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

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Sean Rowe, Presiding Bishop.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, Sean Rowe, and Michael Curry

So, the Episcopal Church continues to meet in General Convention in Louisville, KY, and thank God, none of the deputies, alternates, bishops, vendors or volunteers is female, pregnant, and suffering a miscarriage because, if she were, she may end up in jail, given the "states rights" in that particular state concerning reproductive rights.

We'll know today or tomorrow where the next GenCon will be happening three years from now. I really, truly hope we don't give our money to a state that doesn't treat women and LGBTQ people, and people of color like full citizens with equal rights. I'm not voting but people I know and love are and they might just read this during a downtime in the legislative process.

We have elected a new PHOD (President, House of Deputies) by re-electing Julia Ayala Harris to another term. For only the second time in our history, that position had been contested - and by two other women of color. Today, we are electing a VPHOD which, by canon if not by tradition (and, in The Episcopal Church, tradition is practically canon), must be a different order of ministry than the PHOD. So, the slate is all clergy.

Yesterday, of course, we elected Sean Rowe, who has been serving as bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Western New York, to be our next Presiding Bishop.

Now, contrary to what you might have sensed from all the hype - the bishops meeting in secret in a cathedral proving only that all bishops have a bit of Drama Queen in them - a PB is NOT a Pope. In its origins, the position of the Presiding Bishop is just what it says - someone to preside over meetings of all the bishops. You know, so things would be "meet, right and proper, so to do." Because, of course, that's the first, albeit unwritten rule of Anglicanism: Order. The second is like unto it and also to be revered: Tolerance.

I'm not at all surprised that Sean Rowe was elected on the first ballot with seven more votes than were absolutely necessary to win (He received 89 votes. 82 votes were needed to win.). He's fairly popular in the dioceses of his jurisdiction. One of his constituents said to me of him, "He's one of the last of a dying bread of genuinely nice White Guys. And," she added, hastily, thinking I'm sure of ++Michael Curry, "he's a good preacher."

Well, the rule of elections has held. The polar opposite of the incumbent gets elected. I've seen it in every PB election since John Hines who was progressive and passionate about social justice, who was then followed by John Murray Allin who was conservative and opposed to the ordination of women.

Ed Browning, who was as informal and as comfortable as a lovely old sacristy slipper famously said, "In this church of ours, there will be no outcasts." He started the whole movement for radical inclusion in the church. Reaction to Allin, much?

Frank Tracy Griswold, was formal and erudite, from old, mainline PA money, a good, solid moderate Anglo-Catholic who supported women and consecrated +Gene but was all about deepening spirituality. I firmly believe that he and Browning could not deny the brisk breeze of the winds of change and Griswold, especially, smelled schism in the air which seemed to make him perpetually anxious.

Katharine Jefferts Schori was the first woman PB, and she was formidable. Her mere presence as a bishop was so threatening she was forbidden by the Archbishop of Canterbury to wear her miter with the rest of the bishops when visiting Southwark Cathedral in the UK. As I said the other day, the bishops who left for ACNA threw the vote to her because they thought, like all arrogant tyrants, "apres moi, le deluge" and were setting up the church for failure which would be blamed more on a woman and not so much on them. I understand that more women were called as rectors while she was PB than at any other time. The "Great Episcopal Schism" also happened on her watch.

Michael Bruce Curry tried to move our focus away from our anxieties about bean counting and ASAs and "all things institutional church" into a more relational focus with God and Jesus. "If it ain't about love, it ain't about God," will forever be his mantra, and "The Jesus Movement" will always be his legacy.

Sean Rowe, I think, is going to put our focus back on the institutional church with a heart for cutting down the bureaucracy, focusing more on the local church, strengthening them, and really working on mergers at every level. He, himself, has been bishop of NW NY and WPA, and I suspect we're going to see more diocesan mergers in the next decade.

It's about time, I say.

The next decade is not going to be a particularly exciting time, but there will be lots of organizational change, at which Rowe apparently excells. As Rowe said, “If we’re honest with each other and ourselves, we know that we cannot continue to be the Episcopal Church in the same way, no matter where we live.”

It's going to be a reaction to the previous guy, as it always is. Which won't be bad. To be honest, we need it.

In his first public remarks after his election, Rowe said, "“God is calling us ever more deeply into the unknown." I chuckled and thought, "The man is preaching to himself as well as the church."

I have no doubt he has no idea what he's gotten himself into. I strongly doubt anyone before him really understood the enormity of the position of PB.

He's about to find out. So are we. Here's the thing to remember, which I know Sean knows: He's not the Pope, but he's not just the PB. The role has expanded into a more global presence.

No, his election will not directly affect the 'bums in the pew', except that we will have a new name to pray for in the Prayers of the People. The role of the PB is more of a "Climate Control Officer."

