Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian

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


Fortify, a 40-Day Mixtape for Lent

Lent is the purple penitential season. A forty day walk in the wilderness. It begins with a call to repentance and with a reminder of our mortality (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21).  Along the way, we hear the stories of Nicodemus (John 3: 1-17) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 5-12). We bear witness to the healing of a blind man (John 9: 1-47) and the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11: 1-45). These forty days conclude with the drama of Holy Week and the climactic joy of Easter.


Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem with a cross on his back. This very human and very holy Jesus has very human and imperfect disciples straggling behind – folks like us. The road to Calvary is filled with trepidation and hope, pain and healing, love and rejection, life and death. And then life again.


So, plug in your earbuds! Here is a 40-day, 40-tune mixtape for Lent – a playlist with an aging hippy vibe. The songs are both sacred and secular and cross multiple genres: folk, blues, rock, gospel, Celtic tunes and spirituals. Featured artists include the likes of the Byrds; Peter, Paul & Mary; Patty Griffin; the Wailin’ Jennys; Rhiannon Giddens; The Blind Boys of Alabama; and Birdtalker.

This seasonal devotional includes each day’s song listed with its performer and lyrics. You can  listen by following my playlist on Spotify, Fortify: A 40 Day Mixtape for Lent. You can follow on the app on your smartphone or listen by downloading Spotify onto your computer (if you don’t already have it!).


The booklet (which also includes YouTube performances) is also available by clicking here.


And if you worship at Emmanuel, paper copies will be available on the table at the back of the church.


Listen a day at a time. Shuffle the tunes. Binge listen if you like.


Sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things. 


Rattling Beads & Grounding Souls

I found God at the end of a rosary.

A little white plastic rosary. This little rosary came with a little white chapel veil, a little white missal, all tucked into a little white patent leather pocketbook.

Tres chic, I wore it over the shoulder of my little white organza dress with the satin sash. My hair was curled and tastefully pulled back under my little white lace veil. And for the final touch of piety, I wove the little white plastic rosary around my fingers.

My First Communion extraordinaire.

Blessed with a second grader’s growth spurt, I was paired with Jimmy Simkewiez. Blonde hair, blue eyes, dimpled cheeks, his Ivory Soap, squeaky clean aura made me weak in the knees.

Together we went forth to receive the holy mysteries. We knelt and simultaneously stuck out our tongues. The priest placed the paper-thin wafers in our mouths – so sacred we were not permitted to touch.

My sweet Lord. My sweet Lord. My sweet Lord.

As the beads of the rosary slipped through my fingers, I discerned God, in the body of my seven year-old partner, so sacred and so holy, I was not allowed to touch.

And henceforth, at every first Friday Mass, at Holy Family School, preparing to receive the holy sacrament, we would make regular rounds of our rosaries.

One “Apostles’ Creed”. Ten “Our Father’s”. Fifty “Hail Mary’s”. Ten “Glory be’s” – and we were good to go!

Shoulder to shoulder, kneeling on vinyl covered kneelers, packed into the pews, I prayed and prayed – mostly unsuccessfully – to once again – discern the body of my God. But Jimmy Simkewiez, preoccupied with baseball, paid me no attention. It was not to be.

So my rounds of the rosary became nothing more than routine, the religious duty of a second grader – possibly keeping me out of endless and pointless years in purgatory. So I prayed those rounds — just in case.

And then came Friday, November 22, 1963. The third Friday and not the first, that fateful Friday, the good sisters hauled all eight grades into church.

“ Take out your rosaries, children. Our president has been shot and is in grave danger. Let us pray, fervently that his life be saved and that our country be delivered from tragedy.”

You have to remember, that this was the time of bomb shelters, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We each had a cardboard shoebox, a “survival kit”, packed with Spam, fruit cocktail, Hi-C and a can opener, stored in the school basement. We all had practiced “duck and cover” under our desks.

