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Episcopal Church Announces Special Outreach to Roman Catholics

Welcome

“All of the pageantry—none of the guilt!”
— Robin Williams

Dear Catholic Friends,

You may have heard recently that the Pope has announced a new “ordinariate” that allows Anglicans and Episcopalians to become Catholics while keeping their Prayer Books, hymns and married priests.

(Is there a special office at the Vatican that comes up with words like “ordinariate”? After all this time they still can’t speak English?)

We want you to know that the Episcopal Church has a much easier portal for Catholics to become Episcopalians: it’s called the front door. Just come on in!

The Episcopal Church receives more Catholic converts than it sends to Rome. Why?

• Mass on Sunday, same as always. Free bread and wine!

• We elect our priests and bishops. They serve us, we don’t serve them, except as fellow Christians deserving our love and support.

• The People govern the Church. We don’t do pronouncements from on high.

• Wonderful music—our congregations like to sing!

• No known pedophile problems. No $100 million victim settlements or diocesan bankruptcies.

• We have a culture of openness, not of secrecy. We expect money to be accounted for.

• You don’t check your brain at the door. We don’t tell you how to think or how to vote.

• Confession aims to be transformative, not legalistic.

• We believe God calls men and women equally. Men don’t tell women what to do.

• Plenty of opportunities for mission and service, peace and justice, caring for Creation.

• We don’t preach shame to anyone, including our Gay sons and daughters.

• We’re all about spiritual growth through the sacraments, prayer, meditation and work.

• Jesus was infallible. Mortals are not.

Come join us. Feel good about coming to church again!

For the nearest Episcopal Church by Zip Code, click here.++

ORDINATION_BISHOP_MICHEAL_EUCHARIST

Glad About Glads

gladiolus

The gladiolus I planted in June are just starting to blossom. So far I have a blue and a yellow one, and another bud-stalk has formed, seemingly overnight.

I bought mixed bulbs at the local grocery, 20 for $4. That’s 20¢ apiece, for late summer flowers – to me, a huge bargain. But I’ve never grown them before, so of course I was anxious about how they’d come out.

I planted them in very rocky soil, and then waited to see whether they’d survive. Weeks went by without even a shoot. Did I plant them upside down?

And then one day, there they were. So I planted another box of them after Peter left; they say you should stagger your plantings, because once they bloom they won’t be around for long.

By the time these fade, the others should be coming along. My goodness, what an improvement over the mess I had last year.

Live and learn; experience is the best teacher.

The other day I finally solved my cultivating problem; I bought a $6 hoe, not a $106 digging machine that would sit in my garage gathering dust 364 days a year. I’m okay with doing everything by hand while I’m still young enough. People buy too many gardening machines they seldom use.

I have seven evergreen bushes, mature ones, in front and on the east side; by the end of summer they start to get pretty straggly. Come September it’s time to trim them back; I have old-fashioned clippers like my grandparents did, not a hedge-trimmer. With a machine I might get the job done in less than an hour, instead of the two days it takes me to trim them by hand—but what do I do with the trimmer once I’m done? It just doesn’t seem cost-effective to me to buy one. Prices at Lowe’s range from $30-$110, but the cheap model isn’t even UL certified; if you want that, you’re up to $50 for a Black and Decker. If I amortize the $50 model for the 10 years I plan to be alive, it’s five bucks a year for a product I use one day a year. I suppose it’s worth it, but there’s one other consideration; the joy of going to bed that night exhausted because I worked my body. I’m all for labor-saving devices, but physical exertion is good for us. Not only do I feel alive in ways I don’t routinely feel, I get the satisfaction, even the pride, of a job well done. I go to sleep with a smile on my face, knowing what I accomplished because I can feel it in my body.

Would you buy a $50 breadmaker, but only use it once a year? How about a $300 stand mixer that gathers dust and takes up space on the kitchen counter? I just don’t like the idea of buying a machine you only use once a year.

Mind you I don’t have a leaf-blower either, and I’ve got huge trees; I put out 40 giant bags of fallen leaves every October. Do I like raking? Hell no, but I love sleeping.

My Unca Deed, who’s about 85 now, still farms 1000 acres of corn and soybeans. Been doing it all his life, will never stop until the day they find him keeled over in the dirt. He loves his life. He’s done well for himself, although the money was never his biggest concern; for for 50 years, five full decades, the price of corn never rose, while the price of everything else did. If he was in it for the money he’d have quit long ago. But he didn’t, and why? Because he wants to be outdoors, growing things.

Once his nieces and nephews tried getting Unca Deed to consider farming more comfortably, instead of having the sun beat down on him all day. “Tractors have got air-conditioned cabs now, Unca Deed. You don’t have to be hot and dirty all the time. Since the cab’s enclosed, you can get a radio in there and listen to the Cubs games.” Well, being an open-minded kind of guy and a lifelong Cubs fan, not to mention respectful when the “kids” (we’re all 50) come together as a group to say, “We’re worried about you,” Deed decided he’d try it; why not? Maybe the kids were right. They drove him to the implement store so he could try out the big, shiny new tractor; the salesman showed him all the features, a GPS that gets satellite signals to tell you right where you are, the internet keeps you right in touch with the latest info about soil types and seed suppliers and up-to-the-minute data from the USDA, plus the commodity markets! “Didja ever think of that, huh? A farmer needs to know the latest prices, the yield forecasts, even the micro-weather.” Deed listened raptly to the man.

And didn’t last an hour in the air-conditioning. He tried to break it to the kids, “It just don’t feel right, farmin’ without bein’ in the sun.”

He felt like he was indoors in that fancy souped-up cab with the AC and the micro-weather. He didn’t want to be indoors, he wanted to be outdoors. He wanted to farm like God intended, where a man earns his bread by the sweat of his brow and is proud of himself.

