Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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The Sticky Sixth Commandment & “Sticks That Make Thunder”

Lent Three, Sunday service starts off in self-reflection. We sift through the commandments, all ten — one by one. Scripture may trip us up at number six:

Thou shall not commit murder.

Now, I am pretty sure that none of us, either in the pulpit or in the pews, have committed such a crime. But that does not mean, that our consciences are completely clean on this one.

We confess in community. Sins not just against God, but against neighbor, as well. And in the aftermath of the 8th school tragedy this year, as Christians, we need to do everything we can,  so, no parent ever has get that terrible phone call; so that every child knows that every adult is doing everything they can to keep them safe and sound.

While tribal politics may drive us to take sides, this, at its heart, is a faith conversation. Personal and difficult.

I am going to share my personal story, not that you may agree with me and not for me to tell you what to think. But I hope that by sharing mine, I can offer a little encouragement for you to share yours.  Maybe we can begin to respectfully connect – and talk about what we think we shouldn’t talk about in church.

So,

I am no Second Amendment Sister. I am a Million Mom Marcher from way back when. No toy guns were allowed at my house. Only water pistols and Super- Soakers. My kids were crack shots — gunning down dandelions and blowing away begonias in the backyard. No BB guns, not even cap guns crossed our threshold. At least until….

The dawn of Nintendo 64. One showed up under the tree on a Christmas morn with Zach’s name on it. I think Santa put it there. If Santa put it there, it was a really big deal. Mom and dad wrapped up books and board games. Santa gave you stuff that knocked your socks off.

So welcome Mario and Wario (his evil twin.) Welcome Kirby and Donkey Kong. Welcome Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  Lots of fun and games. Lots of jumping over walls, catching stars, and grabbing gold coins. Lots of keys and magic codes to climb from level to level. Zach played for hours on end while his little brother watched in wonder — hoping against hope to take control of that controller. Just two and half years old,  Jacob picked it up and has yet to put it down at the age of thirty.

Jacob mastered Mario. He crushed Kirby. He tackled Tetris. He whooped Wario. And “bang, bang, bang,” — arcade style — he bagged hundreds of ducks. The first “stick that made thunder” had made it into our house.

As Jacob matured so did the ratings on his video games. I never really censored the games he played but I would lean over the screen to see just how much blood and guts were on display. “Is that a peace and love game?” I would invariably ask him. “It’s just mummies, mom. It’s just zombies.” So, I bought him “Civilization”, peaceful and educational. “How’s that going, Jacob?”Great, mom! Gandhi just conquered Genghis Khan!”

Jacob has grown up to be quite the indie gamer. He founded Gaming in Public. On a Kickstarter project , he raised $20,000 for a a game called “Super Dwarf Madness.” Inspired by Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”“these dwarves are taking back their kingdom with GUNS.”

Well, it was not exactly about peace and love. But it was not all that far removed from Elmer Fudd and his blunderbuss or Yosemite Sam and his six-shooter. “Sticks that make thunder” cartoon style.

crayons sandy hook mural

Mural in remembrance of Sandy Hook

Yosemite Sam was “the roughest, toughest, fastest gun-slinger west of the Pecos!” but he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. And every Saturday morning, Bugs Bunny got away with nary a scratch. It was a kinder and gentler time. Remember Sheriff Andy Taylor? No gun. Remember Deputy Barney Fife? One gun and no bullets except the one in his pocket.

These were the only guns my dad would allow in our house: celluloid guns; cartoon guns; sitcom guns; maybe a water pistol or two; maybe even a cap gun. But never, ever the real thing.

My dad was pro-gun-control long before it was politically correct. You see, my Rockefeller Republican father was Chief of Surgery at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in DC. A general surgeon, he took out gall bladders, repaired hernias, removed tumors. He loved his work. But extracting bullets from young men, my dad told us, he hated having to do.  He said that he had lost way too many young men on his operating table. Tragic and traumatic, so young and full of life, never to go home again. Never.

NEVER have a gun in the home, my father taught us. NEVER. Guns in the home were anathema to him.  In the heat of passion, it was best to err on the side of safety.

This is a lesson learned that I have taken to heart.

