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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blessed to be a blessing

On Sunday, October 23, 2016, family and friends and friends who have become family gathered for the 10 AM service at All Saints Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of my ordination in The Episcopal Church and the 40th Anniversary of the covenant made between my Beloved Ms. Conroy and I. 

Bishop Gene Robinson, retired of DioNH, was celebrant and preacher. 

The lessons included part of the the story about Judith, from the Apocrypha. It was the passage I chose for my ordination - Judith 10:1-10 , brilliantly read by my dear friend, David - wherein Judith breaks her time of mourning for the death of her husband, Manasseh, who was killed by the King. After a time of prayer she gets up, gets dressed, puts on her makeup and jewels and does what needs to be done. That is, she prepares herself to seduce King Holofernes so that she may decapitate him, avenging the death of her husband.

As Bishop Gene Robinson jokingly said, ""I don't know this to be fact but I suspect Judith was a badass lipstick lesbian."

At the very least, she was a "nasty woman" of antiquity. 

The Gospel was Matthew's Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, Bishop Gene preached brilliantly on the passage, drawing a distinction between optimism and hope. Optimism is a human condition. Hope, is a spiritual one. Hope is central to being a Christian. 

Hope is why people like Barbara and I come back to the church. Not because we trust in the Church but because we trust in God. 

I do wish we had thought to record his sermon. It was, as usual, simply brilliant. 

After the Prayers of the People, Barbara and I and Bill and Anita, the two people who witnessed our legal marriage that day at breakfast at the Long Neck Diner, came forward. 

Before God and our family and friends, Gene wrapped our hands in his stole and blessed our covenant. 

He used these words, adapted from the Wedding Prayer in the film, "Braveheart". (Yes, that violent film had at least this tender moment. I've been saving it for such a moment as this.)

Braveheart Wedding Prayer

‘These are the hands of your best friend, once young and strong and vibrant with love, which held yours on the day you promise to love each other all the days of your life.

These are the hands that will continue to work alongside of yours, as together you build your future, as you laugh and cry, as you share your innermost secrets and dreams.

These are that hands which will still passionately love you and cherish you through the years, for a lifetime of happiness.

These are the hands that will continue, countless times, to wipe the tears from your eyes: tears of sorrow and tears of joy.

These are the hands which will still comfort you in illness, and hold you when fear or grief engulfs your heart.

These are the hands that will continue to give you support and encourage you to chase down your dreams. Together as a team, everything you wish for can be realized.

And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

And the blessing of God who created you, the God who loves you and the God who will guide and inspire you, bless you this day and forever more.

Yes, we've gone 40 years without the blessing of the church. Indeed, we've often felt that we have blessed the church more than it has blessed us. 

We did not do this because we felt we needed it. I know that might sound arrogant to some. Who does not stand in need of blessing, right? 

I don't think there can be any doubt that that attitude first arose out of pain. You know. The religious version of, "You can't fire me, I quit." For a long time it was, "We don't need your damn blessing. We're fine. Just fine."

And, we were. And, are.

It's not that way any longer. We aren't angry or hurt any more. It really flows from a deep place of knowing and the confidence that comes from recognizing, over that years, that God has been and is, now, with us, every step of the way we have been and every step we will take in the future. 

Whether the church recognized and blessed that or not became immaterial. 

We really do have all that we need. We have been blessed to be a blessing - to thank God for God's presence in our lives when we've been vulnerable, when we've been merciful and when we've sought peace, when we've grieved and when we have suffered injustice. 

Our lives are filled with gratitude for God's abiding presence.

We did this because our family needed to see the church affirm the covenant we made 40 years ago, and so affirm the covenants made between people of whatever gender. 

We did this to help continue the movement in the church to remember that we are in the world, but of the world. As the Body of Christ, we are not about being agents of the state but agents of God. 

We did this because the church needs to be clear about the business of the church: covenants and blessings, mission and ministry, not government laws and legal contracts. 

We did this because the church,  young people and old,  needed to see the man who became the first self-affirming gay man, a man who had to wear a bullet proof vest to his own consecration, a man who was the only bishop ever to be dis-invited to a Lambeth Conference, a man who knows about what it means to be badass in order to get the job done and who clearly knows the difference between optimism and hope, bless and affirm the covenant we made 40 years ago. 

If anyone knows about God's presence in our lives - especially when we are most vulnerable - it's Gene Robinson. 

So, it was a meet and right, good and proper thing to do, to ask Gene to bless our covenant in the church we've been attending since 1988. 

After 40 years, it was time to be gracious and generous and allow the Grace that has blessed us for four decades to fill the church and bless God's people with hope. 

We who have been blessed to be a blessing, know how the Gospel story ends. 

Love wins. 

God wins.

