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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Burn the Boats!


St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Georgetown, DE
Live broadcast via Facebook Sirach 26:10

One of my clergy colleagues recently reminded me of the story I had first heard years ago from a Hospice patient. It’s the history of Julius Caesar who set out over 2,000 years ago to conquer England by boat.

Upon landing at the coast, his soldiers soon realized the Celts had way more men, which caused Caesar's men to panic with fear and start preparing their boats for a quick retreat. Caesar burnt all the boats, forcing the men to fight with 100% commitment, which also sent a powerful message to his enemies that they meant business.


All of the scripture lessons for today talk about the focus and the resolve required if you want to be a disciple of Jesus. In the First Reading from Hebrew Scripture, we witness Elisha’s determined, steadfast loyalty to Elijah. The 


Psalmist sings of God’s determination to stay with us always, and not abandon us to the grave.

Paul tells the ancient church in Galatia to “Stand firm”.

And, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus encounters three different would-be disciples, all of whom express half-hearted responses to His call. Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and his destiny.


Discipleship demands focus and risk. It requires being very clear about who you are and whose you are, not allowing distractions to deter you from what you know is right and good and true.

It doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. It doesn’t mean we have to have the answer – much less the right answer. It means we must discern the North Star in our lives and follow the path to the Light who, for us, is Christ Jesus.


But, when Jesus says, “Follow me,” we don’t always know where that will lead. Sometimes, it takes us through some very dark places. We don’t always know what we’re going to find when we get there – and whether or not we’re going to have to burn our boats to do it.

I want to tell you a story about a Hospice patient I had a while back who has since died. She was 94, almost 95 years old. I’ll call her Emily. She was not “officially” a Hospice patient. She was related to one of my parishioners by the proverbial “six degrees of separation” that is so common in church communities.


She was, at first, a little leery about my visiting. Neither of us was clear about my role. All we knew was that her daughter, with whom she had been living for the past five years, thought it would be a good idea if she had a pastoral visitor “once in a while.”

Emily was a very private person by nature but her last experience with the church had been far less than pleasant. She was very reticent to have a conversation any deeper than safely on the surface. 


Eventually and slowly - very slowly over time - after she and I shared our stories about family and friends and life in general and listened together to some of our favorite music, and I read poems and passages from some of our favorite books, she grew to like me and I grew quite fond of her.

More importantly, she began to trust me.

One day when I went to visit she asked me if I heard confession. Yes, I said. Well, did I give absolution? Indeed, I said. Well then, said she, I have a story to tell you.

She took a deep breath and said, "When I was 15 years old, I was raped by my uncle. I didn't even have a word for it. I just knew that I was violated. A few months later, I found that I was pregnant. I was scared. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do except to lock myself in my room and cry."

"One of those times, my aunt, my mother and uncle's sister, came into my room and saw me in tears. She asked whatever was the matter and, against my better judgment, I told her."

"Once I started, the whole story spilled out. My aunt listened carefully and then announced that she would take care of everything but I was not to tell anyone. No one was to know. Not my father. Not even my mother. Not anyone. Not ever."

"So," she took a breath and continued, "I had an abortion. This was 80 years ago. It was illegal. Of course. But, my uncle was the 'star' of the family. The whole world was his oyster. Nothing could interfere with his future or his success or the family name."

"You know, I had no choice,” she said. Not about anything. Not about the person with whom I would have sex. Not whether or not I would get pregnant. Not whether or not to have an abortion. All of those choices were taken from me."

"And, " she said, "I told no one. Not my mother. Not my father. Not my husband. Not my children. My Aunt was the only one and she took that secret to her grave."


"And, now you know. You are the only other person on this earth to know my truth."

"So, here's my question for you: When I get to heaven - IF I get to heaven - will the soul I aborted hate me?"

I was quiet for a while as I took her story to my heart and listened deeply to her question. I looked deep into her eyes, past the tears, past the pain, and into her soul and said, "I know this much to be true: There is no hate in heaven."

A tear fell from her eye and, after a long while, she smiled sadly and said, "Thank you. I don't need absolution. I got everything I need from you. I feel suddenly free - liberated - from the burden of this secret. Now, I can meet the one who created me with a clean heart. Now I can meet that soul and greet her - or him - in love. I can probably even meet my uncle again and. . . well, we’ll see what happens. Thank you."


We met three more times after that conversation. Her daughter and I talked a bit after each visit. She reported that her mother was eating less and sleeping more. She seemed more at peace, she told me, but there was a certain other energy she detected. A certain  .. .  Oh, she didn’t know . . . a “resolve” A sort of ‘determination”?

“May I ask?, she said, “What you two talked about?” I told her that our conversations were confidential but wasn’t it wonderful that her mother had found some peace.


