Wednesday, September 30, 2009


It looks like instead of having God make it easy for me by leaving me with one option on the call front, I may have choices to make. Sigh.

I think the reason this fills me with such dread is that it means I will have to tell one or possibly two organizations "no."

I've hated hearing that word in my own life, so I hate having to say it.

The tough thing about all this is that the options all are mostly wonderful, and all have some very small negatives. They are all different. I can visualize myself in any of them, doing good work. It is not obvious to me that one is a better fit, or that I feel more called to one than the other, or that my motivations for being attracted to one or the other are not good ones.

If you're offered a gorgeous red apple, an aromatic and luscious peach, and a bowl of beautiful cherries, which do you choose if you are forced to choose one? And how do you let go of the guilt of not choosing the other two?

Prayers for discernment, please.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Week, Another Five Hundred Fifty Four Things to Do

It is a glorious morning here in Your Nation's Capitol. At 10 a.m., the temp here is a blissful 63F, the sky is an endless blue, leaves are drifting down. I took a lovely walk - 45 minutes of peace and relative quiet, listening to Morning Prayer on the iPod, then listening to the new Dan Brown audiobook. I do hope that whatever spiritual sustenance I got from MP wasn't flushed by listening to trashy Freemason conspiracy talk.

I've already done three things on the to-do list, and have something of a plan for the other things. Well, sort of a plan, because every minute that passes brings me several emails or messages that add to the list.

I could take the easy way out and not even make a list and just deal with things as they come at me, but that would make me crazy as I forgot things or worried about forgetting things or struggled to remember things.

So it's all about the list.

Secretly, I like the list, because crossing things off it feels so darned good. The list and I have a co-dependent relationship: it expects me to tend to it, and I expect to fuss over it, add things, cross things off, re-prioritize. Someone I know just kept one list in one of those black marbled-cover composition books. One running list, forever. Adding, crossing off, modifying. PH makes a list for the week, hand-written, blocked off by day. I tried to use my Palm for this, but discovered I liked the discipline of writing a list in the morning (or sometimes the night before) for that day. A day at a time, that's really all I can manage. I do use the Palm for longer-term regularly scheduled tasks (like Ember Day letters) but each day is too much of a moving target to type in all the stuff.

The list for the day:

  • initial reading of the lections for this Sunday (I have actually already read them once, but now will read more closely) in anticipation of where I might go with the sermon

  • thinking about the list (a sub-list) of things I want to discuss with my Senior Warden

  • getting a copy of +Gene Robinson's Fourfold Blessing out to the parish, since so many loved it when I used it yesterday

  • thinking about a series of Advent meditations for home devotions

  • planning the baptismal prep sessions for the three souls who will be baptized on 11/1

  • a trip to the library to pick up a book on hold, return the overdue books, and pay the inevitable fine

  • a trip to the Cokesbury bookstore for something I want rather than need (and this is an expendable item on the list)

  • setting up three appointments for pastoral care meetings

  • taking Spewky and Mia to the vet for their annual visit.

This last item will be a team effort. Wrangling two uncooperative cats is beyond my powers, so PH will be helping. Thank goodness he's got a break in the afternoon and can do this!

The Saab appears to be on the fritz. I asked PH to drive it today, so he can feel what it's doing and we can discern whether it will cost us an arm and a leg and a firstborn child to fix, or simply a hand or a foot ("If your hand offends you, cut it off..."). I know that it will cost no less than $750 because every time we take it to King Richard and the Swedish car specialists it never costs less than $750, and sometimes more. The issue is how much more. Given that it is now nine years old, there is a tiny piece of me that would like to replace it, but now is not the time. So one of the items that I face this week may be bringing it to Richard's castle of car repair for diagnosis, treatment, and debt-incurrence.

PH talks about the pile of books that he would love to read but may never get to as the eschatological reading list. I've got one of those, but I think I've also got an eschatological to-do list...the things I'd like to do (organizing my yarn stash, transferring all my old vinyl records to digital format, visiting Lebanon and Jordan and Egypt and Israel, losing forty pounds) but will probably never get to. Rationally, I know I'll never get it all done. Irrationally, I keep trying and frustrating myself and everyone around me with my stubbornness about it all. It never gets completely done, and at the end of every day I have to give up on that list, sometimes with relief and sometimes with annoyance at myself or other circumstances that have conspired against its completion.

And so the prayer for each night is the one we find in the New Zealand Prayer Book:

Lord,it is night.

The night is for stillness.

Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.

What has been done has been done;

what has not been done has not been done;

let it be.

I have to let it be.

In a way, the beauty of the daily to-do list is that it circumscribes my work into the finite, the measurable, the things that are necessary and not so necessary. These quotidian acts give me an opportunity to serve God through each other in the mundane; God's glory shines through, I hope, in how I do them. At least for this day, and this list, I hope and pray.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Today's Sermon: “Practical Theology”

There is a piece of me that wonders what set off the Apostle James when he wrote the part of his letter that we heard read this morning. There’s something in the tone of it that reminds me when all of my five kids were still at home and I had to say something like:

“Matt, stop taking Bryce’s Walkman. Bryce, if Matt takes it, you come tell me, you don’t just punch him. Chris, do your homework upstairs in Daddy’s office if Sam is practicing guitar in your room. Sam, don’t follow him around to serenade him. Allie, Mommy can’t make you cookies right now, and you’re not big enough yet to make them by yourself. We’ll make them later.”

James sounds harried, aggravated with the people’s problems, trying to get everything covered in one burst of instruction. It’s a practical theology, not a theoretical one. .It’s not academic – it’s how to survive. It gets to the heart of how we are supposed to live as followers of Christ.

And that is nothing new in Scripture. In the gospel, Jesus is doing the same thing: giving practical instruction in how to live as his followers, because, of course, the disciples have coming running to him with what they perceive as a big problem and he turns it into a teachable moment in practical theology.

We hear James and Jesus in these teaching moments, and we are amazed that they have the patience to put up with the followers, who try, bless their hearts, but just keep going off the rails.

There is something particularly wonderful about lessons in practical theology. We can spend hours pondering the nature of the Trinity, and how it was that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine at the same time, and whether we consider Joseph the father of Jesus even though he was conceived by the Holy Spirit….but that doesn’t always help us in how we live today. It is those moments of teaching practical theology that really show us where the rubber meets the road.

Take something as simple as water. We know Jesus told us something very practical having to do with water: “I was thirsty and you brought me a drink.” (Matt 25:35).

The Baptist pastor Clarence Jordan tells a story about it:
“Jesus said, ‘I expect from my followers a kind of life that identifies them. I was thirsty and you knew how to respond.’ Now this is the kind of thing the Christians, many times, seem to be so dumb about. When they see a man who's thirsty, they haven't got sense enough to give him water. They bring him a hymnal. Or, to take an even more ridiculous example, a Baptist church I know installed a $25,000 fountain on its front lawn. That thing has the capacity of a thousand gallons a minute. That's enough water for any Baptist. A thousand gallons a minute! We Baptists don't do things half way. And the people come and Jesus says, ‘I was thirsty.’ ‘Yeah, Lord, and we built you a circulatin' fountain.’ When some people don't even have runnin' water in their kitchens! Can you imagine people being that idiotic?”[1]

We could talk for several hours of a theology of water, all the ways water is a symbol in the Bible, water as a sign of rebirth, of cleansing, water used in ritual….you get the picture. But Jesus says something very simple, very practical: “I was thirsty and you brought me something to drink.” Simple. Necessary. Unambiguous. Practical.

Practical theology is what gets you through the day.

We’ve got a very different kind of practical theology in the Old Testament reading today, a harsh story. It’s about Queen Esther, the Jewish queen married to the Persian king, Ahasuerus – we might also know him as Xerxes. Now, Esther is a pretty interesting character. She is incredibly beautiful. She is a devout Jew. She has been chosen by Ahasuerus to be his wife from among all the beautiful women in his kingdom. She was the successor to Ahasuerus’ first wife Vashti, who aggravated him by not coming to his party from her part of the palace when he sent for her. He didn’t want to be seen as a king who couldn’t control his wife – what would all the other women in the kingdom do if he didn’t punish her? – so he banished Queen Vashti from the land. But then he needed a new queen, and after a very long process of preparation, he chose Esther (whose original Hebrew name was Hadassah, by the way) to be his new queen.
Now remember, she was a Jew. He was a Persian. We might be a little surprised that she would agree to marry a non-Jew…wasn’t that unclean? But with the guidance of her trusted uncle Mordecai, she went ahead with it, because it was an opportunity to advocate for her people. A little practical theology, turning around the rules to fit the context in which those Jews lived, as an oppressed minority in Persia.

