Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Silent Cry"

Silence is a cry
So loud and raw,
That when you scream it
No one hears you.

Presence is a cry
Tangible and real,
That when you are in it
No one sees you.

Isolation is a prison
Not of choice but circumstance,
It is where you find yourself
When friends are all around you.

They do not hear
They do not see
The pain and grief of life,
The wish for a way through.

When grief and loss
Abound within,
Who will throw me a lifeline
Who will come to my rescue?

On the floor, dog beside
Tears move across face;
The anguish is deafening
It grips long after it is gone.

Such faithfulness,
Such unfailing love;
How is it that a creature knows more
Than we do about loving?

Poverty of heart
Indigent of spirit,
Famine of caring
Battery of soul.

Saving grace
Wears fur and wet nose,
Eyes so deep, hearing keen
Now, I can find some sleep.

This poem was written by Name Withheld, May 2006

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day: A tribute to the American women and men, gay and straight, soldier and civilian, citizen and immigrant, here and abroad...

XIX. To an Athlete Dying Young from "The Shropshire Lad"
by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high. To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

For you Mom and Dad during World War 2, for my ancestors both white and Native American, for everyone from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, the Indian Wars, all terrorist attacks in America, at our embassies, consults and missions, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Viet Nam, Korea, Mozambique, the Balkans, our peacekeepers in Egypt, the Gulf War, the Iraqi War.... Grant them peace.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A CORRECTION, and happily so!

The quote in question, attributed to Nelson Mandela, was written originally by American author Marianne Williamson! My apologies to all, for I too, did NOT know this but relied on other sources. I owe my thanks and enlightenment to "DF" of Massachusetts for providing the actual origin of the quote, not a poem at all, to all of us.

The following was from a website provided by "DF" and explains it better than I can.
This is from The News Observer website, and all rights are reserved by said site:

Often outfitted with semicolons and commas and arranged in poemlike fashion by those who came after her, these words originally appeared in Marianne Williamson's 1992 book, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles."

"As I interpret the Course, 'our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's Love Got to Do With It? Everything...

From The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, Oregon. Reprinted with permission. The 6th Sunday in Eastertide:

"In the name of the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Forty-four times. If my count is correct, that’s the number of times we have already heard the word “love” this morning. Forty-four times, and it’s only...what? Sixteen minutes into the service?

So when did you start spacing out? Listen, I’ve been living with these scriptures all week,and as soon as I get about halfway through the epistle reading, my eyes still glaze over. I’m thoroughly checked out for the Gospel, even though it is beautiful. This ‘love’ Gospel from John is often chosen to be read at weddings. I delight in telling a bride and groom that God is commanding them to do exactly that which is their hearts’ desire to do, which is to love one another.

So, maybe because it’s springtime, or maybe we’re so far into the Easter season that the jolt of the Good News has lost some of its sharp edge, or maybe because the language of the Gospel of John and its derivative epistle are so circular and poetic that we go happily ‘round and ‘round inside them like bees lazily buzzing inside a open flower – love, love, love, love, love – whatever the reason, it’s easy this morning to be lulled into sleepiness or sentimentality. But the message of these texts, though repetitive, is clear as crystal. Let me try to summarize the theological argument. God is love. Therefore, wherever love is, there is God. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Babies know what love is being loved. So it is with our spirits. Though we will never fully understand God, we are capable of growing in our understanding of what love is, and therefore capable of growing in our understanding of the nature of God.

God loves us first: unconditionally, unequivocally. We are loved by God, not in response to anything whatsoever we have done or have not done but only because of whom God is – Whose nature it is – unbelievably, incredibly – to love. To love us. All of us. And of course, that is precisely what we don’t believe: that there is a God, a personal, relational God, who loves me, who loves you, who loves each one of us, whether or not we are even aware of being loved, whether or not, Lord knows, we are worthy of being loved.

So that we might get it, God came to us, we Christians say, in such a way, in Jesus Christ,to show us what Love looks like, acts like. In Jesus of Nazareth, we Christians say, we have seen the very nature of God in human form, as he lived and died as one of us, so that we might live awake to the reality which is all around us, all the time, but which we usually only snatch in glimpses, as through darkened glass. Look, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, said Jesus. Wake up, wake up into your own lives and see the holiness that is all around you, even in you, and of which you are a part. All of you.

