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, October 31, 2015

To the new - the next - the first

 Dear Bishop Michael,

It is the eve of All Hallows and the eve of the celebration of your installation as the new - the next - the first African American - Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

It's an historic occasion, one I'm deeply sorry to miss being there in person to witness. I will, however, watch it live stream on my computer. It will be the first installation I've not attended since Edmund Browning was installed in 1986. There's a story I want to share with you about that but, before I get into that, I've got a few other things to say.

The first is this: Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!

I do believe that the unanimous vote on the first ballot can only be understood by faithful people of a Triune God that the Holy Spirit was blowing through that room full of men and women in purple when you were elected.

It's time. No, that's wrong. Actually, it's way past time to have a person of color as the spiritual leader - the Presiding Bishop and Primate - of The Episcopal Church. You know that. I know that. You're just too humble to say it. So,  I will.

Yes, I know. People of color represent less than 16% of the people who sit in the pews of The Episcopal Church.

I think many of us hope and pray that, as more people, especially people of color, see you and come to know you - and, more importantly, come to know Jesus through you - they might consider walking through those imposing red doors of Episcopal Churches.

And, once they're inside, perhaps they might, as your father did, notice that everyone drinks from the same cup. This, despite how we might treat each other after we leave the altar.

We share the same bread. We drink from the same cup. And, we've got you.

That, right there, is a pretty powerful message we can give without ever opening our mouths. And, maybe that's the point.

Maybe that's exactly the point.

Perhaps we need to put more value on how it is we put what it is we say we believe into action.

When I witnessed Katharine Jefferts Schori preside at the Eucharist at her Installation Service and heard her invite everyone to come to The Table to be fed, I wrote these words:
Any act that provides the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation for all - and anyone  who comes to the table - will always cause at least a stir. When the one who has been excluded is the one who presides at that Eucharist, or when the one who has been excluded invites absolutely everyone to the Table to be fed, well, it becomes, in and of itself, the revolutionary act which Jesus intended it to be.
As I will watch you, sir, preside at tomorrow's service - this time, through the miracles of modern "live stream" technology - it will also be to witness the revolutionary act which Jesus intends.

My heart is stirring and "strangely warmed" in anticipation.

The second thing I want to say comes from something I was reading this morning in Henri Nouwen's "Bread for the Journey." He wrote:
Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace.
Michael, I'm just going to say this straight up: I'm hoping these words are prophetic of your leadership while Presiding Bishop.

I know you have a heart for the gospel. I know you have taken many risks for the gospel and will continue to do so. And, I know you know the heart of the gospel.

I am not rich and I am by no means poor but I was mighty poor in spirit the day you met up with me on the street in Minneapolis, MN during the early days of General Convention in 2003.

Allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against Gene Robinson, then bishop-elect of New Hampshire, who was seeking confirmation of the deputies and bishops of that General Convention.

Those scurrilous allegations were, of course, proven false but it delayed the voting just long enough to raise anxiety and frustration and anger at what ought to have been a joyful, historical event.

I was scurrying from one place to another, as one is wont to do at General Convention, when I heard my name being called behind me. I turned my back around and saw you, running to catch up with me, calling out, "Elizabeth! Hold up! Hold up!".

I stopped and waited for you to meet me. You stopped, put your hands on my shoulders and looked deep into my eyes for a few long seconds before you hugged me. Tight. Long. Right there on that street in Minneapolis, MN. In front of God and all sorts of passersby who, I discovered when I opened my eyes, were looking at us rather oddly.

I began to cry.

You held me tighter and said, "It's alright. Girl, it's gonna be alright. That's what I came here to tell you. It's gonna be alright. You gotta believe me. You hear? It's gonna be alright."

And then you held me at arms length, looked deep into my eyes again and said, "What did Jesus say? Girl, what did Jesus say? Didn't he say: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'?"

I nodded my head as I sniffed and wiped my tears.

"And, didn't Jesus say,
'Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account'? Didn't Jesus say that?" 

"Yes," I croaked from my weary throat, not caring that passersby were now actively gawking at us.  

"And, what did Jesus say about that? Do you remember? Well, I'll tell you. He said, 'Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.'"

"Rejoice and be glad, my sister! Rejoice and be glad! Don't you see? God is in this place! God is here! This is of God and it will have out. We just got to get through this part, first. So, don't cry, my sister. No weeping. No, rejoice and be glad! God's will be done. You just wait and see."

