Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

A Foretaste of Heaven

A Homily for Maundy Thursday

April 9, 2020

Mr. Kevin Newell, VTS Seminarian

Emmanuel on High, Alexandria, VA

Listen here.

As we gather in our homes to reexperience the last supper, and to honor the mandate Jesus gave us to love one another as he has loved us, my mind returns to another last supper, and another friend on the edge of death. 

When she learned she was dying, my friend Mary Kay rearranged her life dramatically. She was retired, and volunteered at our student parish, and so had often had me and other students from church over to her house for a weekly dinner. We would eat and drink, chat and sing and laugh, and when the doctors told her she would die within the year, she sat down with a few of us and said, “Things are going to have to change, now that I’m sick. We can no longer have dinner at my house once a week. We will have to have dinner at my house much more often than that.” Our weekly dinner became nightly dinners, and she baked bread and pies and grilled pork chops and made stews and taught us all her favorite recipes. 

We all agreed that Mary Kay was a saintly woman, but she said her lack of tact (or “prudence” as she put it) would keep her from going straight to heaven. With every snarky comment she would catch herself and say, “I guess that puts me at the back of the line in Purgatory.” She said it so often that to this day, when my friends and I catch each other thinking aloud some unkind thought we shout with delight, “Back of the line!”

The guest list got smaller as her energy flagged. She stopped dressing and wore her pajamas and a house coat to the table, wheeling along her oxygen tank. We were bringing dinner to her, now; gone were the days she had the energy to cook. 

It was during her last Holy Week that Mary Kay asked the whole crew over for one last hurrah. By that point she wasn’t leaving her bed, and so she threw a levée, as the French aristocracy had once done. We all sat there, crowded onto her death bed, drinking martinis and telling old stories and laughing with her, and listening to her laugh. She had a tiny glass of wine—against doctor’s orders—and told us it was an act that would send her to the “back of the line,” and she promised she would wait there for all of us, saving us a place. 

Mary Kay acted out of the norm from the moment she realized she was dying. She didn’t shut everyone out so that she could die in peace. She acted not with worldly scarcity but with heavenly abundance, inviting everyone to her table so that she could die in peace. She was able to look past her fear so that she might embrace us all again and again and again. What might we have lost without her stubborn choice of life, despite the reality of death? Because of her, we all grew. We learned how much better we could live, and how much better we could die. 

I don’t really believe that Mary Kay is saving a spot for me in the long line of Purgatory. I believe she is saving for me—for all of us—a seat at the heavenly banquet, of which the meals in her home—the meals in our own homes tonight—are but a taste. 


Emmanuel Virtual Easter Hymn Sing! Alleluia!

A Musical Message from The Music Director & Seminarian

Emmanuel Friends,

In an effort to continue worshipping together, I would like you to be a part of the Emmanuel Virtual Easter Hymn Sing!  If you are unfamiliar with the idea of a virtual choir, check out Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir on YouTube. Eric Whitacre wanted to combine over 1000 voices from all over the world singing one of his choral compositions.  

In the same way, we want you to lend your voice to our virtual congregation and sing the attached two Easter hymns: Hymn of Promise and Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord.

The music, notes and words, is attached here for you to download.

Here you can listen to mp3 tracks for both.

Hymn of Promise.
Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord.

Using your computer and headphones to listen to the mp3 tracks and your smartphone to record, make a video of you singing along with the tracks.  Make sure that if you record with your phone, turn the phone sideways, so it is “landscape.” The headphones are the most important part, so that we can really capture your singing.  Don’t worry though, our seminarian Pete is a master at video editing and has promised to edit, so that everyone sounds beautiful! Just like our altar guild members arrange flowers, Pete and I will work to arrange voices!  I will also be sending the video to our fantastic team of professional cantors and to our fabulous choir members. Some voices will be at the front, as the flowers that adorn our altar, and other voices will support and add color, so never fear, just like on a Sunday morning our voices will blend beautifully!  

You can upload your performance to Pete’s dropbox at the link here.

Or cut and paste this link:

If you cannot figure out the dropbox, please send your tracks to by Palm Sunday, April 5, so that they can be included in the final product!  We will release the beautiful hymns on Easter weekend, so everyone can enjoy!  

If you have questions, please email Ryan at

NOTE: U&U blog followers, this is an exclusively Emmanuel Episcopal Church project. Wishing you a happy Easter, wherever you are in these challenging times.

