Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


“God Keeps No One Waiting Unless It Is Good for Them.”

Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.

When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”

No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient.

Waiting for Santa, Circa 1960

Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.

Point, click and shop till you drop.

UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue or an Amazon.dot.com drone will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.

Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts, errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.

Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.

Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists (No, not Millennials, Millennialists!) wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.

Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)

Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.

But no one came.

Be patient, beloved, be patient.

Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it.  After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?

Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.

The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.

Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.

When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.

It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.

So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.

We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.

And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.

Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)

Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?

Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.”   — Isaiah 11:1-10

Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.

How do we tread this waiting-way? Well, here at Emmanuel, we have a little home grown devotional, Waiting Rooms: Poetry, Scripture & Icons for Advent. I am also leading a conversational class, God of the Cosmos & God in the Cradle on the four Sunday mornings of Advent at 9:15 AM between the services. Cocktails, Mocktails & Carols, Saturday December 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM joyfully previews the birth of the child. And Contemplative Christmas: A Taize Service of Evening Prayer, December 15th at 6:00 PM quietly anticipates the light of the coming Christ.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit breathe life into our weary souls; that Christ’s light penetrate these dark days of December.

And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,

Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and wonderful world.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

JoaniSign


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Waiting Rooms: Poetry, Scripture & Icons for Advent

In the Waiting Room, Anica Govedarica

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  — Lamentations 3:25

Introduction

So much waiting and so little time. During the four short weeks of Advent, Christians anticipate both a baby being born and the end of time. Our faithful cousins, the Adventists, live in anticipation that the Second Coming is coming soon. They keep rescheduling the momentous day. Jesus, however, is on a different calendar.

We Anglicans (Episcopalians) are incarnational folks. It is Christmas that we are waiting for.  God takes an enormous leap of faith to be born as a babe in the manger. Vulnerable, tiny and in need of love. That Second Coming thing is a far off and nebulous thing to us.

But in a single tick of the clock, God infuses the fullness of time. 

Life is what happens while we are waiting, right? Waiting for the alarm to go off. Waiting for a downtown bus. Waiting for paint to dry and the dryer to buzz. Waiting at the dentist’s office and in line at the grocery store. Waiting for a loved one to come safely home.

Waiting on love. Waiting on hope. Waiting on faith.

Waiting on God and waiting for the Child. 

This little book marks the 24 days of Advent. Each with an artistic image, a quote from literature, and links to the Daily Office readings for the season.  Twenty-four days to wait until the time is ripe and for the kingdom to come.

Blessed Reading,

The Rev. Joani Peacock

December 1st: Waiting for God

Union Station, Winston-Salem, NC

‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the psalms, for God often keeps us waiting. He is in not such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.  — J.I. Packer

Daily Office Readings: Amos 1: 1-5, 13:2-18, 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11, Matthew 24:36-44

December 2nd: Waiting in Line 

The Right Checkout Line, OMG Facts

I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.  — C.S. Lewis

Daily Office Readings: Amos 2: 6-16, 2 Peter 1: 1-11, Matthew 21: 1-11

December 3rd: Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Ring-a-Ding

While waiting for her to phone me at school, I’d feel seconds bursting inside me and leaving clouds. That won’t come again – it can’t. I’ll never have that with anyone else. I’ll never even come close. —  Helen Oyeyemi

Daily Office Readings: Amos 3: 1-11, 2 Peter 1: 12-21, Matthew 21:12-22

December 4th: Waiting for the Bread to Rise

The Second Rise, Fine Cooking

When God brings a time of waiting, and appears to be unresponsive, don’t fill it with busyness, just wait.  — Oswald Chambers

Daily Office Readings: Amos 3: 12-4:5, 2 Peter 3:1-10, Matthew 21: 23-32

December 5th: Waiting on Hope

Waiting on Hope, Mary Sanders

As long as I can fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight with hope, then I can wait.  — Paulo Freire

Daily Office Readings: Amos 4: 6-13, 2 Peter 3: 11-18, Matthew 21:33-46

December 6th: Waiting for the Light to Change

Bike Messenger Waiting, Stotsky United

The street to my left was backed up with traffic and I watched the people waiting patiently in the cars. There was almost always a man and a woman staring straight ahead, not talking…First the signal red, then the signal was green. The citizens of the world ate food and watched TV and worried about their jobs or lack of the same, while they waited. — Charles Bukowski

Daily Office Readings: Amos 5: 1-17, Jude 1-16, Matthew 22: 1-14

December 7th: Waiting on the Clock

Railway Station Clock

Finally – we know this – life’s little wisdom is to wait… and the great grace that is bestowed on us in return is to survive. – Ranier Marie Rilke

Daily Office Readings: Amos 5: 18-27, Jude 17-25, Matthew 22: 15-22

December 8th: Waiting for the Weather to Change

A Change in the Weather, John Sloane

Everybody is waiting for cooler weather – and I am just waiting for you.  — Bob Dylan

Daily Office Readings: Amos 6: 1-14, 2 Thessalonians 1: 5-12, Luke 1: 57-68

December 9th: Waiting on Eternity

Waiting on Eternity, Rachel Kaufmann

You have to imagine

a waiting that is not impatient

because it is timeless.  — R.S. Thomas

Daily Office Readings: Amos 7: 1-9, Revelation 1: 1-8, Matthew 22: 23-33

December 10th: Waiting for When the Time is Ripe

Farmland in Yamhill County, Oregon

G’morning.