Only seven years old, I was certain that the world was coming to an end. And not knowing really what “fervent” meant, terrified, I prayed my rosary at the top of my lungs. OUR FATHER! HAIL MARY! GLORY BE! O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, can you hear us? Please, please, please, hear us and deliver us.

That little white plastic rosary was my lifeline, tethering me to my only hope – a God I feared but did not know. The God, I hoped to God, who would save us.

Somewhere along the way of my Catholic school career – I put my rosary away. Or I misplaced it or I lost it. In any event I pretty much forgot it. Simultaneously, I pretty much forgot about God and was pretty sure also that God had forgotten about me too.

My rosary was relegated to history — buried deep in a drawer somewhere. My rosary seemed forever lost — until — insomnia resurrected my childhood ritual.

You don’t need a rosary to pray the rosary.

Those beads are imprinted on my brain and those prayers are embroidered forever into my memory. So instead of counting sheep, I started making the rounds of my rosary on my fingertips. Saying and not actually praying my childhood prayers, I would rattle just enough finger beads to lull me into sleep.

Until — I realized I was not alone. And Joani, who believed in nothing, started experiencing something or maybe even someone — of who or of what — I knew not a thing. All I knew is that this rosary connected me – concretely and deeply with some thing or someone cosmic. Crazy as it seemed at the time, the rosary grounded me in something or someone – most holy.

And on one terrible, terrible, indeed the most terrible day in the life of my family – the day my brother’s young wife and little boy – were killed in a car accident, reciting the rosary in my head, was all that kept my psyche from flying apart. Reciting the rosary in my head was the only thing that kept me tethered to the ground. Reciting the rosary grounded me — be it fleetingly – to the ground of my being.

Many, many years later, while in the ordination process, the rosary once again was my answer to prayer.

Going through rounds of interviews with the Commission on Ministry, one particularly annoying interrogator  relentlessly kept pressing me:

“Tell me about your prayer life.”

“Well, I use a rosary.” I told her.

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Well, it starts out as rote, but then the rhythm clicks in, and then the silent words of the prayers become like a mantra.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“They are the same words, I learned as a child, recited like nursery rhymes really, but much, much deeper, so much deeper.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Holding onto the rosary is like tapping into something sacred. It tethers me to all that is holy: a deep well, an aching abyss, an emptiness that isn’t empty.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, Glory be’s – I clutch the beads and I feel connected, contemplative, calm – not to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost per se – but to mystery, Mysterium Tremendum – for which there are no words.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

(By this time, I am having not so holy thoughts, and am ready to strangle this interrogator. Where is that rosary?)

“Well, I keep one by my bedside, an Anglican one. I carry one in my pocket or sometimes I wear a very little one-decade Catholic one wound round my wrist. It’s tactile, it’s electric, it’s kinetic, an immediate and direct connection.”

“Tell me more”, she said.

“It’s literally connective tissue, connecting me to the Body of my God – Jesus, you might say.”

And at the name of Jesus, miraculously, at last she seemed satisfied. Either that or we simply ran out of time.

When I was ordained, my friend, Nancy, gave me a present: a rosary with weathered glass beads and a tiny crucifix. Repaired with picture wire, it was obviously beloved, old and worn. It had belonged to her aunt, whom she loved, and it was blessed with a lifetime of prayer, a lifetime of sleepless nights, a lifetime of Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory be’s.

There is no better present that I could have received, this little lifeline to the Body of my God, this little lifeline to the Body of Her world, this little lifeline to the Body of Her Son, this little lifeline to the Bodies of all whom I love.

I found God at the end of a rosary.

How about you?


Fly Me to the Moon & Let Me Sing Among the Stars

I remember Ash Wednesdays at my old parochial school, Holy Family. In the smoky incense-soaked church, Father So-and-So would smear our foreheads with ash. The rest of the school day, I would try mightily to preserve that charcoal smudge – hoping my bangs did not brush it away. I wanted to make certain that certain people would have a good view, important people like my parents, my friends’ parents, shopkeepers.