There Was a Man Born Blind

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Rev. Charles C. McCoart, Jr.

March 22, 2020

Listen here.

There Was A Man Born Blind

Hi everyone, thank you for tuning into today’s sermon.  

These certainly are wild and ever changing times and we at Emmanuel are doing our level best to adapt with the changing news and happenings all around us – all in a spirit of flexibility, joy and anticipation.  Working hard to stay in the present moment and not get hijacked into fear or hysteria.  We also recognize at this time that thousands of people have been negatively impacted by corona virus, some even have died and our hearts and prayers go out to all of them.  

I’m recording this message on Friday afternoon, so by the time we send it to you on Saturday, to listen to on Sunday, some of my homily may seem a bit out of touch with whatever our country is dealing with on Sunday.  It’s an ever changing landscape; please forgive me if these recorded words limp just a little behind life in real-time.  Thank you for your patience as we as a faith community try to navigate our way through this season of life WITH you.

Since this is homily / or sermon time, I’m mindful to not get hijacked into making announcements; but rather to offer some thoughts on the Gospel you just read from John.

In our Gospel lesson today there was a blind man in town––a man who was born blind––and Jesus gave him sight.  

I’ll just let that sentience sort of hang in our collective consciences for a few seconds.

There was a blind man in town––a man who was born blind––and Jesus gave him sight. 

We could say that Jesus restored his sight, but the man had never had any sight to restore.  He had been born blind.  Jesus created sight from nothing, just as God created the world from nothing––and then Jesus gave that newly created sight to the blind man.

You would think that everyone would have been happy, but they weren’t.  It was the sabbath, and sabbath law forbade working on the sabbath.  As ridiculous as it sounds to our modern ears, the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day – believed that healing was work – so that no one should heal another person on the sabbath.  This was over 2000 years ago, so we need to understand this was a culture deeply rooted in tradition and tradition meant everything to folks in their community.  For some reason healing was considered work – and if you worked on the sabbath then you broke a law and breaking a law meant you had sinned.  As far as they were concerned, Jesus-the-Healer was a clear and present danger to the established order.

So the Pharisees tried to get the blind man––the one whom Jesus had healed––to acknowledge that Jesus was a sinner.  You would think that the formerly-blind man could resist that easily––but it wasn’t easy. The blind man had been a beggar all his life––begging was all he knew.  He was going to need help to get established––and these Pharisees were movers and shakers––they could make you or break you.

But the man didn’t waver under their questioning.  When the Pharisees asked the man what he thought of Jesus, he said, “He [Jesus] is a prophet” (v. 17). 

So then the Pharisees questioned the man’s parents.  You would think that the parents would have supported Jesus; but they too were afraid that the Pharisees would throw them out of the synagogue.  It’s hard for us to imagine how devastating that would be.  To be thrown out of the synagogue would have been like being run out of town on a rail.  Faced with such a prospect, the parents said, “Our son is of age.  Ask him.” (v. 23).

So the Pharisees tried to persuade the formerly-blind man that Jesus was a sinner, but the formerly blind man said this:

He said:

“I don’t know if he is a sinner.  One thing I do know,that though I was blind,now I can see” (v. 25). When they continued to press him, he said, “If (Jesus) were not from God, he could do nothing.” (v. 33).

So the Pharisees drove the blind man out.  Did they just run him off, or did they throw him out of the synagogue?  We don’t know, the Gospel writer doesn’t tell us.  But the man was undaunted.  When later he met Jesus again, he said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe.” (v. 38).

I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that man.  He was born blind and spent a lifetime begging alongside the road––but when the going got tough, he proved even tougher.  He BECAME a man of faith when Jesus healed him, and he STAYED a man of faith when powerful people started threatening him. 

This week ahead, let’s all keep our collective eyes open for the blessings, large or small, that God sends our way.  These blessings might be something tremendous, like being told a medical situation you are dealing with is moving in the right direction.  Or maybe the blessings will be more subtle, like re-discovering an old friend.

In the days since I have been working more from home than working in the office, I have spent much of my time calling the more senior members of our parish, as well as those who are medically frail.  I can’t tell you how many wonderful conversations I have had – and might not have had – were it not for this virus.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love the virus; but I am choosing to do what I can given the circumstances we are dealing with.