Consider the headache that waits for caffeine.

Consider the silence that waits for music.

Consider the shoreline that waits for the tide to come in.

Now consider what YOU’RE waiting for,

And what simply what won’t wait anymore.

G’night.

Consider the heartbreak that waits for relief.

Consider the treasure that waits for discovery.

Consider the crops that wait for rain.

Now consider what YOU’RE waiting for.

And what waits for you while you wait.  — Lin-Manuel Miranda

Daily Office Readings: Amos 7: 10-17, Revelation 1: 9-16, Matthew 22: 34-46

December 11th: Waiting for News, Good or Bad

Waiting, Wall Street Journal

To be in a long-term state of limbo, not knowing the outcome or length of waiting time, is utterly, shatteringly exhausting.  — Tanya Marlow

Daily Office Readings: Amos 8: 1-14, Revelation 1: 17-2:7, Matthew 23: 1-12

December 12th: Waiting for the Plumber

Emergency Plumbing

When is it going to happen? How long do we have to wait? When does construction begin? Jesus’ response was ‘It is not for you to know the times that the Father has set… In other words, it’s none of your business. Your question is irrelevant. That kind of information is no use to you. It would probably confuse you, might discourage you, and would certainly distract you. – Eugene Peterson

Daily Office Readings: Amos 9: 1-10. Revelation 2: 8-17, Matthew 23: 3-26

December 13th: Waiting for Someone Who Never Returns

Photo by @HOWWLS

I will be waiting for you at the end of every blind alley, under the lonely streetlamps that will no longer be ours. When the wind grows colder, and the huge piles of settled leaves sit there for a week of two…I will be waiting for you. I will be waiting for what could have been and for what will never be; for the letters that never arrived, the letters that were never sent, and the letters that will never be written. – Malak El Halabi

Daily Office Readings: Haggai 1: 1-15, Revelation 2: 18-29, Matthew 23: 27-39

December 14th: Waiting for the Light

Gamma Ray Burst, 12 Billion Years Ago captured by NASA

Truth is the offspring of silence and meditation. I keep the subject constantly before me and wait until the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light. – Isaac Newton

 Daily Office Readings: Haggai 2: 1-9, Revelation 3: 1-6, Matthew 24: 1-14

December 15th: Waiting for the Storm to Pass

Phoenix Monsoon, Arizona Republic

I hold my home and I store my bread

In little jars and cabinets of my will.

I label clearly, and each latch and lid

I bid. Be firm till I return from hell.

I am very hungry. I am incomplete.

And none can tell when I may dine again.

No man can give me any word but Wait,

The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;

Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt

Drag out to their last dregs and I resume

On such legs as are left to me, in such heart

As I can manage, remember to go home,

My taste will have turned insensitive

To honey and bread old purity could love. –– Gwendolyn Brooks

Daily Office Readings: Amos 9: 11-15, 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-3, 13-17, John 5: 30-47

December 16th: Waiting on a Train

Women Waiting at Pennsylvania Railroad

The loudspeaker on the wall crackles, hisses, and suddenly announces, in astonishingly soothing tones, that a train is going to be delayed. An ocean-swell of sighs ripples through the waiting room.  – Andrei Makine

Daily Office Readings: Zechariah 1: 7-17, Revelation 3: 7-13, Matthew 24: 15-31

December 17th: Waiting to Grow Up

Vector of Growing Up Human

All this waiting.

Waiting for the rain to stop.

Waiting in traffic.

Waiting at the airport for an old friend.

Waiting to depart.

Then,

There’s the big waiting;

Waiting to grow up. Waiting for love.

Waiting to show your parents that when you have kids, you’ll be different. 

Waiting to retire. Waiting for death.

Why do we think waiting is the antithesis of life, when it is almost all of it?  — Kamand Kojouri

Daily Office Readings: Zechariah 2: 1-13, Revelation 3: 14-22, Matthew 24: 32-44

December 18th: Waiting for Life to Begin

Woman Waiting on a Cliff, Marsha Lince

Deep in her soul, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she would gaze out over the solitude of her life with desperate eyes, seeking some white sail in the mists of the far-off horizon. She did not know what this chance event would be, what wind would drive it to her, what shore it would carry her to, whether it was a longboat or a three decked vessel, loaded with anguish or filled with happiness up to the portholes. But each morning when she awoke, she hoped it would arrive that day…  — Gustave Flaubert

Daily Office Readings: Zechariah 3: 1-10, Revelation 4: 1-8. Matthew 24: 45-51

December 19th: Waiting on Love

I’ll Be Waiting for You

He was waiting, I think, for me to cross that space and take him in my arms again – waiting as one waits at a deathbed for the miracle one dare not disbelieve, which will not happen.  — James Baldwin

Daily Office Readings: Zechariah 4: 1-14, Revelation 4: 9-5:5, Matthew 25: 1-13

December 20th: Waiting for a Loved One to Come Home 

Window, Marta Syrko

Usually you appear at the front door

When you hear my steps on the gravel,

But today the door was closed.

