Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bullying begins with adults

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a candlelight vigil to bring attention to bullying and the suicides of children and young people who are gay or perceived to be gay. Bullying is much a part of our culture, and it's a reflection of the behavior of adults. Lori came across this commentary from a blog called Momastery by a mom named Glennon, who describes the title of her blog thusly:
"I chose “Momastery” because a monastery is a sacred place, apart from the world, where a seeker retreats to figure out what matters and catch glimpses of God. That’s exactly what motherhood is like to me."
Here is the post about bullying and I hope we can take it to heart in our work, in our churches and in our homes:
A Mountain I'm Willing to Die On
Along with every other concerned mama, I’ve been watching America’s response to the bullying related suicides closely. People seem to be quite shocked by the cruelty that’s happening in America’s schools. I’m confused by their shock. I’m also concerned about what’s not being addressed in their proposed solutions.
The acceptable response seems to be that we need to better educate students and teachers about what bullying is and how to react appropriately to it. This plan is positive, certainly. But on its own, it seems a little like bailing frantically without looking for the hole in the boat through which the water is leaking.
Each time one of these stories is reported, the tag line is: “kids can be so cruel.” This is something we tend to say. Kids these days, they can be so cruel. But I think this is just a phrase we toss around to excuse ourselves from facing the truth. Because I don’t think kids are any crueler than adults. I just think kids aren’t quite as adept yet at disguising their cruelty.
Yesterday I heard a radio report that students who are most likely to be bullied are gay kids, overweight kids, and Muslim kids.
I would venture to guess that at this point in American history, gay adults, overweight adults, and Muslim adults feel the most bullied as well.
Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be “grown-up.” So they act how grown-ups act when we think they’re not looking. They do not act how we tell them to act at school assemblies. They act how we really act. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. That they are not equal. That they are to be feared. And people hurt the things they fear. We know that. What they are doing in the schools, what we are doing in the media - it’s all the same. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and one liners on sit-coms.
And people are sensitive. People are heart-breakingly sensitive. If enough people tell someone over and over that he is not okay, he will believe it. And one way or another, he will die.
So how is any of this surprising? It’s quite predictable, actually. It’s trickle-down cruelty.
I don’t know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problemoutside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is AWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God’s and their father’s and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a singleunless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Charles Perry obituary in Episcopal News Service

I thought you might like to see Charles Perry obituary in Episcopal News Service (and I am quoted near the bottom):

Charles A. Perry, former cathedral provost and seminary dean, dies at 81

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Dr. Charles A. Perry, former Washington National Cathedral provost and Church Divinity School of the Pacificseminary dean, died Oct. 23 of a heart attack while on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. He was 81.

Perry served the cathedral as chief pastor, administrator, and fundraiser from 1978 to 1990. He was installed Oct. 26, 1990, as CDSP's dean and retired in 1995. He was dean while Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori earned a Master of Divinity from the Berkeley, California-based school in 1994.

He is credited with saving the cathedral from $10.5 million of debt during his tenure and additionally with raising the funds to complete the cathedral's construction, according to a press release from the cathedral.

His funeral will take place Oct. 31 at St. Paul's Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston will preside and St. Paul's rector, the Rev. Jim Richardson, will preach. Perry will later be interred at the cathedral, at a service to be announced. His wife Joy, his son Russell Keith Perry, daughter Dana Leslie Smith, and five grandchildren survive him.

"The entire cathedral community mourns not only the loss of such a significant figure in the history of this cathedral, but also the loss of an extraordinarily faithful priest and leader," the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, cathedral dean, wrote in a letter to the cathedral community. "We give thanks to God for the resolute leadership and devoted service of Charles Perry, one of the cathedral’s giants."

Perry was appointed cathedral provost by then-Bishop of Washington John T. Walker and had previously served the Diocese of Washington as executive officer for seven years. As provost, Perry was responsible for the cathedral's day-to-day operations. He also highlighted the cathedral's ministry as a national house of prayer, planning a "Service of Prayer for World Peace" in memory of assassinated Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat in 1981. Perry also organized the cathedral's Vietnam War Vigil and Memorial Service, held Nov. 10-14, 1982, during which 57,939 names of dead or missing Americans were read aloud during a 56-hour vigil.

Richardson, a friend of Perry's, wrote on his blog that at CDSP Perry "presided over a difficult era of transition into a more inclusive and wider vision for theological education. Some very good priests came through CDSP in his time."

A native of White Plains, New York, Perry received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University and his Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. He also held a master's degree in public administration from the University of Minnesota.

A photo gallery of Perry's tenure at the cathedral is here.

Tonight: African Development Project Harambee

Come hear some good news!

You are invited to ADP’s annual fundraising dinner: a sale of Kenyan crafts and jewelry begins at 5:30 pm, followed by a festive dinner at 6:00 pm at St. Paul's.

There will be updates on the projects we support in Kenya and presentations by Susanna Williams on her recent visit to Nyalwodep Project for Orphans and Children and by Kelli Olson, Cindy Cartwright, and Julie Convisser on DAWN, the new “Dollar a Week Network” to support an orphan in school.

Everyone is welcome. RSVP:, or call the church office: 295-2156. Since 1985, ADP has partnered with effective development projects in Kenya, whose leaders we know. The projects enable people to improve their health and income, grow more food, obtain clean water, care for orphans and the ill, and attend school. Generous donations from many supporters, St. Paul’s Youth Group, and St. Paul’s outreach budget enabled us to send a record amount to the projects since last fall’s Harambee—over $38,000.

If you cannot attend and wish to donate to ADP, please make checks payable to St. Paul’s Memorial Church, with “African Development Project” in the memo line and send to the church or put in the offering.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Update on memorial service for Charles Perry

In the last couple of days, there has been an outpouring of love and grief for our own Charles Perry, who died suddenly on Saturday evening. Let me update you on a few things:

We will hold a service for Charles at St. Paul's Memorial Church on Sunday Oct. 31 at 3 pm. Bishop Shannon Johnston will preside and I will be preaching. Charles' interment will be at a later date at the Washington National Cathedral.

The Very Rev. Dr. Sam Lloyd, the Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, wrote a letter to the Cathedral community about Charles, which you can read by clicking HERE.

The National Cathedral also has a wonderful on-line photo gallery of pictures of Charles, which you can see by clicking HERE (and I've reposted a few on this page). The bottom photo shows Charles, left, standing with Peter Lee, right, who was the Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia.

I am reminded in looking at the photos of Charles' great strength of character. He not only put the last stones into the National Cathedral, he was a stone. In his letter, Dean Lloyd said this about Charles:
As provost, Perry was responsible to the bishop for all of the Cathedral’s operations, including worship, programs, and finances. When he was appointed, the Cathedral was $10.5 million in debt, and construction had been halted. Provost Perry oversaw both the successful campaign to eradicate the debt and the subsequent effort to raise the funds to finish the construction of the Cathedral in 1990.

