Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers

Sometimes, mothers wake up grumpy.

Other times, they wake up in a foul mood.

Sometimes they call to their children from bed,
"There's cereal in the cupboard and milk in the fridge.
Don't spill the milk. I don't want to clean up a mess
When I get up. . . . .
 . . . . ..  . . . If I get up."

Sometimes mothers say stuff that makes no sense
Like, "Eat the old fruit before the new fruit."
And, "Shut the door! Were you born in a barn?"
And, "Are your legs broken?"
And, "Someone better be bleeding."

Sometimes mothers embarrass their children.
in front of their friends
by saying something like,
"Bring your jacket, it's going to get chilly."
And, their kids roll their eyes and say, 
"Mooooooommmmmmmm!"

And mothers say, "I'm sorry. 
When you get older,
work it out with your therapist
the way we all have to."

Sometimes, life is hard
and, relationships are complicated
because we're human.

Sometimes we mess up
and betray each other
and our best selves.

Sometimes blood isn't thicker than water.

Being a mother is more than biology.

It's a work in progress best accomplished
in spite of biology, or in the absence of it
not perched on a pedestal
but right here,
in the middle of the middle of life
where the rest of humanity dwells
close to tissues to wipe noses a little too hard
and tie sneakers a little too tight
and button sweaters a little too high
and say, "Don't slam the door" a little too loud
and sometimes forget to say, "I love you"
even when they were thinking it
but were busy putting in another load of clothes.

Being a mother is the toughest job you'll ever love.

I suspect even the Mother of God had her days. 
c Elizabeth Kaeton

Friday, May 12, 2017

There is no hate in heaven



Tomorrow, Saturday, May 13th is Birth Mother Day, a worldwide celebration dedicated to the biological mothers of adopted children.

It is always the Saturday before Mother's Day - this year, Sunday, May 14th.

And, according to a note I read, it is one of the most controversial days on the calendar of secular observances.

Yes, controversial. Are you really surprised?

The official line is that, "This holiday was created by birth mothers in Seattle, USA, in 1990... to reflect the choices and to cope with feelings like remorse and grief. However, it is also a day to educate and honor. 


Here’s the way the controversy is explained
“But many mothers who gave up their children have feelings of remorse, and often guilt. Many don't want a special day. And, of those mothers who want to be remembered, they don't necessarily want a special day, aside from Mother's Day. They feel they should remember, and be remembered, on Mother's Day. "


"From the child's perspective, adopted children understandably have a high level of anxiety over this topic. A fair number of them don't want a relationship with their birth mother, adding more controversy to this day."
Are we really surprised that Birth Mothers bear the burden of shame and blame?

Women can’t ever catch a break. If she has an abortion, she’s shamed and reviled as a “murderer”. 

If she places her child for adoption, the adoptive mother and the child she birthed often shun her. 


There is an assumption that if a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy or place her child to be adopted that she is, somehow, deficient as a human being and derelict as a woman.   

How could a human being “kill an innocent child”? How could a woman “give up her own flesh and blood”?

Women who choose not to have children are also considered suspect as decent citizens of the human race. Isn’t that what women’s bodies are made for? Isn’t that against God’s will? 

On the other hand, women who are unable to conceive or bear children are to be pitied. Women who adopt other women’s children, however, are considered heroes. Angels. Super women.  Demi-gods. .

And, the Birth Father? What of him?

Crickets. 

It is my observation that this pattern of guilt and shame for women and reproductive health, choice, rights and justice is not only common, it is inextricably tangled into unexamined and unexpressed grief. 

Yes, grief.

The source of grief is sometimes around remorse about the decision. Other times, it’s around not having felt any other real option, or having felt pressured into the decision. 

But mostly, it’s the grief of never really having been allowed to grieve. 

I want to tell you a story about a Hospice patient I had a while back who has since died. She was 94, almost 95 years old. During one visit, she asked if I heard confessions. I assured her that I did but asked if she wanted to talk about it to be sure she had actually committed a “sin” that needed to be confessed.