Our prayer is that the blessing we received will continue to bless the church - and us - to be bold and "badass" and take the risk to do whatever it is that must be done to choose hope and love.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nasty women

This morning finds me in a strange but oddly familiar place - the intersection of exhaustion and exhilaration - which often comes after doing a mighty work for what is understood to be the justice of God's Realm. 
I've spent the past two days with some of the smartest people on the planet who also have become some of my dearest friends. We have been slogging through cultural and organizational and yes, personal transformation, pushing through the fog of the illusion of safety of what was, even as we slide, headlong, into the rapidly shifting landscape of what is the growing movement for reproductive health, choice, rights and justice. 
For a little more than a year we've been planning this creative, hard work of 'renovation' - improving an outdated organizational structure, leaving behind the things that no longer work, repairing the damaged or broken places that still have some years of service left, removing the toxic asbestos and lead paint, and mucking out the build up of  - well, there's no other way to say it - flat-out shit that has built up over the years. 
It's been a hard year or so that has been coming for the past decade.  
The thing about sitting in your own shit pile is that it's comfortable. Soft. Easily adjustable to your body. After a while, you can even get used to the smell. Doesn't change the fact that you've been sitting in your own pile of shit and only you can grab the shovel and begin to dig yourself out.

We met in retreat last August to spend some time examining our past and then some more time looking reality squarely in the face. We explored organizational models of functioning and leadership verses movement models. 
We studied different ways of being an organization which is part of a movement. We examined various ways of power and authority. Hierarchy vs. Collaborative. Intersectionality vs. Binary and Linear Thinking. We looked at the necessary ingredients to - and the successful components of - coalition building. 
This was the meeting where we were to make decisions to become more of a reflection of the movement we're in. To our amazement, we discovered that our process of decision making, in some ways, mirrors the lives of the women we serve. 
We ought not to have been surprised, then, to discover that the push-back from some was pretty fierce. 
And yet, we prevailed.

We had to do battle with ghosts. We had to bind old scars we thought were healed but were now suddenly open and painful. We had to move through foreign and sometimes hostile territory. 

As we traveled deeper and deeper into imagination and creativity, change and transformation, we shared with each other bits and pieces of hope and creativity from the wise women who have come before us. 
We discovered that some of us are what Mr. Trump would call "nasty women".  We are strong. We are clear. We know what must be done and we won't be popular or even liked for doing it. 

And yet, we persevere. 
So much depends on what happens November 8th. We heard that clearly in last night's debate. 
Mr. Trump does not trust women's decisions about our own bodies. In turn, many women do not trust Mr. Trump with our country - our nation - the world. 
And yet, inexplicably, others do. 
As a bone fide 'nasty woman', here's the deal: I. Don't. Care. Vote your conscience. But, for God's sake vote. The lives of so many are on the line. So many women who are being denied reproductive health, rights, choice and justice will be at even greater risk depending on the November 8th vote. 

No matter what happens, we nasty women will continue to prevail. 

We are at the intersection of exhaustion and exhilaration.  It is at this crossroad where the Spirit moves and lives and has her being. It is the place where creativity and new life are born out of pain and chaos and the inexplicable joy that comes with freedom to choose your own way forward. 

Nasty women know shit and we are not afraid to take the risk of digging out ourselves and our sisters.

One of my dear friends closed out our meeting yesterday with this poem as a meditation. 
I remember it well but had forgotten just how inspiring it can be to those of us moving forward forward together into the future, holding onto hope even as our anxieties threaten to hold us back. 
I share it with you now in hopes that it will inspire you and encourage you to make it through these next two weeks: 

Si Se Puede! A luta continua. We can do it.

American Herstory
By celeste doaks

Tell them it's always under attack. Tell them there's no cure for the disease, or answer to the riddle. Tell them you asked many before you, some who won, some who lost.

You consulted Assata, Roe vs. Wade, Harriet and Jocelyn Elders
to no avail. Her words on contraception twisted into a bitter pretzel.
The bits broken off, used to destroy her.

Tell them its always under attack, its predators everywhere. They lurk behind Mississippi clinics or around Georgetown blocks dressed in blue uniform. Tell them you have the cure, somewhere at home,

deep in your cabinets, mixed in a mason jar, Don't tell them it consists of breast milk, dreams, butterflies, civil rights marches,
burned bras, a piece of Madame CJ Walker's hair, prayers,
Ameila Earhart's drive, hot-water cornbread, and Sally Ride's fearlessness.

Lie to them, tell them it's rosemary oil, then bottle it. Sell it to every woman in America who will drink it. Then watch all the piranhas disappear.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fred and Ethel and Persistent Prayer

A Sermon for Pentecost XXII - October 16, 2016
All Saint's Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

This is a sermon about persistence. Actually, it’s a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope, and hope as the motivation of prayer.

That’s because this morning’s gospel story is about the persistent widow. That’s how we come to know her. Like so many women in Scripture, she doesn’t have a name. Just a title. Like “The Woman At The Well”.  Or, “The Woman and the Lost Coin.” Or, “The Daughter of Jarius.” She is the “Persistent Widow”.

I have been known to be fairly persistent myself. My grandmother said I was a willful child. But, she didn’t mean it as a bad thing. Being willful, in my family, was a good thing. It was a sign of strength. It was a mark of character. So, because I was a willful child who grew up to be a persistent woman, I’m going to name this nameless woman in scripture.

I’m going to call her Ethel.

Ethel, we are told, was a real pest to a certain judge. Her rights had been violated in some way – we don’t know exactly what or how or why – but given the status of women in antiquity that’s not the remarkable part of the story.

Given what we know of the status of women in antiquity, it’s remarkable at all that she was seeking justice for herself. Indeed, it’s flat out amazing that she was persistent in seeking justice for herself.