In a 2001 interview, Provost Perry named two things he considered his most important legacy at the Cathedral. The first is no surprise. He was widely honored for having led the Cathedral through a major financial crisis, and also for his intrepid leading of the construction of the Cathedral to its completion. But he also cited his passionate commitment to the Cathedral’s programs.

“I think the Cathedral has a profound ministry of teaching, which is what your programmatic ministry is—doing things that other people are not doing. I want to be remembered as a teacher,” Perry said. “That, to me, is something I’m very proud of.”

We at the Cathedral give thanks to God for the resolute leadership and devoted service of Charles Perry, one of the Cathedral’s giants. May light perpetual shine upon him.
All of us at St. Paul's extend our condolences and sympathy to Joy Perry and her family, and to all whose lives were deeply touched by Charles. We miss him greatly even as we know he is still very close to us just across the horizon where we cannot see.

Love with its face up to the sky

We've had many serious topics this October -- it's been month heavy with sadness, tragedy, fires, and the death of a dear friend.

I think we are overdue for a poem in this space. A gift from our dear friend Karen in Tennessee, this poem has several layers and folds. May you find many blessings today and may you feel God's love around you, in the flowers, at the dinner table, in the layers and folds of your life, in the ordinary things that are extraordinary. Be surprised.

Love Should Grow Up Like a Wild Iris in the Fields
By Susan Griffin

Love should grow up like a wild iris in the fields,
unexpected, after a terrible storm, opening a purple
mouth to the rain, with not a thought to the future,
ignorant of the grass and the graveyard of leaves
around, forgetting its own beginning.
Love should grow like a wild iris
but does not.

Love more often is to be found in kitchens at the dinner hour,
tired out and hungry, lingers over tables in houses where
the walls record movements, while the cook is probably angry,
and the ingredients of the meal are budgeted, while
a child cries feed me now and her mother not quite
hysterical says over and over, wait just a bit, just a bit,
love should grow up in the fields like a wild iris
but never does
really startle anyone, was to be expected, was to be
predicted, is almost absurd, goes on from day to day, not quite
blindly, gets taken to the cleaners every fall, sings old
songs over and over, and falls on the same piece of rug that
never gets tacked down, gives up, wants to hide, is not
brave, knows too much, is not like an
iris growing wild but more like
staring into space
in the street
not quite sure
which door it was, annoyed about the sidewalk being
slippery, trying all the doors, thinking
if love wished the world to be well, it would be well.

Love should
grow up like a wild iris, but doesn't, it comes from
the midst of everything else, sees like the iris
of an eye, when the light is right,
feels in blindness and when there is nothing else is
tender, blinks, and opens
face up to the skies.
"Light Iris," by Georgia O'Keefe, 1924

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Your vote next Tuesday: Let your conscience be your guide.

I am not going to tell you how to vote next week.

There, I said it.

That may not sound like a controversial statement, but apparently it is in some Christian circles. Judging from my mail, there are some who believe Christians must vote a certain way, their way, and they are sparing no expense in convincing the rest of us of the rightness of their stance.

I received in the mail a very curious postcard last week, addressed to me as "Pastor James Richardson," from an organization in Scottsdale, Arizona called the "Judeo-Christian Voter Guide." I must admit I found it a little unsettling that this outfit knows my name and address.

The postcard implored me to tell you about a "non-partisan" voter guide for the candidates who are "the best fit for your congregation." Funny thing: when I clicked on the website, all the candidates who are the "best fit" are members of one party (hint: not the same as President Obama's).

According the Judeo-Christian Voter Guide postcard, I am supposed to make copies of its voter guide and put it in our Sunday worship bulletins, distribute extras in the pews and on your car windshield and email it to you. Rest assured, I am doing none of that.

"At stake," the postcard says, "your congregation's future: religious freedom, tax exempt status, tax deductible support."

Really? Run that by me again.

The postcard claims that "same-sex 'marriage' " is a threat to my freedom of religion. The logic completely escapes me about why two gay people who marry each other is a threat to my freedom to worship God, but maybe I am missing something.

The postcard goes onto to reassure me that if I will distribute this voter guide to you, this organization will defend me if someone challenges my church's tax exempt status for telling you how to vote. It pointed out that "No church or synagogue in U.S. history has ever been stripped of its tax-exempt status nor its constitutionally-guaranteed liberties for communications with its own membership."

That may be so, but let me point out that the only challenge to the tax-exempt status of a church that I know of came against a liberal church during the administration of President George W. Bush. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena had to endure a drawn out IRS challenge to its tax-exempt status because its former rector, George Regas, had challenged the morality of the Iraq war from the pulpit. All Saints went to great expense to fend off the IRS, and I don't believe they got a dime from the Judeo-Christian Voter Guide to help.

The Judeo-Christian Voter Guide lists itself as an arm of the "National Organization for Marriage," which in turn lists Dr. James Dobson as a backer in small print on the postcard. Dobson is the founder and head of Focus on the Family, an organization that has backed far-right causes for years.

I am bringing this up today for two reasons. First, I am weary of hearing that it is the liberals who are playing politics in the pulpit. From where I sit, the politics this year seems very one-sided, and it is not coming from the liberals.

Second, I want you to vote. But I believe your vote is too precious to let others tell you how to vote, especially religious demagogues. I believe you are smart enough and wise enough to figure out how to vote. I hope you will take the time to look carefully at the issues and the candidates, verify the claims of campaigns, block-out the fear-mongering and hysteria, and exercise an intelligent and informed vote. How you vote and how I vote may be different, and that is perfectly OK.

When you vote, I hope you will allow your conscience to be your guide as God gives you the gift of conscience, and that you will apply the moral principles summed up by the Apostle Paul: "faith, hope and love."

And you don't need a voter guide from a shadowy organization in Arizona to do that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We grieve the loss of a giant in our parish and The Episcopal Church

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness."
2 Timothy 4:6, the epistle for Sunday

Yesterday morning, just before we got started with the 10 am service, I received very sad news: my dear friend and mentor, Charles Perry, had died suddenly the night before. On a trip to North Carolina, he had sat down on his bed and collapsed. He had just finished watching the Giants get into the World Series, and yes, he was a Giants fan.

Charles and his wife Joy had been members of St. Paul's Memorial Church for many years. The announcement of his death was met with gasps at our 10 am service Sunday.

The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry was a giant in the Episcopal Church. He had been the Provost of the Washington National Cathedral and then, after his retirement from that position, became the Dean and President of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., the seminary from where I graduated.

Charles had been immersed in every major church issue of the last 40 years. He completed the construction of the Washington National Cathedral and put the cathedral on a firm financial footing. At CDSP he had presided over a difficult era of transition into a more inclusive and wider vision for theological education. Some very good priests came through CDSP in his time.

On a personal note, Charles was instrumental in bringing us to Charlottesville. He was on the rector search committee for St. Paul's, and three years ago sent the parish profile to a mutual friend and asked for a recommendation. My friend recommended me to Charles. One thing led to another, and Charles traveled to Berkeley with members of the search committee to talk with me about St. Paul's. To have Charles Perry come talk with me, to put it mildly, got my attention.

