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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

100,000 Angels

NB: This is the meditation I gave this morning for the Hospice Team

Yesterday, a few of us met with some folks from DelTec to plan our staff development day. One of the questions we were asked was to name some positive outcomes we'd like to see at the end of our time together.

We immediately began ticking off the negatives. It took some work to switch to positive thought, which, I think, said something significant about our current state of being and why we really, really need this staff development day.

I starting talking about "changing the environment" and "creating different workplace climate". One of the consultants smiled and said, "I think what you mean is, 'culture'. I think what I'm hearing you all say is that you want to begin to create a corporate culture in this particular part of this company."


Which got me thinking about the interplay between culture and customs.

In South Africa, there is this idea they call "Ubuntu." Roughly translated it means, "human kindness" but it is a philosophy which is described: "A person is not a person without another person." Or, to put it even more simply, "I am because you are."

In other words, individual identity is not shaped and formed in isolation. We are members of community and that community conspires to shape our identity.

The way that gets acted out in a cultural custom can be easily seen in the way South Africans greet each other. One says, "I see you." The other responds, "Here I am."

It's a powerful custom which acknowledges each other's existence while reinforcing the cultural ideology of Ubuntu: "I am because you are."

When I was working in the Metropolitan NY area, I had the privilege of working with a group of Rabbis. Through them, I learned of the Hassidic teachings that, walking in front of every human being are 100,000 angels who cry out, "Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God."

If we believed that - even if we couldn't imagine each other surrounded by angels, but that we are made in the image of God -  how might that change the way we relate to each other?

If we believed that our most difficult patient or family member were made in the image of God, how might that affect the care we provide for them?

If we were able to believe that we, ourselves, were made in the image of God, how would that change the image we have of ourselves? The way we are in the world? The way we are with each other?

How would imagining that there are 100,000 angels surrounding each and every one of us change the corporate culture of this Hospice organization?

Ubuntu. I am because you are.

Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God!


Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Personal IS Political

Pope Francis breaks bread with the homeless in DC

Well, it's been "all-Pope-Francis-all-the-time" this week, which culminates in a Papal Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philly.

Frankly, I am absolutely delighted that the first miracle he seems to have performed is that the media has become mercifully - if not mysteriously - silent on The Donald.

The second is that he seems to have awakened a latent spirituality in the soul of the Speaker of the House who promptly resigned his position and his seat the next day.

Soli deo gloria!

No, the Pope's visit is not going to radically change either Roman Catholic theology, policy or practice but it may just get many of those "liberal Roman Catholics" back into church where the push from the grassroots may actually, over time, bring about some theological and policy changes.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

What's been fascinating to me is that the criticism of the Pope's message during his historic visit to the joint session of Congress is that it was . . . .  ready?  . . . . political.

Not "too political". Just flat out political. (Gasp!)

Because, you know, he talked about five things:
Caring for the marginalized and the poor. That's now political, apparently.

Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political?

Serving as good stewards of the environment. Outrageously political, right?

Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Political?

Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. 
And that's political?  Turns out, that was on the agenda of Jesus, as well.

Honestly! What else do you expect to hear from the world leader of billions of Roman Catholics who believe that the Pope walks in the Shoes of the Fisherman?

Of course he's going to be concerned about protecting those who need help, urging us to bring in refugees who have no place to live because of war and violence and terrorism.

And, even if he wasn't the Pope, much less a Roman Catholic, it seems like it is a universal truth that we should be good to others who have less than we do, and that we should give shelter to those who don't have it.

You know.  The Golden Rule, and all that.

I heard Catholic priest Jonathan Morris on NPR explaining that global warming is an international phenomenon that will predominantly hurt poor countries. If wealthy countries don't step up on climate change, they will doom poor nations who simply can't afford to adapt to the chaos that will ensue. So tackling global warming is really about taking care of the environment to help the world's poor — something that seems very much in line with the teachings of Jesus.

Oh, wait. All these things are also on the President's agenda. And, we know he's a Muslim, right? Not even American. Born in Kenya.

Honest to Ethel!

Here's what we learned way back in the 60s, and it still is true today: "The Personal is Political"
We said it back in the day about women and feminism, but it is also true about homelessness, hunger, poverty, economic injustice, un/underemployment, freedom of religious expression, immigration, and climate change.

The personal is political.

No, Jesus didn't say that, but his life and teachings and ministry are shot through and through with that which is political.

Have you ever really paid close attention to the words of the "Lord's Prayer"?

Just what do you think Jesus meant when he said stuff like "Give us this day our daily bread"? Or "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? Or, "Deliver us from evil"?

The personal is political.