There were many ground rules about living with the King, one of which was that no one approached the king; they simply responded when the king called them. And Esther complied with that rule, because those who broke it were killed for their disrespect. But she violated that rule when her uncle discovered a plot to murder the king and passed that information along to her. She saved her husband’s life, so he forgave her for breaking the rule.

In the meantime, there was a villain in the story – there always is, isn’t there? His name was Haman. You might consider him the Karl Rove or Rahm Emmanuel of the day, a powerful advisor to the king. He didn’t much like the Jews – the poor Jews always have someone who doesn’t like them in the Bible, don’t they? He noticed that Esther’s uncle Mordecai, who used to hang around the front of the palace gate, would not bow to the king. Another one of those Persian rules, you know. Mordecai was devoted to his God, and would only bow to him. Haman used that violation to say that all the Jews didn’t honor King Ahasuerus, and they all should be killed.

At this point in our little conversation about practical theology, we might say “why didn’t Mordecai just go ahead and bow to the king? Wouldn’t that be the practical thing to do? Then the Jews wouldn’t be killed, and that’s a good thing, right?”

Well, there’s a difference between pragmatic solutions that compromise your beliefs and practical theology, and this is where the difference shows up. It might have saved everybody if they just went ahead and bowed, but it didn’t solve the basic problem that they all really believed in their own God, the one true God, and bowing this time might save them in this moment, it might have been a pragmatic solution, but practical theology would say that to be true to their beliefs, they had to find a way to make the relationship shift, a way to get the permission of the king to allow them to worship as they pleased, not seeing it as a disrespect to the Persian monarchy.

And so Queen Esther heard about what was planned, and she did a very wise thing, an example of practical theology. She didn’t act immediately. She decided to throw a banquet to honor her husband. Lavish food and drink, entertainments, all to please him. The King promised her anything she asked for. Anything at all, even half of his kingdom. That must have been some banquet! And her request was an important one: she asked to save her people. , "If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me-- that is my petition-- and the lives of my people-- that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king."

The king hadn’t heard about this plan to kill the Jews – it was all Haman’s doing – and he was furious, because if all the Jews were to be killed, he would lose his beloved Esther as well. So when he found out that Haman had done this, he ordered that Haman be killed. And the Jews were saved, and Esther was a hero of her people as well as the beloved of the king.

Practical theology doesn’t mean denying your beliefs to get what you want, it means making it work in your time and place. It means hearing God’s Word as God means you to hear it today, here in this town, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Are you going to have a dinner party to outwit your enemy and save your people? Most likely not, although I bet there have been such dinner parties in Washington this weekend.

Are you going to worry about those who are casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and wonder if you should do something about that, because they don’t seem to be a part of what you think is Christianity? Maybe not literally, but if we start judging the different flavors of religious experience as if we had the only right one, we might get a slap on the wrist by the Lord, as he did in today’s Gospel.

James does offer some very practical theology in a slightly brusque but effective way: it is a prescription for acts of piety. Prayer. Singing songs of praise. Anointing of the sick. More prayer. Confession of sin and asking for forgiveness form those whom you’ve wronged. More prayer. Helping those who have gone astray.

I doubt we will examine much of what we do in our day to day lives in terms of academic theology, but I believe that the way we live our lives is an expression of our practical theology, of living with God as God lives with us. We don’t always think out loud about it, but we live it. And we’re not always sure we’re on the right path. But God sees and knows and appreciates that we try to continue to perfect ourselves.

We live in this world that has been God’s gift to us, and God’s only requirement is that we believe in him and love him, and that we look to see a glimpse of God in those around us. That’s eminently practical, and joyful, too, and I believe we can do that today and every day, with God’s help.


[1] Jordan, Clarence. Cotton Patch Tales of Liberation

A Poem for Saturdays at the Mall, and Parents of Preteen and Teenaged Girls

Oh My God

by Billy Collins

Not only in church,
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days.

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of awe.

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise spring
unbiddenfrom their glossy lips.

from "Ballistics" (2008)

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Titles

At the beginning of the week, I was away at a clergy support/network/education program for those of us who are newly serving in this diocese. A delight, primarily because of my wonderful female clergy friends there. We had a fascinating conversation about how people in our parishes address us.

Some go by "Mother (first name)". Since my real-life first name is Mary, whenever I'm addressed as Mother Mary, all I can think of is the Beatles.

Some go by "Pastor (first name)".

Some go by "Reverend (first name)". Yes, I know that that is an improper use of a modifier.

I really prefer just using my first name. After all, it was good enough for the apostles, right? But parents of young 'uns like to have something more formal to denote respect, and there are times when identifying oneself with an honorific is helpful. "Hello, this is Pastor Mibi/Reverend Do-good/Mother Mibi. My parishioner John Doe is on your unit, and I'm wondering if he's feeling well enough for a visit right now."

So what do you do?

Random Dots of Friday

  • The massive headache of this morning is gone. Thanks be to God for Advil and coffee.

  • The massive student loan is applied for and tentatively approved. I'm hoping it all goes through quickly, to relieve StrongOpinions' angst about it, and the University's whining about needing their money nnnnooooowwwww! The Ex is not helping, once again redefining the rules to suit his purposes. God'll gitcha fer that, ya varmint.

  • I found another interview suit that will work for cooler weather on the Talbots website. The stuff was on sale already, and I had a 20% off coupon with free shipping. The website had some hiccups, so I had to do online customer service chat. Definitely not as efficient as talking to a humanoid on the phone, but the service person helped me through their software bugs. Now I just have to pray that it will fit.

  • Spewky (oops, that should be Spooky) and Mia, our two cats, have to go for their annual vet visits on Monday. That means wrangling them into their crates and driving them across town with them wailing pitifully all the way. We need to find out why Spewky spews so much, and whether we can get kitty tranqs when it's time for us to move them to another abode. The thought of driving several hours (anywhere from 4 to 12 depending on where I'm called) with two yowling cats is enough to require Mibi tranqs.

  • The sermon and the Adult Ed program are done. Not brilliant, but adequate. My standards for "adequate" have mellowed considerably, now that I have to do it every week.

Time for date night with PH. It will be margaritas and tex-Mex. Tomorrow will be the usual Farmer's Market expedition and icon-writing, followed by laundry and cooking dinner. Maybe a movie. There's a new Juliette Binoche ("Paris") and PH will want to go pay hommage to his other girl. Aren't I a good wife?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ups and Downs

My trip to interview down south of here was interesting. Good people. Interesting challenges. A little troubling stuff. It will take them a long time to figure out who they will call, and I fear they won't be at a decision-making point when I already have an offer or offers in hand from the other places where I've interviewed. We shall see what happens. In any case, it was delightful talking with them; they had very thoughtful questions and even more important, great follow-on questions after I gave my first responses. And it is always great visiting the town where the church is, one of the most beautiful college towns in the country.

Things are moving along with the other two places. I may go back out to the Windy City in a few weeks for more conversation.

That's all the good news. The aggravating news is that the ex is being difficult about fulfilling his obligations toward StrongOpinions' college tuition. We had a most unpleasant phone conversation where he got quite angry with me when I gently reminded him of what we had contractually agreed to when we parted company. And he got angrier still when I asked him why he was angry. So the question is whether I haul him into court to enforce the agreement (would cost $$$ and would make StrongOpinions crazy) or whether I just cosign loans to cover her tuition. Sad that he still manipulates after all these years. Sad, too, that if I tried to enforce the agreement, it would cause StrongOpinions angst. Any ideas, folks, short of hiring my old attorney, The Red-headed Barracuda Lady, which would be a pricey proposition? Send the Texas Town Car of Justice, perhaps? (Old RevGalBlogPals may remember this reference.)

