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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Children of The Light

“Children of the Light” (Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)
Metropolitan Community Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Lent IV – Refreshment Sunday – March 30, 2014
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Well, that’s quite a Gospel we just heard, wasn’t it? I mean, no one can catch a break from the Pharisees – not the man born blind, not his parents, not even Jesus.

Jesus healed a man who was born blind – with some mud and some spit and some prayers – but he did it on the Sabbath, which is a Big No-No for the Teapublicans – Oh, I mean, Pharisees, of course.

The man who regained his sight is brought not once, but twice before the Pharisees to tell his story. They even drag his parents into the mess to testify – but they wisely defer the question to their son, who is obviously as annoyed at the blind ignorance of the Pharisees as I get with a certain senator from Texas and the former governor of Alaska.

Some scholars theorize that this act of healing the blind man on the Sabbath was the final straw; that it was after this event that the Pharisees began to plot to have Jesus crucified.

The man in the Gospel story may have been born blind but it didn’t take the restoration of his sight for him to know that there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Once you were darkness but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light!”

You know, some of us are like that man born blind. Ever since we were children, some of us have been told we are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty or handsome enough, not thin enough, not tall enough – not enough. Some have even been told that we were born in sin. That, who we are is somehow our parent’s fault. And, even now, some of us hear that we are not normal enough – whatever that means – and all of those negative messages can lead us into the darkness of the valley of despair.  

But, St. Paul reminds us that we are children of the Light. In the midst of Lent, it’s easy to forget that. Fortunately, this is the fourth Sunday in Lent. We’re halfway to Holy Week and Easter. Indeed, in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, which is the source of my spiritual roots, today is known as “Refreshment Sunday”. It’s a wee bit of a break from all the doom and gloom and an opportunity to let in some light and dance and sing .

It’ is also known as “Latare Sunday” and sometimes known as “Rose” or “Mothering" Sunday - probably because in the 16th century, people went to the nearest Cathedral or their "home" church (which was most likely the Cathedral) for worship. In some churches, this theme of lightness is symbolized in vestments that are rose or pink in color.

In England and, indeed, in much of Europe, it was also a time when women employed as domestics were given time off and one of the few times during the year that the entire family could be reunited to share a meal together. And, to celebrate, a special, rich cake was made – known as Simnel Cake. In fact, I’ve made some for you today for Fellowship Hour after church. So, don’t go rushing out the door before you have a piece of my cake.

My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year. Except she called them "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes".  I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Apparently, in the original British version, on the top of the cake and around the edge one is supposed to put eleven marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus. Judas is omitted, of course. In some variations Christ is also represented by a ball placed at the center. "Laughter Cakes" were most appropriate on "Refreshment Sunday" because, in the Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church, Lent was taken as seriously as a heart attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves and starching our white mantilla – a circular piece of lace that every female wore. And, if you forgot your mantilla, you bobby-pinned a tissue to your head. Seriously! Any woman of a certain age in this congregation who grew up RC will attest to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah, the alcohol in the brandy is baked off.  Laughter was the special ingredient that "made" that cake - special for Refreshment Sunday.

Here’s what I’ve learned about darkness and light, about good and evil. It’s this: Laughter, in the face of Evil, is the greatest statement of faith. Only a fool would laugh in front of Evil if they didn’t believe in God. In order to laugh in the face of Evil, you have to know – deep down in your soul – that ultimately, God is. And, God wins.

In the words of a preacher I once heard, God may not show up when you want God, and God may not even show up when you need God, but when God shows up, God is always right on time. 

So, yes, there are a few more weeks of Lent left on the calendar. And yes, this has been a Very long, Very cold, Very snowy, Very miserable winter. And yes, we’ve still got to make it through Holy Week.

But, take heart! Good Friday is coming, yes, but so is Easter. Remember, we are Children of the Light.  The star that shone over Bethlehem still calls to the wise to find and follow the One who is the Light of the World.  And, because of our adoption in the baptism of Jesus, we are Children of Light.

So, as my grandmother would say, “Laugh, children! Laugh! . Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"


Here's the recipe:
Bolos do riso (Simnel Cake)

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

Soak raisins in brandy overnight. (optional)

Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. 

Laugh into the batter. Laugh, children, LAUGH!

Pour batter into 8 1/2 x 12" pan (greased and floured.) 
Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes (or until done).

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

Butter Frosting

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

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

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Transfiguration of the Church

I was at the last General Convention of The Episcopal Church when the resolutions concerning non-discrimination of transgender people easily passed both houses.

I knew it would happen and yet I was stunned.

It wasn't that the resolutions passed. The logic was undeniable, no matter how you felt about the matter - right, wrong, or as some admitted, confused.

If you can't discriminate against someone because of their gender or race or age or sexual orientation or whatever peculiar or particular human condition you might have that isn't part of the "norm" (whatever that is), then it made sense to add "gender identity or expression" to the list.

That's not what was so stunning to me.

What blew me away was that this movement for liberation had not, as yet, claimed any martyrs in The Episcopal Church.

Every liberation movement - especially in The Episcopal Church - has had its martyrs.

In The Episcopal Church, the Civil Rights Movement gave us people like Jonathan Daniels (who was shot and killed), William Stringfellow, Bob Castle, and Malcolm Boyd. 

The Movement to Ordain Women gave The Episcopal Church the women known as Philadelphia Eleven and the Washington Four and the trials of Bill Wendt and Peter Beebe. 

The LGBT Movement in The Episcopal Church gave us Ellen Barrett, Robert Williams, Barry Stopfel, Walter Righter, and Gene Robinson, among many others.

In each of these movements, there were people who took risks and sacrificed themselves for the movement for liberation and equality and justice. Some went to jail, others compromised their career. And, for their efforts, they garnered a certain measure of notoriety and, as is said in the vernacular, "press".