The judge – Well, you know what? I’m going to name him, too. I’ll call him ‘Fred’ – the judge, it seems, was a pretty arrogant man. He didn’t care two figs about what God thinks, much less what people think.

But, Ethel was persistent and Fred, we are told, got weary of her so finally, he caved in and gave her justice.  Not because she deserved it, necessarily. But, because he was just tired out by her persistence.

Or, maybe because she was right and it was just that obvious.

Fred and Ethel. Weren’t they the upstairs neighbors of Lucy and Desi? They were the Mertz right? Fred and Ethel Mertz. How about that for free association?

I promise, no drinking of wine was involved in the preparation of this sermon.

Jesus told this story about Fred and Ethel to his disciples, we are told, to teach them something about prayer.

Well, here’s what I want to say about that: The first thing is that prayer, at least in my experience, is a very personal thing. Behind every petition of prayer, there is a human face. Indeed, when we pray together the Prayers of the People, we human beings come together to put our faces and our bodies and our minds and our hearts and our souls into those prayers.

They are not just words on paper. They are persistent petitions of hope. That’s why the person reading the prayers often stops and creates a space for people to say the names of the people who come to mind during that petition. Prayer is personal. We can lose site of that with the various forms of our Prayers. It becomes powerfully personal when it has a name. Like Ethel. And, Fred.

I think persistence is a manifestation of hope and hope is a form of prayer.

Think about that for a minute: If you don’t have hope, why ever would you persist? Why even bother? Prayer is fueled by hope and hope sparks persistence and persistence puts the hopes of prayer into action.

Note, please, that Ethel did not sit in the Temple and quietly read from the prayers in the back of the BCP or piously recite the rosary. Well, she might have done that, too, but Ethel must have been a willful child who grew up to be a persistent woman. She took her petition directly to the person who could answer her prayer.

She went directly to Fred.

Not everyone has that sort of … well . . . persistence. Because, not everyone has that kind of hope. Some of us are simply beaten down by the realities of life. We have come to believe that no one will listen to us, even if we tell the truth. That, no one really cares. That we are not really worth it. Or, that if we tell the truth, we might be punished for it or not be believed or have to pay a very high price for it. That it may backfire and not be worth it in the end.

If you’ve been listening to the news – and, who could possibly escape it these days – you have seen or heard a few examples of persistent women. Some of these women have been waiting a long time to tell the truth of their stories.

Three of them have, in fact, been telling their stories for over 30 years. The others had been silent because they had been afraid. Confused. Thought they had brought it on themselves. Thought, well, this is just what it’s like for a woman.

And, in part and for many years, that’s not been incorrect. 

Before this week, they were just women without names who had been talked about. Bragged about as victories of predatory machismo. Topics of locker room banter. Just words, that’s all. Nothing to concern yourselves with.

No harm no foul.

We see the harm done – even after decades later. We see the foul and it is vulgar and indecent and lewd.  The sad truth is that the only justice they may get is in having had the opportunity to tell their story – to tell the truth of what happened to them – and to have people listen and know.

Unfortunately, they are also experiencing some injustice all over again. One woman has left the country with her family because she was being tormented by people who didn’t believe her and thought she was telling the story for other reasons. For some sort of ‘fame’ (Seriously?). Or, possibly, for some sort of financial gain.

Or, maybe they’re just crazy for thinking they were once attractive enough to be molested.

Their stories have touched our stories. Somewhere inside each one of us, we know. We understand. We may not have been molested or groped ourselves, but we know what it is like to have told a deep personal truth about ourselves and not been believed or heard because someone else was rich or powerful and didn’t care.

Please, make no mistake: I am not telling you these things about these women to take a political side in this election. Indeed, there are women on both sides of the political aisle with stories to tell about alleged sexual predators. This is not a sermon about politics. This is a sermon – albeit a difficult sermon – about persistence.

It’s a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope and hope as the motivation of prayer. 

I have to tell you that, as a willful child who has grown into a persistent woman, like our First Lady  and many of you, I can’t stop thinking about this.  I know many women – many of whom are also survivors of predatory sexual assault – and many good men, my brothers, sure and true – who who have mothers and daughters and nieces and sisters – and their own stories to tell – who also can’t stop thinking about this.

It has shaken us all to our core in a way that was completely unpredictable.

Although, actually, we probably should have known. We’ve been through this before in our public lives. Anita Hill is one name many will recognize. Clergy who are pedophiles is another. Cops who pull women over for minor traffic violations and then molest them. We should know that, when truth like this is exposed, something happens – something is set free……something is set in motion – in the universe that is unstoppable and irreversible.

It has been said that whenever a person stands up against injustice, whenever the truth is told and a lie is exposed and justice is demanded – something in the cosmos shifts. The tectonic plates deep in the layers of the planet slip just ever so slightly and a tiny fissure – a small crack – begins to open. And, the whole earth groans into the universe, the sound of which reaches a place deep in our souls and we, with the rest of the world, are deeply moved and deeply disturbed.

So, while it would be wonderful to just pretend that this isn’t happening, while it would be lovely, in a way, to be like Fred, the judge in this morning’s Gospel story, and not care two figs about what God thinks, much less what people think, and sweep it all under the rug and just go on with our lives and convince ourselves that church is a place for perfect, happy people and Christianity provides some sort of inoculation against injustice and other bad things… and . . .

