Come in! Come in!

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

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Practice: In Memory of Her

A Sermon in celebration of the life of
Mary Ann Torkelson, organist and choir director
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE

I’m so glad we could be together this afternoon, despite enduring tropical storm Ophelia, to honor and celebrate the life of Mary Ann Torkelson. I told her son, Brian, yesterday, that while I am unable to confidently report the shape of her heavenly form, I can imagine the earthly Mary Ann pacing back and forth on the billowy floor of heaven, worrying about all of us and what we might risk to be able to make it to the church safely.

In my imagination, she bundled up all that worry and went directly to the heavenly organ and started to play. She loved music and she loved to play the organ or piano. She said she was “just practicing” but you could tell that for her, what she was doing was more than just practicing the music she was going to play on Sunday. Much more.

“Practice” meant doing the thing you love most so that you could do it even better.

In the meantime, practicing helped her work out her worry about something. Or concern for the health status of a family member or a neighbor or a friend or a fellow parishioner. Or worry over yet another manifestation of “church politics”. Or, manage the anxiety about how to teach that particular, new, unfamiliar arrangement of a hymn that would be offered as an anthem next Sunday.


Practicing, for Mary Ann, was a form of prayer; it was an act of generosity and love.

I remember coming into the church quietly on Thursdays when I was here and she came in to practice. I won’t say I “snuck into the church” because I didn’t. I just came in through the side door, took a seat at the end of the front row and quietly listened to her practice.

I mentioned to her once that her playing sounded like prayer. She smiled and asked, “How did you know?” And then we talked a bit about what was on her mind. That happened a few times while I was here. I think she enjoyed our conversations as much as I did.

And that was the thing about Mary Ann. She was all about relationships. Music was the key to having relationships with people. With the choir, yes, but with the congregation. And, with the priest. Well, this priest, for sure. And, of course, with God.


Some leaders in the church – lay and ordained – are transactional. You do this for me, I do this for you. Mary Ann was not transactional. Mary Ann was relational. And, because she was relational, transformation was possible.


I watched her on Sunday mornings – before and/or after the church service – leading the choir through practice. I saw her, on a few occasions, offer the choir a new hymn or arrangement of a hymn and, if the choir was lukewarm and one person really didn’t like it, well, that hymn was out. That said, she also knew when it was that the choir just needed guidance and confidence and needed to be challenged.

I remember the first year I was here and we were gearing up for the first Easter back in the sanctuary after COVID. We had lots of plans to make the service simple yet simply wonderful.


Mary Ann fretted that there would not be a choir for Easter Day. I remember saying, “Mary Ann, I have great confidence in you. You’ll think of something.”

A few days later she said to me, “Have you heard Charlie sing?” I am humbled to confess that, at that time, I was so new to the church I wasn’t even sure who Charlie was. She said, “Well, anyway, I’m thinking of asking him to sing an anthem for Easter Day.”


“That’s great,” I said. “Does he sing in the Choral?” “Umm . .. No,” she said, looking away so my eyes wouldn’t meet hers, “Umm . . .Actually, he’s never sung before. I mean, not in a choir. But, I think he can do this and, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to ask him.”


Of course, I agreed. Well, I didn’t find out until later that Charlie had never sung in a choir. Or, sung in public, much less sung a solo. Charlie agreed to sing a solo for Easter based solely on two things: He wanted to sing for his new church on Easter. And, he wanted to sing because Mary Ann had confidence that he would do a good job.

There were a lot of reasons to rejoice that first Easter after COVID when we gathered back in this church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. And, it was truly a resurrection. COVID had decimated all the infrastructure of the church: the Altar Guild, the Worship Committee, the Lectors and The Altar Servers were all newly re-organized and, was, to be honest, pretty much a pick up team situation, with last minute instructions being given at the very last second.

Nevertheless, the silver had been polished to a fair thee well. The pews were glossy with lemon oil. The grass in the church yard had been freshly mowed and the grass around the gravestones trimmed. The flowers were arranged beautifully. The vestments and altar hangings were perfection. The hymn selection was joyous. Mary Ann played her heart out on that organ.

Ah, but it was Charlie, led by Mary Ann’s guidance and the confidence she had in him, whose performance was the best sermon on faith and the power of our resurrected Lord I have ever heard. It left me slack-jawed with awe and wonder and weeping with joy at the possibilities promised by Jesus when we “love one another as he and God love us.”

Which brings us to today. The bell choir hasn’t convened in a very long time. They have come together today in memory of her. The choir hasn’t done many solos in a while. They are doing one today, in memory of her. Mary Ann’s dear friend, Bonnie Kuhn is here, playing the organ, in memory of her.


And, we are honored to have members of the Choral here with us today who are joining their voices with the voices of the St. Paul’s Choir, and all of whose voices, I am quite certain, will join with the voices of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to sing praises to The One who created us all, but especially created Mary Ann as a gift to us, whom we now return to God. We do this, in memory of her.

As Irving Berlin once wrote, “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.”

The gospel for today tells the story of a woman who, I’m sure, was a distant cousin of Mary Ann. Her name was Mary of Bethany, who did a bold and brave and generous thing in anointing Jesus with expensive oil.

When one of the disciples complained about her, Jesus scolded him and said, “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Mary of Bethany teaches us to take a risk and pour out our love boldly, generously, lavishly, extravagantly,, wastefully.

We all knew and loved her as “Mary Ann” but her family called her Grandy. That’s the name she wanted her grandchildren to call her but over time, everyone in the family called her Grandy.

No matter. We called her Mary Ann. We all have our own favorite and particular memories of the woman we have come to remember and celebrate and honor today. Each one of those stories together tell the story of a woman to whom life was not necessarily either kind or fair, but a woman who was unfailingly generous and kind nonetheless.

Here's what I think Mary Ann would like me to say to you: Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes prayer. When you practice – whatever it is: your voice or your instrument, your art or science, your baking or cooking, your needlework or woodwork – when you practice the gift you have been given, you send up a little prayer of thanksgiving to the one who gave you the gift in the first place.

Remember that practice means doing the thing you love most so that you can do it even better. Practice, ultimately is a form of prayer; it is the risk of love that is poured out boldly, generously, lavishly, extravagantly, wastefully.


Take the risk of practicing your faith in whatever manner it has been given to you and you will not only find the confidence to continue, you will be the inspiration for someone to find confidence in themselves, to try something new, to stretch themselves and give of themselves sacrificially so that others will be inspired to do the same.

And, when you practice, do it in memory of her.


Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lament and Forgiveness

Good Sunday morning, good people of the Sabbath. Happy New Year to all who observe and celebrate.

It's another bright-bright, sun-shiny day here on the Delmarva Peninsula. It's been a cool morning, temperature-wise. Fifty-six degrees when I woke up, but it promises to soar to the high 70s later today.

It's September in the Midlantic. This is just how we roll.

It's been a Very Interesting weekend in the news. Turns out, a senior staff advisor to The Former Guy and the Governor of South Dakota, a "God-Fearing Family Woman", who is married, have been having a years-long affair.

The Representative from the State of Colorado, another "good Christian woman," was also thrown out of the theater during a performance of Beetlejuice for vaping and mutual groping. She explained her current situation by saying that there's "no roadmap to work your way through a divorce" (BTW, from a husband who was in prison for flashing his penis in a public place at two young women, in the presence of his wife.)

I can hear that super low baritone voice of Bowser from Sha-Na-Na, singing in the background, "How low can you go?" Of course, he we singing about doing The Limbo but lately, it seems to be the theme song of a particular political party.

