? No way. Does it guarantee anything? Nope.

Here's the thing: With all the incivility and rudeness in the world, there's something wonderful about finding a haven where manners matter and hospitality counts and generosity is both the norm and is appreciated.

Is that going to save the world? Probably not. But, I think, when servant leaders are servant leaders to other servant leaders, it creates a culture and an environment that just might help to change it a bit.

Let's call it a theory of "trickle down hospitality". It doesn't work with economics - as the last 40 years have shown - but I suspect it makes all the difference in the church.

I recommend it highly.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Capable Wife

There's an interesting - and timely - juxtaposition of lessons in the lectionary for Sunday (Proper 20, Year B), especially given what's been in the religious news this past week.

The first lesson option is from Proverbs 31:10-31
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant girls.
It goes on like that for a few more verses.

Later, in Mark (9:30-37), we hear Jesus say:
"What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."
When you compare the words from Proverbs and these words of Jesus, it could certainly sound like Jesus is saying, "If you want to be my disciple, be a capable wife.

I can't help but think of that small piece of papyrus fragment from the fourth century that was recently found on which it is written, in Sahidic Coptic,  "Jesus said to them, 'My wife....'"

That's it. Two little words 'My wife.....'. Not a whole lot to go on but tons of speculation which joins centuries of theories and even a best selling novel about what it might mean.

Here's a link to a picture of the papyrus fragment with translation from the NY Times. It reads:
not (to) me. My mother gave to me li(fe).
The disciples said to Jesus
deny. Mary is worthy of it
Jesus said to them, 'My wife'
she will be able to be my disciple
Let wicked people swell up
As for me, I will dwell with her in order to
an image.
The disciples said Mary is worthy of it.....Jesus said to them, 'My wife'.....

It certainly sounds like "Mary" was not only deemed "worthy" by the disciples, but Jesus judged her "able" to be a disciple and to "dwell with" Him.

The capable wife? 

I'm sure I don't know what that means.

I just want to know one thing: While that capable wife was doing all those things - seeking wool and flax.... working with willing hands.... bringing food from far away....rising while it is still night to provide food for her household - just what, exactly, was the husband doing? 

Maybe writing stuff down on papyrus paper that would cause people - centuries later - to ask, "A capable wife, who can find?".

Sounds like Jesus just may have found one. And, he called her His disciple. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bivocational Bishops?

The Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire, which encompasses the northwestern third of the state of Wisconsin, has announced four candidates for the position of Bishop Diocesan.

There are approximately 21 congregations in the diocese, mostly small and rural.  I don't know how many have full or part time clergy on staff. Their last bishop was +Keith B. Whitmore, who served from 1999- 2008 and, last I heard, was assisting in the Diocese of Atlanta. 

The position is part time. 

To my knowledge, this is at least the second "part time" position of a Bishop Diocesan (I'm sorry but I can't remember the diocese - which means it's someplace west and south of RI :~), but I do remember that the bishop there is also rector of a "cardinal parish").  The Dioceses of Fond du Lac, Fort Worth and a few others in Michigan are considering either part time episcopacy or merger with another geographically contiguous diocese.

The retired bishop of Springfield, +Peter Beckwith, told me that when he was first elected there, the position offered him substantially less than what he was earning as a rector. The arrangement he had with them was that he remained in the National Reserve, working one weekend a month and taking a month in the summer for reserve training - none of which was considered "vacation time". It was the only way he could earn enough money for himself and his family and have a decent retirement.

I don't think he considered himself a "part time" or "bivocational bishop," but, in truth, that's what he was. I wonder how many other bishops in The Episcopal Church have either been quietly bivocational or worked full time for a part time pay and supplemented their salaries in other ways.

I've posted the announcement below. I love the descriptive phrase "roughly 20 hours per week". Roughly? You can bet it will be 'rough'.  Somebody is going to need to have some pretty firm yet semipermeable boundaries.

Interesting times in the church. New models of ministry and leadership are emerging, brought on mostly by financial necessity, but with an open, creative spirit. Seems we are going "back to the future" of episcopal leadership.

