Come in! Come in!

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

By any other name . . .

This is a blog about how we self-identify and express ourselves - the essence of who we are and how it is we want to be known in the world. 

So, the first thing I want to say is, "Relax!"

This is not a manifesto. This is a blog which contains my personal reflections. These are my thoughts. This is not my advice or direction.  Don't give me authority - or ascribe to me motives - I don't have.

I'm just . . . to sound like a totally California-Sunshine-girl . . . . sharing.  Well, not "just". I'm sharing in the hopes to stimulate some thought and start a conversation. Not a debate. Not WWIII.  A conversation.  You know, where people agree to disagree. Like mature adults.

So, the next thing I want to say is that I have evolved on this position. I didn't arrive here today. And, I've probably been exactly where you are - at least two or three times - on this journey I'm calling "naming my own reality".

There were two prompts to this evolution. The first came after someone - some cheery, positive-sounding, all-inclusive, relentlessly liberal - called me a "cis-gender woman".

What the heck is THAT? I asked.

Cis-gender, I was told, means that the gender assignment given me at birth matches the way I understand myself and self-identify. It was developed by some trans-women and their allies to soften the harshness of not being considered a "woman" but a "trans-woman".

You get a modifier to your gender, I'll get one, too.

So, the way it works, apparently, in this perfect world, is that no one gets their feelings hurt because they feel excluded or categorized.  There are no more women and men, just trans-women and trans men and cis-gender women and cis-gender men.  See?

I sat uncomfortably with that for a while and then heard myself say, Hey, wait a minute! If self-identification is my right, and I can name my own reality, why can't I say that I'm a 'woman' rather than a 'cis-gender woman'?

Why do I have to accept yet another label someone has assigned to me, albeit out of a spirit of generosity and inclusivity?

I mean, who sent - much less wrote - that memo?

Answer? I got Bambi in the headlines looking back at me, surrounded by radio silence.

Look, I said, you want to refer to the general demographic of non-trans women as cis-gender? Fine. Or, if you are talking about me, specifically, in my absence, to a group of people and feel the need to identify me as a cis-gender woman? Fine.

You're a trans woman who wants to simply identify as a woman? That's fine with me, too. 

All I ask is for the same respect I extend to others who have the right to name their own reality. My reality is that I am a woman. Who lives in America. In the Year of Our Lord 2015.

That means that I am constantly pushing against expectations of how a woman - especially a woman who is a woman 'of a certain age' -  is supposed to behave.

So, I get raised eyebrows because I drive an "Omaha Orange" Jeep Trail Hawk - not exactly a 'chick car' (whatever that is).  Which has a bumper sticker that reads, "Silly Boys, Jeeps are for Girls" and another that reads, "God is Not a Boy's Name."

And, I'm an Episcopal priest who occasionally wears a black shirt with a starched white collar around my neck (in the style of an 18th century gentleman of financial means) and, when I'm in church, I wear a long white dress but I'm in traditional men's liturgical clothing.

That means that my reality as a post-modern, American woman is . . .well . . .  complicated.

To be honest, I am not comfortable with the cultural expectations placed upon me as a woman. And, as a woman of a certain age. And, as a woman who is in what was, for centuries, a traditionally male profession, wearing the patriarchal garb that has been assigned to men.

So, I'm not exactly 'cis-gender', you see.

At least, not as I understand the word. Meaning that, in the opinion of many, many men and women in this country, I have utterly failed to live up to the expectations of the the gender assigned to me at birth. And, it is certainly not the way I understand myself and self-identify.

Anyway, it's a bit ironic to me. That people who argue against 'the binary' go right ahead and create another. All in a spirit of "inclusivity" to "Leave No Classification of People Behind."

So, once I got over that, I settled down to enjoy watching the movement of Marriage Equality sweeping over this country. And then, the Supreme Court decision just overwhelmed me with joy.

I listened with interest - if not slight amusement - to people on the BBC and CNN and NPR carefully - if not occasionally awkwardly - enunciate every letter in the "L . . . G . . . B . . .T  . . . community". It sounded like they were trying especially hard to get it right and not offend anyone. I mean, now that we were 'official citizens' with actual civil rights.

And, thus began the second prompt.

It seemed to me - and, I'm just reflecting on my own experience here - that, if we were really a "community," we wouldn't need to insist on a letter for every single member.

Which, in the end, we don't do, anyway. Have a letter for every single member, I mean. For example, there are members of the trans-community who are more nuanced in their identification.

Some are "I" which stands for "Intersex" (which, as I understand it, is the medical term that has replaced 'hermaprodite').