In my 63 years, I had never ever even seen a real gun – much less handled one, until a few years ago, I visited the home of a sharpshooting friend. Law abiding in every way, she only shoots tin cans and paper tigers. Proud of her sport, she took out her collection and introduced me to her “sticks that make thunder”. She taught me the difference between a rifle, a shotgun, a pistol, and a revolver. Patiently she explained cartridges, caliber, clips, millimeters and magazines. And she drove home the importance of safeties – the tiny little lever that keeps a gun from firing.

This tiny little lever between this life and the life to come — is called a safety.

Now there is a stereotype that people like me are not safe. Mall shooters and campus snipers are indeed disturbed and deranged. Of that, there is no doubt. But bipolar-me is no more likely to gun you down than anyone else. Regardless, the media often diagnoses the dangerous, as a soul likely off their meds. But it’s simply not true or at least very rarely true. Self-harm, rather than harming others, is much more likely with folks like me.

I have never had a plan to do away with myself. But I do know what it’s like to not want to wake up anymore. Depression can eat you alive just as surely as cancer can.

“Do you feel safe?”, the nurse at Dominion asked me. “No”, I replied. So, she took away my shoelaces and my belt and my cell phone. Dangerous weapons, I guess. First light every morning and last thing every night, we had to answer the same question: “Do you feel safe? Rate yourself on a scale from zero to ten.” Zero and you can go home. Ten – or anything close to ten – and you get to stay a little longer. To stay your hand from doing yourself in. To stay your hand from doing what cannot be undone.

Especially, if at home, you had a gun. God forbid, if I did. Thank God, I did not.

God has nothing specific to say about guns, of course. And biblically confusing, Yahweh vacillates about wether we should be beating those plowshares into swords or those swords into plowshares. But Jesus – he’s pretty clear on the subject. Clearer than Ghandi. Clearer than Martin Luther King.

“I say to all who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. The one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek…Love your foes and treat them well….  Be just and lenient as your Father. Be not a judge…Be not an executioner. Pardon and you will be pardoned”  Luke 6 (trans. Garry Wills)

 This is not faithless passivity. This same Jesus, a very angry Jesus, turns over the Temple’s tables.  Not just a place of prayer, ‘the temple was the center of worship and music, the center of politics and society, a place of national celebration and mourning. It was the focal point of a nation and its way of life.” (N.T. Wright)

Angry for all the right reasons, Jesus threatens to tear the place down. Forty-six years it took to build, but Jesus says he will raise it again in just three days.

Not resurrected stones, but literally flesh and bone. Not a resurrected building but a resurrected life.

Since the start of this young year, we have prayed a prayer, that I cobbled together and crafted — from an article by the Jesuit James Martin.

Though my hope is that we never need pray it again, I repeat these words in the hope that God strengthen our resolve.  So that we may discern what stones not to leave unturned; to discern which tables need to be turned upside down – to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

Lord God, we ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded, to console family and friends in the face of such tragic loss; to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray for those who have taken innocent lives. We grieve, Lord God, as Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are weary, Lord God, of the blindness to this important issue; weary of those who say nothing can be done. Weary, as when an exhausted Jesus fell asleep in the boat after wrestling with the demons of his day. We are angry, God, angry at the corrupt powers of this world that prioritize profits over people: angry, as was Jesus, when he turned over the tables in the temple. Grant us the courage and strength to work for change to preserve and protect the life of all your children. Lord, turn our sadness into compassion, our weariness into advocacy, our paralysis into acts of love.

 Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

JoaniSign


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“Reel” Time Revelation of Rebecca on the Story District Stage

For those of you loyal readers who have followed the tale of reunion with my firstborn daughter Rebecca – and for those of you tuning in for the first time — here is my December 2017 telling of it live on the Story District stage.

Eight minutes of riveting entertainment!

Joani Peacock in Story District’s Home for the Holidays!

Also published this year in Turning Points: Stories about Change and Choice. Scarlet Letter No More is on Page 37 of this excellent little anthology.

A great 10 minute read!

Stay tuned for new posts on U&U! God only knows what might be up next!


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Fly Me to the Moon

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 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 play among the stars.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Wednesday, February 14th, 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!


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Inked!!

Henna does not hurt.