I’d like to share with you a little journey I was on a couple of weeks ago … a journey all in my head and my heart.  I was dealing with a particularly tricky situation where two people I dearly love are at odds with each other.  I won’t say a word about either of them.  This is a story about me, not them.

After dealing with this situation for a very long time, things sort of came to a[nother] boiling-over point.  After a long day of working with these really good folks I finally went home and eventually made my way to bed, and of course I could not sleep.  I tossed and turned for what seemed like a very long time.  I prayed, but I was still stuck in my obsession with this issue.  I had been trying to remember the words of The Serenity Prayer and the words kept getting all mixed up in my head.  After a while I finally got up and out of bed, and went back downstairs to my kitchen table where my computer sits.  Max following right behind me.

I Googled:  Serenity Prayer.  And there it was.  All crystal clear and not all jumbled up.  And then I noticed, I’d forgotten the prayer is longer than most people actually pray.  We all know this part:

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change … courage to change the things I can … and wisdom to know the difference.

But, catch this:  there’s more:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.  Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.  Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.  That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. 



When I was in bed and all stuck and obsessed with what I was dealing with … I was literally blind.  I could not find the words.  I could not see myself through it.  As soon as I found the right words for me to pray, I could see.

As soon as God reminded me that I needed to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, a calm came over me.  I prayed those words over and over and over again like a mantra and it worked.

The anxiety left me, I relaxed enough to eventually fall asleep.  I gave it to God.  I gave it all to God.  As a control freak I have to be reminded over and over again that there just are some things I cannot control.  Sometimes there are things I cannot change.

I’ll keep working on the things I can change and pray for the courage to do so.

But some things I need to give to God.  I need to trust that God has things way more under control than I ever will.

Thank you God for that prayer.

Please check out the rest of it though.  Linger with these words.  Do not deprive yourself of the rest of the words, the less(er) known part.

I need to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.  Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.  Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.  That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. 



We can’t control corona virus.  There are some things I cannot change.

But I can change the way I respond.  I can socially distance myself.  I can call folks I know and love and check in on them.  I can learn new technology tricks as Joani drags me into the 21st century.

I have to trust God will have the wisdom to help me to SEE the difference.

Lord God, please help me to SEE.  To not be blind to all of the ways you are loving and working in this world all around us right now.

Lord God, during these turbulent times, help us all to SEE.



Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are in mine as well.

Peace, friends,


Jesus wept.

Listen here.

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 29, 2020

One of my favorite books is Gospel.  No, not the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John but a big, rambling 800-page novel by Wilton Barnhardt.  Gospel is the story of an eccentric hardboiled Chicago Irish professor and his nubile graduate student assistant, as they travel the world: Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, in search of a fifth gospel, a lost gospel.

This lost gospel turns out to be the testament of Matthias. Matthias is the thirteenth apostle. Remember, the one who was chosen by a roll of the dice in the book of Acts.  Judas’ replacement. Matthias, you see, was not in that Upper Room with the other disciples when Jesus mysteriously appeared. Having not been on the resurrection scene, Matthias can barely wrap his head around what resurrection means.  He struggles daily with unbelief.  Matthias’ fictional gospel recounts his quest, the story of an old man, who seeks to find his fellow remaining disciples in their autumn years. 

Do they still believe? Do they still have faith in that wild, incredulous story? Do they still believe, after all this time, that life can come out of death?  

There are rumors, Matthias in the novel tells us. Persistent rumors that the body of their Lord had actually been stolen, and secreted away. The rumors haunt Matthias. He urgently wants to dispel them. So, he searches out the shady underground that traffics in relics.

Matthias pays the underworld guide a bag of silver, to be taken to what is claimed to be — Jesus’ hideaway tomb. The guide “brought me to the door of the chamber,” he says, “where the relic of Our Lord was supposed to be hidden.  But here, brothers and sisters, you shall find it strange, but I refused to go forward. The guide beckoned me to follow but I stood frozen in my path!  He approached what looked like the remains of a body and began to unwrap the dirty linen, but I demanded that he stop, and I fled up the stairs. I ran from the very truth I sought.”

Resurrection faith is hard to hold onto. It is hard to maintain. Like this doubting Matthias, can we really believe that life can come from death? That grief might be redeemed by joy?

Graveyards are haunting and holy places. They speak of sacrifice and loss, grief and sorrow. But also, gratitude, a rush of love for those who have gone before us.  A place of peace and rest. Memorials to hope.

