Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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.)


North Star, South of the Border & Good Sam Sunday

Oh Canada, might you be the North Star to our immigration crisis here on our southern border?  A window — an icon — into a more humane way?

The Canucks have done something amazing up there.  Hockey moms, poker buddies, and neighbors have adopted Syrian refugees, one family at a time.

A 2016 article in the New York Times tells the story, highlighted here:

Across Canada, ordinary citizens, distressed by news reports of drowning children and the shunning of desperate migrants, are intervening in one of the world’s most pressing problems. Their country allows them a rare power and responsibility: They can band together in small groups and personally resettle — essentially adopt — a refugee family. In Toronto alone, hockey moms, dog-walking friends, book club members, poker buddies and lawyers have formed circles to take in Syrian families. The Canadian government says sponsors officially number in the thousands…

When Ms. McLorg, one of the sponsors, first met the Mohammad family, she had a letter to explain how sponsorship worked: For one year, Ms. McLorg and her group would provide financial and practical support, from subsidizing food and rent to supplying clothes to helping them learn English and find work. She and her partners had already raised more than $40,000 Canadian dollars, selected an apartment, talked to the local school and found a nearby mosque.

In the hotel lobby where they met, she clutched a welcome sign written in Arabic but could not tell if the words faced up or down. When the Mohammads appeared, Ms. McLorg asked their permission to shake their hands. 

 Abdullah had worked in his family’s grocery stores and Eman had been a nurse, but after three years of barely hanging on in Jordan, they were not used to being wanted or welcomed.  The family had been in Canada less than 48 hours and their four children, all under 10, had been given  parkas with the tags still on. (It’s cold up there!)

As they headed to their new home, Abdullah asked,“You mean we’re leaving the hotel?” And“to himself, he wondered, “What do these people want in return?”

Much of the world is reacting to the refugee crisis — 21 million displaced from their countries — with hesitation or hostility. Greece shipped desperate migrants back to Turkey; Denmark confiscated their valuables; and even Germany, which has accepted more than half a million refugees, is struggling with growing resistance to them. Broader anxiety about immigration and borders reverberates across the globe.

Reverberating urgently here in the United States, as well, but…

Just across the border,  the Canadian government can barely keep up with the demand to welcome them.

“I can’t provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them,” John McCallum, the country’s immigrations minister said.

No matter your politics or policy opinions, no one can doubt there is a crisis on our southern border. Illustrated poignantly in the heartbreaking drawing of a child, the tragedy hits home.  A crush of humanity: men, women, and children fleeing political unrest and violence in Central America have overwhelmed our immigration system.  And by our government’s own accounting, by the Inspector General of Homeland Security, detention center conditions are abhorrent: overcrowded, unsanitary, unsafe and unimaginable.  The United States has detained thousands whose only crime is legally seeking asylum. Legally seeking security and safety. The safety and security, we take for granted.

Drawing by a migrant child at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

Which makes this story from north of the border seem almost like a fairy tale.

What the Canadians are doing is not without risk, of course. It is far from easy. It’s messy, and complicated, and expensive. There are no crystal balls to know ten years from now – how this will all play out. While the Canadians vet the immigrants the best they can, there is no guarantee there are not bad apples among them.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Good Samaritan

But this is the cost of compassion — the story of the Good Samaritan writ large. 

And if anyone were to ask in this global village – in this world of ours – what is the “essence” of our faith?   Jesus has the answer, his answer to the lawyer’s question in the Gospel of Luke.

 “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

“Do this and you shall live.”

“But who is my neighbor?”, the lawyer asks.

And Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, probably the most familiar parable in all of scripture.

“And which of these three, do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

“The Samaritan” – the lawyer replies – “the one who showed him kindness.” The Samaritan — a despised foreigner, a believer of a rival creed. The Samaritan crosses the road, reaches deep into his own pockets and binds up the stranger’s wounds.

And what are we to do?

That not so famous theologian, Kurt Vonnegut, in his book, A Man without a Country, recounts an encounter with a young American from Pittsburgh, who asks: “Please tell me everything will all be okay?” 

 And Vonnegut replies:

“Welcome to Earth, young man. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside Joe, you have about a hundred years here. There is only one rule that I know: Goddamn it, Joe, you’ve got to be kind.”

Simplistic? Naïve?  Well according to Jesus, being kind can make all the difference in the world.

The priest and the scribe flee the scene, but not the Good Samaritan.  He is kind beyond words.  And in our current crisis, we can be too.

Charity Navigator is a helpful resource. They report: The recent news of children being separated from their caretakers at the border of Mexico and the United States highlights the need for a larger conversation about families fleeing their homes, communities, and countries in the wake of famine, social unrest, persecution, war, and environmental disasters. Highly-rated nonprofits advocate for and provide relief to refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless groups around the world. They seek to provide for individuals basic needs like food, water, and shelter while advocating for policies and legislation that will address the root causes of this crisis.