Other terms used are "genderqueer," "bigender," "pangender," or "agender". 

Other terms include "third gender" and, in what I understand is the Native American tradition, "Two spirit".

Some "trans people" prefer male pronouns. Others prefer female pronouns. Others, prefer "they".

Which may be why I've been seeing, more and more, a "Q" added to the end of LGBT and before the word "community".

However, it's not entirely clear whether it means "Queer" or "Questioning". Or, both.

Neither is it clear - as I understand it - what "trans" means, exactly. It can mean both Transgender as well as Transsexual.

So, if you're paying attention, what we've got - so far - is:

L,G,B,T, I TS, TG, TS, GQ, BG, PG, AG, Q, Q,

Seriously? Seriously. At least, those are the ones I know. There may be more. Probably are.

Someone is bound to write me an angry note calling my attention to some particular demographic I've omitted.

Now, mind you, there is no "Homosexual Central" where these things are decided. No memos are sent out. No enforcement officers sent out to make sure everyone minds his or her or "their" .... um..... "P's and Q's" (Sorry, I couldn't resist.).

It's a wonder we were able to accomplish achieving the civil rights of Marriage Equality.

So, here's where I've evolved. I've decided that I am Queer. That's how I want to be known. That's the term I will use to describe the "community" to which I belong.


I know. I know. It's a word that comes with a whole lot of baggage. It is still listed in the dictionary as a 'pejorative term'.  It is, for many people, right up - or, down - there with the "N-word". It often elicits the same response that "faggot" does for gay men and "dyke" does for lesbian woman.

As I say, I've evolved in terms of my position on this word. Here's why.

In addition to the point I've made about "community," I especially like it because it's easier to say and all-inclusive in nature. Queer.

It's an umbrella term which covers all the letters of the alphabet soup of "God's Rainbow Tribe."

Not only that, it includes "heterosexual" or so-called "straight" people who also don't fit into the dominant cultural paradigm of either gender identity or sexual orientation. Some are divorced. Some are celibate. Others practice serial monogamy or polygamy.

And, some are happily married to people of opposite gender who regularly subvert the dominant cultural paradigm by standing in solidarity with Queer people.

Indeed, some of them have been amazing activists. If it weren't for them, I am convinced we would not have Marriage Equality.

Finally, I think using Queer joins the movement that began in the late-1980s.

Queer scholars began to reclaim the word to establish community. At that time, we began to see the emergence of Queer studies and Queer Theology.

Activist, especially, sought to assert Queer as a politicized identity distinct from the gay - or LGBTQ, etc. - political identity.

I remember when a dear friend returned from a high school reunion in her native Alabama. She said, in her lovely Southern drawl, "Honey, we all knew there were homosexuals in town. They were the antique dealers and the art collectors and the designers and hair stylists. But, nobody was 'gay'. And, there certainly weren't any 'lesbians'. They were 'sistahs'. Or,  they were women who had a 'Boston marriage', but that was only said in whispers in the ladies room or over the bridge table, "

When I asked her why this was so she smiled and said, "Well, sugar, you see, homosexuals knew their place and everyone got along. You start talkin' 'gay' and 'lesbian' and, well, now you're talkin' politics and religion and everyone knows that's just scratchin' for a fight."

Then she smiled and said, "Besides, you wouldn't want to scare the horses, now would you?"

Yeah, well, I guess I'm thinking that's a problem for the owner of the horses.

So, for me, anyway, it's buh-bye "lesbian," a term I've never really liked since the first time I saw it in a book in a library along side pictures of women who were either dressed as men or in a hospital gown looking like a zombie after having had a pre-frontal lobotomy to "correct her behavior".

I totally get why Ellen preferred to call herself "gay" vs. "lesbian" when she first came out. 

I'm also old enough to remember one of the first Gay Pride Parades in Baltimore, MD. We were stopped as sometimes happens in parades. One of my female colleagues decided we needed to fill the 'dead space' and fell back into her cheerleader days.

"Gimme an L," she yelled. And the crowd yelled, "LLLLLLLLL!"

"Gimme an E," she continued.  And the crowd yelled back, "EEEEEEE!"

"Gimme an S," she yelled, kicking up her leg and clapping her hands under her knee.

But, suddenly, the crowd began to get where she was going. "SSSssssssss . . . . ." came the response, which was decidedly less enthusiastic.

By the time she got to the last three letters, heads in the crowd were actually turning to look up or down the street or up the street, praying for the parade to start again.