Not a wisp of pale smoke from the chimney.

I peered into a window

But there was nothing but a table with a comb,

Some yellow flowers in a glass of water

And dark shadows in the corner of the room.

I stood for a while under the big tree

And listened to the wind and the birds,

Your wind and your birds,

Your dark green woods beyond the clearing.

This is not what it is like to be you,

I realized after a few magnificent clouds

Flew over the rooftop.

It is just me thinking about being you.

And before I headed back down the hill,

I walked in a circle around your house,

Making an invisible line

Which you would have to cross before dark.  – Billy Collins

Daily Office Readings: Zechariah 7:8-8:8, Revelation 5:6-14, Matthew 25:14-30

December 21st: Waiting in the Dark

Lights on at Night? NPR

I sing to use the waiting,

My bonnet but to tie,

And shut the door unto my house;

No more to do have I,

‘Till, his best step approaching,

We journey to the day,

And tell each other how we sang

To keep the dark away.  – Emily Dickinson

Daily Office Readings: Job 42:1-6, 1 Peter 1: 3-9, Isaiah 48: 8-13, John 14:1-7

December 22nd: Waiting for the Dawn

Waiting for the Dawn, Imre Amos

So, through endless twilights I dreamed and waited, though I knew not what I waited for. Then in the shadowy solitude my longing for light grew so frantic that I could rest no more, and I lifted entreating hands to the single black ruined tower that reached above the forest into the unknown outer sky. And at last I resolved to scale that tower, fall through I might, since it were better to glimpse the sky and perish, than to live without even beholding a day.  – H.P. Lovecraft

Daily Office Readings: Genesis 3: 8-15, Revelation 12: 1-10, John 3: 16-21

December 23rd: Waiting for the Water to Break

The Nativity, Julie Vivas

All along I’d vaguely assumed the emptiness and the pain meant I was doing something wrong, but maybe it was all just part of the process so something new could be born. First the barrenness, to make space. Then the pain, which is the only way to birth.  — Stephanie Rische

Daily Office Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20, Titus 1: 1-16, Luke 1: 1-25

December 24th: Waiting for the Child

The Nativity, Julie Vivas

There are words in the soul of a newborn baby, wanting and waiting to be written.  — Toba Beta

Daily Office Readings: Baruch 4:36-5:9, Galatians 3:23-4:7, Matthew 1: 18-25

Merry Christmas!

NOTE: Beginning Sunday, December 1st, paper copies are available in the narthex at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Road, Alexandria, VA.


All Hallows’

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, All Hallows’ 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, cob webs and pumpkin slime, fake blood 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; not Dumdums lollipops. Yuck, no! But chocolate. Especially chocolate!

All Hallows’ Eve. Ah, Holy Day.

And then, the next day, and the one after that, were also holy. All Saints Day, November 1st. All Souls Day, November 2nd. Growing up Catholic, holy souls enveloped my childhood. Christened for Saint Joan, I was doubly sainted once confirmed. For my “confirmation name” I chose Veronica — for her four melodious syllables.

And on All Souls Day, after church, my family would visit Cedar Hill Cemetery, a holy place, planted with Peacocks over many generations.

 While my siblings and I played among the headstones, my mom clipped the grass and left flowers at our grandparents’ graves. Afterward we would race down the hill to the pond and toss breadcrumbs to the ducks.  

And before we got back into the car, we’d say a little prayer for all of those who had gone before. All those saints and souls, both great and small. For all these holy persons, in whom heaven and earth got all tangled up.

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

The day we die is also the day we rise. And if a saint, it is our saint’s day, too.

In the margins of my Book of Common Prayer, in pencil, are the scribbled names of many souls whom I have laid to rest these past 25 years.

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 the One whose name is above every name, counts us among the guests of heaven.

Most of us are saintly in a lowercase “s” kind of way. But this Sunday, November 3rd, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, saints with a capital “S.”

So, how do we earn one of those? Who gets to wear an official halo and how?

Well, in the Roman Catholic scheme of things, to be canonized, not only do you have to be a pillar of virtue in life — you also have to be a miracle worker in death. 

Happily in the Episcopal Church, it’s different. Modeled on the United States Congress, we have both a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies,  who gather every three years at Convention. The Standing Liturgical Commission (Episcopalians love committees!) nominate candidates for their resemblance to Christ. Then the members of both houses vote. Yes, vote!   If elected, the new saint 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 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, maestro of sacred music.