I had a reputation to uphold! What a holy little kid you are! A little saint deserving of a holy card! Particularly I would make sure that my Grandma Cady and my Grandma Peacock would get a good glimpse before I scrubbed it off of my face.

But I was just a kid and what did I really know about Ash Wednesday? It was just a children’s game to me: a dark and wonderful game the priest devised for us to play. Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies. We all fall down.

The first day of Lent – Christians sing a dark and sad song. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder that life is short and fleeting, precious and precarious. This day reminds us that one day God will find us all in his morning paper – decked out on the obituary page.

Eight years old, thumbing through a family photo album, a yellowed newspaper clipping fell to my feet. Picking it up, it was a death-notice, the first I had ever read. It belonged to my Great-great-grandfather – Zachariah Hazel.

Zachariah had been a prominent Washington, D.C. businessman and architect the clipping effused. The story continued: Zachariah had helped to direct the completion of the Capitol building and the placement of the Freedom statue atop the dome. Whoa! What? What? What? Bursting with pride, I ran to my Grandma Peacock. “Wow, I did not know we were descended from someone so famous!’

Grandma Peacock wasted no time bursting my little eight-year old bubble. “No, Joani Baloney. Your Great-great-grandfather was nothing but a common laborer – and possibly a drunkard besides.” O well, apparently, he had written it himself. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

fly_me_to_the_moon_wallpaper_by_lama_art-d39xeq4

Open up your favorite digital newspaper and click on the obituary section. Every sooty cross marked upon our foreheads is a reminder of those who have gone before us – loved ones, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers.

Bittersweet, I recall when just a few years ago, I strew my own mother’s stardust on the ground. While Frank Sinatra crooned “Fly Me to the Moon” on my Ipod, my siblings and I returned her to the elements from whence she came. At Cedar Hill Cemetery, we scattered mom atop the graves of her loved ones: my dad, her parents, her in-laws, her best friend. To stardust and to her savior, my mom returned.

Death is the greatest of equalizers.

Whether we get an inch in the paper or a full-page spread, before God we are all to a person one and the same. “We are all made of stardust. It sounds like a line in a poem …but every element on earth was formed in the heart of a star.”

Exploding out of a supernova comes the stuff of which the planets are molded. Bursting out of a supernova is the stuff of which our bodies are made. Divinely formed from spit and stardust — to stardust we shall return.

Both biblically and cosmically, we traverse through this life with feet of clay. As Lent looms, let’s take a little look in the mirror. Let’s get a little introspective, a little penitential. A little time to reflect, pray, and possibly compose our own obituary.

Not like the one my not so great, Great-Great-Grandfather Zachariah Hazel wrote for himself, but a literally honest-to-God one.

Get it all out there. Don’t skip over the nasty bits. Put it all in there, warts and all. Personal confession is sobering stuff indeed. A cliché, yes, but it is truly true that confession is good for the soul.

Because no matter how messy our obituaries, the truth of Christ crucified is greater still. God’s wounded hands hung the stars. God’s outstretched arms reach out in love. God brings order to our earthly chaos and renewal to our earthly souls.

Yes, good God, “You are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we shall return. For so did you ordain us when you created us, saying, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Yes, good God, fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Wednesday, February 26th, my parish is hosting two Ash Wednesday services: one at noon and the other 7:30 PM: Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA 22301. All are welcome!


The Prophet Martin: A Polished Arrow in God's Quiver

I am a child of the sixties, an aging hippy. So, it will come as no surprise to many of you that I have been a bleeding-heart liberal from my earliest days. A badge of honor that has also sometimes blinded me along the way to the voices and viewpoints of others. Stereotypically, I was a teenager in rebellion against my tastefully conservative mom and dad. A “straight A” student, I rebelled in more subversive ways.  I skipped school to protest the Vietnam war.  I served — in name only — on the staff of an underground newspaper that never actually published even a single issue. (Sister Mary Clare really clobbered me for that one!)  Never a jock, I won awards with my words, my adolescent purple prose.  I earned my high school letter at debates and speech contests. In one stellar outing, I gave a speech supporting birth control in the voice of a not yet fertilized egg. And from my secure, segregated suburban life, I railed against racism. I remember but one line from my blue-ribbon speech that took me to the city finals: “The blood of the black man is on my lily-white hands.”

