Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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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.

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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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For 40 Days, a Muslim 4 Lent

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Four Fridays now, I have observed midday prayers with my Muslim brothers and sisters.

A month ago, EEC  reached out to MAS and they reached back. That is, my parish Emmanuel Episcopal Church (post the infamous seven country travel ban), reached out in friendship to the Muslim American Society Community Center.

I called their office and left a  message:

“We are with you. May we come to Friday prayers? We want to stand with you and support you as a mutual sign of our faith in God.”

Merehan Elhady (Mimi), the Outreach Director, called me right back. Little did I know, their mosque and school had been threatened with violence, with arson, and heinously, even threatened with the kidnapping of their children. This first Friday we shared prayers, the Fairfax County Chief of Police came to speak in support of the Muslim community’s safety and security.

At the end of the talk, I turned to our hosts. “We are with you,” was all that I could manage to say.

“You are courageous, to come,” they told us. “Heavens no! All we did was show up.  You are a blessing to us and we will be back.”

Half a dozen of us,  each week,  have observed prayers at MAS. And now our Muslim brothers and sisters are becoming our friends: Thoraia, Mimi, and Aseel. Now on a first name basis, each Friday we greet one another with hugs.

I cover my hair haphazardly with a scarf.  I leave my shoes in the cubbies outside the worship space. I take a seat on the floor. The first two weeks, I sit behind the women. These past two weeks, we sit side by side.

Like we Episcopalians in the pews, we listen to the preacher share a message of love and compassion. And a bit like Episcopal aerobics, we bow, we kneel, we fold our hands over our hearts in prayer. Three times we touch our foreheads to the floor.

The chanted Arabic is haunting and beautiful. Though I do not understand a word, the prayers resonate with my soul. Happily I discern and learn, their meaning hews closely to the words of our own.

Muslims prepare for prayer with the cleansing of hands and feet and face, as they turn their thoughts to God. Just as in the BCP we pray:

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

At the mosque, at midday prayers, the worshippers raise their hands and proclaim the greatness of the Lord: “Allahu Akbar.”

And at church, for five Sundays in Lent, we will begin  with the summary of the law:

“Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

And this heart of the Gospel, is echoed in the heart of the Qur’an:

“Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone do we worship and from you alone do we seek aid. Show us the Straight Way, the way upon those you have bestowed your grace not of those who have earned your wrath and gone astray.” Qur’an 1: 2-6

This faith strengthens my faith. These prayers redouble mine. Like Najashi, a Christian king of Ethiopia, proclaimed: the difference between their faith and mine is as thin as a line in the sand.

So?

No. I am not about to convert to Islam.  Jesus is the Eternal Word, for ever, the Human Face of God for me — and always will be.

But for forty days this Lent, I will be a Muslim.

Five times a day, I will pray my Anglican rosary with my Roman Catholic prayers. Kneeling. Standing. Sitting. Walking. I will praise my God body and soul. Daybreak. Midday. Afternoon. Sunset. Night.

Through Muslim eyes, I will try to draw closer to Jesus. Isa, he is called in the Qur’an. Named and proclaimed as: Messiah. Messenger.  Prophet. Parable.  Word. Witness. Sign. Spirit. Servant.  All that is missing is ‘Lord’.

A bibliophile, I will do this by reading books, of course.

Holy books: the Gospels, the Surah.

A history book of  faith: “Islam: a Short Introduction” by Karen Armstrong.

And the story of a Sufi Muslim writer and novelist, Mazhar Mallouhi: “A Pilgrim of Christ on the Muslim Road” by P-G Chandler.

And Friday prayers 1:15 PM at MAS, of course.(Check the schedule for other times!)

And Friday Stations of the Cross, 7:00 PM at EEC.

Join with me these 40 days of Lent, if you please.

The difference between us and them is as thin as a line in the sand.

JoaniSign

 


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Jesus loved women.

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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