She took a deep breath and began, “When I was 14 years old, I was raped by my uncle. It was horrible but made worse by the fact that I became pregnant. I was scared. Terrified. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone. I didn't know what to do."

"One day," she continued, "my aunt walked into my room and found me crying. I ended up telling her and she immediately arranged for me to have an abortion. Which was, of course, illegal.”

Her words tumbled out of her mouth in a rush; almost as if she thought that, if she slowed down, she might stop. 

“It wasn’t bad enough that the decision about when and with whom to have sex was taken from me. I also lost the ability to make the decision about whether or not to get pregnant, and, when pregnant to make the decision about whether or not to continue with the pregnancy, place the child for adoption or have an abortion. The decision was not about me or my life, but protecting my uncle and the family from shame. ”

“No one knows about this story,” she continued, “not my mother or my sisters, not my husband or my children. Just my aunt – who took the secret to her grave – and now, you.”

Then, she took a deep breath and blotted the tears that were welling up in her eyes and said, “What I want to know is this: 

"When I get to heaven, as you have assured me I will, will the soul that I aborted hate me?

I looked at this woman who had been carrying around this guilt and shame and grief for eighty years, and with all the love and compassion I had in my heart and said, 

“I know this much to be true: There is no hate in heaven.”

Saturday is Birth Mother’s Day. Sunday is Mother’s Day. Whether you or someone you know has given birth or chosen not to have children; 

          or had an abortion or had a child placed in foster care or placed a child for adoption; 

          or adopted a child or you are a foster mom;

          if your mother is alive and well or ill and infirm or dead and buried; and

          you enjoy a good relationship or your relationship is strained or complicated or alienated

however you observe the day . . . 

…. please, be kind. Please exercise compassion. 

Allow yourself to grieve. 

Create a space where your grief and the grief of others can be honored and respected and expressed.

It’s one way to begin to unhook yourself - and help others disengage - from the grip of shame and blame, remorse and regret which complicate and compound grief. 

I don't believe there is any hate in heaven. 

Neither is there any shame or guilt or remorse.

May it be on earth as it is in heaven. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Where do broken dreams go?

Where do broken dreams go?
A Sermon preached at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Willmington, DE
Easter III - April 30, 2017 
(The Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton 

As Joe Biden would say, “Here’s the deal”. Let me put the gospel into context for you.

“Now on that same day” – that day being three days after the trial, torture, crucifixion, and death of Jesus

– that same day – “at early dawn” – when Luke reports that the women had gone with their spices to the tomb and found the stone rolled away

– that same day when they found the tomb empty except for two men in dazzling white clothing who terrified the women and said, “He is risen”

– that same day when Luke reports that the women told what they had seen and heard and been told “to the eleven and all the rest”

 – that same day when none of the men believed them and Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb and stooped to look in and see for himself and was amazed at what happened….

Now on that same day – later in the day, we presume – “two of them” – two of his followers (but, apparently, not one of the eleven) – were going to a village called Emmaus.

Now, Emmaus is about 7 miles north and east of Jerusalem – at a leisurely pace, that’s about a 2-hour walk. That’s not a bad walk for just getting out to clear your head and get away from the places where everyone else was hiding for fear of persecution. 

Luke says they were “walking and talking” with each other about everything that had happened just three days before. I’m sure they were just trying to wrap their heads around what the heck had happened in a week’s time.

– only just a week’s time, we should remember -

– since the glorious entry of their beloved Jesus into the city of Jerusalem when everyone cheered him and threw palms and their cloaks beneath his feet and waved palms in his honor.

How could the world have turned upside down in just a week’s time?

How could everything they knew and understood about the future be taken away so suddenly?

What about all the miracles they had witnessed? Wasn't God in those miracles? Where was God now?

What about everything Jesus had taught them? What about all their dreams of a new way?

Where do broken dreams go to die?