.... well… truth be told . . . . I just can’t do that.

It would be dishonest and disingenuous and I wouldn’t be preaching the gospel. Instead, I’d simply just be the Sunday morning entertainment.  That is not what I understand my vocation to be as an Episcopal priest.

The gospel isn’t like that. Did you hear what Jesus said?

Jesus raised up the story of Ethel, the persistent widow, who went to Fred, the arrogant judge, and said, “You want to know what prayer is? Prayer is like this: Look at Ethel over there. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is not believed. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is ignored. She keeps telling her story of injustice even though she is not given justice”. 

That, says Jesus, is what prayer is.  It is persistent. It is built on the foundation of hope. It is uttered with the understanding that God – the Divine Cosmic Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit – WILL hear your prayer.

God WILL hear your cry.

God WILL bring about justice.

The other important message in this morning’s gospel for me is that it comes to us at this time in our lives of faith when we as a community of women and men who profess a faith in Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ resurrected and Christ ascended are being given a vocational charge to have honest, albeit difficult conversations about human sexuality.

Not just homosexuality. Human sexuality.

What we are hearing is not normal. We ought not normalize it by our silence. And, that’s exactly what silence does. It makes it “normal”. It makes it “okay.”

It is not normal.

It is not okay.

Apart from who you will or will not vote for, if we, as a community of faith, cannot talk about and address the evil of predatory sexual assault, who will?

If we, as a Body of Christ, cannot feel the earth shift and hear the cosmos groan with the cry of injustice, who will?

If we, as people who have been baptized and promise to “respect the dignity of every human being,” cannot keep that promise for our mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and cousins and friends, please tell me, who will?

This is where willfulness is important to the nature and character of a person. This is where persistence is an essential component of prayer and hope is the essence of a life of Christian faith. It does not come without cost.

This is why Jesus told us the story of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. We are not told the exact nature of her “injustice”, leading me to wonder what it was that was too difficult to mention?

Or, was it, perhaps, considered so commonplace that it needed no mention?

It was originally told and meant for times when the first disciples were learning about what it means to follow Jesus.

It was originally told and meant for times such as these, when people today – living in this post modern era – are learning about the true cost of discipleship.

It was originally told and is meant for all those who will come after us – our granddaughters and grandsons and great granddaughters and great grandsons – to whom this story will be told with lessons to be learned by new generations of people.

It is a timeless story of the inordinate importance and compelling imperatives about what it means to be a person of prayer who professes to follow Jesus. It involves risk.

It involves putting your faith into action. It involves hope and belief in a God who loves us enough to inspire us to bring about justice against the oppression of people in our own day and time.  For ourselves and others.

This is a sermon about a judge I’ve called Fred and a woman I’ve called Ethel, because it is important to put a face behind stories of injustice petitions of prayer for justice.

This is a sermon about persistence. This is a sermon about persistence as a manifestation of hope, and hope as the motivation of prayer.

My prayer for us all on this day and all the days of our lives is that we learn to have the persistence of women like Ethel in our lives of prayer, that we may always know hope. 

I will leave you to ponder the question of Jesus, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"


Monday, October 10, 2016

Billy Bush is Everyman

If you're anything like me, you are sick unto death of watching the almost continuous loop of that horrific clip on the Access Hollywood bus with Donald Trump and Billy Bush. 

I know I should turn it off or walk away but I'm drawn to watching that lying-sack-of-crap liar and sexual predator finally caught in the act.  

There it is. For all the world to see. And, hear. What we've all known. What he's denied, all along. 

The man is a pig. 

A lying, unmitigated, unrepentant, privileged, white (well, okay, orange), heterosexual (or, so he says, but there is THIS video) male (because, he says, his "big" hands indicate the "big" size of his penis) chauvinist pig.

As the waves of outrage wash over me about Trump, however, I find myself more and more outraged by his companion on the bus, the host on the Access Hollywood bus, Billy Bush

Billy Bush is an affable sort.  A thoroughly charming combination of the "boy next door," a pinch of the mischievous prankster, a handful of the protective and caring "big brother" - even if you are an outrageously dressed gay man like Johnny Weir - all mixed in with just enough of the "cool dad" to provide him with high popularity rates. 

He's the son of Jonathan Bush, the younger brother of George W.H. Bush, POTUS #41. He went to the prestigious - and now notorious - St. George's Prep in Newport, RI, and graduated from Colby College in Waterville, ME where he was twice captain of the lacrosse team. 

He's been the co-host of "Access Hollywood" for several years but recently left to take a spot as an "entertainment journalist" with NBC's TODAY Show.  Billy Bush did apologize. Almost immediately. He wrote: 
"Obviously I'm embarrassed and ashamed. It's no excuse but this happened eleven years ago - I was younger, less mature, and acted foolishly in playing along. I'm very sorry."          
The word today is that Billy Bush has been "suspended indefinitely" from the TODAY show, pending a "full investigation".

Neither Billy Bush nor Donald Trump have offered an apology to the two women who were objectified and spoken of in vulgar, lewd terms. 

They have names. Nancy O'Dell, who used to be co-host with Bully Bush on Access Hollywood and is the entertainment journalist for and co-host of the TV program Entertainment Tonight.  