The Episcopal Church has its share of people who get a bit squirrely when it comes to politics in the pulpit. Indeed, I have been guest preacher in several churches where the rector urged me, "Please, don't be political in the pulpit, Elizabeth. I'll never hear the end of it from my congregation."

I'm convinced I haven't been invited back to one congregation because of just that. Not that I said anything 'political'. I just stood in the pulpit and preached and behind the altar and presided.

Apparently my reputation had preceded me.  It appears that I, in fact,  was the 'political statement'.

What these people on the 'hard right' don't know is how transparent they are. They really think the way to shut up a clergy person is to complain that they are being "too political". Or, women are 'angry'. Or 'have no sense of humor'.

And, some of the time with certain clergy, they would be right.

But, with the Pope? This Pope?

Those on the 'hard right' really think they're going to silence him by saying he's being 'political'?

Not. Gonna Happen.

Because, the personal is political and religion is very, very personal. So is hunger. And, poverty. And, climate change. And immigration.

And, oh, by the way, Pope Francis? So is reproductive justice.

And, the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood - and, yes as bishops and cardinals and yes, even Pope.

He'll get there. Eventually. As we used to say in the 60s, he's educable. Meanwhile, let's cheer him on as he paves the way that brings us closer to the Realm of God.

Which means that sometimes you need to pray with your sleeves rolled up and your boots on.

As Desmond Tutu says, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

This Pope has proven himself to be far from neutral.

He also knows that to get closer to the Realm of God you have to get personal.

And, political.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Be Opened

Be Opened: Breaking boundaries and finding compassion
Pentecost XV - Proper 18B - September 6, 2015
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Note: On June 17, nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina were shot and killed by an attacker expressing reasons for the murders connected with race. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination has asked all churches in this country to join in a “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” The leadership of The Episcopal Church and Bishop Wayne here in DE have encouraged all parishes to participate. We will say a special prayer during the Prayers of the People and the Eucharist will be offered in thanksgiving for the lives of those nine members who died. I will address aspects of racism in this sermon.

This is a sermon about boundaries and compassion. This morning’s gospel from Mark ( 7:24-37) provides us with two stories, both of which teach us something about Jesus and boundaries and how compassion breaks them down.

This is as timely a message for us today as it was for those who first heard the words of Jesus. 

I don’t know about you but, these days, I hate to turn the television. Have you noticed? Suddenly, there are more ads for political causes than there are for Year End Sales Events and Victoria’s Secret! And, most of the political cause have to do with boundaries – if not with the Iran Peace Agreement then between Israel and Palestine. 

Got a problem? Build a wall! Real or legal!

The news carries the ongoing struggle over the issue of immigration in this country and terrible refugee situation in Europe, culminating this week with the horrifying images of the tiny body of a three-year old Syrian boy that washed up on the beach in Turkey.

And aren’t you just tired of the endless news cycle of that clerk in a small town in Kentucky who refused to do her job and is now in jail crying that her religious freedom has been compromised? 

All the political pundits are lining up on either side of the issue, drawing lines in the sand while they declare that anyone on this side of the line is a real Christian and anyone on that side of the line is not. How dare they!

Where are the boundaries? Who makes them? Who decides who stays on what side?

In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus ventures outside of his boundaries into the region of Tyre. Up north. He’s apparently trying to travel incognito. No such luck. “He could not escape notice,” we’re told. 

In the first story, we learn that word travels that he’s in town. A Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is very ill comes to ask him to have mercy and please heal her.

Now, what you need to know about this woman is that first, she’s a woman. In ancient Israel – and, indeed, in some branches of Hassidic Judaism – it is not ‘kosher’ for women to speak with men. 

The second thing is that she is not Jewish, so she has absolutely no right to speak with a Rabbi. 

The third thing is that, as a Syrophoenician, she is of mixed racial origin. Indeed, Syrophoenicians were considered “mongrels” or “dogs” because of their racial impurity and religious irregularities.

But the woman does not back down and, in fact, stands up to Jesus, turning his rather cruel statement about “feeding the dogs” upside down in an intelligent rejoinder about how even dogs get “the crumbs from under their master’s table”.

So impressed is Jesus with this woman’s persistence and intelligence that he gets caught short. Theologian Letty Russell writes that, “Jesus got caught with his compassion down.” 

In one holy moment, Jesus dissolves three boundaries which had become barriers to his compassion: her gender, her race and her religion. 

Jesus sees this woman for who she is: a mother – not unlike his own – who simply loves her daughter and even more simply, wants her to be healed.

In the next story, Jesus is back in the Decapolis region of the Sea of Galilee and some of the folks brought before him a man who could neither hear nor speak. They begged Jesus to heal him. 