Now, on that same morning, that’s the question I want to stay with this morning, all those many centuries later. Where do broken dreams go when they die? Where do they hide while we bring spices to the empty tombs where we thought we had them buried? Where do they wait to be resurrected?

I have a hard time believing this myself, but I have been ordained a little over 30 years (I was just a child). I have worked as a college chaplain, a vicar of a small, struggling inner city congregation, a rector of an affluent suburban congregation, a Canon Missioner, and an activist in The Episcopal Church around issues of institutional prejudice and oppression.

These last five years I have been working as a Hospice Chaplain. In this position, I am surrounded daily by dying and death, sorrow and sadness, broken hearts and released spirits. It is intense work but it is deeply satisfying to my soul, yea, even unto the very marrow of my bones.

I am richly blessed to be able to do this work. I think I finally know enough stuff - and know how much I don't know - to now be able to do this work.

I am often asked, “How DO you do it?” And, just as often, “How CAN you do this work? Don’t you get depressed? Doesn’t it make you sad?”

My short answer is, almost always, “I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t believe in the resurrection.”

And, that is not a lie. That is absolutely the truth for me.

The longer answer is that I am one of those ancient followers of Jesus; I am still walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking with fellow followers of Jesus, trying to get my head wrapped around all the events of that week - from cries of “Hosanna” in Jerusalem to shouts of “Crucify Him” on the road to Calvary.

- from the last three days from “It is finished” at Calvary to the silence of the empty tomb.

- from the upper room in Jerusalem, filled with the ice-cold silence of fear, to the road to Emmaus where everyone asked, “What has happened?”.

And then, back to that upper room in Jerusalem where the women were first to shatter their walls of anxiety and grief with the Easter proclamation, “He is risen!”

I have come to understand even more deeply the words of the Eucharistic prayer we say at funerals in which we proclaim that “life is changed, not ended.”

Hear that again, “life is changed, not ended.”

That is not sappy Hallmark sentimentality or new age poetry. That, my friends, is a bold statement of faith in the power of the resurrection.

Hospice has taught me to love the empty tomb because I know it is only as empty as the limits of my faith. And, that’s what I believe the women and Peter saw when they looked into that empty tomb. 

What they saw was not the end. What they saw was possibility. What they saw was hope.

What they saw was the truth that faith sees beyond fate.

Let me say that again, faith sees beyond fate.  

It didn’t take Hospice to learn that life can sometimes turn on a dime. Some of you already know that the end of the time of this life can come swiftly and unexpectedly, but no matter how long it takes – an hour, a day, two weeks, a month, a year – death always comes too soon for some of us and not soon enough for others.   

And, no one knows or has control of that time.

Sometimes, in order to cope with the uncertainty of life, some of us wander off the beaten path – to the road less traveled – to journey just seven miles north and east – a mere two-hour walk – of the epicenter of things, where we try to understand. 

I am reminded that JRR Tolkein once wrote, “All who wander are not lost.” At some points in our lives of faith, we need to wander in order to find ourselves – to find what is truth for us.

Sometimes, in order to cope with the uncertainty of life, some of us need to build shelters and sanctuaries for ourselves. 

Using as an illustration the story of Noah's ark, when the entire world was being destroyed by flood except for those on the ark that Noah built, the philosopher and writer Noah benShea wrote about some of the lessons we can learn from that story.
He writes, “….  In the story of Noah, even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life.”

Even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life. 

Can you take that in?  Even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life.

Look at the architecture of this church. See the roof? Ever notice that it looks like the inside of the bottom of a boat? That’s intentional. It’s an illusion to Noah’s ark and the promise of God that the earth would never again be destroyed.

Even the architecture of a church reminds us of the sacred stories of our faith and reminds us that this building, this church, is a safe place – a sanctuary – against the forces of destruction in the world.

Hospice has taught me that we all need sanctuaries. For many of us, that is the church. But, others of us build our own sanctuaries – in addition to or the exclusion of – the building or the structures of the institutional church.

benShea writes,  
“The lesson of Noah teaches us that there comes a time in each of our lives when it is necessary to build an ark, to create a structure in which we can hide – a habit or a place or an attitude within ourselves that will shelter us – if we are to survive life’s terrible storms.”

