Ugly Betty

Unemployment causes interesting side effects. Laziness is among them. I hate that, but it's true. And it's an awkward tension because I am not entirely unemployed. Instead, I'm waiting to be employed. I will soon be employed. But, the laziness is still omnipresent. So, I watch a lot more TV than I would normally like to admit. I have become a huge fan of Showtime's Weeds. I love Mary Louise Parker. I love the whole concept. It's insanely witty.

And last night, I added a new show to my repetoire. Meet Betty Suarez. She's the star of ABC's pilot episode of Ugly Betty. And Lordy I hope that they actually keep it on the air, instead of a two week flop like NBC's Book of Daniel -- a genius show that it seems most are not ready for. A minister with a gay son that still loves him? A minister who has his own set of problems? Not in America!

Likewise, Ugly Betty does not fall into the category of typical American stereotypes. She is not fashionable. She is not a twig that eats iceberg lettuce for lunch. She's real. And she's LATINA! I love that fact too. She's a young woman struggling to realize her own dreams. But, I wonder if ABC will be braver than NBC. I wonder if they will be brave enough to realize that young girls need to see the beauty within them. I wonder if they will have the courage to challenge modern conceptions of beauty. I wonder if thy will make a joke out of intelligent, strong women that do not fit into the images on the cover of Cosmo. I wonder if we will be brave enough to see the beauty in ourselves -- even if we have to see that on a TV screen.


All the Ladies are doing it.

All of the RevGalPal Ladies seem to be doing this, so I thought I would to.

What's the point? you ask. I have no idea. But, it's kinda cool.

And you could have one too.

Just a Comma

Apparently, earlier this week, President Bush explained that the Iraq war will be viewed as "just a comma" in an interview on CNN. A certain columnist for Editor & Publisher believes that this comment was actually a confused reference to the UCC's Still Speaking campaign. I'm curious what this reporter actually thinks about my beloved denomination's most recent initiative -- as it seems that he has never heard of it before. He used Google well and found some great references. But, I'm curious what he did read.

He explains that the UCC's slogan "Don't put a period where God puts a comma" refers to past events. It refers to a historical outlook of the Jesus narrative where God's redemptive story extends beyond Jesus' death into the Resurrection. But, this remains a historical event, no matter how you slice it. And this, dear friends, makes me sad. This is not what I have understood my beloved denomination's campaign to be about -- and I hope that I am not the only one.

To me, the comma that we have come to cherish as part of UCC "tradition" is about what God has yet to say. Sure, this could be something in the past. As people of the Book that are constantly looking back to move forward, it may seem inevitable that we look back. It may seem that the Resurrection is a one-time event that remains in the past. But, if this is the case, I fear that the good news is stuck. Christianity will surely become irrelevant, if it is not already. Our comma sings the power of the Resurrection into our future. There is something yet to come. There is something unexpected. There is something sacred yet to be revealed. And, this is the mystery that the UCC celebrates. Truly, God is still speaking, Alleluia. Amen.

I want to be a ROCKSTAR!

I want to be a rockstar. That's all there is to it.

Last night, I went to see the Rolling Stones at Giants Stadium. And while I was standing on the unsteady folding chair on the floor (on the FLOOR!!!), I suddenly understood why contemporary worship is appealing. I was nervous about the guy next to me that was literally worshipping the Stones. But, I understood why this works for so many people in my generation and younger. It's a complete high, which I can only hope lasts beyond the worship experience.

But, really, I just want to be a rockstar. I want to wear my leather and sequins and dance around the pulpit rallying the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd. Ahem, congregation. Will the people of God say amen?


Inextricable Connections

Denominations may be a thing of the past. We may be moving past them into a true embodiment of the whole people of God that is not sectarian. But, for now, I love my denomination. I'm so proud of the wonderful, prophetic actions we move toward. Two days ago, our President and General Minister Rev. John Thomas made a speech at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities. He concludes with these words:

At the same time, Jews and Christians remain, even in moments of deepest tension, inextricably linked to one another by the God whose covenants with each community have not been and cannot be broken. It is the witness of the General Synod’s Statement twenty years ago that it is God’s faithfulness, and not our own comfort with each other or our agreement on the Middle East, that binds us together. Borrowing from Paul, albeit in a different context, the church and the synagogue do not have the luxury of saying to one another, “I have no need of you.” Neither ghetto nor pogrom, in either their historic or contemporary manifestations, reflect the will of God either for Christian or Jew. The current state of our relationship, stretched almost to breaking by the dilemmas of the Middle East and the depressing regularity of new shipments of history, does not offer an encouraging atmosphere within which to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1987 General Synod’s groundbreaking theological affirmations. Yet it is those very affirmations that offer the promise that this precious relationship cannot ultimately be broken and impels us, amid all of today’s challenge and confrontation to find ways
to embody the unbreakable covenants that bear witness to the faithfulness of God.