The last time I spoke with Emily I asked her if there was anything else she needed to talk about. “Well, she said, “there is one thing. I am at peace. I have absolved myself of all the guilt I’ve been carrying around for all these years."

"My defense has always been that I had no choice but, you know, here’s the truth: If I had had a choice, I would have done exactly what my aunt chose to do for me. It was absolutely the right choice. I’ve known that for years. But, I’ve hidden it – hidden behind the choices that were taken from me.”


She coughed and I could see her mouth was dry so she paused while I helped her with a few sips of water.

“I said that I was afraid the soul I aborted would hate me, but it was I who hated myself for not being completely honest. There were some choices that were taken from me, yes. My innocence was stolen from me. I had no choice over my body. But, if I had the choice, I would have chosen to have an abortion. I can say that now. And, I feel lighter. I’m ready to fly.”


“So, burn the boats,” she said.

“Burn the boats?” I quizzed. It was then that she told me the story about Julius Caesar and his determination to conquer England, forcing his men to fight with 100% commitment and determination.  “I’m ready,” she said, “because I know you’re right. There is no hate in heaven. And, my final choice in this life is to leave it and follow love.”


Emily had set her face toward heaven. Two weeks later, her daughter called me to say that Emily had died peacefully sometime during the night, taking her secret with her. I found myself smiling as I imagined the love that would surround her at her arrival.


We have had another challenging week in this country. Nothing seems “settled” – even decades law. Something has shifted in our land. We are off balance as a people. The only thing that seems to unite us is that we are divided about many things.


“Follow me,” says Jesus, as he set his face toward Jerusalem. If we are going to come together as a nation and a people, I think we are going to have to burn some boats. We are going to have to find the determination to live together in the unity of our diversity without infringing on or denying the rights of others.


“Follow me,” says Jesus, as he set his face toward Jerusalem and his destiny. After letting his would-be disciples know the risk and the cost of sacrificial love, he let those who would accept his invitation make their own choice.


As for me, I have decided to follow Jesus on the difficulty journey of sacrificial love and reconciliation. After the 2016 election, I wrote a prayer to heal a divided nation. I have made a few changes but my determination is the same and it is unwavering. I will close with this prayer.


Dear God,


A new day has dawned and this country is more divided than it has been since the days of the Civil War.

Many of your people are rejoicing while many more are stunned and sore afraid.


Many of the things that divided us then continues to tear at the seams of the fabric of this nation.

We are a Divided United States.


Help us to remember that the experiment called democracy is not over; it is still being tested.

After 246 years of existence, the final results are not yet in. We still have work to do. It stretches out before us, across wheat fields and deserts, from the mountains to the prairies, from sea to shining sea.


In the midst of those who sense victory, help us to remember your call to us to love one another as you love us.


In the midst of those who sense defeat, help us to remember that you still reign; you alone are worshiped; you alone are God.


Help us to remember the words of one of your servants of old who reminded us that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. Help us perfect our love.


Help us remember that while Jesus rejoices in unity, Satan delights in discord.


We are your people. You know us by many names. You are our God. We know you by many names. Give us the strength and courage and determination to follow Jesus.


Help us always to choose life. Help us always to choose love. Help us remember that we were given the precious gift of free will and that when we make the wrong choice, there is always forgiveness, always plenteous redemption, always the gift of grace.


May we find strength in our diversity and seek the determination and courage to live into what is written on every piece of currency in this nation: In God we Trust.

In God. We Trust.


Only in you can we live in safety. Only in you will we find justice. Only in you will we know the peace that passes all human understanding.


So, we have 'burned the boats' to follow you, for we are assured that when we leave this life, there is no hate in heaven.  


Pride Sunday morning - Facebook Reflections


Good Pride Sunday Morning, rainbow people of the universe!

It's a guh-or-GEE-yus morning here on the Delmarva Peninsula. The current temperature is 66 and sunny with highs predicted in the 90s.

Air quality is good at 29, UV index is low at Zero, and the wind is coming from the WSW at a delightfully slow pace of 4 mph.
It's important for me to start with a bit of history for context.

This is a "Purple-Letter Day" on the Queer Calendar of Saints for two monumental decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), 12 years apart.

On this day in 2003, in Lawrence v Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws in the US are unconstitutional.

On this day, June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Claude of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

Five days later, on July 1, 2015, The Episcopal Church voted to allow its clergy to bless the civil marriages of same-sex couples.

It should also be noted that V. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of NH on June 7, 2003.

June is a GREAT month for God's Rainbow Tribe.

Not so much anymore for women - all women: straight women, lesbian women, trans women (and trans men), immigrant women, pregnant women, infertile women, and especially women of color who live in poverty.

History was again made on Friday when in a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned 50 years of settled law by striking down Roe v Wade.

Which, if you didn't know, guaranteed the 4th Amendment Right which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This was understood to extend a "right to privacy" for women and what they can decide about their bodies, their families, and their future.