The kids were sorely disappointed, but they learned not to mess with what works. The man’s 85, he has a right to die in the dirt if he wants to.

Unca Deed’s been hospitalized twice in the past year, but each time it didn’t amount to much, and he was back the next day. I pray for him constantly, that he gets to live and die doing what he’s good at.

Why buy a fancy new tractor if the old one still works, and you’d only use the AC once a year? Who needs a GPS when you already know exactly where you are?

—-

The tomatoes are now coming on strong. I planted mine a little bit late, but there’s no sign of the dreaded blight that’s killed tomato plants up and down the East and Midwest, and today I picked a couple of big ones, sandwich sized. It will be time to start freezing and canning soon; I’ve got ten on the counter, a slicer in the fridge and a big bowl of pasta salad I’m working through.

For God so loved the world he gave us August in Indiana.++

tomatoes

Summer Vacation: Nice to Be Home

porkchops

I’m home alone, after a great week in the Smoky Mountains with Peter from Amsterdam. I have a lot to clean up from his three-week visit, but the timetable is mine alone, to do as I feel like. It’s good to be home and in control of my life again, without any pressure to get him to O’Hare on time. Instead of spending Gay Pride Day “40” at the parade in Boyztown, we were stuck in traffic on the expressway. I suspect the Taste of Chicago is deliberately timed to compete with Gay Pride Day.

Today the weather is coolish and windy; thunderstorms are rumored but the radar is clear, so the cold front is treating us gently. I plan to grill a thick pork chop for dinner, then sit on my side porch watching the trees sway on my Street Without Any Traffic.

Coming home from vacation is a time to consolidate one’s gains. We had dozens of wonderful experiences that will live on in memory; the Roaring Fork Motor Tour through Great Smokies National Park was my favorite of all, plus we discovered a new-to-me town that would make a good destination in the future. It’s Sylva, North Carolina, which has a progressive flavor. We ate a great meal at 553 West Main, where Ross Lorenz is the chef and owner. He had a live band outdoors while we listened to jazz inside, and the food was worth every penny.

Over the years I’ve returned repeatedly to the Smokies, but each time I’ve stayed in a different town. Gatlinburg, the most famous one, is an overcrowded tourist trap; years ago I stayed in Pigeon Forge, which in those days was a sleepy little nothing. Then native daughter Dolly Parton decided it was a great place to make money. I greatly admire her business acumen; she was absolutely right to turn it into a gold mine, creating thousands of jobs in what formerly was a piss-poor place. But I have no interest in “family entertainment,” so Pigeon Forge is out.

dolly-parton

So is Sevierville; I stayed there once too, but that whole area on the Tennessee side is “so crowded, no one goes there anymore.” Hat tip, Yogi Berra.

Next time, Sylva. It doesn’t have a single T-shirt shop, fudge joint or wax museum, and you can actually get a fine meal there.

A few noteworthy things about Cherokee, NC:

• The casino has empowered The People, who finally voted in alcohol a couple of weeks ago to keep the cash flowing. Some are predicting increased crime and social problems, but that check the Nation sends to each enrolled member every six months does come in handy.

• Even though the Qualla Boundary is a reservation, real estate is privately owned; the American Way, imposed by the Federal government, is the opposite of the Cherokee Way, and their culture still suffers from capitalist exploitation by outsiders. I wish the tribe could bulldoze every last moccasin shop and two-bit wigwam in town. The Cherokees lived in proper houses when the White man arrived; thanks to Sequoyah, The People were soon more literate than their White neighbors. Casino-funded progress is obvious, but the spirit longs for The People to control their own place.

• We ran into something weird at the Best Western: internet censorship, like freakin’ China. Anything Gay is verboten; Peter couldn’t open half the e-mails on his Google account. I tried visiting Gay.com to see if news was allowed, but I got a censorship screen instead. I cannot recommend staying in Cherokee, though I do endorse the Museum, Oconaluftee Indian Village, “Unto These Hills” and especially the Qualla Mutual Arts and Crafts store. Visit Cherokee by all means, but don’t stay there unless giving your money to one-armed bandits is your idea of entertainment.

• This was personally important for my novels: I asked about the Cementation Ceremony at Talking Leaves Bookstore, and the owner had never heard of it. (I believe it was an annual Gay male wedding ceremony.) Artist and author Thomas E. Mails (The Cherokee People) described it in loving detail as one of the Nation’s principal feasts, but The People are now so Baptist-brainwashed that they’ve censored their own culture from themselves; though they love to complain that their losses are all someone else’s fault. It’s just human nature, I guess, but Gay Cherokees could use the reminder of their central place in the old religion.

I am glad we went to Cherokee, the Agency town; but I doubt I’ll ever visit there again. And we never did figure out what “rat cheese” might be.

Among the gains I’m consolidating along with the memories are some neat things we bought. I now own a communion set, a blue chalice and almost-matching plate I got from Teresa Cole, a potter in Berea, Kentucky showing at Gallery 103 on College Square. I set the chalice on the paten in the middle of my dining room table; I’m not a priest, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever host a Eucharist in my home, but if the chance ever arises I’m ready. They are already dear things to me, and I recommend something similar for every Christian home. Just the sight of them is a good reminder of what’s important.

At Qualla I bought something inexpensive but hand-carved, a little canoe and paddle with the artist’s initials on the bottom; I love being on the water, and I very much enjoyed the mini-demonstration of canoe-hollowing at Oconaluftee. (Besides, the kid was cute. Did I mention he was the Principal Dancer that night at the amphitheater? In a loincloth?)