“Noah was told to put a window in the ark so he could tell when the rain had stopped, and so we can remind others who have struggled to survive that they, too, should put a window in their ark, so all of us will know when it is time to come out from behind the habit of walls we build to survive.”

“And (then) we will see that the world is not always filled with a flood.”
Hospice has taught me that whether there is an empty tomb or a window in the shelters and sanctuaries of our lives, I - we all need community - people with whom to walk and talk in order to find a faith that sees beyond fate.

We need community - to walk and talk with others - to find a faith with a heart to embrace the mystery and paradox that even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life.

We need community - to walk and talk with others - in order to place a window in our ark, so that we will know when it is time to come out from behind the habit of the walls we build to survive.

We need community - to walk and talk with others - to find a faith with a mature soul which is a window to allow us to see that the world is not always filled with a flood.

Where do broken dreams go to die?

Here's the deal: I don’t believe they do die. Well, not all of them.

Neither do I believe they stick around, lurking like ghosts, locked in tombs of death.

I think they find a way to roll back the stone or make their way to the top of the waves of the flood where we see them through the window, dancing in the light mist of the white sea foam.

I think they go somewhere out there, hiding just behind twinkling stars in the sky. Indeed, I think it is the brokenness of dreams - the cracks which let the Light shine - which cause stars to twinkle. (The disciples were only able to see Jesus after the BREAKing of the bread). I believe our dreams are somewhere along the road, not far off, where they wait to be discovered and resurrected.

These weeks of Eastertide before Pentecost provide us a time to find and rediscover and resurrect broken dreams. Now. Today. Right now. On this same day -

– is one of those times -

- to allow your eyes to be opened to see the truth which has been walking along side of you, just seven miles to the north and east, a mere two hour walk from the epicenter of things.

To rediscover the hope that comes from choosing to believe.

And, if I’ve learned nothing else from Hospice, it is that belief is a choice.

And, what of faith?

Faith is the gift we are given for making the choice to believe what we believe.

What broken dream are you grieving this morning? Everyone has them. What are yours?

What has died in your life that you are waiting for resurrection?

What is dancing in the mist of the floodwaters that you thought destroyed your dream?

Where is the window in your ark? Look outside. What do you see?

What is the empty tomb in your life? Run to it. Stoop and look inside. What do you see?

Now is the time. Today is the day.

Now, on this same day, walk the road to Emmaus with some friends and find your broken dream.

It will be right there, walking right beside you. 

Waiting to be reborn. Waiting for new life.

Waiting to tell you all the stories that brought you to the point where you could dare to dream the dream.

Your dream is waiting – now, on this same day – to discover the joy that the disciples first knew.

He is risen! Alleluia! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Wisdom from Jacob the Baker


“I am sending an angel in front of you to guard you as you go
and to guide you to the place I have prepared."
 
The sky grew red and then began to pale to dusk. Jacob and the old man sat together shoulder to shoulder. Their manner with each other was not like men who had just met but as men who were being introduced to a friendship that had long existed but which they were just now discovering. In this way, Jacob met Joseph.
 
“What work do you do?” asked Joseph.
 
“I am a baker,” said Jacob.
 
Joseph laughed. “I used to be a baker,” he said, intrigued by the parallel. “But now I am afraid I am getting too old for my work.”
 
“It is written that ‘although we are not excused from the work, neither are we expected to finish it',” said Jacob.
 
“Yes,” said Joseph, “but what will I do with my time?”
 
“When we treat time as a limit,” said Jacob, then time becomes a wall, a barrier we will die climbing. If we see our days as a river,” Jacob motioned to the waters in front of them, “then we know time as a vehicle and realize we have all been born as passengers.”
 
“Passengers on a difficult journey,” said Joseph.
 