After being called as rector, and once we arrived, he and his wife, Joy, extended to us unstinting hospitality, introducing us to their many friends, and providing much support and friendship. Charles was a wise counselor and mentor, and he let me bend his ear about the challenges of the last two years. We had lunch together regularly, though not regularly enough. Last fall, he and Joy hosted us at their rustic house on "The River" near the Chesapeake Bay. They were supposed to be coming to our house for dinner yesterday evening.

Last January, it was our pleasure to host one of his CDSP graduates for three days at St. Paul's -- the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop the Episcopal Church. Among the events was a private luncheon Lori and I hosted for Katharine and our clergy staff. As it turned out, the luncheon came during a blizzard, but somehow Charles and Joy made it. We made sure they were seated with Katharine. The photo above shows Charles, left, with the Rev. Rod Sinclair, right, the next morning before the procession at the 10 am Sunday worship.

There is more that I want say, but for now let suffice that I am deeply grieved and I miss Charles greatly.

As of this writing, plans for his service are not finalized. It is my understanding Charles wished for his memorial service to be at St. Paul's, with interment at the National Cathedral. I will keep you posted here in this space as details emerge.

Please keep Joy and her family in your prayers.

+ + +

Update: The memorial service for Charles will be on Sunday Oct. 31 at 3 pm at St. Paul's Memorial Church, Charlottesville. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to any of the following: Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge; The Washington National Cathedral; St. Paul's Memorial Church.

Photo by Bonny Bronson.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

To be an instrument of God's peace, to serve and to give to others

We are in the midst of our annual giving season ("stewardship" in church lingo). Gwynn Crichton, who is an amazing human being on so many levels, gave this talk at St. Paul's last Sunday and I share it with you:
* * *
Hi, I’m Gwynn Crichton. I’ve had the great pleasure of serving on the stewardship committee led by Virginia Ritchie and I am honored to be up here today to talk to you about what St. Paul’s means to me and why I pledge and give my money to the church.
I started coming to St. Paul’s about 10 years ago after I first moved to Charlottesville and immediately felt at home. Soon after, I met Janean and she began to attend St. Paul’s with me, and we’ve been here every since. I really began to put roots down in this parish when I got involved in activities outside of just attending the Sunday service. I have enjoyed serving the parish as an usher, Eucharistic Minister, and member of the altar guild. I coordinate the Gay-Straight Concerns Group, am a member or Integrity, have participated and organized events for the Green Team, done CROP walks, helped with PACEM, and now serve on the Stewardship Committee.
Through my involvement at St. Paul’s over the years in activities such as these, the many gifts I have received far outweigh any of the time or energy I have committed. I have been blessed by coming to know and love many of the wonderful, talented, intelligent and kind people who attend St. Paul’s. I find myself part of a warm, vibrant, loving community where Janean and I feel safe, accepted and supported. I am grateful for the diversity of ministries, our able clergy, the educational and outreach programs, Community night, Shrinemont, and for the opportunity to come together in communion to worship with you all each Sunday.
So it is easy to tell you why I give money to St. Paul’s--I give money because I love St. Paul’s mission, ministries, and community and I believe that what we do here is central to our common purpose here on this planet. But it is not just my gratitude for St. Paul’s that motivates my giving. Sharing my abundance and my wealth is one of the princple ways God calls me to express my love and gratitude for all of the blessings of my life and to help others who have so much less than me.
Every week I return here, I am reminded of and humbled by God’s will for me which is to love as lavishly and generously as he loves the world. My purpose is to be an instrument of God’s peace, to serve and to give to others in order to make this world a better place. Giving my resources to St. Paul’s therefore is a key opportunity and discipline essential for my spiritual growth, one I must devoutly heed on my journey in Christ.
About 80% of my charitable giving goes to St. Paul’s because I believe I can make a biggest impact in this way rather than dividing my donations among many causes. Each year I increase my pledge to St Paul’s and try to also give on top of my pledge throughout the year in the Sunday offerings. I make sure to give of my first fruits when I budget rather than what is left over.
But make no mistake, giving is also a spiritual struggle for me--I struggle against the selfish desires to close my fist, to clutch and hold back, fearful I will not have enough or that my needs will not be met should I give too much money away.
However, God has shown me time and time again that I’ve never missed anything I’ve given away. Instead of being hard, in practice giving is remarkably easy. And by giving away even a tiny fraction of what I have, I am transformed and renewed. Giving makes my heart bigger, it frees me from fear and my own self-will. There is always enough.
Does this mean I give away enough? I am ashamed to say no, I doubt I ever will but I ask God to help me with this and pray about it because I know that giving away my money, as hard as it may be sometimes, brings me closer to the generous and loving person God calls me to be. That is why I am here and that is why I give to St. Paul’s “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every-where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” Amen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grieving for sacred spaces destroyed by fires

Today prayers and sympathy go out to many friends on both coasts. Fire destroyed the 19th century chapel at the Virginia Theological Seminary yesterday -- all that is standing are bricks.

I had a chance several years ago to spend a week at the chapel for a preaching conference. My memories are but small compared to the memories of many others. We often say "the church is not a building, it is the people," and that is true. Yet we gather in sacred spaces, and our sacred spaces become the accumulation of our sacred moments and memories. Thousands of faithful servants were formed in this sacred space.

My friend Peter Carey, a VTS graduate, wrote about his memories on his blog (he took the photos from the vigil, see below). Please click HERE to read Peter's blog item about the VTS chapel. To see the report in The Washington Post, click HERE. The photo above of the chapel is from The Post.

On the other side of the country, the River City Food Bank in Sacramento was totally destroyed by fire a day earlier. More than 8,000 pounds of food for the poor also was destroyed. Tens-of-thousands of people were served by this building every year.

The food bank was housed in one of two annex buildings next to Trinity Cathedral, where Lori and I spent 18 years of our life. The food bank has been central to the mission of Trinity, and all of us connected to Trinity grieve heavily at this loss of sacred space.

The other annex building, housing the Office of the Bishop, was also heavily damaged and the bishop has moved to temporary quarters elsewhere. Both of these buildings played a major role in shaping my life; they were more than just bricks. Please read the story in The Sacramento Bee by clicking HERE. To learn how you can help rebuild the Food Bank, please click HERE.

Yes, new life will emerge from the ashes. But today, we grieve.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another reflection on the candlelight vigil at the Rotunda

I heard a number of reflections yesterday about the candlelight vigil Wednesday evening on the steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

We gathered to remember young people who recently took their own lives because they had been bullied for being gay or appearing to be gay.

We came under the name "ACCEPT" -- standing for "All Charlottesville Caring for Every Person Together."

The vigil got modest news coverage, tucked onto the bottom corner of the front page of the local Daily Progress.

The local television stations covered the vigil, and that was a measure of progress.