I bought two things for my beloved side porch, which I’m gradually turning into a summer kitchen. I got a 3-bulb lamp in New Harmony, Indiana, an unusual piece of vertical, rectangular ironwork with stained glass tulip globes; it fits wonderfully in the space I had in mind, and we’ve already enjoyed its soft glow when the sun goes down. In Asheville, NC, I bought a 15-inch square metal sculpture to hang on the exterior brickwork of my living room fireplace. I looked at much more expensive sculpted pieces in another shop in the same arcade downtown, but then I got worried about whether my bricks were wide enough to hold them, only to discover once I got home that the chimney is six feet wide and I’m an idiot. I guess in all these past five years that I’ve owned this house, I’ve never really looked at that brickwork from the outside; I knew it needed some visual interest and sculpture would work well, but I always sit facing away from it, looking at the Street With No Traffic, and never staring directly at it to know it’s a big frickin’ chimney.

Even my little piece of stamped-out steel would give dinner guests something to touch and enjoy, but I’m amazed to be this dumb a blond.

Peter bought me an Indian serving tray, showing snow-capped mountains and horses; I wish he hadn’t, but I admired it, and before I knew it the saleswoman was wrapping it up. It’s probably Sioux, Navajo or Ute, not Cherokee, but I’ll enjoy carrying food on it for my porch guests.

Meanwhile my house and garage are intact, didn’t get blown apart by a tornado, and the garden is thriving; the tomato plants are a foot taller, the cherries are ready to go, the flowers are beaming and the herbs scent the air.

I have plenty of weeding to do—we got two inches of rain while I was gone—but life is good, happily predictable, everything’s under control. Do the laundry, throw out Peter’s junk he left behind, clean out the refrigerator; welcome back to normal life on a pretty porch, where pork chops sizzle.

Three weeks I think is too long a visit anymore for a guy who lives alone and is used to arranging the towels a certain way. Back when travel was difficult, family members visited for long stretches; I remember two weeks in Kokomo as a kid with my mother’s Aunts Leatha and Hazel. But now I’m too set in my ways, an odd discovery to make at 58. When did my way become the only way?

But in truth it always was; I’m the Gay son of a control-freak mother. Who’s kidding whom? (Randy, Eddie, Frankie, John, Avon, Jack and Steve, your snarks will be deleted!)

Peter is an often-thoughtful guest, a generous person who bought a total stranger in Cherokee a $50 gift certificate to Restaurant 553. We had a fantastic vacation. Still, the more I age, the more comforting routines become, so I’m glad to be Back Home Again where I belong. At 12 noon it’s time to do tomorrow’s Daily Office for our troops in Afghanistan, Korea and Iraq, but it’s hard to maintain the discipline at a Best Western. Without the daily prayers I’m pretty much adrift; and ditto without my Mythos Man.++

Cherokee Men

Triumph of the “Ritualists”

RoodScreen.Saint-Etienne-du-Mont.800

Rood screen and balcony at St. Etienne du Mont, France. The English Reformation destroyed all such ornaments, but now the tide has turned.

The Episcopal Church has changed so much in my lifetime it’s really hard to fathom. We all know about women priests and bishops, the gradual integration of LGBT people into parish life and leadership, the increasing racial and ethnic diversity; as dramatic and necessary as these developments are, they’re not the biggest changes we’ve seen. We’ve become a Catholic church, with Mass every Sunday.

We still have some Protestant attitudes, which I’m glad for (I do protest the pope); but in these past 30 years our transformation is fairly complete. In 1979 the General Convention gave final approval to a new version of the
Book of Common Prayer, which emphasizes the Holy Eucharist, not a prayer service, as the supreme act of Christian worship on Sundays and other feast days.

That changed everything. Yet it wasn’t a revolutionary act but an evolutionary one.

I wish my mentor Howard Galley were here to see what he wrought, as general editor of the “new” BCP. No doubt he knew exactly what he was getting us into, but I wish he were here now to witness how these developments have spread and the joy that’s resulted.

Our church is smaller now; we’ve gone from being the church of George Washington and the Queen of England, lawyers and bankers and capitalists, to being the church of the upper middle class on down, all the way to the homeless. That’s a tremendous achievement, though it’s come at quite a cost in numbers, money and prestige. Still, Jesus wasn’t a prestigious fellow, just the son of a workingman, and that’s a sign that we’re more closely following The Way.

Two years ago I toured Episcopal churches from east to west and north to south, stopping in big cities, suburbs and rural areas. Mass is the principal Sunday service in every one of those churches, and no one complains about it; the dissenters have left or died off. The faithful look forward to Mass every Sunday. Increasingly, “Mass” is what they call it; one syllable vs. the three-syllable Greek jawbreaker “Eucharist.” Parents tell their kids, “Wake up, baby, it’s time to go to Mass.”

And the liturgy itself has become incredibly rich. Some would say it still has a ways to go, but I’m speaking in general terms now, what I saw two years ago in all those varied parishes.

We are perhaps more devoted to the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer in its dailyness than we ever were before 1979, when half our churches were still “Morning Prayer parishes.” My own parish was one of them; we had Holy Communion at 8 a.m. for a small congregation, then Morning Prayer or Communion at 10:30 for a large congregation. In the olden days Communion was held once a month at 10:30, then that changed to every other week, and now for many years it’s what we always do at both services.

I operate a website called dailyoffice.org, which gets about 250 visitors a day for Morning and Evening Prayer. These are people who pray once or twice a day (or more, I also offer Noonday and Latenight services) because they find it spiritually helpful to center themselves, sanctify the passage of time and to dedicate it to God. A similar website gets several times more daily visitors, and untold thousands pray the Daily Office at home or in small groups. Praying the Office every day is one of the best things a person can do to get closer to God. As I put the website together each day, I visit parish sites all over the country to see what other people are doing. In my 4 1/2 years of posting the daily services, I’ve run into exactly one holdout “Morning Prayer parish” in upstate New York. The takeover of the Catholic religion is complete. We are all Catholics now, and we love it.

