Thursday, April 2, 2015

Marriage, Covenant and Holy Week




This isn't the normal article one would usually find during Holy Week on this blog.  Because of J's fall  and broken neck in January and the weeks in rehab and therapy, we chose not to observe Lent this year.  January and
February was as close as we wanted to come to the journey to the Cross this year. And consequently I am not ready for Easter.                 

 Since neither of us have liturgical duties this year, we are 'sitting this one out'. We will attend, of course, but not get too Eastery--no chocolate eggs. 

Instead we are both are contemplating the meaning of Covenant and Marriage as we have decided to be married in 
Delaware in May.  This may come as a shock to some.  It even comes of a bit of shock to me as I have never thought of myself as being 'the marrying kind.' But the real issues of safety in medical facilities became not only apparent, but they showed to be real barriers to good care and made clear we need to make our relationship more 'official' as we grow older. One may have all the medical power of attorney in the world,  but if the doctor, nurse or orderly on the medical team doesn't want to deal with you, you can't get the medical information for the other unless one is a spouse.

Judy Upham and I have lived together for 40 years.  We first came together because of financial constraints: we were roommates trying to do ministry at the very beginning of women's ordination in the Episcopal Church.  J was one of the movers and shakers in the movement and was priested only 6 days after the ordination of Women was permitted in 1977.  We met at a group of interdenominational women in ministry founded by Mary Bruggeman in St. Louis.  We moved into a small house a couple of blocks from Eden Seminary.


Our relationship was not 'love at first sight'.  However we did know 'respect' very quickly and enjoyed the conversations and shared our respective ministries: I, a religion teacher in Roman Catholic schools and she, a hospital chaplain.  

Those were heady times.  The ELCA had just been formed; Seminex was meeting at St. Louis U, a Jesuit school where I was working on Masters in Religious Education.  I was also directing the choir in a large RC church.  We understood each other as support, financial, spiritual and emotional, over the years. In 1979 J was called to Syracuse, the first woman called across diocesan lines to become a rector.  I followed when the publication of Paul VI's encyclical on women was promulgated, and I realized that I could no longer stay a Roman Catholic.  

I did not become an Episcopalian in J's parish.  We knew that separation to do ministry was important and we have never worked or were members of the same congregation until retirement, recognizing that each of us had different ways of following God's call to us.  

I understood our relationship to be not much different from my life as a vowed celibate while I was in the convent.  I knew myself to be lesbian, but I also understood that the private vows I had made were still the way I wanted to live. I could not live openly as gay; I would never have been accepted as a priest and pastor in the congregations I served.  Also, I never
wanted to J to be identified as lesbian. It was too much of a stigma.  We both respected the relationship that she had had with Jon Daniels. The gay-straight relationship was a comfortable one for us.  

In the 80's we explored the possibility of joining with other women and formed the Caritas Community.  At that time there were no women bishops to sponsor and we chose not to go through the rigamarole of becoming 'official'.  Most of us were not Anglo-Catholic and the models of being an order didn't fit the priestly nature of the 5 of us who discussed the Community. It never really developed in the kind of spiritual reality that we wanted.

We lived in each other's rectories.  We attended the same clergy events and participated in the work of diocese as
rectors or interims as our ministries took us.   Sometimes we had to have 2 separate households to do the work that we were given.  But we still spent a great bit of time with each other.  We supported each other for 'richer or poorer, in sickness and health' and over the years the love just grew.  She helped me through seminary.  I took care of her after an aneurysm.  It was just what we did because of the commitment that we never had to speak.  

In 2003 after I supported the election of +Gene Robinson, I was outed by the dean of my district who finally left the Church.  The treatment that we received from the bishop then helped us realize that the Episcopal Church may be 'welcoming and affirming', but we weren't to be believed when we said we were celibate. I have had enough of knowing looks by men who cannot understand that there can be intimacy without sex.  We became worker priests learning about retail and the grocery business.  Finally I was called to a small ELCA congregation and was able to get enough credits to retire.