Partying like it was 1999 – which it was – I spent a little sliver of my sabbatical at Venice Beach. I stayed with my new age, hipster, therapist friend Carey. We went rollerblading. We got our hair braided into a thousand little braids. We got our picture taken with a few outrageous costumed personalities. And we got “tattooed”.

I got a little tiny henna shamrock on my left shoulder.

It did not hurt.

Back home, I would slip my shoulder out of my sleeve and show it off. I showed it off to my kids. I showed it off to my coworkers. I showed it off at church.

“O my God!” people squealed, “Is it real?”

I’d smile slyly and then reveal the truth – the half truth.

“Yes, it’s real, at least for a little while until the shower washes it away.”

My shoulder did itch though. It itched for the real thing.

So on that same Sabbath break, on pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle, on the next to last day of my stay – I walked into a Dublin tattoo parlor. Cheered on by fellow pilgrims – both on my left and on my right – I bravely went forward to get the real deal.

“Could I please get a little green shamrock on my shoulder?”

“Sorry, mam, no appointments today. How about tomorrow?”

My shoulders slumped.

“Tomorrow? I’m leaving on a jet plane tomorrow. Don’t know when I will ever get back to Dublin again. Maybe I’ll get one when I get back home.”

Maybe.

Landed safely stateside, I told my friends this story. I told my coworkers this story. I told my kids this story – the story of the almost shamrock tattoo.

And I told it so many times over so many years, that my kids grew  sick and tired of hearing it. So sick and tired, they decided to put a stop to it once and for all.

Christmas, 2011, they gave me the real deal as a gift. And January of 2012 we all went together to JinksProof Tattoo. Zach and Colleen watched as the artist stitched a little four leaf clover on my left shoulder.

It hurt.

First they outlined it. Then they colored it in. Needle worked into my skin, my little shamrock is shorthand for who I am:

A Celtic soul.

Bipolar Boudica.

Druidic priestess.

Earth mother of four.

Rebel with a cause.

Squeamish of needles –

or something like that.

But this outward and visible sign is tattooed where I can discretely hide it away. I can cover it up with a sweater, a shawl, or a blouse – and choose to show it only to those I choose —  a game of peek-a-boo of sorts.

And this is our family rule when it comes to tattoos.

Just one, tasteful and discrete.

Rebecca, my earth mother eldest,raised under a different roof,  broke this rule, I believe.

Colleen, my social justice child has a little peace dove on her foot.

Zach, my film maker son, has Elvis’s TCB Lightning bolt branded on his arm.

Jacob, my youngest, has considered getting a falcon (maybe the Millennium Falcon?) on which part of his person I am not sure.

Just one and we are done. Well, not quite.

In my electronic inbox July 15, 2015, at 10:51 pm to be exact, my colleague Chuck MCoart sent me a link to a piece in the Huffington Post. No message, just “Possible blog post idea” in the subject line.

So I clicked on the link and up comes a  story about a tattoo. A very special tattoo. A semicolon. There is a picture of a young woman with one tattooed to her wrist. Her name is Amy Bluel and she founded The Semicolon Project.

inked-photos.jpg

A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. The sentence is your life and the author is you.”

Amy got the first tattooed semicolon  when she lost her father to suicide in 2013. She was jut 18.  Amy in her young life has experienced far more than her share of pain. She is a survivor of the foster care system, sexual abuse and has lived with depression, darkness, and her own attempts at self harm.

But she says it was her father’s suicide “that brought more pain to my life than anything I have ever experienced.”

It could have been her end too.

Period.

But instead Amy chose the semicolon. She chose to go on and she founded the Semicolon Project “a faith based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

A great idea for a blog post! But in all honesty I couldn’t blog about it unless I honestly got one myself.

Because in all honesty, about a dozen year ago my own bipolar brain was clouded by such darkness. I know what it’s like to want to put a big black period at the end of my sentence. To go to sleep, say goodnight, hoping not to wake up anymore.

Joani Peaoock. The End. Period. Goodbye.

But alleluia, I did not. I paused before making a complete and final stop. I punctuated my life with a semicolon – so many semicolons – and I have gone on. By the grace of God and the blessings of meds and therapy, and the company of a hundred friends, and the love of my children, and valuable work, involvement with the community – I am still here. Marvelously, gratefully, jubilantly still here.

