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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Mill Girls and the Disabled Woman

A Facebook Reflection:

Good Sunday morning, good people of the mid-summer. It is a glorious, foggy morning here on the Delmarva Penninsula. The present temperature is 70 degrees, with the high expected to reach the low 80s. Air quality is good at 27, the UV index is as low as it's going to get at zero, and the wind is coming from the NNE at a lazy summer 2 mph.

There is still a fog advisory for our area so the driving is slow going but, I'm told by those who know, that the fishing will be grand. Apparently, fish like the fog. Who knew? It does explain why the boats have been going slowly by my house since just before dawn.

I know there's a lot going on in the world but I'm going to jump right into the lectionary page. There's something about the woman with a severe disability in Luke's gospel that has been sitting with me all week - whispering to me, calling to me - but the preacher has a completely different pastoral task over at the congregation she serves so she's gone in a very different direction.

Let me explain. As many of you know, I'm from New England. I was born and brought up in one of what became known as one of the Mill Towns of the Industrial Age.

These were places of manufacturing "Making What America Needs" - mostly the things that supported the relentless pursuit of the future - a better future - and modernity as the means to the end.

The genius of modernity was thought to be the assembly line. One, Mr. Ransom Olds, invented the concept but it took Henry Ford in 1913 to put it to practical use in his factories. He was able to take the time to produce an automobile from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.

This, it was said, was a revolution that put the capital I in Industry.

The same theory was applied to the making of dresses. The process of the ancient art of dressmaking was deconstructed into distinct parts with certain people making certain parts in great quantity and other people sewing the parts together until, in rapid time, a dress (or skirt, or shirt) was produced, also in great quantity and in a fraction of the time.

Men worked in the factories that made the metal and rubber of cars and machines. Women worked in the factories that made dresses and shirts and coats. They were immigrants, all of them. First brought over from the poor, mean backstreets and farming villages of England and then Ireland. Then, they were brought down from Canada.

All of them were blue-eyed, fair-skinned, and English-speaking. The women were known as "The Mill Girls", working long, monotonous hours, doing the same task over and over again on the assembly line, often in crowded, unsafe conditions, with poor ventilation and no escape routes, and for pennies a day - a few dollars in an envelope on Friday.

Modernity came at the expense of humanity. It was demeaning, monotonous, dangerous, work that was poorly compensated. It was enough to have broken the backs of most human beings. It certainly broke many spirits.

Not in the women of my family.

I grew up the granddaughter, daughter, and niece of Mill Girls. They were immigrants from Portugal and the Azores who couldn't speak the language when they first arrived. They were also dark-skinned with thick, dark, curly hair.

A pecking order - a hierarchy of oppression - soon emerged. As the daughters and granddaughters and nieces of the original Mill Girls had gotten an education and become teachers and librarians, or had simply moved "up" from the factory floor to the factory office to be secretaries, the Portuguese immigrants took their place.

Since they were not of fair complexion and did not speak the language, they were easy marks for the cruelty of those who had forgotten what it was to work in the mills. Or, perhaps it was, in fact, because they remembered and were "doing unto others as had been done unto them."

It was brutal. And yet, the women in my family, in my neighborhood didn't get mad. They got even. They were part of the founding of the ILGWU (International Lady Garment Workers Union), local chapter 178, which eventually built its headquarters at No. 38 Third Street in Fall River, MA.

While many of the women in my family and neighborhood suffered from disabilities common to assembly line workers: painful, debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome or plantar fasciitis, arthritis, respiratory illness, deafness, cancer, and asbestos-related illnesses, and although the burdens they carried were enormous, no one was stooped or bent over, not even in their old age.

Mind you, these women worked hard, long, monotonous days in the factory and then came home to their husbands and children and cooked meals and cleaned the house and did the laundry and slept with their husbands, and, because they were mostly Roman Catholic with no access to birth control (and abortion, if available was illegal and unthinkable and most likely meant that they would die), they had more babies.

Even so, the Mill Girls always stood tall and proud, even when they were weary and exhausted. I remember my mother falling asleep standing at the counter, stirring her coffee or tea.

What was the difference, I wondered, between the disabled woman in this morning scripture and all those mill girls? Clearly, she must have had a medical condition. She was probably not old but after so many years of living in debilitating pain, she looked older than her years.

Or maybe, just maybe, she was bent over by her burdens. Her shame at being less than. Her poverty. Her lack of opportunity. Her life in antiquity was without any hope of a better life for herself or whatever family she had.

Something happens, I think, when women help women. When women work together in community. A spirit emerges. Something ignites them that keeps the flame in them flickering through yet another dark night and allows them to get up again in the morning, after tending to the children in the middle of the night and feeding them in the morning before work and school. A mini-resurrection, day after day.

There's safety in numbers, my mother and aunts used to call out to us as youngsters when we went out to ride our bikes or to catch the matinee at the theater. Stay together, they warned. Keep an eye on each other.

Yes, they were talking about safety and they had reason to worry (some things never change for girls and women), but they were also relating a philosophy that had gotten them through life standing straight and tall even though their work was back-breakingly hard.

I wonder what really bent the back of that nameless woman in the Temple that Sabbath Day. I'm thinking it was a dis-ease called hopelessness. I'm thinking that, without a dream, without a vision of a better day, a better future, a person's spirit can get worn down to a raw nub, which doubles her over in pain.

I'm thinking that the greatest gift Jesus gave to the world, besides unconditional love, was hope. I'm thinking that Jesus may have physically healed that woman, but what helped her to stand up straight was hope.

I've been thinking a lot of the Mill Girls. The woman with the disability in Luke's Gospel has brought back their memories and with them, enormous gratitude. I would not be where I am today without them. I continue on through modern adversities - which pale in comparison - with their spirit within me.

They allow me to stand straight and tall and demand respect. They help me not to get mad but to get even by getting help. They give me hope for the future. The strength of my faith is part of their legacy which I hope to pass on to my daughters and all the women in my life.

Well, it appears I've gone on a bit, haven't I? It's time for me to get ready for church. We'll be broadcasting live from Sirach 26:10 around 10 AM. Join us, if you've a mind to.