We are in a grieving time, a very anxious time.   Social distancing is paramount. It is what we are called to do. It is our critical ministry of love to carry out for one another. Our ministry of love for our community and country. Our ministry of love to do what we can to contain the spread of the corona virus.

But Covid-19, at least for the time being, has been the death of our daily routines. We grieve the loss of being in church together, the loss of coffee with a friend, the loss of play dates, the loss of after school sports and sitting in the bleachers at baseball games. We grieve the loss of going to the office, happy hour after work with friends. We grieve the loss of touch and human warmth.

We grieve the cost to those most vulnerable: to those with no sick leave or insurance, to the Uber and Lyft drivers, to service and gig-workers, to the hungry and the homeless, to the immigrants, refugees, and the undocumented, to families with no childcare, and children without classrooms and without school meals.

We grieve the loss of lives already taken by the virus and for those who have lost a loved one when they cannot be by their side.

How do we stay connected to one another and to those who need us, in this upside down Covid-19 world?

Well, Jesus has something to tell us today.

Let’s listen to the story of Jesus today in the Gospel of John. The story of   Jesus creating life out of death: the raising of Lazarus. Now, I have always had trouble with the Jesus, John portrays in this story.  Jesus comes across a little aloof, a little cold and indifferent to the death of his friend. Waiting to employ his miraculous powers for maximum affect. To instill rock solid belief in doubting believers. It’s very likely the people of John’s community, late in the first century, two generations after Jesus, had trouble holding on to their resurrection faith. So, the evangelist John, and John alone, tells the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Now certain scholars believe that John simply made this story up. Made it up out of bits and pieces from the other gospels.

This cocky and confident Christ sounds more like the preaching of John than the Jesus I know and love. But read it again. The story’s core rings true. It is in the end, a story of a grieving friend whose faith was put to the test.

Hearing of his friend’s illness, a very busy Jesus, over scheduled, overburdened and preoccupied with his mission, is not overly concerned for Lazarus. Jesus believes he has the benefit of time but Jesus was wrong.

Dumbfounded and unbelieving, Jesus returns to Bethany. As he approaches the grave of his friend, he breaks down and cries. 

 Jesus wept.

Overwhelmed by grief, I imagine Jesus berating himself with Mary and Martha’s questions: O my God, Lazarus, why was I not here to comfort you?  Why did I not come sooner?  Maybe I could have made a miracle.  Maybe I could have healed you.

In tears, Jesus cries out. Father!  Hear me! Please, bring Lazarus back. Come out Lazarus. Come out.

And this is probably heresy, but I believe that when Lazarus stumbled out of the tomb that day, that no one was more surprised than Jesus. Just in time, before Jesus heads into Jerusalem, just before he climbs the hill at Calvary, Jesus felt and saw, that yes, God can and God does and God will call life out of death. God will roll away that stone.

And so, for us, just as well, we get a glimpse of Easter before Easter. A foretaste of hope, of life restored. Resurrected, yes but not the same. Some the same, but also different.

So, the things we grieve the loss of, the loss of so many daily connections, inspires us to find new creative ways to stay connected as the Body of Christ. And we are just beginning to figure this out as a community of faith.

What does pastoral care look like? Keeping it as personal as possible with phone calls, handwritten notes in the mail, and FaceTime. A “zoom” visit into your living room. “Zoom” visits to a bedside or a hospital room. Even from a distance, we can “lay on hands” of love. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Chuck or I, the contact info is in your “electronic bulletin.”

And if we weren’t before, we are all pastors now, pastors to one another. Your voice, your face on the other end of the line, your handwritten note can bring untold comfort and brighten someone’s day.

And spiritual formation? Well, we are all wrestling with angels now. In times like these, we look to our faith for strength and solace. So for families with children, “EEC Sunday school at Home” materials are included here, in your electronic bulletin. And for grownups? Consider “zooming” bible study, a book group, a “virtual Popcorn Theology. Maybe “zooming” God and Donuts gatherings, too? And if you would like to have a one-on-one conversation we can do “Rabbi by Appointment” via Zoom. Email me and I would be more than happy to set that up.

