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Sunday, June 30, 2019


A Sermon Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Milford, DE
Pentecost III - June 30, 2019

If you close your eyes for a minute, you can see His face.

The words of the gospel of St. Luke draw a picture, sharp and clear, of a man on a mission. Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He’s ready. He knows what is to come. Fully anticipates what is to happen to him. Expects it will, in fact, come to pass. 

And he is resolute. He has even sent messengers ahead of him. He has no time to waste. No time for goodbyes. No time to rest. “Let the dead bury their dead,” he bluntly says to a man who asks that he wait so he may bury his father.

If you close your eyes for a minute, you can see His face.

It must have been absolutely consumed with clarity of purpose. Etched with intention. Carved with deep lines of determination and single-mindedness and a tenacity that anyone could read – even from afar.

Never mind that it meant walking into the city of Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” which would turn suddenly, coldly, to calls to “Crucify him!” Never mind that it meant marching to Calvary to his death on the hard wood of the cross. He is marching to the tune of his destiny, and everyone can see it on his face.

You can also see determination etched on the faces of Elisha and Elijah. You and also hear the determination in the words of St. Paul as he exhorts the people in Galacia to "stand firm". 

In many ways, the image of the determination on the faces of Elisha, Elijah, Paul and Jesus in this morning’s lessons are a perfect image to summon up the faces of the people in the history of our nation that were set on freedom. Beginning this weekend but especially on Thursday, July 4th, we celebrate the 243rd Anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

There are also faces in our history that were set on freedom in the Civil War – a war which ripped the very fabric of this nation from North to South. Some maintain that our nation is still at war over the same issues of race (specifically white supremacy) the economy (especially tariffs), states rights, and yes, the role and status of women. 

Both our Christian and American heritage are interwoven with the history of the Episcopal church, and emerge in Jamestown, VA, the New World’s first permanent English settlement, which observes its 412th anniversary this year.

So, it is not surprising that the very nature and character of what it means to be an American is being questioned at the same time the definition of being Christian is also being raised and questioned.

Being “Christian” has come to be narrowly defined by televangelists and evangelical Christians. To be a Christian has also come to mean being a patriot; this has come to mean unconditional support for increasingly controversial government policies.

We have all seen the images that have come from our southern border. Heartbreaking images. Horrific images. Images of human suffering. These are people who have set their faces on opportunity and the hope of freedom. You can see the determination etched in their faces just behind the desperation which is also unmistakably there.

Michael Hunn is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rio Grande which holds 40 percent of the border between the United States and Mexico. Bishop Hunn has an essay in this week’s issue of Sojourner Magazine which begins, 
Before the finger pointing and blaming begins let me be clear: This is not a partisan issue. This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. We have a moral responsibility to ensure that the conditions for every child are not just adequate but are as good as any parent would expect for their own children.”
He continues, 
 “Border Patrol agents and their families are members of our congregations. The Episcopal Church is about half Republican and half Democrat. Yet every Sunday, we pray the same prayers to the same God, and then we get to work together, in spite of our differences, to make the world more like the one God envisions.”
This is a determined bishop who leads a diocese with congregations that bear the same determination which is etched in the face of Jesus. 

Last week Bishop David Reed of the Diocese of West Texas, which shares 500 border miles with Mexico, wrote these words to the people of his diocese:
As the immigration crisis continues to roil and divide our beloved country, we find our souls as stressed as our legal and political systems. Our desire to act wisely and compassionately, to “Walk in love, as Christ loved us,” collides with the enormity and complexity of the issues. What we are experiencing within the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas is only a small piece of the human migration occurring worldwide, a movement of peoples that will likely be with us for many years to come.
A simple solution to this crisis does not exist, but we can be instruments of God's grace and peace. We cannot do everything, but for Christ's sake, we can do something.

A number of our clergy and people are doing something to alleviate the human suffering along the border and farther north. I commend them for the hope and healing they offer, for their persistent love in the face of suffering . . . They are seeking to serve Christ in the person standing in front of them, whether asylum seeker or Border Patrol agent. Our clergy and churches did not go looking for this ministry; they did not rally to "an issue." They are seeking to respond faithfully to those in need arriving in their communities and on their doorstep.
It takes the determination that we see etched on the face of Christ in this morning’s gospel that leads to taking the risk of love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   

As Bishop Reed wrote, 
“To be angry and resentful is easy, a reaction that takes little imagination. To become cynical is to reject the hope of Christ. To love and to care is much harder, requiring that we extend grace and mercy to one another and to ourselves, but acting in love and choosing to care is the life into which we've been baptized. To love and to care is the Way of Christ, and the way of the Kingdom.”