Have you spaced out again? See how hard it is to stay with this language, this theology of grace? Give yourselves a little shake and listen to words written by an Episcopal theologian, William Countryman. It’s a long quote, but worth paying attention to.

'Too often, Christians have spoken as if God’s love were available only to those who respond to it in the ‘right’ way – by believing the doctrines of this creed or that confession, by following this or that rule of life (the more repressive the better), by having just the right kind of conversion experience, by being ‘born again,’ by belonging to the right denomination (taken by its members to be the only true church) or to some group of especially pious people, by reading the Bible in a certain way and drawing only the ‘right’ conclusions from it. [Usually the Book of Revelation! Sorry.]'

Such teaching is a betrayal of the good news. Not because creeds or rules of life or conversions or theologies or pious associations are necessarily wrong. Some of them, in fact, may be admirable. They may help us think about what the good news really means for us. They may give us guidance in shaping lives that reflect the good news. They may support us on our human journey of growth and change. But God’s love for us does not depend on us ‘getting it right.’

‘This is what love consists of, not that we have loved God, but that God loves us.’ God’s love is not conditional on anything. It is expressed in forgiveness. You can ignore or oppose God, if you really want to. It will probably do you no great good, but it won’t deprive you of God’s love, either. God’s love has already taken any possible wrong or error or failure on your part into account. You are loved anyway. You have been all along. You will be all along. It does make a difference, though, that this good news is true. It makes a difference not in God’s love, [that’s a given] but in your awareness of yourself and your world. The difference it makes takes the form of two gifts that we receive along with the good news and that grow along with our acceptance of it: a gift of honesty and a gift of authentic and appropriate self-love. It seems we are, in essence, beloved creatures. Once we wake up to the good news of God’s grace and find ourselves – consciously – inside this Celtic love knot of the Father of the Son of the Spirit of us for one another and back again, world without end; the more we wake up to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near and that a state of holiness is ever surrounding us and in us whether we know it or not; the more we increase our capacity to accept the gift of our own belovedness – and of each other’s belovedness – well, then, at some point we begin to make the connection that we too have been given a part in the action of the divine economy of love.

Which is a fancy way to say that at some point we realize that God’s love, while unconditional, invites us to participate. Which is a fancy way to say what we already know from our own lives, which is that love changes us and limits us and focuses us and purifies us. When we love; when we love a parent, a spouse, a partner, a child, a friend, an animal, a stranger – whenever we love we willingly give up a degree of our own freedom; and, we make ourselves vulnerable to suffering. That self-sacrifice and that vulnerability is love’s obedience.

Are you with me? I’m speaking of what we all know, though we may not talk in these terms very often. We cannot choose whether or not to be loved by God. But it is our choice whether or not we will love and whom we love. And it is a daily choice, isn’t it? When we choose to love, we willingly give pieces of ourselves to another: we give some of our attention, our time, our energy,our resources, our bodies – to the other. When we love, we limit the range of our future choices. We put a parameter around our personal freedom, out of love for the other.

No, I will not sleep with another person no matter how attracted I may be. No, I will not speak the hot-tempered words that will cause you such pain. No, I will not withdraw my attention from you when I really wish you would just go away. No, I will not pretend that supplying your material needs lets me off the hook emotionally. No, I will not pretend that taking care of your emotional needs means I have no obligation for your physical wellbeing.

The bar is set so high that to love means that we are always failing to some degree, and therefore to love also means we will be asking forgiveness. A lot. And that we will be asked to forgive others who are trying to love us. A lot. And that we will be asking God’s forgiveness.

A lot. For the judgment of God is as constant as the unconditional love of God, and that’s a paradox and a Mystery. We’re going to be loved, regardless, all of us, which makes some Christians crazy, especially the more fundamentalist, conservative ones. We’re always being judged, all of us, and that makes some Christians crazy, especially the more liberal, progressive ones. And the judgment is about the quality of our loving. The quality of our loving is not about passing feelings but about the choices we make, the actions we do or we don’t do, the words we use, the money we waste, the resources we squander, the poor and the sick of the world we take care of or ignore, the cups of cold water we give – or don’t give – to people who are dying of thirst.