The most moving reflection I heard came from Associate Rector Ann Willms, and I share this with you with her permission:
Last night at the ACCEPT vigil, standing on the steps of the Rotunda with students who spoke, and other clergy members from the community, I looked out over the crowd holding lit candles. My twin middle school aged daughters were standing at the front. As we heard about the lives of young people which ended in suicide, the terrible suffering of those who were the target of bullying because of who they were (perfect in the eyes of God but scandalous in the eyes of mortals) – I could not help thinking that we were standing at the foot of the cross, like the women at Calvary. Jim asked me whether the candles we had donated were our Easter Vigil candle supply – I nodded yes, then realized just how appropriate it was. We were gathered at the foot of the cross, waiting and watching and hoping against hope for the dawn of the resurrection.
Photo by the Rev. Peter Carey.

Last night: Standing on Mr. Jefferson's steps, remembering our LGBT children who have taken their own lives

Last night, I stood with friends and a few hundred people in the autumn chill with candles next to the statute of Thomas Jefferson on the steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. We stood at a place built as a monument to all forms of freedom, including freedom from fear and hatred.

We were in the right place last night.

We listened to heart-wrenching stories of so many young people who recently took their own lives because they were bullied for being gay or thought to be gay. One after another, UVA students came to the microphone and told stories that cry out to be heard:

The story of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roomate secretly videoed him having relations with a man. He was 19 years old.

The story of Billy Lucas, who was bullied on Facebook. He was 15 years old.

The story of Asher Brown who was relentlessly picked on. He shot himself in his family's kitchen. He was 13 years old.

Our own Sean Bugg, one of our Canterbury students, talked of how he had been physically attacked on the street near our church recently. He read poetry, and he implored us to do better, to honor human life, all human life.

I saw tears last night.

I also heard determination to say enough, to end the bullying, to stand up to hate and fear-mongering, to work for a gentler world. I didn't hear an ounce of politics.

One of the speakers asked "Where are the churches marching?"

Some of the churches were there marching. A group of Charlottesville clergy stood together on the steps and we each introduced ourselves. There weren't many of us, and I wish more had come, but there were enough.

I read a brief statement on behalf of our gathering of clergy:
"We are united tonight in showing our support for our children, our friends, brothers, sisters, and parents who are lesbian/gay/transgendered.

We are here to listen, to shed our tears, and to seek forgiveness for falling short of creating a kinder compassionate world where no one feels alone, or abandoned or ostracized. We ask forgiveness for the bigotry created or condoned by our religious institutions.
Tonight we stand with you with open hearts, and pledge to do better, to work for a world where no one feels they have to take their own life, as God gives us the strength."
Photos by the Rev. Peter Carey

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Please join us for a vigil Wednesday to remember young people who have taken their lives

Please let me invite you to join us Wednesday at 7 pm on the north steps of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia where students will be leading a candlelight vigil.

We will gather to remember young people who have recently committed suicide stemming from being bullied for being gay or appearing to be gay. Whatever your theological stance on sexuality issues, I hope you can join us in calling for an end to bullying, to reach out with kindness and love, and to remember our young people whose lives were cut short.

A number of Charlottesville religious leaders, including myself, will be there.

Meanwhile, this statement was released Monday, signed by the national and international leaders of many faith communities, including our own Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Please take a few moments to read, and join us Wednesday on the steps or in your prayers.

For Immediate Release: October 18, 2010

Today, as leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.

In the past seven weeks, six young and promising teenagers took their own lives. Some were just entering high school; one had just enrolled in college. Five were boys; one, a girl becoming a young woman. These are only the deaths for which there has been a public accounting. New reports of other suicides continue to haunt us daily from around the country.

They were of varying faiths and races and came from different regions of the nation.

The one thing these young men and women had in common was that they were perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Each in their own way faced bullying and harassment or struggled with messages of religion and culture that made them fear the consequences of being who they were.

In the past two weeks, cities like New York have seen major escalations in anti-gay violence. Two young men attacked patrons of the Stonewall Inn, legendary birth place of the LGBT rights movement in the United States, locking them in the restroom and beating them while hurling anti-gay epithets. Men on a Chelsea street, saying goodnight after an evening out, were attacked by a group of teens and young adults, again hurling anti-gay slogans and hurting one person badly enough to require emergency treatment. And nine young men in the Bronx went on a two-day rampage beating, burning, torturing and sodomizing two teenage boys and their gay male adult friend for allegedly having a sexual relationship. "It's nothing personal," one of the now arrested said. "You just broke the rules."

What are the "rules" of human engagement and interaction that we, as people of faith, want to teach our congregants, children and adults alike, to live by?

Many have responded from within and beyond the faith community offering comfort and support to the families and friends of Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and Aiyisha Hasan. Our hearts, too, are broken by the too soon losses of these young and promising lives, and we join our voices to those who have sought to speak words of comfort and healing.

Many others, however, have responded by adding insult to injury, citing social myths and long-held prejudices that only fuel division, hatred and violence – and sometimes even death.

We, as leaders of faith, write today to say we must hold ourselves accountable, and we must hold our colleagues in the ministry, accountable for the times, whether by our silence or our proclamations, our inaction or our action, we have fueled the kinds of beliefs that make it possible for people to justify violence in the name of faith. Condemning and judging people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can have deadly consequences, both for the victims of hate crimes and those who commit them.

There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn't say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them." Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by.

People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn.

Too many things go unspoken in our communities. It's time to talk openly and honestly about the diversity of God's creation and the gift of various sexual orientations and gender identities – and to do that in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree and still abide in love.

It's time to talk openly and honestly about the use and misuse of power and authority by those we entrust with our spiritual well-being. It's time to make it safe for our clergy colleagues who are struggling to live what they preach, to get the help and support we all sometimes need.

The young people who took their lives a few weeks ago died because the voices of people who believe in the love of God for all the people of God were faint and few in the face of those who did the bullying, harassing and condemning. Today we write to say we will never again be silent about the value of each and every life.

To that end, we pledge to urge our churches, our individual parishes or offices, our schools and religious establishments to create safe space for each and every child of God, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. And we ask you to join us in that pledge.

Today, we personally pledge to be LGBT and straight people of faith standing together for the shared values of decency and civility, compassion and care in all interactions. We ask you, our colleagues, to join us in this pledge.

We want our children and the children of the communities we serve to grow up knowing that God loves all of us and that without exception, bullying and harassment, making fun of someone for perceived differences, and taunting and harming others is wrong. The Golden Rule is still the rule we want to live by.

We pray today that you will join us in being the faces of a faith that preaches and demonstrates God's universal acceptance and offers to one and all safe space to live, to learn, and to love and be loved.