Time to go cook dinner....that usually brings the blood pressure back down to normal range...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Too Much to Do and Not Enough Time

This will be quick because things are crazy this week:

The trip to The Garden State to interview went well. They have other candidates, so it will be a while before I know anything.

The trip to the little church down south of here will be on Wednesday. I have no idea how their process will work, since they've done things a little differently than other places, so who knows. It is a place in which I have great interest, so I hope some of my questions get answered.

No word yet on the Windy City job (I am one of two finalists).

Today and tomorrow it is off to the capitol of the Confederacy for a session of the New Clergy Networking/Support/Learning group. The good news is that I'll drive down with Marathon Ethicist, one of my favorite people in the world. The bad news is that I haven't a clue when I'll find time to write Sunday's sermon this week, since I will be in a car for several hundred miles over three days. And there are a number of other things that need tending, including doing food shopping this morning. Ack.

Things I am grateful for:
  • a visit to Saint Middle School from a member of my sponsoring parish, a good buddy who has been very kind and generous to me. A nice lunch and chinwag with him after church yesterday. Thanks, D!

  • dinner with a small group of witty and smart friends. Good food. Bad jokes. Loving talk about our larger circle of mutual friends and their children. Thanks P and T et al!

  • PH's unfailing calm and good humor in the midst of all the uncertainty in our lives right now. He did all the driving on our sojourn this weekend, was my eyes and ears in the midst of the interview, spoke wisely and well when they asked him a few questions, and kept me calm and sufficiently caffeinated. What a guy!

Make you a deal: you keep me in your prayers as I wait and discern, and I'll keep you in mine!

Peace out....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today's Sermon: Mark 9:30-37 “Servant of All”

“Whoever wants to be first should be last, and servant of all.”

How do you know when you are doing a good thing?

Does it matter whether you know or not?

Can you take your own ego out of the equation, and let it be pure gift?

Deogratias was from Burundi, a Tutsi son of a cow herder. He was a good enough student to go to medical school in his home country. When the intertribal conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda spread into neighboring Burundi, the violence and upheaval put an end to his schooling. He saw members of his family taken away, friends who died in the violence. Whole families massacred. Other friends gave him a way to come to America, on a business visa, so that he, too, would not die. He stayed in New York, homeless, speaking no English, only French and his tribal language, Kirundi. He slept in Central Park, found a job delivering groceries for a local supermarket, and somehow, by the grace of God, found his way to Saint Thomas More Church.

Life is a chain of unexpected events, and it was such a chain that caused Deo to be taken under the wing of a woman in that church who spoke French, and who made it her personal mission to help the shy and traumatized young man. After a number of false starts, she found him a place to live – as the guest of a couple in Soho, the Wolfs. They encouraged him, helped him learn English by reading books in the New York Public Library, helped him apply to Columbia University, kept him in their home for his schooling. Others helped as well. The professor who realized that the reason why Deo’s examination in chemistry was wrong was because he still thought in French syntax instead of English, so he would write the names of compounds backwards – chloride hydrogen instead of hydrogen chloride – and who them re-graded his exam from an F to an A-. The other professor who allowed Deo to use his own books. Another who helped him when he was gripped with a deep depression, a symptom of post-traumatic stress, what Deo called gusimbura, or remembering and grieving the awful things that he had seen.

A chain of people doing good, for no other reason than they thought that it was the right thing to do, to help this fellow with the French accent from Central Africa.

They didn’t know his full story – his occasional telephone calls back to a family member in Burundi caused him to believe his whole family had been killed, and it was only after several years that he actually discovered his parents were still alive, and spoke to them. They, too, had thought he was dead, and struggled to comprehend who it was they were speaking to.

That chain of people didn’t all know that he had spent quite some time sleeping in Central Park, looking for safe spots that were reasonably well sheltered, because the squats that he had been offered in shuttered tenements were too dangerous and dirty.

That chain of people didn’t all know the nightmares that caused him to fight off sleep, nightmares filled with slashing machetes and dead children.

What that chain of people saw, though, was someone who hungered to complete his education – he had always wanted to be a doctor, to cure people of the diseases he had seen as he grew up.

They saw Deo needed their help to do that.

Something compelled them to give him that help. Some, like the Wolfs, gave him an extraordinary amount of help over several years. Some, like the chemistry professor, gave him one thing that he needed at one moment in time. But they all gave him help.

It’s a funny thing – when people ask for help, we often go through a mental exercise of evaluating their true need. We get calls at the church office almost every day, asking for assistance. Sometimes I will take these calls when I’m in the office. The need is great in these difficult times. I find myself wondering “is this person really in need or are they going to use money for something like alcohol or drugs?” We tend to give things like gift cards to Giant or Safeway rather than cash; we help out on utility bills by paying the bill directly to the utility rather than handing them the money to pay it themselves. And it’s probably wise stewardship to do that, because sometimes these folks will use cash for drugs or drink.

But as I look at the Gospel this morning, I hear a very simple sentence: “Whoever wants to be first should be last, and servant of all.”

It doesn’t say “servant of all that we’ve decided are worthy of our help.”

Maybe we worry too much about evaluating those in need, and not enough about being servants. Maybe we try to measure what we’re doing – is it important enough, will people be impressed, is this something extra special, that will make me look extra-special as a result - instead of simply giving, doing, serving.

That’s really what was going on among the disciples when Jesus chastised them. After all his teaching about the cost of discipleship, about how tough the road was going to be if they would truly follow him, they got hung up with how it would make them look, which one would be the best, which one would be remembered as the most important disciple. And once again, they needed him to school them, to finally understand what it was all about. That the last thing they should strive for was to be the one who got all the accolades, that it was really about making yourself humble, a servant, without an eye to how it would reflect on you… to be willing to serve a little child as if she were Jesus, with all the focus and attention and love you have, because if you couldn’t do that, nothing you could do would be worthwhile.

Those people who helped Deo didn’t know, as they lent a hand, that he would graduate from Columbia, from Dartmouth Medical School, and go back to Burundi to found a series of medical clinics to help the war-ravaged people who remained there. They didn’t know that his story would be turned into a book that is climbing the NY Times bestseller list. They didn’t know their names would be in the book…they simply did the work of being a servant to this man who appeared to be the least of God’s creatures, an unknown African homeless man who wanted nothing more than to go to school to be a doctor. They didn’t stop before they did what they did and say “I wonder if this guy is really scamming me. I wonder if I should help him, or if he’ll make a fool of me and steal my money.” They simply did the work of being a servant, as Christ tells us, without questioning, without worrying about what comes next.

Sometimes good stewardship of that which the Lord has given us is to respond to God’s abundant generosity by giving generously, perhaps even ridiculously generously. When you see a beggar on the street, give him a twenty dollar bill instead of a quarter. If you see a young single mother in the checkout line ahead of you searching through her purse for enough to cover the groceries, don’t sigh with impatience – tell her “it’s on me” and shoo her off and pull out your credit card. If someone asks you for help in their job search, don’t say “I’m too busy,” stop, think a minute, and tell them the names and phone numbers of three contacts you have that might be helpful.

And while you’re at it, try engaging them in conversation.

Part of the miracle of Deo’s story was those conversations, first with Muhammed, a baggage handler at JFK airport who brought him from the airport into Manhattan and gave him a corner of the squatter’s apartment to sleep in, with Sharon who spoke French and discovered part of his story and his dream. Another part was the series of conversations Deo had with Charlie Wolf, who ended up housing Deo and helping to pay for his education. Sometimes the most generous thing you can do is to acknowledge another person’s humanity in the midst of their need, to treat them not as someone to be judged or dismissed, or worse, offered condescending charity. Instead, remember Christ asks you to be “a servant to all.”

After all, he was the best example. He served all of us by dying on the Cross to save us. If he had stopped and said “does she really deserve this? Is she going to live up to all I hope for her? Will she squander this gift I give her?” he might not have done that.

Oh, and one more thing?

Deogratias, the doctor from Burundi?

His name means “Thanks be to God.” It is something we should say every day. Something we should model, by being servants to all, every day. And then it won’t matter who is first or last, who is the greatest, because the greatest of all has made himself a servant for us. Thanks be to God!