As Christian individuals, and as this parish, and as a diocese, and as the Episcopal Church in the United States, and as a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and as the Church universal we are being judged on the quality of our loving.

Jesus himself told us the terms of judgment: Did you take care of each other, especially the ones who are outside the circle of wellbeing? Jesus did not say we would be tested on our literal adherence to creeds or to doctrine, but by whether we are loving one another as Christ loves us. And though the loving starts in our most intimate relationships and in our families and within our small circle of friends, it must not end there, for if we’re serious about following Jesus then we will find ourselves loving beyond our comfort zones. If we don’t feel stretched in our loving – in every aspect of our lives -- we have either given up, or fooling ourselves, or we’re dead. The theological word “ortho-doxy” is being thrown around a great deal these days, not very helpfully by either side, it seems to me. Orthodoxy refers to “right belief, or right speaking.” The test of love isn’t orthodoxy, it’s ortho-praxy: right practice.

Loving one another is hard work, difficult orthopraxy, which is one reason why our eyes glaze over and we fall asleep in the pew when we hear the commandment to love. To be a loving person requires self-discipline, self-control, obedience to a way of life that does not come naturally to most of us, a profoundly countercultural stance against our own selfishness and inflated selfinterest. No wonder we would rather pretend that these “love” scriptures are pure poetry without practical implications. The truth is that the practical implications of love scare the living daylights out of us. To love means we cannot isolate. To love means we cannot distance ourselves from the burning heart of the Christian faith until we’ve figured in all out in our heads. To love means we have to hang together. To love means we are to become more and more honest, which no doubt will cause conflict some of the time. To love means the circle keeps getting bigger and will include those who make us uneasy, who make us crazy, whom given the devices and desires of our own hearts we would never choose to be around.

To love as Christ loved us means that we are always going to be coming up against the limits of our own capacity to love – our own sinfulness – and so our self-images will suffer as we’re stretched to our breaking points and beyond. But then we’ll discover that by being broken we are able to love more freely, a little less judgmentally. And God whom we will never understand –but that’s not the point, is it? Whether or not we understand God? – and God, whom we do not understand but who made us, and who loves us, and who travels with us, will never, ever let us go, until we are all safely home at the last.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just How Welcome Are Gays and Lesbians? Survey Results by Louie Crew

Louie Crew is Chair of the deputation to General Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and is a Member of Executive Council. He created and executed a phone survey of the parishes who have an attendee to the House of Deputies at the General Convention in June. The responses are at once heartening on the one hand and give cause for deep concern on the other.

To listen for yourself, here is the link to the survey:


When you see the "SERIES" title, click on it for the one that covers the deputy or deputies in your area and hear the telephone survey responses to Louie's questions. The playback works best with Quicktime Media Player which is available from the Apple.com website. Adjust the volume on your computer accordingly.

As you listen, it does give a clearer picture of where the deputies and their parishes stand on the inclusion of ALL the baptized in their churches.

I personally emailed Louie Crew for permission to link to his survey site and he happily gave permission with his usual "Joy!"

Thanks to AMM in my parish for forwarding the survey results page to me :-)

HerCode.org: It's NOT what you think!

A new website, launched to coincide with the release of The Da Vinci Code movie, is a place of renewed faith and feminine energy inside of faith issues. The book and now the movie have acted as a catalyst for clergy and laywomen everywhere to realize that not only do they matter in our faith communities but they have the ability to transform how women are seen by society and to assist many generations into the future on how young girls and women are and should be viewed and valued.

We KNOW that the book is a work of fiction, because Dan Brown tells us from the outset that "this is a work of fiction" based on historical and semi-historical information. That said, we can now look at what impact the idea, indeed the concept of a woman as a holy object, has had and does have on society and the power that moves across socio-economic, cultural and ecclesiastical spheres.

All one has to do to know about the journey of self-discovery in the lives of various women of faith, is to read books like "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd, or "She Who Is" by Elizabeth Johnston, or "The Root of This Longing" by Carol Lee Flinders, just to name a few.