In faith and solidarity,

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ General Minister and President
Elder Cynthia J. Bolbach, Moderator, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
The Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship
The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches
Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Vice President of the National Board and Regional Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church
Archbishop Carl Bean, Founder and Presiding Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church Movement
Carol Blythe, Alliance of Baptists President
Paula Clayton Dempsey, Minister for Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists

The Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Director of Institute for Welcoming Resources, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs, National Black Justice Coalition
Ann Craig, Director of Religion, Faith and Values, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of UCAN, Inc., United Church of Christ
The Rev. Robert Chase, Founding Director, Intersections International
Macky Alston, Director, Auburn Media, Auburn Theological Seminary
The Rev. Mark Hostetter, Chair of the Board, Auburn Seminary
Sung Park, Program Director, Believe Out Loud
The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance
The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, Executive Director, Religious Institute
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Executive Coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN)
The Rev. Neal Christie, Assistant General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church & Society
The Rev. Cynthia Abrams , Program Director, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church ,
Linda Bales Todd, Director, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
The Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America
Lisa Larges, Minister Coordinator, That All May Freely Serve, Presbyterian
Dr. Michael Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians
Troy Plummer, Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist
Marilyn Paarlberg, National Coordinator, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
Rev. Thomas C. Goodhart, Co-president, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
Phil Attey, Acting Executive Director - Catholics for Equality
George W. Cole, Senior Vice President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
David Melson, President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
Dr. Joseph Palacios, Board Member, Catholics for Equality
Phil Attey, Executive Director, Catholics for Equality
Yolanda Elliott, President, Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International
Pastor Dave Ferguson, Church Relations Director, Adventist Kinship International
Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., Co-Convener, Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Maine
Anne Underwood, Catholics for Equality
Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D., Executive Director, Integrity USA

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University.
Mary E. Hunt & Diana Neu, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Monday Funnies

It's time again for the Monday Funnies, and a few groaners from buddy Pat Hill. Don't blame me, blame Pat. Enjoy your Monday...

* * *
The occasion of Jesus to address the demoniac by casting his demons out into the nearby swine, which, in turn ran over the edge of the cliff to a quick demise, was the first occasion in the Bible which gave rise to the use of the term, "deviled ham."
* * *
The teacher told the Bible story to the class about Philip and the eunuch intent on showing the joy of becoming a Christian. Testing the class, the teacher asked, "Why did the eunuch go on his way rejoicing?"

Came the prompt reply, "Because Philip quit preaching!"
* * *
Having just moved to town, a woman decided that the first Sunday, she'd visit the church nearest to her new apartment.

She found herself in a pretty sanctuary, and as the service began, she enjoyed the music offered by the choir. But then the sermon began, and went on and on and on.
In fact, it seemed interminable, and not at all interesting. Surreptitiously glancing around, she noticed that many in the congregation were nodding off, and not even trying to stay awake.

Finally it was over, though, and people stood up for the final hymn.
After the service, to be social, she turned to the still sleepy looking gentleman next to her, extended her hand in greeting, and said,

"Hello, I'm Gladys Dunn."

To this the gentleman replied, "Me too!"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blessings this Sunday

Dear friends,

My apologies for not posting in the last few days. I've been busy tending to family matters and plan to get back on track in this space in the next few days. Last Wednesday, I was able to attend the installation of the Rev. Mark Richardson as the new president and dean of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and I will have more to say on that and the broader issue of theological education.

Today, please keep my family in your prayers and may many blessings be with you always.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's Bye Bye Baby!

Sorry, Virginians, I know you probably have no idea what that headline means. Well, click below, and turn up the volume. This jingle has been imbedded in my brain since 1962 when my dad took me to Candlestick Park to see Willie Mays play. Back in those days, whenever Willie or another Giant would hit a home run, KSFO broadcaster Russ Hodges would scream "It's bye bye baby!" The jingle was born.

And by tonight, I will back in the City by the Golden Gate for a little business and connecting with family and friends. Go Giants!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Monday Funnies

This is 1 minute and 37 seconds of total delight. This will start your work week off right. Enjoy the Monday Funnies . . .

Sunday, October 10, 2010

No more outcasts

Today's sermon begins with the tragedy touched on in this space the last few days, the suicide of a young gay student in New Jersey. I pray we can find ourselves in a place of hope. The gospel lesson today is particularly apt: Luke 17:11-19.
* * *
I have a difficult, painful topic I want to talk with you about today. This is not a joyful topic, and I apologize to you if this sermon causes you pain.
Many of us this week were moved to tears by the story of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey. His roommate had surreptitiously videoed him while having relations with another man, and then posted it on the Internet with a few choice gay-bashing words.
What happened next is just tragic. Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death.
We don’t know what went through Tyler’s mind, but he must have felt very alone, very shamed, an outcast in this world. We wish Tyler had felt differently. But he didn’t.
Let’s be clear about something: The world creates outcasts, not God. Politics creates outcasts, not God. Prejudice and ignorance creates outcasts, not God. Sadly, religion creates outcasts, not God.
Sometimes being an outcast has nothing to do with status from material wealth.
Sometimes being an outcast comes from being in the wrong tribe, or the wrong clique, or the wrong race, or the wrong religion, or the wrong gender, or the wrong sexual orientation – or just plain looking wrong. The world creates many wrong places to be.
It can be so very hard to be young and different than your peers when you know you just don’t fit in.
There was a news report the other day about a high school in Ohio that has had four suicides by students who were bullied. One was bullied because he liked to wear pink. Another was bullied because she had a Serbian accent.
We need to say enough. No more of this. God wants better than this. We need to do better than this for our children.
I think it incumbent upon us in the Church to stand with those who are outcasts or hurting or shunned or bullied, because I believe to the bottom of my bones that Jesus is weeping with them.
There are times when all I have are tears. There are times when I do not know what to say.
There are times when I am listening to someone who is very ill, or has experienced a tragedy or a loss, and I just don’t know what to say.
Sometimes the best I can manage is silence. I pray that my silence will be enough.
I have no words to explain why some people get sick while others get well, or why some people are hurt or bullied, and others seem to glide through life unhurt.
On one level, this healing business perplexes me. Life is not fair, life is ambiguous, life can be cruel, but none of that that is an explanation for anything.
In our parish, we’ve witnessed quite a bit of heartbreak lately. Two long-time members, Bill Lassetter and Sally Kauzlarich, both died in the last week after difficult illnesses.
We’ve had 21 funerals this year in the parish – that is an average one every other week. We had a service for Sally yesterday and we will have a service for Bill next week. That is just too many.
Sometimes there are miracles. And sometimes there aren’t. Why, I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers.
That question is squarely in front of us in today’s gospel lesson. We meet ten lepers who are healed, who get a miracle. Why should they be healed and others not?
Outwardly, the story is quite simple: Jesus tells them to go visit a priest and they will be healed. The lepers go and are healed, and nine of the ten go on their way.
But one of the lepers, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus; and Jesus tells him “faith has made him well.”
This is a shocking story on many levels.
Lepers are outcasts, and in the time of Jesus, lepers were required to live outside the gates of the city. They look awful, and they live in a filthy trash heap.
They are supposed to shout warnings to healthy people to stay away, but this group of lepers breaks all the rules. They cry out to Jesus asking him to join them.
And so he does.
As if that wasn’t stunning enough, one of lepers is a Samaritan. In the cast system of the ancient Jewish world, Samaritans are the lowest of the low, the untouchables, the dirtiest of the dirty people.
So here we have someone who is both a leper and a Samaritan – an outcast among the outcasts – who is healed by Jesus, and then he returns to thank Jesus.
Everyone else disappears, but it is the lowest of the low who comes back with the gift of thanks.
It is an outcast who outwardly has nothing to be thankful for, nothing to be faithful about, who has been dumped upon his entire life – it is this untouchable Samaritan leper who gives thanks.
And Jesus honors this outcast.
Jesus tells the Samaritan something extraordinary – that it is his offering of thanks that has made him well and set him free.
Healing is not a reward, healing is not earned by following the rules. Rather, healing – grace – comes as a free gift from God alone.
Please notice something really important: Jesus has just re-defined the very definition of faith. It is not adherence to a set of precepts or dogmas, or a mental exercise of intellectual understanding.
Rather, faith is defined as gratitude. Simple gratitude. Faith is about giving thanks.
The outcast has something important to teach us with his thanks. By giving thanks the Samaritan is set free to live, and to live with joy.
And that raises a few questions for me, and I hope for you.
What if we were use the word “thanks” instead of the word “faith”? What would that sound like to you?
Try substituting the word every time you hear it, see how it sounds.
Instead of saying “I have faith in God,” what if you said, “I give thanks to God”?
Instead of saying we belong to a “faith community,” what if we said we belong to a “thanks community”?
Instead of saying, “I don’t have enough faith,” what if you said “I don’t have enough thanks”?
What would change for you by saying that? By living that?
And ask yourself today: For what do you give thanks?
What brings you joy in your life? Give thanks for that. What makes you laugh? Give thanks for that. Who supports and upholds you especially in your worst moments? Give thanks to them.
Give thanks and you will be this close to God.
And those who give you support, and make you laugh, see in them the face of Christ. They are this close to God. Show your thanks to them and you are showing thanks to God.
Or how about this – instead of using the shopworn churchy word “stewardship,” what if we substituted the word “gratitude” for that? Instead of calling it the annual “stewardship campaign,” what if we said we are having a “gratitude campaign” this season?
What would it look like if we saw our giving as a tangible way of thanking God for the life we have and the abundance we enjoy?
What if our giving came not out of obligation or guilt, but out of joy and delight? How much would you give if your giving brings you joy? How much joy would you like to spread around?
And who needs your joy? Who are the outcasts near you who could use some of that? Can we find the Tyler Clementis in this world, show them our love, and give them our thanks for being who they are?
What would happen if we bring a little hope and healing – and a little joy – to those whose lives are linked with ours? What might change for them and for us when we do that?
Let me put it squarely. I believe we can be the hands and feet of Christ Jesus in our world, and it can begin to do that by giving thanks.
Maybe I’ve asked the wrong question about why some are healed, and some are not, in this world.
These stories of Jesus healing people are really meant to give us a window into the limitless love of God for all of us in this world and in the next.
What if we hear in these stories of Jesus healing the sick and outcasts the ultimate expression of the nature of God? What if see in Jesus the embodiment of a God who will find the lost sheep, who will be with us no matter the pain, and who will ultimately bring us healing either in this world or in the next.
Maybe then we might hear in these stories of healing lepers and outcasts as expressions of what God wants for all of us, for all of creation.

