Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Christening & Coloring Outside the Lines

Clergy love baptizing babies. It is our favorite thing under the sun to do. At Emmanuel over the past five years, umpteen new little people have been welcomed into the family of God. This coming Sunday we are welcoming two more!

Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer begins with these familiar words:

There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.

These words are ancient and deep and recognized by Anglicans all over the world. But the only thing required for a “valid” baptism, a baptism that will be recognized by the vast majority of Christians, is that when you pour the water over the baby’s head, you pour the water in the name of the Trinity.

While baptisms in the Episcopal Church are Sunday morning affairs, there are exceptions to the rule. Pastorally, the priest may make accommodations for unorthodox circumstances.

I have done baptisms in the great outdoors. I have twice baptized babies at home and once in the hospital. I even once baptized a nervous young groom who was about to be married at my kitchen table. Each has its own story.

These are the Christenings, as a liturgist, where I have colored outside the lines.

This summer I have the great joy of baptizing a new little family member. This little one will be baptized in her parents’ living room surrounded by family and friends. Family and friends who come from a variety of Christian traditions or no tradition at all.

Baptism is about welcome and inclusion, not who is in and who is out. There is room for EVERYBODY at God’s table. So for this occasion, I crafted the following liturgy — freely and wildly adapted from the United Church of Christ.

As an Episcopal priest, I can’t use this service on Sunday mornings but it’s a great baptism-on-the-go for those occasions outside of the traditions and trappings of church.

So, here you go!

Opening Hymn    Morning has broken (Everybody can sing the Cat Steven’s hymn!)

Introduction
Following the tradition of Jesus who welcomed children into his arms, we welcome NAME into the World.

Fully respecting the diversity of all gathered here, we affirm the love of God made known in him/her and the sacredness of the covenant shared between this child, his/her parents, grandparents, godparents, family and friends, to support him/her as she grows in hope and love.

Questions of the Parents/Family
Do you desire to have NAME baptized?  We do. 


Will you encourage NAME to learn from the wisdom of the prophets; doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with him/her God? We will.


Will you foster in NAME both a love of God and love of neighbor, that he/she may seek and serve the good in all people? We will.


Will you nurture his/her enquiring and discerning heart through all of the seasons of his/her life? We will.


Will you journey with him/her to discover all the wonders of God’s work found in Mother Earth? We will.

A Promise of Assent
Jesus calls us to welcome children into the full life of connection and community, opening our table and hearts to those most vulnerable, offering the wisdom of the ages to all who hunger for truth.

Do you, who witness and celebrate with NAME today
promise your love, support, and care?

We promise our love, support and care.

Affirmation of Faith

Do you believe in God
the Source, the fountain of life?
I believe in God.

Do you believe in Christ
the Servant, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth?
I believe in Christ.

Do you believe in the Spirit
the Guide, the liberating wellspring of life?
I believe in the Spirit.

Prayer Over the Water & Baptism
We thank you, God, for the gift of creation made known to us in water and word.
Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life.
In the time of Moses, your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land.
You have come to us through water in the stories of Jesus who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb, baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, and became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and sent them forth to baptize with water and spirit.
Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water. With this living water, bless all refreshed, quenched and renewed here with the gift of new and resurrected life. Amen

By what name will this child be called?
NAME.

I baptize you NAME with faith in the living God,
Source, Servant and Guide.

May the Spirit be upon you,
child of God,
son/daughter of Love. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication
God of wonder, we give thanks for the open-hearted and generous spirit of all, parents, family and friends, who provide a safe harbor and a loving home where NAME may explore, learn, play and grow in to the full stature of your compassion and grace. Amen.

Celtic Blessing

May the road rise up to meet you NAME. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of her hand. Amen.

Freely and wildly adapted from the Baptism liturgy of the United Church of Christ and other sources.


Linger Among the Alleluias

Dear Lord,

Let me linger among the alleluias,

at least for a little while.

It is Easter Tuesday and I am much hungover from Holy Week.

I am a very sleepy preacher.

Bells are still ringing.

Choirs are still singing.

And I am still sneezing.

Allergic to pink flowers you know.

Bundles (and bundles) of bulletin pages fall to the floor,

swept up and recycled.

A cacophony of alleluias collect in my soul.

I covet them there.

“Alleluia” by Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931)

But tears still fall for prodigal children lonely and lost.

And tears still fall for love that may not live to see the light of day.

Little liquid pools of lonely, I do confess well up,

as I celebrate the resurrection day.

Lord, let me wander among the alleluias,

searching for the living among the dead,

where your body still lies torn.

Interceding for lives lost,

in the mosques of New Zealand,

in a synagogue of the City of Brotherly Love,

in the Easter Sunday churches of Sri Lanka.

Weeping for the fallen in foreign wars.

Aching for the fallen in our own backyards.

Breathe life into all those hateful empty places.

Breathe life into the darkest space that haunts the human heart.

Stumble Jesus — please — from your empty tomb.

Lord, let me find you among the alleluias,

living with the people on the streets,

lurking behind the most unlikely faces,

tripping up the hypocrites who take your name in vain,

my myopic self included.

Holy One, please,

catch me in my petty sinfulness,

my self centered ungraciousness.

Remind me still that I am a child of God,

grateful to be a laborer in your vineyard,

grateful to be a celebrant of these holy days.

Lord, let me live among the alleluias,

where the “green blade riseth,”

where the “strife is o’er,”

where the stone is ever rolled away.