Which, I hate to say, is a critically important component of the momentum of liberation movements.

That has not been so with the Transgender Movement.

That's not to say that Transgender Episcopalians have not taken risks and sacrificed themselves for the movement for liberation and equality and justice.  Their individual stories of transformation within their families and communities of faith are inspiring and amazing.

You can listen to some of them in the documentary Voices of Witness: Out of the Box.

That's not it.

It's just that they haven't had anyone who has gained any notoriety and press for his/her efforts.

That is, not until this past week.

On February 26th, Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas dissolved the relationship between the Rev. Gwen Fry, a transgender priest, and Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff.

The Rev. Fry, whose name given at birth was 'Greg', had informed the congregation on Sunday, that she was in transition and had invited them to make the journey with her.

You can read all the backing and forthing of announcements and statements from the bishop and the priest as well as statements of support from IntegrityUSA.

Episcopal Cafe has them all here.

There are also links to "conservative"/ "orthodox" sites with cruel and horrid articles and comments about this event, but I won't send you there. It's embarrassing to see people who purport to be uber-Christians behave in this manner; that is, when it doesn't induce nausea and vomiting. 

Here's the thing: While the General Convention resolutions to change canon law and provide transgender equality gave Gwen some cover with her bishop when she came out to him, the reality is that, in the trenches of parish life, those canons and resolutions do not have any traction. 


But, it has begun.  

Yes, there is a Transgender person who is the Executive Director of IntegrityUSA. Vivian Taylor is doing a magnificent job.  She gets 'press' all the time.  We've come a long, long way from just adding the "T" and stirring well into the alphabet-soup of being Queer. 

I don't make the rules about these things, but it seems to me that, before any movement of liberation is considered legitimate in the church - especially The Episcopal Church - blood must be spilled on the altar.  There has to be a martyr. 

The Rev'd Gwen Fry now has the dubious distinction of that identity. 

There will be others. 

Before this is over - or, as this really begins - rest assured, there will be others. 

That's the bad news. There is good news. Several pieces of it, in fact.

Martyrs may be wounded - even mortally - but they give life to the movement they represent.  Indeed, the movement gets new life and becomes even more difficult to deny or deflect or destroy.

Yes, Gwen lost her job. That's not necessarily a bad thing.  She had just come out to her bishop and community of faith. Transitioning takes some time. She - and her family, her wife and her daughter, as well as her friends and her community - are going to need that time. 

Gwen will come back to parish ministry changed. She will be stronger and more spiritually centered and secure.  So will her relationship with her family, and they will change as well. That will make her even more desirable as a parish priest in many spiritually mature communities of faith.

That's another thing I want to say about this event: No one 'comes out' alone. Neither does anyone transition alone. It feels like that. God, it can feel heart-breakingly lonely and alone. But, it's not.

Spouses. Children. Parents. Family members. Friends. Communities. Churches. 

Everyone - Every. One. - goes through their own process of transition. 

Every. One. Comes Out. 

Some do it better than others. Some do it with grace and style. Others do it in pain and agony. 

But, when someone you know and love transitions, everyone they know transitions. 

When someone you know and love comes out, everyone they know comes out. 

They may not do it with the person who is transitioning and coming out. They may be totally antagonistic to the person who is transitioning and resistant to coming out. But, they are, nonetheless, like it or not, transitioning and coming out. 

So, please keep Gwen in your prayers - YES! - but also hold her wife, Lisa and their daughter in your prayers. Pray also for their families and friends. And, of your mercy and kindness, pray for their communities of faith, for the diocese of Arkansas and for their bishop. 

Everyone is transitioning. Everyone is coming out. Each in their own way. 

Along the way, they will make mistakes. Pronouns will be confused, misused and abused - or, used awkwardly. Very awkwardly. Names will switch from Greg to Gwen and back again. Even Gwen will do that. Faces will grow red with embarrassment. 

The PC police will get on their high horse and lecture and judge about not judging, because, you know, they are only being "prophetic" or "righteously angry".

The important thing to remember is that we're all human. The person who is transitioning as well as everyone else. 

Here's a link to a handy-dandy little resource called "How to Respect a Transgender Person" which provides some eduction, practical advice and instruction. 

Just know that you will probably make a mistake. Or two. Or, three.  God knows, I have. Probably will again. And, I have to say that, every time I have, I have been treated with such compassion and kindness and generosity of spirit by the transpeople I've known that it makes me want to do better next time. It makes me want to be a better person.

I think that an open mind and an open heart will carry you far as you transition with a person who is transitioning in terms of their gender identity / expression. 

This is a watershed moment in The Episcopal Church. We are going deeper in our spiritual journey as a people of faith. We are delving into what I think of as "the original sin" of The Garden: Sexism. 

Transgender people open and expose stereotypes and gender roles assigned by culture, some of which are buried so deeply in our subconscious that, when we see them laid bare, it makes us so uncomfortable and embarrassed that we squirm.

Transgender people, male to female or female to male, will lead cisgender people to the intersection of gender and sexuality, where, I think, all our images of God are tied and tangled in confusing knots of myth and culture and projection. 

Like it or not, ready or not, we're all beginning to transition. 

We are on holy ground.

As individuals and as a church, we'll be changed and transformed and never again be the same. 

In Matthew's version of the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Chapter 17), the disciples fall on their faces when they hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Jesus said to the disciples, “Get up! Don’t be afraid.”   

And, when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

In the process of transition, we will all have times when the truth we discover or uncover will make us fall flat on our faces. 

Transgender. Intersex. Cisgender. We'll all do it.

But, when we get up and allow perfect love to cast our fear, we will see no one except Jesus.  

That, at least, is my prayer.