But these are modern authors. What about the women who came before us? Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Hildegard von Bingen, Margaret Kempe, again, to name a well-known few. We are now learning and acknowledging what they already knew, and more fully.

This new website, HerCode, promises to be a place of inspiration. In fact, it already is. There are five biographical accounts of modern women, both lay and clergy, who tell their stories of change and rebirth into a new way of looking at spirituality and of God, in all Her glory, of Christ our Mother, of the Holy Spirit in all of Her transforming power.

I urge you to stop by, and taste and see that the Lord is good in this new place for all to come and decipher their own "code" in Her who loves us and made us, and travels the way with us. You can visit there now by going to http://HerCode.org

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In light of the latest UK Telegraph article: Psalm 74 from May 18 Evening Prayer

Ut quid, Deus?

1 O God, why have you utterly cast us off?
*why is your wrath so hot against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your congregation that you purchased long ago,
*the tribe you redeemed to be your inheritance,and Mount Zion where you dwell.
3 Turn your steps toward the endless ruins;
*the enemy has laid waste everything in your sanctuary.
4 Your adversaries roared in your holy place;
*they set up their banners as tokens of victory.
5 They were like men coming up with axes to a grove of trees;
*they broke down all your carved work with hatchets and hammers.
6 They set fire to your holy place;
*they defiled the dwelling-place of your Name and razed it to the ground.
7 They said to themselves, "Let us destroy them altogether."
*They burned down all the meeting-places of God in the land.
8 There are no signs for us to see; there is no prophet left;
*there is not one among us who knows how long.
9 How long, O God, will the adversary scoff?
*will the enemy blaspheme your Name for ever?
10 Why do you draw back your hand?
*why is your right hand hidden in your bosom?
11 Yet God is my King from ancient times,
*victorious in the midst of the earth.
12 You divided the sea by your might
*and shattered the heads of the dragons upon the waters;
13 You crushed the heads of Leviathan
*and gave him to the people of the desert for food.
14 You split open spring and torrent;
*you dried up ever-flowing rivers.
15 Yours is the day, yours also the night;
*you established the moon and the sun.
16 You fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
*you made both summer and winter.
17 Remember, O LORD, how the enemy scoffed,
*how a foolish people despised your Name.
18 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
*never forget the lives of your poor.
19 Look upon your covenant;
*the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence.
20 Let not the oppressed turn away ashamed;
*let the poor and needy praise your Name.
21 Arise, O God, maintain your cause;
*remember how fools revile you all day long.
22 Forget not the clamor of your adversaries,
*the unending tumult of those who rise up against you.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"Our Greatest Fear" by Nelson Mandela

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine,
we consciously give other people permission
to do the same.As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It's Incarnational

I became a layreader in the Episcopal Church sometime in late 1996. The following year I became a LEM 1 and 2 [that's Lay Eucharist Minister 1 (serving the chalice at Eucharist) and 2 (being able to take Eucharist to those who were homebound right after church on Sunday)]. There was something about vesting [wearing a special white liturgical robe called an alb with the appropriate colored rope cincture (belt)] that transformed a person from church member into something else. For me, it was always an "incarnational" moment [this word courtesy of my current priest who put a meaning to my pathetically scattered and wordy description of the feeling one gets at times like that] when, appropriately vested in alb, cincture and pectoral cross, I moved in the processional beginning the service and felt a part of something much more important than my singular self. Music and voice rise all around you at times like that, as you move up the aorta of the nave, cross the transept and up to the altar proper. The altar, a whole different state of being....

The layreader, as opposed to the lector, reads the New Testament reading and usually leads the Prayers of the People. In those first years I was in a church without a public address system but that was ok with me. I had experience in public speaking and being heard in a large church is not always possible unless you can project without "hollering". I loved reading, still do. Hope to do it again.

Vesting is one kind of incarnational experience but the real "transformation" comes when Eucharist comes....the reading or singing by the priest of the Eucharist Prayer is a time of stillness, a time when chronos stops and kairos begins. For some of us, it is a time-traveling experience, as it is for me personally. And if you have a priest or priests who completely immerse themselves into the moment, into that "last supper" state of mind, and body, and heart, then you are so THERE at the Last Supper, it literally takes your breath away.