The PB sets the tone and tenor which impacts the environment in the diocese and in the sanctuary. The policies and politics of the PB give permission or cover to diocesan bishops and rectors to step out on issues of faith - or hide behind them.

We're in for an interesting journey over the next 9 years with the youngest PB ever elected. (He is 49, beating out John Hines who was elected at the age of 54). I think Michael, as always, captured it best when he said to General Convention earlier this week at the joint gathering of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops before the legislative sessions started:

“I’m here to tell you this Episcopal Church is stronger, more durable, and has a future that God has decreed and that God has figured out.”

“And I’m here to tell you, don’t you worry about this church. Don’t you weep and don’t you moan. Just roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work. That’s our future.”

So, roll up your sleeves, lace up your boots, blow your noses, and get ready to get back to work. We're still part of the Jesus Movement. The only way any Movement maintains momentum is to move.

Let's get on with it.

I hope something good happens to you today.

Bom dia!

Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Lesson of My Willow Tree

A Sermon preached at
The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist
Milton, DE
Pentecost V - June 23, 2024

Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

I was about nine years old when we moved to Westport, MA. We had our own home, not an apartment above my grandparents in the city. I had my own bedroom - all four of us kids did - which looked over our next door neighbor’s yard. In the middle of her yard, in between our two houses, stood the most majestic, most magical tree I had ever seen in my life.

It was a Weeping Willow Tree and it stood taller than our neighbor’s house and almost as tall as our house. She was a real beauty. Elegant. Stately. Like an ancient character drawn by the pen of a skilled artist; a mythical goddess with long, flowing, delicate hair. And yet, she was warm and inviting and welcoming and alive.

There was a perfect indentation in the side of her truck that looked like it had been molded especially for my scrawny but sturdy young body. Edie and Lou Rego, our wonderful neighbors, said I could read under that tree any time I wanted. As the eldest child of four, I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to have unfettered access to my very own reading nook in the Spring and Summer and Early Fall - away from the squabbling of my younger siblings.

And then, one day, late in the month of May, there came the hurricane. It was a Category 4 named Helene with 150 mph winds that slammed the Atlantic Coast, causing multiple millions of dollars in damage. My nine-year-old self was mostly in awe of the sound of the wind and the rain, but I was safe and sound in my new home in my own room and I had my books and my radio with my favorite broadcaster, Salty Brine, giving us updates on the weather.

Something called me to the window. A low sound. An eerie sound. Like the cry of a scared or wounded animal. It sounded far, far away and yet it was right outside my window. I looked out and saw My Willow Tree. I was horrified. She was being shaken like a rag doll in the mouth of an angry animal. Her beautiful, long, tender branches were flying this way and that.  I remember a small cry of despair rising out of my throat as I witnessed her distress.

And then, there was this second or two of calm before another gust of wind hit her like a sucker punch. Then slowly, gently, with a sense of calm dignity, she seemed to groan as she surrendered to the elements that were no match for her. I saw it first in the left hand corner of her base, which lifted and then fell, lifted a little more and then fell, rocking her back and forth until more and more of her shallow root system was cracked and broken and exposed.


Suddenly, I knew. I knew what was happening. Without thinking, I jumped up from my bed, opened the door and ran down the stairs. My parents were in the living room and were startled to hear me in the kitchen. I was barefoot. Nothing but my jeans and tee-shirt. I opened the kitchen door with the full intention of saving My Willow Tree. In my nine-year-old mind, I just knew - indeed, I was quite certain and convinced - that if I pushed my body against her trunk in the other direction with all my might and willed with all my will, I could save her.

I remember my father’s voice. It was a mixture of anger and alarm and concern. I remember gasping at the sound of the wind. I remember being picked up by an invisible force and carried down the four concrete steps. I remember my body being slammed hard against the side of the house. I remember the wind in my chest being sucked out and into the wind of Helene’s wrath.

I don’t remember much else. The family story that was told was that my father rushed out of the house, his body cutting through the wind like a hot knife through butter down the concrete steps. He said I looked like one of my paper dolls, lying crumpled on the sidewalk. He scooped up my scrawny body, holding me close to his chest and, as he told it, had to fight against the wind to finally make it up, one, two, three, four concrete steps and into the kitchen where my mother was waiting with towels and blankets.

I do remember crying inconsolably the rest of the day. My Willow Tree was gone. Just like that. I couldn’t even bear to look out the window. Her dead body looked exposed and obscene. I wanted to cover her with a burial pall. Mommy stroked my hair, trying to comfort me, and said that it was God’s will. When I heard her say that, I froze for a few seconds before being filled with an emotion I had never felt with that intensity. I later learned the name for it. It was rage.