The other woman who was the target of Trump and Bush was actress Arianne Zucker, the Days of our Lives star who would be Trump's host on the soap-opera set.

Bush declared Ms. Zucker "hot as (expletive), adding "The Donald has scored." He would later try and help his buddy out by encouraging Ms. Zucker to hug Trump.

When you watch the clip, you can see her "taking one for the team" and give The Donald a side ways hug.

She seems ever so much happier to hug Mr. Bush, even at The Donald's encouragement. See also: "seems an affable sort" and "boy next door" and "charming".

On Saturday afternoon, Ms. O'Dell issued a statement via the website for her current show, Entertainment Tonight.  She wrote:
"Politics aside, I’m saddened that these comments still exist in our society at all," she wrote. "When I heard the comments yesterday, it was disappointing to hear such objectification of women. The conversation needs to change because no female, no person, should be the subject of such crass comments, whether or not cameras are rolling. Everyone deserves respect no matter the setting or gender. As a woman who has worked very hard to establish her career, and as a mom, I feel I must speak out with the hope that as a society we will always strive to be better."
Ms. Zucker has also issued a statement. She, too, is very clear about calling both men into account and standing tall and strong. She wrote:
“My name is Arianne (R-E-on) ZUCKER (Zooker) and I am a strong, independent, hard working mother, business woman and partner to a great man,” she wrote on Twitter. “I have grown to learn that the words of others cannot effect the value of my self worth or define the content of my character. How we treat one another, whether behind closed doors, locker rooms or face to face, should be done with kindness, dignity and respect. Unfortunately, there are too many people in power who abuse their position and disregard these simple principles and are rewarded for it. In understanding the magnitude of this situation, I choose to stand tall with self respect and use my voice to enrich, inspire and elevate the best of who we are as people.”
And, as I said, neither Trump nor Bush have offered an apology to either Ms. O'Dell or Ms. Zucker.

If I were either of the two women, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Donald Trump is such a poor excuse for a human being that I have no expectations for his showing any humanity. He is not beyond redemption, but, as yet, he has demonstrated not a shred of remorse or regret.

"It's just words, folks," he said at Monday's debate. "Just locker room talk."

It's just "boys will be boys," see?  Perfectly normal. Just the way guys talk.

Trump would not have been able to get away with saying those lewd and salacious things were it not for Billy Bush, egging him on and being thoroughly comfortable with and, in fact, obviously enjoying his mano-a-mano "locker room" banter and time alone with The Donald on the bus.

Here's the thing:  Billy Bush is Everyman.

Billy Bush makes every guy look bad.

Billy Bush makes it believable that this is how all guys talk when it's just "boys being boys".

Some of my male friends tell me - EMPHATICALLY - that this is not true.

However, some of my male friends have told me that some men DO talk like this and that it is sickening to them.

Some men have told me that, when they have been in the presence of these men and these conversations, they have felt powerless to say or do anything but go along with it because, well, because these particular men happen to be gay and they knew the consequences if they "objected too much".

The best they could do, they tell me, was to walk away.

Billy Bush has a wife. Together, they have three daughters.

My sincere hope is that Billy Bush uses this time of his "suspension" to think about how he might help, in Ms. O'Dell's words, "to change the conversation."

I hope he can find his voice for and about this issue and begin to speak, mano-a-mano, to other men about the evil of the objectification of women and the even greater evil of the predatory fantasies and actions of men toward women.

I believe Billy Bush is a good man.

I met him once. He came to church where I was rector. St. Paul's in Chatham. He and his wife and their three daughters. They signed up for Church School.

I remember Billy Bush looked me square int he eye and saying, "Very good message. Thank you."
Yes, they are Episcopalian. Or, at least, were at the time. Although, I think I remember Mr. Bush saying that his wife was Presbyterian.

They came, they said, because they heard that it was one of the few liberal churches in the area. And, that we had a great youth group. In fact, both of those things were true.

Sydney Davis, his wife, and their daughters, came back. Once. Then, Billy got the gig in LA and the family moved cross country. I think we were just a little too small a congregation for them.

People gawked, as they will.  I really can't blame the Bush family for feeling uncomfortable.

I don't know that this makes any difference, but I hope it does.

I hope he is able to take this horrific situation and use it for some good.

Billy Bush is Everyman, and every man needs to learn that not only is this behavior unacceptable for them, they need to hold each other accountable when they hear any objectification of or demeaning talk about women.

He needs to remind them that we are their mothers, their sisters, their wives, their daughters, their cousins, their coworkers, their neighbors, their friends, their doctors, their lawyers, their clergy, their elected officials, their fellow human beings on Planet Earth.

He needs to do it because it's just the right thing to do.

For Billy Bush.

And, for every man.

And, for those, as the Chinese say, who hold up half the sky.

UPDATE 10/11: Billy Bush Negotiating Exit From NBC After Lewd Tape

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Marriage is FOR life

That my joy may be in you (Jn 15:9-12)
 A 'Love Letter" for the 
Blessing of a Civil Marriage

Amy Bian Fang Wong and Timothy Wong

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 
 Harrington Park, NJ.
October 8, 2016

This is a love letter for Tim and Amy Wong, who were civilly married in China four years ago  and today come to this church, this Body of Christ, seeking a blessing on the sacred covenant they now make between them. It is my hope that they will put this love letter in with their photo album and take it out to read it as part of the celebration of their wedding anniversary. My prayer is that it will strengthen and nourish and sustain the grace bestowed upon them in this sacramental act of marriage. So . . .