As the new year dawns with Rosh Hashanah this weekend, perhaps a new year in our relationships with our brothers and sisters will arise. We can only hope.

There's nothing like a good movie

Maybe it's trite. Maybe it is a tired theme after how many different movies and books about spelling bees. But, somehow these brainiac children warm our hearts -- as they should. Even if we don't want to be influenced by the touching narrative that Starbucks offers us, it's still sweet. And you can't help but cheer for both Akeelah and Dylan in the end!

But, what I really love is the self esteem booster that is offered by Akeelah's coach. It's a Marianne Williamson quote (who I admit I know very little about).* And I don't really care because her words are enough for me. They offer a sermon that I can take away after my popcorn is gone.

“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 does not serve the world. There is 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."

And that's really what matters. Go and be powerful beyond measure, because child, you already are. Amen. Amen. Amen.

* Ok, I just went to visit Marianne Williamson's website to learn more. Oprah likes her, but I'm a little scared. I love, love, love the quote in the movie. But, I was really hoping that it was going to have some more weight than something from a woman that writes self help books that are loosely based on religious beliefs. Oh. That was mean. Sorry honey, God love you Marianne. But, I'm nervous.


The Living Word

I have been looking at a lot of art recently. Or at least, I spent a weekend in the city and took full advantage of the cultural wealth in my fair city (which is not my city anymore, mind you).

At the same time, I was trying to write a sermon today. It's not coming together all that well. In fact, it's frustrating me. Most of my seminary peers will make fun of me as I'm not preaching until October 8 -- and it's already half-written. They all hate this about me. But, I'm a little neurotic. I can't help it. Anyhow, the point is that I have time. And I'm allowing it to have a lot of weight. After I preach this sermon, the congregation that I hope to serve will vote me in. It's a big deal. It's a really big deal. Sigh.

Anyhow, I'm thinking about the art that I saw at the Museum of Biblical Art on Friday. MOBIA is a teeny museum but tends to have really, really cool stuff -- espcecially for people like me that love art and religion. It's like heaven. The current exhibit is a travelling show of Illuminating the Word, which displays the selections of the Prophets from the Saint John's Bible. You can go to the website and read all about the project. While I like the idea, or maybe the intention, there is something about it that eats at me. It seems that the entire premise of the project hinges on the fact that the Bible is no longer relevant. Eeek. And yet, this team of artists seeks to capture a relevant interpretation of the text for our modern world. Some of this is just amazing. And some of it is a tad too literal. While there are images that capture refugees and pollution of our earth, there is still a lot of Jesus stuff that we could reinterpret with a little more vivaviousness. But, I digress.

Oh, but you should see the images. Here are two. I wish I could find a still of the page in Isaiah. The one that describes the Messiah, or what we Christians assume is the Messiah while the vote is out on what Isaiah really thinks. You know, the Wonderful Counselor, blah blah blah text. We read it at Advent. I'm spending too much time on this and should just look it up. But, I don't feel like it. Anyhow, here are two images from the Gospel of John.

But, my sermon isn't about the Living Word -- or at least, not directly. Instead I'm taking the Job text and talking about images of God. I know where I am going, sorta. These images keep popping in my head while I write though. What is it that we are trying to see in God? When do images limit our experience of God? Does Bonhoeffer offer us the most wisdom in trying to claim a God of the gaps? Perhaps. Perhaps. But, curse God and die. I hate it when sermons don't come together easily.

What's with the hat?

Ok, I am not a fashionista. I admit it. I like daring styles with smashing bright colors, especially reds. But really, dear Pope Benedict, what's the hat? What kind of statement is he making here?

I'm not sure that it's the festive attire that he should be donning. And I certainly don't think that it's a commentary on his beliefs about Islam. But, he's been seen wearing this before. He must like it, but I wonder what Peacebang would say.