We’re still not papists, which makes me laugh with satisfaction.

But it is one thing to substitute (actually, restore) the sacrament instead of the prayer service, and another to learn/relearn to liturgize and ritualize our lives, which we’re also doing. The sacrament has its own objective value, including the power to convert our souls to God; but the physical acting out of human needs and truths, universal or personal, also has great power. This acting out is what I mean by liturgy and ritual.

To the post-modern mind “ritual” is some sort of archaic throwback, a mindless repetition of mumbo-jumbo, not at all desirable or even respectable. But oh, we do fool ourselves. Try having a birthday; if no one sends you a card or gives you a cake or sings you a song, you go to your room and pout, “No one cares.” Try going to a football game; if the band never plays the School Song, you’ll go home in a rage.

Rituals are very much the stuff of life, but the term’s taken on suspicious connotations now—except when it’s the 4th of July and you don’t get your picnic and fireworks. Why, the injustice of it all! You’re entitled to burnt weenies and deviled eggs!

Episcopalians are ritualizing like never before, and I’m glad. In fact I could use more of it.

My parish had several baptisms last Easter Eve, new initiates from toddler age to very young adults. It was a joyous occasion, but I found myself wishing that our clergy knew about the post-baptismal ritual of the priest who baptized me. I was too young to remember it, but my mother often spoke about it; she loved what the priest did. When the ceremony was done, he would carry a baby all around the church, saying, “Look at your new brother or sister in Christ.” Everyone got a chance to coo at the little one, or feel sympathy if she cried, and the parents were always so proud at having their baby shown off for all the world to see. My brothers and I were baptized at ages 2, 5 and 7, three stairstep boys; I was the little one. Fr. Ferguson held my hand and walked us all up and down the aisles as the congregation applauded.

On Easter Eve I kept waiting for the applause, and it didn’t happen. So the baptism didn’t feel complete to me, because the People didn’t get a chance to respond, to say Welcome.

Another ritual which I’ve often written about: Fr. Ben was the rector of my home parish when I came of age and fell in love with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1940. Ben was many things, and in later years a bit of a drag on parish life, but he was also the best at priestcraft I’ve ever seen. No one, in the 40 parishes I visited in 2007, could hold a candle to him, he was that good. “Priestcraft” refers to the ritual, the liturgizing of the priest’s and church’s actions—the physical acting out, illustrating and making of sacrament, which the whole Body of Christ (the People) participate in. (And this was with his back to us in those days.)

Here’s what Ben would do during the Words of Administration, the actual delivering of the Bread and Wine to the communicants. I’ve never seen anyone else do this. The words are (Rite I):

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Communicants knelt at the altar rail, maybe said a silent prayer before he came to us, and we held our hands, one cupped in the other, up and out towards him to receive. He placed the Host, a wafer in those days, into our palm. Then he covered our hands with his, which made this action entirely personal; an exchange between him and me, God and me. He pronounced the words, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee…”

Or “in remembrance that Christ died for thee…”

It was earth-shaking, the most shatteringly beautiful thing that’s ever happened to me. Sunday after Sunday I’d come down from that rail grinning from ear to ear. For me! Christ died for me!

Parishioners got in the habit of watching me every Sunday come back from the altar with that look on my face. It pleased them and reinforced their own joy.

So something was lost and something gained in Prayer Book revision; Rite I is seldom used in the church anymore, we can do without the thee’s and thou’s. They’re bad for mission and un-Anglican, with our tradition of using language people actually speak and understand. But I wouldn’t give you 2¢ for the words the ’79 Book substitutes:

The Gifts of God for the People of God.

Doesn’t mean the same thing at all. Generic gifts for everybody, not “the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for you.”

Fr. Ben had it right, and Howard Galley was wrong. (I intend to tell him all about it as soon as I see him in heaven.)

All this brings me round to a guy I’ve studied a bit lately, the 19th century English priest and saint John Mason Neale. He was the leading “ritualist” of his day. He’s principally remembered today as a hymnodist, but as great a gift as his hymns were to the Church, even more important was his great insight into the theology of aesthetics. He knew (as the leaders of the Oxford Movement did not) the power of beautiful worship to convert the soul.

JohnMasonNeale230

Thus he sparked the final and decisive chapter in the longstanding “vestment wars” of the Church of England, which had been going on for 300 years of Reformation. It’s shocking now to realize, but people used to riot if a priest wore a surplice over his cassock, much less a cope or chasuble, things we now take entirely for granted. Candles on the altar? How dare you? “He’s a papist—kill him!”

My my my, and look at us now with finery everywhere for a reason: fancy stuff helps the People think and feel.

In their zeal to reform the medieval Catholic church, English and Continental reformers tried to get rid of everything that reminded them of Rome that didn’t have explicit mention in the New Testament. Their theory was that the earliest practice of the Church was the only acceptable practice, and no mention was made of what clothes the priest wore. (This was part of what we now know as Bibliolotry, worship of the Bible rather than Jesus Christ.)

Mind you, these are the same people who basically threw out the Mass most of the year, when it’s plain in the NT that the Church’s earliest practice was the most frequent Breaking of the Bread. Quite a contradiction there, but the Mass was too Popish! (It’s the same reason you see Baptist churches today with steeples and no cross on top; idiotic, to my mind. Lift that Cross up high so everyone can see it.)

Neale understood that distinctive, beautiful clothes for the clergy, along with candles on the altar and other decorations, marked the Service of the Church as special, and thus inspired the People’s reverence.