Whether we are talking about the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, men and women have set their faces toward freedom just as Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. When men and women took bold risks to ensure “liberty and justice for all,” and soldiers marched off into battle, ready to make the” ultimate sacrifice,” they often did so in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection they knew to be promised them by Christ Jesus.

As you turn the pages of our history books, you can almost see it in their faces.

The moral core of this nation is being challenged. Every. Single. Day. We are daily compelled to examine both our minds and our souls, to clarify both what we think and what we believe, about the basics of democracy and our religion. 

I don’t know about you, but I find this absolutely exhausting. And yet .. and yet, this is not the time to cave. This is not the time to give in or give up. It is not a time for apathy. 

It is a time, as it was for Jesus, and as it was for our forebears in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as it was – and now is – for all of our men and women in public service and in the armed forces and as public citizens, to stand up, and, seeking the determination of Jesus, set our faces toward the liberation promised in the Gospel and the freedom promised by the principles of our democracy.

One of my favorite hymns of this day does not appear in our Hymnal, interestingly enough, but it is, for me, emblematic of this “heritage made of a fabric woven in prayer,” which we commemorate on July 4th. (Note: It can also be found in the "Lift Every Voice and Sing" Hymnal, which is hopefully also in your pews).

Many think of it as a battle hymn. Indeed, it is called, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It was written by Julia Ward Howe, who was a dedicated pacifist and abolitionist who also was the founder of Mother’s Day – a day she envisioned for all mothers everywhere to rise up and protest the loss of their sons to war.

This hymn was born during the American civil war, when Howe visited a Union Army camp on the Potomac River near Washington, D. C in 1861. She heard the soldiers singing the song “John Brown’s Body,” and was taken with the strong marching beat. She wrote the words the next day:
(said) Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
She wrote in an article which appeared in Atlantic Monthly, 1862:
I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to entwine themselves in my mind, and I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses, lest I fall asleep and forget them!” So I sprang out of bed and in the dimness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered using the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.
You can almost see her face, can’t you? You know she had the face of Jesus before her – which bore the faces of all the prophets before Him, especially the young prophet, Jeremiah who wrote: “The Lord will roar from on high and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes against all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Jeremiah 25:30)

As chaos swirls around us and we are assaulted with heinous images of children being separated from their parents, and desperate people taking desperate measures for the dream of a good life for themselves and hope for a better life for their children, and yes, even as our beloved church struggles to find our way on the Via Media, the Middle Road of Anglicanism, let us take time during our Fourth of July celebrations, to meditate on the cost of our faith and our freedom.

Let us remember the face of Jesus, his face set toward Jerusalem. Let us see the face of Jesus in others and resolve, with them, to pay the high price of the Gospel. More importantly, let us be the determined face of Jesus in a world that hungers for the bread of freedom and the thirsts for the wine of peace.

As we celebrate this great country on Thursday, the 4th of July, may the words of Julia Howe’s hymn be in our hearts and on our lips, and steel our determination:
(sing) In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom
that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make (us) holy,
let us live to make (all) free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Sing with me, church:
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
While God is marching on.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bless This House

A dear friend of mine lost her home to fire late last year.

It was an horrific, devastating event, as you may imagine. The good news is that the house and many personal effects (dishes, paintings, jewelry, etc.) were able to be salvaged. 

The house has been completely renovated and they have finally settled back into 'normal' life - with all of its challenges and surprises and lots of stuff that never gets considered to be 'normal' but is, actually, the very stuff we miss most when we don't have it any longer.

My friend asked me to help her put together a 'house blessing' which would be the event that would call together all of their friends who helped in so many and varied ways, to pray with them, to thank them, to have a feast and make festival together. 

Not entirely happy with the Order of Service from the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services for this particular occasion and family, I put together this resource.  

We then adapted it even further for this home, personalizing it with the names of the members of the family, including only those prayers the family liked, and ordering the blessing of the rooms to conform with the layout of her house.

I can hear some of you saying, "Bless a home? Isn't it blessed by the people living in it?"

In Christianity, blessing a home is an ancient tradition that can be found in Anglicanism, Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity, and Roman Catholicism. In fact, when I was in Thailand, the monks at the local Wat (Temple) were seasonally busy, blessing homes. You could always tell because they left a small piece of gold leaf on the door frame.

In the Christian tradition, house blessing are usually performed by a priest who sprinkles holy water - a sign of our baptism - as she walks through every room of the house, accompanied by the occupants of the house and their family and friends. Sometimes, incense is also used.

