Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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The Liturgist’s Dilemma: Translating Tragedy into Prayer

When asked what I do for a living, I no longer answer “clergy” or “Episcopal priest.” Frankly, lots of people just don’t know what to do with that. Stereotypes abound: that clergy only work on Sunday, that we are not allowed to drink, that you should not curse around us.

And because of stereotypes in the media, many assume Christian equates to fundamentalist or evangelical or conservative. When in all honesty, I am none of these things.

So, instead I tell people I am in the hope business. I am in the love your neighbor and reconciliation business.

 I was ordained to preach and to teach and to be a pastor.   And I make my living with words: healing, honest, provocative, faithful, hopeful, joyful, sorrowful, humorous, beautiful, life giving and insightful words. A professional wordsmith, I am both a writer and a storyteller.

I am also blessed to be the parish liturgist at Emmanuel on High. What the heck is a liturgist?  Well, it is something I never thought I would grow up to be, I am a big picture person, you see. And meaningful liturgy is found in the details and details have never been my best thing.  But now sweating the details of liturgy is my labor of love.

In an Excel spreadsheet, I map out Sunday services across the seasons, six months at a time. At Emmanuel, we cycle though the depth and breadth of every option the Book of Common Prayer has to offer.

And where the BCP allows the liturgy to flex, we flex.  Because meaningful liturgy is faithful not just to God.  Faithful liturgy speaks to the people in the pews. Faithful liturgy weaves together both the past week’s sorrow and joy into the Sunday prayers.

I am a translator of sorts. I have the sad but necessary job of translating tragedy into prayer. It is a ministry that means the world to me – quite literally.

And tragically, of course, there is no shortage of tragedy. Every week I scribble in colored pen the changes to the Prayers of People — keeping our intercessions in sync with the world as best I can – before the bulletin hits the presses on Friday.

Prayers after hurricanes: Harvey, Maria, Florence and Michael.

Prayers after mass shootings: Pulse nightclub, Parkland Stoneman Douglas High School, Las Vegas Route 91 Music Festival.

Prayers after Charlottesville.

Prayers after the Simpson Field tragedy, right down the street, in the very place where our very own children play baseball.

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And then, there was this week:

Word of Life, your words matter and so do ours. If we speak in the tongues of mortals but have not love our words ring hollow.  Words of love sow love. Hateful words sow hate. Out of hate, 14 pipe bombs were mailed to former presidents, Democratic leaders who have served our nation and a news organization. Out of hate, a gunman violated a house of worship on the Jewish sabbath, killing many and injuring more. We have no words but words of grief, sorrow, and contrition. Word of Life, grant us both the inspiration and the courage to speak words of justice, hope, healing and peace. The light of God’s Word shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

 My Alexandria, Virginia church basks in the backyard of the Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C. Mindful of the political views of the people in our pews, I work very hard crafting prayers to hew close to the truth but also not to offend. I do pretty well most of the time but sometimes I miss the mark.

Worshipful tight rope walking.

Truth, however, trumps good manners.

Prayer you know is not about changing God’s mind to help us out. Prayer is about God changing our minds to get up off our knees and do the good that God would have us do.

Phillips Brooks, the 19thcentury Bishop from Boston and rector of Trinity, Copley Square, famously said: The purpose of preaching is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

 Both pastoral and the prophetic.

And I am responsible for my words – especially my words from the pulpit.  And as I wrote above, I do so believe: Word of Life, your words matter and so do ours. If we speak in the tongues of mortals but have not love our words ring hollow.  Words of love sow love. Hateful words sow hate.

On Sunday, preacher and people, together wrestle with angels. Sermons, at their best, help us think, help us remember, help us dream, help us to believe —  that which truly matters most.

Above all, I try at least to leave people with a little hope before they head out the doors and go back to their daily lives.

Getting my turn in the pulpit is a privilege. My turn to lift up the priesthood of every single person praying in our pews.

