Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


2 Comments

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


4 Comments

The Littlest of Prophets

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I have been a bleeding-heart liberal from my earliest days. A teenage rebellion, I am sure against my tastefully conservative Republican mom and dad. A straight A student, I rebelled in hippy dippy 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 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 our 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. 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 sexual 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 truth. God’s truth.

Martin Luther King Jr as a boy“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 in ‘nigger-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 down town department store called him a nigger 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 Promised and Privileged Land.

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

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, Buechner says. Telling the emperor, he has no clothes is a thankless job. After his fairy tale like call to become a prophet, Samuel delivers some pretty bad news to his father in God. Eli, God is going to bring down your house. These were not sweet nothings, but some very nasty news that God was whispering in Samuel’s ears.

And the prophecy business is dangerous work. With God hiding in the shadows, Buechner continues, 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 do not have the guts to pay for ourselves.

But….

But God whispers in our ears just the same. Niggling, annoying words, taunting us to rise up out of our lazy beds. To witness and to speak up for our brothers and sisters marginalized now, even as we speak.  We live in challenging times – in a time where neo-Nazism and white supremacism are on the rise. We live in a time when hate crimes against our Muslim brothers and sisters shamefully increase. We live in a time, where we barely know how to speak to people across the political divide. We live in a time when the privileged cross the street to avoid the poor by the side of the road.

My Christian brothers and sisters, in God’s eyes, this will not stand. Let’s dredge up the strength to reach down, way down, deep down and find the courage and the compassion to be a prophet – even if it be the littlest of prophets. Like Samuel, here now in 2018.

And so aptly let us pray the Collect of this Day:

Almighty God, by the voice of your prophets, you have led your people out of slavery and into freedom; Grant that your Church, following the example of the prophet Martin, may resist oppression in the name of your love; and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

JoaniSign


Leave a comment

Hallowed

Leaves turn color. Yellow, red, orange, brown.  Dry, they fly and fall from the sky.  Carpeting the ground, like parchment, they crackle under foot. You can hear them. You can smell them –  the mustiness of the earth.

 Hist whist little goblin. Hist whist little ghostling.

It is that time of year again. As night falls, the veil between the worlds is torn. Spirits freely move between heaven and earth, between this world and the next. Lanterns are lit  and treats set out to guide home the wayward souls.  On this, O Hallowed Eve – the day we call Halloween.

 All Hallows’ Eve, even more than All Saints Day was a high holy day at my house.  It was just about the only holiday, as a clergy person, that I did not have to work. My children, specifically my son Zach, each year would transform our front porch into a haunted space. With paint and props, spidery cob webs, gooey pumpkin slime, fake blood and guts and plastic body parts.  One year the porch became Dr. Frankenstein’s workshop. Another year (my favorite),the porch became Hotel 666, where you checked in but could never check out.

all_hallows__eve_by_lhox-d5hoe82

Trick or Treaters flocked to our front door with their paper sacks and plastic pumpkins.  And we always gave out the good stuff. No Dumdums lollipops but chocolate. Especially chocolate! All Hallows Eve. Ah Holy Day.

And then, the next day, and the one after that, were holy, as well. All Saints Day, November 1st. All Souls Day, November 2nd.  Growing up Catholic, the communion of saints enveloped my childhood. Christened in the name of Saint Joan, I was doubly sainted once confirmed. I chose Saint Veronica for her musical, four-syllable name.

And on All Saints Day, after church, it was my family’s tradition to visit Cedar Hill Cemetery, a holy place planted with Peacocks for generations.  My mom would bring grass clippers and flowers to tidy up our grandparents’ graves.  My siblings and I would play between the headstones – racing down the hill to the pond where we fed the ducks.  And before we got back into the car, we’d say a little prayer for all of those souls who had gone before.

And we little Catholics, we clutched our holy cards close to our chests. Other kids collected baseball cards; we collected holy cards — the MVP’s of the heavenly host.  In these holy persons, the worlds collided: heaven and earth got all tangled up.

We were, after all, standing in a cemetery. One must die to reach the other side.

The snippet from Revelation, which pictures the great multitude from every from every tribe and nation, from all races and language, is often read at funerals.  The day we die is also the day we rise – our resurrection day. And if a saint, our saint’s day, too. My Book of Common Prayer is scribbled with the names of those I have buried these last 23 years.

I am the resurrection and I am the life says the Lord, whoever has faith in me shall have life.  And as for me I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my waking, he will raise me up, and in my body, I shall see God.  I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.

And according to the Book of Revelation, we all get a chance to sit  at the  foot of the throne.

Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power be to our King forever and ever! Amen.