Charles Wesley, composer of 6,000 hymns.

Florence Nightingale, nurse and social reformer.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and feminist.

Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.

Blessed be all those who have gone before us, whose lives have shone with the light of Christ.

Be they a lowercase saint or a capital one.

May we also be counted in their number.

When the saints go marching in.

JoaniSign


The Middle Way or “Why can’t we all just get along?

Middle child, born and bred, my DNA has directed, no, better said; my DNA has dictated my lifelong passion for peace-making.

Having grown up in a cacophonous household, ripe with arguments, petty and small, I would try to negotiate family conflicts. As an act of self-preservation mostly, I was a kid, after all.

Like a United Nations foreign language interpreter, I tried to translate for both sides of the opposing parties:

Maureeen/Tim/Joani/Bernie/Clare/Joseph is not upset because you wanted to borrow their toothbrush/toys/clothes/gadgets. S/he’s upset because you didn’t ask. Maureen/Tim/Joani/Bernie/Clare/Joseph is upset because you didn’t say ‘please’.

And pretty-please, I would pray, that this little conflict would go away.

It is no wonder, that when I grew up, I found a “middle way”, my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.

Photo by Liesl Testwuide

The Middle Way, the Via Media, is not the mushy meaningless way. It is not the path of least resistance. It is the uniquely Anglican tradition that affirms both our catholic roots and our commitment to reform. Standing on the shoulders of saints, we look to the past for guidance and to the future with hope.

The Episcopal tradition bridges many a divide. Recognizing our neighbors, to our left and to our right, we worship together in the pews. And during these times that so try our Christian souls (to borrow a phrase from Thomas Paine), Anglicanism embraces myriad ways to be faithful.

Remember the late Rodney King’s 1992 rallying cry? In the aftermath of the LA riots, sparked by his own racially charged and violent arrest, he implored the crowds:

“People, I just want to say to you, can we all just get along…I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it.”

To work our conflict out, not to ignore it. Though many of us, myself included, would prefer for all this contentionness to just melt away.

But, we can work it out (to borrow a lyric from the Beatles!) The Book of Common Prayer invites us to do the same. On page 304, the Baptismal Covenant draws a map of the Middle Way.

“Will you seek and serve all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

“I will, with God’s help.”

Way easier said than done! How can we “walk this talk” in an everyday way? How can we translate these churchy words into a conversation at our kitchen tables?

Well, a Dutch startup has devised one creative way. Not a religious resource, but a human one, the company has come up with a very good idea.

And just in time for the holidays, which will be here before we know it. Lots of in-laws and outlaws coming into town! Loved ones we disagree with and who disagree with us!

Small talk can only get us so far, as we dance around our differences. Gingerly, we try to avoid the pitfalls and stepping on landmines, right? How do we start a conversation, and not a fight?

Well, you can play Vertellis’ game: Tell Me More.There are multiple versions, for relationships, families, coworkers. And now, there is a holiday edition!

A step above Trivial Pursuit, the game “involves thought-provoking questions that invite everyone to share fun memories, inspiring goals, and meaningful stories. It results in deeper conversation that makes everyone feel more connected. It draws people closer.”

In a no-phone-zone, you can “drop the rocks” and listen to everyone around the table in a more open-hearted way. Conversation is a key, science tells us, to the “happiness factor.” We humans are highly social creatures, after all, seeking meaning wherever we go.

Who wouldn’t want to create a little order out of Thanksgiving or Christmas chaos? Who wouldn’t want a little help to build a few bridges between young and old, right brain and left brain, traditionalist and trailblazer, introvert and extrovert, vegan and carnivore, Republican and Democrat.

So, I invite us all, Anglican or not, to walk this Middle Way, to seek and to serve and to listen to all the crazy people around our holiday tables. Praying that no matter how annoying, we may cherish them, as much as, we cherish our self-righteous selves!


The Unreachable, Incorrigible, but Ultimately Teachable People of God

With the threat of Babylon breathing down his people’s back, the prophet Jeremiah comes out swinging:

For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil and they do no good.

Yes, he really says stupid children. Hitting them over the head with a two-by-four to get their attention.

And the poet, who penned the 14thPsalm, is no less upset:

The fool said in his heart, “There is no God.” All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none that does any good. Everyone has proven faithless, all alike turned bad, there is none that is good, not one.

Yes, there is none that does any good; the writer writes twice for good measure.

So much for the words of the prophet. So much for the wisdom of the psalms.

It seems we are all incorrigible, unreachable and unteachable fools.

Welcome back to Sunday School!

Once upon a time, there came the earthly Jesus to reach and teach the lost: that rowdy crowd of tax collectors and sinners who listened at his feet. And as he often does, Jesus tells a parable to help them understand. The double parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. While, all the while, the powers-that-be grumble and grouse behind his back. 