Please be safe. COVID is still lurking about and its variants are highly contagious but, if you are vaccinated, not as deadly. You know the drill: Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Wait a safe distance.

And as the Portuguese immigrants used to say on the streets of the Mill Towns of New England, "Bom dia!".

Make it a great day, everybody.

The Miracle of Healing

Pentecost XI - Proper XVI
Sunday, August 21, 2022
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Georgetown, DE

I wonder what it was that weighed so heavily on her that her body bent over.


Scripture says she had been like that for eighteen years, but you know it took a few years of pain prior to that to end up in that situation. Probably arthritis. It might have been a neurological complication or a nutritional deficiency.

Maybe she wasn’t old at all but because she had battled one of the diseases of the curvature of the spine (kyphosis, lordosis, or scoliosis) since pre-adolescence, all the years of pain made her look old.


I wonder what moved her to come into the Temple that Sabbath day? Had she just been coming every day and had forgotten that this day was the Sabbath? Had she forgotten where she was and why she came there?  Dare she hope, after all these years, for a miracle?

As a woman in antiquity, she was used to being invisible – especially in places where men were in power and authority as they would have been in the Temple – so to dare to be seen and dare to be healed took enormous courage.


But, what was she thinking? It was the Sabbath. If this upstart young Rabbi from Nazareth was going to heal her, surely he wouldn’t do it on the Sabbath!?! He knew the rules, the laws of Torah. So did she.

She may have thought: What if the pain becomes too much and I cry out? What if I am seen and then rejected?


Perhaps that’s why she didn’t throw herself at the feet of Jesus and ask for healing as so many men and women before her had done. Maybe she just pushed through the pain, pushed through the fear, pushed through the anxiety, and just simply put herself in a position to be seen, in a place where healing might happen, and trusted the rest.


In my experience, healing or miraculous events, if they are going to happen, happen just that way. Sometimes, it takes being so intense, so focused on that which you are seeking, that all the energy in your body and mind, your heart and soul and spirit becomes immersed in that intention. The hours, the cost, the risks are not counted. The only thing that matters is the pursuit of the thing you seek.


It takes time. It happens over a period of time. We’ve seen that happen with healing and health. We call that “the miracle of medical science”. Diseases that people died of just a decade ago now have what we often read as “a new lease on life.” Deadly disease like AIDS that once wiped out people in 18 months are now “chronic diseases with terminal implications.”


Is that a miracle? Is that evidence of divine intervention? Or is that just “modern medicine”? Is that evidence of human intellect and ability – or, hubris? – or does God get any credit?  


You in this church are holding evidence of a miracle.


In your service bulletin, you will find a copy of the report of the Mutual Ministry Review (MMR) that was recently completed by some of the leaders of this congregation. It was led by Fr. Jeff Ross, rector of St. Peter’s, Lewes, who knows a thing or two about congregations. It is being distributed to you today so that you will have a chance to read it and, as one of our collects says about scripture: “read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest” it.

Next week, Linda Dennis, a vestry member and participant in the Mutual Ministry Review (MMR), will talk briefly with you about it during the announcements and then be available to discuss it with you after church.


As a reminder, I won’t be here next Sunday. I’ll be with my cousins and other relatives as we lay to rest the last of the previous generation of family members. God willing, Deacon Pete and Nancy will be able to return to church. So, I want to say this to you about the MMR.


I was telling a colleague about the MMR and she laughed and said, “It wasn’t that long ago that you told me you’d never do parish ministry again. Whatever possessed you to go to St. Paul’s?”


I had to laugh at myself before I could answer. God knows, I was pretty clear with Judy Dean and then Sharon Mackwell and then Dick Bennett that Hospice is my jam. It’s not that I don’t like parish ministry. I do. It’s that I am not at all interested in maintenance. At. All. And, in many places in the Episcopal Church, interim and parish ministry is all about maintenance.


Oh, that’s not what we say. What we say is that we want to grow. We want young families. (I don’t know a church that doesn’t say they want young families.) And so, of course, we want a young priest. Married, preferable. If we’re honest, we have a male in mind but, you know, women priests are not an issue, so yeah, we’ll take a woman. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s a start.

But, young. Definitely young. Energetic. Able to attract other young families with kids. Lots of kids. And, a church school. Because, we’re ready for change.


Funny how that change – that ‘new church’ – looks suspiciously like the church did way back in 1950. The truth is that the change most churches are talking about is changing from what is – almost dead – to what it once was.

I call it, “The Episcopal Church of the Future: Building a Better Yesterday.”

Now, that’s not what I heard here at St. Paul’s. What I heard here at St. Paul’s was what I see in that woman in this morning’s scripture. Weary. Worn out. Anxious. Exhausted and bent over from years – 18? 10? 5? , too many years – of carrying around this dream of the past. And feeling defeat and a deep sense of shame that you hadn’t been able to achieve (what’s that current buzz word?) “vitality.”


I also saw some people who wanted to throw off the burden of trying to attain something that was no longer possible. I saw a few people who had a clear understanding that something different was possible. That clinging to the familiar was the path to death, but the path to life was in taking a risk and stepping into a path whose actual, final destination was unknown.

What was certain is that a new path would lead to being prepared to begin a new chapter in the life of the church known as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, DE.


I must have asked Judy and Sharon and Dick a million times, “Are you sure? Are you sure this is about moving forward? I am not about maintenance. I don’t do maintenance. I do vision. I do creativity. I do energy. I don’t do backward. I do forward. I don’t do yesterday. I do today and I look to tomorrow. I don’t do band aids, I do healing and, if necessary, surgery.”

Yes, they told me. Oh, a few naysayers are here, but yes. Yes. Yes. And, yes.


And so, I took a risk. And, so did you.

I knew that there would be a lot of necessary edification. If you remember our annual meeting in January, I said that would be the word for 2022: Edification, meaning to build up.

