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

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Remembering (Nasty) Women (Witches).

On this day in history, October 30, 1971, 60 women, clergy and laity, gathered at Virginia Theological Seminary,  just outside our national capital, to organize the effort at the 1973 General Convention to allow access to all three orders of ordination in the church - deacons, priests and bishops - to women. 

(NB: Women had been ordained deaconess since 1889 but not considered within the diaconte until 1968 and began being ordained deacons alongside men in 1971.) 

They crafted a letter to then Presiding Bishop Hines, stating their shock and distress over the latest meeting of the House of Bishops in the Pocono Mountains which voted to refer the "issue" to yet another commission to "study". 
Over the years, the good Bishops had commissioned, received and apparently forgotten a whole series of "studies" including a "blue ribbon" study done as recently as 1967.

The letter to Presiding Bishop Hines, signed by all 60 women present, expressed their shock and disappointment and informed him that none of them would serve on the commission if asked. They also told him that they would not encourage any other woman to serve on the commission, since the time for study had long past.

They also requested (and eventually received) money from the Board of Theological Education (BTE) to hold a series of regional conferences for women and men about the ordination of women.

In signing the letter, the group constituted itself as "The Episcopal Women's Caucus.

Let me press "pause" here for a moment, to let that sink in.

Forty-five years ago - today - sixty women of absolutely no standing or authority in the church wrote to the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and said 'Fie!" on your special commission. 
These sixty women of "low estate" proclaimed to the man who held the highest office in the institution that they were boycotting his special commission and encouraging every woman in the church to do the same.

Oh, they said, and we want you to give us money so WE the PEOPLE - you know, the ones we 'talk' about as "the priesthood of all believers" and refer to in the invitation to the Service of Ordination with the words, "God willing and the PEOPLE consenting"? - can bring "the issue" to the people for consideration.

What a perfectly uppity thing to do, right?

Or, in current parlance these were some "nasty women". 
Herstory notes that those uppity, nasty women were not successful, first time up at bat. Indeed, they were a colossal failure. The resolution they crafted to change the canons of the church to allow for women to be ordained deacons, priests and bishops, which they took to General Convention in Louisville, 1973, failed miserably. 

The vote in the House of Deputies was more profoundly anti-woman (in a vote-by-orders of the clergy) in 1973 than it was in 1970.  That seemed like prima facia evidence that bishops had been very busy ... um... "talking" with their clergy.

It was devastating, simply devastating. That was so because, in part, they were naive.

I recall Marge Christie, one of the founders of The Caucus,  saying, "You know, we really thought that if we just had the opportunity to allow women to tell their stories, people would see the strength of their call and do the right thing."
I think - I'm not absolutely 100% certain, but I think - this was the moment when merely "uppity women" became strong, bold, brave, convicted, focused - and otherwise "nasty" - women. 
It was time to use the rules to break the rules and bring about justice. 
If the theological argument was one of "ontology"; if the presumed presenting barrier to the ordination of women was that they did not possess "sufficient ontological matter to be an authentic bearer of a sacerdotal presence," then, by God, it was time for the incarnation.  

Or, as my dear friend Ed Bacon has said, "I'm so glad Mary didn't wait for the formulation of a Doctrine of the Incarnation before she said 'Yes" to God."
On July 10, 1974, seven women who were deacons met with four bishops to discuss a possible ordination. A date was set for July 29, 1974 - the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany - where, at 11 o'clock in the morning,  eleven women who were deacons were "irregularly" ordained to the priesthood at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, PA. 
There were supposed to have been 12 and there's a backstory about "good deacons" and another strong letter from another strong woman to another bishop which I'll leave for another time.
I want to hit the "pause" button again and ask you to let that all sink in.  

The event we so easily refer to as "The Philadelphia Eleven" happened three (3) years after sixty (60) uppity women of little or no institutional standing sent a letter to the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, rejecting his offer to "study their issue" and asking for money for the "priesthood of all believers" to determine the issue of ordination for women. 

That ordination - and the ordination of women in the church - would not be "regularized" and the canons changed to allow for the ordination of women for another two (2) years

It was not until General Convention in Minneapolis, in September 1976, that the canons were changed. Women began to be ordained "regularly" on January 1, 1977 - six years after the founding of The Episcopal Women's Caucus.
Just pause for a moment and put yourself in their sacristy slippers. Imagine waiting two years after your ordination to be declared "legal" and "legitimate". 