I was furious. How DARE God take my precious Willow Tree? What possible, good, earthly or heavenly reason might there be for such a senseless and cruel act? I remember saying, “If God took My Willow Tree then I HATE God.” Mommy gasped and said, more shocked than she could muster a parental admonishment, “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say anything like that.”

But, I meant it. With everything I had in my little child’s heart, I hated what I had been told God had done. Later that night as we repeated the nightly ritual of daddy reading us a bedtime story, I took special comfort in snuggling with my dad and two sisters in his recliner chair. It was a children’s book of Bible Stories. My brother, the Little Prince, was at his feet on the floor. Big boys didn't snuggle with their dads.

That night, he chose to read to us from the Book of Job. It was a version meant for children so it was highly edited but I do remember my father saying that Job was a very prosperous man who lacked for nothing. I remember that God was tempted by Satan to let Satan test Job but no matter what happened to Job he never cursed God.

I think I was smart enough to have figured out my father’s reason for choosing that particular story on that particular night. I remember listening to my father with my face and my ear pressed up against his chest. As I listened to daddy’s voice through his chest, I was both distracted and fascinated by the sound. There was something about it - the vaguely familiar tone and sound of my father’s voice - yet, it was very mysterious. The sound was pressed close to my face - right into my very ear - and yet it was far, far away.

It was very much like the sound I heard outside my window, the sound of the wind in my Willow - distant and yet close, familiar and yet strange.

I heard my father say the very words we heard this morning, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant but it sure sounded like God was saying, “Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?” And, suddenly, it felt like God was talking directly to me, through my father’s chest.

Tears fell from my eyes as I heard God in my daddy’s chest say, “Where were you when I created the earth?  Tell me, since you know so much.  Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives? Have you ever traveled to where snow is made, seen the vault where hail is stockpiled? Can you find your way to where lightning is launched, or to the place from which the wind blows?”

And so it was that on that day in late May, when I was nine years old and lost my beloved friend, my precious Willow Tree, that I learned a similar lesson to the one the disciples learned in that boat on the lake, which we know as The Sea of Galilee. That was the day I learned to say the words the disciples said to themselves as they witnessed the power of God in Christ Jesus, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”


That was the day my sorrow and sadness and grief - and yes, my rage - became transformed. I grew up a little that day, maybe a little ahead of schedule but right on time.


That was the day I learned something about the nature of God and the real meaning of majesty and magic that was reflected in one creature of God’s own creation which I called My Willow Tree.  That was the day I learned to have a sense of awe at all of God’s creation.

Sure, it took being lifted up by hurricane-force winds and having the wind knocked out of me, but it was a force from the creation God had made. It even had a name. Helene. I learned that the same force that creates life is also capable of taking it away and no matter how smart I am, no matter how hard I studied, no matter how much I learned, I could never have the intelligence or the power or the authority of The One who created it all. I learned humility.

I learned that there are some things in this world that I will never understand, that will always be a mystery to me. Like the mystery of the power of love; that the same love that can break a heart is the same love that can heal that same broken heart.  Listen to the mystery and magic of that: the same love that can break a heart is the same love that can heal that same broken heart

I learned the wisdom of the old saying that “The heart has reasons which reason will never understand.”

That was the day I found in My Willow Tree the courage to listen to Jesus. “Peace! Be still!” he said to the wind and the sea. And, when the winds of change and the raging terrors of the seas of our lives roar and threaten to destroy all that we hold dear, Jesus still comes to say, “Peace! Be still!” Because no matter what happens - whether the absolute best or the terrible, unimaginable worst - the greatest mystery is this: Love never dies. Love always lives on, as My Willow Tree lives on in my heart.


We would do well to listen to Jesus, as the disciples did in that boat, with awe and wonder and genuine humility.



Sunday, June 02, 2024

Jesus, the Ethicist

Sermon preached at the Historic Old Christ Episcopal Church
Pentecost II - Proper IV B - June 2, 2024
the Rev Dr Elizabeth Kaeton

I am, by birth, a New England girl, born in the gritty mill city of Fall River, MA., but I’ve lived in many cities: Bar Harbor, ME, Boston, MA. Baltimore, MD. Newark, NJ, and now, Long Neck, DE. I’ve worked in many other cities, including Washington, DC, and New York City which I love.

Even so, if you woke me up at 3 AM out of a dead sleep and asked, “What’s your favorite baseball team, I’d say, “The Boston Red Sox. And, anyone who beats the NY Yankees.” And, if you check my computer, you’ll see that I subscribe to and read daily two newspapers: The Washington Post. And, The New York Times.

The Times has a column that appears weekly and I wait for it expectantly. It’s called, “The Ethicist.” This week’s column was from a woman who has a friend who is a high school teacher in a low-income area. The friend always shares tearful stories of her student’s need for food, school supplies, professional clothes for job interviews, etc. And, over the years, her friend has been generous and kind and helped her out.