The present SCOTUS (six of whom are Roman Catholic, five of whom were appointed by GOP Presidents) overturned Roe because the constitutional "originalists" (read: "fundamentalists") on The Bench said that "abortion" was not in the Constitution.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted when she successfully argued against gender discrimination before the SCOTUS, neither is the word "woman".

Its authors never imagined women as part of "We the people".

It should also be noted that neither do the words "separation of church and state," or "the right to travel" or for that matter, "the right to privacy". It also does not protect: Obscenity (Like the flags that say "F**K Biden"). Fighting words. Defamation (including libel and slander). Child pornography.

Yes, the door is now open for the erosion of other rights, but before I go on I have to say this and get it off my chest: I swear to God if I hear one more gay man clutch his pearls on social media and lament, "They're coming for us, next," without first saying, "OMG, I'm so sorry, sisters. I am here for you," I'm going to have to slap somebody.

There, I feel better. You can put on your purple tennies and go out and march in the PRIDE Parade now. Say hi for me to the wonderful folks who hand out water at the First Presbyterian Church and sneer and boo at the crabby Catholics with their hateful signs in front of St. Patrick's.

No, the SCOTUS does not have the power to nullify marriages. And, from what I understand that Alito and Kavanaugh, in response to Thomas, have said that Marriage Equality is not in jeopardy because it involves prior cases that protect consenting sexual adult behavior - it does not with "children".

So, we're back to the question of "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Or, "When does 'life' begin?" Or, more specifically, "What is 'personhood'?"

Newsflash to Alito: A fetus is NOT a person so there are no "children" to protect - just "the potential for life."

Oh wait. I forgot. In order for him to hear that, he has to have an open mind - one that is not filled with Religious Dogma and Political Ideology.

I understand that a group of our Jewish sisters and brothers have already filed suit on the basis of "consenting adults". It's the same argument as that which forms the argument for Marriage Equality.

It will take years, of course, but it has already begun. Which is hopeful and good.

And, contrary to what Thomas has said (again), contraception, is a different story - albeit a more difficult accomplishment - because it is enshrined in Federal Law.

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye: The way to reverse this nightmare is to enshrine Roe in Federal Law. The way to do that is to make Roe a center issue from now until November 2024.

The way to do that is to commit to voting and bringing at least two other people to the polls with you this November and in 2024.

The only remedy to this national mental illness is a Great Big Beautiful Blue Wave to sweep the polls.

Oh, sure, if we could get Joe and Kristen to change their minds and change the terms of the Filibuster Rule so that we could enshrine Roe in Federal Law and, while we're at it, pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill, it could happen this fall, but, you know, we'll do what we gotta do.

And, there's a whole lot we gotta do. So, c'mon kids. Wipe your eyes, blow your nose, pick up your socks and let's get on with it.

Meanwhile, over at the Lectionary Page, the word is 'determination'. In the First Reading from Hebrew Scripture, we witness Elisha’s determined, steadfast loyalty to Elijah.

The Psalmist sings of God’s determination to stay with us always, and not abandon us to the grave.

Paul tells the ancient church in Galatia to “Stand firm”.

And, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus encounters three different would-be disciples, all of whom express half-hearted responses to His call. Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and his destiny.

The preacher has titled her sermon "Burn the Boats". She was reminded by a clergy colleague of a story she first heard from a Hospice patient several years ago. It’s the history of Julius Caesar who set out over 2,000 years ago to conquer England by boat.

Upon landing at the coast, his soldiers soon realized the Celts had way more men, which caused Caesar's men to panic with fear and start preparing their boats for a quick retreat. Caesar burnt all the boats, forcing the men to fight with 100% commitment, which also sent a powerful message to his enemies that they meant business.

The preacher does what she does and tells a story about a 95-year-old Hospice patient who "confessed" to having had an (illegal) abortion when she was 15 years old. She talks about the determination it took to absolve herself after 80 years of holding on to secrets and guilt.

You can hear the preacher at 10 AM over at Sirach 26:10 if you've a mind to. Especially if you think your preacher is NOT going to talk about the effects of the SCOTUS decision. And, I will say that if your preacher doesn't offer some word - some reference - at least some vague illusion to the SCOTUS decision, well, if there ever was a case for a charge of malpractice, I don't know what else would constitute it.

I know, I know. There isn't a charge of malpractice in the Title IV canon. Every other profession has that standard. The church has 'Conduct unbecoming' but not 'malpractice'. And, doesn't that say something about the standards of the institutional church?
But that's another conversation for another day.

BOTTOM LINE: We're going to have to burn the boats if we want to overturn what the SCOTUS just did. As Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, we're going to need to set our faces toward DC.