But imagine, if instead of praising the Leaves of Love: Refugee Family Fundraiser, I instilled fear of foreigners and immigrants.

Imagine, if instead of promoting Carpenters Shelter breakfasts and dinners, I railed about withholding help from our needy neighbors.

What if, instead of encouraging us all to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being, I insisted that we prioritize ourselves, the people who look like us and talk like us and think like us.

Well, I might get fired. Indeed, I should get fired.

And my pulpit is not a bully one.

It is election season and midterms are upon us. And lots of powerful political types are both using and abusing their bully pulpits.

Preaching xenophobic, homophobic, vitriolic, hateful, racist, vile rhetoric.

Words matter. Words of love sow love. Hateful words sow hate.

And believe it or not, we are baptized to vote. To vote out of love for our fellow human beings — not solely out of self-interest.

Whether for Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Green Partiers or Independents (or Others I am not aware of),  we Christians are  to vote for the greater good.

So, on Tuesday say a little prayer before you cast your ballot.  Let’s all do the best we can to vote the bums out and the good guys in!

JoaniSign


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The Haunting @ the House of the Redeemer

Boo!

I love a good ghost story, do you?

I especially love the ones with creaking floors and slamming doors, the ones that have to do with houses.

On yellow paper, Shirley Jackson typed  these mysterious words:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

 The Haunting of Hill House is an interior tale of both home and mind. A sinister combination.

But it’s just a tale, brief and droll, maybe a three-day read curled up on the couch.

Uncanny glimpses of fear are best enjoyed when no actual ghosts are likely to appear.

I do not (or did not) believe in ghosts until the fall of the last millennium.

Late October 1999, after five years at Saint Luke’s, I was given a three-month sabbatical. On one of my ninety days’ adventures, I ventured north to NYC to visit a friend: Lisa who was a classmate from my Montessori days.

Hotel rooms in NYC were (and are) quite pricey and out of my reach. But there is a little known clergy perk. Being an Episcopal priest, I booked a room at the House of the Redeemer. Not for religious or spiritual reasons but because it was cheap.

There were no vacancies that weekend or, so I was told.

We’ll be very busy that weekend with a big group of  important guests, but we can squeeze you into one very small room at the top of the stairs.

 Now the House of the Redeemer sits on 95thStreet on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. A 19th century Carnegie brownstone, the four-story home was donated in the 1930’s to the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Donated by a very, very rich family who shall remain unnamed.

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House of Redeemer lit up at night.

I took Amtrak to Penn Station and then a cab to the mansion. Checking in with the desk clerk at dusk, he tells me how to turn on the lights and unlock the doors. Apparently, weirdly, I am the only guest there.

Rev. Peacock, your room is on the 4th floor at the top of the stairs. I’m sorry but you’ll have take up your own bag.

 No problem.

 But there was a problem. Just where are the stairs? Well, the stairs were non-contiguous. Like Alice in Wonderland, to find them I had to search for the right door on every floor. Stingy with the electricity, the house’s stairwells were dark. At each landing, I turned on the lights. As I climbed, I paused briefly to check out the rooms.

My hazy memory recalls something like this…

A parlour, a kitchen and a dining room on the first level. Bedrooms with shared baths on the second floor. A genuine medieval library on the third,  brought over from Europe during the First World War. Reconstructed book by book, the library even had one of those old-fashioned step ladders to climb the shelves.

Spooky, right?

And finally, on the fourth was my room. Quaintly appointed with a brass framed bed, hooked rugs on the floor, and an enormous old-fashioned footed tub.The first night passed quietly enough. I unpacked my things, climbed into my pajamas, read a bit of my book and turned out the lights.

The second day rising early, I turned on all the lights as I descended the stairs. Strolling the avenue, I park myself at a sidewalk cafe and drink gallons of espresso from demitasse-cups.   Late November, the days grow short as the night grew long. At sunset, I head back to my room to get ready for  dinner with Lisa, my Montessori friend.