That's why it's known as "The 'L' Word." In some places, it's worse than being a "Liberal".

Yet, I know I'm not 'gay'. That has a very different meaning than 'lesbian'. Very. Different.

And, adios and chao baby to "bisexual" which some have insisted I am because I was once - in another planet on another galaxy far, far away - married. To a man. And had children. Two. With him. Which I don't regret.

This woman is naming and claiming her own identity.

I am a Queer woman.

Don't like it? Don't have to. Tell me what you want to be called and I'll use that word just for you. I promise. Even if you want to be called a "cis-gender pansexual woman." Fine with me.

As Shakespeare once said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

At the end of the day, I'm still just Elizabeth, child of God, citizen of the universe, lover of mercy, doer of justice and someone who seeks always to walk attentively with God.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Queen Cersie's "Walk of Atonement"
The season finale of Season Five, Episode 10 of the HBO Special, "Game of Thrones" was entitled, "Cersei's Walk of Atonement". It was, in a word, riveting.

You don't really need to have seen the earlier seasons or previous episodes or even have read the book to appreciate the fine acting and directing of this episode, which made crystal clear the religious interpretation of shame as the atonement for sin. 

To be clear, Queen Cersei (brilliantly portrayed by Lena Henley) has much for which to atone. Cersei is the widow of King Robert Baratheon and Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms. She is the twin sister of Lord Jaime Lannister and the elder sister of of Lord Tywin Lannister, (who is a 'little person" whom she detests). She has an incestuous sexual relationship with her twin, Jaime, who is secretly the father of her three children.

She is scheming, cold and cruel and very, very ambitious - for herself and her children, whom she adores, to a fault. Long (and very bloody) story short, she tries to secure her role as Queen by restoring the ancient religious order known as Faith Militant (Think: Nazis mixed with the Taliban) which swiftly begins imposing their puritanical views upon King's Landing.

This initially achieves Queen Cersei's goals - until, of course, they begin to turn on her.  And then, it's all over but the atonement and the Walk of Shame.

It is breathtaking. Here. (I tried to embed it but it wasn't allowed. You'll have to click on the link.)

Watch. I'll wait.

I think we're talking Emmy here, right?

But, I digress. 

Although this HBO series is all part of an amazing fantasy, an adaptation of of "Song of Fire and Ice" by George RR Martin, this scene is not unknown in reality.

Apparently Martin drew this scene from ones in Medieval history where the institutional church imposed the Walk of Shame as atonement for sins such as adultery or incest or homosexuality, and especially for women guilty of "whoring".

The institutional church has often used guilt and shame to control behavior. Well, some parts of the "church catholic" have been better at it than others - even those that would never consider themselves part of the "church catholic". (Think: Puritan public stockades and the Scarlet Letter)

The shaming continues, even today. It has made a disturbing appearance on the Internet, on Social Media Sites like group FaceBook pages and Twitter accounts - and even more disturbing on Episcopal pages.

To be clear: Public shaming is not just a religious vehicle of atonement, but, like many other things in life, the institutional church provides a pretty effective cover for the shameful act of imposing shame on others who have been judged - fairly or unfairly.

NY Times: Nishant Choksi
"So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson chronicles this phenomenon. He must be striking a familiar cord because his book has actually spent some significant time on the NY Times bestseller list.

Ronson's writing style is not the most pleasant to read - more of a blog style 'flow-of-thought' which is fine for short blog posts but I found somewhat tiresome in book form - but what he has to say is a disturbing look into human behavior when there are no rules and no one to hold anyone accountable.

Ronson uses terms of physical violence to describe public shaming. Tweeters are “a pitchfork mob,” They are both “the hanging judge” and “the people in the lithographs being ribald at whippings.”

People are "stabbed" and then, in an act not of mercy but sarcasm, entreated to, "Stop stabbing because the (victim) is dead” Twitter users have “taken a lot of scalps,” Ronson writes. “We were soldiers making war on other people’s flaws.”

This includes the sad story of Justine Sacco, a marketing executive, who tweeted her friends a Very Bad joke about something that is not a laughing matter - AIDS in Africa.  But, the tweet was to her friends. Who supposedly understood her weird sense of humor. Well, as "friends" go on the Internet.

She tweeted this Very Bad joke as her plane was leaving for South Africa. As she flew, she was completely unaware of the crapstorm that was happening in cyberspace. A friend had re-tweeted her tweet (Am I really talking like this? Yes, I am.) who re-tweeted it to others. Her tweet had been re-tweeted so many times it almost "broke the Internet," creating international outrage.