I personally know of a handful of priests with whom I have experienced this incarnational kairos time. I am sure there are more in all of Christendom who are fully immersed in that very Jesus-moment. And then, there are those that are not, who play the role well and convincingly but are not in the Jesus-moment. For them I pray for a deeper grace and knowledge that is beyond their current understanding.

As an altar server, you participate fully in that incarnational experience. Especially if you are as attuned as the priest who is celebrating. Everytime I am served the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, I receive the wafer from her hand and I look up and see Jesus looking back at me. And when the Cup of Salvation moves toward me, I look up and into the eyes of the Lay Eucharist Minister and I see Jesus again--different person, but same Lord looking back at me. It doesn't get more spiritual and incarnational than that.

Once the General Thanksgiving is said, chronos time resumes. We prepare for the recessional and we sing our way back down the nave and into everyday life. I live for kairos time in my soul, for that is where I am nourished and meet my Lord in the persons of my priest and the lay Eucharist ministers in a very tangible way. And we need that tangible experience, as well as the intangible. In some ways, these ministers are the Word/the Christ made flesh in our time, in our reality, in our lives. I give thanks for each and every one of them, and hope to resume my service likewise and soon. There is a quote given to me by an old friend, a priest [she's one of the few, the incarnational, the Clergy!], and that quote by William of Glasshampton is this:

"A priest ought always to say Mass with this expectancy:
he ought to be prepared for the Host and everything to
fall away and Jesus Himself appear."

And He does, in His ministers...it's incarnational.

God in us

"And let us create humankind in our own image...." Even then the Trinity was working out the details of what we all would look like. And some wise Renaissance artist [whose name escapes me at the moment], even portrayed Woman waiting in the wings while Man was made. I have often heard the softly spoken remark that God improved on Their design and after some "retooling" made a new and improved Man and called her Woman. Feminist theologians around the world are nodding in agreement, I can just feel it.

If we could only remember that--more generally speaking--that everytime we see a fellow traveler along the way, that person is in some way a reflection of God, created in Their own image, with Their likeness made into each and everyone of us. This includes the saints and sinners, the saviors and destroyers, those made whole and those made not so whole, at least to the human eye. Some of us see more clearly than others: we see wholeness everywhere and in everyone. Some others for some reason see skin color, or facial shape, or hair texture or color as somehow deficient; or even on a more personal level, they see who other people love or like as wrong or somehow defective.
Regardless of viewpoint, God is in us

Christ came to clear up the issue. Because all of these views, in one way or another is defective and marred by the willfulness of those who choose to use free will in an other than good way. Sometimes people wonder why God bothered with free will in the first place. Like any artist, God loved to create, both animate and inanimate aspects of creation. And like anyone, God wish for Their creation to love Them for giving them life. But They wanted this love to be freely given because They knew that any love that was obligatory or otherwise forced was not real love at all. So, free will was given to humankind in the hope that it would be use to right purpose and in thanksgiving for the life given.

Free will. It's a good thing if used for the purpose it was originally intended. Who is any one of us to determine another's free will? Certainly we have laws and mores that help govern us and treat one another in fairness. That is how we have developed into the societies we have today. Granted, they are not always led with the goodness and fairness we all wish for, but there are those elements within societies that strive for the goodness that free will was intended to produce.

If we in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal churches of America and Canada could remember that Christ died for us in the hope that we would use our free will in the manner for which it was intended, "all of our stirring would become quiet."*

We in the Church took the same Baptismal Vows, and as Easter people, we renewed those vows and we do so each year to remind us of who we are and what we are here for: to be the witness of Christ in the world and to one another, in spite of disagreements over doctrine or the literal interpretation of Scripture. Christ gave us the two most important commandments that supersede anything that came before:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

So, let's do as They commanded. Let us be the people that God will enjoy forever and let us love our neighbor--and everyone is our neighbor--as we ourselves would be loved.