These trappings don’t detract from one of the great insights of the Reform, that priesthood is shared by all believers. The clergy are simply those men and women we set apart to lead us; as Howard Galley often said, “Together we make Eucharist.”

(This is also why, in the English Church unlike the Roman, a priest can’t celebrate Mass by himself. If there are no People present, it doesn’t happen. I believe that’s absolutely right; the sacrament doesn’t exist for the priest’s private benefit, but grows out of the “two or three gathered together.”)

Today in my home parish and diocese, the church buildings are too plain. This is a legacy of our former Low Church/Broad Church tradition. Our current rector has beautified the worship space somewhat, but it still looks too Presbyterian to me. We do not employ all the teaching tools at our disposal. I suppose there might still be parishioners who would object to using more Catholic symbols, but I doubt such persons are in the majority. The symbols help us reach for God—which is the principal selling point for any Christian church; does this place, this congregation, help you get closer to God, or not? We know that if we reach for God, God reaches back twice as far for us and embraces us. So why are we not using every teaching tool available?

Fr. Ed, the current rector, has done a magnificent job of building upon our local tradition of excellence in music, with the help of talented music directors. We can’t do Christmas Eve without our string quartet, it’s just not good enough anymore. God deserves the best we can give, and so do the People. Music has conversion power; music can make a doubter believe again, because we somehow grasp that all true art comes from God and is creative in a human, mortal way, like God is creative in an immortal, cosmic way.

I hope a future rector will introduce incense into the celebration of Mass. We don’t have to use it every week, and there are ways to manage the smoke without causing coughing fits, but:

Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense, *
the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

(Ps. 141:2)

We need to see the crucifix, the cross with the body on it. I can’t stress enough the importance of this, though it’s a symbol Protestants don’t understand or accept. I remember my Protestant Grandmother saying once about the plain vs. the adorned cross, “We believe that Christ rose from the dead.” To which the rejoinder is, “So do we! But how is it exactly that Jesus took away the sins of the world, if not his crucifixion?”

It is wrong to deprive us of this powerful symbol. Indeed it is the principal symbol we should look at.

“The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee…”

Beyond the atonement, if such it was, and the reconciliation of God and humankind the crucifixion achieved, there is another huge lesson in the symbol of the Body on the Cross. In this one image, we can see all of Christ’s counsel for how we should live our lives.

Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

(John 15:12-13 NRSV)

No, we’re not supposed to get crucified; none of us ’cause Jesus already did that, a once-for-all thing. But loving self-sacrifice is indeed the heart of Christ’s Gospel.

We see it on the battlefield; we see it in policing and firefighting, teaching and nursing, all manner of public service. We see it in the sacrifices parents make for children, and children make for parents, and lovers make for each other.

This is love acted out.

So it’s not my fault or John Mason Neale’s if you don’t like the sound of “ritual.” Try going without a turkey next Thanksgiving and see how well you like it. Don’t put up a Christmas tree or give any presents; tell the kids the Easter Bunny didn’t bring any jelly beans or chocolate, see how popular that makes you.

We need physical ways to express our love, because words alone don’t cut it. The Book of Common Prayer since Cranmer’s original in 1549 has been the supreme expression of English Christianity because it’s so well-written. But it’s only words, appealing mostly to the mind, when we also have bodies that have to move. So we sing hymns, we have parades, we applaud little babies after we pour water on their heads; we not only break bread in full view of the People now, we show them all what we’ve done. We lift up a fine chalice of the Blood of Christ to make sure everyone can see. On Palm Sunday we walk around the block waving greenery and singing, even if that startles a pothead smoking his morning joint on the front porch. On Easter Eve we light a bonfire, on Easter morn we gather in the mountains. On Low Sunday we huddle together and pass the Peace, shaking hands and hugging. We ritualize everything now, and we’re better off because of it.

The Episcopal Church has grown in faith by leaps and bounds in my lifetime, which is why we now have women of color up front and LGBTs as healing ministers, a food pantry in the parish hall, addicts in the Bishop’s Parlor, ex-cons at Craine House, refugees in scattered apartments, liturgical dance practice in the nave and podcasts of Julian of Norwich. Bankers are still welcome, but if they don’t come we’re too busy to miss ’em.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
and of his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.”

Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, singing,

“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
who are and who were,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
but your wrath has come,
and the time for judging the dead,
for rewarding your servants, the prophets
and saints and all who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

(Rev. 11:15-19 NRSV)

And here you thought you were a drama queen! God’s got you beat.++

My Church Wants $250,000

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I love my parish. I got to attend the Great Vigil of Easter Saturday night and it was great. The dean celebrated, the rector preached, we had three baptisms and the service was everything one could want. Christ is risen!

However, we’re going through a money crunch, and now we’ve decided we need to raise a quarter of a million dollars, on top of everything we’re already spending. I don’t get it.

We elected a vestry; they approved a budget that spends money we don’t have. The new campaign is designed to cover the deficit; bring in a consultant “to guide us through a period of self-study and discernment”; restore to last year’s levels what they allegedly cut from the current budget; and “restore depleted cash reserves.”

I don’t know how much of this is because of the Wall Street crash or how much is the result of overspending and undergrowing. So when another letter came today appealing for funds, I threw it out.

Then I dug it out of my recycling bin and called the lady who wrote it, Mrs. J. We have an appointment to speak next Tuesday.

She and her husband have been active in the parish, real leaders, throughout their adult lives. Their kids are communicants too. I am very grateful to this family for providing time, money, leadership and prayers all these years. I think of it as “my” parish, but of course it’s “ours,” not mine; in many ways her family has been more faithful than I have been. (I live 50 miles away in another time zone, so it’s always an event when I make it to church. It sure helps to have mass at night sometimes.)