One of the first messages she retrieved when she landed in South Africa was the notification from her boss that she was fired.  For making an admittedly Very Bad joke. To her friends. On Twitter.

But then, she was hounded. On the internet. For months. It was impossible for her to find work in her chosen field. Her career was ruined. She was shamed into oblivion.

This is just one story. There are, shockingly enough, many, many more.

It's difficult enough to see these undeniable acts of violence taking place on the Internet - most of which are anonymous, making them cowards, as well. It is painful - really, really, painful - to see Christians engaging in this behavior.

I find myself becoming physically ill when I find pages and pages of Episcopalians acting like people in a scene from the 1931 Frankenstein movie, complete with pitchforks, torches and baying hounds.

Indeed, there are FaceBook groups established specifically as places where people are actually encouraged to vent their spleen and spew their venom while crying for "JUSTICE!" for the ones they feel have been treated unjustly.

And, granted, some of them have been treated unjustly. At least, if one listens to one side of the narrative. The problem is, that's the only side allowed to be heard in some of these places on the Internet. Raise a question or express some doubt and expect the mob to turn on you.

Trust me. I know of what I speak.

It's like watching a dramatic illustration of the Reptilian Brain - complete with acts of aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays.

The snarling and snapping over the tiniest infraction of the unspoken but very clear 'Mob Rule' is quite amazing. It's not just that the gloves come off. All rules - all bets, all expectations for decency or good old Anglican tolerance - are off.

Statements made or questions raised that are considered an affront to the prevailing narrative are dragged over from one FB page to another like so much raw meat where the snapping and snarling over it can continue for days.

An appeal to decency - especially one that is somewhat effective - is booed as "condescending" (GASP!) and, if from a clergy person, "clericalism" designed to "shut down conversation" in the worst of the old "father/mother knows best" attitude that once dominated the church.

A (completely false) narrative is then created about that person. And, a small, side mob is formed to try and push that person off the cliff and onto the rocky shoals of the ocean depths of cyberspace.

Some people, who obviously consider themselves quite clever, post photo-shopped image after photo-shopped image mocking the statement or question. Everyone applauds or otherwise encourages the poor soul who then sends forth another flurry of really bad images which, when mild objection is raised, is defended as "gallows humor".

It's like watching a very bad interpretation of Medieval street theater, except these are educated people who would never, ever behave this way in public (much less tolerate this behavior from others in church) but somehow feel that they can say and do these things with absolute impunity from behind the safety of their computer or laptop screen.

Did I mention? These are Christians. Who are Episcopalians.

Near as I can tell, these Internet Vigilantes are low, broad and high-church, conservative, moderate and liberal, and (help me, Jesus) Republican and Democrat.  A truly 'diverse, inclusive' lot.

Those who have been hung out in the public stockades of cyberspace include a certain Episcopal bishop suffragan who was accused of vehicular homicide, two deans of two different Episcopal seminaries, the Board of Trustees - and especially the President of the Board - of one Episcopal seminary, a certain seminary professor who was hired at a prestigious seminary some like to think as 'liberal' with (gasp!) ties to the ACNA (Anglican Church of North America), a certain bishop on the Left Coast who is in dispute with a certain troubled congregation, as well as a certain prestigious Episcopal boarding school in New England.

Whenever the story breaks - even before it can be whispered about in the church parking lot or queried of the rector during coffee hour - you can be certain that the same names will appear both in the posting - as well as the discussion - of the event.

You can almost feel their glee in the posting of yet another "stain" on The Episcopal Church (That's a favorite word. "Stain". They also like "Tarnished".)

It would appear we even have our own Episcopal "ambulance chasers" who, I imagine, must sit with the modern equivalent of the old police radio, ready to pounce on the next breaking scandal.

Who are these people, anyway?  (To use a question asked by a certain bishop about a certain mob in a NY Times article and was endlessly pilloried by that mob for asking it.)

As I said, these are people who self-identify as Christians who are Episcopalians.

Why do they do what they do?

Boredom? Perhaps. Because they can? Probably.

Here's what I've noticed: Almost to a person, they are people who have been hurt by the institutional church - or an "institution" like a university or a hospital. One person talks freely about the Title IV charges s/he has filed against a certain clergy person which were dismissed (Surprise! Surprise!). Several people have been turned down in the ordination process.

Some are laity who are classic "antagonists" and "clergy killers". Some are ordained whose stories of mistreatment by congregations with antagonists and clergy killers and bishops who have severe allergies to conflict are heartbreaking. Some are Queer. Several more have not achieved the more elevated status in the institutional church which they feel they deserve.