I knew your infrastructure had taken a huge hit and would need a lot of attention. Everything – from Altar Guild to Hospitality, Christian Formation, Education, Liturgy, Music, Acolytes, Finance, Administration, Office Managers, Job Descriptions and Letters of Agreements – all of it needed rebuilding and restoring.


All this re-building and restoring would be going on while we simultaneously tried to start a ministry for the future that deals with the present reality of the changing demographic of the neighborhoods in Georgetown: The Latino Ministry.

And, because of my commitments to Hospice and my work with a major national organization – and oh, I don’t know, my own family life? – I could only commit to 6-10 hours per week – knowing full well that there would be times when it would be more. A lot more.


Sort of like rebuilding and repairing a plane while still flying.  


It was going to take a miracle.


What you see in your bulletin, the MMR, is most of all that we’ve been able to accomplish in the past two years. We have doubled our membership and our plate and pledge. We are restoring the infrastructure, and edifying the spiritual life of the congregation. Our new ESL ministry has been established and we are looking forward to our Latino ministry ("LMB") in the Fall.


We are not yet standing straight and tall but we are no longer bent over. We can see each other eye to eye and that has brought with it some new problems. We don’t always know how to relate to one another. We have some serious – some very serious – communication problems.


There has been some passive aggression and some obfuscation of information.

Some of us don’t know how to use our inside voices.

Some of us have forgotten that in the church there are no volunteers. We’re all ministers of Jesus Christ. If you want to hear me use my outside voice inside, start calling yourself a volunteer. 


That will pull my last, poor, tired nerve.


You are NOT volunteers. I am not the only minister here. You are.

I am the priest, and you are members of the priesthood of all believers. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

And, there is no “this is my ministry and that’s your ministry.” We are all ministers who do the ministry of Jesus.

Some have forgotten that three of the most courageous words in the English language are: “I need help.“ That is second only to admitting, “I don’t know.” And then, asking for help.


Some of us have forgotten that the church is not the building – the people are the church, We are called to be good stewards of all that God has given us – which is the building AND the people of God who come into the building.

The people make the building the church.


This morning’s gospel presents us with religious leaders - the leader of the Temple and Jesus - who have a great deal in common except for one major difference. Both leaders love God. Both love scripture. Both love the Temple. Both are leaders called to serve the people of God.

One leader was bound by the Law of the Temple.

The other leader was bound by the Law of the Heart – the Law of Mercy.


The leader who was able to heal the disabled woman did so because he stayed focused not on how things had always been done, but on what was right in front of him as well as what was possible.

The disabled woman was able to be healed because she allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to allow the healer to coming face to face with the problem and look it straight in the eye. She risked what she could only hope was possible.

The MMR you have in your hands is evidence of God’s handiwork, of the spirit working through us. (Not just me - YOU! All of you!) 


It is nothing short of a miracle.

It demonstrates clearly that we have come a long way in two years. It indicates that there have been some things left undone. It also contains some dreams for the future.

The altar you have in front of you demonstrates that there is no problem that can’t be healed and transformed when we offer it to Jesus.

It takes confessing our brokenness and admitting we have a problem. It takes looking at it eye to eye, making ourselves vulnerable and putting ourselves in the place where healing is possible, and then staying focused on the vision of what we are being called to do.


The Wardens and Vestry and I will be meeting in early September to have that very conversation. There is a remedy. There is hope for healing and for the future.

Like the disabled woman, if we are to achieve the vision which called me here – and the energy of that vision is what attracted so many of you here – we are going to have to push through the pain, push through the fear, pushed through the anxiety, and just simply put ourselves in a position to be seen, in a place where healing might happen, and trust God with the rest.


If we do that – when we do that – we, too, will be like that disabled woman who was free from her burdens, free from her pain, free from her disability, free from her shame, free from whatever bound her, free to remember why she came into the Temple in the first place, free to stand upright and give glory where it belongs: to God who gives us the gift of community, the priesthood of all believers.


Glory to God who gives us the work of the ministry of Christ Jesus which is our privilege to perform – to feed, to clothe, to visit, to teach, to build, to repair, to tend, to love, to communicate, to enable, to empower, to lead, to count, to record, to sing, to play, to praise, to pray, to start, to finish, to inspire.

Different gifts. Same spirit. Many hands. One God who gives this ministry, this work, TO US – all of us – in OUR community of faith.


Glory to God who gives us the power of the Holy Spirit – the power of hope and possibility, the power to know that we (WE - not the building) are the church, the Body of Christ – which allows us to do infinitely more than we could ask for or imagine.


That’s enough for now.


Somebody give me an amen.




Friday, August 19, 2022

The Mystery of God's Healing

 "The mystery of God's healing": An Early Reflection on the Gospel for this coming Sunday (Luke 13:10-17)

She didn't ask to be healed.

I'm talking about the woman in Luke's gospel. Scripture says only "there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years," and that "when Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." (Luke 13:10-17)

Let's set aside, for a moment, what happened after the woman stood up and the leader of the synagogue became apoplectic because the healing happened on the Sabbath.

How does that work? Healing, I mean.

I will never forget a young woman at St. David's in Salem, NH. It was the first congregation I was called to serve right out of seminary as Priest in Charge. She was not at all pleased that a woman was their priest.

It was 1986 and I was part of that first 10-year wave of ordained women in The Episcopal Church. It was a lot for some people to accept. Some never did.

Indeed, she was so angry she hollered at the Senior Warden, said some pretty hateful things to me, and then stormed out of the church.

So, I was very surprised when she came to the church one morning several weeks later, took communion, and then asked for the laying on of hands and healing for her husband. He was about 20 years her senior and had suffered a debilitating heart attack. He was in ICU and not predicted to survive the day.

She was so desperate that she even came back to church - to a woman priest whom she detested - to ask for healing for her husband.

I listened to her sob out her story and then, because I had been taught to personalize every prayer, I closed my eyes, laid my hands on her head, and whispered, "What is your husband's name."

She jerked her head up and hissed, loudly and angrily, "You don't need to know his name. This isn't about you. This is about God's power working through you. God knows his name. Just pray the damn prayer."