But I am a “son of the parish,” and I don’t understand how we got ourselves in this hole. I don’t know what I can do about it, either; I’m already maxed out with church pledges. I’m helping a religious order in Wisconsin, which has a construction project going on, and I just don’t see how I can give any more. That’s why I threw the latest letter out. Then there were the brothers in California whose monastery burned down. Help! Whatever happened to all the millionaire Episcopalians?

(They decided they liked the megachurch better, without all those Negroes and Democrats and women priests and homos. We are fresh out of millionaires these days.)

All this gets me to thinking, What is it like for other people to get this kind of church financial appeal? It’s one thing when it’s “send money to Haiti, Sudan (or some other bottomless pit), they’re hungry, sick and desperate,” it’s another when it’s your parish church.

When did we stop doing pay-as-you-go? What could be stupider than running a non-profit with a deficit?

I don’t even know how to think about these issues. (I know I shouldn’t have said that about Haiti, but jeez, nothing is ever going to get better there. They don’t have the political system to support economic development; the government sucks all the money out of the country and always has. It’s as useless as pouring money into Africa; 98% of your donation will go to bribe someone, starting with the Gay-bashing cops.)

(And yes, I’m entirely aware that these are Black-majority nations. We can’t just write them off, no matter how much they deserve it.)

Obviously I have fused issues that ought to be separate. To help Haiti, give what you can to the Sisters of St. Margaret and no one else; they can teach you who else to trust. I mean, people need shoes and vegetables and a chicken wing. With SSM, they actually get a piece of chicken or a pair of shoes.

I have a friend who believes that all churches are financial scams. All of them, always, in every case. He believes in God, but not God’s supposed servants. How many other people believe that?

I don’t think my parish (diocese, denomination, communion) is scamming anyone, but how are 300 Hoosiers supposed to come up with a quarter-million dollars? And what for, exactly?

The building’s in good shape (that took a million or more, a few years ago); the rector gets a 3% raise every year and he’s not doing too bad. We have a half-time priest associate, shared with the campus ministry across town; she supposedly works with children and youth and college students. I don’t see that she’s pulling her weight particularly, but we’ve got “godly play” bags hanging from hooks now, and special services on holy days for younger families, so maybe she’s worth her weight in gold. I wouldn’t know; serving heterosexuals is not my issue, so I’m uninformed. That’s why I’m having the phone conversation next week with Mrs. J.

I do know it’s vital to all parishes to attract younger people, so if Mother H. is doing the job, hallelujah and amen. I don’t care if they’re Straight or Gay, as long as they’re not gray.

But why do we need a quarter million dollars just to get things back to where they were? That’s what Mrs. J’s letter is saying; just to maintain.

And what’s up with the consultant and the self-study and discernment? Will he or she help us figure out why we’re deficit spending? No-o-o, we gotta spend ten grand on navel-gazing so we can replace the rector once he retires.

I wonder when Episcopal churches decided they had to have $10,000 consultants to hire a new priest. We have to do “self-studies” and “discernments” now, we can’t just find an up-and-comer with a few pastoral notches on his or her belt. How did we ever function before we had consultants?

Talk about a scam (although I’m sure they’re all nice people who pray every day and give sacrificially)!

Why doesn’t the self-study just come out of the box? Why have a diocese with, say, 80 churches, who have to hire 80 consultants just because they need to hire a new priest? Are there questions somehow we’re going to ask ourselves that have never been thought of in the entire history of Christianity?

Or are we going to come up with our own answers to the same exact questions everyone else asks?

(It should be in a box.)

WHO ARE WE?

• We’re one of the oldest churches in town, started by Bishop Kemper on horseback.

• We’re a downtown church without a parking lot. Megachurch ain’t us.

• We welcome homos. (See above.) We ask them to keep fairly quiet, but they’re all quiet to start with.

• Our city is small (150,000) but growing rapidly because of a billion-dollar university.

• It’s one of the cheapest places to live in the United States.

• We’re in a progressive diocese with a woman bishop.

• Our churchmanship is broad and comprehensive. We’re actually more Catholic than ever before, but we’re relaxed about it.

• We’re far enough away from the see city that we don’t get too involved in diocesan politics.

• The flip side is that we are far enough away from the see city that no one ever gets elected bishop from our place. We’re a destination, not a stepping-stone. That’s why Fr. E’s been with us 20 or 30 years, and why we’re paying top dollar for him to hold his hands up and bless the bread and wine.

• We have a good music program that’s probably more than we can afford. We have a fine musical instrument and a good amateur choir, and we’re loath to give them up. Thus we end up worshiping the details, not the essence. (And I’m as bad as anyone; give me that string quartet at Christmas and I am a weepy blubbering fag.)

• The building’s in good shape, but it’s old and you know what that means; there’s “always something.” For years now we’ve had these pulleys in the rafters that keep the walls from falling down.

• We can’t do evangelism to save our lives. (Solution: hire Mother H., string up “godly play” bags.)

• We seem to think people will find us by the holiness of our lives. Somehow people never do.

• The rector is a technophobe who won’t even allow his picture to be taken. You can imagine what a dynamic website we have.

• We have the same parish secretary (oops, sorry, she’s now the “administrator”) since the day E. arrived. Doubtless she gets her annual raise too.

• Somewhere we picked up a parish nurse. Demoniacs have yet to beat down our door. (If they ever do, I could send a few more.)

• We spend thousands a year to mail out a 12-page newsletter with no news.

• We’ve always been neurotic and we always will be.

SO: would you give a quarter-million for that?

No? Does it help if I tell you we were once a stop on the Underground Railroard (but we’re too polite to say)?