Each and every day I pray, feed me this Risen Bread,

that I may become that which I eat.

Healing holy visceral tissue to mend this broken world.

Lord, let us linger among the alleluias,

a resurrected people,

at least for a little while.



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Hallowed

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

 Hist whist little goblin. Hist whist little ghostling.

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

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

all_hallows__eve_by_lhox-d5hoe82

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But also, including the likes of:

Johannes Sebastian Bach, composer of sacred music.

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

Florence Nightingale, 19th century nurse and social reformer.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and suffragette.

Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.

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

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

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

When the saints go marching in.

JoaniSign


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Jesus loved women.

alabaster-jun-jamosmos

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

This is not a half-baked truth from a Dan Brown novel. This is the Gospel Truth according to Luke.

And nowhere is this more true than in the story of the woman with the alabaster jar — the most sensuous story in all of the New Testament.

Jesus arrives for a dinner party. It’s a friendly invitation from a Pharisee –  but also fraught with tension and excitement. Rumor of Simon’s special guest travels fast.

There is a woman from the city – whose sin we do not know. She slips quietly forward. As if invisible, she kneels behind Jesus and inches  forward to touch him — risky indeed for a woman of any kind. She starts to cry — to weep – again we do not know why. And with her tears, bending down she washes Jesus’ road dirty feet. She kisses them tenderly  anointing them with oil – the oil from the alabaster jar. And then she dries them – not with a towel or the hem or her skirt. No, she lets down her hair – “in a deeply intimate gesture” – and with her tresses dries his feet.

We do not know her name. We do not know her sin – only that her reputation precedes her. Put down by society – she is looking up at the world from the lowliest of places. And what this simple woman with the alabaster jar does for Jesus, no first century woman dare would do. As a woman, as a sinner, she was doubly unclean.

Unseen, Simon notices her only when she disturbs his dinner party. “Jesus, how could you let this woman touch you?”

Out of love, Simon. Out of love.

You invite me to your home and you give me no water to wash my feet. This woman, she bathed them with her tears. She  dried them with her hair.

At your door,  you greeted me with no kiss.  But since I sat at your table, this woman has not stopped kissing my feet.

When I arrived, you neglected  to anoint me.  While this woman, this uninvited woman, emptied her alabaster jar upon my feet.

Her sins may be many, but all are forgiven. For she has shown great love.

Intimate, gentle, courageous, sensuous, risky love – holy love.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

Along with the twelve, women were prominent among Jesus’s disciples. He was their rabbi, their healer, their exorcist, their Lord.

And these women provided for him, not just food for his table but for his travels and his ministry – out of their own resources – out of their own pockets. Mary of Magdala was attached to no man and Joanna was a woman of means.

And these are the women who stayed and stood at the foot of his cross. These are the women who anointed his broken body and wrapped it in cloth. And among them – remember — is the first evangelist, the woman who wept at his tomb in the Gospel of John.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But then he calls her by name “Mary”. She stops in her tracks. “Rabbi, Teacher!” and reaches out to embrace him. Heaven bound she cannot touch him. And so she runs, runs to tell the others, “I have seen the Lord.”

Mary of Magdala, the first evangelist.

Mary of Magdala, the first to preach the good news.

Jesus loved women.

Women loved Jesus.

So what the hell happened  the last two thousand years?  How do we go from Jesus to a patriarchal and hierarchical church – where women were seldom seen and barely ever heard?

Well the church neglected the gospels.  The Church with a capital “C” set aside the teachings of Jesus for the trappings of society. . Imperial Rome triumphed and prevailed in a culture  where women were subjugated, silenced, diminished, denigrated, and marginalized.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, the only women permitted behind the altar were the Sodality ladies who ran the vacuum. And the official teaching of our sister church, the Church of Rome, still teaches that women cannot fully represent Christ at the altar.

Dead wrong. So wrong. How do I know? Because the bible tells me so.

Yes, women. Jesus loves us.

It’s 2016. We have come a long way, sisters.

In this Episcopal corner of the Anglican Communion — in the Episcopal Church –  there is no ministry closed to women. Vestry, deacons, priests, bishops – and presiding bishop – God bless, The Rt Rev Katherine Jefferts Schori who just completed her seven-year term as PB  – the first woman to hold the office.

But all is not perfect, of course. We have not long been on the side of the angels. Human and made of clay, all is not yet as God fully intends.

In our 21st century world – women are still treated as objects and trivialized. Women are marketed as commodities. There are corners of the globe where women have no voice, where girls get little education, where laws protect the men who beat them, where doors are closed to them simply because of their sex. There are still are many, many places where women have few, if any rights.

And right here in our own back yard, we are backsliding in our conversation, in our attitudes, in our public discourse. Somehow, its okay to laugh and excuse the coarsest kind of language about women. Its just a joke. They don’t mean it. It’s the 21st century and women are still being measured by their measurements.

All the more reason, to preach this gospel, to celebrate this gospel, in this misogynist milleu. For the sake of our mothers, for the sake of our sisters, for the sake of our daughters.

Jesus loves women, respects women, blesses them and welcomes them as his disciples without exception, without conditions, without reservations.

And so this week in our prayers, let us give thanks for all the women in our lives. — for their gifts, for their strength, and for their love. And in our prayers, let us pray also a more difficult prayer. Let us pray that God turn the hearts of those who hold women back, misuse and abuse them. That they may repent and come to know and experience the gospel truth.

Jesus loves women.

And as Jesus loves, with God’s help, so shall we.

JoaniSign