I took a deep breath, centered myself, and then prayed my most earnest prayers for healing the heart of this soul, unknown to me, but known and loved by God and trusting in the mystery of God's healing power.

That night after supper, I went over to the hospital ICU to visit him. To my amazement, he was sitting up in bed, eating a light supper. His wife burst into tears and came running to me, falling into my arms, filled with apologies and gratitude.

"God worked a miracle through you," she said, "I'm so sorry I was so horrible to you. You didn't deserve that."

I apologized for upsetting her so and explained that I was only trying to personalize the prayer.

"I know that now," she said. "This is a big change for me - women priests. I've been against them. Still am. But you? Well, I guess if God can work this miracle through you, well, I should take that as a sign."

I smiled and said, "Well, if God can speak through Balaam's donkey, God can speak through a jacka$$ like me." (Numbers 22:21-39)

We all three laughed and laughed, and in that laughter, we were all healed.

I still don't know how healing happens - or, why it doesn't, despite our most sincere and earnest prayers.

I just trust in the mystery of God's healing.

Love wins


See this? See this picture of two containers of ice Cream?

This is what AIDS does.

In order to explain, I have to go way back to the late 70s, and early 80s - to just before that pandemic began. So, settle in, kids. I'm about to tell a story.

Once upon a time, there were gay men and there were lesbian women. They were separate but not equal - mostly because there were men and then there were women and it was the late 70s, and early 80s when, even though I was divorced, I couldn't get a credit card unless my father, brother or ex-husband co-signed for me. (#Fact)

There were also "drag queens" but no one talked about "transgender people" (Some hissed "Nelly". Or, blithely called each other, "Mary" but it wasn't exactly the same) and, if you said "Queer" out loud, it was tantamount to saying the "N" word. Racism was as rampant in both communities as it was in the rest of society.

There are lots of examples of "separate but equal" Queer Gender exclusion, but here on Rehoboth Bay, 30 years ago, we were told that "the boys" went to one Episcopal church and "the girls" went to another - if they went at all.

If you were one of the boys, you wore the Episcopal male uniform: Khaki pants, starched white shirt - preferably with French cuffs, red tie, and blue blazer with gold buttons. In the summer, you would ditch the shirt and jacket for a Polo shirt - often hunter green with Khaki pants, or, if you were really daring, white and paired with pink pants.

And, always brown penny loafers with no socks.

If anyone still has an Integrity Orientation Booklet to General Convention, you will find that the "dress code" is exactly as I have described it.

If you were one of the girls? If you went to church at all? Well, that would depend on whether or not you could "pass" as "normal". Maybe something non-threatening like a librarian, a schoolmarm, or a former nun.

Since that usually meant wearing a skirt or a dowdy dress and pumps, you understand why many lesbian women skipped church and had their own Yoga Sessions or Buddhist Chanting or Wiccan Prayer Circles and Revolutionary Societies. Or, went for a long ride on their motorcycle on Sunday morning and gloried in the beauty of nature.

In the summer, the boys could be found on Poodle Beach, the girls at North Beach. Every now and again, you heard about gay men and lesbian women socializing and dining together, but that was only because they worked together at the same company.

They would never go together to a 'gay bar' or a 'lesbian cafe'. They just looked like they might be like any other couple or a foursome out to eat at one of the local restaurants.

The social walls were carefully constructed in part because of internalized oppression and in part for self-protection.

And then, the pandemic hit, and all the walls came down.

On the front lines of the AIDS battle stood organizations like the public health or visiting nurse associations which have always been thick with lesbian women who tend to like the independence built into the work.

We saw how gay men were treated - often times by our colleagues in hospitals and clinics. It was disgraceful, an insult to the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm". Funeral homes were refusing to tend to the dead bodies of gay men who "died of complications due to AIDS." Churches - yes, even some Episcopal Churches - refused to hold funeral services.

So, we stepped up. And, so did they. We overcame all that previous crap and worked together to take care of each other. We grew up. We matured. We stayed focused on the work and, in the process, became friends.

I will never forget the General Convention when gay men and lesbian women wore buttons that said "Our church has AIDS". Everyone wanted one. Everyone was wearing them.

I know this sounds silly - now - but it was a brave thing to do. When lesbian women and gay men stood in solidarity, we built together another wall - one with a gate in the front that allowed others to enter.

The only other buttons that were as popular as "Our church has AIDS" were the ones we handed out to straight people that said, "Honorary Gay Man" or "Honorary Lesbian."

I still remember the smiles on the faces of Jack Spong and Doug Theuner when I gave them an "Honorary Lesbian" button.

The organization NEAC - National Episcopal AIDS Coalition - was born and did amazing work. Friendships were forged at those gatherings and Eucharists that remain unshakable.

That's where this coffee ice cream comes in.

Some of you may know that I love coffee ice cream. It's my absolute favorite. And, it's very difficult to find 'round these parts. I understand Trader Joe's has a wicked coffee ice cream.

One person reportedly took one bite and said, "Okay, two things: One, there is crack cocaine in here and B, if I'm dying just get me some cartons of this stuff and I'll die happy."

Well, there's no Trader Joe's 'round these parts. The closest one is in Newark - about 2 hours from where I live. You know, I love coffee ice cream but not enough to travel two hours for it.

A dear friend from the days of NEAC was coming to Rehoboth for a little vacay. He read my FB post and offered to stop at Trader Joe's on his way here and get some for me and we'd figure out the hand-off at some point.

And, that's how, last night, at the end of a long and challenging day at work, I came into possession of these two beauties. Two - count them, not one but two - containers of Trader Joe's Coffee Bean Blast Super Premium Ice Cream.

You'll excuse me and understand when I tell you that every time I look in the freezer, I get a little verklempt.

We lost a lot of wonderful gay men, a few lesbian women, and tons of people of color to this horrid disease. And, friendships were formed in the crucible of the pandemic that will last a lifetime and into eternity.

AIDS is now a disease with terminal implications. Then, AIDS was a horrible disease. The response of the government and people in the health care and service industries and yes, the church, was disgraceful. Some "complications of AIDS" included "death by government red tape" and "death by church shunning and shaming."