As we'll hear Madonna sing from lots of PRIDE Floats on Fifth, NYC today: Don't just stand there, let's get to it / Strike a pose, there's nothing to it.

The COVID positivity rate is creeping back up again here in Sussex County. It's Vacation Season here at The Ocean - The Nation's Vacation Spot. All those lovely people from PA, NJ, NY, DC and VA bring their wallets and purses as well as COVID.

So, please, wash your hands. Keep a safe distance. And, when in crowds, please wear a mask. Thank you.

And, as will be heard up and down Fifth Avenue, NYC, all day today, "Happy PRIDE!"

Know that having joy and confidence in who you are inspires others to do the same.


Friday, June 24, 2022

Roe v Wade: In Memory of Her


She had a name, but we always called her "The New Girl".

It was a few weeks into the new school year when she came into the senior class in high school. She and her parents had moved to our small town from another state. That just didn't happen in our town. Nobody ever moved into our town. Or out of, as a matter of fact. You were born or died.

So, to come to us from away and in your senior year was just enough fuel to start the rumor machine to work overtime.
She was also beautiful. Deep, green eyes. Lush, lovelyl, long, flowing brown hair. A perfectly perfect figure. A woman's body, really. One of the first rumors was that she was not really 17 going on 18. Probably more like 19 going on 20. 
She also had nice clothes, clearly not bought at Arlans Factory Store Outlet - the precursor to Walmart - like the rest of us. And, she didn't live on a farm or in one of those ranch houses off the highway built after WWII. No, she lived in a large home with a lovely lawn and garden. Someone said her dad was a lawyer with an office in Boston. 
She was an only child - a very rare status in our little town.
The second rumor that started was that she was "boy crazy". That's what the kids in my town said which was really code for "slut". Someone said she had gotten into "some trouble" in her old high school and that her parents wanted her to have a "fresh start". 
She made the cheerleading squad and was instantly popular - especially with the boys. The girls were jealous so no one was really her friend, but they had a grudging respect for the power she seemed to have with the boys who, of course, had all the power. 
It also didn't take long for the rumors to swirl that she was "making it" - the 70s equivalent to "hooking up" - with the captain of the football team. 
It was a cold day in the middle of February when we got the word that she was found dead in her bathtub. The "official word" was that she had fallen asleep and accidentally drowned.
It was just before graduation that the truth had come out. She was pregnant. She wanted an abortion. Her parents refused. It was illegal. Her father was a lawyer. What was she thinking? They would move her temporarily with an aunt in another state. She would have the baby and put it up for adoption. 
That was not okay with her. She found someone, somewhere (locally, it was said), and had the abortion. 
And, it was botched. Of course. She had bled to death in her bed but her mother had moved her body to the bathtub, cleaned her up, and said she had drowned. 
The autopsy, of course, proved that to be wrong but because her father was a lawyer and her family had standing and status in the community, the "official" word was that she had drowned. 
Her parents preferred the rumors of suicide rather than death from a botched abortion.
That young woman and her story changed my life. I was enraged. I grew up in a community of good, Roman Catholic women who used Lysol douches as birth control because The Church said that "The Pill" was immoral, as were condoms. But, no one said anything about Lysol douches so that's what they used.

And, when Lysol failed, well, there were lots of kids in my town who were jokingly referred to as "The Mistake". Except, the joke wasn't funny. 
On this day when Roe v. Wade has been overturned, I am remembering that girl from high school. Yes, I know her name. It seems important to give her anonymity in this. 
I say her name to myself and keep her face in front of me every time I go about my work on the board of RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice). 
I know this much to be true: Overturning Roe v. Wade will not stop abortion. It will just stop legal abortions. 
But, here's the other thing I know for certain: This ruling and the state-level laws don’t stand alone—they are entrenched in a white Christian nationalist, patriarchal political agenda that has targeted voting rights, trans rights, immigration, education, and more. 
It’s never just been about abortion; it’s about the control of women's bodies. Truth is, everyone’s bodily autonomy and freedom are at risk. And, as always, marginalized and low-income people are the most harmed.
So, today, I'm calling on my "vital inner life force" to help get me through this day. In China, it's known as "Chi". In Egypt, it's known as "Ka". I'm calling on that energy to make itself manifest in myself and all women today.
Make no mistake: denying someone the inherent right to exercise their divinely-given moral agency and bodily autonomy, and to make decisions about their family and future is a violation of both human rights and religious freedom.
The only way to overturn that is to strengthen ourselves so we can help others strengthen themselves. We will get through this. It will take a long, long time. Decades. But we will overturn this. 
I can not believe that my granddaughters will grow up with fewer constitutional rights than I did.
There are a lot of women today without hope. Share some of yours with them. 
There are a lot of women today who are filled with fear. Help them to know that courage is just fear that has said its prayers.
There are lots of women today who are filled with rage. Help them to find a way to harness and channel that energy for good, to bring about change, to help others help themselves.
But first, build up your own vital inner life force. Because you can't give away what you don't have. 
We will get through this. Together. I only wish "The New Girl" in high school had known that. 
I say these things in memory of her.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Love That Never Lets You Go


St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and broadcast on Facebook, Sirach 26:10 
Pentecost II - June 19, 2022


There is a story I once heard preached about a rare act of generosity in the otherwise harsh life of a slave on the Southern Plantation. Apparently, it became something of a tradition for the plantation owners to allow the slaves to cut down a tree at Christmastime and burn it. As long as the tree was burning, they didn’t have to work.