Dear Amy and Tim,

First of all, please allow me a moment to simply gush. 

Tim, I’ve never seen you look more handsome. As we say in North Jersey, “Hey, you clean up real good.” And, Amy, you are a beautiful woman but today, today your inner beauty and joy are shining in ways that are simply breathtaking. 

I just want to warn you that I just may get all “gurly burbly” at some point in the midst of this service. I just hope that, if I do cry, it’s not my “ugly face” cry.

So, having said that, let me get onto the heart of this sermon – the part I want you to take with you into your sacramental married life together:

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about love. Abiding in love, in fact. Living in it. Dwelling in it. 

You can find this love, he says, by keeping his commandments. 

If you remember, that had to do with love, too. His ‘new commandment’ is to ‘love one another as I have loved you.” 

Live in that commandment, abide in that love, and, says Jesus, your joy will be complete.

I cannot even begin to express my joy at being here today, for the blessing of your civil marriage. 

I’ve known you, Tim since you were 16 years old and a CIT (Counselor in Training) at Eagle’s Nest Camp. I, of course, was only about twelve at the time. I was so impressed with you, with your beautiful heart, your generous spirit and your dedication to living out of – and abiding in – the Gospel of Jesus Christ that you simply claimed a piece of my heart.

When I was rector of St. Paul’s, Chatham, and looking for a Youth Missioner, I felt a very clear vocational call to work with you and I called and ask you to come and work with me. Your work rapidly became the model of Youth Ministry for the rest of the diocese. Everybody wanted you for their Youth Missioner. I couldn’t have been more pleased and proud to have worked with you. It gives me such joy to see you in love with this beautiful woman.

Your mom and dad obviously did a great job parenting you. I can only imagine their joy today!

I first met you, Amy, shortly after you and Tim came home to America and took a trip to visit Barbara and me in our home on Rehoboth Bay in Delaware. You fell in love with our home and immediately wanted to move to Delaware, demonstrating exactly the kind of judgment and character and temperament we’ve come to admire in you. 

I love seeing your spirit of adventure, your embrace of what’s new and foreign, and your absolute joy in discovering America and making it your new home. I love that you are now teaching Chinese to American students, contributing in your own way to building bridges across countries and cultures.

As someone who is second generation Portuguese immigrant, I resonate with that line between Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette from the Broadway play, Hamilton: “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

One of the early conversations we had together was about the English language. Your English is ever so much better than my Mandarin. Or, Cantonese, for that matter. Which, as you may have guessed, is non-existent. 

One of the fascinating things about the Chinese language is that one word said with a different tone can mean a very different things. In Mandarin there are four different tones. In Cantonese, I believe there are six.

One of my friends who was doing Interim Ministry at an Episcopal Church in China Town in New York City, was trying to learn Cantonese to be able to minister more effectively with the people God had called her to serve. The first sentence she learned was from the words we say at the altar rail as we distribute the bread, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” 

Apparently, if you say “bread” using the wrong tone, it comes out “dog”. She said that she only knew she was saying it wrong when some of the sweet older ladies would start giggling at the altar rail.

Amy and I talked about our observation that one of the fascinating things about the English language is not that there are different ‘tones’ but that there are so many different accents.   

A set of car keys, said by someone from New England can sound like a pair of men’s khaki pants to the ears of someone from the Midwest.  Or, vise versa. As a native New Englander I have no idea why anyone would wear their chah kees.

It’s moments like that when you know God created not only the Leviathan “just for the sport of it” but also delights in the human creatures who must provide an endless source of hilarity and joy – when we’re not causing Jesus to shake his head and do a face-palm.

You know, what we say in English about marriage is like that. We say that marriage is for life. Meaning that the covenant of marriage, made between two people before God and the people of God, is sacred. It is holy. It is to be marked by mutual respect, equality and equity, trust, and faithful life-long monogamy. It is for life.

But, said in a certain way, that can sound like a punishment for a crime. Right? Getting married? Well, it’s FOR LIFE. No way out. Take the key and lock them up. You are doomed forever and ever and straight on into infinity.  FOR LIFE.

I think it is indisputable that living in that way –like it’s a prison sentence – is not ‘abiding in love’. That is not keeping the commandment of Jesus to “love one another” as he loves us. And, there is certainly no joy – no joy whatsoever – in that particular perspective of marriage.

Here’s what I want to say. “Marriage is FOR life”. Hear that difference? It’s neither Cantonese nor Mandarin, but can you hear the change in tone?  Marriage is FOR life. 

Let me translate “Marriage is FOR life”. By that I mean that marriage is about life. Being FOR life. Supporting life. Creating life. Sustaining life. Do you hear the difference?

There is a beautiful understanding in orthodox theology that when two people fall in love, an energy force, a new light, a new life is created between them. The two are still two but united as one. This “one” is that new energy, that new light.

The goal of the two who love one another, the purpose of their marriage, is to sustain and nurture that new energy, that new light, that new life, which their love has created. Everything they do, everything they have, everything they are, goes into that love, that life. It’s no longer “just me” or even “just us”. It’s about “our marriage”.