Over at the Lectionary Page, Jesus - that guy some preachers say, "may not come when you want him, but he's always right on time" - has done it again. Or, his scriptwriters have (I suppose when you write scripts for Jesus, you don't need a union so you don't need to be on strike).

Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."

I don't think that gives us a license to go out and sin again because, well, apparently we are compelled to forgive over and over and over again.

I mean, even Luther said, "Sin boldly, but love more boldly still."

I just re-read an essay written 5 years after the event, entitled, "I don’t forgive the man who murdered my cousin DePayne at Mother Emanuel," in Christian Century magazine by Waltrina N. Middleton.

I do have to repeat something she related: As her cousin and the others lay dead in pools of their own blood on the floor of the room where they had previously welcomed that young White man who had just studied scripture, prayed with them before opening fire and shooting them dead, the White police were driving him to the prison but first stopped off at the ("Have it your way") Burger King to buy him a hamburger and fries.

She writes:

"Imagine being beaten, raped, stolen away from your land, subjected to agonizing suffering—and then having your captors christen you in a chapel inside a slave castle. Five years ago, when domestic terror traumatized a church, culture, and community, the resonance of America’s past was exposed like strange fruit. The insistence on a narrative of “the family forgives” created a missed opportunity for a time of deeper truth-telling, reconciliation, and healing. How do you promote a narrative of forgiveness while ignoring the very roots of racism that perpetuated such horror?

We can be committed to love and radical hospitality, to welcoming the stranger into our midst, to extending a seat to join us at the table—while also maintaining our right to be angry and to righteously resist the violence against our humanity. To insist on a narrative of forgiveness is dehumanizing and violent, and it goes against the very nature of lament. As Christians we celebrate the donning of ashes and sackcloth as a priestly act of lamentation and mourning. Why deny families, in a watershed moment of grief, this right to lament?"

Five years before that, Roxane Gay wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times entitled, "Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof." She wrote:

"My unwillingness to forgive this man does not give him any kind of power. I am not filled with hate for this man because he is beneath my contempt. I do not believe in the death penalty so I don’t wish to see him dead. My lack of forgiveness serves as a reminder that there are some acts that are so terrible that we should recognize them as such. We should recognize them as beyond forgiving."

Seven times? asks Peter.

Seventy-times seven says Jesus.

I don't hear those words from Jesus as I once did; Jesus isn't talking about the value of forgiveness as much as He is talking about the process of forgiveness.

I think Jesus is placing more of a value on our lament as a process of forgiveness, opening the possibility that our lament may well be the only form of forgiveness we can offer.

Not only are there some crimes that are too horrific and hideous to be forgiven - especially the betrayal of hospitality and trust while reading scripture and praying - but also when the commitment to forgiveness is used as an excuse to continue to perpetrate violence on a particular race, or gender, or sexual orientation.

Seventy-times seven?

Maybe even that's not enough for some crimes.

Maybe our lament is the best we can do until the only forgiveness we can offer is simply to let it go so that carrying it around is more of a burden to us than the original pain.

But, not before serving notice that you will work with all your heart and mind and strength to make certain that it doesn't happen ever again to anyone of any color or gender identity, creed or ethnicity, age or sexual orientation.

And, on that note, I'm going to take my leave for the day. It's off to church for me where I am privileged to preside over the sacred mysteries.

Yes, there are many mysteries in life that are sacred, including lament and forgiveness, but this one has to do with how God offers spiritual food and nourishment to us all - saint and sinner. It's what we do with that mystery of faith that makes all the difference in the world.


Off I go, then, to "practice" the mystery of forgiveness.

Make it a great day. Shana Tova!

Bom dia!

Christian Century article:

NY Times article:

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Loosed & Bound & Chatty Benches

 St. Philip's Episcopal Church
Laurel, Delaware
Pentecost XV - September 10,2023

When I worked as a Hospice Chaplain in New York, my office was located in Herald Square, Manhattan. A Transit Pass was part of my compensation so I could take a subway or a bus anywhere in New York City. Even so, as long as my schedule made it feasible, I much preferred to walk the streets.

There was one woman I ran into often. She was known by the locals as “The Blue Lady” because she was frequently dressed in some shade of blue, but it was more than that. She wore her sadness and loneliness around her shoulders like an old, tattered sweater.  

Just looking at her, pushing her grocery cart which was alternately filled with food she was bringing home or laundry she was taking to the laundromat made you feel sad and lonely, too.

Some said that she was once beautiful and used to be part of the dance ensemble on Broadway. Word was, she was pretty good. Not enough to be a star but she was pretty and she was good and so she almost always made the auditions to be part of the ensemble.


The word was also that she fell madly in love with a male star who, once the run of show had ended, moved on, leaving her behind with a broken heart that never really mended. There followed many years of abuse of alcohol which, for the first time in her adult life, earned her the label of “unreliable”. She made fewer and fewer auditions. Gradually, she stopped trying.


Mostly, she was ignored. Worse was when people – tourists, mostly – went out of their way to ignore her, making a big show of stepping out of her way, as if she had leprosy or that her body odor was much worse than it actually was.

There were a few of us who either worked or lived in the neighborhood who went out of our way to say hello to her – which was no easy task. You had to catch her when she was standing still to look over some fresh fruit or admire a bouquet of flowers and lingered to remember the time when her lover brought her beautiful bouquets. Then, you hand to stoop down and look up under her hat in order to catch her eye and say, “Good morning!” or “Hello in there!”

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, she would look up and study your face. And sometimes, if you were really lucky, she accepted both your greeting and your smile and say, softly, humbly, “Thank you,” as if you were paying her this wonderful kindness which she had neither earned nor deserved.


Something always felt more balanced in the world when I got that kind of response from her, or I saw her response to the kindness of another. Her gratefulness was palpable and real, and seemed to set off a minor vibration that just ever so slightly shifted the energy around her and changed the world for the good.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus teaching his disciples about how he wants them to behave as leaders in the new order of the world which his ministry is to bring into being.
It's important to remember that Jesus lived in what scholars call am “honor/shame” society where people were quick to take offense. So, Jesus is giving those who will be the leaders of the new community a simple formula to resolve conflict.

We are wise to take note of that process. As a country and a people, we seem to have returned to that ancient, primitive way of being. Many of us seem to be made of tinder and live in fear that the next person may be carrying a lit match. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time in our common lives – in homes, at work, in families, and neighbors and friends – when tempers fly faster than fireflies in the darkened woods.

The information superhighway has never been smoother and faster, bringing information from millions of miles away in the seeming blink of an eye. Problem is, social scientists tell us that a lie can circle the globe three times before the truth can be told. (Hear that again)

This has led to what social scientists are calling “An Epidemic of Loneliness”. How ironic, right? We have the best, fastest communication in the world and yet there is an epidemic – a widespread, worldwide epidemic – of loneliness due to social isolation.

We’re also learning that loneliness is deadly. It is linked to strokes, heart disease, dementia, inflammation and suicide. The surgeon general of the United States warns that loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than obesity.

I’ve recently learned that England has installed what they call “chatty benches,” where people are encouraged to sit down and start a conversation with anyone else sitting there. There are also “talking cafes,” where you’re encouraged to speak with other coffee drinkers.

Imagine such a thing! Well, I can. This, my friends, may be a terrible time to be a citizen of the world, but it is the best time to be a follower of Jesus. Those of us who know Jesus and follow his teachings know that the very heart of our faith is about community.

Jesus has called us together to live together in some kind of harmony. Jesus gave us a lot of teaching but only one commandment: Love one another. Thankfully and mercifully, he never said, Like one another. That’s ever so much more difficult.