And after he was dead and gone and risen from the tomb, the job of reaching these lost sheep – fell to his followers.  In the synagogues, in peoples’ homes, in the marketplaces, the disciples told the stories of Jesus. And Jesus’ words spread by word of mouth from parent to child, from village to village, and town to town.

But before the stories were forgotten, Jesus’ disciples decided we better write this stuff down! So, a generation after Jesus, the writers we call Matthew, Mark, Luke and John penned their four versions of the Gospel (a brand-new word that meant Good News).

But even before the Gospels, there was the apostle Paul.  A lost sheep of God, he writes to Timothy.

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

His letters reach and teach the earliest Christians of the ancient world.

And kind of like seminary, it took three years in the Catechumenate to become a full-fledged Christian – before you could be baptized on Easter Eve.

And if you could not read – the mosaics on the walls, holy icons on wood, the stained glass in the church windows — would be your teachers. Art and faith have long been intertwined in the catholic (lower case “c”) tradition.

Centuries on, we fast forward to the Protestant Reformations (plural) in the West.  With the invention of the printing press, scripture was translated into native tongues. Catechisms came to be. And hymns were published, set to pub tunes and drinking songs. Brand new ways to reach God’s lost sheep.

So, please be seated!  (A phrase not heard in church before!)

Another revolutionary breakthrough was the invention of pews. Yes, pews! Now, you could sit to hear the Word of God preached in your own language. Now you could stay after the service to learn a thing or two — the 16th  Century version of a Sunday morning forum.

The root word of Protestant is protest. It was an affirmation that faith had become a personal quest. Catechisms of all kinds were compiled to answer Christians’ questions.

When I was in high school, I did protest too much! Encouraged by my Jesuit educated father to question absolutely everything, I was discouraged from asking questions in religion class at Immaculata Prep. Sister Mary Clare told me in no uncertain words to stop. And I quote:

“Joani, you have to stop asking questions. You are confusing the other girls. And this is why: You are intellectually gifted but spiritually retarded.”

Yes, a direct quote!

My questions led me away from my childhood faith. While quite ironically, these same questions gained me early admission to Catholic U. There I became a philosophy major where I could ask all the questions I wanted — the answers be damned. 

And I did not darken the door of a church again for a very long time.

Until, as the story goes, I was led by a little child, or really two. Good friends of ours invited our little family; my ex, our toddler and baby to attend Advent services at Immanuel-on-the-Hill.

(Yes, the other Immanuel is my home parish!)

A few weeks in, the rector asked me, “Would you like to teach Sunday School?” 

“No”, I said, “that would be crazy! I am just figuring this new church thing out for myself.”

“No experience necessary!” the rector says, “You can do it!”

“Alright.” I reluctantly reply.

So, I enrolled my three-year-old and myself in the preschool class.  It was pretty loosie-goosey. There was no set curriculum. So, I used the only children’s bible that I knew: the stories of Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. The tales of two good and faithful friends. Little parables of comfort, encouragement, joy and forgiveness. With lots of pictures and simple text.

But as my children grew, so did my Sunday School repertoire. I began to read the Bible (the actual Bible) seriously for the first time in my life. No pictures, complicated texts and compelling stories of all kinds.

I was filled with wonder, yes. Wonder that took the form of questions. Lots of questions.

Blessedly I was at Immanuel on-the-Hill, an Episcopal community, that welcomed my questions. It was a fertile place for inquisitive souls. They actually had a thing called School for the Spirit.  In small groups we wrestled angels together, seeking after God.

And I got to this faithful place simply by signing up for Sunday School!

How has God sought you out? What person, place or thing led you here? Just how did you get to church, really?

Maybe following in the footsteps of your parents. Maybe a friend. A pastor from your past. The author of a book you could not put down.  A moving speaker. An encouraging teacher.   A camp counselor.  A youth group leader. Maybe even a Sunday school teacher.

Sunday, September 15th, Emmanuel will celebrate all of the above. Thanks to the awesome ministry of Toni Buranen, we will commission six-teams-of-four Sunday School teachers and a quartet of God & Donuts’ leaders. Prayers will rise, like incense to the skies, for this new year of learning. For all the inquisitive minds and inquiring hearts and for all their questions, we’ll ask God’s blessings upon them all.

And after church, there is an Open House. Take a tour of the classrooms. Meet the teachers. Register your young ones. And maybe even volunteer yourself to go on the quest.  No experience necessary!

(And remember, if I could do this once upon a time, surely so can you!)

Grownup questions, of course, are also welcome! Adult Spiritual Formation has forums and films  and plenty more exciting things planned for the coming year.

Stay tuned!

(And if you’re new to Emmanuel, we’d love to have you visit! Services are at 8:00 & 10:30 AM. We’re located in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, VA at 1608 Russell Road.)