Well, slaves may have been uneducated and overworked but that didn’t make them stupid. Weeks before Christmas, they would cut down a tree and soak it in water and then allow it to dry off just enough so it would still light and burn, but because it was still wet, it would burn more slowly. This, of course, meant that the slower the tree burned, the longer they didn’t have to do the hard work on the plantation.


The preacher compared this to hesed, which is the Hebrew word for the steadfast, loving kindness of God. We first hear about hesed in today’s collect. We pray, “O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­-kindness . . . “


We are set upon the sure foundation of hesed – loving kindness. It is hesed – God’s mercy, God’s compassion, grace, love and God’s faithfulness – that is set in the foundation of the world. Hesed, found some 250 times in Hebrew Scripture, expresses an essential part of God’s character. Hesed describes a sense of love and loyalty that inspires merciful and compassionate behavior toward another person.


Hesed has been described as 'the love that never lets you go.'


But, God’s mercy and compassion often surprises us – or disappoints us – because it doesn’t meet our expectations. Or, manifests itself in a way that is confusing or confounding to us.

In the first scriptural passage we heard this morning, Elijah, alone on Mount Horeb after fleeing for his life from the rage of Queen Jezebel for his uncompromising denunciation of idolatry and injustice, encounters a series of awe-inspiring events—a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire—but each time, we are told, God was not in the particular force of nature. And then, after the fire, in the words of the New Revised Standard Version, comes “sheer silence.”


The narrative goes on to say that at this point Elijah “wrapped his face in his mantle” and went out from where he had been hiding. Then he hears a voice that speaks to him, asks him a question, and gives him direction about what his next move should be.


That is most assuredly not the Hollywood version of an appearance by God. No burning bush. No dramatic entrance. Just “sheer silence” which is also translated in the King James Version as “a still small voice”.  

What’s going on here? Was God just clearing God’s throat the other times? It’s not that God isn’t present in the chaotic times of our lives. It’s just that such moments may not be the most optimal times for discerning how God’s call is beckoning us forward.

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, made a similar point when he suggested that moments of crisis are not the best times for making important decisions.

For example, when a marriage hits a rough spot, the temptation to bail out can be powerful. But Ignatius would counsel patience precisely at such a time. Wait until things have calmed down, and then listen for the voice of God. Careful spiritual discernment should be about mindfully weighing options, not putting out fires (or surviving storms and earthquakes).


That is because like a slow burning tree in the slave quarters of a Southern Plantation, God’s hesed, God’s loving kindness, is at the foundation of our relationship with God and others.It's the love that never lets you go.


However, if you want God in the dramatic, in the unexpected, in the spectacular, you’ve got it in spades when Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac. I mean, the demons were TALKING, for goodness sakes. That’s right out of a Hollywood movie like The Exorcist. And then, Jesus casts those demons into a herd of swine who then throw themselves off a cliff and into the abyss.


Surely, we have seen the hand of God! But, when the people in country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Jesus’ hometown of Galilee, saw their neighbor, fully healed and learned his story, they were afraid.

“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”


And so, Jesus got back in his boat and left. The man he had healed begged to go with Jesus and his disciples, but Jesus, filled with hesed, told the man to go back to his home and tell the people what had happened to him. And that’s exactly what the man did.


In the absence of the voice of Jesus, his miraculous works of healing were amplified for everyone to hear. Anyway. Like that Christmas log in the slave quarters of the Southern Plantation, the hesed of God is the sure foundation of our relationship with God and others.

It surprises us, continuing to burn long past our expectations or anticipations.


Today is Father’s Day, when we honor or at least remember the biological person in our lives who we call “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Pop” or “The Old Man.” We also honor those in our lives who have been for us that strong, steady parental presence, teaching us life’s lessons about honor and duty while providing guidance and protection, love and nurturance.   


Today is also Juneteenth, the day the U.S. Army took possession of Galveston Island, a barrier island just off the Texas coast that guards the entrance to Galveston Bay, and began a late-arriving, long-lasting war against slavery in Texas.


This struggle, pitting Texas freedpeople and loyalists and the U.S. Army against stubborn defenders of slavery, would become the basis for the increasingly popular celebrations of Juneteenth, a predominantly African-American holiday celebrating emancipation on or about June 19th every year.