I wonder how we are preparing people - lay and ordained - for this new style of leadership?

Prayers for the people of the Diocese of Eau Claire, for the candidates, for their mutual discernment and for the church.

Diocese of Eau Claire Announces Candidates

dioshieldtransparentThe Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire announced a slate of four candidates for its sixth bishop. They are:
  • The Rev. Robert B. Clarke, priest-in-charge, Holy Apostles’ Church, Oneida, Wisconsin (Diocese of Fond du Lac);
  • The Rev. Richard E. Craig III, former rector, St. John the Baptist, Portage, Wisconsin (Diocese of Milwaukee);
  • The Rev. Arthur B. Hancock, vicar, Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Hayward, Wisconsin (Diocese of Eau Claire); and
  • The Rev. W. Jay Lambert, rector, St. James Episcopal Church, Leesburg, Florida (Diocese of Central Florida).
All candidates will be in the Diocese of Eau Claire for public gatherings during the week starting Oct. 7. The election is scheduled for Nov. 9.

The sixth bishop’s position will be part time, averaging roughly 20 hours per week. “The ideal candidate will be able to support himself or herself through a part-time position, provide vision for new ways of working in the Episcopal Church, and an energetic spirituality that will nurture the wide variety of people to whom we minister,” according to information posted on the diocesan website.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hair, Sex, Shame and Hate

Samuel Mullet - Bergholz, Ohio
In the midst of "all things political all the time," I've found myself fascinated by the story of Samuel Mullet, the leader of a strict Amish sect in Bergholz, Ohio.

Just yesterday, he and fifteen other Amish men and women were convicted of hate crimes for a series of hair- and beard- cutting attacks on fellow sect members.

A federal jury found the 66-year-old Mullet guilty of orchestrating the cuttings last fall in an attempt to shame mainstream members of his community who he believed were straying from their beliefs. His followers were found guilty of carrying out the attacks, which terrorized the normally peaceful religious settlement that aims to live simply and piously.

Prosecutors and witnesses described how sons pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off two feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.

One woman testified that Mullet coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him, and others said he encouraged men to sleep in chicken coops as punishment.

The defendants face prison terms of 10 years or more. Prosecutors say they targeted hair because it carries spiritual significance in their faith.

I've searched the internet to understand more about that "spiritual significance" but came up empty. Granted, I did not make a very exhaustive search, but every source I found mentioned the fact that there is a "spiritual significance" for the Amish in their hair, but I didn't find a source that would either define or amplify the phrase and say exactly what that meant.

That seemed odd to me, given the fact that this "hate crime" centered around the cutting of hair and beards as an act of violence and hate.

What was reported is that the government said the cuttings were an attempt to shame members of Mullet's community who he believed were straying from their beliefs.

Amish family
In public, at least, Amish women cover their hair with bonnets and Amish men are noted for their beards - some of them very long. 

I think both you and I can both make a pretty good guess that it has something to do with sexuality and gender identity.

The Amish, after all, are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches. The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.

As Christians, they have undoubtedly read the story of Sampson and Delilah, who cut off his hair which was the source of his strength.

I'm sure they also know the story of Mary Magdalene and how she lavished Jesus with expensive oils, washed his feet and then wiped them with her hair.  That act was very disturbing to at least one of the disciples, not just because of the cost of the oil but, no doubt, because of the sexual symbolism of a woman's hair.

Even though Amish are "home schooled" only until the 8th grade, it's easy, then, to deduce that the "spiritual significance" of hair, for the Amish, has to do with strength and virility for men and sexuality for women.

That's not just an issue peculiar to the Amish or the ancient Hebrews.

Indeed, I remember the first time I saw one of my aunts, who was a Roman Catholic nun, without her veil. It was in the late 50s and I was just a child, but I remember staring at her "buzz cut" in horror. She tried to laugh it off, but I could see her discomfort. "I'm a Marine for Jesus," she said as she laughed, but I could see her face burning with shame and embarrassment.

I never saw her again without her veil.

I don't think it was meant to shame her. Rather, as she told me later - long after she had left the convent - cutting off her hair was a symbol of her vow of celibacy. She had sacrificed her sexuality in order to be faithful to the work of the church.