A Literal Interpretation

My friend John and I went gallery hopping in Chelsea today. Though we were mostly disappointed by what we saw, we agreed that this was a pretty exciting, edgy creation. It's entitled Red Sea, and is actually part of a series so this may be Red Sea I or Red Sea II but you get the idea. The artist is Barnaby Furnas and his show is at the Marianne Boesky Gallery. You should go. The other paintings in this series were better than this still. It's actually pretty impressive, though you should quickly run past the first three rooms of the gallery. You will be disturbed by what you see there. Just head straight to the back.

Maybe you don't believe me. I know what you are thinking, it's not really a RED sea. It's a lovely metaphor and was actually a sea of REEDS. Somehow the Hebrew alludes us. But, c'mon, this is pretty cool for a literal interpretation, isn't it?



I'm sure that your mother told you the same thing when you were a child: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I believe this to be true, though every so often I fall into the trap of complaining about things that upset me. It seems to be a trend in our culture recently. People thrive off of bad mouthing other people. It's insulting and a little pathetic. Not that I am naming any names.

Instead, I'm pointing the finger at myself. I just noticed that my past few posts are doing just that. How terrible am I? If only I could get the damn log out of my own eye first, then maybe I wouldn't be so inclined to talk badly about others. Maybe it's not so much that I'm talking badly about others. I would like to think that I am just disappointed. I already know I have high expectations, especially from peers. It's a problem that I shall struggle with. But, it's my log. And there it is. It's not fair and it's not right. But, here I am... gossiping.

I could gossip about myself too. I'm not convinced that it would be all that interesting. And from personal experience, not the greatest idea to broadcast across the internet. But, I have found it's something that we do. We talk about other people as much as we talk about our own story. It's how we make sense of the world, I guess. It's a big ol' log perhaps. But, it's there. And I guess I wonder what to do about it.

After all, it's a grade school blunder. It's hurtful to everyone involved and yet some of us (that would be me, it seems) can't help it. So, I'm guilt as sin and I simply ask for penance. Or at least some forgiveness as penance isn't entirely within my theological framework. But, I do indeed apologize for any wrongs I have committed. I'm sorry to have hurt those I have hurt. And I hope that we can find a way to live in more loving community. For this, I shall work.

Minister to the Nation

I love this picture so much, but it makes me squirm. They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words. So I guess I should just let the picture speak. But, I have to wonder why the Rev. Dr. James Forbes is benedicting the congregation of Riverside Church from the rear of the church? Instead of looking into the beauty of the faces of the whole people of God, as God looks to encounter us, Dr. Forbes outstretches his arms to the back of their heads.

Funny how a friend just remarked to me yesterday how annoying Riverside is. We want to like it. And I share that sentiment. Afterall, I went to seminary across the street. It was one of those places that you had to go to worship. You had to experience Riverside. You had to sit in this amazing sanctuary. And you had to experience Dr. Forbes preaching.

As with anything, preachers need to be inspired by other preachers. I happen to think that Dr. Forbes is a little long winded, but I can offer with this criticism with a smile and the offhand comment, "but he's got Pentecostal roots." But, truth be told. Riverside never fed me. I never left there feeling fulfilled -- which is really what worship is all about. If we are not feeding the flock, we are not doing our job. This sounds insanely harsh.

But, there it is in the New York Times this morning. Dr. Forbes is going to leave Riverside to become a "minister to the nation." It sounds like he wants to compete with the likes of Ted Haggerty in offering President Bush spiritual advice, but this time from a "liberal" perspective. I don't know about this. It makes me really uncomfortable as I wonder about the separation between church and state. Religion can't help but be political. But, can politics help being religious?

One of Riverside's members commented, “How do I feel about him leaving?” Mr. Bynoe asked. “God bless him. His 18 years here have shown no accomplishment. He has preferred to get in with the left wing of the Democratic Party and do their bidding.” Dr. Forbes should not be evaluated by his accomplishments. It's a problem that I didn't like about Riverside. Ministry is about empowerment, where Dr. Forbes seems to be on an ego trip. An ego trip that has only gotten worse as he claims his divine call to minister to people across America.

I can only cringe. I went to seminary in a place where we relished in the political. We talked about it. We were mostly democrats. We made outrageous claims, as was the tradition of our institution. But, in our churches, I don't believe that this is how it should be. And whether or not Dr. Forbes wants to be in or out of a church, his political view seems devisive. In my heart, I don't think that this is what our faith tradition is about. It's not about getting people to move politically. It's about the care for the least of these, as well as care for ourselves -- and I just feel that ego trips negate this call. We are supposed to minister to people, not the nation. What happens to the people?