Deo’s story can be found in Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains (New York: Random House. 2009).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Not Taking Oneself Seriously

Yes, I got up and out on time this morning, because it was a breakfast meeting with a good friend, and we drank tea and wailed and gnashed our teeth about the challenges of organizations and what we'd do if we ruled the world, then we said "Thank you, Jesus" that our situations were so much better than others of which we know.

And then I went to visit someone in the rehab hospital who talked a blue streak about all sorts of stuff, some of which I probably didn't need to hear, but who was blessedly attentive when we prayed together. It gave the idea of centering prayer a whole new meaning. Glad this Someone is doing such much better physically; I hope all aspects of health will follow.

So I came home, with my lovely clerical shirt on, and was accosted by two dear young men in white shirts and black slacks - why do they all look a bit like James Dean without the edge? - who wanted to introduce me to the wonders of Mormonism.

I don't know if they thought a woman in a clergy shirt was confused or a prize catch. Suffice to say they did not succeed in converting me. I just laughed and and sent them off with my blessing. They may do some good to someone out there, in a way that I might not be capable of, but they weren't about to convert me. Hah!

And the next job that awaited me this afternoon, after feeling pretty good about solving the problems of the institutional church with my friend and praying in the hospital and fending off the Mormon lads, was cleaning out the cat litter box.

We are going out of town for two days, you see, and it was a needful thing to do for the comfort of the cats. (The black cat has now been renamed. from Spooky to Spew-ky, for her bad behavior in the midst of Morning Prayer the other day, when she let loose while I was praying the Psalm.)

And there is something about scrubbing out a littler box with Clorox Heavy-Duty Orange-Scented Wipes (not smelling like any orange I'd ever eat) while still in the clergy shirt, and remembering my nose just a teensy bit up in the air about all the good things I'd done this morning, that just got me giggling.

Because it may well be that the best, most honest thing I did thus far today was cleaning out the cat box. Simple. Finite. Measurable as to completeness. Of service to two of God's creatures. No expectation from me of them for anything but (one hopes) keeping their litter box activities within the confines of the box.

It's hard to take yourself too seriously when you're doing that task.

So I'm wondering how I'll take some of that with me tonight to the Vestry meeting. Not that they are cats, although our meetings sometimes feel like herding cats, not that they soil their environs, because they care deeply and broadly about the work that they do, in a way that would make the Lord smile broadly. It's more about my being there to provide a necessary service, not always creative but usually necessary, and doing it in a simple and complete and faithful manner. And taking the pomposity factor down several notches if I fall into that trap.

I wonder where the Mormon boys and the cats will be this evening around 7?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


A friend stopped by, and we talked about our respective ministries, the joys, the challenges, the questions....the sort of things that newly ordained people puzzle over.

It strikes me that every day in this work is a little different. Today, when I said Morning Prayer, I was thinking of a parishioner who is going to visit a desperately sick family member, and another parishioner who is facing surgery for cancer. There was also a list of other folks who were prayed for, some in the parish, some not. Yesterday, the sequence of the list was a little different. Today, I worked from home and looked ahead at the lectionary to see the arc of the coming weeks' sermons, and the special events we have coming up at Saint Middle School, and I did some reading that informed my sermon for this week. Fielded some phone calls, a number of emails, edited the bulletin and announcements, made plans for classes for those getting baptized in several weeks. Yesterday, it was meetings upon meetings, some ending in frustration, thinking about budgets and other worrisome things. Other days there may be pastoral visits or phone calls, which are sacred ground to me. Tomorrow night it will be Vestry and a whole bunch of things we need to attend to.

My friend and I are learning on-the-job that in work like this where every day is different, you cannot be completely prepared. There is no book that tells you answers to every question, except for the Book that gives you all the questions and bids you ask them. It is all the moment and the spirit and the prayer that you are acting, doing, being faithfully.

It would be easier if we did learn all the answers in seminary, but there is art and mysticism in it, and the intersection of souls on the journey. No GPS for this.

In the meantime, I pray simply to not mess up irreparably, and to do some good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random Dots of Tuesday

  • The family member who was in the auto accident last week was discharged from the hospital yesterday. She's now in a rehab hospital, and is making remarkable progress. I just wish I had found out from her husband before I went to the first hospital this morning. Teaches me to call and check first!

  • The cat who has always been the pukiest feline in the universe let loose this morning with some nastiness as I was in the midst of reading the Psalm for Morning Prayer. "How long, O Lord, How long?" Perfect timing.

  • Drove out to the office for a meeting that got us where we needed to be (conditionally) on some financial matters. That was good. Then I just got a call from someone who had gotten a message from The Person In Charge Of These Things doing a 180 on what he had said in the meeting. That upped my sighing-per-hour quotient considerably.

  • The meeting that is to be held tonight for which today's meeting was preparatory now will not include us. The good news is that I get to go home earlier than 10 pm. The bad news is that a matter which needs tending must be left untended, which has implications for Saint Middle School's Thursday night Vestry Meeting. This sort of stuff runs downhill, doesn't it?

  • It's quarterly SECA tax payment time. Enough said.

On the upside, StrongOpinions has regular flu, not H1N1, and was promptly seen by a doctor. My sermon for Sunday is - remarkably - done, so I can think about the mini-homily I will give as part of my interview on Saturday, and the Adult Forum will be the ever-popular "Stump the Pastor" Q&A, which requires no prep on my part at all. My husband loves me, the laundry is done and folded, if not entirely put away, I think I'm a pound lighter than I was on Sunday.

And if I'm lucky, the cat hasn't left me any vomitacious gifts on the living room rug.

Jesus loves me, this I know.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Semi-Sabbath Monday

I tried to do no work today. I really did! But to no avail. Odds and ends that needed tended followed me like hungry stray cats, and I could not resist them.

That said, it was a good day, with Spiritual Direction, a journey to the fabric store to end all fabric stores for some buttons for a knitting project, good dinner (vegetarian! some ingredients from the Farmer's Market! herbs from the pots on the back porch! feeling very virtuous and low on the carbon emissions...) and good conversation.

Here's a look at the beautiful stole A made me:

and below, the kiddos learning about what we were about to do:

and then my slightly clumsy but heartfelt asperging of the backpacks etc (sprinkling them with holy water):
Yesterday was a good day, and today was, too. The week ahead is incredibly jam-packed, and I haven't really gotten going on the sermon yet, but the day is done. Time to rest, truly rest, to be prepared for another day.
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday afternoon

The Blessing of the Backpacks, Briefcases, and BlackBerries went exceeding well. There were vast quantities of the items to be blessed gathered around the altar like sleeping puppies. I explained the theology of this act, pronounced words of blessing as I asperged them, then asperged the kiddos, who were gathered in the front row, to much giggling. This parish is so full of joy, even as individuals within it struggle with their personal financial, medical and emotional battles. The joy continued in the tangle as everyone retrieved their kits, so that I could set the Table and proceed with the service.

Dear A had made me a new stole with pictures of children of many hues encircling the globe. Perfect for the day, and for the focus of the day on our children and on their education. And after the service there was a potluck. Oh, carbohydrate excess!

Two long meetings after that, and a lot of work got done. I made it home without falling asleep at the wheel, and have had all good intentions to take a wee nap, but have gotten distracted by the odds and ends of work that need tending, the Redskins making themselves look like a bad joke, and reading some things in the Sunday paper.

But the true bliss of "l'heure bleu" is listening to Arvo Part's setting of "My Heart's In The Highlands" with countertenor Matthew Owen. I am utterly blissed by I hardly mind that I've got an 8 pm dinner meeting that will probably run until 10 or so.

So you, too, can be filled with such bliss:

...and a bonus: Part's "Spiegel in Spiegel," which some moviegoers will recognize from "Wit"...

Today's Sermon" Mark 8:27-38 “Can You Hear Me Now?”

I’m no longer much of a TV watcher, but even so, I’ve watched enough to be deeply annoyed at the ads for Verizon that were prevalent a season or two ago. “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” The fellow with the Verizon jacket is wandering all over the place, and asking that question to make the point that Verizon’s service areas are everywhere. You get great reception even in the most unlikely places. It was an incredibly aggravating ad, but it taught us what they thought we needed to know about the service they were selling. And we, good students that we are, absorbed it so well that it became an icon of pop culture, the punch line to a thousand jokes. The words wouldn’t leave our brains, over and over, urgently “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” The pitchman made sure we understood what he was selling.