I've never forgotten how my heart felt as we walked together to wherever it was we were going. The pain was gone. The heaviness lifted. My soul felt emptied of all that and suddenly, it was full and fat and rich with the Spirit of Hope, flooded with the Possibility of Light that conquers darkness, pressed down and overflowing with an abundance of Unconditional Love. 

That's what you do, Michael. 

You have an internal GPS system for those who need a word of hope. You do not romanticize 'the poor' but find them wherever they are, whatever their poverty is, and bring them the Good News of God in Christ. You fill them with good things and help them to see the strong arm of God, lifting them out of oppression and depression and recession into the fullness of the life of Resurrection. 

Do that. Please, do that, as Presiding Bishop as you did as Diocesan Bishop. 

Help us to "recalculate" our ecclesiastical GPS systems away from "manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption" and steer us in the direction of the Gospel imperatives. 

We've got a lot of work to do to get us closer to a nearer vision of the Ream of God, but with your leadership - and, of course, God's help - we can do it. 

Presiding Bishop Katherine has done the really hard "housecleaning" work.  Most of it is done.  

Oh, there are just a few more corners for you to clear out, a few shelves to dust off, and a couple more men behaving badly that still need to be  . . . um, "addressed," but, for the most part, Bishop Katharine has done most of the heavy lifting for you. And, she's paid a very heavy price for it.  I know you will be mindful of and grateful for the way she has cleared for you. 

Which leads me to close with that story I promised. 

It was at the reception after the service of the Installation of Edmund Browning as Presiding Bishop at the Washington Cathedral in DC that I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  It was 1986 and he had sought a season of asylum in the United States because the hell fires of apartheid had become too dangerous for him there. He could continue to speak out, but from the more protected pulpits in The Episcopal Church. 

I was not yet ordained (that would happen in April, 1986) and we had a wonderful conversation about GOEs and the ordination of women in South Africa and his first church and, oh, yes, we shared a bowl of ice cream and he rubbed my feet. But, that's another story for another time.

Ten years later, I saw him again, this time in New York, where he was being being given an award by New York University for his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  

He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer just before taking on the task of chairing that commission and, although he looked well - thin, but well - he was still being treated for it. 

To my great surprise and delight, he remembered me, greeting me warmly and recalling parts of our conversation back then in DC, especially sharing that bowl of ice cream. After I inquired of his health, I told him I thought that the timing of his cancer diagnosis and his leadership on that commission might lead one to question the stability of his mental health. 

He laughed in his wonderful uproarious way and said, "You are right. Let me tell you about that."

"When my President. . . you know 'My President', yes? Nelson Mandela - when Mr. Mandela asked me to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I declined," he said.

"I said to him, Mr. President, I am not well suited for this position."

"'Of course you are,' said President Mandela."

"'No, no, no, sir,' I said to him, 'You see, there are three problems. I have three problems. I am tired. I am weak. And besides, I laugh too much.'"

"'Hmmm, said Mandela', who then brightened and declared, "Then you are perfect to be the Chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission!'"

"'How is that, sir?'" I asked."

"'Well,' said my President, 'if you are tired and weak, then you know something about the hard work of telling the truth, and if you laugh too much then you know something about the nature of reconciliation!"

That description - understanding fatigue, weakness and the ability to laugh as the gifts that enable one to seek truth and reconciliation, even in the most difficult situations - gave me an entirely new model for servant leadership. It's one I try to follow, all these many years later.

So, dear Bishop Michael, that is my prayer for you as you become the new - the next - the first African American - Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.

May the inevitable weariness you will feel arise from the hard work of telling the truth. 

May the weakness that makes you human be perfected in God's power.  

And may your life and your work be filled with the laughter which arises from the joy of the work of reconciliation. 

All the ancestors who have carried us to this day are now gathering to carry you through tomorrow and the next nine years. They are blessing you with stories of their lives. They are blessing you with their legacy. They are - and always have been - blessing you with an outpouring of their spirit which brought you to this day and will carry you beyond. 

You have been - and are - blessed to be a blessing, Michael.

May it always be so.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

29 Years: Not to be served, but to serve

Pentecost XXI – October 18, 2015 - St. Phillip’s, Laurel, DE 
(the Rev. Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
On the occasion of the 29th Anniversary of my Priestly Ordination 

Every now and again, when we least expect it, God puts us in our place.