Let that sink in.  
Now, add to that and understand that in those intervening two years the church absolutely erupted in turmoil. Churches flew their Episcopal flags upside down and at half-mast - a combination of the symbols of international distress and a significant death.  (I am not making this up.)
Male clergy who allowed the newly ordained to preside at Eucharist at the altar in their churches were brought up on ecclesiastical charges for "disturbing the peace and well being of the church". (Because, you know. prophetic action never disturbs the peace.)
On August 18, 1974, Dr. Charles Willie, the first African American to be Vice President of the House of Deputies, resigned his position in protest of a statement of the House of Bishops which called the ordinations in Philadelphia "invalid"; he referred to the statement as "a blatant exercise of male arrogance." (And, it was, but there was more to come. To wit - )

On October 27, 1974,  a special service was sponsored by the National Council of Churches and held at Riverside Church in NYC to honor and support the Philadelphia ordinations. A  collection was made and sent to Presiding Bishop Allin for the the Presiding Bishops Fund for World Relief. 

Bishop Allin returned the check because of its "tainted" genesis. (You can NOT make this stuff up.)

There's so much more of the story to tell. So much that makes me ashamed of my church. So much that gives me hope for the church.  
So much that is the stuff - the good, the bad and the ugly - of the Body of Christ.  
As Jack Spong has said, "The church will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy." 
But, here's the lesson learned: 'Incarnation beats Idea' any day of the week and twice on Sunday. 

Let me pause and let that sink in: "Incarnation beats Idea". 
Jane Holmes Dixon, Cynthia Black, Mary A.R. MacCloud

After July 29, 1974, ordained women were no longer an abstract idea. 
They were a reality. 
They were incarnate. 
Their "ontological matter" was, in fact, "sufficient" to be an "authentic sacerdotal bearer," because, well, there they were. 
Women. And, ordained priests. 

Whatcha gone do now, bro?

Or, as the astute, modern theologian, Woody Allen, once said, "Showing up is 80% of life."
I encourage you to read Marge's history of The Caucus. as well as all the many wonderful books that have been written, some by the Philadelphia Eleven themselves. 

I still strongly recommend as an excellent place to start Carter Heyward's, "A Priest Forever" and Alla Bozarth's "Womanpriest."
All these books on the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church provide study lessons in religious community organizing which, I think, honors the past and serves the future of this amazing church of ours. 

I write this not just to honor and celebrate The Episcopal Women's Caucus, an organization I was privileged to serve as President/Convener for over a decade, but also because I feel it is more and more imperative that we remember our herstory. 
I know. That's probably just the old woman who has quite suddenly (and, without invitation, I might add) taken up residence in my body, talking that mess again. But, I have to admit that I am especially alarmed when I listen to young, newly ordained women who have absolutely no idea about the struggles which allowed the privilege of their status of ordination. 
Indeed, as privilege is of't want to do, these women seem completely oblivious to the privilege which is theirs which was hard fought and well won by their sisters.
I watch them and I listen to them complain about the flagrant injustices in opportunities and compensation, the insensitivities demonstrated by their bishops and rectors - and the harsh judgements and incessant demands of some of their congregations -  as they try to juggle priesthood and parenthood. 
Oh,  hear me clearly: This is not to deny that the struggle is real. It is. Very real.  
They complain and seek solace from other clergy, and everyone is empathic and pastoral, but when someone raises the possibility of organizing to change diocesan policy around things like employment, compensation or parenting leave, it stops the conversation immediately. And then, a few months later, someone else posts a complaint and the cycle repeats itself. 
Some progress has been made in a few dioceses but the overwhelming status of women in the church is, on average, pretty dismal. Sexism and misogyny continue their powerful presence in our structures and attitudes.
I write that even as I celebrate that the church has elected two women to the episcopacy this year alone -  two diocesans, back to back (Spokane and Indianapolis). 

And, and, and... besides the first African American diocesan bishop to be a woman, this is the first time a woman diocesan has been followed by the election of another woman diocesan - the first time that's happened in the church since 1996. (That's 20 years but who's counting?)