I loved the talk but I myself did not always walk the walk.

Thirty years later, this preacher woman was sitting at her desk on a Friday afternoon when. an elderly African American gentleman paid me a call.  His concern and complaint. took me totally by surprise.

He wanted to know if our choir had participated in the Martin Luther King Day Choir Festival. Proudly I told him yes. that indeed both of our choirs had sung that day in honor of the slain civil rights leader. MLK, Jr., I told him, was a saint in the Episcopal Church whose feast day is April the 4th.

Well, this gentleman was a contemporary of Dr. King and said for certain that he knew there were finer preachers whose names he rattled off. And worse than that did I know, he said, that Martin Luther King had been tom-catting around Atlanta. He and his wife claimed to know of the Rev. King’s illicit comings and goings.  And then he blamed bleeding heart liberals like me for canonizing this flawed leader.

Martin, he said, talked the talk. but he certainly did not always walk the walk.

Indeed, all of these years later many have measured the weight of Dr. King’s life differently. He has been accused of many failings including communism and plagiarism. Younger African-Americans have criticized his passivity.  And biographers have lingered over his personal life.

Sister Joan Chittister tells it well:

“The truth of the matter is that Martin Luther King Jr.  was Martin Luther King Jr. till the day he died. Organizer, preacher, prophet, father, husband, cheater, lover and leader.  He struggled with anger and depression and excess all his life.  And like the rest of us in our own struggles, he never totally conquered any of them.”

Prophets you see are not always perfect. Seldom are they saints and even once sainted remain sinners.

But prophets speak God’s truth.

“King was an unlikely leader, black in a white country, a preacher who led a political struggle, the son and grandson of ministers who held a privileged place in the black community.  Proud of his family and home, he learned young that he lived on the wrong side of town.  He lost his two best friends in the first grade because their mother would not let them play with a ‘colored’ boy.  When he was twelve, a society matron in a downtown department store called him the n-word and slapped him across the face. The sting of it stayed with him for the rest of his life.  He was with his father when a shoe salesman refused to wait on them unless they moved to the back room of the store. It was the first time he had seen his daddy so angry and he remembered his response.  ‘I don’t care how long I have to live with this system. I am never going to accept it.  I’ll oppose it till the day I die.’”

Again, and again the message was hard to ignore.  And Martin began to get the message. Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

“And so, like his Daddy, he grew up to be pastor of a major black congregation in Montgomery, Alabama. It was 1955 and Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat on the bus. And for the first time, King stepped out his privileged pulpit and truly became a prophet.  The first night of the bus boycott he addressed thousands who had gathered for a mass meeting. And he addressed them with the truth, with Gospel truth.”

“’Our method will be that of persuasion, not coercion. Love must be our regulating ideal.  Once again, we must hear the words of Jesus echoing across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.’ If we fail to do this, our protest will end up as meaningless drama on the stage of history, and its memory will be shrouded with the ugly garments of shame.  In spite of the mistreatment we have confronted, we must not become bitter, and end up hating our white brothers and sisters. Let no one pull you so low as to make you hate them.’”

 “’If you will protest courageously with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written the historians will have to pause and say. There lived a great people, a black people, who injected meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization’.” (A Passion for Life, Joan Chittister)

He talked the talk and he himself led the walk. And yes, he stumbled, and he fell along the way.  But the prophet Martin prophesied so that his black brothers and sisters. so that our brothers and sisters, might taste justice, might taste the freedom of this Privileged Land.

The Lord called him before he was born to be a prophet, and hid him away, a polished arrow in God’s quiver, until it was time.