To love one another means doing no harm. It means adjusting our default settings so that our first impulse is toward kindness and generosity of spirit. To love one another means that even though you don’t like someone, you look for the good in them. Anyway. At least, for the potential to do good. And, to love one another sometimes means speaking a hard word of truth: You hurt me. When you did that, I felt betrayed. You said one thing – promised one thing – but did another. You promised you wouldn’t do that ever again and then you turned right around and did that exact same thing again.

Life would be ever so much better – families could be so much stronger – workplaces could be so much safer – churches could follow Jesus more nearly if we loved one another enough to do exactly what Jesus says and do the hard work of loving one another enough to speak the truth in love FIRST to the person who made the offense.

That’s the wisdom of Jesus. This is how he wants us to be with each other.  Speaking the truth in love takes courage. It’s so much easier to be passive aggressive and let our anger or hurt come out sideways. In my business, in pastoral care and counseling, we have a saying, “Hurt people hurt people.”  It’s a hard truth but nonetheless true: Hurt people who have never attempted to find healing and reconciliation will, ironically, inflict pain on others. And, sometimes, like The Blue Lady of Midtown, Manhattan, they will try to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” So, you know, the stakes are high. Nothing happens in secret. It's Newton's Third Law of Motion: To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Or, as my Grandmother used to say, "Live your life as if everyone will know everything you've done because eventually, everyone will."

Or, as the Beatles once sang:   "There's nothin' you can know that isn't known. /Nothin' you can see that isn't shown. There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be. It's easy" And then, of course, they famously sang, "All you need is love."

Well, love takes some work, doesn’t it? It takes intention. It takes an adjustment of attitude from asking “What’s good for me?” to “What good can I do?” God knows, there’s enough bad stuff happening in the world. It’s the people who do small acts of kindness that help to balance things out. Newton’s Third Law of Motion – the equal and opposite reaction which balances out the hate with love.

Small acts of kindness, like: The people I’ve seen who see liter on the side of the road, pull over and stop their cars to pick it up.

Or, the adults who are coaching and cheering kids who are learning a sport while they are learning important lessons in life as they learn how to be part of a team.

It’s the 'volunteers' who bring a meal and a smile and a bit of conversation to someone whose health is fragile and body frail but their heart and soul just need a bit of attention from another human being in order to flourish.

It’s the folks who take the time to read to kids in the library. It’s even someone who holds open a door or lets a car pass or looks into the lonely eyes of someone and says, "Hello in there.” By which they are saying, hello, I see you. I care.

When those things happen, balance is restored and maintained in a world that is teetering on the brink of imbalance.


There is an ancient teaching among the Rabbis – perhaps one even Jesus learned – which is this: Before every human being go 10,000 angels who call out, “Make way! Make way for the image of God!”

What if we behaved as if that were true? What if we listened for the angels and saw in every person the image of God? How might that change the way we treated them?

Perhaps it would mean that the next time we saw a lonely person we might invite them to the nearest “chatty bench” and had a conversation. We might just be able to find an end to the epidemic of loneliness, one smile, one greeting, one lonely person at a time.

I’m going to leave you with this thought: Now that this church is brilliantly providing a space where people can be alone with their thoughts and in prayers with God over at Old Christ Church, what if this church considered doing an equal and opposite action? What if we came together and collected the funds to donate a “chatty bench”?

What if we placed it somewhere in Laurel? It could be in front of the church, but perhaps it might be near the library or town hall? What if the bench had the name and number of the church on it with the inscription that said something like, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20.

I wonder what would happen. I wonder if people just might put down their cell phones for 10 red hot seconds, look each other in the eye and say, “Well, hello.” And maybe, follow that with, “How are you?” And, actually mean it.

And, suddenly, they might be still enough to hear 10,000 angels call out, “Behold, the image of God.” And, before you know it, they might actually have a bit of a chat. You know. Just like people used to do, back when we had clothes lines and had an after dinner walk and got cards and letters and newspapers in our mail boxes, and greeted each other on the street and in the aisle in the supermarket and had things to talk about other than the latest gripe or gossip.

You might actually get a smile in return. And, you might perceive a minor vibration that just ever so slightly shifted the energy around you both which changed the world for the good. Or, at least, your perception of the world might change. Which just might be enough.

I wonder . . . . . .

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”




Good Sunday Morning, good people of the universe. The thunder and rain and lightning last night and this morning are not Hurricane Lee which is still south of us. Apparently, this is a storm coming from the West, over the mountains. We'll just call this "John the Baptist Weather," preparing the way for "Lee the Hurricane."

I've been watching the birds at the bird feeder outside our sunroom windows. They are picking through the seed which is soaked with rain. You can almost hear them muttering about how they really prefer their seed dry and not soggy.

But, they still cluster and pick, even if they occasionally complain and mutter. They seem to be there more for the company than the seed.

Or, perhaps that's my projection.

I've been reading a lot, here and there, about "The Epidemic of Loneliness" that is affecting this country as well as many so-called civilized countries around the world.

Of course, social media is being blamed for everything. Of course. It is ironic that in an age when communication - personal, national, international, global - is the fastest it's ever been in history that there should be an epidemic of loneliness.

One fact struck me hard: A lie can circulate three times around the globe before the truth can be told.

Just let that sink in for a red-hot internet second in real-time.

I know that it is not unusual for people to mark the days of their lives by a catastrophe.

"Well, the town hasn't been the same since Hurricane Rita."

"We used to have lots of lovely novelty shops downtown, and cafes and boutique shops but all of that changed after the Recession." (Or, the factory left. Or, the mine closed. Or, the economy tanked. Or . . . . .)

I don't think this country has been the same since 9/11. I'm keenly aware of that anniversary tomorrow. Something besides buildings was destroyed. Naivete or a sort of innocence about This American Life. Trust, I think, went with it.

And, once again, I really don't want to talk about it.

And, maybe I should.

I'm remembering just now one trip, years ago, to Ghana. We were in a village way up in the north, in Tamale, as I recall. We visited a village of women who were celebrating and wanting to share with us their joy because a church in Great Britain had sent them the money to be able to put a pump into their well.

Now, they said, we no longer have to pull up water. Now, look! See? We can just pull down on this pump and - Oh joy, we've seen it a hundred times now and we can still hardly believe it - Look! The water flows so easily into our containers!

Never mind that those were 20 and 30-gallon containers which they then lifted up and put on their heads to carry bac on the 1 mile walk back to the village.

One of the women leaned into me and asked, "Do you have such a marvel in your village?"

"No," I said, trying to contain the quiet laugh that gave rise spontaneously at the thought. "No, you see, we have faucets and sinks that bring the water directly into our homes."

She gasped at the wonder of such a thing. "Yes," I said, "and that water can be hot or cold. We have separate faucets for each."

She shook her head in amazement. "You mean, the water is right there, in your home? You do not have to carry it or bring it back to your village?"

"Yes," I said, "that's exactly what I mean."

And then, a sudden sadness overtook her face. She looked at me with great pity and sorrow. "What is it?" I asked. She put her hand gently on my arm as if to express her sadness and sympathy for me.

"Oh," she said, "if the women do not go to the village well to get your water, how do you tell your stories?"

Ah yes. One of the great ironies of our time. The rich American woman was so poor all she had was money.

The great irony of our time is that technology has made it possible that we've never been better able to talk with each other. Unfortunately, I think we talk TO each other - indeed, many times, we talk AT each other - and not WITH each other.

I don't know if we are really able to have conversations of any substance via email or on social media or X (formerly known as Twitter). There's something about incarnational conversation that is powerful because, I think, we're more apt to share our stories and when we share our stories, something transformational happens.