Oh, the things we do for Jesus!

Still, it brought her a sense of shame for me to see her with her head shaved.

Puritan Stocks
Shame is not an uncommon punishment in communities which espouse religious values and beliefs. Puritans were known for putting people in stocks while the public pelted them with rotten fruit or vegetables.

Women who were found guilty of spreading gossip were tied to a chair and dunked into a large vat of water in the public square.

Some offenders would be required to wear a sign around their neck or branded like an animal with a hot iron on their face or hands: "T" for Thief; the 'Scarlet Letter' "A" for Adultery.

Would these things be considered "hate crimes" today?
A hate crime is a category used to described bias-motivated violence: "assault, injury, and murder on the basis of certain personal characteristics: different appearance, different color, different nationality, different language, different religion."
Defense attorneys acknowledged that the hair cuttings took place and that crimes were committed but contend that prosecutors were overreaching by calling them hate crimes.

"You have your laws on the road and the town — if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish them. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?" Mullet told The Associated Press last October.

The courts answered that question in a resounding "no".

"The victims in this case are members of a peaceful and traditional religion who simply wanted to be left to practice their religion in peace," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said. "Unfortunately, the defendants denied them this basic right and they did so in the most violent way."

Federal officials said the verdicts would send a message about religious intolerance.

What is allowed to happen in one religious community has an affect on what is allowed to happen in other religious communities.  In this country, we are guaranteed freedom OF religion but we're also guaranteed freedom FROM religion - as well as freedom from one religion's violent attempts to shame their members into submission to beliefs against their will.

The case sets an important precedent about religious intolerance, one that comes at a critical juncture in our culture when the term "religious freedom" is being bandied about by old, dry, celibate men in purple shirts who object to having to provide insurance that considers contraceptive medications and devices as part of good health care for women.

We may not be talking about women's hair, but we are talking about women's sexuality and health. In many cases, the arguments used to coerce women into believing they should not be using contraceptive measures are, in fact, shame-based.

Sandra Fluke
If birth control measures  are not used and the woman becomes pregnant, she faces more shame whether she has "a child out of wedlock" or chooses to abort the fetus.

Meanwhile, the man who impregnated her is either seen as "just being a man" - you know, he just can't help himself against the feminine wiles of women (and, really, who could blame him, right?) - or, he's not seen at all. Invisible. Not responsible (as opposed to irresponsible, which is also true.

As far as I know, no woman has yet been tied to a chair and dunked into a vat of water in the public square, but at least one woman has recently been called a "slut" on public radio - over three consecutive days - for insisting that the cost of her contraception medication be covered under her health care insurance.

That doesn't fit the legal definition of a "hate crime" but it sure feels violent and hateful to me.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, members of Mullet's defense team said appeals were likely and would focus on whether the beard-cuttings amounted to religious-based hate crimes. Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.

The sixteen defendants, with about 50 children between them and including six couples, belong to a community of about 25 families. One of the attorneys said, "The community is going to be ripped apart. I don't know what's going to happen to all their children."

I suspect, as Christians, they will band together and care for each other during prison sentences and appeal processes. When there was a shooting in a one-room Amish Schoolhouse in Pennsylvania in 2006, injuring 10 children ages 6-13 and killing 5, there was a great deal of media attention on the centrality of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Amish tradition.

Defense attorneys said the defendants were bewildered by the verdicts. "They really don't understand the court system the way the rest of us have, being educated and reading newspapers," said Joseph Dubyak, whose client, Linda Schrock, has 10 children with her husband, who was also convicted.

Amish enter U.S. Federal Courthouse in Cleveland on 9/21/12
The defense had argued that the Amish are bound by different rules guided by their religion and that the government had no place getting involved in what amounted to a family or church dispute.

It was ever thus. Separation of church and state. It's more complicated than it might seem.

I have a feeling this one is far from over.

Stay tuned. I think there's a lot more ridding on this than just religious intolerance or freedom of religion.

It has everything to do with hair and sex, and the way they can become targets of -  as well as vehicles for - shame and hate.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The 53%

Sometimes, a picture IS worth a million words.