Some are an explosive, toxic mixture of all of the above.

Something gets sparked in the psyches and souls of these otherwise good Christians who are Episcopalians and the firestorm is almost uncontrollable.

It's like watching the first few minutes of Queen Cersie's Walk of Shame. Once you get used to the fact that she is standing naked in the public square, her beautiful golden locks roughly chopped and matted with blood, there is a silence that falls over you and the crowd.

And then, you hear it. The "nun" walking behind her, ringing her bell, crying, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" keeping an eerie, clean, crisp cadence.

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" she calls, her voice rich and full as if she were chanting the refrain of a sacred psalm. The voice of Faith Militant. The voice of the church. The voice of God.

Shame! Permission granted.

The people in the crowd begin to call at Cersie. "Slut!" "Whore!" This verbal garbage is underscored when people throw the contents of their waste bins and chamber pots at her or spit on her.

And, from out of the blue, you find yourself musing, "Well, she did have an unrepentant sexual relationship with her twin brother, from which she had three children, for God's sake! ( . . .for God's sake!). And, she did, herself, bring back the Faith Militant and now that the tables have turned . . . ."

And, you gasp and think to yourself, "Oh, my God! This is so easy! It's dangerously easy!"

I should add that it has occurred to me that, perhaps - just perhaps - I am being condescending. Perhaps my expectations and standards are too high. Perhaps I expect different behavior from people who, week after week, recite the words of the General Confession and reaffirm their identity with millions of Christians throughout the world and across all time in the words of the Nicene Creed.

Perhaps my expectations of people who believe that, through Jesus, we "are made worthy to stand before God" are too high.

I don't think so.  I could be wrong. I hope I'm not.

I'm not trying to shut down conversation. I'm trying to raise the level of it. I think we're entirely capable of having intelligent conversations about difficult subjects. I don't think we need to be reduced to drive-by insults and tsk-tsk or tut-tuts.

I happen to believe we can do better.

Shame on me, right?

I'm not saying that shame isn't sometimes an effective way to change behavior. Some behavior is shameful. I suppose it's logical to think that a dose of the same medicine provides the cure.

The movement "Occupy Wall Street" was designed to shame the rich who take from the poor - and, not only get away with it, they get government support for it.

Some people, apparently, need to be shamed before there can be any change in behavior.

Even St. Paul was knocked down from his high horse.

Then again, it was God who did that. Not 'mob justice'.

Then again, I did write this blog.

Didn't I?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Prayer for All Who Work in Hospice

NB: This morning is our IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) Meeting. The whole team - doctors, nurse/case managers, nurse practitioners, social workers, chaplains, volunteer coordinator, bereavement coordinator and medical records personnel review every patient's chart, share ideas for (and, sometimes, frustrations about) patient care, and certify that they are eligible for hospice under Medicare guidelines.

It is my privilege and joy to develop a meditation for the team to begin our meeting. The challenge of Hospice chaplaincy - especially with a team made up of widely diverse religious practices and expressions - is to offer meditations and prayers that are spiritual and religious and faithful but not reflective of any one spirituality, religion or faith.

The danger, I've found, is to reduce everything to spiritual pablum - the religious equivalent of sitting in a circle, eating Twinkies and singing Kumbaya.

I always draw inspiration from the nurses and nurse's aides (CNAs) who have more on their plate than they can say grace over and yet always make room for more. Sometimes they do that with grace and style and other times . . .  well, they are, after all, human.

So, I bundled up all the sayings I have heard them say, all the words of encouragement they post on the staff refrigerator or as the tag on their emails or FaceBook pages, along with a few of the lessons I've learned, and turned them into a prayer:

A Prayer for All Who Work in Hospice

May the passion you have for life fire the compassion you have for others.

May you know that when you do small things with great love you change lives.

May the blessings you receive mean more than the hours you work.

May you remember to keep both feet on the ground while tending to those who have one foot in heaven.

May you be grateful that your daily encounter with death and dying brings you a deeper appreciation of life and living.

May you never lose sight of the fact that it’s not the length but the depth of life that really matters.

May your work be grounded in the knowledge that grief is the emotional, physical and spiritual price you pay for the priceless gift of love, and that the only cure for grief is grieving.

May you know that while no one may build a monument in your name, the way you make your mark in this life is by erasing the frown on someone’s brow.