And how in heaven, do we possibly end up here?  A miracle?  A healing?  An exorcism?

In the Catholic scheme of things, to merit a halo, not only do you have to be a pillar of virtue in life — you also must be a miracle worker in death.  In the Episcopal Church, it’s different. Organized like bicameral Congress, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies,  meet every three years. Candidates are nominated for their virtue, for their resemblance to Christ. Then we vote. Yes, vote.   If elected, the new saints gets a date on the liturgical calendar. A lesser feast, so to speak.

And really good news, saints don’t have to be saints all of the time. Every saint is also always a sinner. So, some Anglican saints might surprise you. There are the usual suspects, of course. The Mary’s, the martyrs, the apostles.

But also, including the likes of:

Johannes Sebastian Bach, composer of sacred music.

Charles Wesley, 18th century  writer of 6,000 hymns.

Florence Nightingale, 19th century nurse and social reformer.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and suffragette.

Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.

Blessed be all those, whose lives shine  — with the light of the beatitudes.

And blessed be who for you?  Of those who have gone before?

Browse the obituaries. Stroll through a cemetery. Scour your memory. Read biography. Read history. In whose footsteps, do you pray to follow?  On whose shoulders, do you hope to stand? Who else might join that great procession — when the saints go marching in?

When the saints go marching in.

JoaniSign


1 Comment

A Most Taxing Life

April 15th.  Not everyone’s favorite day, right?

I am oblivious to things financial. I am not very good with money.  A little mania and my wallet oepns and empties quickly – so many lovely shiny things to put in my shopping basket!

In my 28 married years, while I was the primary breadwinner, I was not the primary bill payer. Bill paid the bills, managed our budget, and did our taxes. And I was grateful. You start talking interest rates, IRAs and annuities, and I glaze over. My eyes roll back in my head.

Mind you, I was glad to pay the taxes. For the fire fighters, and the police, and teachers, and snow removal, and street repairs. Render to Caeasar whatever it is I owe. Just don’t make me acutally have to do the math.

But when my divorce became final in 2003, that division of labor ceased. So, what was I to do?  Well, I am woman, of course.  Hear me roar. I can figure this out. And isn’t that what Turbo Tax is for?

So, I would fill in the blanks that popped up on the screen. And I would fudge the answers to the questions that I did not know. And I would pay to Uncle Sam whatever Turbo Tax told me to pay.

Turns out, that due to the vagaries of the tax code, regarding clergy,  I WAY, WAY over paid my taxes for at least five years. I had rendered unto Caesar, way more than the Internal Revenue’s fair share.

I got an accountant. I got some of it back.

Humbling as that experience was, being a preacher by profession, it got me to thinking: What do we owe Caesar? What do we owe God? This, of course, is the infamous trick question posed to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 22.

‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?’ The Roman tax was levied annually on harvests and personal property, and was determeined by the census. Administered by Jewish authorities, it placed heavy burdens on the impoverished people of first century Palestine…and at least once, had provoked a rioutous protest led by Judas the Galielian.

 If Jesus answers ‘Yes’ to the question, he risks alienating the oppressed Jews of occupied Palestine. If he answers ‘No’, he risks being accused of rebellion against the empire.      (Richard Spalding, Feasting on the Word)

 Inspired, he does neither.

 They handed Jesus the coin used for the tax.

‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’

‘The emperor’s.’

‘Give therefore, to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.’

 On face value, it sounds like Jesus is neatly dividing our civic duties from the religious ones.

But as one scholar says, “Jesus is not tidying, he is testing.”  Rather than separate and parallel spheres of responsibility, the sacred turns the secular on its head.

The human face of God stands before them that day in the synagogue. This walking, talking, feeling, breathing and undivided God. This God on earth, just as he is in heaven, as above, so below.

The Pharisees and Herodians expected a partisan answer. A political answer. Instead Jesus gives a faithful one. Rising above politics, there is really nothing more radical than a life of faith – faithfully lived.

So what does Jesus have us render unto God?

Love.

And what does Jesus have us render unto neighbor?

Love.

And likewise, what does God ask us to render even unto ourselves?

Love.

Not loosey, goosey, sappy, sentimental love.  But beatitude love.

Blessed are the poor; Blessed are those who mourn;  Blessed are the peacemakers; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake —  love. Render the love, preached from the Sermon on the Mount.

So. I wracked my brain trying  to come up with a story – an illustration to make this  gospel real. A lving, breathing illustration that could breathe some life into these ancient words.

And what I came up with is the story of my mother’s cousin, Charlie Liteky,  laid to rest just this past year at the age of 85.