Heavenly Coffee, Heavenly Feast

When I was growing up, there was a pecking order at the Peacock house. It played out in different ways.  It would be sounded out every time my mom called for one of the six of us. She would recite a litany of our names from the oldest to the youngest: Maureen, Timmy, Joani, Bernie, Clare, Joseph. One of us was bound to show up. This pecking order was also on display at our dinner table — or should I say dinner tables

Each evening at dinner time, my parents ate in the dining room while my brothers and sisters and I were relegated to the kitchen.  My parents’ table was set with Lenox china and Waterford crystal. While the kids had Melmac Plastic and Flintstone Jelly Jars. Sometimes my parents even ate different food: Beef Wellington on their plates, fried chicken on ours.  We actually had to serve my parents their dinner first before we could sit down to eat ourselves. Even on vacation the ritual was observed. My parents would dine at a fancy restaurant and leave it to my older sister to schlep us to a cafeteria.

These table arrangements taught me a lot. I did not learn much about food, but I did learn to know my place.

Such is the story of Babette’s Feast, a 1987 film based on the 1950 short story by Isak Dinese and set in the 19th century. Maybe you have seen it.  It tells the tale of Phillipa and Martina, daughters of a protestant pastor in a little village in the north of Denmark. Their father’s strict religious discipline shaped not just their lives but the life of their community. There was not much joie de vivre going on in the little village.

A very possessive father, he prevents his daughters from marrying.  And even after his death, to honor him, the sisters feel bound to carry on his austere unhappy ways. 

One stormy night, a woman, a political refugee from Paris shows up on their doorstep. They, reluctantly take her in.  She is called Babette and she is very grateful for their hospitality. In exchange for food and lodging, Babette agrees to take care of the two aging sisters. She keeps her promise and cares for them for many years to come.

Then one day, a stroke of luck befalls Babette.  Every year since she has left, a Paris friend, has purchased a lottery ticket in her name.  Babette wins a small fortune and is beside herself with joy.  She decides to throw a feast for the sisters and the little village that took her in. The neighborhood buzzes with excitement but the sisters worry. Will Babette leave us when the feast is done?

Babette, in a frenzy prepares for a feast — the likes of which this little peasant village has never seen.

But the sisters and the locals have a dilemma on their hands.  According to their dear departed father, such a feast is sinful, gluttonous. Their religion is about fasting not feasting.  They don’t want to hurt Babette’s feelings, so they do accept her invitation to the feast.  But they intentionally decide that they will not enjoy it! Absurd, right?  (Party poopers, one and all.)

Ah, but Babette has worked her culinary magic. She was a chef in a former life before she sought refuge.  She knows how to throw a party. She spares nothing and cooks up some awesome food. Every single villager, from the highest to the lowliest, gets swept up in the excitement of it all.  Even the dour sisters cannot help but join in. Someone starts to sing a hymn. And then another someone says, 

The stars have moved closer tonight.”

But the sisters hang their heads. Surely Babette, with her fortune made, will be leaving them now.  “I cannot leave you” Babette declares “I don’t have a penny left. I spent it all on the feast.” 

After all the food is gone, after all the money is gone, the village is not poor. They are enriched by the little community communing round the table. 

In Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus communing with some Pharisee friends on the Sabbath.  A scholar writes:  Jesus is certainly preoccupied with eating. Not only does he imply that some think he is a glutton and a drunkard (7:34); there are in Luke more references to eating, banquets, tables and reclining at tables than in any of the other Gospels. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4)

At his friend’s table, in intimate gatherings, Jesus teaches, spins parables, and hangs out with a motley few. But for a wedding feast, Jesus needs a really big table where you pull out all of the leaves to extend it as far as it is able.  To make room for all that food and all those chairs and all of those unexpected guests – especially the uninvited ones.

Jesus’ table is where the last are welcome as the first. There is no seating chart. The have’s do not get better seats than the have-nots (though not for lack of trying!) There are no dueling dining rooms like there were at the Peacock house. Jesus’ table is a healing place where divisions cease. Divisions, between rich and poor; black and white; male and female; gay and straight; refugee and native born; maybe even Democrat and Republican!  

Sounds like a table only Jesus could set, right? A fantasy feast only possible when the kingdom comes. But the kingdom also comes to kitchen tables. 

Has the kingdom come to your house? 

Just how many of your grade schooler’s soccer friends, how many of your spouse’s random coworkers, how many of your college student’s roommates, how many of your in-laws’ outlaws, just how many more strangers can you squeeze in around your dining room table? I am not talking about Martha Stewart here — I am talking about biblical hospitality — the thankless kind! Ha!

And what about that larger table? The Lord’s Table. Here, every Sunday, we break bread and share the cup with those who are different than us, disagree with us, and who are new to us.  (Make no mistake, despite outward appearances, there is a lot of diversity sitting in Emmanuel’s pews.)

And what is true of communion, is certainly true for coffee hour. Or at least it should be!  