In this morning's Gospel, we hear Jesus give instructions to his disciples about how they are to handle conflict in community, after which he reminds them, "...whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

There are consequences. There are always consequences. Side effects. Collateral Damage.

See also: Epidemic of Loneliness.

I don't know what would be a "metaphorical village well" where we can go and tell our stories. Maybe that's the church? It could be, again, if the institutional church were to realize how much trust has been eroded and work to restore that again.

Well, anyway, that's where I'm headed. To church. I'm delighted to be with the people of St. Philip's, Laurel, DE this morning. I am going to talk to them a bit about this Epidemic of Loneliness and introduce an idea that started in England.

It's called a "chatty bench" which are placed around towns to encourage spontaneous conversations. The church has just created a lovely "Prayer Cove" over at Old Christ Church, the pre-revolutionary war church on the other side of town where folks can go and be alone and in prayer.

I'm wondering if they might consider Newton's Third Law of Dynamics: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What if, I wonder, the church put up a "chatty bench" outside the church or the library or the town hall as a place to encourage spontaneous conversations.

Just a little something with the name and phone number of the church and, perhaps, this: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Maybe, if we created places where people could share their stories, well, who knows what might happen?

Off I go, then, to wonder and ponder and pray and, perhaps, share a story or two, call that a sermon, and hope for the best.

Make it a great day everyone.

Bom dia.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Labor Day: A FB Reflection

Good Monday morning, good people of the last day of the long Labor Day weekend.

Oddly enough, many people will spend most of this day in their car, driving for miles on long stretches of asphalt when they're not sitting for long minutes in heavy traffic on the hot asphalt with thousands of other people who just want to get home after two glorious days at the beach.

Some people call this a 'holiday'.

We are actually celebrating the importance of work and the dignity of workers.

The eight-hour work week began as a socialist dream (shhh . . . don't tell that to some of my 'summer neighbors' with their pontoon boats loaded with coolers of food and beer kegs they claim they can't afford because of "the economy", flying flags that say, "Let's Go Brandon" and "F**K Biden" and - no surprise - "Trump 2024".)

Welsh textile mill owner and social reformer Robert Owen is credited as the first person to articulate the 8-hour work day, by calling for “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest” for workers in 1817.

That never really took in the UK but on 19 May 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a National Eight-Hour Law Proclamation.

The origins of Labor Day date back to the late 19th century, when activists first sought to establish a day that would pay tribute to workers. The first U.S. Labor Day celebration took place in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882.

Labor Day has been a national holiday in the United States since 1894. To many, it may signify picnics, parades, a day off from work, or the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

As the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants who were labor union organizers, I grew up with a different understanding of Labor Day which was infused with a sense of the dignity and value of work.

My grandmother instilled it in us from the time we were very young. You never - ever - wanted to be like some of the kids you went to school with who sat around their house and got bored - or (gasp), had the temerity to admit boredom.

And if, by chance, your grandmother should see you and be momentarily concerned that you were not well and ask, "What's wrong, flower?" and you should lose your damn mind and sigh and say, right out loud, "There's nothing to do" . . . .

. . . . . . . WELLLLL . . . .

I still regret the day I said that, so many decades ago.

"Nothing to do?!?!?" she'd say, "NOTHING TO DO?!?!?!?!?" she'd repeat, raising her voice to an ominous tone. "Oh, I think we can find SOMETHING for YOU to DO . . . ."

And, just like that, I'd find myself sitting under the dining room table with a bottle of Murphey's Oil Soap and a soft cloth, polishing in between the "toes" of the claw of whatever creature it was whose carved wooden foot held up the table.

While I was down there, my grandmother would be sitting above me at the table, getting a bag of peas ready for me to shell once I finished that task, and then getting out the silver for me to polish after that, all the while extolling the virtues of work and repeating the "8-8-8" structure of the 24 hours God has given us in the day to work and play and rest.

She said that work brought purpose to life but so did play. To her, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," was tantamount to Gospel truth. And "rest" was equally important but that was different from "play".

To her, "Go out and play" was a holy command, meant to maintain the sacred order of life.

It was her "holy trinity" of the gift of life.

But it was the dignity of work that my grandmother stressed. I'm sure she was repeating some of the sermons she heard at her beloved Roman Catholic Church which was very involved in helping immigrants and in supporting the labor union movement, especially during work strikes.

For my grandmother, the dignity of work meant that hard work should pay off for everyone, no matter who you are or what kind of work you do. To her, it was wonderful - grand, in fact - if you were a doctor or a teacher. But that didn't give you any greater value as a human being than a factory or mill worker.

Everyone has value as a child of God. Everyone has a job to do as a child of God. The work of every child of God was valued and ought to be rewarded. Work gave everyone dignity because you were doing your part to further the Realm of God.

So, even though I came by my chores as a result of whining and sniveling and being a brat, there was always a reward at the end.

We'd make cookies or a pie together and then enjoy the fruits of our labor. Or, she'd slip a shiny nickel into my pocket and pat my head. And, she'd always say, "Thank you." That was more important to me than anything else. It put the "dignity" in the phrase "dignity of work".

As I grew older, I learned that "dignity of work" in the workplace means having zero tolerance for harassment, victimization, and discrimination. Being considerate towards colleagues, clients, and non-workers. Celebrating workplace diversity and differences.

So yes, it's important to have this Labor Day Weekend as the sort of last hurrah before it's back to school (which, in some places, happened weeks ago), and the beginning of the Fall Season.

It's more important, I think, to reflect on the work we do and why we do it and the conditions under which we work and how we can improve the quality of our lives by respecting and valuing the work that we do and the person doing the work.

I think those of us who are in leadership or management positions are especially called to this reflection. How is it that the way we treat those who work at our direction is reflective of the worth and value and dignity of being human?

So, let's get to it, shall we? Today is a beautiful gift of a day and it would be a shame not to open it up and see what's inside.

Make it a great day, everyone.

Bom dia.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

September Morn: FB Reflection


Good Sunday morning, good people of this lovely September morn. Didn't Neil Diamond sing a song with that title? "We danced until the night became a brand new day" is the line dancing around in my brain.

Not a whole lot of time to write down my reflections this morning. The pups were awake at ten. minutes. to. five. am. I'm not sure why. They just were. And so were we.

My hands smell of basil. And, parsley. And, pine nuts. And, Romano cheese. A friend has a very generous basil plant that has been giving us lots of bounty. I've made three batches of pesto and I'm about to make what I think will be my last for the freezer.

There's something wonderful about having the smell of food on your hands - especially things that come out of the earth like basil and parsley.

Yes, of course, it reminds me of my youth. My grandparents and my father seemed to always have their hands in the good earth.

For the better part of the year - except Winter - my father always seemed to have at least a stubborn small amount of dirt under his fingernails. It was as if it clung to him as fiercely as he clung to it.

If I close my eyes and let the smell of basil carry me, I can also smell the way the aroma of new potatoes fills the air. And, the distinctive smell of carrots and beets when you pull them up from their cradle in the earth.

These "memory odors" have carried me back this morning to a time when the world seemed so much out of my grasp of understanding and yet it seems so much simpler to me now, that I look back on it.

I was filled with questions about everything then. “Why” was, hands down, my favorite word. Or, at least, the one I spoke most often. I asked lots of questions that didn't have an answer - or, at least, not an easy one.

I still don't know why vegetables and herbs have their own distinctive smell but that's not become as important to me as that they do, and that those odors are strong enough to carry me back to happy memories that are still teaching me things I didn't think I needed to know.

Simple truths. Simple truths that get unnecessarily complicated by life's experiences and asking too many 'Why's' that don't have an answer because, if you are blessed to live long enough, you come to understand that not everything in life has an answer.