Things You Can Never Be Sure You Will Miss

I spent the past couple of days in my fair city of New York. Since I moved, I have found wonderful excuses to visit friends in the city. Most of these visits have been kinda strange, mostly because I'm used to having somewhere to go... and now, I'm aimless. And without too much theological wandering, I don't do well with being aimless. But, I do miss the sense that New York is home. It happened while I was waiting for the bus on Broadway sometime on Friday. I realized that this is no longer my city. It is changing without me. It is being wonderful without me.

And while I don't really miss it, it stung. It was like going home and finding that everyone else grew up. Of course, it's silly because you too have grown up. You have done wonderful things and seen amazing places and met more wonderful people. But, everything looks smaller when you go back. When you go home again, it doesn't look like you remember. It just doesn't look nearly as grand. It's just not the same and there's a silly kind of sadness that comes with that. It's silly because I don't really miss it. I just want it to still be mine, like a child who sees another child enjoying her old toy. Suddenly, I want it back.

But, I'm venturing to new places and going to do new things. I'm filled with anticipation and excitement. But, there is still that small part of me that wonders what I shall be leaving behind in New York. The friends that I have made. The memories that will linger. The arts that explode across the streets and in museums. The friends that know my whole story. The friends that know what I will say before I can think it. The endless possibility. But, really, I can take all of these things with me even though that silly part within me will miss them all so very much.


Here I Am Lord.

While the adventures of trying to figure out where in the world God wants me to be have proven exhausting, it seems that I am at the end of the path. There are still a few more hoops, but I'm too excited to focus on that. Just 30 minutes ago, I accepted the call to the Associate Pastor at the First Congregational Church of South Portland, Maine.

Here I am Lord, send me.



Does Anyone Have Ethics Anymore?

This appeared in today's New York Magazine's The Ethicist column:

Once a week I pick up donated bakery items and deliver them to the food bank to be distributed to needy families. One morning I helped myself to a box of doughnuts. The following week I took some cookies for my grandson; then it was a pecan pie, etc. Is this wrong? There seems to be plenty of food for the needy. Marjorie S. Desimone, Lansdowne, VA.

I see where this is going: first you swipe a few doughnuts, then it’s a whole pie and before you know it you’re shooting it out with the cops at a Sara Lee factory. It’s an old, old story. Here’s one way to think about it. Suppose you were collecting cash for this same charity: would you help yourself to a few bucks if there were still “plenty” for the needy? If it’s wrong to take a wad of $10 bills, why is it right to take a wad of doughnuts? (Do they come by the wad?) I admire your work for the food bank, but you should stop skimming pastry.

Here’s another way to think about it: If you didn’t know the answer, you wouldn’t have asked the question. It is often said that if you feel uneasy about your conduct, you’re probably doing wrong. But is that so? The proddings of the conscience are unreliable. Some people have a hypersensitive conscience and feel guilty about nearly everything. (Hence all those jokes that, in different versions, Jews and Catholics tell about themselves.) Other people do appalling things and sleep through the night untroubled. There’s no consistent calibration of the conscience; feelings are not a reliable substitute for thought. That’s why therapists flourish. And columnists proffering ethical advice.

BUT WAIT A MINUTE>>> Both Marjorie and the Ethicist miss something here that offends me to the very core. We are just so unaware of our own priveldge. It's not that I'm immune to this anymore than poor Marjorie. We all struggle with wealth and as someone pointed out to me this week, most people think that they just need to earn 20% more to be ok. That figure goes across the economic divides and contributes to our horrible lack of understanding of the reality of poverty in America (or anywhere else in the world). Like so many of us, Marjorie thinks that she needs a little bit more so she takes what is free.

Now, there is something strange in her logic. After all, isn't it a little insulting that she's asking this question at all? Isn't it a problem that we are not concerned about the charity offered to the needy? Suddenly, there are too many people giving to the needy. They have enough?? And yet, they are still needy. But, we need to have a box of donuts and a pie. Because the needy have enough. What happened to our own sense of charity? Whatever happened to loving the neighbor?


The Devil is Ann Coulter

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like Liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now." -- Ann Coulter

This is one of the terrifying phrases that the doll in the image of her namesake speaks if you push her buttons. And wouldn't I just love to push her buttons!

Children of God -- whether you are Christian or Muslim -- will you pray with me?