So I got one that very July 15, 2015 afternoon. I walked into Great Southern Tattoo and got a little black semicolon on my wrist, a little outward and visible sign of hope and healing. I got one so that I will always remember and never forget — the joy of waking up each and every day – no matter how lousy that day might be.

I got it to remember that every single day is a Holy Day.

And yes, it did hurt; to hurt is human; to hurt is essential to being fully alive.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Emmanuel is screening Ed Hardy:Tattoo the World, Sunday, January 28th at 6:00 PM. This 75 minute film explores the history of tattoos while telling the story of the filmmaker’s life — one of the most consequential contemporary tattoo artists. Come for popcorn, librations and a great discussion. 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA 22301.


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Soul Friend, Old Friend, Fur Friend, Three Years On

The ancient Celts kept in touch with their Creator by touching creation. All of nature breathed in and breathed out –the very breath of God  — and all the world was soaked in the Spirit. The Celtic Creator dwelt in ancient trees and streams and holy wells.

Immersed in their pagan past, Celtic Christians called their God, “Lord of the Elements”. Christian monasteries sprang up on druid holy grounds —  in the midst of oak groves and sacred springs.

The Celts had a quiet care for all living things. And the saints had a particular affinity for all creatures great and small. St. Kevin sheltered a black bird’s nest in his outstretched arms. St. Ciarain befriended a boar who cleared his land. And St. Columba’s white horse wept at his master’s death.

And then there is the story of St Mungo and the Hound, as told by Robert Van de Weyer in “Celtic Fire”.

“Mungo knew that God was calling him to found a new monastery amongst his tribesman to bear witness to the love of Christ. So he set out from home in search of a suitable place.”

“Soon a wild hound appeared and began to lead him. The hound took him over steep mountains, into deep valleys, and through dark forests. Each night Mungo and the hound lay down next to one another; and before they fell asleep they talked to each other, Mungo speaking in words, and the hound replying with barks and growls”

“Together they arrived at a beautiful lush valley, with a clear blue river running through it. And around the valley they could see little columns of smoke with many people living there The hound stopped near the river bank, and began scratching the ground with his feet, tearing up tufts of grass. Mungo fell to his knees in prayer asking God if this was truly the place to build the monastery.”

“Kissed by a robin on the cheek, welcomed by the birds Mungo knew this was the place. The hound went off to collect branches, and the bird brought leaves and grass, and soon Mungo had built himself a hut.”

“Then the hound came up to Mungo and growled loudly, bowing its head asking Mungo for a blessing. So Mungo laid his hand on his head and prayed for God’s guidance on it. The hound went off and in the following days and months and sent others to join Mungo. And the brothers came to found this new place. And the robin and the hound helped each brother to build himself a hut”.

“And the community grew, the local people came wanting to see their new neighbors. Mungo and his brothers gladly welcomed the sick into the community, nursing them back to health, and shared their simple food with hungry travellers. And soon the monastery was renowned for its generosity and kindness to all in need. And many people embraced the gospel which inspired that unassuming love.”

Mungo’s monastery was founded where now Glasgow Cathedral stands. Founded by three brothers: the monk, the robin, and the hound.

You may think this a fairy story, a whimsical tale of long ago and far away, Maybe a Disney feature with cartoon creatures. I am not sure that history will witness to its truth.

Bailey

Bailey Peacock 2000 – 2015

But I can. I can because of a certain hound of renown whose name was Bailey.

A decade ago, divorced and alone, I sold my little bungalow and set out to find a new home of my very own — and Bailey led the way. Bailey was Jacob’s, my youngest son’s dog, Part retriever, part shepherd, he was not much of either. But he was as gentle and companionable as the day is long. And stupid, yes stupid. He barely knew his name.

 

All three of my children have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone. But Bailey always stayed and never went. So I am the one who walked him, and fed him, and took care of him. And he has been my solitary roommate this decade long.

And like all roommates Bailey and I did not always get along. This roommate peed on my carpet, stole underwear out of the hamper, chewed up paper towels, drooled all over the couch, and ransacked the trash. We had our arguments and I admit losing my temper and calling him awful names. He would hide under the dining room table and come out when the coast was clear. Sweet dog that he was he never held it against me.