And, may you start each day remembering the last words spoken by Steve Jobs before he died:  “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Living Bread: Jonathan Daniels

Living Bread: Jonathan Daniels (John 6:51-58)
A Sermon for Pentecost XII – Proper 15B – August 16, 2015
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

This morning’s Gospel presents a real challenge for many of us.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The religious leaders of his day (whenever John says, “Jews” it’s helpful to read ‘religious leaders’, because many scholars believe this is really what John meant) disputed these words of Jesus among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Well, and who could blame them? The church has been debating this question for centuries. Indeed, the Church of England – our founding church – imprisoned and tortured and executed people over the question of whether or not what happened during Holy Eucharist was transubstantiation or consubstantiation.

So, here’s a wee bit of teaching you all learned way back when you took Confirmation Class.

And, I know you all learned this because I know you all took Confirmation Class, right?

At least a full year – maybe even two – right? Of course, right.

You maybe a little bit rusty. So, to review.

Transubstantiation is the believe that the change by which the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as a sign or a figure, but also in actual reality the body and blood of Christ. This was the ‘catholic’ view of Eucharist.

Consubstantiation is the doctrine that the substance of the bread and wine coexists with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This was the theology Luther espoused which became the prevailing “protestant’ view of Eucharist.

Lots of blood was shed over these two opposing theologies – especially under the beautiful princess Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was Roman Catholic. Catholics throughout Europe, including some in England, believed that Mary was the true heir to the English crown because they did not accept the annulment of King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

So, according to Roman Catholic belief, Elizabeth was the “illegitimate” child of Henry and his next wife, Ann Bolyn and, therefore, not fit to be Queen. Except, of course, she was. Queen. Of England.

Does that face look familiar? *
In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII announced that killing Elizabeth would not count as a sin, and the whole thing got very . . . well, let’s just say she didn’t become known as “Bloody Mary” for nothing.   

But, that’s another story for another time.

If you didn’t take Confirmation Class, see what fun stuff you missed learning!

Perhaps you didn’t know this, but we hear vestiges of the history of this great theological debate every time we celebrate Eucharist. 

After the consecration, the priest says, “The gifts of God for the people of God, take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

That was part of the genius of Elizabeth. Do you hear it? Listen to it again: “The GIFTS of God, for the people of God.” Jesus is the ‘gift of God’ and we are reminded that we are ‘God’s people’.

And then, the priest says, “Feed on him (Jesus). In your HEARTS. By FAITH.”

See? Not exactly Transubstantiation. Not exactly Consubstantiation. Do you hear it? It’s the Good Anglican way of not either/or, but rather, both/and. And, always, always, always, with thanksgiving.

That’s known as the Via Media – or, the “Middle Way” between Catholicism and Protestantism which was the genius of The Elizabethan Settlement. Draw a circle large enough so that everyone is included and no one is left out. Because, as Elizabeth says, it is, ultimately, a matter of faith, which is belief shaped and formed by the heart.

That’s what happens when you try to believe something with just your head and not your heart as well. Which was a stumbling block for the ancient religious leaders to whom Jesus was speaking in this morning’s gospel.

Let me give you an example of the life of someone who believed with his head and his heart that Jesus was the ‘living bread come down from heaven’. Indeed, he believed it so much that he was able to take the risks of his faith because he knew and understood what Jesus meant when he said, “But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Jonathan M. Daniels, VMI
This past week - and, even today - Episcopalians from around the country have been on a pilgrimage to Ft. Deposit and Hayneville (outside of Selman), Alabama to the site where Jonathan Daniels was martyred fifty years ago on August 20, 1965.  His feast day is August 14, the day of his arrest.

A graduate of Virginia Military Institute, he was a seminarian at the (then) Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, MA. 

He was working that summer, with his classmate and my now dear friend Judy Upham (at whose marriage I was recently privileged to preside) to help with the Voter Registration project of the Civil Rights Movement.

Just eight days earlier, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had signed the historic Voting Rights Act. Jonathan was back in Alabama that summer to help with the first Voter Registration effort in Lowndes County, Alabama, often called “Bloody Lowndes” for the way violence enforced segregation.

For his efforts, Jonathan had been arrested and jailed along with several others and spent six hot August days in the jail without air conditioning. There were no showers and no toilets. It is said that Daniels led the group in hymn singing and prayers, boosting morale and combating the bleakness of the situation. 

On August 20, he and all the others were inexplicably released from prison. As far as they knew, no one had set bail for them.  Judy Upham remains convinced that “it was a set up.”

While waiting for a ride and after having been ordered off the jail property, Daniels, Catholic priest Richard Morrisroe and two black demonstrators, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, walked to buy soda for the group at Varner’s Cash Store, about 50 yards from the jail. 