And yet, something good, something wonderful arose from the flames of destruction and death. Something that will never die.

I'm so grateful to have lived through that time and come through it to enjoy Trader Joe's Coffee Blast Ice Cream with one of my brothers, sure and true.

AIDS did not get the final word.

Love did.

Love always does.

And, sometimes, the love that defeats prejudice and fear and lives on to tell the story looks like a carton of ice cream.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Three rules. Three ants. And, joy.


Yes, I went out and got a tattoo. For real. Not one of those stick on things. A real one that got scratched on for real with real ink by a real ink artist named DJ who is just up the street from me.

DJ is a biker with tattoos all over his body, most of which have to do with one he calls Morningstar. I’ve lost count of all of the various conspiracy stories he has, but he also has Three Rules: You don’t hurt children. You don’t hurt women. You don’t hurt animals.

When he told me that, I smiled and looked at him and said, “Hmm . . . I guess your father was one tough man to live with.” He looked at me and his jaw dropped. “My father was an SOB who beat me and my mother and killed my dog. How did you know that?”

I smiled and said, “Your tatts tell me you have seen the face of Evil and you want everyone to know it exits. Your rules tell me of the one face of Evil you’ve known personally.”

I think that cemented our relationship.

Now, the man voted for Trump – probably would again – and there’s lots about which we disagree but I see a good heart beating under all that pain.

He’s become a friend. I know he’d do just about anything I asked him to do. And, I must say that to see DJ smile is to see something that simply warms the soul – especially when he talks about his grandmother.

DJ listened to my story about Louie before he went to work on the design and smiled broadly. That’s when he told me the Story of the Three Ants. He said that there are three ants in the world whose job it is to get under our skin and move us off our chosen path.

The first ant is the oldest ant. His name is Jealousy.

The second ant was created shortly after the first. His name is Greed.

And, the third ant was born of their union. His name is Anger.

DJ claims to have created this story after years of listening to his own story and those of others. Oh, and he might have heard some of it from his grandmother. He tells me he has no religion. This, he said, is his philosophy in life. But, he said, you know, Joy Anyway is the moral of the story of The Three Ants.

This tat is a tribute to Louie, of course, but it’s also a great visual reminder of the Way of Jesus. As people of The Way, we are compelled to look deep into the abyss and find the face of Jesus. Our vocation in life is to look into the face of others and not just seek but serve Christ. Our covenant is to find the justice and joy that lies at the very center of creation.

That’s what I think of every time I look at my arm. And, Louie, of course. Always loving, always teaching, even from beyond the veil. And, DJ, whom Louie would have loved and DJ would have loved him in return.

Because, you know, that’s the Way of the Cross, the Way of Jesus. Joy, anyway!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

I'll miss us when we're gone


Good Sunday morning, good citizens of the cosmos! It is overcast and cloudy this morning, here on the Delmarva Peninsula. The temperature when I woke up at 8 AM was 70. The air quality was good at 24, the UV index was low at 2, and the wind is coming out of the WSW at the lightning speed of 1 mph.

I went to bed shortly after 10 PM last night and, except for a time of restlessness between 1-2 AM, I went back to sleep, missed my usual wake-up time of 6 AM, and slept through till 8.

That rarely happens. As my sainted Grandmother would say, "You must have needed the sleep."

Apparently, I did. Exhaustion does not necessarily mean rest and rest is not necessarily the equivalent of sleep.

I fixed the coffee, did my morning ablutions and praises, made the bed, poured my coffee, said my prayers, and then settled in to open my email.

That's when everything got a little squirrely.

There was an email from our Deacon who was to lead a service of Morning Prayer and Communion from Reserved Sacrament. Except, he woke up at 2 AM with a fever. He immediately took a home test for COVID and discovered he was positive. Thankfully, his spouse, who has health problems, was negative.

At 4:30 AM, he sent an email, attached his homily along with his profuse apologies, and, by the looks of it, went to bed in his basement where he will stay in isolation.

As Stan used to say to Ollie, "Well, this is a fine kettle of fish we're in." And, we will scoop it all up and offer it to Jesus - in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving.

So, I've been on the phone with the Sr. Warden and our Office Manager, and one of our parishioners who will be an Officiant at the Morning Prayer/Service of the Word portion of the service. I've reviewed the service with her and she will read Deacon Pete's homily.

As Dame Julian of Norwich once said, “And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.”

Apparently, it's how this particular variant of the virus works, especially with people who have been properly vaccinated and have received boosters (there is a 3.77% breakthrough rate in Delaware).

I'm convinced that eventually, we'll all get COVID and that, eventually, we'll all get vaccinated in the same way we get our annual flu shot. Until, eventually, a new virus appears and becomes the new reality.

That's just the way viruses work.

So, a late start but not one minute wasted.

Over at the lectionary page, Jesus seems to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed; he appears to be in an exceedingly bad mood.

I just have this to say about the fire-and-brimstone Jesus we meet in scripture (Luke 12:49-56).

We should not be surprised.

No, this is not the 'sweet-baby-Jesus-meek-and-mild' that some of us prefer so it's the only thing we see.

And, we project that image onto ourselves and others - especially our religious leaders - as the "perfect" model for Christian behavior.

This is the Jesus who was brought to the Temple as an infant by his parents, whose life Simeon warned would be a contradiction.

Simeon 'sang' that the role of Jesus' was not to build bridges; he was to be more of a trouble maker who would draw lines in the sand that would be painful for some to cross. Everywhere he went, people would either love him or hate him.

This is the Jesus who overturned tables in the Temple and not just raised his voice but yelled and hollered and drove out the moneychangers - who were just doing their job, for goodness sake - with whips.

This is the (very human part of ) Jesus who became annoyed and frustrated and short-tempered and hurled insults and racial slurs at the Canaanite woman who was desperately seeking healing for her daughter, and rebuked Peter and sharply chastised James and John, the Sons of Thunder and other disciples, especially in The Garden the night before he died.