It may come at a time when we think we’re doing okay. Or, it may happen when we think we don’t deserve it. More often than not, it may come at a time when even we know – in that place we all have inside of us where we know the truth about ourselves – that we have gotten just a little to big for our britches.

I think, from time to time, we all need this reminder.  To be put in our place. This morning’s Gospel lesson from St. Mark (Mark 10:35-45), James and John, those Sons of Thunder, ask Jesus to put them in what they feel is their rightful place: one at his right and one at his left in glory. Well, it’s not what they expect, but Jesus does just that, saying, “You boys have no idea what you’re asking.”

Later, when the other disciples hear of James and John’s request, they begin to argue among themselves, but Jesus puts them in their place, telling them, “ . . . .whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

This morning’s first reading from the Book of Job (38:1-7 (34-41)
is one of my favorites of all of these reminders. 

For almost 90% of the book, Job has begged God to intervene, implored God to speak. And then, uncharacteristically, God answers.

Job has been anxious to bring his case against God: “I would learn what God would answer me,” Job brashly declared, “and understand what God would say to me.”

But God turns the tables on Job. To quote scripture, which sounds more like a piece of script directed by Cecile B. De Mille, complete with howling wind right from the midst of the whirlwind, God says to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question YOU and YOU shall declare to ME.

Christian author Richard Rohr translates God’s response succinctly as, “Ah, shut up, Job!”

Job has longed for a lovely little chat with God – the sort and manner some of us might wish we could have with God. Perhaps we long for an interview, one befitting Tom Brokaw or Barbara Walters, wherein we lean forward at the appropriate time with an earnest look and softened voice. “So, God,” we say, “let’s start from the beginning,” a slight smile on our lips, confident that God gets – and shares – the subtle humor.

It is not to be so with God and Job. God’s first question is simple. “Were you there? Were you there when I laid the very foundations of the earth?”  

God goes on and lists all of the grandeurs of Creation. Can Job do what God does? Can Job care for creatures the way God does? God lists a variety of animals which God also has created and for which God tends —lion, raven, the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich, the hawk and the eagle – just to name a few.

In the ancient rabbinical teaching, it is noted that when God boasts of God’s handiwork, humanity is only a small part of the wonder of Creation. Indeed, we were the last of God’s creation. From the very beginning, God always has a way of putting us in our place.

God doesn’t seem to be bothered with all of Job’s earlier rantings and arguments. God just wants Job to realize that he is not God. Job doesn’t really receive an answer to his question of why he, or for that matter any human, has to suffer. God instead just reminds Job of the incredible Presence and providence of God. Essentially, God gives no answers. In fact, at the end of the story of Job, we are left not with answers but with more questions!

Because, here’s the bottom line: God is God. Job is not. And, neither are we.

Today is a special day for me – a good day to be put in my place. Today is the 29th Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I know. I can hardly believe it myself. I was very young, of course. Twelve, I think. Or, at least, looking back on that time and all I thought I knew and all I now know I didn’t, I may as well have been just twelve years old. 

I want to celebrate by sharing one of my favorite stories about the early days of my ordination. I’ve told this story many times over the years but, for me, it never gets old.  For you, it’s new.

It was 1986. I was a newly ordained priest, a Chaplain at the University of Lowell in MA. And, I admit, I was feeling, well, maybe not in control but at least on top of the word. Truth be told, after three years of seminary and having passed the rigors of the ordination process, I was pretty full of myself.

It was in my capacity as a university chaplain that I first met Fr. Koumranian, the pastor at the Armenian Orthodox Church in Lowell. For some reason unknown to me, Fr. Koumranian took a liking to me – or, maybe he was simply intrigued by a “woman priest” – and decided that I should learn the “real” liturgy of the church. So, he took me under his wing in one of the most delightful mentor relationship I have ever known.

He was called “Father” so I, of course, became known as “Mother”. That’s not what I wanted; it’s what he insisted. He would call me and, in his heavy Armenian accent, begin, “Mother? Dees is Father. We are having baptism at church. It would be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It would be good for my people to see woman priest. You come.”