There is a great tradition in the Anglican Church to bless homes during the Season of Epiphany, which I especially love. 

Many Christians, when moving into a new home or after renovating an old one, like to offer the house to God and ask for a blessing on those who live within it or might visit. 

The order of this service is adapted from The Book of Occasional Services, Church Publishing, Inc., 2000, and A New Zealand Prayer Book. The prayers are adapted from the "Prayers of Iona, Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change," as well as the Corrymeela Community, a few Traditional Celtic Blessings and prayers from other individuals as noted near the prayers. 

(I want to note especially that the original refrain of the blessing prayer was , "By the cleansing fire of your Holy Spirit. . . ." Given that the damage was done by fire, I elimated that word."

Since this is a rather large house, I added a Taize Chant for a little "traveling music, but certainly this service is not restricted to either Taize or that particular chant. Or, you may simply not want any musical interlude, which is, in fact, what this family chose. Another alternative might be to sing a hymn at the beginning or end of the blessing service.

Depending on the home and the wishes of the presider and family, the house and each room may be blessed with water and/or incense. In the past and at a particular individual's request, I have used a Native American 'smudge stick' instead of incense which was lovely, in its own way. 

Please feel free to borrow and/or adapt, with proper attribution, of course.
A House Blessing

The Gathering
+The grace of Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all.
And also with you.

We have come together
to celebrate the gift of this home
and to ask God's blessing on it,
and to ask God’s continued blessing
on those who live in it.
We have come together
to renew friendship
and to make festival together
to dedicate ourselves and this place
to the pursuit of peace, justice and wholeness
and to the care of God,
Creator, Word and Spirit.

Unless the Lord builds the house
They labor in vain who build it.
Unless the Lord protects the city
The Watchers guard it in vain.
Our hope is found in Jesus Christ
God's building block and corner stone.

(Adapted Prayer form the Iona Community, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.74-75)

Prayers and blessings 
Let us now bless this house in the name of God and with our love and prayers.
(A short space of silence is kept during which prayers may be offered in silence or out loud.)
Be present, Spirit of God, within us,
your dwelling place and home,
that this house may be one where
all darkness is penetrated by your light
all troubles calmed by your peace
all evil redeemed by your love
all pain transformed
and all dying glorified.

(Adapted Prayer by Jim Cotter, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.76)

May God give blessing
To this house and all who come here.
May Jesus give blessing
To this house and all who come here.
May Spirit give blessing
To this house and all who come here.
May all who come here give blessing
To this house and to all they meet here.
Both roof and frame
Both brick and beam.
Both window and timber
Both foot and head.
Both gate and door
Both coming and going.
Both man and woman
Both parent and child.
Both young and old
Both wisdom and youth.
Both guest and host
Both stranger and friend.
Peace on each window that lets in light
Peace on each corner of the room.
Peace on each place that ushers sleep
Peace on each plate that cradles food.
Peace of the Creator, Peace of the Word
Peace of the Spirit, Peace of the One.
(Prayer form the Iona Community, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.76-77)
May this home be glowing with warmth
in the chill of winter
And a cooling shade
in the heat of the summer sun,
May it be a place
where one awakes with eagerness,
And a haven from stress,
when the work of the day is done.
May God, our Mother,
safely cradle this house in her strong arms,
And breathe the comfort of her love
through every room.
May God, our Father, fire the minds
of those who dwell here with hopeful dreams
And give them the strength
to make those dreams come true.
May God, our Companion,
fill this home with laughter
And weave a satisfying peace
in times of solitude.
May the cupboards be forever full,
And the table spread with welcome cheer.
May friends come often through the door,
But yet the need for privacy
be respected here.
May the wild beauty of God,
May the indwelling peace of God
May the surprising mystery of God
Inhabit this home.
(Prayer by Jean Gaskin, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.91)

The Procession through the House

    (Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

At the Entrance

Hear the Word of God:
“The LORD will protect you
as you come and go, now and forever.”

Blessed are you, Welcoming God.
As your people come and go from this door,
be their constant companion on the way,
and welcome them upon their return,
so that coming and going
they may be sustained by your presence.
Bring to this door both friend and stranger
who come in peace,
and guard it from any who come in hostility.
May every grudge or malice be left at the door,
and may those who brought them
be so touched by grace here,
that they forget to collect them when they leave.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this entrance
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

(Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

In the Living Room

Hear the Word of God:
“How wonderful it is, how pleasant,
when God’s people live together in harmony.”