And then, can we experience healing and gratitude as the very essence of faith and salvation? What would our lives become of we live that knowing the truth of that?
How would we be set free to live here in this world with wonder, with love, and with joy?
May our thanks make us well. Amen.
* * *
My friend Carol Anne sent this link the other day to an essay "Memoirs of a Bullied Kid." The author talks about bullying from first hand experience and what each of us can do about it. This is a difficult post to read, but please read it if you get a chance. You can find it by clicking HERE.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Choosing kindness and a vigil for Tyler Clementi and other gay students who have committed suicide

I hope by now you have heard the story of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey who committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His roommate had secretly videotaped him having relations with another man in their dorm room, and then broadcast it on the internet.

Tyler Clementi was a talented violinist. His suicide left many across the land in shock and tears. We still live in a society where homophobia is accepted in many quarters, and where young gay and lesbian people often feel isolated and alone. We also live in a society where the internet and social media sites like Facebook have become new weapons of cruelty.

Last night I attended a meeting at the University of Virginia to do something about this. The room was filled mostly with students. They want to hold a vigil in Charlottesville on Oct. 20 to remember Tyler and other young gay/lesbian/transgender people who have committed suicide, and I will keep you posted about the details of the vigil as it unfolds.

At the table where I sat, I heard a great deal of commitment to changing the world where we live. As one student said, the vigil must be about "more than tears." It must be about changing hearts, minds and laws.

Sadly, I also heard about how religious leaders have reinforced homophobic bigotry. I heard from gay students who are afraid to walk into a church for fear of being shunned, scorned or worse.

All that is true. All that can change. All that must change. That's why I went last night.

My friend Barbara Crafton, who is an Episcopal priest from New Jersey, wrote this about Tyler Clementi and sent it to her friends from her "Geranium Farm." I share it with you:
By Barbara Crafton

Here is Tyler, playing his violin. And here he is, smiling at someone off camera. And here is a picture he probably took of himself, holding his cell phone at arm's length, the way people do on Facebook. That he loved music and was an extremely gifted performer. That he went to orchestra rehearsal the day he died, rehearsal for a concert of which he would not be part -- I guess he had not quite gotten to the point of no return then. That he would reach it later in the day. These are some things that even people who didn't know him, know about him. Plus some other things that were his and his alone to share, and were none of our business until he was ready to share them.

There is his ashen father, standing behind the screen door of their house, an haggard older version of Tyler himself. And there is the family's quiet message to the world: "Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words. They respectfully request that they be given time to grieve."

Someone opened a memorial page for Tyler on Facebook and more than 124,000 people have "liked" it, which is what you do on Facebook if you want to signal approval of something you see there. Someone else has opened one about the two other students whose cruel prank began the sorry chain of events leading to his suicide last week. Many of those who have posted comments there are young, and some of their comments about the pair are intemperate. So are a couple of posts by people old enough to know better.

It's too easy to press "send" nowadays. Dash something off in the heat of the moment, press a key and it's out there forever. You can never take it back. People you don't know may see it. Your boss may see it, or your next boss, or your fiancee's grandma. This may happen years from now, long after you've forgotten all about whatever it was that caused you to fire a string of epithets into the ether. It's so easy and so fast -- much easier and faster than stopping to consider what is likely to happen as a result of it. We always thought the world would be a gentler place if we could just all communicate better. Now I am not so sure -- we can communicate instantly in several ways, with more waiting in the wings, and all it seems to have gotten us is new ways in which to misunderstand and bully one another.

No, of course that's not all. There is much about it that's good. eLife is real life, too, and virtual community is community -- not the same kind as face-to-face, but not nothing, either. If you're reading this, you're part of a virtual community. All forms of human interaction carry the potential for evil. Cruelty can speak any language.