In my condo community Bailey took me walking several times a day. And the older he got, he took me walking several, several times a day. It was Bailey who introduced me to my neighbors: the three girls down stairs with first their French poodle and now a German Shepherd; the lady next door with the persnickety cats; the great big jock with the tiny little Yorkie; and the lady right below me who never learned Bailey’s name. But now I know theirs — all because of Bailey.

Bailey was not much of a watchdog. There was never a stranger, a delivery person, or a postman, or a friend at my door that he did not think was his friend too. I believe even a robber would have found Bailey to be his true and helpful friend, — following him all around the house while he robbed me blind. But Bailey did have a protective streak in him from time to time. When a certain male friend would visit, Bailey always jumped up on the couch between us. I am not sure what he thought he was protecting me from, but protect me he did.

And I had a strange and lovely attachment to this dog for 15 years. But he was just a dog, right? And now Bailey is gone.

102 people years-old Bailey could barely hear and barely see and barely walk and barely get up and down the stairs anymore. Sweet dog, all my children over the 2014 holidays got to spend time with him. And we all talked about how it was getting to be “Bailey’s time”.  And then January 16th, 2015 Bailey’s time came.

And I knew it would be sad and knew I would shed a few tears and I thought I would get through it just fine — collect myself, climb back in the car and head back home. Just a dog right?

Sitting on the blanket with Bailey as he drifted into his last deep sleep, I cried like a baby. Stroking his fur and holding his paw, I kept repeating, “All dogs go to heaven. All dogs go to heaven.”

I sobbed on the way home. I sobbed with two of my three of my children on the phone. And though Bailey rarely barked, my house was strangely quiet today. When I woke up this morning I had a dull empty feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away.

I lost the soul friend I never knew I had.

Anam is the Gaelic word for soul. Cara is the Gaelic word for friend. Bailey was my Anam Cara. In the Celtic Church an Anam Cara was a confessor, a confidante and a spiritual companion. With such a soul friend you can share your inmost self, mind, and heart. Everyone needs a soul friend who knows you and understands you just as you are – and loves you anyway. John O’Donohue says that where we are understood — we are home.

Many of us may have an Anam Cara of whom we are not aware. Blinded by busyness we do not see the soul friend standing right in front of us. And it is only in their absence that we ache for and recognize the blessing of their presence.

And now I know dear Bailey, that you were my Anam Cara. Now I know, sweet, sweet dog you were a soul friend to me.

All dogs go to heaven.

Soli Deo Gratias

JoaniSign


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Cleaning Out the Refrigerator

Nothing says pride like a refrigerator. Nothing boasts so boldly about our kids’ awesome accomplishments than does the family refrigerator.

Over the years, tacked onto my refrigerator door have been precious documents: a drawing Zach gave me for Mother’s Day, Colleen’s A Plus algebra test, Jacob’s third grade Ready Reader award.

And photos, of course. Even through their teens, their baby pictures, curling up at the edges, still graced the door: Zach on a riding horse, Colleen smiling beneath a thick fringe of bangs, Jacob buried in the sand at the beach.

And now, they are all grown up: 35, 33, and almost 30. And stuck with magnets to the stainless steel are Colleen’s Meals on Wheels business card, Jacob’s PAX East Indie Gaming Flyer, and a New York Times review of Zach’s latest film.

And this past year, my refrigerator has become WAY more complicated. Enriched in many ways – but definitely way more complicated. Reunited with Rebecca, my long-lost daughter, I now have four children instead of three. And she has three great children. And my youngest Jacob is now father to his partner’s adorable three young boys.

Pinned to my refrigerator is a greeting card that sums it all up: “I love my weird family.”

A refrigerator is a family’s most boastful appliance. Nothing preaches good news better than a refrigerator.

Clean out the Fridge Simpsons

And on Sunday, when we parade into the pews, that is what we want people to see: ‘our refrigerator best”. The service over, pressed and polished, we follow the scent of java and the cookie-crumb trail to the parish hall, where we boast of our good news. Our boy’s baseball team is in first place. My wife’s promotion. My son just got into the best college. My daughter tiptoed her way to fame at the ballet recital.  All the good stuff.