Blessed are you, Gracious God,
for you have provided this place
for unwinding and enjoying company.
Give your blessing to all who share this room, 

that they may find joy in their relaxation,
and always be generous hosts.
May all who gather here
be knit together in fellowship on earth,
and find a first taste here
of the communion of your saints in heaven.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this living room
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

(Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

In a Couple’s Bedroom

Hear the Word of God:
“You will be happy together,
drink deep, and lose yourselves in love.”

Blessed are you, Passionate God,
for when you join two people
in a covenant of love and desire,
they are no longer two but one.
Bless those who lie down here,
with a holy passion and delight in their loving,
and with deep rest in their sleeping,
that they may rise to serve you
all the days of their life.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this bedroom
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

In the Couple’s Bathroom

Hear the Word of God:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you
and make you clean
from all that has defiled you.”

Blessed are you, Creating God,
for you made us as whole persons
— bodies, minds and spirits —
and you called us good.
Give us a proper respect and love for our bodies,
keeping them clean and healthy,
so that we may glorify you in them,
as we confidently wait for you to clothe us
in robes of righteousness.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this bathroom
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

(Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

In the Kitchen


Hear the Word of God:
“I am going to give you grain
and wine and olive oil,
and you will be satisfied.
Be glad, and rejoice at what
the LORD your God has done for you.”

Blessed are you, Plentiful God,
for you supply
according to your great riches.
May this kitchen always be filled
with the produce of the earth,
and may the preparations here
be filled with pleasure and love.
Bless the hands that work in this place,
and fill us with gratitude for your provision.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this kitchen
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

          (Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

In a Guest Bedroom

Hear the Word of God:
“You will lie down
and go to sleep in peace;
for the LORD keeps you perfectly safe.”

Blessed are you, Sheltering God,
for you are the true rest of your people
and you cover each person
with the soft shelter of your wings.
Bless to your people
their hours of rest and refreshment,
that sleeping they might rest in peace,
and waking they may rise to serve you
all the days of their life.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this bedroom
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

In an Artist Loft

Hear the Word of God:
God has filled Bezelal [Bez-e-lal] with divine spirit, 
with skill, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 
to devise artistic designs . . . .: in every kind of craft.

Blessed are you, Source of all Inspiration,
for you have blessed us with your impulse to create
as you have created us.
Bless those
who give expression to thoughts with images,
that this may be a place
of skill, imagination, beauty and peace.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this artists loft
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

In a Guest Bathroom

Hear again the Word of God:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you
and make you clean
from all that has defiled you.”

Blessed are you, Creating God,
for you made us as whole persons
— bodies, minds and spirits —
and you called us good.
Give us a proper respect and love for our bodies,
keeping them clean and healthy,
so that we may glorify you in them,
as we confidently wait for you to clothe us
in robes of righteousness.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this bathroom
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

    (Sung) Ubi caritas et amor. Ubi caritas Deus ibi est. (Taize Chant x 3)

In the Office/Work Area

Hear the Words of Jesus:
“Like the days of a tree
shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy
the work of their hands.”

Blessed are you, Creator God,
for your Son Jesus sanctified our labor
as he crafted wood with his hands.
Be present, we pray,
with those who work in this place,
that, laboring as workers together with you,
they may share the joy of your creation

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this office/workroom
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

In the Dining Room

Hear the Word of God:
“You will have plenty to eat,
and be satisfied.
You will praise the LORD your God
who has done wonderful things for you.”

Blessed are you, Inviting God,
for you welcome us at your table
and call us to share in the banquet of life,
giving us food and drink to sustain our lives
and make our hearts glad.
Fill us with gratitude for all you give us
and with a hunger to hasten the day
when all the world will enjoy such blessings.

By the cleansing of your Holy Spirit,
purge and heal this dining room
of every spirit of fear and despair
that clings to it from past terrors,
and transfigure their legacy
into inspirations for justice, peace and joy.

Concluding Prayers and Blessing

We dedicate this house to you
and your work as the God of Peace.
May it be a place of joy, laughter and freedom,
A place of renewal and refreshment
for those who are weary,

A place of hope
for those who have become disillusioned,
A place of healing and comfort
for those broken and hurt,
A place of forgiveness
for those who seek a new way of life,
A place of encouragement
for those who hunger and thirst
for peace and justice,

A place of vision and inspiration
for all those who seek a new and better way
for our country.

(Dedication Prayer from munity, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.90)

Let us gather up our prayers
into the prayer Jesus taught us:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the Kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

May the eye of God be dwelling with you;
The foot of Christ in guidance with you;
The shower of the Spirit pouring on you;
And be the Sacred Three
To save, to shield, to surround
The hearth, the house, the household,
This day, this night
and every day and night.
Amen .