That's progress at the top levels of the church.  Which is progress. Undeniably.
In my experience (see paragraph above), "trickle down theology" is no more effective than its cousin in economics. That said, I am "a very prisoner of hope" that, as we move past the novelty of "firsts" and even "seconds" and reach a "critical mass" of women in the House of Bishops, the status of women throughout the church will improve.

It's always astounding to me when, at the Booths at General Convention, at least two to three women a day look at the banner proclaiming, "The Episcopal Women's Caucus," and, befuddled and bewildered, ask, "What's that?" 
I didn't attend the last General Convention, but I'm told the same thing happened - to the same astonishment of the members of The Caucus. 
I actually, physically cringe - because it causes actual emotional, spiritual and physical pain - when I read what some women write in social media. This was posted just the other day about the first African American woman to be elected a Bishop Diocesan, "I just like to see qualified candidates. I don't look so much as to color and gender and race. Those things are divisive." 
Le sigh.  See also: The perils of being naive.

The Witch of Endor
I write this, on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the founding of The Episcopal Women's Caucus to point us to another "nasty woman." 

Tomorrow, October 31st, is the lesser feast of All Hallow's Eve (BCP 106). 
In some circles - mostly inhabited by women, it is the even lesser feast of the Witch of Endor.  Indeed, her story (1 Samuel 28:3-25) is included as the first reading of All Hallow's Eve. 

What I love about this story is that it raises lots more than the ghost of Samuel.  Like?  Well, like the fact that misogyny in Endor is as old as the Garden of Eden.
Power that can't be controlled must be Evil and if the power of a woman can't be controlled, she must be the embodiment of Evil. The 'woman' of Endor is considered the 'witch' of Endor. 

Women who don't know their place are "uppity".

Women who know how to play political hardball with the big boys are "nasty" and have "so much hate in their heart" they should "lock her up" and any contribution she could make must be "tainted."
As we head into this sacred time of facing into what scares and frightens us as we prepare to remember the dead, I ask that you hit the 'pause' button in your life to remember the women.
Remember them and give thanks for all the women / witches in your life and our lives of faith: The Witch of Eden. The Witch of Endor. The Witch of Bethlehem (who had to become a Virgin for her story to be heard and believed!!!). The 60 Witches of The Caucus. The 11 Witches of Philadelphia. The four Witches of Washington. 

Remember that, without a woman named Mary of Bethlehem, God could not have achieved God's greatest creation in the sacrificial, salvific incarnation of Jesus.

And then, do something bold and brave and risky yourself.
Say 'no' to same-old-same-old.
Say 'yes' to possibility.
Be 'nasty' your very own badself and demand the financial resources which will  enable the people of God to remove walls of ignorance and intolerance and build bridges of knowledge and understanding.

Know that you are standing on a very firm foundation.
You are standing on the shoulders of giants who were the 'nasty' women of their day. 

You are held in the arms of some pretty amazing witches.

Now, just hit 'pause' for a moment and let all that sink in.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Walking on Broken Glass

I'm going to go watch videos with puppies and kitties in a minute but I have to say that I just read an article in the NY Times, the headline of which proclaimed that Trump was "ebullient" over the emails being investigated by the FBI.
You know. The ones Comey doesn't know anything about, much less whether they are important or even pertinent. He's not sure HRC wrote them or sent them. Not sure they are classified or not. They could just be duplicates of what has already been deemed insignificant.

I also saw Trump's campaign manager, that ubiquitous, whitest-of-white women, Kellyann Connors, beaming as she pronounced this "a very good week for our campaign."
What kind of people rejoice at the misfortunes - the injustices - done to others?
That's a serious question. I can't get my head wrapped around this.
When the Access Hollywood tapes were released and we got to hear Donald describe himself as a sexual predator, I don't remember HRC or anyone in her campaign gleefully clapping their hands.

And, when yet another woman came forward to testify that she was groped by Donald, just as he had described, I don't remember HRC or anyone from her campaign pronouncing this "a very good week for our campaign."
It is so tempting to turn the tables on Donald and say, "You know, you're right. The system IS 'rigged'," but that would be stooping to his level. It wouldn't be right; neither would it be correct.
The system has lots of stupid people - incompetent people - little people who do not have the courage to be leaders. The "system" is also filled with prejudice and bigotry toward people of color - ALL people of color - and women and LGBT people and people with disabilites.