At coffee hour, we name and proclaim, each of those precious icons we have taped to the outside of our refrigerators.

God-forbid, however, we actually open that door. Open that door to see what lurks in the dark corners of our refrigerators. Moldy stuff. Rotten stuff. Unidentifiable stuff. Freezer-burned resentments. Ice cold anger. Frosty feelings of all kinds. To tell the truth, we’ve all got this nasty stuff in our refrigerators.

But the very last place we want to admit this – is church. Garrison Keillor says that the last place on earth we would ever want to air our dirty laundry is church.

Episcopalians have sometimes been not so nicely called the “frozen chosen.” It is not the Episcopal way to witness publicly to our weaknesses. When people are struggling the most, church can be the most uncomfortable place to be.

When a couple goes their separate ways. When a teenager comes home pregnant. When your nephew has been diagnosed with AIDS. When you lose your job. When you admit to a drinking problem. Church can be downright cold, an unforgiving place.

And Church History is filled with shaming and blaming. We no longer sew ‘scarlet letters’ on sinners’ garments, but we silently assign them in our thoughts. “Thank God”, we whisper in our prayers, “that we are not like them.”

Paul’s point today, in his Letter to the Romans, is we are all like them. We are “them.”

There is a tug of war going on about food, of all things. And judgment coming from both sides: the carnivores versus the vegetarians. Really, the Gentile versus the Jew, in this new thing called “church.”

Paul, humorously, does get in a bit of a dig about the vegetarians. They are welcomed as “the weak.” Jewish-Christians, apparently ordered vegetarian when eating out (or only ate the vegetables at a Gentile dinner party)– to avoid kosher conflicts.

But Christians sharing a table should not eat with one another for the purpose of quarreling over the food – or family traditions, or spiritual differences. Paul counsels his parishioners not to “lord” one’s traditions over the other.

Those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks. And those who abstain, also honor the Lord and give thanks to God.

 Neither is wrong. Both are right. The Lord of Love is “not a divider but a uniter.” (I think I have heard someone say this before!)

But unity is not the same thing as uniformity or even conformity. Healthy disagreement is a good thing. People of faith, family members, neighbors can thoughtfully disagree on all kinds of things. But our disagreements, hopefully, should not be a means to divide and conquer. Instead, our differences can open up windows into one another – to help us see and understand and heal.

Now there is not a soul anywhere who does not limp their way to the communion rail. We might look good, refrigerator good, but we all come to the table broken, cracked, and far from perfect. And if we were a bit more Evangelical, this would be the time for the altar call. And I would ask Ryan to fire up the organ and play “Just as I am.” Coming forward to the table, we would witness to our weakness. We would drop to our knees and confess our sins.

We Episcopalians do this “generally” together in the prayer that we share. But I’d like to end this little homily, with a confession of a different kind, a Celtic prayer.  One that helps us, personally to name and claim all of that nasty stuff in the back of our refrigerator.

Let us pray:

Jesus, forgive my sins.

Forgive the sins that I can remember and the sins I have forgotten.

Forgive the wrong actions I have committed and the right actions I have omitted.

Forgive the times I have been weak in the face of temptation,

and those when I have been stubborn in the face of correction.

Forgive the times when I have been proud of my own achievements,

and those when I have failed to boast of your works.

Forgive the harsh judgments I have made of others and the leniency I have shown to myself.

Forgive the lies I have told others and the truths I have avoided.

Forgive me the pain I have caused others and the indulgence I have shown to myself.

Jesus, have pity on me and make me whole.

Amen.

JoaniSign

 


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May the Circle Be Unbroken

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.

 I confess to you that these are my very favorite Eucharistic words in the Book of Common Prayer. And I know they are seldom heard because they come from Rite One, in the prayer of consecration.  Very few parishes and fewer parishioners hear their priest recite these words much anymore. I cannot even tell you the last time I celebrated he Eucharist with Rite One. But these words resonate with me still, especially, because of the little church I served in seminary – the little church that broke all the Eucharistic rules.

At Grace Church in Georgetown, during communion, the entire community gathered around the altar with hearts all lifted up to the Lord. And the priest and people prayed: And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord ourselves, our souls, and bodies.  Together we blessed the bread and blessed the wine. Together we made Eucharist.