Judy Upham reports, “They’d been there before in mixed groups, so it theoretically wasn’t that big a deal.”

Thomas Coleman, a county special deputy wielding a 12-gauge automatic pump shotgun, stood on the concrete pad outside the store. He crudely ordered them off the property, saying to Ruby Sales, “B***h, I’ll blow your brains out”.

Jonathan, Judy Upham and friend 1965
“Things happened so fast,” Ruby Sales, who was 17 at the time and on leave from Tuskegee Institute, recalled years later.  

 “The next thing I know there was a pull and I fall back. And there was a shotgun blast. And another shotgun blast. I heard Father Morrisroe, moaning for water.”

“I thought to myself: ‘I’m dead. This is what it feels like to be dead. I’m dead.”

Joyce Bailey, who had run behind an abandoned car, called to Sales who, realizing she was still alive, crawled over to her. They began to run. 

The rest of the group scattered and ran, knocking on doors as they passed homes. “Nobody would let us in; people were so terrified,” Ruby said.

Coleman, a county engineer and a member of one of the oldest white families in Lowndes County, had leveled his gun and fired, blowing Daniels backwards. Daniels lay motionless on the ground. 

Morrisroe had retreated, taking Joyce Bailey by the hand. Coleman shot him in the back. He required hours of surgery to survive.

When other SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) workers went to look for Daniels’ body, they could not find it, Ruby Sales said. “The streets had been swept clean, and you could not tell a murder had taken place.”

Two months before his murder, Daniels wrote this about living with and advocating with blacks in what was known as the so-called Alabama Black Belt
“I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I have truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”
Do you hear it? Do you hear the words of faith coming from the heart of Jonathan Daniels? 

To the human mind, his words are as confounding as the words Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of his time.

But, Jonathan Daniels knew in his “bones and sinews” that he had truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection. That he, as St. Paul had written centuries before, was alive in Christ and that Christ lived in him.

At this point, let me offer a simple reminder: This did not happen in the year 65. This is not ancient history. Jonathan Daniels was martyred for his faith on August 20, 1965. Fifty years ago. His feast day was yesterday, August 14, the day of his arrest.

Not all of us are called to be martyrs, as Jonathan Daniels was. Or, St. Paul. Or any of the millions of other martyrs who have died, as our first reading poetically described David’s death and now are “asleep with the ancestors.” 

We know that, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all the saints who have gone on before are awake and alive with the joy of the Risen Christ.

We who – here and now – are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and nourished by the sacrament of Eucharist – The Great Thanksgiving of and for his body and blood – are called to “feed on Jesus in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving,” so that we may become more like Jesus and take the risks of our faith, no matter what specific task God calls us to.

Sometimes, that means the sacrifice – and sometimes, it does require sacrifice – of being generous of spirit, drawing a circle large enough to bring everyone in, instead of keeping some folks out. That sometimes requires real effort, especially when people don’t look like us or talk like us or believe the way we do.

That’s the genius of our faith as Anglicans. Not either/or but both/and. Believing not just with our heads but with hearts and, as Jonathan Daniels said, “in our bones and sinews”.

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

That’s a matter of transubstantiation AND consubstantiation. Jesus is actually with us, in the flesh and stands with us, in the simple matter of the world.

You can’t understand that – or learn to believe that – in Confirmation Class. That, my friends, has to be lived into in order to be believed. And, it must be believed in order that we may have life – abundant and eternal. 

It presents a real challenge, but one I believe – indeed, I have no doubt that - we are capable of living up to.  

Because, we are Christians who are people of the Via Media, the Middle Way. 

And, ultimately, it is a matter of faith which is belief shaped and formed by the heart.


NB#1: I am grateful to the ENS article "Remembering Jonathan Daniels 50 Years After his Martyrdom" for the pictures and information contained in this post.  

NB#2: See also "1,500+ honor slain seminarian Jonathan Daniels" and "Pilgrims Gather in Hayneville to Remember Martyrs," for a report of the pilgrimage.

*NB#3: And, yes, that's a picture of Elizabeth I with my face photoshoped on top. It was done years ago by a priest who left for ACNA. He was trying to insult me. It didn't work.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Broken Rocking Chair.

“What signs are you going to give us then, so that we may see it an believe in you?”
A Sermon for Pentecost X – Proper 13B 
August 2, 2015 – St. Philip’s, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

So, this is a sermon about wanting signs and evidence and proof and how sometimes, they are not what you want, or even expect. 

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next.