*From the poem by Wendell Berry.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thank you, Barbara Crafton+

I would like to publicly thank The Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton for including my weblog on her Geranium Farm site. I have used that site in the past to light candles for friends and not so friendly folk, for participating in the forum discussions and gleaning great wisdom from other participants. I have found excellent reads and good information from other links on her Links page, like Elizabeth Eisenstadt's+ "Irreverent Musings" which is now part of my morning routine. I have also found great resources for worship, magazines for intellectual fodder, and meaningful artwork by others who wish to extend and stretch our spiritual experiences by their creativity.

I also like visiting the Farm because sometimes I simply need to get away and find solace and sustenance there. It's a good place to rest one's spiritual bones and take a load off of our weary little ministering feet.

So my heart and spirit thank you Barbara+ for giving us a virtual retreat center, a place were we can sit quietly--or not--and wiggle our toes in the cool refreshing goodness of the Farm.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Shepherd Speaks from Southern Oregon

The following sermon was delivered by The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, Oregon on the 4th Sunday of Eastertide. It reminded me, as The Rev. Susan Russell's sermon did for the same Sunday and lessons, that The Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, abides with us in our hearts and in our actual physical world, through our priests and their gifts of communicating Him who loves and cares for us, always;

~~In the name of the Living God, who is and was and is to come. Amen.

“Good morning, Church!”

Some times I’ve just got to do that, ever since I visited Mississippi Boulevard Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee one Eastertide and was mesmerized by a young black woman preacher who greeted her congregation from the pulpit in that way.

"'Good mornin’, Church! '"

I was one of less than five white people in a congregation of over 2,000. That service has taken hold in my heart and I return to it often in spirit. It has borne much fruit.

As a visitor, I’ve never been so warmly, graciously welcomed. The hospitality began in the parking lot and continued throughout the service. People in rows two and three over made a point to come over and introduce themselves and say they were glad we were there that morning. And they seemed to mean it. And though we white newcomers really stood out, clearly there were many visitors there who were black, and they were being greeted and welcomed in the same way. This had nothing to do with race. It was about Christian hospitality.

And the music! Ah, you can imagine. We were well warmed up by the time the young woman climbed into the pulpit, leaned over the edge, and said, “Good morning, Church!” As the sermon and then the service went on, every once in a while she’d check in with the flock and ask “How we doin’, church?” And the Church, the Body of Christ manifested in that time and place, embodied, Spirit-filled, incarnate, the Church would roar back their joy.

I learned many things that morning, and not least was the felt sense -- the sensation in my body -- of what it is to be Easter people together in prayer and praise. Flowing from our shared identity as the flock of Christ -- sheep of all sorts and conditions and colors and ages and stages of faith and formation -- one flock, we were. For that moment -- for that timeless time of worship, that liturgical “thin place” -- we tasted the Kingdom. We had heard his voice -- that’s why we were there. He was our shepherd. He had called us each by name and we were His and therefore, we were one another’s.

I think I’ve told you this story before, but let me tell it once again. I became an Anglican at age 29 when I found myself, during a bewildering period in my life, at a little Episcopal church called The Church of the Good Shepherd in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. The church was tiny by comparison to anything I had known before.

Everybody seemed to know everybody else, and I was afraid I might have unintentionally sat in “someone else’s pew,” if you know what I mean. I was unfamiliar with the Prayer Book and fumbled my way through the service as best I could, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I wasn’t sure exactly why I was there, except I yearned for something, some sure ground, some sense of direction and meaning in a difficult time, some compassion to touch me from beyond myself; an assurance of hope; forgiveness; a new beginning... I couldn’t have said any of those words that first time I wandered in. I didn’t know why I was there...I just was.

Perhaps you know what that’s like. Maybe you, like me, were one of those persons who wandered into a church one day, not sure what it was, or who it was you were looking for, not sure you really wanted to be there, perhaps you’d tried this before and had been terribly disappointed, or very bored, or put off in some way so you’re loath to even try it again but you do, so you slip in quietly, unobtrusively. Perhaps pulled there from some childhood memory, you sense your mind gearing up to argue, rebel, dismiss -- and yet...and yet... there you are, there I was all those years ago at the little Church of the Good Shepherd. I didn’t know much about Eucharist in those days, though I was struck by the joyful tone of celebration, so different from the dark and penitential atmosphere I remembered from my childhood church.