This is the Jesus of whom Dorothy Parker wrote in her “Prayer for a New Mother.” The poem implores God to allow Mary to forget, while her child is young, what she has foreknowledge of: “the rumble of a crowd,” “the smell of rough-cut wood,” and “the trail of red.”

We don't like to consider this Jesus, and yet, Luke's gospel compels us not to avert our eyes. His message is crystal clear. Jesus didn't come to sugar-coat the problems of this world. He didn't suffer and die a humiliating death of a common criminal on the cross, as Marx would say, to "be an opiate to the people".

Jesus came to tell us that before we can have peace, we must admit the divisions and unrest and unhappiness that exist between us at the most intimate levels of our relationships.

Jesus came to battle sin and brokenness and evil at every level of the human enterprise, for that is the pathway to the "peace that passes all human understanding."

Or, as those who struggle for the liberation of the human spirit often chant, "Know justice. Know peace."

"Just" relationships are "right" relationships and right relationships pave the pathway to peace.

Glad I'm not preaching this morning. I haven't yet read the Deacon's homily but I'm looking forward to his take. I'll be tuning into the broadcast service of the church where I'll be just a 'bum in the pew' after I finish this gig on April 9, 2023.

That's one gift of COVID. Whoda thunk, three years ago, that broadcasting live services would become so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our lives in Christian community?

Ms. Conroy and I will be tested later this morning for COVID. I've been hearing a version of that song from Black-Eyed Peas, "I've got a feeling (Woo hoo), that today's going to be a good test, that today's going to be a good, good test."

Fingers crossed.

So, make it a great day, everybody, no matter where you are or what the weather is doing in your neck of the woods. Please, do be careful. You know what I mean about a mask and washing your hands and keeping a safe distance.

This virus does not play.

And, as Stan used to say to Ollie "I'll miss us when we're gone."

The time before maps


AUGUST 13: I'm deaf as a doorknob without my hearing aids - have been for over 30 years - so when I take my aids out at night and my head hits the pillow, I'm O.U.T., just like the bedside lamp.

Which is why it was so unusual for me to awaken this morning to the sound of Laughing Gulls. I usually don't hear them until after I "put my ears in." They were clearly calling me to wake up and get up and get on with it.

Of this, I have no doubt.

It was 66 degrees and the sun was out when my feet hit the floor around 6 this morning. And, the first thing I thought, after considering the way my body felt, was that I could probably get at least a mile walk in this morning and, if I took it easy, it would probably take me about 30 minutes.

So, I quick got the coffee ready, did some basic ablutions and praises, put on my old Camino pants and shirt and my new Camino walking shoes (Altra, Lone Peak 6, Trail-Running Shoe, Navy/Lt. Blue, Womans, 8 with a wide toe box) that arrived the other day from REI. I tuned up the Walk app on my iWatch, hooked myself up with my teeny-weeny-tiny iPod Nano and my headphones, and set it to listen to Delta Rae and Molly Skaggs and the Cageless Birds and off I went.
I get tested again tomorrow but my symptoms are ever so much better that I felt strong enough to take on this low-level challenge.

After having been in isolation/lockdown for over a week and now being outside without a mask, walking and enjoying the 10 mph wind coming down special from the north just to caress my face, checking out what my neighbors were doing in their yards (Really? A coy pond?

Now that we have heron AND pelicans in the 'hood?), waving to folks out walking their dogs or heading off for work was just so wonderfully, amazingly flippin' normal that it brought tears to my eyes.

I got a 1.5-mile walk in which took just under 35 minutes but the stats don't tell you what that walk did to my mind and my heart and my soul.

I'm so ready to be B.A.C.K. The good news is that while I still may test positive for a while, as long as I'm asymptomatic, the new CDC regs allow me to return to work on Monday. With a mask. Of course.

I'm about to have a Glory Attack!

I'm actually grateful for this time of isolation/lockdown. Solitary confinement (well, with your spouse) has had aspects of a time of spiritual retreat.

There is something quite mystical about listening to your inner voice over an extended period of time. You hear stuff in ways you hadn't heard before. Your perspective changes. You think old thoughts in new ways.

Maybe that's why I 'heard' the Laughing Gulls this morning, eh?

Maybe it was the Camino calling me through the gulls and I heard them through the 'ears of the heart', as St. Benedict would say.

I thought of Joyce Rupp's poem which I've posted below. "Toss away the old map," I heard. Take away my map!?! I thunder in response.

How will I know where to go? I demand. And, my wise self answers, "There was a time before maps when pilgrims traveled by the stars."

I had forgotten one of the important lessons I learned on the last Camino. I've been looking up to find the stars. I forgot that sometimes you have to reach down - way down deep - in order to touch a star.

So, Saturday is laundry day. Better get to it. "These clothes won't wash themselves," I can hear my mother saying.

First, I finish my coffee. Feel the hot liquid over my tongue and taste the smooth, silky burst of coffee flavor at the back of my mouth. Take some deep breaths and visualize the air in and out of my lungs. Feel the aches and enjoy the twitches in the muscles of my body. Smile at it all.

I'm alive. I love and I am loved in return. I can feel the warmth of the August sun. I can smell the salt in the water. God is good. I can hear the Laughing Gulls calling me to "incline the ear of your heart."

Who needs a map?

Off we go, then.

Good neighbors


AUGUST 11, 2022: So, because we're still on lockdown we couldn't go and celebrate our Anniversary Dinner at Long Neck Diner as we had planned. I've been craving one of their Turkish Spinach Pies which they serve with a Greek Salad.

It's been about 3 weeks since they last made them. They don't make them often in the summer because "only locals eat them," says the owner.

Ms. Conroy has been calling faithfully since Monday to inquire.

Yesterday, the owner told her that he would have some today. This morning, he called to say that they had been "verry bizzy, verry bizzy," but he asked the chef to make us 4 pies - two for our dinner and two for the freezer ("No, don't put in freezer. In fridge. Eat by Saturday. Maybe Sunday okay.")

So, before the kitchen crew left last night, they made Turkish Spinach Pies - but they only had enough on hand to make three. "So, three. Sorry. Only three. But, made just for you," said the owner.