Coffee hour is not a church invention, it was a marketing scheme cooked up by coffee companies to sell more coffee. In the 1950’s, companies like Maxwell House and Chase & Sanborn gave away free coffee urns and free coffee samples to churches. Instead of just shaking the pastor’s hand as you headed out the door, you could linger after the service and get to know your neighbors. 

Coffee Hour (Capital “C”, Capital “H”) is a nearly universal Episcopal tradition.

With a little caffeine, coffee hour can help you climb out of your comfort zone. I bet dollars to donuts, there are people you share a pew with each week who maybe you have not ever really met.

Don’t be shy. Walk up to someone you have never talked to before and introduce yourself. Pour them a cup of coffee, have a conversation. Appreciate what you have in common. Respect any differences. Laugh at each other’s jokes.

Coffee Hour is a sacrament, you know, Holy Communion by another name. A place where everyone is welcome – whether you drink coffee, or not.

(And today at Coffee Hour, you can also purchase some Fair Trade Singing Rooster coffee to help support our partner parish, St. Croix in Leogane, Haiti.)

So, let’s toast the Great Feast of Jesus, and lift a cup-of-Joe in thanksgiving for everyone crowded around this crazy table. 

And in the words of Saint Brigid, let us also pray,

 I would like a great lake of the finest ale for the King of Kings. I should like a table of the choicest food for the family of heaven. Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith and the food from forgiving love. I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children. I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy. Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place and the sick dance with the angelsGod bless the sick.  God bless the poor. God bless our human raceAll homes, O God, embrace.  Amen.


Remembering Mork: The Inner Sanctum of Outer Space

Five years ago, Robin Williams, gifted actor and comedian left this world by his own hand. The world was incredulous. How could a person so full of light struggle with such darkness? He was Mork, right? The hysterical alien who took up residence in Mindy’s attic.

We loved this lovable visitor from outer space. Weekly, he traversed the universe to inhabit our TV sets. But it was Mork, the out-of-this-world persona that we knew – not the personal inward workings of Robin Williams.

He died on August 11th of 2014. Three days later I posted this. U&U was just a few months old back then. A few of you may have read it but most not. And so, I am posting this update to honor and to remember this remarkable soul.

You are only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” Robin Williams said.

So….

In 1966 the universe  — namely my universe —  tilted.  Thursday nights at nine o’clock on NBC, I boarded the U.S.S. Enterprise. “Space, the final frontier” called to me.. This was a mission, this little missionary, could barely conceive of – to “explore new worlds, seek new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Well I was “no man”. I was an awkward eleven year-old, a little Roman Catholic cosmonaut. Star Trek sounded like heaven to me. So in 1966, this little Trekkie was born.

I am a Trekkie still — a closet Trekkie.  I don’t go to conventions or dress up like a Romulan or speak Klingon, but I am still quite an officianado of Star Trek – especially the original Star Trek. I have all 80 episodes on DVD and a commemorative edition that came with a fluffy, purring, pink Tribble. I dorkily have plastic action figures of the crew, including the Captain and his coffee pot. Nothing could clear the room quite so quickly at my house as when I hunkered down to watch the reruns marathon style.

(An extended ritual I go through about once a year! I am especially fond of the episodes where the brazen and brash Captain James T. Kirk quite literally loses his shirt.)

This 1960’s series is still  a great solace to my dorky soul. While the cast and crew battle the unknown forces of the universe, I am comforted by the plethora of “M” class planets. “M” class planets are scattered all across the Milky Way and each one is capable of sustaining human life. I think “M” stands for miracle. Miraculously even the aliens speak English. The 430 crew members may be  “Lost in Space” but they are  never ever really far from home.

Star Trek was light years ahead of its time. Light years ahead of the space operas that came before it. But it is missing something that those quaint and quirky sci-fi series deeply understood. What is it like to truly be a stranger in a strange land?

My Favorite Martian blinked off the air the same year that Star Trek blinked on. Exigius, the exo-anthropologist from Mars crashed his one-man spaceship in Hollywood Hills. Stranded, he was taken in by a newspaper reporter who passes him off as Uncle Martin. (Sitting on the biggest story of his lifetime!)

Weekly Uncle Martin tries to keep his antenna down and and stay undercover. The going gets difficult though — especially when he breaks out in Martian mumps and measles. Things get crazy and confused. The laugh track prompts the television audience exactly when to laugh.  And the audience does as they are told. They laugh in all the right places not just because it is funny but because somewhere inside them it feels kind of true.

“Being a stranger in a strange land” was a sure fire formula for sit-com success. After My Favorite Martian came ALF – the furry Alien Life Form from  Melmac with an appetite for cats. 3rd Rock from the Sun debuted in 1996 with a house full of  extraterrestrials disguised as a college professor, a curvaceous military expert, and a teenager. And of course, there was the hilarious 1970’s series — Mork and Mindy.

Mork, from stardust he came, to stardust he returns.