If you’re one of those people, you are obviously not alone. And, it’s clearly not a modern problem. It’s been going on since antiquity.

We come to this morning’s piece of John’s Gospel right after Jesus had just fed five thousand people. Five. Thousand. People. !!! From five fish and two loaves of barley bread that a little child had brought to Peter. There was not only enough to feed everyone, there were actually twelve baskets left over.  Imagine!!

That evening, Jesus and his disciples slipped away in their boats because Jesus was concerned that, in their enthusiasm, they would try to make him King. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, a strong wind came upon the sea and, about 3-4 miles out, they saw Jesus walking on water.

Clearly, there were lots of signs and wonders around Jesus!

The next morning, some of the people who had been fed looked around to find Jesus and his disciples had already left that area on that side of the Sea of Galilee and had traveled to Capernum. So, they got into “the boars” and went to Capernaum to find Jesus.

Imagine! Scripture doesn’t say how many people there were, but there were enough that scripture says they took “boats”. So, maybe a couple dozen. Maybe even more.

Having witnessed this feeding miracle, they come asking Jesus for more signs.

"What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

They are referring, of course, to the story of Moses feeding “the whole congregation of Israelites” which we just heard in this morning’s passage from Exodus (16:2-15).   

Questions arise: Was the feeding of the 5,000 which Jesus just accomplished a “sign” the way Moses gave the hungry, wandering Israelites a “sign” of God’s work in him? Is Jesus the next Moses come to liberate them from the occupation of the Roman government? Is Jesus going to set them free the way Moses set his people free from the bonds of slavery?

Signs and wonders. Evidence of God’s direct intervention in our lives. We all want them, even though we would strenuously deny that we are superstitious. Or, that we are lacking faith or confidence in God’s presence and power in our lives so we need evidence.

Let me tell you a story from my own family. 

My grandmother was a Portuguese immigrant and a devout Roman Catholic. Until well into her 80s, she walked to early morning mass every day – I went with her until I started school. She also said her rosary at least once a day and here bureau was covered with statues of saints and there were lit votive candles in front of each and every one. She loved Jesus and trusted in God . . . . but . . .  there was this time . . .

It was right after my grandfather died. Very suddenly and without any warning. He got up from bed one morning to go to the bathroom. Had a stroke, fell to the floor and died instantly. He was 85.

My grandmother was absolutely bereft and inconsolable. I remember coming home from the funeral and cemetery and the house being filled with people eating mounds of food (It’s just what Mediterranean people do. We eat. For any reason. Happy. Sad. We eat. And, miraculously, there’s always enough food.)

My grandmother was in the parlor (remember when houses had parlors?) and was rocking in her rocking chair. Rocking really hard. She was also wailing loudly, calling out to God in her grief.

Her rocking became more and more vigorous as she cried, “Why did you take him from me, God? Oh, Precious Jesus! Come and help me! Come bring him back! Come and take me! Yes, Jesus! Come and take me. Not him! Bring him back and take me!”

And, as she rocked harder and harder, in the middle of her plea for Jesus to come and take her, we suddenly heard a loud BANG! We all went rushing into the parlor to find my grandmother on the floor in the middle of her broken rocking chair, crying out, “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”

Signs and wonders. We all want them. Except, when we think we’ve gotten one we don’t want. Or, as the old saying goes, “Careful what you pray for because you might get what you want and then what will you do?”  

Is it wrong to seek a sign or look for a wonder? The story makes it perfectly clear that it’s neither right nor wrong. It’s simply human.  Does it mean our faith is weak, that we don’t trust God to provide, so we need evidence? It simply means we are human. Even as Jesus was simply human when, from the cross, he asked for a ‘sign’ from God that “this cup be passed from me, if it is your will.” 

Jesus said to those who asked him for a sign such as Moses gave to the people who had been freed from slavery, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

For those who follow his way, Jesus is miracle enough. The bread we break and the wine we drink are signs and wonders of the true and real presence of Jesus. 

They are sufficient to feed our spiritual hunger and thirst so that our minds and bodies might be strengthened to serve the people of God in His Name.

And if, from time to time, and in our grief or anxiety, we might look for other signs and wonders, well, I think Jesus will understand. Because He was once human himself. 

He might even send a sign or wonder our way, every once in a while. Sometimes, they may not be what we expect. Might not be walking on water. Or, calming a storm. But it may even include, as it was for my grandmother, a bit of unexpected humor in the midst of great sadness. 

Like a broken rocking chair.  

Because, once the Holy Spirit breaks through, you never really know what's going to happen next.