But who turned out the lights? There were no other guests that I knew of, and the desk clerk had left the latch key under the mat. (And no, this old building did not have automatic light switches!)

I climbed out of my jeans and slipped on a dress. I pulled a hanger out of the closet to hang up my shirt. I closed the closet door.

And then it happened. The closet door opened and closed, opened and closed. Seemingly all by itself. Startled, I was sure there was a logical reason. I took hold of the doorknob and peered inside. A draft maybe? An uneven floor? I shut the door securely listening for the latch to catch.

And then it happened again. The closet door opened and closed, opened and closed. Seemingly, creepily all on its own. Turning on, once again, the turned-off-lights, I fled down the steps to meet Lisa on the street.

Over dinner, I told Lisa what I could barely believe. The closet opened and closed, opened and closed. There must be a simple explanation, right?  I confessed that it felt like someone, some invisible someone, did not want me to be in that room. I was unwelcomed there.

Would you like to spend your last night in New York at my place instead? Asked Lisa.

O my, yes, I replied.

Lisa came back with me to pack up my things and while we were there the closet door opened and closed, opened and closed.

 F-ing terrifying, we got the hell out of there. And the next day, via Amtrak, I headed back to Alexandria, to my un-haunted house.

Trying to make sense of it all, I relayed my story to a British friend, David Bird (also an Episcopal priest.)

I don’t believe in ghosts but let me tell you what happened to me in NYC!

 Now David recommended the House of the Redeemer. David, who on the down- low had incredulously confessed to me that he had exorcised a house.  (OMG! NO!)

Were you staying on the fourth floor? The room on the left at the top of the stairs? David asks.

 Yes, I was!  How, could you possibly know?

 The very rich owner of the mansion had a very unhappy son. A young son who ended his life — took his own life in that very same room.

 An invisible son who very likely did not want me to stay those three days: October 30th, October 31st, and November 1st.

All Souls Day. All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day.

Samhain, the Celtic Triduum, the time when the divide between this world and the other-world is paper thin.

The time of year that the living walk among the dead and the spirits of the dead walk among the living.

This is my true story, as true as I can tell it. And so, now I do believe in ghosts.

What kind of ghosts?

Fingerprints of lost family. Filmy impressions of lost friends. Faint voices etched in the memory. Glimpses of long-ago-lovers. Unsettled inhabitants of old houses  — still knocking about. Wandering spirits with nowhere to go.

So many ghosts trying to find their way home.

The creaking floors and slamming doors reflect the ghosts of our own making. The ghosts who haunt our interior space.

Every one of our souls could use a little exorcism from time to time.

I believe in these ghosts, I do. And maybe so do you.

Boo!

P.S. Join us for a “Ghostly Gathering” at  Emmanuel Episcopal Church located at 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA. Saturday, October 27th at 7:00 p.m. Cocktails, nibbles, silent & live auction to benefit the Parish Foundation. Tickets $40 if you come in costume. And if not, its double the price! You can RSVP to me at the church office.


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Expansive Language; Enlarging Hearts

This is not my usual type of post. It’s not a story about me but news about the church I love. The church in which I labor in love. I make my living there with words and words matter.

The Episcopal Church is a liturgical church. We pray what we believe, and we believe what we pray: lex orendi, lex credendi. Our bedrock beliefs (interpreted in myriad ways) are printed between the covers of the Book of Common Prayer.The Prayer Book is common not because it is commonplace but because its prayerful words are shared across both space and time.

Anglicans are both catholic and protestantThe BCP is a direct descendant of the Roman Catholic Mass.  We worship God both in word and sacrament and read from Holy Scripture. Since the very first prayer book of 1549, the Book of Common Prayer defines what it means to be an Anglican, globally (and Episcopalian, locally.)

This does not mean that Yahweh handed down the BCP from Mount Sinai on stone tablets or that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with the Book of Common Prayer! Each province of the Anglican Communion has its own version of the BCP. The first American prayer book was published in 1789 and has been revised many times to reflect the times.