O God, we know you by many names.
We call you Allah and YHWH.
These are our names for our hope.
And in you, no matter what name we call out,
we find that hope.

O God, we know you by your many people.
We call them many names, some of which belittle your image within them.
We look to your people praying that they will have your vision
not to demonize our fellow humanity,
not to narrow the possibility of a global community,
not to limit your mystery to right or left.

O God, we pray that you will reveal your truth in the pwoer of your many holy names. In this we pray as your many people. Amen.


If You See Something, Say Something.

I'm preaching a lot these days. Here is the full text of my sermon for this Sunday based on Ecclesiastes 1:1-9 and Mark 7:31-37 with a prayerful intention of thinking about the fifth anniversary of 9/11. So, here goes:

If you see something, say something.

“As part of an ongoing effort to make and keep its network safe,” the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City introduced this slogan right after the attacks on the World Trade Center five years ago. For five years, this slogan has been part of my commute and my travels. Whether I was going to church or to get groceries, this slogan confronted me. On posters all over the subway car and over the loud speaker,

If you see something, say something.

Maybe you have felt this discomfort too – a discomfort in seeing. As you have traveled on buses or planes, you too have noticed that you have seen the other passengers a little differently. No matter how you resist it, something has changed our perception of these fellow travelers. Something has changed in our post-9/11 world.

Or has it? Perhaps it is as it is written. There is “nothing new under the sun.” Maybe “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done.” Or maybe this is the age-old story of learning from our past. Without making accusations or pointing fingers, we are still trying to figure out what it is that we do see, so that we might say something. But, what in the world could this mean for us five years after the towers fell in New York?

No doubt, you’ve heard it said before: if we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. President Bush even offered this wisdom earlier this week as he reflected on a terror-free world. But, as Christians that share a very particular history, I’m not so sure that this is our doom. Instead, as a living tradition, our shared sacred stories reveal something that is very much alive.

Take Mark for example. Before the gospel author could sit down to write his account of the Jesus Movement, trouble was brewing in Jerusalem. Thirty years before Mark wrote about “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,” the Roman Emperor Caligula declared himself a god and ordered his likeness to be placed in each and every Jewish Temple.

If you see something, say something.

The powers of Rome were never really sympathetic to the enormous abomination this was for the Jews. Tradition forbade any images – especially of God – to be displayed in the Temple. But, Caligula’s order ignored this entirely.

And so, the Jews revolted. And it just got worse. It got so bad in this revolt – this revolt that some even called a war – that Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed. With this profound loss, Mark sits down to write his gospel story about this Jesus character.

“Why had it all happened? What had gone wrong?” These must have been Mark’s questions. We know these questions. We know these questions because five years later, these are still our questions. Like Mark, we are still trying to make sense of all that has happened.

And for Mark, making sense of the war means looking to Jesus. This isn’t surprising to us. We know how the story unfolds. But in the midst of all of this grief and loss, Jesus seems like a strange choice. I mean, isn’t it strange how Jesus behaves in this gospel story? When the disciples bring Jesus this “deaf man who had an impediment in his speech,” Jesus takes him aside. Jesus takes this man in private – away from the crowd. Behind closed doors. And of course, “closing doors raises suspicions immediately.” But behind these closed doors, there is Jesus the healer.

Maybe that’s what Mark wants us to see. Jesus the healer. Mark invites us to relax and relieve ourselves of our guilt from any suspicious glances we might offer. Mark gets it. He understands the cultural dynamics that make Jesus’ activity strange. But even behind these closed doors, we can’t help but be a little suspicious.

But mark understands and wants us to meet Jesus the healer. With a little spit, a sigh and a magic word, Jesus heals this deaf man. His ears are opened. His tongue is released and he spoke plainly. It’s all a little suspicious. But, maybe this strange behavior is exactly what we need. Maybe what Jesus does or where he does it doesn’t matter as much as that he is simply there.

Two weeks ago, my grandmother strained her back. While lifting a fan to relieve her of the summer’s heat, that old pain in her back flared up again. She was taken the hospital and put “on drugs” to the family’s jokes. A couple of days later, I traveled the seven hours to be with her. I didn’t do very much – a little cooking, a little cleaning and some grocery shopping. But, mostly, I just sat with her. And all that mattered was that I was simply there.