What does Outreach look like? This is both the most challenging and incredibly important. The financial repercussions of Covid-19 are enormous. Untold numbers of Americans (possibly even yourself) have been furloughed and have lost their jobs. On this front, the Outreach Ministry Team is coordinating with its many direct service ministries: bag lunches; shelter meals, etc. And online you can donate to Emmanuel’s Leaves of Love fundraiser for Refugee Ministry. You can donate to ALIVE, Carpenter’s Shelter, Meals on Wheels, and other organizations serving “the least of these” in our communities.

We are building this plane together as we go.

And as for worship, here we are together online, your “Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity,” is ever so grateful and happy to report.

God bless technology and the internet. God bless Google and Youtube. God bless Constant Contact and WordPress. God bless Voice Memos and Zoom. God bless smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, too. On Sundays (or anytime) with “Emmanuel at Home” on our screens, we can still gather, hear the sounds of sacred music, read the scriptures, listen to a homily like this one, keep up our pledge, so that the church can keep being the church in this very needful time. Engage your kids with “Emmanuel Sunday School at Home.”  And via Zoom, we will gather at 11:30 AM, in the ‘virtual parish hall for ‘“Emmanuel at Home Coffee Hour.”  

Chuck and I will both be there. I hope you will be there too. 

And stay tuned, Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, new creative versions of all, will also be coming to your inbox. Even in this upside down time, we will still be singing and shouting, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

Stay well, Emmanuel, stay well & keep the faith.

NOTE: If you receive this via email have trouble listening to homily, click on the “URL:https:….” at the bottom of email to go the U&U website.

Bellyaching Laughter (video included)!

Oh my goodness, so much animosity in the world, so much anger. So many loud voices shouting past one another. So many people on edge, looking for a fight. So, so many of us convinced that we are absolutely right about EVERYTHING.

So much anxiety, so much angst. Every day seemingly darker than our nights. Isolated and lonely, we retreat to our cul de sacs, our silos, our lonely little corners.

How do we climb out of this quagmire?

Well, maybe?

Raise your sights. Look up instead of down. Try to listen more than you talk. (I know, so hard.) Sit in a different pew. Join a different lunch table. Walk on the other side of the street or the “wrong side” of town.

And more than anything let us not take ourselves too seriously. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves. It’s both disarming and charming and you will be far better company to just about everybody — including yourself.

Yes, learn to laugh at yourself. I guarantee if you relax and just be who you are (and no one can do that better than you), you will discover your inner comedian. Nothing is better for the soul than laughter. Humor is absolutely one of God’s greatest gifts.

Seinfeld taught us that even “nothing” could be hysterical, right? Binge watch it. Or Parks & Recreation. Or The Office. Or the sitcom of your choosing. Or maybe Monty Python?

Share the laughter. Invite a friend, a neighbor, a cranky family member, or your suitor. There is no cheaper date than popcorn and a movie from the comfort of your couch.

Tell your own funny stories. The time you mistook your wife for your mother-in-law. The time you bombed at karaoke. The time you pretended to understand French so you wouldn’t offend the waiter.

Lean in and listen; gather around the campfire. Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in one another’s stories?

As a preacher, I often tell personal stories. And in my free time, I freelance as a storyteller, too. For the last five years, I have been part of this amazing organization in Washington, D.C.: Story District. Their mission is to bring as many incredibly crafted first person true stories to the stage. Told live, up close, and personal. (They have classes, too!)

Recently, I told a story with my daughter at Story District’s Top Shelf at the Lincoln Theatre. We were honored to be the “closers.” Our story guaranteed to leave the audience laughing.

Rolling in the aisles funny. Pee in your pants funny. Laughing your backside off funny: the tale of our mother-daughter trip to the Mile High City — where we availed ourselves of all that is legal there and the hysterical antics that followed.

Click here to watch our mother-daughter masterpiece!

Laughter is air and water and light and fire, all rolled into one. It’s healing and revealing. The very best medicine for weary souls.

God’s greatest gift to humankind, in these oh so trying times. Hands down.

Saint Sarah (Trinity Arts)

65: Five 13-Year-Olds Bottled into One!

I hear Sarah laughing and I cannot help but smile. Eavesdropping outside the tent, she listens in on what sounds like a joke. Well, it is a biblical joke, of sorts. Biblically Sarah is barren, ancient bad news for a woman. What’s a nonagenarian to do?

“After I have grown old…shall I have pleasure?”

Judging women for their literal lack of fertility sadly persists. That biological-clock-ticking thing. That your-eggs-are-maturing thing. But I prefer to think of Sarah’s story metaphorically.