They were delivered today right after the lunch rush. Still hot. We wrapped them in aluminum foil and warmed them in the oven for dinner. OMG. What a treat! And, the salad was so fresh! Our mouths and our tummies are very, very happy.

Or, as they might say in Istanbul, "Lezzetli!" (Delicious!)

This is just one of the reasons we make this our home. A Turkish chef in Delaware. Who'da thunk it? The future is brown, my friends. 2045. It's just around the corner.

That, and did I tell you? The pelicans have arrived. Yes, way! We never have pelicans. We have them now. I'm more excited than I know how to say.

Even in the midst of a resurgence of another COVID variant, you can always find a reason to celebrate. And, you don't even have to break a sweat.

Have a great evening, my friends.

Blessed to be a blessing

AUGUST 9, 2022 It's our 9th Anniversary. Well, one of our Anniversaries.

It was at 8 AM, August 9, 2013, in a booth at the Long Neck Diner when we gathered with our dear friends, Anita Broadrick and Bill Schatzabelle, and Bea, a former Roman Catholic nun and Hospice Chaplain, to be finally, officially, legally married.

We had struggled with the decision of whether or not to be married in a church. At that point in time, The Episcopal Church had not yet authorized the blessing of the covenant of marriage made by couples of the same gender.

We thought about having our then rector and his spouse come to the house, have the marriage ceremony and blessing, celebrate with a lovely dinner and champagne out on the deck, and call it a win.
We couldn't. As Ms. Conroy said, "Hell, we've been more of a blessing to the church than the church has been to us."

Me Irish lass has a way of bluntly stating the undeniable truth.

That did it. So, Long Neck Diner it was. Having a former RC nun officiate seemed absolutely right. We had a great breakfast, the license was signed as required, a few fellow diners smiled and applauded and we went off to work.

And, just like that, 37 years of the denial of our civil rights fell away like dry scales from the eyes of the blind. All those years of anxiety and worry about the custody of our kids, all those tears shed over isolation and exclusion and prejudice which influenced where we could live and what jobs we could hold were moved from difficult reality to bad memory.

Three years later, we would have our covenant blessed at All Saints' Church in Rehoboth Beach by our dear friend, +Gene Robinson but at that moment, the Long Neck Diner was the perfect place for us to tie up the loose, legal ends of our covenant of marriage.

Funny, but our "anniversary date" will always be in October - the day we made our vows to each other in 1977 (So, our 45th Anniversary. Wow!) But, this date is worthy of note, too, as the day the rest of the country and the church woke up to the truth that love is love is love.

And, love makes a family.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

A Prayer for Hospice

Holy, loving, and life-giving God,

It is always a privilege to come before you in prayer.

We come with hearts filled with gratitude.

We thank you for the gift of “most this amazing day”; we pray that through our knowledge, skills, and experience we may alleviate the suffering of our patients, especially those who have no respite from the unrelenting heat and humidity of this summer day.

We thank you for the gift of work and the meaning and purpose and dignity it gives our lives, especially the privilege of doing this work we call Hospice; we ask you to fill us with hope, strength, and courage that we might bring these gifts to our patients and their families and caretakers, as well as our team members.

We thank you, too, for the gifts of joy and laughter that lighten the burdens of our hearts and ease the heaviness of our souls; may the soft, beautiful sounds of joy and the gentle, sweet music of laughter carry the message of the miracle and wonderment of your unconditional love and the never-failing grace that is always available to us all.


Sunday, August 07, 2022

Where your treasure is

Pope Joan

A Reflection on Pentecost IX - Proper 14
August 7, 2022

Good Sunday morning, good people of the universe. It's a lovely day this morning. The present temperature at 8 o'clock is 79 degrees. Air quality is low but good at 18, UV index is low at 1, and the wind is coming from the SSW at 8 mph.

Yes, I said it's 8 o'clock. That's about two or so hours later than I usually start writing. I slept in this morning because I can't go to church. I'm on COVID isolation precautions until I get tested again on Wednesday.

I have written a sermon that the deacon will deliver. He'll be doing the Service of the Word followed by Communion from Reserved Sacrament.

We both prefer that, in the absence of a priest, when the deacon is presiding at the main Sunday service, to use Morning Prayer with Communion from Reserved Sacrament. It's what we did in both our former dioceses.

There are not, as of yet, any directives or policies and procedures in this diocese. Deacons have not been used in that way here, so the bishop is taking some time with the newly formed Commission on Ministry to figure things out in terms of what will work best here.

However, since I was diagnosed on Friday with COVID, we decided that the prudent thing to do was to keep the bulletin as written and adjust it accordingly. I'm sure it will be fine. Our deacon is highly skilled, very experienced, and wonderfully competent. We are blessed to have him.

There are at least five sermons in that gospel, however. You know it. It's the one from Luke (12:32-40) where, in the first paragraph alone, Jesus tosses out preaching gems like beads on a Mardi Gras float: "Do not be afraid," he says, and "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

And then he warns everybody to be always ready because God may come "like a thief in the night." That - that right there -  all by itself, is an amazing sermon. 
So, I mean, what if God is that thief in the night?

What are we afraid God will take from us? What is it that you treasure so much it would leave you bereft not to have it?

Oh, I've already had that happen to me. The memory of it is so strong that I am prepared, every day and night, to surrender it. 
What is it, you ask? Oh, just the story I tell myself about myself and others. The 'public narrative' of one Elizabeth M. C. Kaeton. The one I want so much to believe that I put that story out there for you to believe so that, the more you believe it, the more I will, too.

We all do that, to one extent or another. But, if the goal is to be more authentic, more of who we were created by God to be, more of our true self, then we've got to face some harsh truths about the ways in which we have adapted and modified ourselves in order to "fit in" and "be popular," "be liked" or "be loved" or "be successful".

And that, my friends, is just damn hard work. It's exhausting sometimes. Which is why we guard it so jealously. We're just not ready to have God steal away the story we tell about ourselves so we can work to find the core of truth about who God has created us to be and get on with the work God has given us to do in this world.