Mork – the world of course knows – was played by the manically comic and the manically gifted Robin Williams. And on August 11th of 2014, the world was stunned to learn that Mork had died by his own hand. After battling a lifetime of depression and addiction, he succumbed to the darkness.  Mork hung himself quite literally from a metaphorical tree, the frame of his bedroom door. And the whole world wept for the loss of this amazing man who never failed to make us laugh.

So how could this possibly be? He was hilarious. He was happy. He was a comedian beyond compare. He was “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Patch Adams”. He was our ever-shining star of stage and screen.

But even stars run out of fuel. Even stars implode. Even stars turn dark.

Mork’s mood disorder – likely bipolar disorder  — was the demon that plagued him most of his life. Depression and its companion mania are commonly misunderstood. Happiness and sadness are ordinary human emotions. They ebb and flow with the ups and downs of everyday life and they ebb and flow in  us all.

But different in kind are the moods that manifest themselves in the heights of mania and in the depths of. depression. It’s not about being happy or sad; it’s about the size of your universe. On the up side you are exploring the galaxy with Captain Kirk. On the downside you can barely climb out of your black hole.

Barely is the operative word. While those who live with depression struggle to get out of bed —  they, in fact, regularly do. The effort it takes  to change out of your pajamas can be painstaking. Brushing your teeth can feel like a burden.

And yet — even so — depressed folks get to work on time. Depressed folks work hard and get promoted. Depressed folks run companies. Depressed folks run marathons. And depressed folks also run like crazy to escape their depression. Depressed folks are very good at disguise. Depressed folks are marvelous actors. They have to be.

And this is how a star implodes. Every last little bit of fuel is exhausted. Every energy source is completely depleted – be it physical, spiritual, or emotional. And you are Lost in Space. The universe may be expanding but so does the void within you. You have absolutely nothing left. Today is an unthinkable burden and the thought of tomorrow is unbearable. And you go to bed not wanting to wake up anymore.

You believe yourself a “foreigner and a stranger on earth….looking for a country of your own” (Hebrews 11:13-14) A country not of this world.

People tell you to be patient; that the pain will subside; the crisis will pass. But you do not believe them. How could they possibly know if they haven’t suffered so? You just want it to be over, now and forever more. So in the depths of despair people take their own lives. In the U.S. more than 47,000 people in 2017 died at their own hand. 23,851, virtually half, by firearms.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is no greater taboo – than suicide — a taboo that sorely needs to be brought out into the open and talked about.

Difficult as it may be, we need  to speak this truth in love. When we believe a loved one, family member, coworker or friend is thinking of hurting themselves  — we need to ask them just that. With compassion and concern: “I am worried about you. I have noticed (whatever you have noticed) and I want to ask if you are you thinking about hurting yourself?

It’s a myth that discussing and naming a loved one’s suicidal thoughts — puts these thoughts into their heads. Not true. Directly asking a person whether they are thinking of suicide can save that person’s life. Mentioning it out loud can be an enormous relief. Mentioning it out loud allows your loved one to name and claim the demons that haunt them.

If your loved one answers yes – or if you believe the answer is yes — then call 911. Stay with them until help arrives. Don’t be afraid to appear foolish or wrong. You cannot diagnose your friend but you can perform first aid, call an ambulance and get them to  professional help. And if you need help finding the words — sign up for Mental Health First Aid.

In ages past, the Church classified  suicide a mortal sin, denied the dead burial in sacred ground, and condemned the sinner to the fires of hell. Christianity was not alone in its error.

Historically in Judaism, suicides were also segregated in cemeteries and the dead buried with lesser rites. Islam views suicide as the gravest of sins and anathema to eternal life. Muhammad says that anyone who throws themself down from the mountain will eternally be falling into the depths of hell. For Hindus, suicide violates the code of “ahisma”, the code of non-violence and one who takes their own life will forever wander the earth as a ghost.

Blessedly for Christians  — and believers of other kinds —  this theology is mostly no more. But old beliefs die a hard death. Its seems virtually beyond belief that anyone could still believe in such a cold-hearted god – a god so devoid of compassion. But people still do. So  —  biblically speaking  — let me speak to the matter of suicide and how God decides the disposition of our souls.

Frederick Buechner writes: Saul may have fallen on his own sword; Judas may have hung himself from a tree. Out of the depths of despair, both may have condemned themselves to hell. But God did not.

God  understands the depth of despair because  God himself has been there. Our God knows what it is like to lose his own life — to be emptied with nothing left to give. God knows what it is like to lay down his life and to lift it up again. That the whole world would taste and see that God is good.  Be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, Scientologist, Wiccan, Agnostic, Atheist, Romulan, Vulcan, Klingon, Earthling, or none of the above.

We may be lost in this space and in this time, but lost to God — NEVER.

At least, that’s the God I believe in. And It’s the same God I believe that Episcopalian Robin Williams believed in, as well.

From stardust he came. To stardust he returned..  All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Nanu! Nanu!