A few months ago, there was a job fair at the high school and the kids needed proper clothes for the interviews. The woman went through her closet and gathered professional blazers, skirts, pants and blouses and gave them to her friend. Well, a few months later, she visited a webpage which sells gently used clothing, thinking she might sell some of her own stuff, and - OOPSIE! - she found all 20 items that she had donated to her friend for her students.

What to do? Should she confront her friend? Here’s her question: When making a donation, what is the ethical expectation?

As I read this morning’s scripture from Mark, I wondered how Jesus might answer her question. The Pharisees are asking Jesus ethical questions about expected behavior, given what they know about what Scripture says concerning the Sabbath. But, these are not innocent questions. No, these questions about plucking the heads of grain on the Sabbath or healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath were being asked to test Jesus, “so that they might accuse him”.

No matter the motive for the question. Both Jesus and the Ethicist have found themselves in the age-old question of “What is the difference between the good and the right?” Doing a good thing does not make it, necessarily, the right thing. And, doing the right thing does not, necessarily, make it a good thing.

In this very sanctuary, slaves worshiped here along with their masters. I’m told that, the loft up there in the back of the church is not a choir loft. That is where the slaves were required to sit. And, if you wander around the church grounds, you will see a graveyard for the White folks and way off to the side, you’ll see the place where slaves were buried. Because, God knows, if there is segregation on earth, well, it just stands to reason that there’s segregation in heaven. Right?

The slave owners - good Christian folk - were following the law. They were doing what was right. However,they were not doing what was good for those they held in bondage or their own souls.

Jesus was presented with a similar question about the difference between behavior that is right or behavior that is good on the Sabbath. Now, it is important to know that in Jewish law, the Sabbath is given and commanded as a day of rest, being modeled after the idea that God rested after all the work that God had done to create the world (Ex. 20:8-11). In Deuteronomy, sabbath is also described as a sign of liberation. Taking a sabbath rest is proof that we are no longer enslaved and forced to work without rest (Deut. 5:12-15).

It is also important to know that it is a principle in Jewish law that saving a life takes precedence over most other Jewish laws, including observance of the sabbath. Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

If one were to enter into a conversations with Jesus, one might ask probing questions about the situation. Is the man with a withered hand at risk of dying? Could his healing wait until the next day? Is the hunger of the disciples so great that they might die if they do not gather grain on the sabbath? But Jesus is not concerned about particulars. Jesus is more interested in expanding categories of doing good and doing harm - of the right vs the good.

I was fascinated to see the NY Times Ethicist do much the same thing. He wondered if that high school teacher found that she couldn’t use the clothing - perhaps they were the wrong size or style for the kids in the class - and that maybe, just maybe, she was selling the clothing in order to make money so that the kids could purchase their own clothes?

The point he made is that while the high school teacher was doing good, what she was doing in not telling her friend was not right. He writes this: You should tell her what you’ve found. If there’s a compelling explanation — an explanation not only for her actions but for misrepresenting them to you — you might be able to resume your relationship. Seething in silence, though, just means you’ll have your peace of mind stolen too.

Jesus teaches that sharing food with companions and friends is an act of doing good, equivalent or at least parallel to King David feeding his companions with consecrated food. Similarly, the compassion Jesus extends to the man with a withered hand is an act of doing good that may even save his life, especially if the man’s livelihood depends on the use of his hands.

Unfortunately, Jesus was not able to admonish the Pharisees not to “seeth in silence.” Scripture tells us that they “went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against (Jesus), how to destroy him.”

St. Paul tells us that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” We have within us the ability to do tremendous good and enormous bad. In my experience, most of us fall short and miss the mark precisely when we stumble over that which is good and that which is right.

Sometimes, it’s a hard choice. Sometimes, doing that which is good means that we have to stand up for what is right, and that may mean standing up to change the law, which was once thought to be right.

Standing up for what is good and right may mean sitting in jail until the will of ‘we the people’ is strong enough to change the law.

Jesus teaches that the “rest of Sabbath that is possible with freedom” is not the same as passivity. Sometimes, we have to actively resist what the law tells is right in order to do what we know in our hearts to be good. Jesus acts for liberation and wholeness.

Jesus is also very clear that liberation and wholeness are not just for some but for all.

No matter where you were born or how you were brought up, no matter where you’ve lived or worked or gone to school, no matter the color of your skin or texture of your hair or the shape or size of your body, or who you love, we have this treasure in clay pots - in earthen vessels. 

I believe that treasure is the Light of Christ that shines in me and it shines in you. And, if we follow THAT light, we’ll always be able to tell the difference between the good and the right.