Furthermore, you're not entitled to an answer to everything. It's important to stay alert and aware and curious. Why? Because it opens you to appreciate the mysteries in life.

Truth be told, it was the smell of basil and parsley on my hands that carried me to an insight about the pericope from St. Paul's letter to the ancient church in Rome which is part of today's lectionary reading (Romans 12:9-21)

There are simple truths there: "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers."

One of my colleagues suggested that this passage should be copied out and printed at the entrance to the church.

Simple truths. Old as dirt. Fragrant as basil and parsley. Maybe we should inhale them more often. The world might be a better place if we did.

That's it for today. I'm off to the House of the Lord to gather up the crumbs and broken bits from under the altars of my life and bring them to be blessed and and transformed and used for nourishment.

I hope you make of today the best of all the best that is being offered to you.

If nothing else, take a tip from Mr Diamond and “dance until the night becomes a brand new day.”

Bom dia.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Labor Day Weekend FB Musing: Take up your cross

Good Saturday morning, good people of Labor Day Weekend. It's a fairly glorious morning here on the Delmarva Peninsula. Almost picture-perfect weather for the first weekend in September.

The AC setting is on OFF for the first time in months - has been since last evening. It's just reached 60 degrees, having plummeted to the low 50s last night. All the windows are open. And, the sliding glass doors.

I had forgotten what it was like to fall asleep smelling the ocean and hearing the sounds of the marsh. It was magical. As they say in Ghana, I slept "like a foolish man."

Speaking of magic and foolish men, I've been thinking about the Gospel for tomorrow. It's from Matthew 16:21-28 and it's the follow-up conversation between Jesus and The Rock.

Jesus starts to lay out for the disciples what's about to happen - the betrayal, the trial, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Peter, bless his heart, says he doesn't want Jesus to suffer.

That's when Jesus gets what we can assume is a bit miffed at Peter. "Get behind me Satan," are not exactly words of gentle admonishment. But then, he says something that contains words that still haunt me from my Roman Catholic youth.

"Take up your cross."

When the priests and nuns of my youth said that, it was hard to miss the Sado-masochistic overtones in their words. We would often be quoted the words from St. Paul: "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I don't think any adult has any right to repeat those words to children - especially when they were used to justify Father gathering all the children into the auditorium to call up those who had gotten a C or below to shame them into improving their grades for the next semester.

It takes a great deal of emotional and spiritual maturity to understand the words and their context to understand the deeper meaning of trying to make meaning out of suffering.

So, yeah, I totally get Peter's reaction. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” It ought never to have happened to anyone. But, it does. Even today.

Well, there are some places in the world where actual, brutal crucifixion still happens. We don't hear about it but that doesn't mean that people are - even as I type this - being tortured to death in horrid, obscene methods that make crucifixion look like a mercy and a kindness.

Then, there are people in this country who are being murdered for the color of their skin. A 21-year-old pregnant Black woman, mother of two, accused of shoplifting at a supermarket, was shot dead in her car by police in Ohio. (Say her name: Ta'Kiya Young.) The policeman who shot her is on administrative leave. (Seriously!?!?!?!?)

Women are being denied bodily autonomy and, in some states, being denied the opportunity to cross state lines in order to obtain the medical and surgical health care they need. Some young women who are deputies to the General Convention next year in Louisville, KY are concerned that if they are pregnant and suffer a miscarriage they could be jailed for getting the medical treatment they need.

Oh, and then there's the President of the House of Deputies who brought Title IV charges against a retired bishop who made sexually inappropriate advances to her, only to be surprised to learn that the "process" that promises "reconciliation" and not "justice" did just that. It made "nice" and did not provide her the justice she sought. (Some of us have been complaining loudly about this for years.)

There are also immigrants who are fleeing unimaginable suffering in their own countries who are being placed in busses with other immigrants and transported thousands of miles, far from any relative here in this country, by cruel politicians who want to make a political point.

And then, there's the personal, private suffering in our own lives. The emotional torture of betrayal and loss, anxiety and depression. Marriages broken. Alcoholism. Drug addiction. Psychiatric disorders. The almost unimaginable parental pain of the innocuous-sounding "adolescent rebellion," which can happen even when the adult child has supposedly matured.

I recently heard a psychiatrist (MD) estimate that on any given Sunday morning, at least - AT LEAST - one-quarter of the congregation is on some sort of anti-depressant and/or mood-elevating medication. Clergy are not included in that number but are most assuredly part of the statistic.

What comfort might we find in the words of Jesus to "Take up your cross and follow me"?

Damn little, is my answer. Trying to apply the specific words of Jesus, said to specific apostles at a specific moment in his ancient earthly journey is not always applicable to those of us who try to follow Jesus today.

It takes years of lived experience, of living through emotional and spiritual and even physical disasters, to begin to understand the concept of suffering, loss, and resurrection.

It's like a toddler trying to understand the game of "Peek-a-boo." Or, the preschool child trying to understand that at the end of the day, their parents will, in fact, return to come to get them and take them home and the pattern will repeat itself.

It's that moment when we all experience the magic of some sort inherent and waiting to be discovered in life.

Something that happens that defies logic, like coming upon a spider's web woven across two rocks in the forest, its intricacies heightened by the glistening morning dew.

The feeling in the heart of a grandparent that moment you realize that your heart has expanded, once again, to love each one and all your children and yet another grandchild, just as much as the moment you fell in love with the first newborn you held in your arms just moments after their miraculous birth.

The insight you get when you arrive at that moment in time - unannounced and unexpected (having long ago given up all hope, despite your endurance and character) - when you come face to face with a moment you thought would never arrive and the truth of MLK's words becomes clear: That the moral arc of the universe is long but it always, in fact, bends toward justice.

Those moments are precious and magical and you understand things with the logic which can only be found at the place where the logic of the heart crosses the reason of the mind.

And you learn that THAT is the cross you need to take up. That cross at the place which Martin Smith called "the crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith."

It's a long journey. For most of us, it's longer than the one from Galilee to Jerusalem. Then again, we're not Jesus. Or, for that matter, Peter or any of the other disciples. We just do the best we can with the little bit of stardust we have.

I hope you are able to enjoy today. I hope the current climate conditions where you are allow you to open a few windows breathe in the fresh air and listen for sounds you haven't heard for a while.

What can happen after that is really magical.

Bom dia!


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Facebook Reflection: Why I go to church

Good Sunday morning, good people of the cosmos. It's a perfectly lovely morning in August, here on the Delmarva Peninsula. Temperatures are expected to stay in the seventies and there's a very light breeze coming from the NNE. Humidity, however, is 86% so a fan may be necessary.

We are getting ready for church this morning and I find my heart heavy. Actually, it's not so much my heart being heavy as my head being full.

There's a lot going on, you know? In the world. In the lives of some of my friends. In my life. Not a lot of it makes sense.

Sometimes, you know, you just can't think your way out of or even through things.

Sometimes, you just have to let stuff stew. Or simmer. Or marinate. Or, cool off. Before you taste a bit more, to see if you need to add something or if it just needs time before you can deal with it. Let the cake cool before you try to frost it.

That's when church can become important. It doesn't really matter if the choir is stellar or the preacher is particularly good (although that’s always lovely).

Sometimes, it's just being able to sit in the same holy space with people you know are also trying to sort stuff out, work stuff through, put stuff together.

You don't even really need to know the particulars of their story. You just see it in their faces. The way their shoulders slump. The something-something in their gait as they walk up to the communion rail and the way they walk back, hands together, head down.

Deep in the middle of the middle of The Deep.

Does misery love company? Perhaps. But, I don't think that's what's going on here.