(Traditional Celtic Blessing, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.78)


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Clericalism: A Lament

I have to admit that this lament from a Roman Catholic priest deeply touched my soul. It's entitled "How much corruption can we tolerate in the church before we leave?"

It is a response to a fairly lengthy lament by a former Roman Catholic Priest, James Carroll, which appeared in The Atlantic entitled: "Abolish the Priesthood."

I found myself weeping not so much out of sadness but because I recognized his pain.

There is a great deal of good about the Roman Catholic Church - at least, as I remember the one of my youth. That's why it was so hard to leave it. I knew its intent. I knew its potential. I had seen the good it could accomplish - indeed, had benefited myself from it - all in the name of Jesus.

I also knew there was something corrupt that was eating away and destroying the good. Something that was not only bad but had the potential for evil. Real evil. I saw it on the faces of my male classmates when they were called out of class to go to Father's office.

"Father's Boys" we girls called them, out of a sense of envy at their status which allowed them to serve father at the altar while we were forbidden.

Looking back, I see how sadly ironic was our envy! Knowing what I now know, I wouldn't have traded places with them for all the Pagan Babies we had sponsored in Africa and Cambodia.

I didn't have a name for what I couldn't even imagine was going on behind the dread and the sadness on their faces. But, now I do. It's called "pedophilia" - an aptly Latin sounding diagnosis for Roman Catholic priests who had been carefully fed a diseased and deadly theology: clericalism.

We do have our own pernicious forms of clericalism in The Episcopal Church. We've seen it make sickening appearances in private Episcopal schools in New Hampshire and Connecticut. We've heard the cries of women who have been sexually assaulted by priests.

Except, we don't call it that. Heavens, no! That would be almost as vulgar as "seduction" or "abuse of power" or (gasp!) rape.

The sanitized term is "boundary violation". It is, in and of itself, evidence of clericalism.

No, things are not as bad in The Episcopal Church as in The Roman Catholic Church. I am convinced that extending the sacramental rites of Marriage and Ordination to everyone with a vocation to family and/or ordained life has provided the grace to help prevent clergy going off the guardrails of human decency.

The question for The Episcopal Church is not the same as the one being asked by these two Roman Catholic priests. The issue, however, is the same.


We are infected with it, too. I cringe every time I'm in a room filled with clergy who are years younger than I (not so difficult an accomplishment, these days), they in their black suits - male and female - tripping over themselves as they delight to call each other "Father" or "Mother".

They have no idea that what lies behind the delight in the status of their titles is the disease of clericalism. They are oblivious to the danger.

No, it will not lead, ipso facto, to pedophilia or other "boundary violations". Of course not. But, the attitude behind those titles, the disease lurking at the fringes of the fabric of those black suits, is real.

We are all called by our baptism to servant ministry. The grace of the sacramental right of ordination is meant to amplify that vocation. Clericalism diminishes it.

When the salary packages of clergy become the largest line item in the budget, even more than what monies we commit to helping God's children and all of God's creatures and creation, we are dancing on the razor's edge of clericalism.

When we believe that a very public display of Liturgical Lament for the sin of "boundary violation" and extending the "statute of limitation" on filing complaints against those abuses addresses the problem, we are peering into the abyss of clericalism.

When we think that a Title IV process which seeks reconciliation first instead of justice is the remedy for the pain experienced by those who have been violated, we are being distracted by the descant of clericalism.

Only a thorough examination of consciences - as the nuns of my youth used to teach - of the sin of clericalism and a desire to repent and sin no more will stop its effects.

Only then will we understand that titles and collars and robes with cinctures and ornate vestments do not give us either identity or elevated status; rather these things are to remind us of the ancient vocation of having been set a part for (not set apart from) the privilege of servant ministry.

The tragic situation in the Roman Catholic Church presents us with a cautionary story as well as the opportunity to clean our own house.

Clericalism. We need to say it. Examine it. Own it. Change it.

How much clericalism will we tolerate before we make the changes necessary to be a servant church which honors and serves the priesthood of all believers so that we might serve and change the world?

That is as much a lament as it is a question.

Friday, June 14, 2019

flag day

Today is Flag Day. 
It's also Mary Bothelo's birthday. 
Mary and I were in Elementary School together from first grade to fifth grade. Mary's father was a truck driver and she missed him a lot. Her father was Roman Catholic but her mother was a Jehovah's Witness. 
She hated that, mostly because, since her father was away a lot, she couldn't celebrate her birthday OR Flag Day. AND she had to leave the classroom whenever we said the Pledge of Allegiance. 