 It needs to be changed. Fixed. But, it is not 'rigged'.
I have this feeling, deep in my gut - it's inexplicable, really, just a feeling - that this is all going to work for HRC.
In a few days, Comey is going to be pressured - by BOTH sides - to say more about those emails.

And, it's going to blow this whole thing up. Donald will have his usual conniption fit, shoot himself in his foot with something that comes out of his mouth and blame everyone else because he's limping.
And, HRC will, as usual, handle herself with grace and style, skill and confidence - even as the GOP continue to metaphorically go through her underwear drawer, contemptuously sniffing around to see what they can find.
That will go on for the next eight years while she is POTUS. It's not been an easy election. It will not be an easy presidency. The "boys" will make absolutely certain of that.
Sometimes, when you break a glass ceiling, you can get cut by falling glass shards. I believe that's what this whole Comey email "scandal" is all about. Glass shards. The ceiling is cracked. It's about to be broken. Things will never again be the same.
Did you really think this would be easy?
Off we go, then, into the last 10 days of this most despicable election season of all election seasons. Just keep repeating Michele's mantra: "When they go low, we go high."
Say it again, "When they go low, we go high."

Once more: "When they go low, we go high."
Got it? Good. Now, back to work with the lot of you.
We've got a cracked ceiling to break.
Mind the glass shards. There's bound to be a few more.
But first, just a few minutes to watch videos about puppies and kitties.

Cuz, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to get the job done.

Friday, October 28, 2016

This morning

Daryl Thetford
He sits there,
alone in his boat
completely unaware

bundled up against the October chill
in his plaid jacket.

He is oblivious to the fact that he is
being watched
as he watches the water

lap against the side of his boat
at the dock in front of his house.

Perhaps it is too cold to take the boat out.
Perhaps the water on the bay is rough this morning.
Perhaps he doesn’t have enough money for fuel.

Perhaps his wife has given him the
stink eye, the
cold shoulder, the
silent treatment
reserved for retired husbands who are
Getting Under Foot.

He’ll be leaving in a few days.
where it’s warmer in winter.

Or, always was, until the
Climate Change(d).

He sits there, alone in his boat,
tinkering with this
and that,

trying to avoid the inevitability of
docking the boat for winter.

He is completely unaware that
he is a poem.
Or, at least, 

my poem. 
This morning. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blessed to be a blessing

On Sunday, October 23, 2016, family and friends and friends who have become family gathered for the 10 AM service at All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of my ordination in The Episcopal Church and the 40th Anniversary of the covenant made between my Beloved Ms. Conroy and I. 

Bishop Gene Robinson, retired of DioNH, was celebrant and preacher. 

The lessons included part of the the story about Judith, from the Apocrypha. It was the passage I chose for my ordination - Judith 10:1-10 , brilliantly read by my dear friend, David - wherein Judith breaks her time of mourning for the death of her husband, Manasseh, who was killed by the King. After a time of prayer she gets up, gets dressed, puts on her makeup and jewels and does what needs to be done. That is, she prepares herself to seduce King Holofernes so that she may decapitate him, avenging the death of her husband.

As Bishop Gene Robinson jokingly said, ""I don't know this to be fact but I suspect Judith was a badass lipstick lesbian."

At the very least, she was a "nasty woman" of antiquity. 

The Gospel was Matthew's Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, Bishop Gene preached brilliantly on the passage, drawing a distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism is a human condition. Hope, is a spiritual one. Hope is central to being a Christian. 

Hope is why people like Barbara and I come back to the church. Not because we trust in the Church but because we trust in God. 

I do wish we had thought to record his sermon. It was, as usual, simply brilliant. 

After the Prayers of the People, Barbara and I and Bill and Anita, the two people who witnessed our legal marriage that day at breakfast at the Long Neck Diner, came forward. 

Before God and our family and friends, Gene wrapped our hands in his stole and blessed our covenant. 

He used these words, adapted from the Wedding Prayer in the film, "Braveheart". (Yes, that violent film had at least this tender moment. I've been saving it for such a moment as this.)

Braveheart Wedding Prayer

‘These are the hands of your best friend, once young and strong and vibrant with love, which held yours on the day you promise to love each other all the days of your life.