On a recvent visit to my brother’s house, Tim retrieved from the bottom of  a box of family photos, a yellowed newspaper clipping. It told a story, I had long forgotten

1968, November 19th,  The Washington Post. “Chaplain Liteky receives Medal of Honor”  –  the headline reads. Printed along side is a photo of Lyndon Johnson pinning the medal to my second cousin’s chest.

How could I have forgotten about my mother’s cousin: an army captain, a Vietnam chaplain, a war hero, a Catholic priest who left the church, married a nun, and advocated for peace?

Leaving my brother’s house that day, I went home and Googled my cousin– and found out more – so much more.

I found a 2009 article, written by one of his comrades in arms, that helped me fill in the blanks.

“It’s 1967, with his battalion ambushed in a rice paddy, Chaplain Liteky gives last rites to the dead and dying, often walking upright and dodging bullets. He carries more than 20 wounded from the battlefield to safety.”

“There is so much blood, he’ll smell it to the day he dies.”

In 1968, the President rewarded him for his bravery and  pinnned the medal to his chest.

And fourteen years later, in 1986, he gives the medal back. “At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Charles Liteky becomes the first person in history to give up the Medal of Honor. Cameras click as he kneels before the black wall covered with the names of the dead.”

Liteky photo on capitol steps

And that same year,  he fasts on the Capitol steps. “Liteky is gaunt and burning with hunger. For six weeks, he and three other veterans have starved themselves protesting Reagan’s policies in South America. After 46 days, with one of them near death, they finally eat.”

In 2001, “inside a federal penitentiary…Charlie Liteky turns 70. It’s his second time in prison following protests outside Fort Benning where the U.S. trained Latin American officers accused of atrocities in their countries.”

“In 2003, in Baghdad, Charlie Liteky is there with other protesters for peace, bearing witness to what he calls an unjust and an unwise war.”

My cousin’s military comrade says, “Talk for Charlie was cheap. He had to do more than write a letter to Congress or a letter to the editor. He had to put his body on the line.”

 Not for the front-page headlines. Not for fifteen minutes of fame.

But to render unto Caesar, what he believed Caesar was due. And to render unto God, what he believed his God required of him.

An ex-priest, an ex-Catholic, a former chaplain, Charlie would have told you that he was  far from perfect. A lifelong witness to God’s truth, his mission had cost him his faith – in the traditional meaning of the word.

“But I have tried to live life to the truth as I see it at the time,” he said. “That’s a very costly thing; I’ve lost a lot. I’m an ex-lot of things. But what remains? I hope, integrity.”

His was a remarkable life. An unorthodox life. A life with which you might disagree. For the choices that he made. For the actions that he took. But in my personal experience,  I have known of no one’s life so embroiled in the struggle to be both faithful to his country and faithful to his God.  And wiling to pay the price for it.

Dear Readers, you likely know of many others. This faith stuff is so much easier said than done.

Literally dumbfounding. Gobsmacking dumbfounding.

So how do we  render unto Caesar, that which is Caesars? And to God, what is God’s?

By trusting in God’s love,  I believe, in God’s justice.  We can try wrestling some angels and tackling more than a few demons in this crazy and most taxing of worlds.

In the flesh. In faith. In love.

One day at a time.

JoaniSign

 


Leave a comment

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

 


4 Comments

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


4 Comments

The Third Peacock

Middle child of six siblings, this third Peacock often got lost in the crowd.

Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Girl. Boy. Our six birthdays, from the oldest to the youngest, spanned just nine years.  No wonder my mom could barely keep us straight.

Maureen. Tim. Joani. Bernie. Clare. Joseph. She would rattle through our names till she found the one that fit.

It’s me, mom. It’s Joani. Remember me?

And with six kids in the suburbs, it was no wonder that my mom made use of all the help that she could get. My Grandma Cady, my mom’s mom, would cook, make lunches, and help get us off to school. My dad was a doctor, a surgeon, so we could afford to hire help. Cornelia cleaned, Cora did the ironing, and Sonny, Cornelia’s brother did all the heavy lifting.

Outwardly, we all appeared neat and tidy, organized and orderly. But that was so not the case. My mom’s bipolar disorder, along with my dad’s addiction to work, wreaked havoc on our home.

But we six kids, whether because of our circumstances – or in spite of them — compounded the chaos tenfold.

There was a lot of yelling, screaming and name calling. Middle child, I learned to keep my head down. Middle child, a translator at the bargaining table, I tried to keep the peace.

As much, as any little kid could.

the third peacock book cover

And there was more than just a little competition. Who has to do the dishes.  Who gets to sit up front in the car. Who gets first crack at the Oreos – when my mom got home from the store.