But so can love. Infinitely elastic and infinitely responsive to its surroundings, whatever they are, love can find its way through the darkest places hate can devise. It shows up uninvited and gets quickly and quietly to work, stirring in the honey of its presence teaspoon by teaspoon, patient and persistent. It cannot undo evil, but it sets up housekeeping right there on evil's front porch, and it refuses to be shooed away. In the end, evil is no match for the sweet stubbornness of love.
Everyone at the Geranium Farm sends deepest sympathy to the family of Tyler Clementi, with prayers that this tragic event will help us all remember always, always to choose kindness.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Meeting tonight at UVA to discuss recent suicides by young gay people

I am passing along to you information about an important meeting tonight at 7:30 pm at the University of Virginia to talk about the recent spate of suicides by young gay people at several schools across the country. All of these are heart-breaking. The meeting will be in the Ballroom at Newcomb Hall. I plan to be there.

Here is more information from Rachel Farr, one of the organizers:

Many of you have recently heard about the growing number of LGBTQ youth who have taken their own lives as a result of ongoing and severe victimization and bullying. The stories of Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, and Tyler Clementi, in photo above, (among others, see below) are tragic and heartbreaking. These suicides represent a crisis that we can prevent in our community.
[Here are links to information about each of these incidents]:


This coming Thurs, Oct 7, at 7:30pm, please join the discussion about how to help. If you or groups you are involved with are discussing how to help prevent bullying and youth suicide and want to bring about change in our community, join us in this community-wide effort.

Many of us are currently working to organize a vigil to honor the lives lost. We are making a commitment to end the victimization of LGBTQ youth and to reaffirm the importance of treating others with dignity and respect. We want your ideas, so we welcome and encourage everyone to attend this informational meeting on Thurs to plan the vigil.

The meeting will be in the Ballroom on the 3rd floor of Newcomb Hall on the UVA campus. There is inexpensive parking in the UVA bookstore parking garage (right next to Newcomb).

Please forward this announcement widely and invite everyone you know. We hope to reach many in our community at UVA and beyond, including teens, parents, teachers, school administrators, and others who work directly with youth.

Thank you and please let me know if you have questions. Let's create change,

Rachel Farr

The Enigma We Answer by Living

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we are all connected. Not just we humans, though that connection is hard enough to see sometimes. But how we are connected to all creation, and how God longs for us to be reconciled with all creation.

I think this poem catches some of what I'm trying to say. It is a gift from our wonderful friend Karen in Tennessee.

The Enigma We Answer by Living
By Alison Hawthorne Deming

Einstein didn't speak as a child
waiting till a sentence formed and
emerged full-blown from his head.

I do the thing, he later wrote, which
nature drives me to do. Does a fish
know the water in which he swims?

This came up in conversation
with a man I met by chance,
friend of a friend of a friend,

who passed through town carrying
three specimen boxes of insects
he'd collected in the Grand Canyon —

one for mosquitoes, one for honeybees,
one for butterflies and skippers,
each lined up in a row, pinned and labeled,

tiny morphologic differences
revealing how adaptation
happened over time. The deeper down

he hiked, the older the rock
and the younger
the strategy for living in that place.

And in my dining room the universe
found its way into this man
bent on cataloguing each innovation,

though he knows it will all disappear—
the labels, the skippers, the canyon.
We agreed then, the old friends and the new,

that it's wrong to think people are a thing apart
from the whole, as if we'd sprung
from an idea out in space, rather than emerging

from the sequenced larval mess of creation
that binds us with the others,
all playing the endgame of a beautiful planet

that's made us want to name
each thing and try to tell
its story against the vanishing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Change, anxiety, forming leaders: Big topics of the last few days

ORKNEY SPRINGS, VIRGINIA -- Since Sunday afternoon, I have been here at Shrine Mont, the retreat center for the Diocese of Virginia nestled into the mountains on the western side of the Shenandoah Valley.

Cell phones don't work well here, but the internet wireless gizmo in the main building keeps us connected to the outside world. But I must say, it is an odd sight to see a room full of clergy checking their Facebook pages on their laptops at a religious retreat center.

On Sunday and Monday I was part of a small group of diocesan lay leaders and clergy engaged in far-ranging conversation about the current state of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Virginia. It was a candid and fascinating conversation and I felt privileged to be invited to be a part. We were very ably led in the discussions by the Rev. Susan Goff, the canon to the ordinary here in Virginia.

I was asked to participate as a member of the diocesan Committee on the Diaconate, which oversees the education and formation of those seeking ordination as vocational deacons. The vocational diaconate is very new to the Diocese of Virginia, and I was able to share my own experience with deacons on the West Coast (which is why I was asked to be in this conversation).

Our diaconate committee met with the diocesan Committee on the Priesthood, the Commission on Ministry, and the Board of Examining Chaplains, all of which have oversight on specific aspects of the ordination process. Everyone in the room had a different perspective on the topic of ordination, and my committee was asked to bring into focus the vocational diaconate as it might look in Virginia.

So far, no permanent deacons have been ordained in this diocese (we hope the first class will be ordained next year). It is a challenge for people in this diocese to picture what this third order of ordained ministry looks like without seeing it. We had a very healthy and fruitful discussion on the topic.

More broadly, we grappled with even bigger issues than a particular order of ministry. We talked extensively about the challenges facing the Church as it attempts to minister in a radically changing world. We talked about how well we are raising up, forming and educating ordained and lay church leaders for institutions that are undergoing tremendous change amidst a culture and society that is undergoing tremendous change.

We had to ask the hard questions: Do 1950s methods of education and formation meet the needs of the Church in 21st century? How can we adjust? How does our Episcopal tradition provide a useful structure for meeting the needs of ministry in this changing world? Where does the structure get in the way? How are the seminaries meeting these needs? How are the seminaries missing the mark?

We came to no firm answers, but many more questions. As it happens, next week I will be returning to my own seminary, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, as a member of the Alumni Board. Our conversations in Virginia will definitely inform the conversation with my seminary friends next week.

After these conversations concluded late Monday, our smaller group then joined the Fall clergy conference of the Diocese of Virginia, also here at Shrine Mont. The topic: Understanding and managing conflict and anxiety in our congregations, a rather pertinent topic for those of us who had been in the earlier discussions. We had to begin by looking at our own personal anxiety and times of conflict.

During the clergy conference, we heard presentations about family emotional systems theory, much of which I've heard before, but it is always helpful to gain a new perspective (and bring home a few new handouts). The emphasis was on how our explicit and implicit expectations combine with personal stories and our unwritten internal rule books to create emotional feelings and reactions. That is true for individuals and it is true for congregations.

Much of the wisdom we heart boiled down to this: Take a deep breath, and hit the pause button before reacting. Feelings are facts, feelings are real, but feelings don't always have to dictate how we react as individuals or as a group. We can't always manage how we feel, but we can manage how we act.

These have been very fruitful, fascinating and deep conversations, and I am grateful that St. Paul's has allowed me to be a part.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

St. Francis Blessing of the Animals video

Here's a video, by Lori, of our St. Francis Blessing of the Animals this past Sunday, with musical soundtrack. This was a lot of fun. Enjoy! And then see the photos below the video.

Bearded Dragons and the Blessing of the Animals

On Sunday we had our St. Francis Blessing of the Animals, and we said prayers and sprinkled water on quite a collection of God's wonderful creation. Many dogs, one cat (our 19-year-old Chrissy, brave veteran of many St. Francis days).

