Christmas in September? By No Means!

My brothers and I would explode into action at about 5 a.m. on Christmas morning—much to the chagrin of our mother, who had been playing the organ at the midnight service just a few hours ago. We would sneak downstairs (which, in a 100+ -year-old house is not a silent experience), hoping to catch just a peek around the corner into the darkened living room. The first light of dawn would give us glimpses of reflections from wrapping paper and tinsel. Our father would take a great deal of time brushing his teeth and going into the kitchen to make large quantities of freshly-squeezed orange juice (mostly to play up the waiting). We were not allowed to set one foot downstairs until Dad was good and ready. The four of us sat on the stairs for what seemed like hours, and to be honest, those moments of huddling, waiting, guessing, and barely containing our excitement—those moments of wonder at what might be revealed—well, those are my best memories of Christmases past. (I remember the waiting and the closeness with my brothers far better than any of the gifts we received).

For Episcopalians (and Anglicans) around the world, this is also a time of intense waiting and expectation. The House of Bishops will have crafted their response to the Dar Es Salaam communiqué from the Primates (and its “deadline” of September 30) sometime this afternoon. Bloggers from all ends of the spectrum are waiting to see what will be revealed. Many (especially the more homophobic bloggers) are simply waiting to pass yet another judgment upon the Episcopal Church. It brings to mind a child who rushes into a room full of presents, unwrapping without a care, as he already knows what will be revealed—he has become accustomed to receiving everything he demands from overindulgent parents, and he is simply looking to find some way in which they have wronged him yet again.

Shoot, it brings to mind Veruca Salt:

I want the world
I want the whole world
I want to lock it all up in my pocket
It's my bar of chocolate
Give it to meNow!

I want today
I want tomorrow
I want to wear 'em like braids in my hair
And I don't want to share 'em

I want a party with room fulls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don't get the things I am after
I'm going to scream!

Others have taken a more balanced approach (thank you, Fr. Jake, and forgive me for paraphrasing you):

What will follow September 30?
October 1st.
And not much else.

The fate of the Church, and the quality of our days together that will follow, will depend largely on our response to what is revealed (and not as much on the actual content of the revelation). Can we remain committed to staying in relationship? Can we commit to finding a way forward together? Can we commit to discerning God’s will together? Can we do all these things without excluding the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters? Or will we simply mirror the world around us by splintering off into polarized and isolated factions?

Again: the content of the Bishops’ response will be important—but it will not be nearly as earth-shattering (and earth-CHANGING) as the response of a faithful Church. It is most likely that the Bishops will challenge us to offer acceptance and full inclusion to the GLBT faithful; it is also likely that we will be challenged to work with those with whom we disagree. If we can survive the sensationalism of the media that will report on this meeting; if we can survive the spin of the ultra-polarized “Angry-cans,” then we may truly wonder at what has yet to be revealed (on this issue today, and in the years to come). I think, in the end, that what TEC has to say will sound suspiciously like the Gospels. Imagine that!

Pray for our Bishops. Pray for all in relationship with the Episcopal Church. Most importantly, pray for our gay brothers and sisters, whose life in the church will be most affected by the events in the coming years.

In the days to come, I think we will hear that tomorrow does not belong to us.

We will hear that, contrary to what some may say, there are no bad eggs in God’s Church.

In the end, I think those who are actually listening will hear something wonderful.


Not that there's anything wrong with that!

OK, so maybe you’re not a Seinfeld fan, but this quote comes from that show’s humorous take on cultural prejudices. In the episode, “The Outing,” Jerry Seinfeld denies rumors that he is gay … “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” As friends and family respond with alarm to the rumors of Jerry’s homosexuality, they all end their shocked statements by saying, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Why am I bringing this up? Because I think this line needs to be adopted by many of the angry purple shirts who are distressed by the consecration of a gay bishop (and, let’s face it, women’s ordination). The Presiding Bishop has offered to appoint an acceptable bishop to provide alternate primatial oversight for American Bishops. (Apparently some men just can’t stomach dealing with a woman in authority). Bishop Jack Iker of the Diocese of Fort Worth has responded by saying that any plan that gives ultimate authority to Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is a “non-starter.” Apparently a woman has no place issuing “unilateral dictates.” (As if any PB ever had that sort of authority!)

Of course, this is nothing new from Fort Worth's pointy hat. One can almost hear +Iker saying, "It's not because she's a woman--not that there's anything wrong with that!" Adding the Seinfeld disclaimer to misogynist sentiments simply gives credence to the fallacy that such sentiments should be mainstream.

If you visit the website for the Diocese of Fort Worth, you can read a detailed view of their position on women’s ordination. The multi-part essay is written by 4 guys. As you can probably guess, they don’t like women’s ordination. Using a generous amount of proof-texting and specious argument, these four men commence a heavily-biased reading of Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and even reason. Yes, the decline in the moral and ethical standards of the church since 1976 is directly due to the ordination of women. So is the decline in membership and stewardship, and just about every other ill that has befallen the Episcopal Church. I wonder how these gentlemen would explain the vast abuses of children by the Catholic Church, which does not ordain women. Blame that on the Philadelphia 11 too? And to what idealized vision of the pre-1976 church are they subscribing? Was it the “church triumphant” before the Philadelphia 11? Were our pre-1976 ethical and moral standards any higher before we started ordaining women? Was +Iker rendered so helpless by the presence of a woman with holy orders that he was powerless to halt their mission to destroy the church? I can’t help but think that +Iker would be better served by singing a little Jimmy Buffet:

“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s my own damn fault.”