So, I'm going to shut up and let y'all think about this one.

You're certainly welcome to let me know what strikes you about this in the comment section.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Automotive Evangelism

The Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, where I now make my non-canonical residence, has embarked on an interesting evangelism project.  I thought of calling "Drive By Evangelism" but, well, that's just not been my experience. Indeed, as you will read, it's can be a lot more involved than that.

I've decided to call it "Automotive Evangelism".

The project is about Episcopal "vanity plates" for your car. You can see a picture of the license plate above on my trusty "Lucy True Bug" VW convertible bug.

I don't like the term "vanity plates". I think, rather, it's a way to be "distinctive" about who you are and what you believe in or care about. "Distinctive plates" sounds better - more accurate - to my ears.

You can also see my magnetic sticker collection - another way to be "distinctive" -  which includes LN (for Long Neck, where I live), RB (for Rehoboth Beach, one of the most wonderful places on God's green earth), and LSD (for Lower, Slower Delaware, which is the area of Delaware "below the canal" where things move a bit slower than "upstate").

There's also a Kanuga magnetic sticker (one of my favorite Episcopal Conference Centers), along with a moose for Maine (the diocese which sponsored me for ordination), a Black Dog for Martha's Vineyard, MA (the diocese of my birth), and a "Dos Locos" sticker for one of my favorite restaurants in Rehoboth, as well as a wonderful "paw" which reads, "Who rescued who?" which I got as a gift from a dear friend after I "rescued" Theo.  In the upper left hand corner is a purple heart with the name "Sydney" - the niece of a dear friend who died, at age 9, of a brain tumor.

The one "regular" (non-magnetic) bumper sticker I've allowed myself is "God is Not a Boy's Name" for the Episcopal Women's Caucus.

I'm waiting for my magnetic sticker from the DNC (Democratic National Committee), which has an image of "Bo" - the White House dog" with the words, "I Bark For Barack".

Cars have become a way to "advertize" causes and places which are important to the driver. It's also a way to "individualize" your vehicle to make it distinctive from all the other cars on the road.

I suppose that's "vanity" but I much prefer the word "distinctive".

You can find more information about the project here on the Diocesan web page, but it was really a simple two-step process:

(1) Fill out a simple 2-page application form.
(2) Mail in your application long with a one-time fee of $15.

That's it.

We were allowed to request (but not guaranteed) a specific number. I went with 421 as that's my birthday. I chose 422 for Ms. Conroy because, yeppa, that's her birthday. To my absolute delight, it was possible to satisfy both requests.

You'll note the Episcopal shield on the left, followed by the letters "EC" and then the license plate number. Along the bottom it reads: Episcopal Diocese of Delaware.

Some of my friends from other dioceses have expressed delight and curiosity, followed by envy, followed by the realization that, hey, I can ask my diocese to do the same!

I love the interest shown by neighbors and random folks in the parking lot at the grocery store - or post office or retail outlet or gas station - who ask questions. Which is the point, right? I've only had the license plate since Saturday and already I'm finding myself in conversations with people about my church and my faith.

Sometimes I get the predictable: "Aren't you the church that ordains homosexuals?" That question can be asked with disdain or delight. Two people have asked, "Aren't you the church of that guy...that...what's his name?...Gene, Gene, Gene.....Robinson?" I smiled and said, "Yes, Bishop Robinson is a bishop in The Episcopal Church. New Hampshire. Retired now, actually. Wrote a new book on Marriage Equality. You should read it."

I loved that they looked at my face and then my license plate and back to me again, a bit bewildered, I suppose, that I would be standing there, calm, composed and happy.

One woman asked, "How do you square that with God? I mean, I know you know what the Bible says about homosexuality........"

And, we were off. Twenty minutes later she was saying, "You know, I haven't been to church in years. I have a nephew that's gay. He's had a rough go - not with the family but with the church. There's an Episcopal Church not far from me. Maybe, one of these Sundays, I'll drop in."

That was sooOOOooo worth the 10 minutes it took to fill out the form and the $15 fee.