Sarah is so full of life at ninety, her every fiber is tuned to laughter. 

Sarah’s life at ninety is so full of pleasure, her every fiber smiles.

Saint Sarah (Trinity Arts)
Saint Sarah (Trinity Arts)

So, this brings me to my birthday. No!!! I am NOT about to become a nonagenarian. But I now carry certain cards in my wallet that I did not have before. Cards from the government. You know what I mean.

Yesterday, checking out at Michaels, unsolicited the clerk gave me a senior discount. ME!! WHAT?? It was $11 so of course, I took it. Who is going to argue with that?

But in my bipolar brain, Joani and senior citizen do not compute. Old is an adjective best reserved for my elders, not for me. Yes, I have God’s gray highlights in my hair but — fun and feathered with a streak of peacock blue!

I do not deny my age. I am proud and deeply grateful for every accumulated 365 days that I have been given. Aging is expansive. It advances not in straight lines but in spirals. In two steps back, three steps forward. In liquid rings rippling outward. I just want to tell you, that in all honesty at sixty-five, I have never felt more alive. 

And I wish this for you. I wish this for everyone. I wish this for the whole wide world.

65 means packing an extra five minutes into every hour.

65 is just the right speed to go speeding down Interstate 95.

65 is five 13-year-olds bottled into one.

And that seems a very good way, to sum up these years, in multiples of 13.

So, what was 13-year old Joani up to?

1968. Eighth-grade valedictorian. Winner of the “Best in English” Award. Punished by the good sisters for my subversive purple prose, a short story I wrote about a nun and a priest falling in love. Being the smartest girl in the class, aka a smart-ass, can get you into trouble.

Just as true today, as it was back then.

And what was Joani doing at 26?

1981. Literally pregnant, on the edge of parenthood, I taught a Montessori classroom full of little people. Spelling things out with moveable alphabets. Sizing things up with counting beads. Working out the world with puzzle maps. Buffing and polishing tarnished things. Creating a little order out of everyday mess. 

Housekeeping, just as important today, as it was back then. 

And at 39?

1994. Three years of seminary done and mother of three. Ordained a deacon. Ordained a priest. Like Sarah, I laughed and laughed and laughed when I saw Reverend in front of my name. Reverend and Joani don’t quite compute. But I got a job, just the same. Assistant Rector, responsible for education cradle to the grave. Preacher, teacher, passable pastor.

This never boring, impossible vocation, I love even more today than I did when I had just begun.

And at 52?

2007.  Just out of the wilderness. Dominion Hospital’s revolving door, I darken no more. Mania requires a little management. Discharged, I manage to get something like a job. Surreally, serving at what I call “Saint In Between”, I am back at seminary with a magic wand in my hand, inventorying books. I feel just about as low as I can go. But the wilderness is what you make of it. I become a book jockey at the front desk. I run a little used bookstore. I spend other people’s money on books. I am priest and pastor to struggling students, hearing their confessions, interpreting their dreams.

A ministry I still pursue, even more passionately out of the library, than I did when I was in.

And now at 65?

2020. Professional Priestess extraordinaire. Associate for Liturgy and Hilarity at Emmanuel-on- High. Avid Pedestrian, training to walk fourth half marathon in Antigua, (Yes, the exotic Caribbean Island of Antigua!)  Getting braces, well Invisalign really, so my teeth will last till I am 105. A Dazzling Docent every Thursday at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. An aging hippy mom to rocking adults. Something like a grandmother (“Jamma”) to rocking young ones, with a new little rocker on the way (Zelda Quinn coming in March!) Buzzing around on Bumble, courting a nerdy, smart, funny, and adorable new friend. 

“Now that I am old, shall I have pleasure?”

O my God, yes!! So grateful for these 65-365-days circling this world.  So grateful to the God who wove me together, bipolar brain and all. 

“Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”

Love is a Verb.

When I hear St Paul’s infamous passage 1st Corinthians 13, you know that “Love is patient, love is kind,” bit of wisdom, read a bazillion times at weddings, a bazillion song titles pop into my head. Half remembered lyrics of Beatles songs and Motown tunes. I recall the sounds of Diana Ross’s soul and the rocking out of Linda Ronstadt’s rock n’ roll.

So silently (or not so silently) sing along with me if you can!

“Love, love me do. You know I love you. So pleeeeeeeease, love me do.”