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We are now using the 1979 edition. Some “cradle Episcopalians” still call this the “new prayer book”! Though slow to change, revisions to the Prayer Book are considered at General Convention every three years.

My parish Emmanuel’s Sunday bulletin is the Book of Common Prayer – just printed on different paper. This allows us to fully engage the liturgical richness of our tradition – as we cycle through all it has to offer.

General Convention met just this past summer in Austin, Texas. The process to begin the revision of the 1979 BCP was debated. Episcopalians do things by committee: scholars, bishops, clergy, lay people, new members – all included. It’s a long process taking many years. (The BCP before 1979 was 1928!)

As an interim step, General Convention overwhelmingly approved Expansive Language changes to Rite II for trial use.

Emmanuel will incorporate the changes into our Sunday bulletin starting November the 11th.

Fair warning!

If you are a cradle Episcopalian and went through the previous revision, this process and these changes may annoy you!

On the other hand, being a cradle Episcopalian, you may celebrate the evolution of the liturgy.

And if you recently wandered into this corner of God’s kingdom, you might not even notice!

Here’s a sampling of the changes:

Opening Sentences: Blessed be God: holy, glorious, and undivided Trinity. And blessed be God’s reign now and forever. Amen.

“God be with you” instead of “the Lord be with you.”

 “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people” instead of “the word of the Lord.”

 Nicene Creed now reads “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human” instead of “made man.”

 Sometimes “he”, “Lord” are replaced with “Jesus,” “Christ”, or “Savior.” (But not always!)

 Sometimes “Father” is replaced by “Almighty God”, “Holy One”, or “God Everlasting”.  (But not always!)

If you want to read more, check out this article at Episcopal News Service:Convention Approves Uses of Expansive Language Version of Rite II.

At Emmanuel, starting October 28th, paper copies of all the changes will be available in the narthex.

Comments?  Questions? All welcome!

JoaniSign

Note: And if you’re in town, come worship with me at 8 a.m.or 10:30 a.m. any Sunday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church located at 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, Virginia. ALL are welcome! NO exceptions!


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Not (Not) Ready to be a Cat Lady

In a weak moment about a year ago,  I posted on Facebook:

“I am not a cat person. I am thinking of getting a cat.”

 Well, truth be told I am not really much an animal person.

Bailey, my youngest son’s half-Collie/half-Golden, lived out the latter of his fifteen years under my roof. My divorce decreed me all three animals – my children’s pets. Along with Bailey, there were two cats: Lucy and Katrina who preceded him to heaven.

And at each pet’s passing, I had to admit that I was a whole lot more attached to these fur-coated creatures than I imagined. Well, not nearly so much to the cats as to Bailey.

Bailey and I had this quiet comfortable roommate thing going on. And then he was gone.

It has been three years now. It is Bailey I miss. That particular golden-haired member of my household. Bailey who was afraid of soda cans and squeaky toys. Bailey who I used to drag around the block. Bailey, the dog who barely knew his name.

But with Bailey’s departure, I discovered the particular pleasures of the single life.

After work, I now could go wherever I pleased. No need to rush home. On rainy mornings, I could stay dry in my pajamas. No need to get drenched outdoors. Wardrobe wise, I could wear black and no longer need to stash lint rollers all over the place. No vet bills. No boarding costs. I had both the freedom and the funds to travel — free as a bird!

But I would still get a little misty eyed when I thought  about Bailey.

I did  not miss having a dog.

Well, mostly I did not miss having a dog.

Tempted by a rebound relationship, I briefly considered adopting a little Bichon Frise pup named “Posh.” But someone else rescued him before I got there. The timing of which may have rescued us both from the canine equivalent of a one night stand.

My desire dissipated like vapor. Faded in the blink of an eye.

You see, I delight in the solitude of my sacred space. The freedom to stay in my pajamas till almost noon.  Curled up on my couch, befriended by books and lost in my thoughts.