And Jesus’ words in today’s gospel have some of that same insistent urgency: “Who do they say I am? Who do you say I am? Can you hear me now?”

The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is a man in a hurry, with a mission of vital importance. You’ll notice, if you read through the whole gospel, that one of the words that most prominent in Mark’s account is immediately. Everything happens immediately. People move from one place to another immediately. 27 times, that word appears in this gospel account. And I wonder if we might paraphrase this man in a hurry, so that when he says “who do you say I am,” we recast it as “Can you hear me now?”

Because that’s what’s really going on in this story. Jesus is checking in with his disciples, his prize students, if you will, to see if they’ve finally figured out what he is trying to teach them. And it’s important that they get the message right, and quickly, because he knows he’s not going to be around to teach them face-to-face for long.

Remember that this passage comes after Jesus has performed a series of miracles. If the purpose of the miracles was not only to care for those he touched but to also show them his divinity, he certainly wants to check and see if people now understand what he’s really about. Yes, it’s a good thing that he is healing people. Yes, it’s a good thing that he teaches. But do they really get the whole message?

Thus the question: “Who do people say that I am?” “Can they hear me now?”

All good teachers check in regularly, after all, as they are teaching to make sure the students are following them.

And the first answer that he gets is somewhat disappointing. It seems the people think that he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some sort of prophet. But they haven’t connected the dots sufficiently to realize who he really is. So now the question becomes more insistent. Maybe the masses aren’t there yet, but maybe this band of twelve, the group who has walked with Jesus and witnessed all his miracles and teachings, maybe they understand. He asks the twelve: “Can YOU hear me now?” “Who do YOU say that I am?”

And Simon Peter, ever the overachieving eldest child, raises his hand and says “Master, master, I have the answer! You’re the Messiah!”

It’s the right answer, of course, but it is a dangerous one. He asks them to keep it to themselves, as if he has second thoughts about the word getting out. Maybe it’s a good thing that the crowd hasn’t understood.

Then he gathers his little band of the closest disciples around him to tell them what awaits. This teaching is hard. Being a disciple of Jesus will be hard. He predicts the enmity of the Pharisees and scribes, his torture, his death, and the resurrection three days later.

With that, his prize pupil, Peter, starts to rebuke him. And now Peter is no longer the hero, because Jesus scolds him: “Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind on human things, not divine things.”

“Get behind me, Satan.” Talk about the teacher saying you gave the wrong answer! “Can you hear me now?” No, not really. It’s like a divine dope-slap. Somehow, Peter came close to understanding what Jesus was about – he was the student who probably memorized all the knots for fishermen’s nets, but didn’t know how to weigh the catch – he had the right word, but he didn’t really know deeply, viscerally, what that meant.

That’s the tough part of teaching, isn’t it? Testing to see if your students understand what you are teaching, and discovering that they’ve only got it half right. Jesus has a lesson to teach, and he continues. The work that they are to do is vitally important – it is about saving people’s souls. It is about something larger than that time and place. So if the disciples were hoping for an anointed one who was going to solve the problems that 1st Century Jews were experiencing with their Roman overlords, they were mistaken. They would be required – as we are required – to take up Jesus’ cross and follow him.

The idea of learning something difficult, quickly, is a frightening one. I was talking with some of my friends who are still in seminary, who are about to start Field Education, much as I did two years ago, and they’re terrified of doing something wrong. Moving in the wrong direction, saying something incorrect, inadvertently getting in the way of the priest during the Eucharist….when you do something new, and you’re not sure that you have had enough practice to fully understand what you’re supposed to do, it’s intimidating.

Our students, whose work of learning will be blessed today, may have some of the same feelings. They’re afraid of that verbal dope-slap, of making fools of themselves, of getting it wrong. But the remarkable thing is that even if they do err in some way, the teacher will most likely explain it again, and probably in more gentle words than “Get behind me, Satan!” And the teacher may have to explain it two or three more times still, just to make sure that all the students really get material. And each time the teacher explains it, she may say something that sounds a lot like “Can you hear me now?”

When we hear this story from the Gospel of Mark, the Messiah as a slightly impatient teacher who gets testy when his students don’t understand the message, it grates on us. We like the image of the warm, gentle Shepherd who goes out searching for us, who does all the work. But the take-away that Mark offers us is something different: the Lord who understands that his time with the disciples is short, and what they are supposed to do is very, very, very important, and there is not enough time to drill through the lessons as he might like, and as they might prefer. He says “Can you hear me now?” because of the urgency of the work ahead, because his disciples are the ones who will have to carry on when he is gone. And even though he is frustrated with the fact that they seem to be slow learners, here’s the important part – he keeps on teaching them, he keeps on reinforcing the message until he knows that they’ve got the knowledge they need. And that’s the good news for the disciples and the good news for us as well. Jesus doesn’t stop trying to get through to us, even when we are the slowest learners, even when we are feeling too tired to pay attention, too annoyed with his insistence to respond, too intimidated by the responsibility of being his disciple to even try.

“Can you hear me now?” He is asking us to do his work, in the world, in all we do. Whether we are in a classroom as a teacher or student, in an office, in a field, we can do his work in all we do. In the midst of our own uncertainty, he keeps saying “Can you hear me now” so we can pass that important question on, to those who haven’t heard the word, to those who have an empty place in their hearts that Jesus would gladly fill.

“Can you hear me now?” I think so. I hope so. I pray so.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Prayers, please

...for a very hectic couple of weeks ahead, where my part-time work turns into a full-time one temporarily, where I visit two different churches that are potential calls, where I participate in a 2-day conference two hours' drive away, where I preach and teach and do pastoral calls, and all the usual stuff. I will be putting probably something around 1500 miles on the car with all this.

Prayers, too, for D, who was in an auto accident a couple of days ago and is in the hospital nearby. I need to find time tomorrow afternoon (after a most-of-the-day meeting 40 miles away) to visit her. Fortunately the damage appears to be limited to broken ribs and a couple of cracked vertebrae, but the car was totalled - needed to be cut open with the Jaws of Life to get her out. Not something an 81 year old should go through. And it speaks again to the danger of using a cellphone while driving, since the woman who t-boned her was talking on her phone, with three kids in her big SUV, and wasn't paying attention.

Lord, let your healing grace come down upon your servant D. Protect her and guide the hands of those who care for her. Ease the minds of those who love her, and remember her faithfulness to you. We ask all this in the name of the One who is the Great Physician. Amen.

Rain Down on Me

It is gray and rainy here today.

That day, it was sunny, with a blue, cloudless sky that seemed to go on forever.

Today I am working from home, still in my pajamas, if truth be told.

That day, I was downtown, two blocks from the White House, walking briskly from the gym to the office as planes hit the buildings.

Today I am pastoring a parish of 150 souls, preaching, teaching, praying with and for them, offering the grace of the sacraments, and thinking of the pain and joy in their lives, and how best to support them in those lives with God's help.

That day, I was thinking about a way to block legislation that would be problematic for my company's business model. I was earning a salary that was a significant multiple of what I now earn. I had on a suit and high heels, and I was a force to be reckoned with in my industry.

Today, I am not a force anymore. I am, more aptly, a pillow, or a shoulder, or an ear. People cry there, share their fears and hopes, rage against disease or injustice or hatred. I am the receiver of the gift of confidences, the safe place to share that which is inherently unsafe.

That day, I was oblivious of what had happened,

until I saw the television turned on to the news in the conference room, the column of black smoke rising on the horizon south of the office,

until - evacuated from our office building - I drove over the bridge minutes before all auto traffic over the bridge was stopped,

until I saw the black, charred, smoking maw on the side of the Pentagon, and the firetrucks and the newstrucks and the people walking, walking, walking,

until I got home and could not get a working phone line to our corporate offices, could not get my daughter out of school because authorities thought it was safer for them to stay there, could not reach my sons,

until I watched the towers fall on the television, repeated over and over again.

Today I share the less dramatic but no less potent tragedies and victories of a smaller country, the country of my parish, and I try not to be oblivious. Tears fall as the rain falls. The rain falls in sympathy with our own tears, and cools our fevered conversations.