I think The Holy is often found in a room filled with people who are broken and trying to make themselves whole again.

That's nothing the priest or the preacher or the choir director or choir has any control over. The only thing that makes that possible is for there to be an invisible but very clear sign at the entrance to the church and in every particle of every molecule of air in the "sanctuary" - the safe place" - that says, simply, "Come."

So, I'm off to go to a place where I know that's possible. It isn't always so every week. Some weeks, the message is stronger and clearer than others. You know, because we're human and nothing is ever perfect, except being perfectly human.

It's the possibility - nay, the probability- of unconditional welcome that's important.

So, I'm going to take a few minutes to gather up all the crumbs from under the little altars that are scattered everywhere in my life. I need to put them all together and bring them to the altar at my church where they can be gathered together with the other crumbs from under other altars.

And, through some mystery too deep for me to fathom, out of these many crumbs, gathered from many directions and wildly different sources, there will be enough to feed the souls of all who are there, with enough left over to be taken to those who are unable to be with us.

An ancient Palestinian Rabbi from Galilee has promised that it would be so.

I've learned over the years that the one promise you can always count on is one that comes from love that is incarnational.

So, off I go to be part of that. I hope the same can be true for you, too.

Bom dia!


Facebook Reflection: Spiritual Revival


Good Saturday morning, good people of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (I can hear Nat King Cole's voice as I write those words, can't you?).

I have chosen to make this a lazy day, which will be a bit of a challenge since today is "chore day" and I've got dusting and vacuuming to do, and, because I was away for three days, I've got more than my usual laundry.

It's okay. I've had one serving of the best cup of coffee in the whole world and I'm feeling brave and bold and up for the challenge. By the time I've had my second cup, I may actually find the courage to sit back down again and tune into MSNBC and watch the amazing mind of Ali Velshi at work.

I have been thinking about the question Jesus asks in the lectionary lesson for tomorrow. "Who do YOU say I am?" It's a critically important question for any religious leader to ask of their followers.

Actually, it's an important question for any leader to ask. I am just now remembering one of my favorite sayings of community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who said: "A leader without a following is just a person out for a walk."

A dear friend sent me a quote from someone named Alexander Den Heijur, "When I talk to managers I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to leaders, I get the feeling that I am important."

I think that's a pretty good guess as to how a leader actually gets a following.

Who do YOU say that I am? I think everyone - but especially leaders - needs to ask another, similar question before they ask that one of others.

Everyone needs to ask themselves, "Who am I?" Not "Who do I think I am?" Not, "Who do I want to be?" The first question is to make a fierce, searing, self-inventory and ask, "Who am I?"

Those other questions will be part of the journey that takes you through the parts of yourself you keep in the shadows of the wilderness and deserts of your life and into the challenges and despair of the fires of refinement before you are able to find your "true self".

As I've been struggling with the question of Jesus, I've also been struggling with the image of The Mug Shot and all that it means, for our present reality as well as its historical significance at this moment in our common lives as a nation.

Let me just say this before I continue: There is no doubt that Donald John Trump knows exactly who he is. That's part of his power. He is crystal clear about his identity and he makes no excuses for who he is.

His rallies serve the purpose of opportunities for his followers to tell him who they say he is and he makes the necessary, minor adjustments, turning the various rhetorical control knobs up or down accordingly.

Whatever else you might say about The Former Guy, he is simply quite a brilliant leader. I wouldn't follow him to the Candy Store but that's because he's so clear about who he is that he makes the decision easy.

Here's what I do want to say: Because of all of this, I think there is every indication that this nation is in desperate need of a spiritual revival.

I'm not just talking about the rise of romanticism after the Civil War and again after the Vietnam War which influenced political ideology, inviting engagement with the cause of the poor and oppressed and with ideals of social emancipation and progress.

I'm talking about a deep, profound, radical examination and transformation of the Spirit of this country. The anger that is palpable and increasingly dangerous on the Right is not unmet by the rising anxiety and anger on the Left.

I'm probably troubled most by my own sense of satisfaction with the accountability inherent in the spectacle of the four indictments which is fine and good, but I am startled when it tips so easily into the vicarious enjoyment of the frenzied delight and triumphant jubilation that is so obvious all over the Left side of Social Media.

It's not that the triumphant jubilation is wrong; it's that it is done at the expense of those on the Right. They may well be, as Hillary said, "The Deplorables" but that is hardly a charitable perspective of our fellow Americans.

I don't know what good can come - how we can achieve 'e pluribus unam," (out of many, one) - when we create political and demographic caste systems. Then, we're no better than those on the Right who have a burning hatred for "The Elites."

Alinsky wrote, "First rule of change is controversy. You can't get away from it for the simple reason all issues are controversial. Change means movement, and movement means friction, and friction means heat, and heat means controversy."

We're certainly at a point, in this country, where controversy has generated a great deal of friction and friction has created heat. Many people are angry. Some are angry that they are angry all the time.

We throw political stones at each other: Immigration. Inflation. The economy. Crime. Corruption. Gun Control. Climate Change. No one does anything about these issues to bring about change. We just lob them at each other and wonder why we're hurt and angry all the time.

See also: The need for a spiritual revival. And, I think it begins with a fierce, searing inventory of our identity. I think we all need to ask ourselves, "Who do I say I am?" As individuals. As Americans. As people of whatever faith we profess.

This ought to be followed by "Who do we say we are?" As a nation. As Americans. As people of whatever political affiliation and ideology we claim.

As people who profess to believe in the founding principles of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

I don't know how to get there except by following the lead of The Spirit, through the valley of the shadow of death and into the Shining City on the Hill.

It is this spirituality that Martin Luther King, Jr. tapped into 60 years ago today in his brilliant speech at the March on Washington.

"Tell them about the dream, Martin" Mahalia Jackson urged him. "Tell them about the dream." And, he did.

At the end of laying out the elements and components of his dream for this land that he loved, he said,

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

That's the kind of spiritual revival this nation is desperate for.

At least, that's the way it looks to me this Saturday morning in August when I have chosen to make this a lazy day.

Not sure I'm succeeding but, well, as Albin sang in La Cage aux Folles, "I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses."

Off I go then, to have a second cup of the best cup of coffee in the whole world and then maybe put a load of laundry into the washer. I'll save chasing the dust bunnies for the afternoon.

I hope you make it a great day today, whether it's wildly productive or amazingly refreshing. As you go through your day, perhaps you, yourself can reflect on these two questions: "Who do I say I am. " And, "Who do other say I am."

I'm thinking, at the very least, you'll hear tomorrow's gospel in a deeper, more relevant way.

Bom dia!

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Pearls of Great Price: The Philadelphia Eleven

The Ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven - July 29, 1974
Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, PA
A Sermon Preached for Pentecost IX
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
July 30, 2023

“Wow!,” he said, this friend of mine, also an Episcopal priest. “You know, sometimes, you can come on really strong.”

He’s known me for about two or three years. He said this like it was a newsflash. I mean, most people who’ve known me for 10 minutes know that, especially when it comes to the Gospel – preaching it or living it – I’m pretty passionate.

And, that’s what we were talking about. Preaching the gospel. And, that’s exactly what I said to him, in response.

“We’re talking about the gospel,” said I. “You do understand, of course, the risks some have taken for that gospel? For living it and preaching it? Right?”

Yesterday, the 29th of July being the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany, was the 49th Anniversary of the Ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven ,who were eleven women who had been ordained deacons, were ordained priests in God’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, PA.

Talk about taking a risk for the Gospel!

It was a monumental occasion in the life of the church. The House of Bishops had, in 1972, voted 74-61 in favor of the principle of the ordination of women as priests, but in 1973 General Convention rejected the change. So, it was, “illegal”.

The Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches in my home town, like many churches around the country, flew the flag at half-mast; others flew them upside down –
a universal signal of “dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property”.

The event was covered on the nightly news on all three major television networks and the BBC, made the front page of The New York Times, and the cover stories of Time and Ms. Magazines which made it difficult, if not impossible, for the institutional church to ignore.


Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the Ordination of Women to the priesthood was not an event that sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus.

The movement had been building in the Anglican Communion since the ordination of deaconesses in the Anglican Church in London in 1862 and in The Episcopal Church in 1885, but it wasn’t until 1968  - almost 100 years later – that the House of Bishops asked the next Lambeth Conference of Primates and Bishops to consider the matter of women priests.

It is worth noting that it wasn’t until 1967 that a constitutional amendment passed that allowed women elected as deputies to General Convention to be seated with voice and vote. That amendment was ratified in 1970. So, it’s been just 53 years since women have had the right to vote in The Episcopal Church.

A Special General Convention in 1968 allowed women to be lay readers and allowed to minister the chalice – only 55 years ago.

Let that sink in for just a minute.  There are women serving as lay readers and ministers of the chalice today who grew up in the church thinking they would never be allowed to function in these capacities.

We ought not to be surprised by this. In the 70s, women were trivialized. Look, a woman in a hard hat! A woman in a police uniform! Bless their hearts, aren’t they special?

In 1975, I – a married woman with two children, gainfully employed as a public health professional – applied for a credit card and was told I needed the signature of either my husband, father or brother.

It's not anything that women had never experienced. In the first scripture lesson, we hear the story of Rachel and Leah, but we hear it from the perspective of Jacob, who, poor dear, was tricked by Laban, his second cousin, to work 14 years for the woman he loved.

However, Jacob had left home and was with Laban because he had tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright. Some might be inclined to say that being tricked by Laban served him right.

But, I'm asking to look at this from another perspective. Imagine Rachel!

Scripture tells us that when Jacob met Rachel he kissed her and “lifted up his voice, and wept” (Genesis 29:11). This was a rare event in ancient scripture. Men “took” women for their wives – indeed, they “took” many women. David lusted after and took Bathsheba, a woman married to one of his generals.

But when Jacob met Rachel, he loved her so much it brought tears to his eyes.

Imagine what it must have been like for Rachel to have to wait fourteen years, to be obedient to the very tribal custom that gave to the eldest, the first born male the birthright but to the first born girl, the right to be first to be married.

Imagine what it was like for Leah, who got what was her birthright but not only got a husband who stole his brother’s birthright, the truth was that he didn’t love her; instead, he really loved and wanted her sister! Enough to work seven more years for her! Imagine what those first seven years of marriage were like for Leah!

St. Paul reminds us that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”  (
Romans 8:26-39)

Eventually, Jacob’s sons would be the fulfillment of God’s covenant with him. The six sons of Leah, the four sons of Jacob’s concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, Rachel’s son Joseph, who was Jacob’s favorite, and Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, would become the leaders of the 12 Tribes of Israel. God’s covenant with Jacob would not have been possible without the women in his life.

I have hung onto those words of St. Paul’s – that promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God” – when I knew I certainly loved God but things did not seem to be working together for anything good.

I’ve known I wanted to be a priest since I was six years old. My mother says, long before that, I used to set up the playroom with my dolls and my table and chairs and while other kids were having tea parties, I was having communion with vanilla cookies as wafers and purple Kool-Aid as wine.

I remember one of those times in my Roman Catholic youth when the nun who was leading our class asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up. It was first grade and the boys all said they wanted to be doctors and lawyers and police and fire men. All the girls said they wanted to be wives and mommies – some said they wanted to be secretaries or teachers first and then get married and have babies.


Not me. When asked, I said, right out loud, “I want to be a priest.” I mean, I went to mass every morning with my grandmother. I loved it. I knew that’s exactly what God wanted me to do. So, I wasn’t prepared for the laughter that ensued. The kids laughed at me but so did the nun.

“No,” she said, “girls can’t be priests. Girls become nuns.”


“No,” I said, “I want to be a priest, not a nun.”  She laughed again, but this time, it wasn’t so funny.

“No,” she said, her voice tinged with anger, “boys are priests, girls are nuns.”


I considered it. I did. And then, I shook my head and said softly, to my shoes, perhaps sensing the danger, “I want to be a priest.”

And then, she slapped me. Hard. Right across my face.

And then she hissed, “Boys are priests. Girls are nuns.”


It would be years until I was able to give voice to my true sense of vocation.

I was in my late 20s. I had been an Episcopalian for two years. I was vaguely aware that there were women priests in The Episcopal Church but it was 1981 – seven years after Philadelphia and only five years after The Episcopal Church had changed its canons to allow women to be ordained – four since it had actually started ordaining women.

I had not yet seen a woman priest.


Until one Sunday morning, after church, we came home, fed the kids lunch and I settled in to read the NY Times. You may remember The Times was like a mini library. The NY Times Sunday Magazine slipped out from the various sections and advertisements and there, on the front cover, was a picture of the Rev Martha Blacklock, sitting on the steps of St. Clements’ Church in the Theater District of NY City, in her jeans and sandals and – a black clergy shirt and collar.

Suddenly, it all came back to me as sharp as that nun’s slap across my face. I felt my eyes fill up with tears, felt them fall down my cheeks, heard myself say in that same hoarse, fearful whisper of my six-year old voice, looking down at my shoes, “I want to be a priest.”


The next five years were an amazingly incredible journey. Turns out, that nun’s slap prepared me for the many challenges I would face in the journey to priesthood, but it turns out St. Paul was right.

Not only is it true that “all things work together for good for those who love God,” it was never more true that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the Good News of Christ Jesus as proclaimed by Paul that is worth the risk. It’s like a teeny-tiny mustard seed that grows into one of the most magnificent trees in God’s realm.

It’s like measure of leaven that takes the dreams of a young, six year old girl who was told she couldn’t be what she knew God was calling her to be and expanded them beyond anything she could have asked for or imagined.


The Good News of Christ Jesus is like a treasure, hidden in a field and forgotten and then found. Just as Leah and Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah discovered that, that despite the rules of patriarchy that made some legitimate, some more valuable than others, the covenant of God could not have been completed without them.


The Good News of Christ Jesus is like a pearl, precious, precious, that formed as an irritant which the ocean pushed through a crack in the shell. Once inside, a pearl grows from a particle of sand into a beautiful internal luminescence that the shell can no longer contain, so it must be pushed out for the whole world to see and treasure.


The Good News of Christ Jesus is “like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind;”. One person who objected to the ordination of women said to me, “If we start to ordain women, everything will change. Everyone will think they can become Episcopalian.”

Son of a gun if she wasn’t right! 

Those of us who have been excluded are especially passionate about making certain that absolutely everyone feels welcome to be a member of this old church of ours – warts and all.

We are passionate about casting the net wide and catching fish of every kind into the kind of baptismal water that helps each one become the best of who God created them to be. Different. Unique. Called to seek and serve Jesus in the spark of divinity we see in ourselves and each other.


And, when we are allowed to grow and change, so does the church. Because we are – you and I are – the church, The Body of Christ, part of the baptismal water where we are challenged to be the living, growing, being and becoming the unique creature God intends us to be.

And that, my friends, is something to come on strong about, to be passionate about. And, even if it makes some people nervous or uncomfortable, living it is a risk worth taking.

I can’t imagine a pearl of any greater price.