That's not the sermon I wrote for the deacon to preach. The one the deacon will deliver is a lot safer. Of course.

This is the last day of the Gathering of the Purple Shirts across The Pond, also known as Lambeth. They have a closing Eucharist (or, already have had) and then tomorrow is their Travel Day. At least, that's what's on the schedule.

I have no doubt that some of the brothers from The Global South will boycott the Eucharist as a way of sending a strong message that the Anglican Communion is broken.

We are broken, they say, because it was bad enough that we allowed 'girl cooties' into the corridors and councils of power and authority in the church, but now we've allowed 'queer cooties' to infect the system, too.

They are not having it. They know what scripture says. We taught it to them. They know how power and authority work. We taught that to them, too.

And then, there's colonialism.

So, while using the Eucharist as a political weapon is certainly odious, we taught that to them, too. We have seen the enemy and it is us.

If I were going to preach about what's going on at Lambeth ("Don't be afraid, little flock"), I might just have to call on my new BFF, Jan Phillips. 
I've spent this summer hanging out with her in her book, "No Ordinary Time: A Book of Hours For a Prophetic Age." I've been using this as my Daily Office. Well, I do go back and forth between this and Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" for Summertime.

I'd probably read her poem, "If I Were Pope". Here, check it out and you'll see why.
If I were pope
I'd proclaim the end of my infallibility
and banish the word sin from the doctrines of faith.

I'd ask half the bishops and cardinals
to replace themselves with a thoughtful woman
and complete their ministries in a prison or homeless shelter.

If I were pope
I'd pay the mystics to write poetry all day
and have their words read at the Sunday Masses.

I'd pay the prophets to upload their message
in five minute videos
for youtube viewers around the world.

I'd hire a thousand displaced workers
to construct a new Sistine Chapel and cover it with mirrors
instead of male images.

If I were pope
I'd announce a contest
for 10 new sacraments that celebrate
peace-making, justice, and interfaith creations.

I'd send envoys to the villages
to talk about birth control
and distribute condoms wherever they are needed.

I'd establish a tuition-free college in every country
to train young students how to think
non-violently and act ethically.

If I were pope I'd convert closed churches
to housing for the needy
and meeting places for the marginal and walking wounded.

I'd buy farms in rural places
and dedicate each one to organic farming
and cooperative, sustainable, community-based agriculture.

I'd convert every old Motherhouse and seminary
into a training center for spiritual activists, cultural creators
and community collaborators.

I'd auction off my skullcap, my mozetta cape and my darling red shoes
to the highest bidder and send the money to Haiti
for the construction of schools and health care centers.

I'd sell my Fisherman's Ring on ebay
and donate the proceeds to the Gulf shrimpers.

I'd trade my red and gold embroidered fascia
(the stole with the fringes) for a villa in Tuscany
and give free spa retreats to women who've served the church
for five years or more.

If I were pope, I'd throw a party at the Vatican
and invite everyone who's left the church
because they didn't feel welcomed.
(The overflow crowd would be treated to weekends
at Italian vineyards.)

If I were pope, I'd announce my retirement,
and as my last act in office, at the final party,
I'd ordain to the priesthood any woman who was ready,
marry any gay couple who wanted my blessing,
and marry any priest, male or female.

Then I'd get in my jammies,
say a prayer of gratitude,
and crawl into bed for a much needed nap.

I can't imagine a more explicit definition of - not to mention an amazing sermon on - "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Did I mention that Jan Phillips is a former nun? Get her 'out-of-the-box' Book of Hours. You won't be disappointed.)

So, it's time for me to go and make myself another cup of mint tea. I've been using springs of mint from my window garden and it really does help the queasiness. The progress is that we've gone from straight-up nausea to waves of queasiness. That may not sound like progress to you, but I'm taking it.

Please, please, please, please, please, be careful out there. This new variant does not do as much damage as the original - especially for those who have gotten their vaccine and boosters - but it is highly contagious and no-joke nasty.

Ms. Conroy was up most of the night with a high fever which finally broke early this morning. We both have miserable headaches. And, this too shall pass.

You know the drill: Masks. Hand washing. Social distance.

And, as they say on the streets of Rome, "Ciao Bella!"\

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Mercy and truth, righteousness and peace

If you have been blissfully unaware, there was a breakthrough of sorts at Lambeth yesterday. You can hear Presiding Bishop Michael Curry talk about it here:

So, in short, the Very Big thing that happened was just that the bishops, archbishops, and primates actually acknowledge reality. And, that reality? Well, they acknowledged that they don't agree on matters of human sexuality and human dignity.

I know, right? It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. And yet, there is cause for at least a modicum of rejoicing. I mean, that is a far cry from 1998 and Lambeth 1.10.

Here's my reflection on what happened yesterday at Lambeth.

A story of the definition of "Yud"

As a young pupil, the Chassidic master, Reb Yisrael of Ruzhin, was instructed by his teacher that whenever he saw two dots next to each other he was to pronounce G‑d’s name.

Now, at the end of a verse in the Torah, there are also two dots: one above the other. That evening at home, the young Reb Yisrael began to read. And every time he reached the end of a verse he uttered G‑d’s name.

His father repri­manded him: “What’s going on here?! Who taught you that?!” The boy responded, “My teacher did. He taught me that whenever I see two dots together, I should pronounce G‑d’s name. So that’s what I’m doing.”

Reb Yisrael’s father explained to his son: “The dot, the yud, represents a Jew. When one Jew is beside another, when one Jew respects the other, then G‑d dwells in their presence. Their alliance becomes G‑d’s name.

But when one Jew is on top of the other, when one Jew thinks he’s better or smarter than the next or disrespects his neighbor, then that’s the end of the passage. It creates a separation in the relationship between a Jew and G‑d."

And, here's a picture of Blessed Louie Crew Clay and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry which, to me, is not only something that happened in the past but is hope for the future.

"Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Psalm 85:10

Let's hope that the bishops can now move from studying and talking about scripture to actually living it out.

Oh, as Louie would say, "Joy Anyway!"