I live on my own but that does not mean that I am  lonesome.

Living alone is not the same thing as being lonely.

Yet even the Queen in her Castle, craves companionship  from time to time.

On the human side of this equation, for the past couple of years, I have posted my endeavors here.  Blog worthy. Humorous, disastrous and less than successful.

Meanwhile, well-meaning people, kept encouraging me to get a companion of the four-footed kind.

“Get a cat. They are so easy!”

“A cat to keep you warm!”

 So last summer, I surfed the SPCA sites looking for a cat. Maybe a cat would be a better fit.

Crowdsourcing on Facebook, I posted:

“I am not a cat person. I am thinking of getting a cat. Please, advise.”

 And friends I did not know were friends – or friends I did not even know I had – commented, reacted, liked, and commented on the comments.

There was no shortage of replies:

  • Adopt a kitten.
  • No, kittens tear up your house.
  • Adopt a rescue cat.
  • Adopt a two year-old cat, already housebroken.
  • No adopt an old cat.
  • No, they have urinary tract problems.
  • Adopt a black cat because they get left behind.
  • No, adopt a special needs cat.
  • A deaf cat, a blind cat.
  • A cat with FIV (poor thing).
  • Better yet, get two cats. To keep each other company.
  • (Uh, aren’t two cats twice as expensive as one?)
  • Or adopt a Maine Coon cat, it’s almost like a dog.
  • Or a British Short Hair, Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat.
  • Or maybe, just take my cat.
  • No, for heavens’ sake just get a kitten.
  • So cute.
  • So cuddly.

Hmmmm, no I don’t think so. My answer was a definite NO.

Until….

This happened. Two orange aliens from outer space invaded my place.

 

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August a year ago, Cheshire and Charlie came home from the Fairfax County Humane Society

Since, I have made, at least, a hundred trips to PetSmart for:

Litter boxes, litter, litter box liners, litter scooper, dry food, canned food, food dishes, cat carrier, pet gate, food bowls, cardboard scratching things, cat toys, cat bed, catnip spray, don’t-pee-here spray, don’t-scratch-there spray, no-odor spray, cat-stain spray, cat brush, kitten collars, cat collars, cat proof trash cans.

I’ve spent about a bazillion dollars, give or take a few.

The world, as we know it, forever seems to be coming apart. I wish I could save it — but of course, I can’t. So, I decided to save Cheshire and Charlie. It’s the very least I could do.

So, I am now a certified “certifiable” cat lady.

It’s like living with wild cats and drunk acrobats in my condo. Cheshire has spider-man tendencies and literally climbs the walls. Charlie, is a hunter par excellence, who ferociously tears up toilet paper rolls.

They are hysterical. Cheshire and Charlie bring a spark of life into my swinging single’s lifestyle.

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And this is how God intended it to be.

“It is not good for the human to be alone…”

So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the human to see what he would call them; and whatever the human called every living creature, that was it’s name. The human gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field…”

Feathered friends. Furry friends. Some slimy and scaly, too. Some that go “moo.”

And, of course, God made Adam a human friend too. 🙂

Our two-footed households runneth over with four-footed friends.

To walk along side us. Fall asleep in our laps. Chew up our shoes. Raid the trash. Wag their tails. Bark at the robbers. Catch the rats. Scratch the furniture. Make us laugh.

On the Feast of Saint Francis, let us give thanks for —

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

the Lord God made them all.

JoaniSign


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More than food…

Jesus and his friends were lacking in social graces – according to the table manners and table piety of their day.  And for this — certain Pharisees called him on the carpet. “I can’t believe it! He did not wash his hands. There is dirt underneath his fingernails!”

My mother, my grandmother and her mother before her would have sided with the Pharisees.  Jesus, didn’t your mama teach you to wash your hands before you eat? Apparently, Jesus did not listen very well to his elders. And yet he knew that people come to the table for more than food.