First is very close to home, our very own —

Christ Church Refugee Ministry – Three years now, Emmanuel has shepherded three different Afghan refugee families.  Join the Care Team – which helps with everyday needs such as clothing, doctor’s appointments, and household needs. Or donate dollars to the cause, Christ Church Refugee Ministry currently helps 29 families here in the City of Alexandria. 

Second is Mother Church: Episcopal Migration Ministries provides resources for education, advocacy and direct relief and assistance to migrants and refugees. In 2017, EMM resettled more than 4,000 refugees from 34 countries in 30 communities across the country. 

And there are many other organizations working on frontlines to address this crisis: the Texas Civil Rights Project, The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Church World Service, Oxfam America and UNICEF USA, are just a few.

May this Sunday, July 14thbe Good Sam Sunday, to do something tangible and concrete.  May God grant us ample compassion to cross the road to bind the stranger’s wounds – the stranger who is our neighbor – no matter where they come from.

And  so, let me end this post with a prayer from the BCP,

O God, you made us in your own image: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and races may serve one another in harmony, in your name. Amen.


64 is the New 46!

An alchemist am I.

In the medieval sense, an alchemist is a philosopher who takes what is base and spins it into gold. A scientist in pursuit of the elixir of life.

Yep, that’s me, fits me to a “t.” But alchemist also fits in the 21st century sense.

According to my EVO Planner, this is how my brain is wired.

Alchemists gravitate toward the abstract and theoretical. They prefer experimenting with their ideas in the real world, and develop a lot of their key ideas while interacting with other people. They are mostly focused on the future and the possibilities it holds.

Ah, music to my alchemist ears: focused on the future and all the possibilities it holds.

I am about to turn 64. Can you believe it? (Here is where you say, “No, you could not possibly be turning 64!”) And vanity has made me ever grateful for my mother’s genes – people have mistaken us both in our lifetimes for a bit younger than we actually are.

64 is two times 32, right? And if you ask me that is how I feel. Two rocking 32 year olds – with a peacock feather streak of color in my gray hair. (Thank you, Olivia at Salon de Zen.) I am not my mother’s or my grandmother’s Oldsmobile, so to speak.

And 64 for me is far larger than my 46. Not simply numerically but expansively. Sure, I am 17 years older but I am also, 17 years more evolved, 17 years more alive than I have ever been.

At 46 I actually faced some of my most difficult days. My marriage imploded. The church where I was rector crashed down around my ears. In my darkest of days, it actually hurt to open eyes and it seemed better perhaps if I no longer did.

But this darkness led me to light.

I took a two-week cruise on the good ship Dominion in 2003. I actually LOVED being on the psyche ward. It totally saved my life. And it set me on a 16 year trajectory of redefining and reclaiming, resurrecting and reimagining who I am.

With God’s help, of course, I am a person of faith. But also with more than a little help from friends and family and therapists and work.

And….

I am going to tell you the truth (not to sound conceited.) The biggest help to me was me. Me, myself, and I.

I have made a bazillion daily decisions over the last 6,0205 days. Each a little choice, each a small turn in the direction of my future and not my past. Step by step by step, the steps add up until a few small steps add up to one enormous leap. A leap into the fullness of my life.

And I am grateful for the sun that has come up everyday and thankful for every breath that I have been blessed to breathe – that have brought me happy and whole to this day.

So 64 is the new 46! And in no particular order, let me count the ways.

  1. Coffee.
  2. Colored pens.
  3. Shelves full of books.
  4. A closet full of dresses.
  5. Half a dozen pairs of walking shoes.
  6. A dog named Bailey.
  7. Two Tabbies: Cheshire & Charlie.
  8. Baptizing babies.
  9. Performing on stage.
  10. Six million rounds of the rosary.
  11. Walking in God’s great outdoors.
  12. Three half marathons.
  13. Three little pills I take each night.
  14. Three years with Sondra on the therapist’s couch.
  15. Ten years prior with Mary.
  16. Four rocking adult children: Rebecca, Zach, Colleen & Jacob.
  17. Four gospels to preach.
  18. An office to call my own.
  19. Colleagues who are more than colleagues.
  20. Coworkers who have become friends.
  21. Digital connectivity in cyberspace.
  22. Gathering folks in God’s name.
  23. Regular dips in the pool.
  24. Fire in my fireplace and pillows to rearrange.
  25. My soul sister, Mical.
  26. My soul brothers, Neal and Chuck.
  27. A little bit of chocolate every day.
  28. Canadian sister Maureen, big bro Tim & baby brother Joseph — age 58!(and maybe the other siblings, too.)
  29. Story District: Invisiblia, 2nd Tuesday & Top Shelf.
  30. Grandchildren: Bella, Jude & Meir; Zhen, Zakai & Zellie.
  31. Great-little-nieces: Virginia & Astrid.
  32. DNA, genetics, and ancestry.com.
  33. A writer’s life: 151 posts @ Unorthodox & Unhinged.
  34. A big red bike I barely ride.
  35. Being Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity at EEC.
  36. Pie (my favorite food group) at Killer ESP.
  37. A full refrigerator with food ready to eat.
  38. Christmas that lasts at least a month.
  39. Birthdays that last at least a week.
  40. Saturday Night Live on a Sunday afternoon.
  41. Cult related documentaries, articles and books (Think Wild, Wild Country and Going Clear.)
  42. Excursions to The Porches, the Oakhurst Inn, Mandarin Oriental and the Line.
  43. Sharing my hometown library, the largest library in the world: LOC.
  44. The rhythm and color of the liturgical year.
  45. Singing an off key soprano whenever I can.
  46. And coffee. Did I say coffee?