At first, I wasn’t going to go up with the others to the altar rail but before I realized it I found myself on my feet and halfway down the aisle. So I knelt and held out my empty hands. When the priest came to me, he leaned down and gently asked “What is your name?”

Startled and touched to the core, my eyes filled with tears as I whispered “Anne.”
He put the wafer in my hand and said, “Anne, this is the body of Christ.”
And it was. I had been brought home. And so it began.

And so it is for all of us. I tell this story not because it’s mine, but because it is ours. The Story is the same old story, over and over again, of being lost and being found,of hungering for we don’t know what until we’ve been fed, of learning to trust in the goodness of God as we slowly, slowly let go of our fear and dare to remove our wellpolished armor, piece by painful piece. Easter people we are, every last one of us, died and raised into new life in Christ Jesus.

How we doin’, Church?

Do you remember that wonderful musical Les Miserables, which was made into a movie some years ago. Early on is a scene that haunts me. Jean Valjean, just released from prison, in for 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread, finds sanctuary his first night out at the home of the provincial bishop. Early the next morning, Jean steals the household silver, attacking the bishop in the process. Within hours, he is caught by the police and hauled back to the bishop’s house. Unbelievably, the bishop backs up the story Jean Valjean told the police, says, yes, indeed, he, the bishop, gave the silver to this convict, he had wanted him to have it, and besides, why hadn’t Valjean taken the candlesticks, too, he had wanted him to have those as well. The police have no choice put to release the man. They leave. Then the bishop gets the candle-sticks, puts them in the bag with the other stolen pieces, and says: “With this silver you are ransomed from the power of evil and restored to your place as a child of God.”

It was Jean Valjean’s moment of in-breaking grace. Same old story of sin and redemption, unearned, amazing grace, forgiveness and freedom. It’s the same story of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, Peter forgiven by the risen Christ at a breakfast picnic on the beach when Jesus asked him three times “Do you love me?” and told him three times to “Feed my sheep.” It’s my story and it’s your story. Wherever we find Easter people, we find this story of startling new life and the challenge and joy of living into the new reality of God’s kingdom, a day at a time.

Peter and John and the first disciples knew all about those challenges and joys. Keeping one foot firmly planted in his tradition, Peter leaned and stretched himself farther than he could ever have imagined himself doing, and reaching out into the future he spoke not only to his Jewish brothers and sisters and but also to those Gentile visitors, the ones in the back pews, the ones who didn’t know exactly why they were there, but some yearning had brought them to that place of worship, to all of them Peter said: “Here. Take. This Jesus who suffered and died and rose again, He is the Christ. Salvation. Now. You have been ransomed from evil and redeemed; take your place as a child of God. You are forgiven. You are free. You are healed. You are loved.”

Peter witnessed to the deepest truth he knew, and his words changed others because he himself embodied resurrected life in his own person. He knew that his own little story was a part, a tiny but powerful reflection of God’s Great and Unfolding Story. Jesus had called him by name, and Peter had followed. What follows from that -- from following Christ; from being an Easter person -- is a radical change in attitude that leads, as it did for Peter, into starling new realities and always – always! -- into new and radically inclusive community, a community whose mission and ministry is to take care of each other and the stranger, alike. We are one flock, we have one shepherd.

In our prayer at the altar, we ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify us as well as the bread and wine, that we may faithfully receive the Holy Sacrament, and serve in unity, constancy, and peace. What a needed prayer for the church in these days! We pray we may continue to serve God in unity, constancy and peace. We pray that prayer for our Episcopal church when we gather at the upcoming General Convention in June. We pray that prayer for our Anglican communion, struggling to find a way to stay together, to be of “one heart and one soul” in Christ. We pray that prayer of unity, constancy and peace for the worldwide Christian Church as we live with deep divisions of theology and biblical interpretation, forgetting we have the same shepherd.

Like Peter, we are called to keep one foot firmly planted in the faith as we have received it, while at the same time we stretch – often off-balance – into the future, enlarging the circle to include those on the edges. And we stretch and we peer into the future and we hold onto our faith and onto each other and most of all onto our Lord, and we pray – in our confusion, in our joy, in our uncertainty – we pray with Gerald Manley Hopkins:

“Let [Christ] easter in us; be a dayspring to the dimness of us.”