This time, Jesus takes the man away from the crowd and, in private, crosses some personal boundaries. He sticks his fingers into the man’s ears and spits on the ground and touches his tongue. 

And then, looking up to heaven, he says, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened.” 

Of course, the man was healed and could hear and speak clearly. Of course, Jesus told him and those who brought the man to him to say nothing. And, of course, they did nothing of the sort, proclaiming this great miracle to everyone they saw.

Ephphathat! Be opened! That’s what Jesus said to the deaf man. Be opened!

Do you think maybe, just maybe, Jesus had learned something about his own ways of being closed to the Syrophoenician woman? Be opened! 

Do you think her openness to him – even though he was as much a foreigner to her as she was to him – also opened Jesus to a new way of understanding his ministry which included Gentiles? Be opened!   
Do you think there’s a message in the midst of these two stories for the people of God today?

Now, if you think I have some wise answer for you that will settle the immigration problem in this country and the refugee problem in Europe and solve the problem of civil rights vs. religious freedom while bringing peace to the Middle East, much less how to end racism and gun violence – well, I’ve got news for you. I don’t. I’m a priest not a magician.

I do think there is something to these words of Jesus to “be opened”. Here’s the thing: I don’t know how to be compassionate without having my heart opened to the suffering of others. 

I don’t know how to be compassionate without removing whatever protective barriers I have put up so as to not see the needs of another person – to be able to see them as a whole human being.

What I’ve learned from my hospice patients is that compassion is a verb. It means I first have to stick my fingers into my own ears to unblock them. And then I’ve got to move past the barriers of my own sense of what’s proper and do something. Even something I’m not included to do. Like spit. 

Finally, I have to touch my own tongue, not to loosen it so much as to still it.

I’ve learned over the years a simple truth: Your ears don’t work well if your mouth is moving. I don't always do it well, but I've learned it to be true.

You can’t listen and hear if you don’t stop talking.  My grandmother used to have a little poem she often recited to me:   
“The wise old owl sat on the oak
the more he listened, the less he spoke
the less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can’t I be like that wise old bird?”
What I’ve learned about compassion and boundaries is very much what Jesus learned from his encounters with the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man. 

I have learned that I have to be opened to that which is beyond my own carefully constructed boundaries.  Because, just beyond those boundaries is compassion. And, inside of compassion is love. 

And love, I have learned, may not change the world, but it changes me to be a better person who can do small things, which, over time, make the world a better place.

Like, for example, being opened. 


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Rhythm of Hospice

NB - This is the essence of the opening meditation I gave at today's Hospice IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) meeting.

There is a rhythm to Hospice.  

You go along in your day or your week, doing your work, seeing a patient and then the next patient and then the next. 

You show up. You are present. You represent. 

You listen to stories. You offer some help - some of it actually works. You hold a few hands. You bring some comfort.

You hit a few bumps. A family member has a melt down. Someone dies sooner than you expected. You get thrown off a bit. You find your grove again and continue.

And then, one day, you have that patient. The one who, when you weren't looking, tangles him or her self right around your heartstrings. 

It could be something about their story - the courage, the creativity, the resilience. Or, it's something about the essence of their spirit.  Or, both.

You suddenly know, deep in your heart that, when this soul leaves this earth, the world will be a little darker - a little poorer - for their absence. 

And, you begin a process of your own anticipatory grief. 

Despite your own best efforts to avoid it. Despite the pride you have in your years of experience. Your "professionalism". 

It throws off your rhythm. You find yourself a little off balance. You are more emotional. Perhaps your thinking isn't quite as sharp and clear as it normally. 

You find yourself going over things a few more times, just to make sure you're right. 

And, when you get home at night, your walk from the car to the front door takes a bit longer. Your step is a little slower. Your energy level is lower. 

You don't really want to cook. You really don't have an appetite. 

Ice cream sounds like a good supper. A whole container. With some dark chocolate. And, maybe you'll wash it all down with a glass of wine. 

A big glass of wine. 

Sometimes, I can't even pray. Words simply fail. I just let my heart open and hope God can read the jumble of words and feelings that are all mixed together in there. 

At some point in the midst of this time, you may even find yourself questioning why you do this work. This work called Hospice. 

In times such as this, I find myself turning to poetry. I love the way the poet can move me to the essence of emotion, directly to the heart of the matter. 

One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver. Her words, the choice, the arrangement and rhythm of her words, have a way of helping me find my own rhythm and get back into the groove of my life and my work.

If what I've said has any resonance with what you may be feeling now or have felt before - if you can relate to what I'm saying - I offer these words from Mary Oliver, in her poem, The Messenger, for your consideration.
The Messenger
Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth

and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Allow me to lift up these words, especially, for your consideration:
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.