“Perhaps,” said Jacob. “But think about the story of Noah. Even in the flood of death, it is the flood that supports the ark of life.”
 
“And is that the lesson of Noah?” asked Joseph.
 
When Jacob began to speak again, his words came slowly, like a man stepping carefully from stone to stone in a different garden.
 
“The lesson of Noah teaches us that there comes a time in each of our lives when it is necessary to build an ark, to create a structure in which we can hide – a habit or a place or an attitude within ourselves that will shelter us – if we are to survive life’s terrible storms.”
 
“Yes,” said Joseph, interrupting, thinking back on the story he read as a child, “but why was Noah told to put a window in the ark? What could he see by doing this but the sadness of his fate?”
 
“My friend,” said Jacob, “faith sees beyond fate."
 
"Noah was told to put a window in the ark so he could tell when the rain had stopped, and so we can remind others who have struggled to survive that they, too, should put a window in their ark, so all of us will know when it is time to come out from behind the habit of walls we build to survive.”
 
“And what will we see then?” asked Joseph.
 
“We will see,” said Jacob, “that the world is not always filled with a flood.”
 
Joseph listened with his eyes while Jacob spoke; then, with a tone more plea than invitation, he asked, “Jacob, perhaps if you stay with me awhile you will turn my home into an ark.”
 
“If two people accept each other’s weaknesses,” said Jacob, “then their vulnerability is an ark for both of them.”
 
Taken from: “Jacob’s Journey: Wisdom to Find the Way, Strength to Carry On”
by Noah benShea

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

When a young person dies



One of the members of our own Hospice Team suffered the unexpected, sudden loss of a loved one at an early age. Those of us who deal with death and dying were undone by our shared grief and heartbreak for our co-worker.  I kept saying "He was only 37 years old." My Chaplain colleague kept saying, "I just keep thinking about that baby growing up without a daddy." We each had our own hooks on which we hung our grief. We were all asking each other: "What can we say? What can we do?" And, just as importantly, "What shouldn't we say or do?" So, when we gathered this morning for Team, we set aside a time to remember and pray. My chaplain colleague offered a beautiful, deeply meaningful, extemporaneous prayer which I wish I had recorded. It healed many broken hearts in that room. I read excerpts of the "Eulogy for Alex" by William Sloan Coffin, delivered to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City in 1983, ten days after the sudden death of his 24-year old son. It's a eulogy I return to often as a resource. I offer these excerpts here for you.


As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son--Alexander--who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family "fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky"--my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.

Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms":

"The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places."

My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.

When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said. The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister's house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice-looking, middle-aged woman, carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me, she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen, saying sadly over her shoulder, "I just don't understand the will of God." Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. "I'll say you don't, lady!" I said.

For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn't go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. 

Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths--I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I've been here--deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist--….

But violent deaths, such as the one Alex died--to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, "You blew it, buddy. You blew it." The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is "It is the will of God." Never do we know enough to say that.  

My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

That's why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers--the basics of beauty and life--people who sign letters simply, "Your brokenhearted sister." 

In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends--not many, and none of you, thank God--were using comforting words of Scripture for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn't face. But like God herself, Scripture is not around for anyone's protection, just for everyone's unending support.

And that's what hundreds of you understood so beautifully. You gave me what God gives all of us--minimum protection, maximum support. I swear to you, I wouldn't be standing here were I not upheld.

And of course I know, even when pain is deep, that God is good. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Yes, but at least, "My God, my God"; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn't end that way. 

As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn now to bearable sorrow, the truths in the "right" biblical passages are beginning, once again, to take hold:
"Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall strengthen thee"; 

"Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning"; 

"Lord, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong"; 

"For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling"; 

"In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world"; 

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
And finally I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday, a lamp went out, it was because, for him at least, the Dawn had come.

So I shall--so let us all--seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

I went to a Unitarian Universalist Church this morning.

It was quite intentional.

The sermon was on White Supremacy.  Which is why I went.

I mean, can you imagine such a sermon topic in an Episcopal Church?