It was something that I had learned this summer. While immersed in the intensity of hospital chaplaincy, I learned that what really mattered for my patients was simply that I was there. I was there to listen. I held their hands. And sometimes I even prayed. I wanted to be able to spit, sigh and say a magic word that would make the pain disappear. But, I knew that all I really could do was simply be there.

And most of the time, it doesn’t feel like enough. Maybe it’s not even enough to say that what really mattered was that Jesus was there. Behind closed doors, is this what really matters five years after the attacks on the World Trade Center? Is this what really matters when more lives have been lost since the attacks then on that sad day in September? After all,

If you see something, say something.

We’re supposed to tell. Even the deaf man must tell what he has seen. As Christians, we are not supposed to keep this “good news” to ourselves – behind closed doors. We are supposed to share it. We are supposed to share the mystery and wonder of Jesus ministry with anyone that will listen.

But Mark knows our pain. Mark knows our loss. Even after five years of sharing the stories since 9/11 and the 2000 years that we have tried to make sense of the death of Jesus, Mark knows that there is still pain. Even with the distance of time, it still hurts. It doesn’t matter if you lived near New York, just as it didn’t matter whether or not you lived near Jerusalem. The loss still hurt. And maybe that’s what Mark wants us to see. Jesus is there. Perhaps all that really matters is that we are here for each other.

In one of my favorite tracks off Mary Chapin Carpenter’s most recent album, she sings about an ironworker who she had heard about in an interview. In the interview, the ironworker had explained his commute home after working on the “pile” that remains from the attacks. He would take the subway to Grand Central Station so that any souls might follow him. He would stand on the platform and wait for any of these souls that might want to “catch the train home.”

This ironworker was simply there. Without any spit, sighs or magic words, this man stood in where Jesus might have.

Perhaps indeed there is “nothing new under the sun.” It’s just how it was for the deaf man. But, instead of Jesus behind closed doors, it’s an ironworker standing on a platform.

In his reflection upon the release of the emergency call tapes from that fateful September day, Garrison Keillor remarks, “what we crave is reality.” And while I want to offer a Prairie Home Companion “Amen!” to his words, I think we might need a little more than reality. And somehow, I think that the ironworker riding the #6 train to Grand Central Station might have seen it. Maybe it was over the loudspeaker or on a poster,

If you see something, say something.

And that ironworker knew. He had seen something, and he knew that he had to say something to honor the memory of those that passed. And that’s what he did. Standing on a platform in Grand Central Station, that ironworker said something for those that could no longer speak.

It’s just as it was written. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done.”

But, this time, it’s our turn to make sense of the past five years. It’s our turn to stand in Jesus place. No spitting. No sighing. No magic words. Five years later, wherever our platform might be, it’s our turn simply to be there.


Inclusive Language in Practice

On Sunday, my dear friend Durrell became the Canon Precenter at the Sunshine Cathedral in Florida. Isn't he cute? That's him in the green. So cute.

And we're so proud of him because it realizes a long dream of his to be an Episcopalian priest. And though it's not exactly the same, Durrell has realized his dream. In his email to announced this joyous occassion, he coined himself as "Father Durrell."

Of course, I could not let this just be. So, I emailed:

Congrats Cutie Durrell. But, dear love, I won't call
you Father. I don't even call God by that name.

And he replied:

you can continue to call me sister :-)



Coloring Outside the Lines

This is the full text of my sermon for this Sunday, based on Mark 7:1-23.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, the picture is starting to fill in. There are shadows and firmer outlines, a few promising, some of them menacing.

Can’t you just imagine the stark outlines in the pages of a child’s coloring book waiting for color? Waiting for your creative impulse to make that tree green or that house red? And wouldn’t be wonderful if this New York Times description of the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans only required our creativity to imagine the right shade of purple for wholeness to be restored?

Maybe it wouldn’t be purple. Maybe you would choose another color from the Crayola box. But, I think that I would choose purple. Purple might not be the choice of the Pharisees. In fact, I’m not even sure that they would choose to use color at all. Instead, as the token know-it-alls of proper Jewish observance, the Pharisees enter with accusations. They had noticed “some of the disciples were eating with defiled hands.” It’s all well and good for the Pharisees to carry the traditions of the Temple into the greater area of Israel. But, isn’t this purity law stuff a bit harsh?

Mark tries to explain with a little background information as to why the Pharisees are in such a huff. He explains,

For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe.

These are the dark outlines on the coloring book page – outlining the way things should be. With these crisp black lines, the Pharisees establish the purity laws through right and wrong action.