So, let me say it again: “Marriage is FOR life.” And, if you want your marriage to last, the best advice I can give you is contained in the Gospel you chose for today.

First, abide in this love that you have created – this new energy, this new light, this new life – that you now share between you. Abide in it. Live in the truth of it. Let it be for each other a seal upon your hearts, a mantle about your shoulders, and a crown upon your foreheads.

Next – keep the commandment of Jesus: love one another as God loves you. Unconditionally. Abundantly. Generously. Lavishly. Wastefully. Undeservedly. 

I recently heard Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg say that, in order for a good marriage to succeed, “You have to be a little deaf sometimes.” 

Sometimes, you’ve just got to let go of your own anger, your own exhaustion, your own frustration over something your beloved just said. It’s best to be a little deaf when you hear your spouse say something annoying or when they react to something you’ve done (or promised to do but didn’t) that is said out of frustration or anger.

Finally – If you do these things – abide in love and love one another as God loves you – then your joy will be complete. 

Now, hear me clearly: I’m not talking about happy. 

With just a little bit of effort, almost anybody can be happy. Living in the midst of the beauty of Rehoboth Bay makes me happy. Ice cream makes me happy. Driving on the beach at Cape Henlopen in my Jeep and surf fishing makes me happy. This wedding makes me happy.

I have come to know this much is true:  

Happy is an emotional state.  Joy, however, is a spiritual state

Joy requires that you abide in love. It requires that you love yourself and one another as God loves you. That’s not as easy as it sounds, especially in today’s world which can be such a broken and dark and desperate place, filled with the increasing levels of intolerance and violence, prejudice and bigotry, xenophobia and nationalism we find all around us.  

I suppose that's why the Chinese symbol for Marriage is 'double happiness'. It's more than just happy. It's much, much deeper and more complex than that. 

Sacramental marriage is about the spiritual quest to find and attain the state of joy in life. 

Jesus says love one another and abide in love and your joy will be complete. If you live into your married life committed to being FOR life, you will do these things and you will not only have joy, your joy will be complete.

Tim and Amy, I wish you love in your marriage. I wish you happiness in your marriage.  Most of all, I pray that the sacramental blessing of this wedding service provides you with the grace to find abundant, complete joy in your marriage.                                                          


Friday, September 16, 2016

In Memory of Her

I'm remembering and giving thanks that forty years ago today, on September 16, 1976, The Episcopal Church voted to change the canons to allow for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy, effective January 1, 1977.

Many events led up to the making of this history.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for the eleven women who were ordained in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974 and the four women who were ordained in Washington, DC on September 7, 1975, as well as their courageous ordaining bishops and congregations that supported the ordinations.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for Charles Willie, who resigned as PHOD in protest of the Aug 15, 1974 decision of the HoB to decry the four ordaining bishops' "violation of collegiality," refuse to talk with women, and assert the ordinations were not valid.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for the Rev Peter Beebe who was charged with violating the canons for allowing two of the Philadelphia 11 (Cheek and Heyward) to preside at Eucharist and the Rev William Wendt who was charged, tried and disciplined for violating the canons when he invited Alison Cheek to preside at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in DC. (1974)

I'm remembering and giving thanks for all those men and women who declared that the theological sky was falling and that the world as we knew it would come to an end; who flew the Episcopal flag in front of their churches at half mast (signalling death) or upside down (signalling distress). They, too, made a public witness of their faith.

They, too, are part of our history and played their part faithfully, moving the ambivalent or undecided to take an uncomfortable stand for what they believed about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I'm remembering and giving thanks for all the women and men around the Anglican Communion whose faith and witness preceded and laid the foundation for this historic event in the life of our church; especially Florence Li Tim-Oi, ordained in Hong Kong in 1944, Deaconess Phyllis Edwards recognized as deacon in 1965, for the Anglican Provinces of Hong Kong, Kenya, Korea and Canada which begin ordaining women to diaconate in 1968, for the Anglican Church of Canada which changed their canons in 1975 and began ordaining women on November 30, 1976.

I'm giving thanks and praise for all the untold and unnamed numbers of saints whose witness and sacrifice allowed this historical change which we remember today. Without them, so many of us who are women and ordained in The Episcopal Church as deacons and priests and bishops would not have been able to be faithful to our vocational call.

Is it a coincidence that, in less than a decade the Union of Black Clergy and Laity (UBCL, now, UBE - Union of Black Episcopalians) was founded in 1968, the Episcopal Women's Caucus was founded in 1971 and Integrity was founded in 1975?

No, I don't think so.

Institutional change does not come without cost. It is always preceded by transformational change at the personal level. Please read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the history of this historical event.

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

Click here for a full timeline of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. 

Many thanks to Mary Frances Schjonberg  for this interactive timeline

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fit to print?

Dear American Journalists,

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you have all, individually and collectively, 
Lost. Your. Minds.

I'd like to be able to blame "social media" as the source and circulation of conspiracy theories. but, baby, it's you. 


It's the once noble, admired and respected "Fourth Estate". 

You've all become 4th graders on a playground of information. "Mine, mine, mine!" You practically squeal. "I got the information first." "This is my news scoop. My take. My smart response. My snark. My snappy comeback. My QOTD. My wit. My personality."