Here is what part of the article would look like if the authors used Jerry Seinfeld’s line:

“It is reasonable then to hope that women’s ordination may likewise come to be viewed as an experiment that failed, a concept that seemed rational enough at first, but eventually was recognized by more thoughtful generations as hollow and counter-productive—not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Here is what recent statements attributed to Bishop Orama (Nigeria) would sound like:

“Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic, and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God’s purpose for man. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Sounds almost ... acceptable, doesn't it?

(Yes, +Orama has denied making this statement, and the reporter involved has retracted, but mere denials are not sufficient. Enough homophobia has come out of ++Akinola’s camp; these statements are consistent with the party line--which, in Nigeria, includes jail for homosexuals. In other words, gays shouldn't be killed, just jailed. Until +Orama can make a statement affirming the rights and dignity of gay men and women, he has not truly retracted anything. It’s like punching someone in the face and saying, “I did not just hit you.” Or worse: “Open-handed hitting doesn’t count!”).

+Iker and other Network bishops have hidden their bigotry behind a reading of Scripture, sacred tradition, and reason—a reading that, surprise, favors men! Behind their stated good intentions lie the actions of angry, straight, male bishops. They are acting like homophobes and misogynists.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Sermon for the Burial of the Dead, Rite I

About 8 years ago, just before I entered Seminary,
my uncle Ben took me aside at a family dinner
and he gave me the best advice anyone has ever given
about being a good preacher:
Ben gave me a very serious look; he fixed me with his gaze.
“Short sermons,” he said, “less than 10 minutes.”
I am going to honor Ben by following his advice today.
I want to talk with you today about faith …
specifically, what Ben’s life and death—
his living and his dying—
can teach us about having faith.
I am glad I knew Ben; glad I loved him as an uncle;
glad even now as I deeply grieve for him,
because, in his living and especially in his dying,
Ben proved that faith and love are at their strongest
when you keep them in spite of hardship.
We are here because we loved Ben
and because we still love him
somewhere in our love and our grief
we are meant to find hope.
I loved Ben.
He was always larger-than-life to me
But I don’t think I really got to know him …
I don’t think I really learned how strong Ben was
nor how loving he could be
until he got sick.
I visited him in the hospital once, at Sloan-Kettering in New York.
It was the first time I had seen Ben as a hospital patient
He was lying in bed, and he was connected
to all kinds of tubes and bags of fluid.
Some of those tubes would be going home with him.
I asked Ben how he was doing.
And Ben, as only he could do,
communicated volumes in just one word:

In that one word, I heard pain and frustration,
but I also heard hope, and a little bit of humor.
Ben was never afraid to laugh at himself.
We sat with Ben and after a while he said,
“Do you know what is helping me through this?”
He took out a prayer book, and he read the following prayer:
“Strengthen your servant Benjamin, O God, to do what he has to do
and bear what he has to bear, that, accepting your healing gifts
through the skill of surgeons and nurses,
he may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
Ben paused, and indicated the tubes and bags to which he was connected …
some of them, to which he would be permanently connected,
and he said, “This is what I have to do, and what I have to bear,
and I have to learn how to have a thankful heart about that.”
Those words really stuck with me,
and I hope they stick with you, too.
Because even though Ben was speaking from pain and frustration,
I believe he was speaking with a heart of faith.
I believe that even in the worst of his suffering,
Ben knew something:
Faith and love are only worth having if you suffer with them.
If faith and love are your companions in hardship
not just in good times,
but in the worst of times,
then faith and love are yours to share with others.
I know that Ben shared his gifts more freely
after he was faced with his own mortality.
I know that what Ben was trying to say from his hospital bed was this:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me …
he has sent me to bring good news …
And because God’s Spirit was with Ben, it was speaking through him.
Ben’s prayer was answered …
he was restored to great usefulness in the world—greater than ever.
As the years went by, Ben went through
cycles of bad prognoses and miraculous recoveries.
Seeing him at family gatherings was like a slap in the face …
but it was not his appearance, sometimes affected by chemotherapy,
that shocked me.
It was the twinkle in his eye, and the warmth in his smile …
the strength with which he clasped your hand.
(He stopped shaking hands, I noticed … no more casual pleasantries for Ben …
Ben clasped your hand ... he held on to you
as surely as he held on to his life).
Without a word, with one bright-eyed look,
Ben told you the secret of having faith.
“I’m still here. Every day is a gift.”
There could be no greater usefulness in this world
than to spread this good news.
To Ben, faith was something that was not complicated.
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
and most importantly, death is not the end.
If you were going to have belief,
might as well really put it through its paces.
Ben had great days and Ben had rotten days, and lots of days that fell in between
and I believe he learned
to see each of those days as a gift from God.
I know that, through the way he lived his last years,
Ben was trying to say to us:
Try to cultivate this attitude in your life.
When you wake in the morning, try saying,
“I’m still here. Every day is a gift.”
Try it not just when you wake up feeling refreshed,
but also when you wake up exhausted, alone, or afraid.
You will be surprised
at the richness this attitude will bring to your life.
You will be able to see the hand of God
guiding and healing you.
You will begin to understand
that God’s ultimate goal for us
does not lie in this life,
but in eternal fellowship with him.
Suffering and death are not the last words for us;
there is a great family waiting to welcome us
just it has have welcomed Ben.
Ben’s good news to us
is nothing less than the good news of Jesus Christ,
who has given us a garland instead of ashes
the oil of gladness instead of mourning
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Ben understands now what we only understand in part;
his broken heart is healed, and he is free from all suffering;
let your own broken hearts be healed,
and know that you grieve
because you loved so deeply.
I hope you will take every day as a gift—
every moment, whether rich or rotten,
is a chance to love your neighbor and your enemy
a chance to hope in something greater than yourself
a chance to discover what heaven is like.