So, how do we begin to fill in this picture? Perhaps we should start with the disciples, who would follow Jesus in and around Jerusalem. How do they adhere to these purity laws, especially when peasant farmers found it impossible. Ritually pure water to wash with was not a priority for the farmers. Even as fishermen, the disciples couldn’t keep up with these purity laws. As thy traveled it seems that the disciples would not have found such water with any more ease. So, how could the disciples really have “clean” hands?

Several years ago, while I was in Appalachia, a flood struck the area I was living. Mud piled everywhere. It seeped into the most unlikely places and stayed there for weeks. As we waited for restoration from this disaster, I got to use a power washer to clean out a community center near my home. With ten other volunteers, we used squeegees to push the mud out with a powerful shower of water. Like the disciples, who would have also found lingering mud caked between their toes and fingers, there was no way that we would have “clean” hands.

As images of the debris still littering the streets of New Orleans flashed across the television this week, I have been thinking about the relief workers that squeeged by my side in Appalachia. They had responded to the flood in a moment’s notice. They had dropped everything and come to the heart of the disaster. As the television flickers with more and more wreckage from Katrina, I think of these relief workers and wonder how the hands of anyone brave enough to respond to the deepest needs could ever be considered “unclean”?

But, this isn’t exactly what the Pharisees were in a huff about. They were concerned about the crossing of boundaries, because Pharisees colored in the lines. Things were to be kept separate. And if they are not separate, they are no longer holy. To eat with unwashed hands blurred such boundaries that the Pharisees found appalling. Remember? You are supposed to color inside lines.

In the face of the Pharisees’ disgust, Jesus makes all foods clean. Mark places this action in parentheses, almost as if it didn’t happen. Maybe these parentheses are Mark’s outlines – to show the power of this boundary. Maybe this boundary is too great for us to understand, as the Lectionary doesn’t even include this verse in the reading.

Maybe we don’t want to see Jesus like a rebellious child. Like something my brother Erik would do. When we were coloring as children, Erik would take the crayon and … (dramatic action) … He would never color inside of the lines. I always though that this was a menacing, rebellious act. I believed that you were supposed to color in the lines. But now, I wonder. Unlike the Pharisees who wanted everything neatly inside of the dark outlines on the coloring book page, Jesus doesn’t color inside the lines.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, the picture is starting to fill in. I love that this New York Times reporter dared to imagine the aftermath of Katrina as a child’s coloring book. It may be a little insulting. This analogy may belittle the horrible disaster of Katrina. But, the reporter guides us. The picture is starting to fill in.

What color would you choose from your Crayola box to make that house? Or that tree? Or like Jesus, would you color outside the lines?

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, Jesus “calls us beyond arguments over what is old and what is new to a concern for what is vital.” In the aftermath of Katrina, it seems so difficult to imagine what is vital. It’s not that there are too many colors to choose from. There are just too many factors. And yet, the picture is starting to fill in.

Just as Jesus declared all foods clean, Jesus redraws the boundaries that the Pharisees long to uphold. Like my brother with his broad, elaborate gestures all over the page, Jesus ignores the dark outlines. And with Jesus to guide our creativity of coloring outside the lines, we are invited to imagine what could be.

We can begin to draw like a little boy who one evening picks up his purple crayon. For fifty years, Crockett Johnson’s children’s story Harold and Purple Crayon has dazzled children and adults. With his handy purple crayon, Harold bravely draws the world around him. Like Jesus, Harold colors outside the lines. With his purple crayon, he draws a moon so that he might walk by the moonlight and a path so that he “wouldn’t get lost.” He draws an apple tree where he believes one should be. He draws a dragon only to get scared of his own creation, but with a few strokes of his purple crayon, Harold draws a boat to escape his fears by sea. Harold draws the possible.

Like a half-completed drawing in a child’s coloring book, we are imagining our own outlines. Our picture might not be of the restored wholeness in New Orleans. Maybe that vision would make it into the corner of our drawing to leave room for your own personal hopes. Maybe your outlines would sketch the joyful community of this church in Saco, Maine. Maybe you would draw your reunited family or a job promotion. Maybe your purple crayon would celebrate the workers and laborers that we honor tomorrow on our day off. Maybe you would create your greatest dreams – hopes you won’t even speak with words.

With Jesus’ hand to guide you to color outside the lines, your picture will begin to fill in. What would you draw?