Award for the most exotic animal? Joanna's pet Bearded Dragon, a lizard native to Australia.

We also had a procession of the animals in the new Meditation Garden.

Here's a few photos from Sunday. Enjoy!

Photos by Megan Brett.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Monday Funnies

I am away for a couple of days at a Diocese retreat for clergy, and we are talking about very important weighty matters, especially finding out what everyone else does. So I think the cartoon by Dave Walker is especially appropriate.

And here's a couple of jokes to start your work week. At the expense of us religious people, of course.

Enjoy the Monday Funnies . . .
* * *
An elderly man took his little grandson for a walk around the local cemetery. Pausing before one gravestone he said, "There lies a very honest man. He died owing me 50 dollars, but he struggled to the end to pay off his debts, and if anyone has gone to heaven, he has."

They walked on a bit further and then came to another grave. The old man pointed to the gravestone and said, "Now there's a different type of man altogether. He owed me 60 dollars and he died without ever trying to pay me back. If anyone has gone to hell, he has."

The little boy thought for a while and then said, "You know, Grandpa, you are very lucky."

"Why?" asked the old man in surprise.

"Well, whichever place you go to, you'll have some money to draw on."
* * *

The church choir was putting on a car wash to raise money to pay their expenses for a special trip. They made a very large sign, CAR WASH FOR CHOIR TRIP, and on the given Saturday business was very good. But by two o'clock the skies clouded and the rain poured and there were hardly any customers.

Finally, one of the girl washers had an idea. She printed up an even bigger poster which said, WE WASH (then an arrow pointing skyward) GOD RINSES.

Business boomed!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The One who comes to us as a servant, who is at our doorstep

My sermon today is based on Luke 17:5-10:

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Giving is living

As many of you know, I used to be a newspaper reporter. I spent nearly a quarter-century with pen and notebook in hand, pounding out newspaper stories on daily deadline.
The first newspaper I worked for was in a tough working-class town east of Los Angeles. The paper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, was the boot camp of newspapers – no nonsense, demanding, get-it-done, do-it-now, and perfect accuracy expected in every story. No excuses.
I bring this up because this gospel story today reminds me of my first managing editor, a drill-sergeant-of-a-guy.
“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?”
And the correct response? “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
Whew, what to do with that?
To compound my joy with the assigned readings, today is supposed to be the annual stewardship sermon.

This lesson comes off as “give us your money but don’t expect to be thanked.”
That might be how to run a newspaper but it doesn’t work well in the church. So I want to begin by thanking each of you for your generosity. I want to thank you for your faithfulness in your home, in the classroom, at work and all the places you go beyond these walls, and especially for your generosity with St. Paul’s.
Here at St. Paul’s, we cannot do anything without you. We exist because you give. A thousand thanks to each and every one of you today.
This morning I want to have a little straight talk about our ministry and mission that we share together, and let’s see if these lessons can lead us somewhere.
In the time that I have been here, we’ve talked a great deal about our role with the University of Virginia, creating a place of encouragement for students, faculty and staff.
We’ve talked about being a beacon of hope in the community through IMPACT, PACEM, Habitat for Humanity and other projects that assist the poorest among us.

We’ve talked about being a spiritual home for families and children, where people of all ages can grow in faith and make connections with each other.
We’ve talked about being a place for healing, where people can bind their wounds and find comfort and solace in their grief or hurt.
We’ve talked about a filling our church with prayers that honor and uphold our Christian and Episcopalian traditions, and we hold worship services not only on Sundays but also on weekdays.
All of this describes how and what we do. They are the means; they are our tools of ministry.
But the tools are not the mission.
Our mission, I believe, is to be partners with God in bringing alive God’s dream of healing and wholeness among us, and in the world around us.
Our mission is to be partners with God in bringing alive God’s abundant grace-filled kingdom, God’s peace, God’s shalom.
The mission never changes even if the tools change from time to time.

Our mission requires that we see ourselves not as consumers of religion, but as partners – true participants – in our faith.
Participation, I believe, means reaching deep inside ourselves for the “better angels of our being.”
We can do that by our giving of our time, our talent, and yes, our money, as each of us has portions of each to give.
St. Paul’s is a wonderfully vibrant parish precisely because so many of you give so very much of yourselves, and in so many ways.

Our giving enables us to welcome everyone who walks in our door so that we can share God’s healing grace with them. Others before us lovingly passed this church onto us. Now it’s our turn to give this church to others through our own giving.
As the late- Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said, the Church is the only institution in the world that exists for people who are not its members.
Yet this giving business is deeper than an institution, as important as that is. We are called to live a life of giving so that others may live fully, and with them, that we may live more fully as human beings.
That’s why we give.
If you are a parent, you already give abundantly to your children; they are transformed by your giving, and so are you. Or maybe you share in the community, or in the workplace or in the classroom. All that giving builds up.
I am continually inspired by how many of you go the extra mile in your giving, not because you have to, but because something deep inside compels you.
Recently I’ve been awestruck by stories I’ve heard from some of you who work at the Haven, the new day shelter for homeless people in downtown Charlottesville.
I’ve heard stories about homeless people who seemingly have nothing at all, and how they give things to each other. If someone needs a sandwich, another gives half of theirs. If someone needs a pair of socks, another gives an extra pair.
Do you want to know where God’s grace – God’s shalom – shines into the open for all of us to see? It is in the giving by people with so little to give.
How much more of God’s grace could shine into the world through the giving of those of us who have so much more to give?

But what to make of these lessons today? Where is the grace? Is there a connection with our giving?
After scratching my head this week, I went to the biblical commentaries, and it was noted that this gospel lesson today ties back to the harsh sounding parable last week of the rich man punished in Hades while Lazarus, the poor man with sores, goes to heaven.
The parable is an allegory about Jesus – Jesus is the poor man with sores – and the rich man hadn’t noticed him while he lived.
The rich man’s stinginess got in his way – his selfishness blocked him from seeing who was living on his doorstep.
The lessons tie together because they are invitations from Jesus to look, to see God’s shalom all around us. He’s telling us we can expect to see it but we have to look.
But to see God’s shalom, we need to see not from the selfish vantage point of the stingy man who expect thanks, but from the vantage point of a giving servant who expects no thanks.

And Jesus beckons us to take what we see and step out in faith, to become partners with him in transforming the world: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
That partnership is the meaning of discipleship.
Yet those first disciples ask a question: How much faith do we need to be disciples? Does it take a lot? Because, really, we don’t have much.
Jesus replies, you don’t need much:

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Then he turns the tables by saying, in effect, there’s a better question you haven’t asked: In whom do you have faith?
My answer:
Faith in the One who finds the lost sheep; the One who invites everyone to the dinner banquet. Faith in the One who will walk with you no matter what happens to you, and goes with you no matter where.
Faith in the One who comes to us as a lowly servant born in a stable, and is sitting on our doorstep even when we don’t notice.
He is the One who expects not even thanks. He is the prince of peace, Christ Jesus, who gives everything to us still. AMEN.