Well, I can. But, I can't imagine too many rectors who would be brave enough to step up to the plate and take on a topic like this on a Sunday morning.

Maybe in the parish hall in an adult forum. But, never from the pulpit.

Okay, I can think of one or two but they are rare as hen's teeth in this beloved church of ours.

The Minister there is presently an interim position. (The final candidate comes at the end of this month for a long weekend where she will preach and teach and mix and mingle and then 90% of the congregation has to approve her before she is presented with the 'offer'. Not 90% of the search committee. 90% of the congregation. Pay attention, Episcopal Church.)

However, the entire Unitarian Universalist Association is participating in these sermons on White Supremacy over the next few weeks. This is due to a serious shake up at the national level during which the President of the Association resigned over controversy about problems with - you're not going to believe this - diversity in the staffing practices at the national level.

Yes, I'm still talking about the Unitarian Universalist Association, one of the most overtly and obviously affirming and inclusive of diversity of all the religious denominations or movements.

A white male was chosen to lead the group’s Southern region, replacing another white man who was retiring. Christina Rivera, a Latina laywoman who has served on the UUA’s board of trustees since 2014, revealed that she was a finalist for the position.

In her blog, "On being a good fit for the UUA" Rivera wrote:
I do not reveal this lightly…in fact it is with real fear that I am jeopardizing any future career within UU communities. But as I consider what has happened, I keep coming back to the thought that if they weren’t willing to hire me for this position then what makes me think that will change for any theoretical future? And ultimately how do we hold the UUA accountable for racial discrimination and upholding white supremacy if no one stands up in the public square and says “me, it was me, you did this to me and it is not ok, I demand you make this right!”
Yes, she said, "racial discrimination".

And yes, she said, "upholding white supremacy".

About the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Which begs the question, if it's possible for a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association to be a White Supremacist, could I be a White Supremacist?

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

The UUA minister handled the sermon / reflection time brilliantly. She began by framing the issue in terms of what had happened at the the national level and then invited four people to share the reflections they had at their "Tuesday evening UUA Seven Principles Reflection Group."

I so want to hit the pause button here and imagine what it would be like if The Episcopal Church could articulate Seven Principles and then had reflection groups around them but in most places we can barely gather 3-4 people of a Sunday morning - much less mid-week - to a Bible Study or to reflect on the lectionary for the coming Sunday so I'll just stop right here.

The topic that evening was the Fourth Principle:
"A free and responsible search for truth and meaning." 
Apparently, this principle was discussed in terms of the charge of White Supremacy. Three very different women and one TransMan each gave a very short presentation which ranged from righteous indignation tempered by open, honest questioning, to a wonderful comparison to the early days of the feminist movement when women burned their bras publicly and charged men with being "chauvinist pigs". (Oh, yes we did.)

This had been preceded by a reading from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." It was followed by the UU Interim Minister giving her reflection - which was intelligent and eloquent, honest and passionate and deeply moving.

She reminded us that, at the end of the service, the congregation would meet in the Library for refreshments during which there would be a "Twitter Storm" to support groups/individuals seeking to promote environmental awareness.

Following that, there would be "Circles in the Sanctuary" were people would be encouraged to share their reactions to the day's service.

I just have to press pause again here and note: Twitter Storms and Circles in the Sanctuary. Not to mention moving Shells of Joy and Concern and Lighting the Chalice. I've always said that no one can beat an Episcopal Priest at ringing at least 3 sermons from one symbol or metaphor but, ya know, ya just gotta love the UUAs.

So, here's the deal: No one in that church this morning was a White Supremacist.  Of course. If they were, they wouldn't have been in that room - or, in fact, anywhere near it.

And, we would have been able to easily spot them with their skin heads and tattoos, right? Or, the white sheets over their head? Or, surely from the red baseball cap with "Make America Great Again."

In academic usage, particularly in usage drawing on critical race theory the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, both at a collective and an individual level.