Does it help that we started the Urban Ministry, the Food Bank, that our former education minister was once an associate of Martin Luther King Sr., that he finally left the South after too many Klan shootouts, that he nurtured a Gay teenaged acolyte to become an activist and author, who now finds himself wondering how to fill a quarter-million-dollar budget gap in his old parish church? Does that help?

Here are my conclusions, FWIW.

1. Don’t decide anything until I’ve talked to Mrs. J. She knows the parish backwards and forwards, and I have to encounter her faith to understand why she believes this will be money well spent.

2. Don’t be surprised, in the last years of a long incumbency, when the parish goes into deficit just before the priest finally retires.

3. Remember him for the good things he did, not the bad things. He’s a man; priests always screw up. Remember Fr. B., back in the 1970s; we all knew he stayed too long and grew increasingly incompetent, but he was the best at priestcraft there ever was.

Let me repeat that; the best there ever was. He should have been a bishop, but he came to Lafayette.

4. Be resigned to the fact that they’re going to pry the money out of you. The Lord loves a cheerful giver. If you don’t want to pour your money into a sinkhole, move to Florida, go to some church where you have no history, where your mother isn’t buried in the churchyard. I mean, get realistic; as long as you stay here you’re going to give no matter what.

5. Yeah, it’s a scam; but that string quartet!

6. Consider this; you’re going to be a dead rotting corpse someday; and “home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

7. Turn down the thermostat; insulate the attic; kids need shoes. You can curse their feet for growing, or you can kiss their toes and go to Wal-Mart. Joining a church means emptying your wallet. Just hope you can kick the bucket before another consultant shows up to study you into “discernment.”

God gave you the dang money; fork it over.++

Materialism Goes Bankrupt

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Bargain hunters at Saks Fifth Avenue (Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times)

Like everyone else I’m concerned about the recession—or worldwide depression, which I think is more likely, even if it’s not as bad as the Great one.

But unlike others, I haven’t changed my spending habits much. It’s never cost that much to sustain me, and I’m not sure where I’d cut back if I had to.

For dinner I had Steak Diane Flambé. That’s unusual, but it only cost me $6, which is about what I’d spend on a Big Mac, fries and a drink. Miss Diane was a whole lot better than Mickey D’s.

I do my own cooking and gardening. I seldom buy new clothes; I wear what I’ve got until it gets ragged. I’ve got a lot of clothes I only wear around the house, but a lot of designer duds too, bought at the outlet mall, marked down from $150 to $30. I look nice when I need to and ordinary when I don’t. Right now I’ve got on blue jeans, a corduroy shirt that my mother gave me (she died 14 years ago) that I don’t like that much, but it keeps me warm, and a Cincinnati Charter Committee T-shirt no later than 1991. I’m happy as a clam.

I seldom go anywhere, though I’ve been with friends to the nearby college town for concerts and plays this season; we carpool. My mortgage is $600 a month, fixed rate, all-inclusive, PITI. I’ve got equity if I ever have to cash out.

In fact I live in one of the cheapest places in America, the rural Midwest. We didn’t have a housing bubble; no one who isn’t a native wants to live here, so there wasn’t any surplus demand to make prices rise—or fall when the credit dried up.

I burn a lot of natural gas in the wintertime because I’m cold-natured, but I do without AC in the summer, maybe just a day or two.

But you know what really saves me money? Not having TV. I quit that 20-some years ago; at first I didn’t have time for it, and then I didn’t miss it. Thus I’m not exposed to constant advertising designed to trick me into thinking a Big Mac, fries and drink are just as good as Steak Diane.

I stopped allowing the materialist impulse generator into my house. I’m the freest person I know.

There aren’t any movies I want to see, though I might buy the DVD of “Milk.” I don’t need new furniture or diamond rings; my car, a top of the line Honda Accord, is a model year 2005. I don’t expect to replace it till I’m on Medicare, if then.

I am a child of the 1960’s, a Baby Boomer, one of those reviled “Me Generation” people, which is really a laugh because it’s my generation that made me anti-materialistic. There really is something wrong with thinking that happiness results from buying things, in a world where most people get by on a dollar a day. We first confronted reality in the ’60s, it was called Vietnam and Civil Rights.

An article in Monday’s New York Times concerned the end of conspicuous consumption. It includes this quote, from a member of my generation who didn’t get the memo I got at 15:

“I think this economy was a good way to cure my compulsive shopping habit,” Maxine Frankel, 59, a high school teacher from Skokie, Ill., said as she longingly stroked a diaphanous black shawl at a shop in the nearby Chicago suburb of Glenview. “It’s kind of funny, but I feel much more satisfied with the things money can’t buy, like the well being of my family. I’m just not seeking happiness from material things anymore.”

Puh-lease, lady, keep your hands off the diaphanous black shawl. You don’t need it. (At least she’s a schoolteacher, not a stockbroker.)

My spending and saving habits are so ingrained in me now that it’s hard for me to understand people like her. But I’m very clear about the Christian morality of money: God wants you to prosper, and God wants you to give your prosperity away, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, setting the captives free.

Material things are not God. God is God; accept no substitutes.

Currently The Times and other papers are full of speculative articles wondering whether this recession will permanently alter Americans’ spending habits, or whether we’ll go right back to gobbling up everything in sight as soon as it’s over. There’s no way to know, but the speculation helps fill up the newsprint.

However, there’s a little bit of evidence that more people are starting to ask a different kind of question than spend vs. save or materialism vs. spirituality: Even if we want to spend, is our former lifestyle sustainable?

That answer would appear to be no, environmentally as well as financially.

Between global warming and the price of oil, we’re not going to be able to afford all the crap we already have, much less buy more.