Our birth order was also our pecking order — but often in reverse. My grade school idea of fairness was quite literal. I remember sneaking down the stairs, on Christmas Eve, after everyone had gone to bed, and counting the packages under the tree. Invariably, Baby Brother Joseph always got the most.

Always.

Joseph, was the most beloved, it seemed. Too little for household chores. Too adorable to be held accountable. He could always hide behind my mother’s skirts.

Or so it seemed to me.

Who wouldn’t want to murder their little brother? Or throw him into a pit? Or sell him off for twenty pieces of silver?

This is the story of Joseph. Not my baby brother Joseph. But Joseph of Genesis. Joseph, one of the great novellas of Hebrew Scripture. Joseph, the youngest and most favored son of Jacob. The one who got the awesome coat.  Baby brother Joseph, who did not endear himself to his siblings.

An angst filled family story of biblical proportions.

Joseph was seventeen years of – shepherding the flock with his brothers. Joseph, the apple of Jacob’s eye, put his brothers in a bad light. He ratted them out for some unnamed offense. And Jacob rewards him for betraying his brothers — with that amazing technicolor dream coat. The child of his old age, he loved Joseph best of all.

His brothers hated him for it. They could not even spare him a peaceable word.

Jacob sends Joseph out to find where his brothers are keeping the sheep. Before the distance is closed between them, the siblings conspire to do their little brother in.

Here comes the dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into a pit.

We’ll tell dad a wild animal devoured him.

No, the eldest counters. Let’s just steal his coat, go with the pit and not kill him.

It being a waterless pit, this was Joseph’s brothers’ singular kindness.

Callously, they sit down to eat – while up comes a wandering band of Ishmaelites – nomads and merchants on their way to Egypt.

This inspires in Judah, another of the brothers, a very profitable idea.

Let’s sell him to the highest bidder!

So, they pull him out of the pit and hand him over for twenty pieces of silver.

 Joseph, the youngest, the interpreter of dreams, quite ironically is put in the middle. His protective father behind him – ahead, his brothers plotting his demise.

They could all use a little family therapy, don’t you think?

So, could we all.

Our families of origin. Our communities of choice. Our workplaces. Our psychic spaces. Our social circles and political cul-de-sacs. We all tend to hang out with our own tribe. The folks who look like us and think like us and agree with us.

All could use a little family therapy.

Yahweh does not rescue Joseph from the pit – at least not in the swoop down from heaven – Deus ex machina — way. Instead, God, quite providentially, leaves his children –- including us — to our own devices. The devices, God has equipped us with. By our wits, by our skills, by our gifts — to work out this family squabble on our own.

To literally appeal to our better angels.

Three weeks ago, July 21st, the Washington Post reporter, Colby Itkowitz wrote:

On a Wednesday evening, Donna Murphy joined about 30 people in a nondescript basement…for a Better Angels’ “skills workshop” to learn the fundamentals of how to have difficult conversations, to bring Democrats and Republicans together for a three day Better Angels dialogue.

 Better Angels began as a civics experiment in rural southwest Ohio several weeks after the election. With the emotions of the campaign still raw, a room of 21 strangers, ten who voted for Trump and 11 who voted for Clinton spent an entire weekend together talking.

 They listened. They debated. They vented. There were tense moments and emotional ones.

 After 13 hours of discussion, the participants did not change their views but left with a softened view of the other side.

 Better Angels went on a thirteen-city summer tour to promote this red-blue dialogue – to facilitate conversations across a deep political divide.

 The program is the brainchild of David Blankenhorn, a Republican, and onetime opponent of same sex marriage – who later changed his position after a friendship with a gay man changed his mind.

 The group takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, will swell the chorus of our Union, when again touched, as surely, they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Blankenhorn concludes:

 “One consistent message we’re getting is, there are strong disagreements, but we’re not as far apart as we thought we are. There is passion and disagreement…but the main takeaway is that this is good, this kind of talking with — rather than at or about – our political opponents is good for us and good for our country.”

 Some of these groups have decided to meet on a monthly basis. Some not. But meeting even once like this could be a really good idea, don’t you think?

A really good idea, we could put into practice here in Alexandria.

Maybe?

On behalf of Emmanuel, I have sent Mr. Blankenhorn an initial inquiry of how, as a parish, we might sponsor a Better Angels training weekend in our own backyard.

Just a possibility that could come to pass early next year.

A way to equip ourselves, as sisters and brothers, to speak and to listen to one another in love.

Let’s think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it.

The third Peacock, in me, wants to believe that we can work towards healing our tribal divides.

This middle child wants to believe that we can work towards putting aside our self-righteous needs always to be right.

Dear God, please, help us to both temper and to tame

the destructive side of our, all too human, sibling rivalries.

JoaniSign