The Pharisees are not alone in being fussy about table manners.

Christians are no exception. Growing up, we observed a rhythm of fasting and feasting.  On Friday, we would eat no meat.  On special days we would fast from all meals until sundown.  Every Sunday we would fast at least an hour before Mass and receiving communion.  Our small sacrifices were to remind us of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Ordinary reminders of the extraordinary God.

The good sisters at Holy Family were scrupulous in this regard.  The nuns who had lunch time duty sniffed out each lunch bag and box to make sure it was kosher. I will never forget a Friday when I was in the first grade — just six years old. My mom had packed a bologna sandwich. A BOLOGNA SANDWICH!  Possibly a mortal sin, my immortal soul was in danger. And so, my lunch was confiscated.  A note was sent home chastising my parents’ lax regard for the Friday fast.

The sisters had reminded us of the rules. They laid down the law, but they had forgotten that we come to the table for more than food.

Christians are notorious for fighting over meals and especially notorious for fighting over God’s table.  Is it an altar? Or a table?  Should we kneel, or do we stand?  What do we wear? White or black or rich brocade?  Should we use wine, or do we use grape juice?  Christians of many stripes and colors want to believe that their version of the Lord’s supper is THE version of the Lord’s Supper.

Family traditions are destined to clash at the dinner table.

Take the story of Raney and Charles, characters in a Clyde Edgerton novel.   Raney and Charles are newlyweds.  They live in North Carolina.  Raney is a Free Will Baptist.  Charles is an Episcopalian.  One Saturday night over okra and fried chicken, they discuss where they will attend church the next morning.  Charles hopes that Raney will attend the Eucharist with him at the Episcopal Church in town.

“I don’t think I could go to an Episcopal Church, ” Raney says.

“Why not?” counters Charles.

“They’re against some of the things we believe in the most. They serve real wine at the Lord’s Supper and they have priests.  Don’t they?”

“Well, yes”

“Well, I don’t especially approve of the way priests drink.” Raney complains.

Charles reminds Raney that Jesus himself drank.

Raney scoffs, “I don’t think so.”

“Well, he turned water into wine at the wedding feast.”

“Yes,” Raney concedes, “but it wasn’t wine it was grape juice. If Jesus turned water into wine on the spot it had to be grape juice because it didn’t have time to ferment.”

There was a pause at this point in their conversation.

“If Jesus could make wine” says Charles, he could easily make it fermented as not, couldn’t he? Why should Jesus mess around with half a miracle?

Full stop. Continue.

“I’ve been going to the Bethel Free Will Baptist Church for twenty-four years now and the preachers there have been studying the Bible for all their lives and they say its grape juice.  All together they have probably studied the Bible for over a hundred years.  I’m not going to sit in my kitchen and go against that.”

So, like Raney and Charles, we squabble over the magic words. We argue about  how the table is set.  We quibble over the menu and the guest list.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  These table traditions of Jews and Christians, Catholics and Protestants are to be honored. The Pharisees preaching of the kosher (kashrut) laws was not intended to be picayune.

The Jews have a wonderful word: “mitzvah”.   A “mitzvah” is a grateful gesture to God even in the most mundane of circumstances: as you prepare the evening meal, as you wash your dishes, as you bathe the baby, as you tuck your children into bed.

Daily food was holy food. God sat down at each table and shared in each meal.  But the Pharisees in Mark’s Gospel had forgotten this.  They had forgotten that we come to the table for more than food.

Jesus, a marginal Jew, knew this, of course.

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Have you ever attended a Passover Seder, a real one with a real Jewish family?  The holy story of the Exodus is woven around a simple family meal.  There are candles, special dishes and plates, symbolic foods and sumptuous courses.  The Haggadah, the prayer book, is passed from hand to hand.  Everyone has a part to play -– even the children.

“Why is this night so special?” the youngest asks.