Now most of us, if we got the call to be such a prophet would hang up. Biblically speaking, prophets are not particularly attractive folk. They tend to push the envelope of society’s conventions and expectations. Frederick Buechner says that, Elisha would have been called cruel, for turning bears loose on boys who taunted him.  Jeremiah would be called crazy for literally eating the scroll on which sweetly written was the word of God. Amos would be called a carpetbagger. for berating his southern neighbors to justice with a northern accent.

Prophecy is not very desirable work. Telling the emperor, he has no clothes is a thankless task. Isaiah tells us “The Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant…I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth. He said this to Isaiah as “one deeply despised, abhorred by the world, the slave of rulers.  And despite this or maybe even because of this, ‘Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord who is faithful, who [had chosen him.]”

And the prophecy business is dangerous work. While God may have the prophet’s back, God does not show his face, and people are likely to shoot the messenger.  Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern.  Isaiah was rumored to be sawed in half. And Martin was stabbed, attacked, and his home bombed many times. And then cut down by an assassin’s bullet in April of 1968. Just thirty-nine years old.  Prophets pay a price that most of us dearly would not like to pay.

So, what about us? For what did God knit us together in our mother’s womb? In what small everyday way does call us to be prophets in our own day?

God whispers in ears. Not just into the ears of saints but into the ears of all of us. Niggling, annoying words, taunting us to rise up out of our lazy beds. To witness and to speak up for those struggling at the margins.

 We live in challenging times – in a time where white supremacism and antisemitism are on the rise. We live in a time when Houses of Worship are wracked by violence: a mosque in New Zealand, synagogues in Philadelphia and New York, a church in Texas. We live in a time where we are prone to demonize others different than ourselves. In a time, where we barely know how to speak to people across the political divide. 

In God’s eyes, our status quo will just not do. God is always calling us to more, not less; to turn towards love and life and away from disdain and indifference. May God grant us the strength to reach down, way down, deep down and find the courage, the compassion to speak a prophetic word.

And so aptly let us pray,

Almighty God, by the voice of your prophets, you have led your people out of slavery and into freedom; Grant that we, following the example of the prophet Martin, may resist oppression in the name of your love; and may secure for all your children equality and liberty, peace and justice, here on earth, and life abundant in the kingdom to come. Amen.


Top Shelf 2020: A Weekend in the Mile High City w/Joani & Colleen

Woo hoo!! U&U followers!

If you enjoy reading my manic tales, I bet you might also really enjoy hearing me perform one live on stage!!

Maybe you’ve attended a previous Story District performance. Story District is a 20 year old boffo storytelling community in D.C. All the tellers share first person true stories – exceedingly well crafted and delivered supported by the Story District’s pro coaches and directors. They also have awesome workshops and classes!

My maiden voyage was in a 2015 show inspired by this very blog and debuted at my my parish Emmanuel. Take a look here if you missed it:

Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness

And here is my very funny and embarrassing story about “how to get a date worth keeping”.

Joani in Story District’s Second Tuesday: I Can’t Feel My Face

One about my worst job(s) ever!

Joani in Story District’s Worst Job Ever at DC Comedy Improv

And my story of the balance between the mystical and the maniacal!

Joani in NPR Invisibilia Live w/Story District at the Lincoln Theatre

And I am super psyched to announce that again at the Lincoln Theatre, on January 25th, I will be performing along with daughter Colleen in Story District’s Top Shelf 2020. We are both over the moon to be one of the top eight stories chosen from almost two hundred the previous year.

It’s super exciting too because this was Colleen’s very first foray onto the Story District Stage. And it’s the first time Story District produced such a show: He Said, She Said, They Said. One story, more than one point of view!

Ours is a tale of an adventurous weekend we spent together in the Mile High City — where we sampled all the city legally had to offer. And the hilarious antics that ensued thereafter!

I would LOVE to see you there. Please, come cheer us on! The house is already half sold out! So get your tickets here!

Tickets for Top Shelf 2020, January 25 @ The Lincoln Theatre

It’s a night of poignant, moving and hilarious storytelling. The best of the best. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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