64 is the new 46!


Raising Hell for Heaven’s Sake

Phillips Brooks, Episcopal Bishop of Boston in the late 19thcentury, known for his inspiring oratory, famously quipped.

“You preach to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

If you didn’t quite catch that let me repeat it.

“You preach to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

And woe is me, woe are we.  Jesus, in his sermon from a level place on the plain, is inflicting pain on the rich as he raises up the poor, as he raises up the hungry.

Remember Jesus quoting Isaiah, in the synagogue? 

“I have come to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, and sight to the blind.”

Now he preaches to the would-be disciples, to the people gathered there.

“Blessed are you who are poor…. Woe to you who are rich.”

“Blessed are you who are hungry…Woe to you who are full.”

This is not the smoothed over, tame version in Matthew,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness.”

This is not Jesus meek and mild. This is Jesus radically wild. 

To be poor in the flesh, not just in the metaphorical spirit, is measurable, but not always visible. And though we may not acknowledge it, we walk past the poor every day. With those cardboard signs. With the paper cups jingling with coins. Pushing grocery carts or carrying backpacks with all their worldly goods.

Some of you may have tasted real poverty. Maybe many of you have skated close. In the recent 35-day government shutdown (and I pray to God there not be another), you may have inched closer. 

Government workers, reminiscent of the Great Depression, stood in bread lines. Having to choose between food or medicine. Heat or shelter. Back to work, people are still behind on their bills. And the contracted workers who clean the buildings and work in the cafeterias and mow the lawns, will never see a month’s worth of back wages. They are farther behind still.

The difference between being a home owner and becoming homeless is a just a lost paycheck or two or three – that includes about 80% of everybody in the United States.

Still most of us have never slept on the street or under a bridge.

When I was in seminary, I worked at Grace Church in Georgetown. It’s located on Wisconsin Avenue on the edge of the C&O Canal. Grace was founded in the 19thcentury by the hoity toity Christ Church up the road. They wanted a place for the riff raff to worship without disturbing their upper-class sensibilities. 

So, Grace was founded on the evangelical values of service to the poor. At Grace, they could find food and clothing and a place out of the cold – without cluttering up Christ Church’s pews.

This mission has long defined Grace. When I worked there, Grace was home to the Georgetown Ministry Center staffed by one and a half professional social workers. They worked with the homeless population who camped out in the church yard. To give them a mailing address for their disability checks. To get a shower, and clean clothes. To get help finding a job. For the mentally ill and diabetic, Grace was a place to get their meds. For those who struggled with substance abuse, Grace was the place for 12-step meetings.  Many of these homeless had also served our county in Vietnam and in the Gulf War.

While David Bird, the rector, was away for a month in the summer, I was left in charge. The Ministry Center had weekly meetings on the church steps to listen to the needs of the real poor people right in front of us. We listened to their concerns and complaints, suggestions and ideas.

There is the stereotype of the grateful poor, and these resourceful homeless men and women, did indeed thank us for our noblesse oblige. Appreciative for the basic needs of life: food, clothing, shelter. But I will never forget one particular meeting, where a gentleman stood up to dress us down.

“You know,” he said, “we feel very welcome here during the week, Monday through Friday.  But the most unwelcoming of days here is Sunday. On Sunday, we feel left out, locked out of this church. What are you afraid of? Open these god damned red doors!”

And so, we did, no thanks to me or to the social workers, but thanks to the homeless themselves. Give us this day our daily bread — for body and for soul.

They joined us in Bible Study. They joined us in the choir. Jay-Jay, a schizophrenic sang the most unusual and beautiful descants. They gathered in the circle with us for communion. And of course, they came to coffee hour, which at Grace was a holy meal and a sacrament unto itself. They joined us for caring for one another — on a level place.

They turned our comfortable places in our comfortable pews, upside down. And we were blessed by them so much more than they were blessed by us.