These are the hands that will continue to work alongside of yours, as together you build your future, as you laugh and cry, as you share your innermost secrets and dreams.

These are that hands which will still passionately love you and cherish you through the years, for a lifetime of happiness.

These are the hands that will continue, countless times, to wipe the tears from your eyes: tears of sorrow and tears of joy.

These are the hands which will still comfort you in illness, and hold you when fear or grief engulfs your heart.

These are the hands that will continue to give you support and encourage you to chase down your dreams. Together as a team, everything you wish for can be realized.

And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

And the blessing of God who created you, the God who loves you and the God who will guide and inspire you, bless you this day and forever more.

Yes, we've gone 40 years without the blessing of the church. Indeed, we've often felt that we have blessed the church more than it has blessed us. 

We did not do this because we felt we needed it. I know that might sound arrogant to some. Who does not stand in need of blessing, right? 

I don't think there can be any doubt that that attitude first arose out of pain. You know. The religious version of, "You can't fire me, I quit." For a long time it was, "We don't need your damn blessing. We're fine. Just fine."

And, we were. And, are.

It's not that way any longer. We aren't angry or hurt any more. It really flows from a deep place of knowing and the confidence that comes from recognizing, over that years, that God has been and is, now, with us, every step of the way we have been and every step we will take in the future. 

Whether the church recognized and blessed that or not became immaterial. 

We really do have all that we need. We have been blessed to be a blessing - to thank God for God's presence in our lives when we've been vulnerable, when we've been merciful and when we've sought peace, when we've grieved and when we have suffered injustice. 

Our lives are filled with gratitude for God's abiding presence.

We did this because our family needed to see the church affirm the covenant we made 40 years ago, and so affirm the covenants made between people of whatever gender. 

We did this to help continue the movement in the church to remember that we are in the world, but of the world. As the Body of Christ, we are not about being agents of the state but agents of God. 

We did this because the church needs to be clear about the business of the church: covenants and blessings, mission and ministry, not government laws and legal contracts. 

We did this because the church,  young people and old,  needed to see the man who became the first self-affirming gay man, a man who had to wear a bullet proof vest to his own consecration, a man who was the only bishop ever to be dis-invited to a Lambeth Conference, a man who knows about what it means to be badass in order to get the job done and who clearly knows the difference between optimism and hope, bless and affirm the covenant we made 40 years ago. 

If anyone knows about God's presence in our lives - especially when we are most vulnerable - it's Gene Robinson. 

So, it was a meet and right, good and proper thing to do, to ask Gene to bless our covenant in the church we've been attending since 1988. 

After 40 years, it was time to be gracious and generous and allow the Grace that has blessed us for four decades to fill the church and bless God's people with hope. 

We who have been blessed to be a blessing, know how the Gospel story ends. 

Love wins. 

God wins.

Our prayer is that the blessing we received will continue to bless the church - and us - to be bold and "badass" and take the risk to do whatever it is that must be done to choose hope and love.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nasty women

This morning finds me in a strange but oddly familiar place - the intersection of exhaustion and exhilaration - which often comes after doing a mighty work for what is understood to be the justice of God's Realm. 
I've spent the past two days with some of the smartest people on the planet who also have become some of my dearest friends. We have been slogging through cultural and organizational and yes, personal transformation, pushing through the fog of the illusion of safety of what was, even as we slide, headlong, into the rapidly shifting landscape of what is the growing movement for reproductive health, choice, rights and justice. 
For a little more than a year we've been planning this creative, hard work of 'renovation' - improving an outdated organizational structure, leaving behind the things that no longer work, repairing the damaged or broken places that still have some years of service left, removing the toxic asbestos and lead paint, and mucking out the build up of  - well, there's no other way to say it - flat-out shit that has built up over the years. 
It's been a hard year or so that has been coming for the past decade.  
The thing about sitting in your own shit pile is that it's comfortable. Soft. Easily adjustable to your body. After a while, you can even get used to the smell. Doesn't change the fact that you've been sitting in your own pile of shit and only you can grab the shovel and begin to dig yourself out.