We remember this date, and the people who died, and those who are still grieving and will still grieve, and the place in the heart that was damaged forever by the events and the rage and the revenge.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Road Trip Part Trois

Another interview at another lovely place in Mr Jefferson's home turf in two weeks. An embarrassment of riches!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Why We Need Health Care/Insurance Reform

Whinge Alert: This Post Contains Several Paragraphs of Complaint. Do not proceed if you are not in the mood for a rant.

Those of you who are regular readers of this little blog will know that I have some health issues, and have had some challenging times in and out of the hospital in recent years.

I switched health insurance to the diocesan plan when I was hired for the deacon-in-Charge position at St Middle School. This was a blessing; my COBRA coverage as a retired employee of the BankThatIsNoMore was about to run out.

First challenge: find a Primary Care Physician. They assigned one. That's fine. I recognize that getting a PCP under this plan would mean I would leave the doctor who had served as my PCP for 15 years, but the good news was that my specialists participated in the program, so the really complex stuff wouldn't require a change. The insurance company assigned me a PCP in my area. So far, so good.

On Friday, we went to the ER in the evening, because I had some brutal pain on my left side for which there was no explanation, and it had progressed from an annoyance in the morning to a scream-each-time-I-move by late afternoon. The hospital took good care of me, ruled out a heart attack, then an embolism, then a couple of other nasty things, and gave me mondo painkillers and sent me home with the instructions to follow up with my PCP. I was grateful for their quick and thorough care, and was also grateful that I had my little insurance card.

Long holiday weekend. Some discomfort, but the Flexeril and OxyCodone kep me reasonably functional. The pain persisted, though, so I thought I really should get to the PCP for the follow-up.

So today was the day of trying to get the follow-up appointment. I couldn't even get through to the office of the PCP they assigned me until about an hour ago. Then the receptionist said "We don't participate in your insurance."

"Gee," I said, "the insurance company itself assigned me to your doc."
"Well," "said the receptionist, "I guess you'd better call up the insurance company."

So I called up the insurance company. After meandering through their automated system for ten minutes, I got a real live person, who looked up the doctor's name and said, "we show her on our system as a participating physician. Hang on a sec." So I sat there on hold while she called up the doctor's office, where she was told the same thing that I was. The insurance rep told me that the doctor's receptionist didn't seem too swift, and that she would be happy to help me find another doc. So she started gathering some names for me, and we were promptly disconnected.

I called the insurance company back, eventually got another customer service rep, who apologized profusely for the disconnect, and then set about coming up with some other options for me. We agreed that the most efficient thing would be for her to email me the list.

Great, right? It's been an hour, and I still don't have the email with the options.

The good news is that I was able to negotiate their website and find a doc on my own (I think this doc is participating in this particular subset of this particular subgroup of this particular plan - it's not completely clear on the website, but the receptionist seems to think we're good). I had to go through a number of docs on the list before I found one that could see me sooner than three weeks from now, even though this was a followup subsequent to an ER visit.

Took me the better part of an hour and a half to get this sorted out. If I had been elderly, with bad hearing, and in some discomfort from my infirmities, I would have given up fairly early on.

And if I was still experiencing something near the level of pain that I had when I went to the ER, I would go back there rather than trying to make an appointment with a doctor. And we all know that going to the ER is much more expensive for the whole system than going to the doctor's office.

And if English wasn't my first language, or if my illnesses made me difficult to understand....who knows what I would have done.

Contrast this, then, with single payer plans in Canada and England, where the access is relatively quick (certainly not two-three weeks for someone with an active medical problem), where you don't have to check in each time to see if your doctor participates in the plan, where you don't need a referral each time you go see the specialist for a chronic illness...

You get the picture. I was lucky. I got quick service in the ER, and I found someone who will see me for the follow-up visit on Thursday (no idea whether she's any good or not - we'll cross that bridge later - in my experience, physicians who participate in this kind of plan are young and are using it to build a practice base, and that could be good or it could be bad), and I didn't have a heart attack, even though I had several of the symptoms.

But the system as it is currently configured is clumsy and confusing at best, and exclusionary for those who need it most at its worst.

So when I hear people saying that single-payer should be off the table, I really try not to wish them a chronic illness, but I sure wonder how their perspective would be changed if they did.

Socialized medicine? Perhaps. Medicine that serves society? I sure hope so.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Please Join Me... remembering a great icon of the entertainment community. The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and trauma complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71.

Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies, and Captain Crunch. The grave site was piled high with flours.

Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man who never knew how much he was kneaded. Doughboy rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was considered a very smart cookie, but wasted much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a little flaky at times, he still was a crusty old man and was considered a positive roll model for millions.

Doughboy is survived by his wife Play Dough, three children: John Dough, Jane Dough and Dosey Dough, plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived by his elderly father, Pop Tart.The funeral was held at 3:50 for about 20 minutes.If this made you smile for even a brief second, please rise to the occasion and take time to pass it on and share that smile with someone else who may be having a crumby day and kneads a lift.

TOH to Grandmere Mimi

Today's Sermon: Mark 7:24-37 "Make Us Well"

A woman approaches you. A woman better ignored, who belongs to a group that considers itself your mortal enemy. A group that is committed to prevent you from entering into their country, for whatever purpose, be it political, military, and evangelical.

And you have come into her territory. Risky business, because you are not welcome here – that’s an understatement – but you are in trouble in your own home region, so you’ve come here, away from one threat and into the realm of another.

You are pretty surprised that she approaches you, but as she begins to speak, you realize why she is coming to you. Her daughter is sick. You noticed the child in an adjoining room when you came into this house. The child was acting very strangely indeed, perhaps some kind of psychosis, perhaps some kind of seizure disorder. A pretty child, but strange, and the others in the house are clearly staying away. Perhaps they think the child’s illness is contagious. The local chieftains have been unable to provide help. Her husband is gone, perhaps fighting in another part of the country. She knows you are the enemy, just as you know that her tribe sees you that way. Still, her desperation requires that she reach out to you. Her need for her child trumps her fear and loathing.

So she asks you, “Make her well.”

She crosses boundaries of gender, of ethnicity, of tribal conflict, to speak.

“Make her well.”

How does she know you have the power? What subtle vibration of your gifts, gifts which you’ve kept hidden in the aftermath of the last battle on your home turf, has she sensed?

But this is your time of hiding, of rest. One battle behind you, back in Capernaum, and she is asking you to do the sort of thing that will get you booted from this place.

The child is keening now, a high-pitched whine that grates on the nerves. Something is bothering her, some part of this disease that is a demon in her mind. Can’t the mother shut her up? This is not a good time.

“Make her well.”

She knows you can do it, heaven only knows how. But you dismiss her. You are not supposed to care for her, for her people, for your enemies, not just in this generation but almost all the way back to Father Abraham. “Let the children be fed first – the children of Israel, not you – it is not fair to take their food and toss it to the dogs, you dogs, you SyroPhoenicians.”

There. That should shut her up.

Any other woman would turn away in shame, spoken to in that way. Any other woman would burst into tears and scuttle off with the keening child tucked under her arm.

But this woman thrusts back in response to your cruel words: “Even the dogs get the crumbs from under the master’s table.” How dare she? This SyroPhoenician woman, this, this enemy, not one of us but an alien, and her whining little one nearby. She argues back! Is it sarcasm in her voice or desperation as she says “even the dogs get the crumbs from under the master’s table.”
You are shocked by her boldness – women, especially women like this, do not do such things, but you are equally shocked that you had not realized what you are supposed to do…the only thing you can do. You heal the daughter, driving out the demon of her illness. You say nothing more than that, no words of blessing to this passionate mother, no statement about her faith.

You simply do the work you were intended to do. You make her well.