Mind you, that wasn’t so much an invitation as an expectation. I was thrilled. I went. Every time.
One evening, he called. “Mother? Dees is Father. Der is funeral Wednesday. It would be good for you to learn Divine Liturgy. It would be good for my people to see woman priest. You come.”

Nothing was so important that couldn’t be rearranged so that I could be there.

There was smoke. There were bells. There was chanting. I admit that I loved it all in that beautiful mosaic tile sanctuary.

When it came time for the eulogy, I looked around the church and saw that it was filled with lots of old Armenian men and women, all dressed in black. I thought sure the eulogy would be spoken in Armenian and I could meditate quietly while he preached. To my surprise, Fr. Koumranian walked into the aisle, near the casket as he began the eulogy.

“Der are people in dees world,” he said, “who are always making you happy. You see dem walking on de street and your heart leaps for joy, for dey are making you so happy.”

He put his hand reverently on the casket and said solemnly, “Dees . . . is not one of dos people.”

I was, in a word, stunned. I shut my eyes tight. All I could think was, “Don’t let my face show what I’m thinking.” Which was, “What in the heck is he doing?” When I opened my eyes, I could see the front row of women, including the man’s widow.

They were all nodding their heads in agreement.

Fr. Koumranian continued, “But, isn’t God – our God – so wonderful, dat now – even now – even one such as dees is resting eternally in de arms of Jesus? Because, you know, eets true: People is people. And, God is God.”

And then he said, “Ah-min,” and sat down.

Sometimes, when you least expect it – but, often, when you need it most – God brings people into our lives to help put us right into our place. Fr. Koumranian, for me, was one of those people. 

Over the past 29 years, whenever I’ve felt just a little too big for my britches, I remember this important lesson from the early days of my priesthood, and I think about the message God gave to Job as well as the lesson Jesus taught his disciples through James and John.

I am – you are – here not to be served, but to serve. 

Our baptism in Christ makes that clear. Those who are ordained to the priesthood – as the reading from the Book of Hebrews (5:1-10) reminds us, “according to the order of Melchizedek” – are to lead the people of God in servant ministry.

As Jesus himself has said to his disciples, “ . . . .whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

And, as God reminds Job, “I am God and you are not.”

Or, in the words of one of my favorite priests, ordained according to the order of Melchizedek, “People is people. And, God is God.”


(PS: I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now)

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Al Gino's Five Ravioli Life

Albert "Al" Peter Gino

NB: This was the eulogy I preached today at the Memorial Service of my dear friend, Al Gino.

If you were FB friends with Al Gino, one of the things you looked forward to – well, besides his occasional political ‘rants’ about justice – was his movie reviews.

They were, in a word, fabulous.  He had a system of “Raviolis” – from one to five – five raviolis being the very best (which he gave, on occasion) and one ravioli being the absolute worst (Or, as Al would say, “Into the ocean!”)

In keeping with that, I want to talk for a few moments about the Five Ravioli Life of Al Gino. He gets five ravioli – one each for costume, set design, acting, directing, and, of course, musical score. 

Al was an artist. He had an eye for elegance and composition. No princess – not Grace or Diana or Katherine – could have been more beautifully dressed for her wedding day had she worn Vintage Haute Couture from the House of Gino. He made this stole and the Oasis banner which I found tucked away in the stored treasures of the diocesan offices. 

Simple. Elegant. Lovely. That was Al Gino.

When there was an Oasis event – especially here at All Saints, Hoboken, his spiritual home as well as the home of the Oasis – everything was absolute perfection. He would have been really pleased with the job his sister Janet and sister in law Wanda, their friends, and the Altar Guild here did today. It couldn’t be more lovely. 

The chalice and paten on the altar are also from The Oasis as are the candle holders on the altar.

From a Christmas card from Al to Michael
I can almost hear him barking orders – well, not exactly barking. Al was never mean. He was just . . . how shall we say? . . .. Emphatic. Passionate.  Clear. Very, very clear. 

And, anxious only about one thing, “Do you think we’ll have enough food?” 

There would be mounds of food everywhere -  enough to feed a small village in the Global South.  Still, he would worry and fuss.

I would say, “Al! Really?” 

And he would say, “Look, I’m fluent in three languages: English. Italian. And, food. This is how I let people know they are loved and welcome. And, who needs to know that more than lesbians and gay men? Don’t start with me,” he’d huff and walk off.