We long to be able to live into the high calling of which Paul wrote in his letter to the people of Gallatia, which we know today as Turkey. Paul said, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

May we all, one day, soon be free of prejudice and oppression – and the impulse to treat others who are different from us as ‘lesser than’ or unworthy.


Our hearts are also broken as we learn about yet another mass shooting, this time, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, an affluent suburban church outside of Birmingham, Alabama during a “Boomer’s Potluck”.


The shooter was in his 70s as was one of his victims, a woman; the other two were octogenarian men. No motive is yet known.


With all of the insanity in this world, it may seem to some as if God has abandoned us, walked away from us in complete and utter disgust and anger.

And, no one could blame God, really.

We seem to look for ways to fight with each other, to separate ourselves from one another, to be discourteous and disrespectful to one another. It is not uncommon to see flags flying from people’s homes or vehicles with obscenities – or coded obscenities – written on them.

We separate ourselves by colors – red people over here on the right, blue people over there on the left – like little children in the school yard or primitive tribes in some undeveloped country.  


But, on this second Sunday in the long, green season of Pentecost, we are reminded of what is at the very foundation of our relationship with God and with each other: Hesed.


Hesed surpasses ordinary kindness and friendship. It is the inclination of the heart to show “amazing grace” to the other. Hesed runs deeper than social expectations, responsibilities, fluctuating emotions, or what is deserved or earned by the recipient. Hesed finds its home in committed, familial or neighborly love, and it comes to life in actions.


Hesed is the love that never lets you go.


We see the hesed of God in the striking and dramatic, but mostly we see hesed in small, every day acts of kindness. The recognition of service. A small word of thanks. The simple adherence to the vows we took at baptism: To seek and serve Christ in others and to respect the dignity of every human being.


If I can leave you with any image of the hesed of God – the loving kindness at the very foundation of our relationship with God and the kind of relationship God wants us to have with each other – may it be that image of the slow-burning Christmas tree set by the slaves on that Southern Plantation.


May we, like them, find creativity and ingenuity even in the midst of injustice and oppression and violence. May the waters of our baptism give us the endurance to continue to burn with the passion of the gospel.

May we be so SOAKED and water-logged with the waters of baptism that the gospel will burn in us and surpass even our expectation or anticipation. 

And may our emancipation and liberation in Christ Jesus set us free to love one another as He loved us so that the world may be a better place for us and our children and our children’s children, from generation to generation.


May the foundation of hesed on which God has set us, burn slowly and strongly in our hearts forever.   


May we know the hesed of God which will never let us go. 


May it be so.



Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Purpose of Life


So, I have a very dear friend I dearly love and admire. I stop by now and again for a cup of tea (or, depending on the weather, a glass of ice tea) and conversation in which we generally try to solve one of the problems of the world, the human race, and the church.

Oh, you think I'm kidding. I am not.