O dear God let Christ easter in us! Let Christ be a dayspring to the dimness of us, for we are dim, each and every one of us, no matter how enlightened we imagine ourselves to be, no matter how certain we are that we have grasped the essence of Your Mystery. Easter people wherever they are -- at Mississippi Baptist Church in Memphis Tennessee or at little Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in St. Louis, Missouri or with those who listened to St. Peter preach at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem all those many years ago or here today in this congregation at Trinity, Ashland -- and at every time and every place, Easter people know we are to continue widening and broadening the circle, as we forgive, and heal, and liberate, and love, and put our precious treasures into other people’s sacks so that they might have life.

Dare we let ourselves believe that the Holy One is leading us into new resurrected realities of forgiveness and freedom, healing and holiness, new life in Christ that we cannot yet even begin to imagine?

O Church: how are we doing?~~

Reprinted with permission from The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett, 05/09/2006

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Tale of Two Rabbits...and their progeny

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Allow me to introduce one of a plethora of bunnies I have had the joy of knowing the last year or so. I do not know this bunny's lagomorphic name but I will call it Frisbee.

About two and half years ago, a family moved out of the neighborhood and when they did, they let go two store-bought rabbits--one was a Rex and the other a Checkered Giant. The Rex was brown and white and when sitting as bunnies do, was about 1 foot, 6 inches tall, including ears. The Checkered Giant was black and white and was a few inches shorter...sitting down, including ears. After some brief observations it was determined that the Rex was female and the Giant was male. I began calling them names, she was Big Mama and he was Pal. She was shy and Pal was a bit more outgoing. So much so that he would come to me and allow me to pet him on the head for a moment before withdrawing. He also would eat out of my hand occasionally. Big Mama was too shy to do that but that was ok. They were good bunnies.

Well, it is now not quite three summers since then and we are 20 or so generations later. There are now three adults and until today there had been about 8 offspring of various ages. Three died today at the whim of a black and white cat. I will not disturb anyone with the details of their untimely demise but suffice to say it was not pleasant duty to prepare them for burial and then commit them back to their Maker, with thanks for their whimsical and furry little lives with which they graced mine.

I suppose that my yard and woodpile have become, in Lady Tottington's words from "Wallace and Gromit: The Night of the Wererabbit": "A safe place for all things furry." Actually the neighbors like the bit of country charm they add to the surroundings. Others help feed them. It has actually given the neighbors something else to talk to each other about besides the price of gas or what we are going to do with the high school kids who occasionally use our front yards for trash cans. Watching the rabbits softens people after a hard day at work, and makes for gentle smiles. Bunnies are good for the soul.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Beginning Again

This week is chalk full of some bittersweet anniversaries for yours truly. Tomorrow, May 2nd would have been my neat mom's 82nd birthday. Right now she is celebrating that and a birth from life to death [a whole other state of being with eternally good ramifications] which occurred on May 5th, three days after her 81st birthday. It was a hard time for me, granted, but I know where to find her when my little turn comes, in God's time.

Three days after the 5th is my birthday. It wasn't much to speak of last year as it occurred on Mother's Day as well, and that Monday, the 9th I presided over her graveside funeral service. I need to see this week, these days ahead as the beginning of labor, the giving birth of new life and hopefully an improved me. I have been in the actual labor of this birth since this time last year when I saw that the end of her life as well as mine, as I knew it, coming to a close.

So...With all of the events and DVD-like memories replaying in my mind, and looking at my present and peering squinty-eyed into my future, I will stop and remember all that she taught me about the rough spots in life, how helping others comes back to you tenfold, how carrying around bitterness makes yourself bitter-tasting to those around you, how being constantly angry at circumstances and people gets you absolutely NOWHERE, and books are a good way to escape the present muck and find the constantly green meadows of possibilities. I also learned that while she had many great attributes, she also showed me how I don't want to be like her. I won't elaborate on those traits, but I know she would be proud of how I turned out in this time and place; how, because of her tenacity and determination, I will also hang on and hang in, regardless of how rough the road gets or what life throws at me.

I am after all, my mother's daughter, and the daughter of all the mothers who went before me. Thanks, Mom.