She also could not salute a picture of the POTUS (Eisenhower, at the time), with our carton of room-temperature milk. She just stood at her desk, eyes down at her feet, carton of milk next to the graham cracker snack on her desk. 

She, like me, was also first generation Portuguese American. Sometimes, we spoke Portuguese to each other on the playground. We made sure the other kids couldn't hear us, of course, but the "double deception" made us giggle. 

In the summer before the 6th grade, my family moved to the suburbs to start living "The Great American Dream" in our Very Own House. 
I haven't seen or heard from Mary Bothelo since. 
But, I don't think I'll ever forget her or the sadness on her face when she had to leave the room every morning. I remember that when she put her hand on the doorknob, she always looked back at us. I always gave her a very small wave. 
She always responded by looking tough and nodding her head slightly to acknowledge my small act of friendship.

As I think about it now, I think that made us more American than any pledge we could recite or any carton of milk we could raise to honor a President. Defiant compliance and friendship in the face of tensions between church and state.

We've always been a nation of Outsiders. Are now. Always will be. 
Everyone in America came here from a different place. 
We all have roots in other lands. We are all transplants.

The sooner we understand that the better we'll embody the real Spirit of America, which an unfurled flag - stars and stripes and a variety of colors coexisting together and snapping at the wind - can't even begin to capture.

By Jacqueline Woodson

When the kids in my class ask why
I am not allowed to pledge to the flag
I tell them It's against my religion but don't say,
I am in the world but not of the world. This,
they would not understand.
Even though my mother's not a Jehovah's Witness,
she makes us follow their rules and
leave the classroom when the pledge is being said.

Every morning, I walk out with Gina and Alina
the two other Witnesses in my class.
Sometimes, Gina says,
Maybe we should pray for the kids inside
who don't know that God said
"No other idols before me." That our God
is a jealous God.
Gina is a true believer. Her Bible open
during reading time. But Alina and I walk through
our roles as Witnesses as though this is the part
we've been given in a play
and once offstage, we run free, sing
"America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner"
far away from our families—knowing every word.

Alina and I want
more than anything to walk back into our classroom
press our hands against our hearts. Say,
"I pledge allegiance . . ." loud
without our jealous God looking down on us.
Without our parents finding out.
Without our mothers' voices
in our heads saying, You are different.

When the pledge is over, we walk single file
back into the classroom, take our separate seats
Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina
always looks back at us—as if to say,
I'm watching you. As if to say,
I know.

Jacqueline Woodson, "flag" from Brown Girl Dreaming. Copyright © 2014 by Jacqueline Woodson.
Source: Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Sopa da pedra

I brought home quite a few rocks from Scotland. I don't know why, really. I just did. I always do it wherever I travel. I have rocks from every country I've ever visited, all scattered here and there around the house.

I suppose that's why I dreamed last night of my grandmother making "Sopa da pedra" or "Stone Soup". Like so much of what she cooked and baked, my grandmother had a story to tell about the dish which told us something about who we are and what we believe.

I'm sure every culture has it's own version of "Stone Soup," but according to Portuguese folklore, a mendicant Franciscan friar was on pilgrimage and was passing through a small village just north of Lisbon when he was hungry but found that he had nothing to eat. He stopped by a house and knocked on the door, asking if he could borrow a pot in which he could make a delicious and filling stone soup. Curious but also devoutly religious people who understood what Jesus said about hospitality, the family invited him in.

The friar reached into his deep pocket to produce a smooth and well-cleaned stone that he promptly dropped into the boiling water in the ironclad cauldron in the fireplace.

A little while later he tasted the soup and said that it needed a touch of seasoning. So the wife brought him some salt to add, to which he suggested that maybe a little bit of chouri├žo or pork belly would be better. Graciously, she obliged and dropped several thick slices into the pot. Then, the friar asked if she might not have a little something to enrich the soup, such as potatoes or beans from a previous meal.

Smiling broadly at his clever game, she agreed and added a healthy portion into the bubbling water. This continued for a while, the friar tasting the soup and then the family supplying some other ingredient. Finally, the friar announced that he had indeed made a very delicious and filling soup. When the soup was done, the friar fished the stone out of the pot, washed and dried it off, and plopped it back in his pocket for the next time.

He and the family ate a delicious soup for dinner after which he told them many stories from the bible. When the family woke up in the morning, they found the friar had already gone but he had left enough soup for them to feed the poor and hungry in the village.