Here at Emmanuel, blessed are the poor, blessed are the hungry.

Carpenter’s Shelter Breakfast and Dinner.

The Alive Food Panty.

Bag Lunch Program for the Homeless.

Meals on Wheels.

Hunger Free Alexandria.

Our stomachs full, Emmanuel is very mindful of the empty stomachs in our own backyards. It costs us very little to toss that extra jar of peanut butter, box of cereal or can of tuna into our shopping carts. 

But Jesus today asks us for much more. Capital “M”, much more. Not just to feed the five thousand but to turn over the rocks and examine the nasty, negative forces that keep the poorest poor and the richest rich. Culturally. Economically. Concretely. Personally. 

Four hundred Americans at the top of the ladder own more than 150 million at the bottom combined.

Combined.

Why is that? What do we do with that? Locally. Globally. I don’t have any easy answers. I am asking for myself as much as for you. 

Blessed are the poor, plain and simple, says Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain.

The kingdom of God, here is not heaven in the great by-and-by, not that delayed gratification and reward for the grateful poor.

But the kingdom of God, in the words of Jesus, is this world, our cozy and comfortable world turned upside down.

A world where the words of the poor are gospel. Where the voices of the poor are heard.

So, for heaven’s sake, let’s consider how we can dig down, dig deeper, and let Jesus actually afflict us, more than just a little. Let the words of Jesus, dig into us, dig up and turn over our comfortable places in the market places. So, in turn we figure out how to comfort those truly afflicted, the poor and the poorest of the poor.

Let’s pray that we figure out what in heaven’s name we can actually do to turn this world upside down. 

What kind of hell are we going to raise — right here, right now – to bring about the kingdom of God?

Today, tomorrow what are you going to do?


Celtic Crazy: Boudicca, Brigid & Fidelma

Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile.  

I have made four pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as steeped as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people.

And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)

Let me recount just a few of the things that connect me so deeply to my Celtic ancestors.

They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They wove the sacred into their most ordinary of chores. They hallowed each and every very hour of each and every day with prayer. Their sanctuaries are the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwell their streams and inhabit their oak groves. Holy winds blow on their most remote islands and holy waves crash on their island’s shores. Every little blade of Celtic green grass practically shimmers with the divine. Well almost.

Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the Celts were a nomadic people who probably practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many. The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power. What’s not to like?

And this brings me to Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen.

Boudica, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudica’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped.

No one would have blamed Boudica, if she gave into defeat and despair. But hell no, Boudica rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9th Legion, destroyed the Roman capital and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers.

There was bloodshed beyond measure and Boudica was eventually beaten back. It is said she took her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudica is buried.

But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.

And so this brings me to  Brigid.

In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare.

Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint. For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord.

And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles.

The Roman Catholic  Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had  put in her rightful and inferior place.

Until there was Fildelma.

The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictitious and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar turned mystery writer, pen-named Peter Tremayne.

Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of history and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare, and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf  are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby.

Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked.  Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”.

Who says women can’t have it all?

Boudica. Brigid. Fidelma. When feeling the need to slay a dragon or two – or just feeling a touch grandly grandiose — who better for my bipolar brain to channel than the spirits of these holy three, this Celtic and oh so feminist trinity. Boudica — queen, warrior, widow, mother and savior of her people. Brigid — goddess, abbess, priestess, bishop and saint. Fidelma — princess, sister, lawyer, detective and murder mystery solver. Their icons and statues grace my halls and walls. Their books and biographies fill my bookcases. I have embraced their stories and made them my own.

It may seem silly, but to tell you the God’s honest truth, I believe these three women are kin to me. And oh my this little trinity has given me the energy  to get my warrior on — from time to time.. And so I believe myself to be their sister – their soul sister. Joani, the soul sister of Boudica, Brigid and Fidelma. Crazy, huh?

Yes, Celtic crazy. And you can celebrate this craziness, too.

Come join me Sunday, February 3rd for a Celtic Eucharist at both 8:00 & 10:30 AM, a between the services forum on Women in The Celtic World at 9:15 AM, and an “Irish Coffee” Hour in the Parish Hall with an Irish Step performance by the Boyle School dancers! Emmanuel is the place: 1608 Russell Road Alexandria, VA.

Wear green!!


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The Haunting @ the House of the Redeemer

Boo!

I love a good ghost story, do you?

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

On yellow paper, Shirley Jackson typed  these mysterious words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House of Redeemer lit up at night.

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

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

 No problem.

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

My hazy memory recalls something like this…

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

Spooky, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O my, yes, I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What kind of ghosts?

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

So many ghosts trying to find their way home.

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

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

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

Boo!

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


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Expansive Language; Enlarging Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair warning!

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

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

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

Here’s a sampling of the changes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments?  Questions? All welcome!

JoaniSign

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