Having done this act, so shocking and visible in this dangerous place, you must leave, so you go back toward your own country, but still are in enemy territory. But a man is brought to you as you travel through, a deaf-mute. Such people are evident throughout the world – they become beggars, of course, there is no other employment for them. But someone loves this poor deaf-mute and brings him to you. And there is such a hunger for healing in his eyes. Yes, the law says such persons are unclean – that is why they are usually sitting outside the bounds of the city, on the side of the road, begging – but he so wants to be healed. You take him aside – this odd act of healing breaks so many of the rules, it should be done out of public view. You put your fingers into his ears, and you feel the vibrations of the healing power that you get from the Father pulse through your fingers, through his ears, through his head. Whatever has been blocked and broken is now open, clear, responding to the clarity of those vibrations. But there is more to do, for he still cannot speak. So you spit on your fingers and touch the man’s tongue. Again, you have the sense of vibrations from your fingers to his tongue to his silent throat, first blocked, then resonant throughout his body. You cry out, almost involuntarily, “Ephaphtha! Be opened!” and the things that stopped, that blocked, that were broken, that were turned inward on themselves, unfold like the petals of a Rose of Sharon in the desert, full of health. The man looks up, shakes his head a bit with the unfamiliar sensations…he hears his family’s weeping, and he speaks “Abba!” But who knows whether the father to whom he calls is his own father, or the rabbi who has healed him or YHWH…You tell them all to keep this a secret, but it is impossible, of course, to keep such a secret. They are praising you with extravagant words, and you should be happy, but you know in your heart what is to come, and that it will be used against you.

But you cannot help it. It is what you were sent to do. You make them well.


In the Epistle, James tells us this morning: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Jesus taught, brilliantly, powerfully. But his work was not limited to words. He was, using James’ language from last week, a doer. He healed people because it was part of his mission. Sometimes, like today, it seems like he healed in spite of himself, when he wanted to just hide and be safe for a while. He couldn’t not do the work. He made them well.

And the really interesting part of the story of the two miracles we heard in the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t heal his friends and folks with whom he is comfortable. He heals a woman who comes from the tribe of the enemies of Israel. He heals a deaf-mute, viewed as ritually unclean by the religious leaders of Israel. He crosses a line which was not to be crossed in his society, and of course, he pays for it.

That’s what James is talking about in his pastoral letter. He is writing to Jewish Christians in the first century, several decades after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He’s giving them practical pastoral advice. And the message is a surprising one to people who are oppressed, as Jewish Christians: do good deeds. And don’t just do them for each other, do them for the people who make you uncomfortable or even a little frightened, those who are even more oppressed by the demons of difference than you are.

I heard a story this week about doing rather than just talking that reminded me of the power of doing. I was visiting a homeless shelter for recovering addicts. Most of them are veterans, most of them are African-American, all of them are struggling to recover from their addiction and whatever other demons are in their bodies and minds. The shelter is not a beautiful place. There are pipes overhead, worn tile floors with holes underfoot, the smell of grease from the kitchen in the basement where the meals for these men are prepared daily. It is not a place that anyone here would want to call home, but for these men, it is a gift. But it’s a gift with some strings attached, as part of their recovery. The men are expected to get a job, or go to school, and to contribute to the cost of their housing. The cost is modest, and proportional to their income, but it is an important part of building the kind of life skills and habits that these men need, to eventually become successful away from a supportive housing environment. They sign a contract to make those payments, and they generally stick with it.

So it was a problem when one of the residents, George, was diagnosed with cancer and could not work the hours that he had before his illness. He couldn’t make rent. So his brothers in the facility kicked in some of their own meager earnings to cover his rent. $300, very little to many of us, a very large number to George, incapacitated now with the demon of serious illness in addition to the demons of addiction, of PTSD. But the other men did something toward casting out the demons by kicking in their cash, $10 here, $20 there. And in doing that, they began to cast out some of their own demons as well.

“Make us well.”

Jesus teaches us that we all have the capacity to help cast out demons. The starting point is love, and faith. Be brave and bold. Cast out the demons of despair, of injustice, of disease, of loneliness. Sometimes casting out demons takes prayer. Sometimes it takes medical treatment. Sometimes it takes cash. Sometimes it takes love. But we can do it, with God’s help and for God’s people. We need only look toward those who have less than us, who suffer more than us, and reach into our hearts and pull out some love to share, in whatever small way we can. The gift of this is that in doing so, we may begin to cast out our own demons.

“Make us well.”

Many voices are speaking those words. Are we willing to respond, in love and faith, to cast out the demons?


Friday, September 04, 2009

The Irony Is Sweet

From the Anglican Communion News Service, an article about someone claiming to be a bishop of the church who is not really, dioceses trying to hold on to their property for the benefit of future generations of Anglicans, and alternative episcopal activities by one who has decided that he is right and the (real) Anglicans are wrong. Perhaps we should send a copy of it to the judge who is ruling on the property disputes between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the folks who have migrated to ACNA, with episcopal relationships with provinces in Africa.

