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!