I had another conversation with an elderly man who spied my license plate and asked lots of questions. Which led to a conversation about his church. He happened to be Methodist. There are tons of Methodist churches here.

I told him that I was ordained in The Episcopal Church which led to a conversation about his pastor. Turns out, he had been ill and was upset because his pastor hadn't been by to visit.

I asked a simple question: Had he let her know that he had been ill? "Well," he sputtered, "I'm sure some of my friends told her. Besides, I haven't been to church in a couple weeks. You think she'd notice my absence."

"Well," I said, "Here's what I know. Being ordained doesn't give you the ability to be a mind-reader, much less make you perfect. At the end of the day, you're still human, even after you've been ordained. Sometimes, being ordained makes you even more mindful of your faults and the limitations of being human."

"Here's an idea," I said, "If you need some pastoral care, or someone with whom you can discuss what's going on in your life and how that affects your soul, why not call and ask for what you need?"

He paused for a bit and said, "You mean, like an adult?"

We laughed and then he said he would "drop by" the parish office on his way home.  No, I didn't "get one for my team" but I hope I was the vehicle, as it were, for two people to move closer to find Jesus in their midst.

And, you know what? That's okay by me. Evangelism isn't a membership drive. It's about Jesus. It's about being re-presentatives of The Christ who can be found in the most surprising places.

That's just two of the conversations I've had in the past four days since I put the license plate on my car. Amazing, right? Who wudda thunk?

If you like the idea of talking to total strangers about The Episcopal Church or issues of your faith, then I hope you'll agree with me that this is a wonderful idea and a great opportunity.

However, if you don't like the idea of talking to total strangers about The Episcopal Church or issues of your faith, then, as we used to say in North Jersey, "Fuggeddaboutit".

Just don't complain to me about evangelism and how we need it desperately and no one is doing it and the church is "hemorrhaging members" and will soon die.

Of course, you don't need a license plate to do evangelism, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's a great conversation starter. I also love thinking about the conversations some people have in their car as they follow behind me on the road and see my license plate.

If you're serious about Jesus and serious about bringing people closer to Him, then I can assure you, this is the most fun you'll have about being serious about your faith.

Automotive Evangelism: It's a great way to be 'distinctive' about your faith.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Learning how to speak

I'm in Chicago, learning about the difference between talking and speaking.

We learn to talk when we are infants. We learn to speak when we mature.

Say the word abortion and, depending on the person to whom you are talking, they will either shout "murder" or "justice". Both will be absolutely certain that they are absolutely correct.

Talk with someone who is trying to move the conversation forward, and they will not linger long at either end of the conversational spectrum. Instead, they will calmly, confidently, authentically, invite you to consider the research on medical facts and statistical, bipartisan polls. 

They will not make firm pronouncements but, rather, ask open-ended questions into which they will ask facts. They will speak from their own experience and the experience of those in their care as the source of their authority to speak. They will tell stories - true stories - which weave together golden threads of The Truth.

No matter where you stand on the issue, it is holy, sacred work, this business of reproductive justice, the point being to find the place of God's truth about who decides about the beginning and end and quality of life. And, what is important about life - the definition or the reality; the potential or the actuality.

I am in awe of the present generation of justice workers. They are clear-eyed, smart, compassionate and passionate. They are less concerned with winners and losers and more concerned with finding a place where each one can stand at peace with him/herself and their God and their understanding of what is good and right, noble and true.

I feel as if I am in the midst of a renaissance of  the political process. I seem to have forgotten the essentials in the midst of the progress we've made, which may well be the reason we have lost ground.

I've been re-reading Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope". It's easy to pick up a paperback copy of his book, written while he was Senator of this great state, just about anywhere in Chicago. 

He writes: 
A government that truly represents these Americans - that truly serves these Americans - will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives ast they are actually lived. It won't be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how we much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break. 
The work I seem to find myself in these days, is creating a place where we may nurture an environment where we can remind ourselves of these common hopes and dreams and bonds that will not break. 

It requires learning how to move from merely talking to speaking with intention. 

Time to grow up. 

It happens to the best of us, eventually.