Don't believe me? Just watch.
Yesterday, my friend told me that she and her daughter were having a conversation over dinner about "The purpose of life". (See what I mean?). 
Her daughter remembered one of her college classes in which someone asked, "What is the purpose of life?" 
And the professor answered, "The purpose of life is procreation." 
My friend thought that was spot on and expounded on how every single form of life on planet earth - not just humans - had the ability to reproduce itself. 
What about those humans who are unable to reproduce, I asked. Well, she said, the rest of the tribe makes up for that. 
Yeah, I didn't find that a satisfactory answer. There may have been more - probably was - but I confess that's all I heard because I was flipping through the dictionary in my head to try to understand what she and her daughter and her professor meant by "purpose". And, actually, "life". 
Let's just say that my understanding is broader - less restrictive, more expansive - than the basis from which her daughter's professor started, which seemed to me to be (too) narrowly focused on biology.
I can't do that. I can't separate my gonads from my brain or my heart or my soul. 
So, since about 6:30 this morning I've been hanging out in my library on the shelf where I store my OED (Old English Dictionary), looking up words. 
You may know that I am a self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing Inkheart.
Before I can even begin to respond to a statement like that, I have to look up and unpack a few words like "purpose" and "life" and settle on a definition that works for me.
I think life is so much more than biology and therefore, the definition of the purpose of life can not be narrowly restricted to biology. 
And, because of who I am, it includes an understanding of God's action/interaction in the world, and God's purpose for creating humankind. 
I don't know how we can talk about the purpose of life without at least some postulation about why God created us. (I know, I know, my soul and my mind have probably been permanently scarred by the Baltimore Catechism.)
I also want to say that my definition includes, to a greater or lesser degree, all of life - all the various forms of creation that the professor included: humans, plants, animals, etc.
Here's what I'm willing to say, at least as a start: The purpose of life is to be a co-creator with God. This includes pro-creation, re-creation, and creativity. (The root of the word 'creation' (Proto-Indo-European) 'ker' means 'to grow'). 
So, at a very basic minimum - by which I mean, taking God out of the equation - the purpose of life is to grow - which includes growing others (procreation), continuing creation (re-creation), and mimicking or imitating (and therefore compliment) the source/creator of life which is creativity. 
This, for me, anyway, has resonance with the Ancient Creation Stories in many different cultures: Hebrew Scripture, the Greek story of Gaia, the various Indigenous or First People stories (Hopi, Seneca, Wichita, Apache, etc.), the Norse people, or the stories of the creation of Japan and China. 
That said, one of the major themes of the purpose of life in most of the ancient stories of creation is HOME - to make (create) or find a home and/or to find or build (create or re-create) a pathway back home to God/the Gods. 
It is in/from this HOME that one procreates and re-creates, engages in generativity (to ensure a personal legacy and the promotion of the species), and expresses creativity. 
Ram Dass said, "We're all just walking each other home." 
I love that. He was talking about finding our wholeness – knowing who we are at the deepest and most profound levels of our being and building our lives upon that foundation (i.e. the purpose of life).
We're all just walking each other home. We need each other.
So, yeah, I tackled all of that while making the coffee and doing the laundry and making my bed, and putting some spit and polish on my sermon while sitting out on the deck, watching the morning come into itself. 
You know - being right smack dab in the midst of the purpose of life. 
Don't I have fabulous friends? And don't we just have marvelous conversations as we're walking each other home?
So, now I'm off to spend some time on other Really Big Thoughts. I'm doing Monday's meditation for my Hospice Team and I want to hang out with Ram Dass and other gurus 
There is a tradition of spiritual teachers planning their last words. Zen masters compose a poem.
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche said, "Never forget how swiftly this life will be over - like a flash of summer lightning or the wave of a hand." 
Ramakrishna said, "O mind, do not worry about the body. Let the body and its pain take care of each other. Think of the Holy Mother and be happy." 
The Buddha said, "'Everything is subject to change. Remember to practice the teachings earnestly." 
The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, said about death, "Nothing happens."
Ram Dass said, "I think, first, if you have something important to say, say it now. Say you love someone now. Forgive someone now. Don't wait."
"Second, live in the moment. Know that moments are not in time. They are not in the world of the clock, the changing seasons, the process of growing old. Moments are in soul time. Live in the soul. Then you'll be ready for the moment of death." 
"As you get closer to death, your intuition gets stronger. You'll know when you are getting closer. Forgive yourself and others. When Christ says, 'I am making all things new,' it's the same as living in the here and now and starting fresh in every moment. When you are really in this moment, everything is new, and the moment of death is just another moment." 
Which leads me to believe that the real purpose of life is to love one another and eat each other's cooking and say it was good. 
So, I might have to bake something this afternoon. But first, another load of laundry. Because it's Saturday and the purpose of life on a Saturday is laundry. 
Have a great Saturday, everybody. Enjoy your life this day, however you understand its purpose.