“You can’t hurry love, no you just have to wait. Love don’t come easy now. It’s a game of give and take.”

“Love is a rose but you better not pick it. Only grows when it’s on the vine. Handful of thorns and you know you’ve missed it. Lose your love when you say the word mine.”

And of course the classic: “Stop in the name of love before you break my heart. Think it over.”

We think this passage has only to do with weddings  — rented tuxedos, ugly bridesmaid dresses, unity candles — because that is where we have heard it so many, many times. These lovely platitudes about love don’t offend our secular sensibilities. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, endures all things.”

There is no mention of God or Jesus – just LOVE.

There was lot of arguing going on in St Paul’s church at Corinth. A lot of backbiting and quarreling among the members. Brotherly love was in short supply. “Everything Paul says love is NOT, they were. Everything Paul says love is they were NOT.” (Feasting on the Word, L. Galloway)

(You’ve never known a church like that, right?)

So at the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, I am going to tell you a wedding story in order to sort this love passage out. Not a wedding story really but a newlywed story, a marriage story.

The humorist David Barry once opined: That in the beginning of a marriage newlyweds seem only to have eyes for one another. Two makes a couple and three, three makes a crowd. But anniversaries come and go. Five year, paper. Seven year, itch. Ten years, wood. Fourteen year, itch. And maybe by this time the couple’s favorite song has changed from “Love, love me do” to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Such was the story of Raney and Charles. ”Raney” is a Clyde Edgerton novel about the first two years, two months, and two days of the marriage between Raney, a free-will, small town, fundamentalist Baptist and Charles, a librarian and an Episcopalian, from the big city of Atlanta. Their mutual love of music, mountain music in particular, brought them together.

But after they set up household, their backgrounds backfired and began to drive them apart. Two different traditions, two very different families, their contrary ways of just plain looking at life, led to more arguing than love making. And Raney after two years, two months, and two days moves out.

Raney reports, “I started missing Charles. Little things in the morning when he gets all excited over the newspaper and starts shaking his head and mumbling to himself. Plus those pajamas I kid him about, with sailboat wheels all over them that look like Cheerios.”

“Yesterday,” she says, ”I left a note asking him if he’d sent in this month’s church money. He left me a note saying that he had. He also left a cassette tape. (Long before Ipods and Spotify!) And on the note, he said he wanted to come by and see me so we could talk about maybe seeing a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor. He said he misses me and is sorry for all that has happened and that so much had come between us.”

“I played the tape. It was Charles playing the banjo and singing:

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

The moon sees the one that I want to see.

God bless the moon and God bless me.

And God bless the one that I want to see.”

“It tore up my heart,” Raney says, “I played it twice more. It tore up my heart all three times. “

“I can understand hating Charles,” Raney says, “on the outside and loving him down in the core …but when you go through a bunch of arguments in a row…and short spell of hating the one you love….then you’ve got to figure it out….so that it won’t get worse and worse. I’m willing to try anything…even a marriage counselor. I figure a counselor might be able to explain to Charles…at least some of what HE has done wrong.”

Now loving one in abstentia is easy or at least saying so is easy. Words are cheap and time is precious. Loving someone up close and personal, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, under the same roof is just plain hard work. (Believe me, I know, I did it for 28 years.)

Married or not, real love is annoyingly inconvenient. Showing up in person — not just texting it in. Real love celebrates with you, cries with you, and runs to the drugstore for NyQuil when you are coughing up a lung. Real love sits in the front row cheering you on and applauding the loudest. Real love is there to catch you and enfold you, when you are depleted and dead on your feet. Real love remembers that you like onions and pepperoni on your pizza.

And for your lover, you will do likewise in return.

Real, “active, tough, resilient love.”  Not just a fluffy, flighty feeling – but a verb. That’s the agape kind of love that St Paul is talking about. Love not just for a spouse but for a significant other, for kith and kindred, partners and parents, neighbors and strangers, friends and even foes.

Love is a verb, a verb that the love of God makes possible within us all.

Made possible, not by an invisible God or a far away God but by an embraceable God, a passionate God, the Lover of All Souls.

When Christ was lifted from the earth,

His arms stretched out above,

Through every culture, every birth,

To draw an answering love,

Still east and west his love extends,

And always, near and far,

He calls and claims us as his friends,

And loves us as we are,

And loves us as we are.

— Brian Wren