I believe Ms. Rivera, in making her charge of "White Supremacy" was talking about the assumed, unexamined privilege of being white. And, who, indeed, will be held accountable if someone - if she, herself - didn't stand up and say, loudly and clearly, "OUCH!"?

If we don't - if she didn't - put a face on an ism or an ideology and say, "ME! It's ME! Look at ME! The Chicana, Latina. See ME! The same woman that has been serving on the national board for the last three years. The same woman you carefully considered for the position. The same person you said was equally qualified for the position. It was ME. You did this to ME and it is NOT okay. I demand you make this right." - then how will it ever have a chance of being made right?

It was a personal, political decision and she was personalizing the political.

She was also using the same technique the early feminist movement used to wake people up from their complacency. No, not every man is a male chauvinist pig but making that charge caused a few men to wake up and pay attention.

It's like that old analogy from the early days of the feminist movement: Fish don't know they're in water.

If you tried to explain it to a fish it would say, "Water? What's water?" They're so surrounded by it that it's impossible to see. They can't see it until they get outside of it. And then they are also able to see how polluted some parts of the pond have gotten.

That's what happens when you charge UUAs - or any nice, polite, white person - with "White Supremacy". It's like taking a fish out of water and saying, "Look! Look what you've been surrounding yourself with! Look what you've been living in! Look what it's doing to some of the other fish."

Our service bulletin this morning included this "White Supremacy Pyramid" which makes it pretty clear that being White carries with it assumed, unexamined privilege which can, and does, negatively impact people of color.

Add maleness to the white supremacy model and you get the culture of Fox News and most of the culture of corporate America.

And now, the Oval Office of the White House.

Like most pyramid or ice bergs, the tip of it is just the obvious, presenting problem. It's what's below the tip, the bottom of the pyramid, where the covert, socially acceptable behavior exists - and becomes more dangerous the more attention is paid to the tip and the less is paid to the base.

I don't know about you, but from time to time in my journey I have wandered around the base of that pyramid. I confess that I've been an ardent subscriber of the "But We're Just One Human Family" perspective.

It's a lovely thought.

It's a marvelous goal.

It's not our reality.

Not unless you don't know that you're swimming in water. And, it's polluted.

I have come to believe this: Western Christianity is built on a frame which assumes the supremacy of Caucasians. It begins with the blond, blue-eyed Jesus and works its way through various manifestations like pew rents and tithes, and continues to ascribe higher value to literacy, social and educational status and social location than the content of human character.

You can find it in more subtle manifestations of spiritual disciplines which ask people who may not be able to afford food to "fast" and asks people who are are suffering the indignities of the oppressed to subscribe to Lenten disciplines which "sacrifice" something in order to better understand the "sufferings" of Jesus.

We've got an awful lot of work to do in order to dismantle the framework of an institution which is so immersed in the waters of prejudice and discrimination that it doesn't even know that there is a different environment in which we can all swim freely.

Please hear me clearly: Wealth and educational and social status are not inherently evil. It's the arrogance and greed that prevent the wider distribution of wealth and opportunity that is evil. It is the valuing of individual wealth and social status over human ability and potential based on race, ethnicity, gender, etc., that is evil.

Especially in the church or any religious community.

If you need a recent history lesson in this, just watch the movie Hidden Figures based on the book by Margo Lee Shetterly. 

As the service came to an end and the candle in the chalice was extinguished (I know, the images are confusing to me, too), we sang a song which was written by one of their former Ministers who has since retired. The hymn has become a closing tradition for them:
We extinguish the flame in this chalice, but not the one in our hearts.
This is the light of our soul that shines forth when the world seems too dark;
it is the spark that ignites hope when that seems lost.
Your light is precious; carry it with you.... always.
I came away from that service with a hunger that was nourished with a renewed committed to the work of justice.

And that work begins, once again and as it always does, with me. With "this little light of mine".

My light is precious. And, so is yours.

Could YOU be a White Supremacist?

That's a question I encourage you to explore for yourself.

Start by tending to your own light.