Happy birthday, Jack

On this day, the 16th of June, in the year 1931, in Charlotte, NC, Jack Spong was born. 
His father, an alcoholic, died when Jack was but 12 years old. He and his brother were raised by his mother in a working-class neighborhood in the segregated South. 
Jack speaks warmly and gratefully of the priest in his Episcopal church, Robert Crandall. I love the story Jack tells of his childhood when he would get up before dawn - and before breakfast - to deliver newspapers on his bike to make a little money for the family. He would then rush over to church to assist with daily mass. 
One morning, all that activity on an empty stomach caught up with him and he "clean passed out" right there in the middle of the service. His priest took him out for breakfast which soon became their routine when Jack was scheduled to assist at daily mass. In the midst of those early morning conversations his priest became for him a role model, a surrogate father, and the inspiration for his own vocation. 
Jack completed his bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in three years and became the first in his family to be a college graduate. He went on to Virginia Theological Seminary where he earned his M.Div and was ordained in 1955 at the age of 24. 
Jack served churches in Durham, NC, Tarboro, in east NC, as well as churches in Lynchburg and Richmond, VA. Jack always found himself on the front lines of the work of justice, first as pastor of a church in a small tobacco town in east NC only a few years after schools were desegregated. 
Ordained bishop of Newark in 1976, Jack immersed himself in the ongoing struggles against racism in the church and in the world, as well as being an ardent supporter of the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church, and a leader in the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in all aspects of the church and the world, including ordained leadership in the church. 
But, it was his deep commitment, as a liberal, progressive Christian, to call for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines that made him controversial and a target of hate and violence. 
In each and every one of the 25 books he has written, he stretches traditional theological thinking, challenging assumptions and insisting that we pay attention to the words of Jesus in John's Gospel, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." (Jn. 16:12). 
Taking Jesus at his word, Jack sought to articulate the ways the story of God's love for the people of God continues to be revealed in "the word of God in scripture, in the word of God among us, and in the word of God within us" (Iona community). 
My favorite Jack Spong quote, of many: "The church will die of boredom long before it dies of controversy."
Called a "maverick" and a "nightmare to conservative Anglicans," as well as a "heretic" by none other than Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jack Spong was also a wonderful pastor to his priests. When my father died, Jack called me from New Zealand where he had been invited to lecture. 
He knew of the tensions in my family and, concerned that they would surface during a time of intense grief, he offered to come home early to escort me and my beloved Ms. Conroy to my father's funeral. My heart was so filled with gratitude and love, I could not contain my tears. I told him how much I loved him and that he would be the first person I saw when I returned from my father's funeral. And, he was. 
Jack Spong retired as bishop of Newark in 2000. When I last spoke with him on his birthday in 2021, he was living in retirement with his beloved Christine Mary Spong in Richmond, VA. He had recovered remarkably well from the stroke he suffered while in Michigan in 2016. His mind was clear and sharp and his sense of humor had never been more delightful. 
He told me that he and Christine attended St. Paul's where he was once rector and proudly pointed out that the present rector is a married gay man. Jack also told me with obvious joy in his voice that he saw his children and grandchildren "four or five times a week."
Jack died peacefully in his sleep on September 12, 2021, in Richmond, VA
On the occasion of the 91st anniversary of his birth, please join me in celebrating this man who is a gift of and to the church. 
You may not like him, you may, in fact, hate him, but you can not deny that the church in general and The Episcopal Church, in particular, may have decreased in numbers but has matured in spirituality and expanded in theological generosity. It certainly has not died of the controversy which Jack engaged with courage and authenticity. 
Happy birthday in heaven, Jack.




It has happened again. 
Last night, another incident of the insanity of gun violence gripped this nation.
This time, the attack occurred at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills. At this writing, two are reported dead. One has been seriously injured. 
Today is the seventh anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
There was a deadly mass shooting last month at a Taiwanese church service in Southern California -- along with mass shootings at an elementary school in Texas and a New York supermarket.
The shooter is in custody and it is reported that he is described as being a "lone suspect" so the rest of the community is, as the police are reporting, "safe." 
"Lone shooter" of course, is code for a Caucasian male who - we have absolutely no doubt - suffers from mental illness.
In the infamous words of Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears of Virginia, in her speech at last month's NRA Convention, there is a range of social factors to explain why young white men are mass murderers, from lack of prayer in schools to “emasculated” men and pandemic safety protocols.
Anything but guns. Because, you know, guns don't kill people, people kill people. 
At that same convention, before speaking to the N.R.A., Ted Cruz said schools should have only one entry point, with an armed guard. 
Guns don’t kill people. Doors do. 
Want to know why this keeps happening? That's why. It's the If/then of the "transitive law of logic". “If a is equal to b and b is equal to c, then a is equal to c.” 
Which works in some relationships but not all, because if Mary is the daughter of Jane and Jane is the daughter of Alice, Mary cannot be the daughter of Alice. 
But, that kind of logic escapes those who, when challenged, will just smile and say, "Second amendment, baby!'
Well, FFS, the founders were talking about musket balls while Ben Franklin was just "discovering" electricity and no one had indoor plumbing. They were not talking about 13.3 damn bullets per second or AR-15s that are capable of decapitating a 10-year-old body being shot by an 18-year-old boy. 
It also keeps happening because we have elected jellyfish to represent us in Congress - on both sides of the aisle. 
Maureen Dowd recently wrote: "The political debates here are empty and soulless, with Democrats dodging the issue and Republicans hardening even on mild proposals like requiring universal background checks, which has overwhelming public approval."
She also wrote: "The Republicans are doing everything they can to stop women from having control over their own bodies and doing nothing to stop the carnage against kids; they may as well change the party symbol from an elephant to an AR-15".
It breaks every law of logic because it's not about reason or public safety. It's about greed and power. 
When this nation is determined to become 'pro life' instead of 'pro fetus' and 'pro guns' we may be able to stop the carnage.
As for me and my house of worship, we are hosting an Active Shooter Session right after church on Sunday, June 26th. 
Officer Tyndale of the Georgetown Police Department is coming to help us understand what we can do to protect ourselves and each other should anything like that happen in our church. Or a local supermarket. 
Or in a parking lot. 
Or any place else a "lone shooter" might decide to unleash the insanity caused by his emasculation which had been driven to the breaking point by COVID protocols. 
Or, doors. 
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Pray for those who have died and pray for all those who grieve. 
And then, let us pray for the spirit of Mother Jones to infect our hearts with her words, "Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living."
It's the only logic that makes sense to me.