And, I am so very deeply, humbled by and grateful for the gift of the women who are the Philadelphia Eleven who made it possible for me to be the unapologetically feisty, impatient, passionate priest I am today – warts and all.


Sermon begins at 22:50

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Barden & Johnson: A Tribute


It wasn’t until I got to the graveside that I finally cried.

Lois has been gone for almost 3 years but I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye because of COVID. Sheri has been gone for a little more than a month but none of it seemed real because I hadn’t seen her since before COVID.

Oh, we had talked on the phone. Exchanged a few jokes on email. But, I hadn’t seen her in 3 years. I think I was pretty clear that she was now gone “home” as she often cried to me on the phone (“I just want to go home, Elizabeth, but Jesus is making me wait.”) but something in my heart and my mind and my soul hadn’t quite registered the reality enough for me to cry.

I clearly remember our first meeting. It was the winter of 1977. Ms. Conroy and I had “run away from home” in December of 1976, carefully mapping out an 8-hour ride from where we lived to anywhere, in either of the four directions. We figured an 8-hour ride would be one that would not only prevent family from “just dropping by” but also allow us time to (ahem) “straighten up the house”.

We decided on Bar Harbor, Maine – the end of the world – near the ocean we loved and the mountains that offered us inspiration. In February, my then-husband came up to have a weekend visit with the children. He picked them up in the morning and, just around the time we were starting to get worried about their return, called from the home of my parents to say that he had the children, was moving in with my parents, and they would work together to make certain that I would never see them again.

I can’t even begin to describe that moment or the next few days. Panic is a good place to begin. Devastation is also a good word. Crippling, immobilizing pain and despair born of a sense of isolation and a nagging sense of carefully-taught Catholic guilt that we somehow deserved this.

When I was able to gather my wits about me, I happened to have a copy of Ms. Magazine and, in the back ‘classified’ section, saw a small advert for an organization called DOB ("Daughters of Bilitis") and a PO Box. I immediately handwrote a letter and, by the end of the week, got a phone call from Sheri who said, “Come to Boston. You’ll stay with us. We’ll find you a lawyer. Hang in there. Help is on the way.”

We made plans to travel the next weekend, flying into Logan from Hancock County Bar Harbor Airport. We picked up some fresh Maine lobster on the way as a gift of gratitude. I still remember Sheri saying loudly (she only had 3 volume settings for her voice and loud meant 11) in her T H I C K Bawston accent, “Oh for Gawd’s sake! You can’t be spending your money on lobstah! What are you, Rockafellahs? You’re going to need it for your lawyer.”

Lois was away on assignment – in those days she worked as a Producer for the WGBH Public TV station program for children called “Zoom” – so it would be a weekend with this short, fierce, unapologetically Irish dyke, the first lesbian we ever met face to face and shook hands with, in her home in the South End of Boston which was about 10 years away from gentrification.

One of the last conversations I had with Lois was her laughing at Sheri’s description of us to her on the phone that night. “Oh, Loey,” she reportedly said, “these two kids are so scared I just want to feed them and hug them for a while until they calm down enough to make sense to the lawyer they are going to need. They have no idea how hard this is going to be.”

And, it was. Hard. Very hard. We were one of the first open lesbian custody cases in Bristol County Massachusetts. Not that we sought that distinction. It just was what it was. Our lawyer, Rick Rubino, had represented other lesbian women in custody court cases but not in Bristol County and not with the results anyone hoped for.

Lois and Sheri were there, every step of the way. They called every other day. They helped us budget money for the expenses. They gave us lodging every time we came to Boston. They introduced us to other lesbian women who shared their stories and their courage and their hope and their wisdom.

And, they provided the healing gift of laughter. Oh, my goodness! Did we laugh!?! And, laugh! There, in their South End home which had the phone wires tapped by the FBI for “subversive, deviant activity” (thank you Herbert Hoover).

That’s when I learned the Sheri Barden Philosophy On Life: When faced with the unthinkably illogical, unbearable, and evil absurdities of prejudice and oppression, laugh right in its face.

We. Would. Not. Have. Made. It. Through. Without. Them.

I told much of this story as part of my reflections at their Memorial Service, which began with a clip of the 10-year reunion of the documentary “Gen Silent” in which they are one of the “senior couples” interviewed. The documentary chronicles this first generation to come out of the closet publicly, those whose work of activism laid the foundation for the freedoms we enjoy today who were now anxious and, often, flat-out afraid about how they would be treated in a Senior Living Center or Extended Care Facility.

I’ve included that clip in the first comment. It’s classic Barden and Johnson, in their 80s and still sharp as a tack in intellect and wit and, especially with Sheri, sarcasm – which is a frequently-employed survival technique of early LGBTQ activists. Drag queens have a particularly biting, sharp-tongued version of sarcasm. I wish it weren’t necessary but for some of us, it is. It does seem to help ease the sting of prejudice for daring to be who you are.

I did find myself choking up a bit when I finished my reflection by thanking them for being “family” for Barden & Johnson in their final years. Barden always called that facility, “Gawd’s waiting room.” Many of them nodded in understanding. Not a bad place to hang out for your final years, really.

One quick note that I told them. They knew Sheri as Claire. And, that was her birth name. Sheri was her “gay name” – a custom many people used in the 50s as a form of protection for their jobs and homes and, for some, their marriage. Many of their contemporaries knew that some called her Sheri and others called her Claire but even they had no idea of the kind of prejudice they lived through. They were shocked.

I can hear the Millennials sighing, “Okay, Boomer.” Sure, okay. Just you wait till you try to explain tablets and electric cars and SCOTUS Judges Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and Gorsuch to the generations that come after you. You can roll your eyes now. It’s okay. I did the same with my parents and aunts and uncles and their friends. Just you wait.

No, it wasn’t until I got to the graveside and saw their names engraved on the gravestone that I finally began to cry.

I felt the earth shift under my feet just ever so slightly. Then, an odd sensation found its way up my spine, rested a bit on my shoulders, and then up my neck. Suddenly, my eyes began to burn and sting, my mouth dropped open, and I heard a sound something like a wail and a moan, and realized that it was coming from me.

I gave into it and found myself stooping over their gravesite in great paroxysms of grief and tears. Our friend, Penelope, who had driven me there, gave me space, waiting nearby on a bench overlooking the Mary Baker Eddy Mausoleum and Pond.

I pressed my face to the cold granite marker as tears fell freely and kissed their names, saying the only word that would come to my lips. I said it over and over. I said it as reality. I said it as a prayer. I chanted it as an antiphon to an ancient psalm. I said it from my heart and the deepest parts of my soul. I said it with every cell in my body that ever was, is now, or will ever be.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I am so grateful. Deeply. Richly. Blessed.

I am filled, even as I write this, awash with gratitude and in awe that God saw fit – found us worthy – to send them to us when we needed them most.

Sheri and Lois were together 57 years. Now they are together forever.

I am looking forward to seeing them again “in that great by and by”. I can’t wait to introduce my parents to Barden and Johnson – if they haven’t already sought each other out. I am who I am today, in great part, because of them.

I want to chant my antiphons of gratitude. I want to shout my Alleluia’s to the Love that is at the start and center of all creation.

That will have to wait because I’m not quite ready yet. I think I’ve got a few more things to do, a few more amazing places to make pilgrimage to and marvel at, and even a few more sermons in this heart of mine.

I’ll grieve and rejoice until then as a form of thanksgiving for all that was, all that is, and all that is yet to be. And, laugh. And, find the goodness in things. And search for the light I know will always be there, no matter how dark it gets.

Indeed, there might yet be a young LGBTQ who needs some advice and direction and perhaps God will deem me worthy to be of some help to them.

Until then, I will make my song from my broken heart, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”