Letter from the Church of the Province of Central Africa
Posted On : September 4, 2009 12:44 PM Posted By : WebmasterACNS: Categories: Central Africa
The Church of the Province of Central Africa has asked that thefollowing letter from the Dean of the Province be circulated by ACNS:
It is with increasing concern that we, the Bishops of the Anglican bodyof the Church ofthe Province of Central Africa (CPCA) note the ongoing involvement ofthe Law Courts in Zimbabwe in respect of numerous cases instituted aboutthe status of Nolbert Kunonga vis-à-vis the CPCA and his rights to ourproperty.
We are not alone in expressing concern. The Council of AnglicanProvinces in Africa (CAPA) voiced their astonishment at a meeting heldin Alexandria, Egypt, in February 2009 and recorded their earlier views,stating:
"As representatives of the Anglican Communion, we re-iterate that we donot recognise the status of Bishop Norbert (sic) Kunonga and BishopElson Jakazi as bishops within the Anglican Communion, and call for thefull restoration of Anglican property within Zimbabwe to the Church ofthe Province of Central Africa".
This statement reflects the true and lawful position. It also echoesthe sentiments of the Anglican Communion worldwide, members of whom arefrankly shocked by the conclusions and decisions given in some of thejudgments of the courts in favour of Kunonga, a man who has abandonedthe Anglican faith and the CPCA. It would seem a few of the learnedjudges (and magistrates) are either under some misconception orunwittingly ignore the true situation.
We have therefore deemed it appropriate to draw attention respectfullyto the following in order to put beyond doubt the factual, legal andecclesiastical position:-
1. The CPCA is a multinational body covering Botswana, Malawi,Zambia and Zimbabwe, whose laws are transnationally binding upon itsmembers.
2. Its laws, like those of any other similar organisation, are notavailable to be used by any person who is not a member of the body ofthe CPCA.
3. Likewise, its property and assets, like any other similarorganisation, belong to it and cannot be usurped, removed or unlawfullyused by anyone outside its membership.
4. The Diocese of Harare (the Diocese), its property and assets,form an integral, permanent part of the body of CPCA, as do all theother dioceses and their assets in the Province.
5. The CPCA laws call on bishops, before taking office, to swearthat they will be bound by, and govern their diocese in conformity withthe laws and canons, Acts and other regulations of the Province andtheir diocese.
6. On the 21st September 2007, Nolbert Kunonga willfully broke hiscanonical oath and unilaterally, formally and intentionally chose tobreak away and cut all ties with the CPCA. He had irrevocably exitedfrom and would have nothing more to do with us.
7. His departure and cessation of membership was noted and acceptedby the CPCA.
8. The result of his action was that he not only forfeited hismembership and had no status nor rights within the CPCA but also ceasedautomatically to be a member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. Morethan that, he was no longer an Anglican Bishop and therefore there was avacancy in the See of the Diocese. Anglican officials and Anglicansthroughout the world acknowledged that this is the situation.
9. We wrote to Nolbert Kunonga to vacate our property and assets inthe Diocese and make them available to us. He ignored our request. Hestill uses the property, assets and money of the Diocese for his ownpurposes. In our respectful submission, Nolbert Kunonga is acting as atrespasser on our property and his undoubtedly unlawful use of our fundsand assets is tantamount to theft. And his claim to be bishop of theDiocese is a deliberate misrepresentation amounting to falsehood as ishis claim to be an Anglican.
10. Instead of withdrawing peacefully and without demur, NolbertKunonga and a few non-Anglican collaborators commenced a programme ofsustained threats, intimidation and assaults on members of the CPCA,depriving them of access to worship in the parish churches or even onthe premises of the Diocese.
11. By breaking away from the CPCA, Nolbert Kunonga committed theact of schism. To underscore this, Nolbert Kunonga, on the 15th March2008, formed his own church. He proclaimed himself Archbishop of hisorganisation and appointed 4 or 5 non-Anglican colleagues as bishops.This defiant move of Nolbert Kunonga is a classic case of schism;entering into membership of a (presumably) religious body not incommunion with the CPCA. Thus he has overtly given his allegiance to anorganisation separate from and not recognized by the Anglican Communion.
12. To put the position of Nolbert Kunonga firmly into anunmistakable category after he declared the formation of his own church,we let it be known on the 12th May 2008 that his status is that of aperson excommunicated from the CPCA and the Anglican Communionthroughout the world.
We find it incredible that the establishment of his own church byNolbert Kunonga doesnot seem, with respect, to resonate in the minds of some of the learnedjudges inZimbabwe hearing the cases before them on Nolbert Kunonga. Surely, theexistence of his own organisation must put beyond all possible doubt the fact theNolbert Kunonga asa result of his own actions and behaviour cannot lay claim to any rightto be a bishop in,and have control over, property of the CPCA in the Diocese. He has nowmade himselfArchbishop of an organisation in opposition to and not recognized by theCPCA. Hewould have had a conflict of interests if he had not already given upmembership of theCPCA.
>From a theological point of view a judgment cannot interfere with faithwhich iscontrolled by an individual's conscience. Faith cannot be testedovertly nor imposedupon a person by a court order. This is why in the Anglican Church lawshave beenspecially promulgated to facilitate the propagation by priests andothers of the Christian faith. Those persons who choose to beAnglicans willingly, subject themselves to the faith, worship,teachings, format and rules, fellowship, mutual support, theproclamation of the Gospel and the care of God's people in love andfaith as prescribed in our Canons, Acts and other laws. These arespiritual andecclesiastical aspects outside the scope of the Common LawCourts. Nolbert Kunonga withdrew his membership from this organisationvoluntarily. But this does not give him, nor the courts, the right toinsist that CPCA members must follow him and change their faith andallegiance to the CPCA. No one has the right to restrict, prevent orprohibit Anglicans from worshipping in their Churches of the Diocese asthey have done peacefully and respectfully for many years.
We now earnestly seek your kind consideration of the above facts andcomments and areemboldened, by the worldwide support we have received, to believe theonly conclusionyou can reach is that -
A. Nolbert Kunonga is not a member of the CPCA; is not an Anglicanbishop in the Diocese; and has no right to occupy or use the Anglicanassets in the Diocese; and
B. Nolbert Kunonga has elected to become Archbishop of anorganisation he has formed and which is not recognised by the AnglicanCommunion Worldwide; and he has been excommunicated from the CPCA andthe Anglican Communion internationally; and
C. The CPCA is an organisation not confined to Zimbabwe but istransnational and recognized internationally; and
D. In view of all of the above, the civil courts have nojurisdiction to deal with issues pertaining to the status of NolbertKunonga vis-à-vis the CPCA and the Anglican communion and, in any event,Nolbert Kunonga has no locus standi to be a party to pleadings in anycivil court because, by his own admission, he has abandoned and severedhis links with the CPCA and formed his own church which is a separateentity in no way connected to the CPCA.
To bring this epistle up to date, we have pleasure in announcing that,to internationalacclamation and in accordance with the laws of the CPCA and otherecclesiastical laws,Dr Chad Nicholas Gandiya, having been duly elected in June 2009, wasconsecrated andordained within our Province as an Anglican Bishop recognized worldwideon the 26thJuly 2009. The ceremony was witnessed by numerous bishops and wellover 10,000others who were in attendance. He was enthroned on that same day in theSee of theDiocese of Harare.
After Nolbert Kunonga had left the CPCA and the Diocese and until thismomentousenthronement of Bishop Gandiya occurred, Bishop Dr. Sebastian Bakare hadacted ascaretaker Vicar General/Bishop of the Diocese of Harare from November2007, a role hefilled with distinction and success. Bishop Bakare had been called uponto administerpastorally and otherwise after Nolbert Kunonga left the Dioceseeffectively on the 4thAugust 2007.
We, the Bishops of the CPCA, hereby draw to your attention yet anotherapplication justlaunched by Nolbert Kunonga. Although he has nothing to do with, anddisassociatedhimself from the CPCA and formed his own church/organisation, in hislatest applicationhe asks the honourable High Court in Zimbabwe to set aside theconsecration andenthronement of Bishop Chad Nicholas Gandiya as the Bishop of theDiocese of Harareand for the court to pronounce that he, Nolbert Kunonga, is still bishopof that diocese!
We re-iterate our firm belief that Nolbert Kunonga has no locus standito appear before,and be recognized by the courts. It is our strong contention that thecourts in Zimbabwe have no jurisdiction to interfere with the procedureand decisions legitimately made by the transnational CPCA. We trustthat the application will be dismissed on these grounds.
Such a decision will remove the strong perception held by us and mostinterested persons, locally and internationally, namely that thehonourable Courts in Zimbabwe appear to be minded for reasons best knownto themselves, to ignore the lack of status of Nolbert Kunonga and thequestion of jurisdiction and to presume to rule upon the internal,domestic, spiritual, theological, administrative and Church affairs ofthe CPCA.
We sincerely call upon the courts to heed our concerns so that thechapter on thebehaviour and demands and absence of status of Nolbert Kunonga in theAnglicanChurch can finally be closed.
Dated on this, the 1st day of August in the Year of Our Lord 2009.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

As a Glee Club Geek from Yore

I've got to say I love the new show "Glee." And thank goodness for Hulu, where I can watch it when I can. Utterly without redeeming intellectual value, but it sure is fun.

Back. Winded.

I spent yesterday and this morning in the Windy City at the interview for the nonparochial position there.

I was welcomed with grace, had some very candid and wonderful conversations with staff, had some equally wonderful and candid conversations with Search Committee and Board. Saw the facilities, saw the neighborhood (in the past pretty rough, now starting to gentrify), saw some housing options. Met some of the residents, brave struggling folks whose lives make my daily complaints seem ridiculous.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. It's a great place with a mission that is the embodiment of Matthew 25. But it's also a place that has some particular challenges, many of which are financial. It's something I believe I could do. On another level, I wonder if I am truly equal to the task.

So I'm thinking and praying and wondering and trying to get a little distance from it all to discern, while I wait to go to visit another place with entirely different responsibilities, entirely different challenges, but similar joys. At the heart of it, the work is about the joy of transformation, however you get there.

And that's true for me as well as the people I may serve.

PS Thanks to C&J, who put me up at their lovely Swedish B&B ;>D, and P&L, for whom my presence meant an early morning breakfast on a day when they didn't even have school yet, and Ash, who tolerated my sleeping on his bed. I am blessed with the best in-laws in the world.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

If Politics Were The Deciding Factor...

It dawned on me, this morning, as I read of the rollout of Blago's new book, that significant portions of my life have been lived in places where political corruption has been the norm.

Consider it. I grew up in a city that is noted in the annals of American political corruption for such sterling characters as Frank Hague (who came to my grandfather's funeral in 1938, I was told), an old school political boss who controlled the city with an iron fist. All through my life, people in that city were elected as "reform" mayors. They usually ended up corrupt and often ended up in jail.

I lived with the father of my children in a state that is also known for its corruption, and ran for statewide political office on the ticket of a governor who started off reasonably clean, but eventually only escaped a long imprisonment (he served a year) by throwing his own eldest son under the bus and saying all the bad things were the son's doing! For the record, I didn't know what he was about during the very strange year when I ran for office. You know what they say when the axe murderer is led off in chains, "I don't know...he seemed like a pretty average normal guy to me." It is also a place where a mayor went to jail for kidnapping and threatening his wife's lover, and later for corruption. Drama of Verdian proportions!

I worked for the Federal government in the Executive branch of an administration that, thankfully, was never accused of this kind of malfeasance, but had its own set of problems, and then worked in the legislative branch where I saw much of it around me on a daily basis. Suffice to say, a year there was enough.

I later worked as a lobbyist. I heard "What have you done for me lately" on a daily basis. Enough said.

So now I'm considering various options for calls. One would take me to the land of Blago, one to north Jersey, although not the part where I grew up, one to a small university town.

If politics were the deciding factor, I might be uncomfortable with a couple of these places. But it is not. Thanks be to God.