Then, take a look around at the water in which you swim.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pink Moon Rising.


It has begun.

As early as Sunday night, desperation notes started popping up on social media.

"I want to die," posted one person. I checked in on him. He said he wasn't suicidal. Said he just felt like he wanted to die. Said it wasn't anything new. He was just tired of it all. Felt like he couldn't go on one minute more.

Then, he started responding publicly to everyone with a rant about, "Oh, so NOW you want to talk? Where were you when I needed you? When I needed to talk? When I felt all alone?"

In a strange way, it was like he wanted to be noticed and then got embarrassed because people did.

Or, maybe he wanted to make us all feel the same way he did: hopeless and helpless.

Or, something.

Crazy, right?

Well, maybe not.

The phone starting ringing at 7:30 this morning.

"We are just a few hours into Holy Week and I'm not going to make it," said one voice.

I think that one was the third that morning. Or, maybe it was the fourth.

"Don't worry," I said, "by Friday evening the ERs around the country will be overflowing with suicide attempts."

I might have been a bit sarcastic but that was not a joke. I wouldn't joke about something like that. That's from experience.

I can't tell you how many Good Friday evenings I've spent in the ER with a parishioner or a student or a neighbor or a colleague.

And they weren't all religious. Some weren't even Christian.

This year - 2017, this week - there is a convergence of four major holy days  - three of them the holiest, highest of high, holy days - of four of the world;s major religions.

Hanuman Mistakes the Sun for a Fruit by BSP Pratinidhi
"Hanuman Jayanti" is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Hanuman Ji, the monkey God. He is the symbol of strength and energy. Hanuman is worshiped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to the God. He is widely believed to be immortal.

Passover has begun for the Jews - the time they observe the history of their people when God saved them from the plagues in Egypt and set them free from centuries of bondage.

For Western and Orthodox Christians, this is Holy Week - the time we observe the history of the Passion of Jesus who set us free from the letter of the law to fulfill the spirit of the law and win for us Life Eternal.

It's also the time of Pink Moon Rising, so named by Native Americans because it heralds the appearance of the moss pink or wild ground phlox - one of the first spring flowers. It is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon and the Fish Moon.

"Pink Moon" is the opening track from Nick Drake's 1972 album of the same name. It perfectly captures - well, for me, anyway - the tone and tenor of this time.
"Saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink Moon gonna get ye all
And it's a pink moon."
Nick Drake was an English born singer-songwriter, noted for his soulful guitar ballads. By the time Drake wrote this song, he was deep in the throes of his life-long battle with depression. He died two years later, in 1974, from an overdoes of antidepressants. He was 26 years old.

The power of the song for me is that, even in the midst of the deepest part of his depression, Drake could see the power of the undercurrent of life - the cycle of dying and death and rebirth.

There is no doubt in my mind that this week there is a powerful psychic-spiritual undercurrent which has been set loose in the cosmos.

Few of us will be left untouched by it.

You don't have to suffer a major depression to experience it.

You don't have to practice a particular religion to feel it.

You don't have to go to Temple or Church or Mosque and read a Holy Book to know it.

"None of you stand so tall/Pink Moon gonna get ye all".

None of us knows what stories others are carrying around in their souls, especially this week. Betrayal has a very long shelf life. So does cruelty. Violence buries itself deep in the marrow of one's bones.

And, pain? Well, a wise pastor once told me that "Pain touches pain."

Please be kind and gentle and compassionate to yourself this week, that you might be kind and gentle and compassionate to others.

You don't know what cosmic forces will tug and pull at some ancient scar deep in the crevice of the heart.

You never know what a tidal surge will wash up on the Shores of Memory.

Who is to know that which was once safely buried will be unearthed when the tectonic plates in the earth shift with the waxing and waning of the moon?

We have no idea what part of the soul which was once thought dead will be stirred back to life by the moonlight dancing on the water.

In the midst of the darkest part of the night, remember to look for new life.

The Pink Moon is on its way.

It has been promised.