My grandmother said that when we ate this soup we should remember the Portuguese virtues of hospitality, generosity, and community, especially in times of crisis.

She used to end the story by holding up her hand and saying, "See? There are four fingers and a thumb. Each finger is different from the other and the thumb looks nothing like a finger. Yet," she'd say as she closed her hand, "they all belong to the same hand. And, know this: If you take one finger away, the hand does not work as well."

As she served the soup she'd always say, "Keep a stone in your pocket and you'll never go hungry," adding, "Jesus said that if we are silenced in praising God for all the wonders of creation, even the stones will cry out."

Maybe that's why I collect rocks from other countries.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Snakes and Serpents and Sea Monsters

This is my last day in Scotland. It's a wet and windy and chill-you-right-to-your-bones kind day.

I was supposed to have been a real tourist today and had planned to take a coach up to the Highlands to Loch (Lake) Ness and Inverness, but the weather made that trip very unappealing, so I cancelled.

Instead, I slept in a bit and had a leisurely breakfast. Then, I spent the day riding the bus to Glasgow and taking the train to Edinburgh and back.

I love talking to the locals on the bus and the train and in shops and restaurants.

It was a thoroughly delightful day - well, except for the rain and the cold and the wind. I have fallen in love with this country and its people. And, oh, I love the stories they have to tell.

So, when I told people that I had originally planned to head to Loch Ness, the conversation naturally came 'round to snakes. I personally am not fond of the creatures. I suspect that has a great deal to do with my first introduction to them coming as it did from the Bible Story of Eden where the snake is represented as the symbol of evil and temptation and "poison".

I am absolutely fascinated to learn that Celtic spirituality holds a very different understanding about these slithering creatures.

I learned that snakes are symbols not of evil but of transformation.

The Ancient Celts, connected as they were to creatures and creation, would watch the snake struggle to shed its skin and come through the struggle a renewed creature.

For that reason, when Christians like St. Columba came to Scotland talking about baptism and being "born again," the Celts understood the concept perfectly from their observation of snakes in nature.

One will often see Celtic knots at the base of a cross and if one looks closely, the knot is made up of several snakes.  The Triquetra representing the Trinity is often made up of snakes.

St. Columba's cross has snakes at the base. There's a story about him and sea serpents, which are understood to be very large snakes who live in lochs (or lakes) like Loch Ness.

The story goes that, in the 6th Century, St. Columba and a companion were staying with the Picts when he saw some folks burying a man by the River Ness.  They told him that the man had been swimming in the river when a 'water beast' came and dragged him underwater. They tried to rescue him by boat but when they finally got to him, he was already dead.

St. Columba sent his companion into the water to confront the beast.  The beast approached him, but Columba made the sign of the cross and said to the Sea Monster: "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once."

The creature stopped as if it had been "pulled back with ropes" and fled, and Columba's men and the Picts gave thanks for what they perceived as a miracle.

Some of the locals say that this is proof that the Loch Ness Monster lives. One of the women I spoke with on the train said that her father and brothers had been swimming in Loch Ness and saw a huge fish that was "the size of a monster".

An alleged picture of Nessie, swimming in the Loch
The boys were all excited, she said, but on closer inspection, her father proclaimed it to be a very large cat fish.

Another woman told me that the sea-serpent is a very important animal to Celtic spirituality.

Ancient Celtic mythology holds that the Sun and the Moon were hatched from two crimson sea-serpent eggs hidden in a willow tree.

This led the Celts to give the sea-serpent multiple meanings ranging from transformation to various contradictory meanings, such as life and death, danger and assistance, illusion and reality. They are not at all surprised to know that the snake plays such a central role in the Creation story.

"But, just use the imagination that God gave ye when you was born, lass," said one woman, "Just go back and read that story in the Bible about the Garden. Now, instead of seeing the snake as evil, look on the snake as a creature that invites transformation and new life. Ah, see? Gives a whole new meaning to the story, don't it? "

"That's the power of the snake or the serpent," she said, "they remind us that life is constantly changing and what we think is negative or harmful is simply an illusion."

Then, she added, "And, now ya understand why that snake talked to the woman first, doncha? It's cause that snake knew the woman would understand shedding the lining of your womb once a month to make way for new life."

I confess I had never even considered the possibility. I can't wait to read that part of the story again.

I had lunch in a wonderful Greek restaurant where my waitress, a middle-aged Greek woman with a heavy Greek accent - told me all about the Celtic Animal Zodiac Chart.

Yes, children. There is a Celtic Animal Zodiac Chart.