We met in retreat last August to spend some time examining our past and then some more time looking reality squarely in the face. We explored organizational models of functioning and leadership verses movement models. 
We studied different ways of being an organization which is part of a movement. We examined various ways of power and authority. Hierarchy vs. Collaborative. Intersectionality vs. Binary and Linear Thinking. We looked at the necessary ingredients to - and the successful components of - coalition building. 
This was the meeting where we were to make decisions to become more of a reflection of the movement we're in. To our amazement, we discovered that our process of decision making, in some ways, mirrors the lives of the women we serve. 
We ought not to have been surprised, then, to discover that the push-back from some was pretty fierce. 
And yet, we prevailed.

We had to do battle with ghosts. We had to bind old scars we thought were healed but were now suddenly open and painful. We had to move through foreign and sometimes hostile territory. 

As we traveled deeper and deeper into imagination and creativity, change and transformation, we shared with each other bits and pieces of hope and creativity from the wise women who have come before us. 
We discovered that some of us are what Mr. Trump would call "nasty women".  We are strong. We are clear. We know what must be done and we won't be popular or even liked for doing it. 

And yet, we persevere. 
So much depends on what happens November 8th. We heard that clearly in last night's debate. 
Mr. Trump does not trust women's decisions about our own bodies. In turn, many women do not trust Mr. Trump with our country - our nation - the world. 
And yet, inexplicably, others do. 
As a bone fide 'nasty woman', here's the deal: I. Don't. Care. Vote your conscience. But, for God's sake vote. The lives of so many are on the line. So many women who are being denied reproductive health, rights, choice and justice will be at even greater risk depending on the November 8th vote. 

No matter what happens, we nasty women will continue to prevail. 

We are at the intersection of exhaustion and exhilaration.  It is at this crossroad where the Spirit moves and lives and has her being. It is the place where creativity and new life are born out of pain and chaos and the inexplicable joy that comes with freedom to choose your own way forward. 

Nasty women know shit and we are not afraid to take the risk of digging out ourselves and our sisters.

One of my dear friends closed out our meeting yesterday with this poem as a meditation. 
I remember it well but had forgotten just how inspiring it can be to those of us moving forward forward together into the future, holding onto hope even as our anxieties threaten to hold us back. 
I share it with you now in hopes that it will inspire you and encourage you to make it through these next two weeks: 

Si Se Puede! A luta continua. We can do it.

American Herstory
By celeste doaks

Tell them it's always under attack. Tell them there's no cure for the disease, or answer to the riddle. Tell them you asked many before you, some who won, some who lost.

You consulted Assata, Roe vs. Wade, Harriet and Jocelyn Elders
to no avail. Her words on contraception twisted into a bitter pretzel.
The bits broken off, used to destroy her.

Tell them its always under attack, its predators everywhere. They lurk behind Mississippi clinics or around Georgetown blocks dressed in blue uniform. Tell them you have the cure, somewhere at home,

deep in your cabinets, mixed in a mason jar, Don't tell them it consists of breast milk, dreams, butterflies, civil rights marches,
burned bras, a piece of Madame CJ Walker's hair, prayers,
Ameila Earhart's drive, hot-water cornbread, and Sally Ride's fearlessness.

Lie to them, tell them it's rosemary oil, then bottle it. Sell it to every woman in America who will drink it. Then watch all the piranhas disappear.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fred and Ethel and Persistent Prayer

A Sermon for Pentecost XXII - October 16, 2016
All Saint's Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

This is a sermon about persistence. Actually, it’s a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope, and hope as the motivation of prayer.

That’s because this morning’s gospel story is about the persistent widow. That’s how we come to know her. Like so many women in Scripture, she doesn’t have a name. Just a title. Like “The Woman At The Well”.  Or, “The Woman and the Lost Coin.” Or, “The Daughter of Jarius.” She is the “Persistent Widow”.

I have been known to be fairly persistent myself. My grandmother said I was a willful child. But, she didn’t mean it as a bad thing. Being willful, in my family, was a good thing. It was a sign of strength. It was a mark of character. So, because I was a willful child who grew up to be a persistent woman, I’m going to name this nameless woman in scripture.

I’m going to call her Ethel.

Ethel, we are told, was a real pest to a certain judge. Her rights had been violated in some way – we don’t know exactly what or how or why – but given the status of women in antiquity that’s not the remarkable part of the story.