The bitter herbs, the haroset, the lamb, the matzoh, and the wine make the rounds of the table.  Each course is blessed with the telling of the story.

And this is just as true at Emmanuel’s holy table.   I know that a hundred years ago, or so, the church purchased it.  And I know that twenty some years ago, a vestry committee approved the rearrangement of the nave. And I know that the Altar Guild lovingly laid out the linen and the silver this Sunday — just as they have done hundreds and hundreds of Sundays.

But this table does not belong to Emmanuel.  It does not belong to us.  It belongs to God.

God decides who is welcome and God excludes no one. Technically only the baptized receive communion but that’s a church rule, a rule that God overrules.  There is no checking your baptismal certificate at the altar rail.

At a nursing home service, the residents lean forward in their wheel chairs – regardless of whatever faith they came from. At baptisms, Jewish godparents are just as much a part of the family as the Christian ones. At a post 9/11 Eucharist, I remember a Muslim woman reaching out her hands in hope. On Christmas and Easter, when the church overflows, everyone is served.

We come for solace and for strength.

We come for pardon and for renewal.

We come in hope.

All God’s children come to the table for more than food.

JoaniSign


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The Virtue of Catholic Resistance: An Episcopal Priest Responds to James Martin, SJ

Today’s New York Times published The Virtue of Catholic Anger, an article by the Jesuit, James Martin, the editor-at-large of America Magazine. Rev. Martin responds to the “moral catastrophe” of the sexual abuse travesty in the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania. A liberal theologian, his well thought out response, I believe lacks a backbone. In short, it infuriated me. Here is my response.

Rev. Martin,

I admire your work and have read several of your books. I grew up in the RC tradition but was told by Sister Mary Clare in high school that because I asked too many questions I was “intellectually gifted but spiritually retarded.” Direct quote.

Long story short, an agnostic, I got a degree in philosophy. And later found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church where my gender and my intellect are embraced. I have been an ordained Episcopal priest for 24 years and I have served five congregations, as well as, at Virginia Theological Seminary.

I write to you specifically about your article today in the New York Times which you wrote in response to the “moral catastrophe” documented in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

Your appeal to emulate the righteous anger of Jesus is very on target. But I am deeply dismayed at your very tepid recommendations about how to express that anger for Catholics in the pews.

This is what you wrote:

“I can only suggest a few specific actions: Speak to your pastor, write to your bishop, express your anger to the Vatican’s nuncio in this country. Most of all, work in any way that you can for real change, even at the cost of being seen as a troublemaker.”

Really? That’s all you’ve got to offer?

Telling a priest or a bishop or a nuncio? The same insular authorities and system that have covered up this abomination? What real power do laity have in a church whose polity gives them no real institutional authority whatsoever?  In a church where priests, no matter that they criminally abused children, remain a priest. In a church where dioceses do all they can to protect themselves and not minors in their care.

Your advise rings exceedingly hollow. Besides what you recommend, here is what the ordinary Catholic can do.

Call the newspaper.

Alert law enforcement.

Organize the resistance.

Stage walkouts and demonstrations.

Call for the resignation of all culpable bishops and ecclesiastical authorities.

Vote with their feet and worship in another corner of God’s kingdom.

Vote with their wallets and withhold and redirect donations to organizations that support the victims and work for change.

I learned a long time ago that the RC Church does not have a monopoly on the “catholic” faith. My church, too is broken and fallen, but it’s polity is open and democratic and built for reform.

I pray the church of my childhood finds redemption. But before resurrection can happen, corrupt and antiquated ways will likely need to die.

In Christ,

The Rev. Joani Peacock
Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Alexandria, VA

P.S. Roman Catholic friends, if you need to rest and regroup, the Episcopal Church welcomes you into our pews.

JoaniSign


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Wonder Bread

My apologies to the gluten-intolerant.

(Though I am happy for you that there is  gluten-free everything,  including communion wafers.)

Yes, my apologies, I confess that I am CRAZY about gluten.