I chose this gospel passage today for Al – especially these words: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Al was passionate about the inclusion of absolutely everyone. The Eucharist was important to him because he knew gay folk – especially at the height of the AIDS crisis – that were denied the sacrament because of their sexual orientation. 

I remember him saying to me, “When they get to the pearly gates, Jesus is going to give them such a slap, they will be knocked into next week.” 

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Al resonated deeply with these words of Jesus. They became his ‘lines’ in life – his greatest role – in bringing others back to the Church through The Oasis. 

He liked to call The Oasis "The Ellis Island for LGBT people". If they had been in a congregation which had been too painful and had left, The Oasis was a way for them to find healing and hope, a place where they could process and assimilate, before finding a welcoming community again.

Ah, but it was the music that pushed him from four and a half raviolis to a full five ravioli life. Opera was the sound track of his life. He adored opera. 

Me? Not so much. I love baseball. Red Sox. I know. Sorry. A Yankee fan - even though he lived in South Carolina - it made Al crazy. 

He'd say, "But, you're not in Boston anymore!" I guess, after he lived in South Carolina but remained loyal to the Yankees, he understood a little better.

Wait. Who am I kidding? No, he didn't. What he didn't understand is why EVERYONE didn't love the Yankees.

I used to remind him that H.L. Mencken once said that opera in English is about as sensible as baseball in Italian. Al's response was, “What? You don’t know Joe DiMaggio?”

The libretto from The Pearl Fishers  ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (At the back of the holy temple) was Al’s favorite. It is sung by the characters Nadir and Zurga. Like all operas, the story line is complex, but let me give you the set up for this scene:

The beautiful duet comes after a self-imposed absence, when Nadir returns to the shores of Ceylon, where his friend Zurga has just been elected Fisher King by the local pearl fishermen. The two had once fallen in love with the same woman, but then vowed to each other to renounce that love and remain true to each other. 

The obvious situation at this point is that males will value their relationship higher than a heterosexual relationship. On meeting again, they sing this duet which ends with these words.

Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!

Yes, it is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day.

And, faithful to my promise,

I wish to cherish you like a brother!

It is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day!

Yes, let us share the same fate,

let us be united until death!

On August 16th, Al posted one last time on FB. It was a quote from George Takei: “I already want to take a nap tomorrow.” 

Al commented, “I totally get this.” 

A few hours later, Al was dead.

Michael and Al
I still can’t believe he’s gone from our sight. His poor body was too tired to continue his time with us on earth. He went to his bed only to awaken to the Light Eternal as he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd among the voices of the angels singing “Au fond du temple saint” (At the back of the holy temple.).

The goddess has come to unite us this day. We will always remain friends, Al. We know that we will be united again, for death will never really separate us. 

It can’t. The bond of our love for you – and yours for us – is too strong. Death cannot contain it. 

The promise of the Good Shepherd is secure. 

We know – not just with our minds but deep in our hearts – that life is changed, not ended.

Even so, we will miss you, dear friend. You were gone too soon. Too soon. 

We will care for each other and your Michael and your sister Janet whose grief is almost inconsolable. 

The wonderful memories you left us will always be a blessing. 

We will never forget your acts of kindness and generosity, your passion for justice and your sense of humor, and your love for opera – and, for us.

Sleep well, our dear, sweet Italian prince. 

You have united us in love as you are now united in Divine, Wondrous Love with Jesus.                                                                     

Tributes to Al from a Bishop and a Quean

"Al Gino was an inspiration to know and a relentless advocate for justice. He was also a man of deep compassion. He helped to change the Diocese of Newark by both his witness and his energy.  I was blessed to know him.”            
                                                                                   John Shelby Spong, VIII Bishop of Newark.
One of my earliest memories of living as an Alabama transplant in New Jersey was being invited to dinner at Al's home. Our friendship was love at first sight. What a joyful evening! 

Al lived grandly but never pretentiously. He understood fully how to respect not just the dignity but the delight of every human being — well almost every human being. Meanness perplexed him, much as it perplexes Jesus.  

Al was a consummate decorator:  there is camouflage for meanness but never decoration.

And Al understood joy and play as spiritual gifts. 

Al, sugar, please help God find the sapphire throne. I look forward to your giving me a sneak preview after you have gussied it up.   

                                                                                Love,   Louie Crew Clay , founder, Integrity