It's suddenly not about the news.  It's the various news reporters and "TV personalities" who have become the news. It's a weird kind of narcissism, this writing about and reporting on yourselves and what you think about "the news" - which you have made "the news". Because you are, apparently, a "personality" and are allowed to do that. 

"The news" for days after The Commander In Chief Forum was less about what either of the candidates said, even though one may have overstated her case and made a promise she couldn't keep and the other did what that other candidate always does: lies. Bold face. Tight screen. 

No, the news story was all about how the moderator, the venerable daily television host, the mild and gentile Matt Lauer, totally blew it. That was the story. Not the forum. The story about the forum was the story about the journalist who was suppose to moderate the story of the forum. but, instead, had an epic fail - blatant, ugly sexism being only one of his many flaws.

Andrea Mitchell - Andrea Mitchell, for God's sake! - was actually reduced to playing five (5!!!) Very Long seconds of Hillary coughing on her MSNBC show yesterday. 

Coughing! Which was to prove... what? That Hillary has a cough??? That Hillary has not been - gasp! - "transparent"? About a cough???? 


I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your standards have slipped. And they are showing. 
You now practice a kind of "tabloid journalism" which isn't concerned about facts and information, much less uncovering the truth. It's all about chasing whispers and rumor. 

You don't report facts, you repeat innuendo and conjecture. 

You practically salivate over it. 

And, you don't hold your colleagues accountable when they are blatantly prejudiced in their reporting (but, don't get me started on the whole Rachel Maddow, Matt Lauer thing). 

Here's a news flash: There's nothing in Hillary's damn emails. There's no "there" there. Stop talking like a first year law student in litigation class. It doesn't "go to the issue of transparency". Neither does it reveal "a pattern of behavior".  

That's not the news. The news is the content of her emails and whether or not she is involved in a "pay for play" scam or broke security. 

She isn't. She didn't. Report that. Move on.

And, stop with the "false equivalency" reporting. You don't justify the lies of one candidate by trying to find something wrong with the other. You don't repeat the lies and misinformation from quacks about one topic like climate change and then report what "other scientists" (who are the Real Scientists, the others being people who barely graduated 8th Grade Science Class but were the president of their Debate Team) say about what's really going on in the world. 

You're a JOURNALIST. Act like one. Report the news.  

This is basic stuff, people. Journalism 101.

Has anyone asked why we need to know that Hillary has pneumonia? Well, only because the "conspiracy theorists" over at Breitbart ... um... "news"  have been saying she has much worse. 

"Syphilis," I heard one man say authoritatively, "she got it from Bill."

Ah, see! That's a great 'twofer" Stick it to Bill AND Hillary in a one sentence, all purpose, handy-dandy conspiracy theory that provides evidence of her not being fit for public office by reason of association with a man who - unlike you - was only caught with his pants down. 

Hey, maybe what if there's some truth to that. I mean, he was such a philanderer, right? Could it be? Roll that film of Monica and Bill again, would you? The one of her in that beret and them hugging in a crowd? Hmmm.... maybe there's something to these conspiracy theories????

Hey, people of the media! Here's a news flash: No. There. Isn't. The only "something" to conspiracy theories is what you already know: Conspiracy. Oh, and Theory.

We used to have a word for that when I was in school. We called it GOSSIP. Indeed, we were encouraged not to engage in it. "Shows weakness of character," I remember Sr. Mary Aloysius saying, adding "which is a sin you'll have to confess. And, repent. Father will give you at least five 'Hail Mary's and one Our Father' which, if you ask The Virgin to help you, will remove the stain of gossip on your weak souls."

Oh, and it's also about this: Money. "If it bleeds, it leads". Isn't that what some of your editors say? 
But, this is not even about money. It's more than that. It's about greed. Which is an addiction, all on its own. You are all binging and purging on information and mis-information which passes for news which keeps the cash register humming. And, your bosses happy. 

Say, didn't your bosses used to be called "editors"? Now they're called "news executives," right? Hmm . . . wonder what that's all about ....... 

Here's another question: What about 'right to privacy'? Where are the lines for "public officials"? If we have a right to ask if men if they wear 'boxers or briefs' do we have a right to ask Hillary if she wears panties or thongs? Do the American people really need to know?

Can Hillary - or any candidate for - or holder of - public office - be allowed a few shreds of privacy about her own damn health? Without having her integrity questioned?  

Unless, of course, you are Donald J. Trump and have no integrity. Then again, like so many other men, he also has "magical testicles" which apparently prevents him from getting tired or getting sick or having any real criticism against him stick and have any effect.

I mean, did you even READ your colleague David Fahrenthold's article in the Washington Post about the FACTUAL, DOCUMENTED CORRUPTION in the Donald Trump Foundation? 

Apparently, when some of your colleagues in print journalism actually do the work of journalism, you don't even have respect for that. 

What is wrong with you????

Men and women of the Fourth Estate, PLEASE, get a grip!!!

Snap out of it!!

We deserve more.

We demand more.

We want more than "All the news that's fit to print."

We want "ONLY the news that's FIT to report."

Thank you. Now, back to work, the lot of you. This is serious. We've got a President of the United States of America to elect.

The whole rest of the world is watching.