Given what we know of the status of women in antiquity, it’s remarkable at all that she was seeking justice for herself. Indeed, it’s flat out amazing that she was persistent in seeking justice for herself.

The judge – Well, you know what? I’m going to name him, too. I’ll call him ‘Fred’ – the judge, it seems, was a pretty arrogant man. He didn’t care two figs about what God thinks, much less what people think.

But, Ethel was persistent and Fred, we are told, got weary of her so finally, he caved in and gave her justice.  Not because she deserved it, necessarily. But, because he was just tired out by her persistence.

Or, maybe because she was right and it was just that obvious.

Fred and Ethel. Weren’t they the upstairs neighbors of Lucy and Desi? They were the Mertz right? Fred and Ethel Mertz. How about that for free association?

I promise, no drinking of wine was involved in the preparation of this sermon.

Jesus told this story about Fred and Ethel to his disciples, we are told, to teach them something about prayer.

Well, here’s what I want to say about that: The first thing is that prayer, at least in my experience, is a very personal thing. Behind every petition of prayer, there is a human face. Indeed, when we pray together the Prayers of the People, we human beings come together to put our faces and our bodies and our minds and our hearts and our souls into those prayers.

They are not just words on paper. They are persistent petitions of hope. That’s why the person reading the prayers often stops and creates a space for people to say the names of the people who come to mind during that petition. Prayer is personal. We can lose site of that with the various forms of our Prayers. It becomes powerfully personal when it has a name. Like Ethel. And, Fred.

I think persistence is a manifestation of hope and hope is a form of prayer.

Think about that for a minute: If you don’t have hope, why ever would you persist? Why even bother? Prayer is fueled by hope and hope sparks persistence and persistence puts the hopes of prayer into action.

Note, please, that Ethel did not sit in the Temple and quietly read from the prayers in the back of the BCP or piously recite the rosary. Well, she might have done that, too, but Ethel must have been a willful child who grew up to be a persistent woman. She took her petition directly to the person who could answer her prayer.

She went directly to Fred.

Not everyone has that sort of … well . . . persistence. Because, not everyone has that kind of hope. Some of us are simply beaten down by the realities of life. We have come to believe that no one will listen to us, even if we tell the truth. That, no one really cares. That we are not really worth it. Or, that if we tell the truth, we might be punished for it or not be believed or have to pay a very high price for it. That it may backfire and not be worth it in the end.

If you’ve been listening to the news – and, who could possibly escape it these days – you have seen or heard a few examples of persistent women. Some of these women have been waiting a long time to tell the truth of their stories.

Three of them have, in fact, been telling their stories for over 30 years. The others had been silent because they had been afraid. Confused. Thought they had brought it on themselves. Thought, well, this is just what it’s like for a woman.

And, in part and for many years, that’s not been incorrect. 

Before this week, they were just women without names who had been talked about. Bragged about as victories of predatory machismo. Topics of locker room banter. Just words, that’s all. Nothing to concern yourselves with.

No harm no foul.

We see the harm done – even after decades later. We see the foul and it is vulgar and indecent and lewd.  The sad truth is that the only justice they may get is in having had the opportunity to tell their story – to tell the truth of what happened to them – and to have people listen and know.

Unfortunately, they are also experiencing some injustice all over again. One woman has left the country with her family because she was being tormented by people who didn’t believe her and thought she was telling the story for other reasons. For some sort of ‘fame’ (Seriously?). Or, possibly, for some sort of financial gain.

Or, maybe they’re just crazy for thinking they were once attractive enough to be molested.

Their stories have touched our stories. Somewhere inside each one of us, we know. We understand. We may not have been molested or groped ourselves, but we know what it is like to have told a deep personal truth about ourselves and not been believed or heard because someone else was rich or powerful and didn’t care.

Please, make no mistake: I am not telling you these things about these women to take a political side in this election. Indeed, there are women on both sides of the political aisle with stories to tell about alleged sexual predators. This is not a sermon about politics. This is a sermon – albeit a difficult sermon – about persistence.

It’s a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope and hope as the motivation of prayer. 

I have to tell you that, as a willful child who has grown into a persistent woman, like our First Lady  and many of you, I can’t stop thinking about this.  I know many women – many of whom are also survivors of predatory sexual assault – and many good men, my brothers, sure and true – who who have mothers and daughters and nieces and sisters – and their own stories to tell – who also can’t stop thinking about this.