Now Grace is a small stone church nearly 200 years old. It was founded by the hoity-toity, for the riff-raff that worked on the C&O Canal and along the Potomac riverfront. The wealthy churches. Christ Church and St John’s did not want to suffer the discomfort of having the poor in the pews.  So, they charitably set up a church to segregate the poor. But little bitty Grace turned the hoity-toity upside down. You see Grace is in Georgetown but it’s really not of Georgetown. Its home to both street people and business people, artists and schizophrenics, a former prominent Pentagon spokesman and the proprietor of a porn shop across the street, professional families and homeless families.

And at Grace, when it was time to receive the holy host, time for the family to come to the table, the worshippers encircled the altar. They passed the plate from hand to hand. Each tore off a ragged piece of bread: The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Then around the circle the cup would go, tipped one-by-one to the worshippers’ lip. Sometimes dismembered crumbs would fall and float in a bloody pool of wine.

And from the circle, the prayers of these people rose like incense: for friends and family, for the stranger and the estranged, for the faceless and the nameless, for the broken and the battered, for the lonely and the lowly. They offered up their prayers for one and all.

And here we offer and present unto thee O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee…”

Now it is truly amazing and a little-known fact that the Bible freely and often quotes the Book of Common Prayer (SMILE). And these beautiful words from Rite One come directly from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter Twelve, Verse One. The passage has much to say about communion — not about liturgical niceties — but what it means to be in communion, to be in the Body, flesh and bone.

I appeal to you brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. We are one body and individually we are members of one another.

Now the communion circle at Grace was intimate but it was not cozy. The communion circle at Grace was indeed comforting but it was also discomforting.  The communion circle countered Georgetown’s culture.

You might be shoulder to shoulder with someone who had not taken a shower in weeks. You might be passing the peace with people who panhandled in the streets.  You might be drinking from the same cup as the unhinged guy, who talks to himself.

This circle at Grace was a sacred circle. But it resembled very little the circles of influence and affluence outside its doors.

And that is what church is supposed to be. To call us out of the world so that we might witness to the world. And Paul, the circle drawer, tells us how it can be done. Romans 12: 9-21 is a litany of 23 Christian commandments. Paul weaves them together like poetry –  into two paragraphs.  The first paragraph’s commands, hardly any Christian could disagree with: Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer; contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

But in paragraph two, the going gets tougher.  Just to name a few:

Bless those who persecute you.  Bless those who put you down. Bless those who say you don’t matter, who say that you don’t measure up. Bless those who say you don’t belong.

Weep with those who weep.  Weep with those in the depths of depression. Weep with those who live in darkness. Weep with the desperate and the destitute.

Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Associate outside your home-owners association: with the homeless, with the addicted, with the mentally ill.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Not just your neighbors — YOUR ENEMIES – a soup kitchen for the terrorists along with the terrorized.  A soup kitchen not just for refugees but for tyrants.

may-the-circle-be-unbroken-jo-anne-gazo-mckim

Paul, the circle drawer, draws some pretty tough lines in the sand. His uncomfortable words are a call to discipleship, one that demands more than a little sacrifice. Not the easy Lenten stuff, like chocolate, but the really hard stuff.  Can I give up my pride, my selfishness? Can I give up my arrogance and my conceit?  Can I give up my defenses and my prejudices? What will I offer up? What will you offer up? What will we offer up, of ourselves, our souls and bodies, to build up the Body of Christ?

The church is not supposed to be a country club. It’s not supposed to be a gated community. The church is not a Meetup group, either. The Church – capital C –  are the followers of Jesus. And Jesus says: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus gave it all up, once and for all, on a cross at Calvary. And as his followers, we got to  give up a part of ourselves, each and every day. Not to be martyrs. Not to suffer for suffering’s sake. But to give up more than a little, for the healing of the sacred circle, the circle of haughty and the lowly, friends and foe, comrades and enemies, the lonely and the lost, the tearful and the joyful: the gay and the straight, the Jew and the Gentile, the black and the white.

May this Circle be unbroken, bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye. There’s a better way awaiting, Lord, (with your help), if we but try, Lord, if we but try.

JoaniSign