I think of all the foreign foods we import into this country; what happens when a carbon tax gets added to everything? Airplanes, trucks, ships, they all operate on oil, and we’re running out. I’ve heard of hydrogen-powered cars, but not planes and ships.

Do I need to spend $17 for a pint of Italian extra-virgin olive oil, when I can buy a gallon of locally-produced soybean oil for $5?

But that price too will soon go up, because of all the petroleum domestic agriculture burns, both in fuel and fertilizer. At some point we all may have to decide, “If it isn’t local, I can’t afford it.”

I hope more people see the opportunity the current crisis presents to remake our lifestyles and worship the God who created this place, not the devil who’s trying to destroy it. He just loves to advertise!

For the price of a pint of Italian extra-virgin, I can see a play in the college town. Live theater, imagine that!

For a quart of extra-virgin I can see and hear Joshua Bell play the violin.

I can grow my own lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, herbs, onions, peppers, cherries, flowers, and run out to my friend’s grandparents’ farm to pick sweet corn in July. I can buy eggs and chicken and meat from local farmers who let their animals graze on bugs and grass like God intended.

I don’t have to eat oranges from Brazil or beef from Argentina (although there’s no substitute for French and Italian wines).

We all need to ask ourselves, what in my current lifestyle is unsustainable? At what point will I get priced out of the market?

What’s in my best interest as a human being? What’s my ethical responsibility to others and to the planet?

I’ll tell you this, of all the fun things I’ve ever done, few compare to having a couple of friends over for a home-cooked meal. In the winter we eat indoors and in the summer I’m out on the grill. We eat good, we really do; and the value of having company is priceless.

If it takes a depression to convince Ms. Frankel to pay attention to what’s real and get rid of what isn’t, then thank you, God, for this depression. Please feed and clothe and house all who are hurt by it, and soften the hearts of those who are not.

We can’t go on like this, and I have hopes for the current generation. I also hope that President Obama will be so wise and so skilled that eventually the depression will end, and Americans will be building things again, not running Ponzi schemes Wall Street calls “the banking system.”++

My house is clean. Am I okay?

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Ellen doing her Donna Reed impression

If cleanliness is next to godliness, I must be halfway to heaven by now.

I don’t know what’s come over me. I don’t even have laundry to do. Is that disgusting or what?

I say my prayers every day. There must be a virus going around.

For months I’ve been resisting God every day, over everything. I felt completely incapable of doing anything for myself or anyone else. Then last week (Ash Wednesday, come to think of it), I wrote a sign and taped it to my bedroom door:

Don’t say “I can’t,” say “I won’t!”

Well Lord have mercy, that changed everything. Like I actually took responsibility or somethin’.

It’s amazing. I threw out all the dead food from my refrigerator—and scrubbed the shelves. Scary, huh?

The kitchen floor’s all shiny. There are clean towels in the guest bathroom. Do you have any laundry I could do?

I mean, my life isn’t perfect and my house isn’t either; I’ve got a garage full of recycling to drive down the street. I don’t go outside when it’s cold if I can possibly help it. But Thursday it was nearly 70º in the state capital, so it’s time to load up the car. Spring is here.

The sectionals are going on this week (boys’ basketball, the Hoosier religion), so the warming trend is right on time. Next week during the regionals, it will snow; that will be the last of the season. It always happens this way, snow for the regionals. Everyone always acts so surprised, but it’s been going on like this for as long as I can remember. Once the snow is gone we’ll begin a slow warmup through the rest of March and April, and then come May the glory of God will appear: sunshine and warmth!

Anyone can pray in nice weather; praying in Lent, when it’s cold and dreary out, takes some doing—that is, it takes a decision.

I have one other source to credit for my sudden burst of functionality: an English old lady mystic from the 14th Century named Julian of Norwich. On my prayer site here, I’ve been podcasting short daily readings of her Divine Revelations, from the translation by Fr. John-Julian, OJN, called A Lesson of Love. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out. I recommend it to every Christian and every spiritual person. She’s about 600 years ahead of her time. Her insights into the nature of God and our relationship with “him” are just astonishing.

• God is pure love. Nothing else really exists. God’s love for us is complete, just as we now are.

• God’s dwelling place is inside our bodies, inside our souls. To know God is to know our own soul.

• God is our Mother as well as our Father. Jesus is both Son and Mother.

• Sin is necessary, part of God’s plan. Sin isn’t good, it hurts us, but it brings us closer to God.

• The soul’s goal is to be one’d with God in everlasting bliss. In this life even a moment of such bliss is a window to what awaits us after we die.

• The Passion of Christ, that is, his crucifixion, is God’s act of one-ing himself with us.

She described the Passion in horrific, medieval detail, because Christ’s suffering and death are God’s means of one-ing us to the Divine.

You’ve gotta read it. She’s incredible. Even the parts that strain your mind and your credulity bespeak astonishing truths.

Julian is as far away from a TV preacher as you can get. (That alone should sell her to LGBT people.) Yet her faith is utterly orthodox.

She won’t get your laundry done for you, but she’ll make you feel loved like never before.

After that, our next step is taking responsibility for acting unloved/not loving ourselves, the great spiritual problem for Gay people.

Jesus on the Cross? If you’re Gay, he’s Gay; if you’re Trans, so’s she. That is how completely God enters our lives, enough to dwell inside our bodies and souls.

Remember Cornelius and the servant whom he loved. The first Gentile believer was a Roman soldier who was Gay. You think Jesus didn’t know what they were up to? He healed the boy anyway, because love is love.

Now act like it. You won’t need me to cure your washday woes, you’ll start living more fully here and now, taking care of what needs to be done.

• Jesus is our Lover, not Francesco D’Macho; our real life, honest to God Lover.++

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