It has shaken us all to our core in a way that was completely unpredictable.

Although, actually, we probably should have known. We’ve been through this before in our public lives. Anita Hill is one name many will recognize. Clergy who are pedophiles is another. Cops who pull women over for minor traffic violations and then molest them. We should know that, when truth like this is exposed, something happens – something is set free……something is set in motion – in the universe that is unstoppable and irreversible.

It has been said that whenever a person stands up against injustice, whenever the truth is told and a lie is exposed and justice is demanded – something in the cosmos shifts. The tectonic plates deep in the layers of the planet slip just ever so slightly and a tiny fissure – a small crack – begins to open. And, the whole earth groans into the universe, the sound of which reaches a place deep in our souls and we, with the rest of the world, are deeply moved and deeply disturbed.

So, while it would be wonderful to just pretend that this isn’t happening, while it would be lovely, in a way, to be like Fred, the judge in this morning’s Gospel story, and not care two figs about what God thinks, much less what people think, and sweep it all under the rug and just go on with our lives and convince ourselves that church is a place for perfect, happy people and Christianity provides some sort of inoculation against injustice and other bad things… and . . .

.... well… truth be told . . . . I just can’t do that.

It would be dishonest and disingenuous and I wouldn’t be preaching the gospel. Instead, I’d simply just be the Sunday morning entertainment.  That is not what I understand my vocation to be as an Episcopal priest.

The gospel isn’t like that. Did you hear what Jesus said?

Jesus raised up the story of Ethel, the persistent widow, who went to Fred, the arrogant judge, and said, “You want to know what prayer is? Prayer is like this: Look at Ethel over there. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is not believed. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is ignored. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is not given justice”. 

That, says Jesus, is what prayer is.  It is persistent. It is built on the foundation of hope. It is uttered with the understanding that God – the Divine Cosmic Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit – WILL hear your prayer.

God WILL hear your cry.

God WILL bring about justice.

The other important message in this morning’s gospel for me is that it comes to us at this time in our lives of faith when we as a community of women and men who profess a faith in Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ resurrected and Christ ascended are being given a vocational charge to have honest, albeit difficult conversations about human sexuality.

Not just homosexuality. Human sexuality.

What we are hearing is not normal. We ought not normalize it by our silence. And, that’s exactly what silence does. It makes it “normal”. It makes it “okay.”

It is not normal.

It is not okay.

Apart from who you will or will not vote for, if we, as a community of faith, cannot talk about and address the evil of predatory sexual assault, who will?

If we, as a Body of Christ, cannot feel the earth shift and hear the cosmos groan with the cry of injustice, who will?

If we, as people who have been baptized and promise to “respect the dignity of every human being,” cannot keep that promise for our mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and cousins and friends, please tell me, who will?

This is where willfulness is important to the nature and character of a person. This is where persistence is an essential component of prayer and hope is the essence of a life of Christian faith. It does not come without cost.

This is why Jesus told us the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. We are not told the exact nature of her “injustice”, leading me to wonder what it was that was too difficult to mention?

Or, was it, perhaps, considered so commonplace that it needed no mention?

It was originally told and meant for times when the first disciples were learning about what it means to follow Jesus.

It was originally told and meant for times such as these, when people today – living in this post modern era – are learning about the true cost of discipleship.

It was originally told and is meant for all those who will come after us – our granddaughters and grandsons and great granddaughters and great grandsons – to whom this story will be told with lessons to be learned by new generations of people.

It is a timeless story of the inordinate importance and compelling imperatives about what it means to be a person of prayer who professes to follow Jesus. It involves risk.

It involves putting your faith into action. It involves hope and belief in a God who loves us enough to inspire us to bring about justice against the oppression of people in our own day and time.  For ourselves and others.

This is a sermon about a judge I’ve called Fred and a woman I’ve called Ethel, because it is important to put a face behind stories of injustice petitions of prayer for justice.

This is a sermon about persistence. This is a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope, and hope as the motivation of prayer.

My prayer for us all on this day and all the days of our lives is that we learn to have the persistence of women like Ethel in our lives of prayer, that we may always know hope. 

I will leave you to ponder the question of Jesus, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"