“Bread is the staff of life,” has been my motto since I was a child.

Remember Wonder Bread? Wrapped in a package printed with bright balloons, the commercials claimed it could ‘build strong bodies”. Eight ways in the 1950’s. And in the 1960’s twelve!

Not so sure how. It was bleached so bright-white, no nutrient could possibly survive. As kids, we would roll it into balls and back into dough. And when spread with peanut butter, Wonder Bread would often tear. At least, that’s the reason my mom gave us why we couldn’t have the crunchy kind of Peter Pan.

But now, that I am so grown up, I buy the crunchy kind all the time. And my favorite food group remains – bread.

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I have an actual bread box in my kitchen – labeled Bread. Atop it, I keep two bread plates, shaped like bread. Yes, literally in the shape of a slice of bread. And I always have a few varieties on hand: Challah, Irish Soda Bread, and maybe sourdough.

I am very good at making toast. It’s one of my very best recipes. (I will share it, if you like.) I am partial to real butter and whole fruit preserves.

Ciabatta.

Focaccia.

Baguette or Boule (which is just a fancy word for loaf.)

 I don’t bake bread myself, but I love the idea of it. Kneading it. Rolling it. Punching it down and watching it rise and grow in the oven.

Now everyone who has ever gotten a Christmas card knows that Jesus was born in a manger – in a corn crib. Born in a town called Bethlehem, which you may not know means the House of Bread.

 Alan Copeland writes:

Was little baby Jesus actually laid in a manger? It seems like a very strange and dirty place to put a newborn. Mary and Joseph would have to be crazy tired or plain silly to put a newborn in a feeding trough!

 But the manger (manger – which means ‘to eat’) – is a reminder that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Little baby Jesus in the food trough points to big guy Jesus feeding the 5000.”

 Such a well-worn story, it is easy to miss Jesus humoring his cranky disciples:

“Six months wages cannot buy enough for these people to get even a little!” His friends  whine as they throw up their hands.

So, Jesus asks a little boy to help him – a little boy who opens his lunchbox and shares his bread and his fish.

(Maybe like you even did as kid, sharing your tuna fish sandwich.)

Five thousand people sat down in the grass.

Jesus said the blessing, broke the  bread, the pieces put into baskets. And the disciples passed them all around.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus gave them that and more.

Jesus – who the gospel-writer John calls the Bread of Life.

 Grace Church in Georgetown (at Wisconsin & M), was my field work parish in seminary. Every Sunday they acted out the loaves and fishes – in a very down to earth way.

Grace was a house of bread in a hungry city. A half-time social worker worked there every weekday helping those in need with rent and food and medicine.

But the homeless came to church for more than bread.

The fiercely proud families who camped out on the C&O canal, resisted shelters because to go there they had to split up. These families also worshiped with us on Sunday mornings.

In Grace’s nave there were no communion rails, no kneeling and no wafers.

Instead the little congregation encircled the altar, as David Bird the rector blessed a yeasty loaf of bread. He would break it into pieces and place it into a basket that was then passed round. Shared hand-to-hand, with each crusty piece, the worshipper would say: The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

 And there was always some left over, not twelve baskets full, but there was always extra. So, we would pass it around again until all were full.

At Emmanuel, we do use wafers. Though less messy and not as apparent, Emmanuel equally  loves to feed people. It’s a ministry we hardily embrace.

Collecting staples and canned goods for the ALIVE Food Pantry.

Making sandwiches with the Bag Lunch Program at Meade for the homeless.

Delivering food to the elderly with Meals on Wheels.

Serving a Saturday breakfast and a Tuesday dinner at Carpenter’s Shelter.

The Loaves and Fishes is much more than a sweet little bible story. Loaves and Fishes is the way to live a Christian life.

It’s a hungry world out there full of hungry people. Our lunch boxes are overflowing. Let’s feed one another and share as we are fed,  here at Emmanuel, God’s House of Bread.

JoaniSign