How did I get to live this long and not know about this? How did I get to live this long and not know so much about so many things?

Anyway, I learned that I my Celtic Animal Sign is - wait for it - a serpent. Yes, way.

She told me all about it and I wrote stuff down, but on the train ride back I googled it (of course) and this is what I learned (my birthday is April 21st):
Sea-Serpent (April 15 – May 12)
The Celtic animal zodiac sign of Sea-serpent is a symbol of growth and regeneration. It unites people together and offers great healing to those who need it, even if it's just an ear to listen. The Sea-serpent is quite attractive and knows how to use its powers of seduction. It is a fierce guardian of those it cares about, and isn't afraid to strike when threatened.
Not too far off, I suppose. Fascinating, really.

There were other stories and myths I was told by various people in shops and on the train which I started to write down but, honestly? I finally just put my pen down and listened.

I did write down some names which I'm sure I've spelled incorrectly. I will spend some time in the local library looking up the myths and enjoying this part of my visit to Scotland all over again.

I'm sad to leave Scotland - I don't know that I will return - but I must say that I'll be happy to get home to warm weather and sun. This is a bit too much like Oregon or Washington State for me.

It's beautiful. It's lovely. I love visiting that part of the country. I couldn't live in a rainy climate. That's for a body and a psyche and a spirit much more sturdy than mine.

Ah, but I love the people. I love their stories and their love of the telling of their stories. I love their ironic sense of humor. I love their pragmatic spirit.

I'm so grateful to have learned so much more of the heart of authentic Celtic Spirituality. It is so much more than Celtic crosses and haunting, mournful songs.

In the very middle of the middle of Celtic Spirituality is the interwoven spirits of justice and joy, which is what is in the very middle of the middle of the heart of The Creator.

Thank you, Scotland, for being such a generous host.

Like the snake and serpent, I have shed some of what I no longer need and have emerged lighter and freer to take on only what is essential for the rest of my journey.

I leave Scotland embracing the pilgrim's motto from the writings of St. Augustine with renewed ferver:

Sing Alleluia and keep on walking!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Leaving Iona

The surprise is that I am ready to leave.

It's not that I am bored or upset.

I have received here more than I could have asked for or imagined.

The Iona Religious Community has provided a nourishment for my soul that I didn't even know I needed. The simplicity and poetic flow of the language are capable of sending subtle but powerful messages to one's heart, mind and body.

The Iona Community - the artisans, the shop owners, the folks who manage the inns and Bed and Breakfast, the folks who run the ferry boats and the sailboats and the fishing boats - could not have been warmer and more lovely and happy to engage in conversation.

Even the quirky older woman at the Post Office (Isn't there always a quirky older man or woman at the PO?), who was, at first, resistant to conversation, finally engaged my questions and considered my observations about 'island life'.

I've been to both ends and the middle of the Island and I suppose there is always more to explore. I have taken home some rocks because, well, it seems to be what everyone does.

But, the most enduring image I will take with me is that of Andrew, a young man with Trisomy-21 (Down's Syndrome) who is part of the Iona Religious Community at the Abbey.

Andrew (he pronounces it 'AHN-drew') rings the bell to call the community to worship.

Andrew is one of the first ones forward for laying on of hands for healing.

Andrew is one of the first ones to join in the circle of laying on of hands for healing.

I don't think you can know how powerful it is to have hands laid on you for healing until you feel Andrew's hands on your back, or have Andrew offer a hand to help you up, or have Andrew look deep into your eyes and smile. Then, there are one of Andrew's fabulous hug.

And, I think the very angels in heaven rejoice to hear Andrew sing - flat,off-key, no always getting all the words.

Ah, but the energy with which he sings is enough to make the angels weep with joy.

So, I shall miss Andrew, and Cat who made my shawl, and Mercy who ran the larder next door, and the old woman who designed the Iona Tartan and is now "gobsmacked" she says, that she will "die a rich old woman over something I doodled at my kitchen table one morning."

After so many years of resistance, I'm glad I came. I'm happy to encourage you to come.

It is a place of great beauty as well as hidden harshness.

It is a place at the heart of Celtic Spirituality - of pilgrimage and sacrifice, of putting your matter into the matter of things so that there may be in you and in the world the justice and joy which is at the very heart of the universe which God has created.

I will be taking more than just a few rocks home with me.

I will be taking that which the rocks represent and will tell if you ask them and then hold them up to your ear to listen: Stories.

Not atoms - no! - but stories are, indeed, what hold the world together.

I have discovered a few of my own. Now to weave them together with the stories of the world and the stories of God's people.

Blessed be!