When NY state began to explore 'same-sex' marriage J and I would joke about getting married but we weren't serious about it.  We had friends who began to be married.  I was invited to critique the Blessings of Same-Sex liturgies before their acceptance at the 2012 General Convention.  I
was asked to celebrate the first Blessing in the Diocese of Fort Worth with the permission of the bishop.  Marriage still wasn't on my radar.  Texas doesn't recognize it.  Slowly but surely however, I realized that what J and I had was more than just roommate status.  And besides, at 70, to still refer to J as my 'roomy' was just a bit too much!  

After a lovely visit with a lesbian couple at Christmas, on the way home, I asked Judy if she would really want to be married to me.  Her vociferous response of YES!!! shook me.  I never knew she felt as deeply committed to me as I felt to her.  We have always told each other that we love her.  We do it several
times a day and especially when it is the hardest to say it.  But to be espoused is a whole different thing.  It is opening one's self to embrace a whole level of affirmation of life in one another.  It isn't about ownership, as marriage is often understood. It isn't about sex. It isn't about obedience but it is about the laying down one's life for the other.  It is a surrender.

The kind of intimacy we have may not be the same as either heretosexual couples or lesbians.  But it is just as deep, and it has stood the test of time.  It has gone through the same ups and downs that most good marriages have. 

Marriage is about trust and covenant.  It is about common values.  It is about holding up our place in society with respect and embrace.  It is about nurture of those around us in Christ's love.  And just as surely as J and I are called priests of the Church, we are called into the covenant relationship of Marriage. 

Those who feel that marriage can only be about
procreation do not read Scripture rightly. Most marriages in Scripture are about the giving and taking of property.  And this is even the basis of the Marriage ceremony in the prayer book.  I hope I am not stepping on  what many of you hold sacred about your marriage vows, but the vows that J and I will repeat in May will bring a covenantal nature to the relationship we have lived for more than a generation.  I am just thankful that we have lived to time and place where we can do this with the support of those who love us. We will not be each other's wife.  We are neither wives.  And neither of us are husbands.  We are two women who have claimed God's call to be coupled in the bonds of holiness and eternity.

If you can celebrate with us, please join us at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, DE on May 30 at 2:oo pm. Please RSVP by email or Message so we can know how many to prepare for.  If not, your prayers and spiritual presence would be appreciated.

Lauren Gough and Judith Upham









Monday, February 9, 2015

Of Bishops, Clergy, Discrimination and Accountablity

February 9, 2015
Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:
Like many of you, I was deeply saddened by the news that bicyclist Thomas Palermo had died on December 27 after he was struck by a car driven by Bishop Heather Cook of the Diocese of Maryland. Mr. Palermo’s wife, Rachel, his children, Sadie and Sam, and his family are in my prayers every day. As a parent who has lost a child, I also grieve for Mr. Palermo’s parents, who survive him. I hope that you will consider a donation to the educational trust fund that has been established for his children.
 In the weeks since Mr. Palermo was killed, many people in the church have struggled to understand better how our systemic denial about alcohol and other drug abuse in the church may have contributed to Bishop Cook’s election and confirmation as a bishop even as she seemed to be struggling with addiction. Many Episcopalians are asking what people in positions of authority in the church knew about her history of addiction and driving while under the influence of alcohol. They are also asking why the electors in Maryland and the bishops and standing committees who consented to her election were not made aware of this information, some of which is a matter of public record.
Bishop Cook has been indicted on 13 counts including vehicular homicide and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland has asked her to resign as bishop suffragan. There is also a Title IV investigation underway, and I hope there will be an open reporting of its results that will answer many of these questions.
However, the ongoing Title IV investigation does not relieve those of us who help lead the church of our obligation to acknowledge that the credibility of the process by which we elect bishops is in question. Long before this crisis, many people in the church understood that the process no longer serves us well in some instances. I have served as consultant to six bishop search committees, and I concur. The seeming failure of the process in Maryland lends new urgency to the discussion.
Resolution A002 from The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church asks General Convention to authorize a task force to recommend a new process for selecting bishops to General Convention in 2018, and it is very likely that other resolutions that address the need for transparency and accountability in bishop searches and elections will come before convention as well.
In addition, I have decided to appoint a House of Deputies special legislative committee on alcohol and other drug abuse to review the General Convention’s 1985 policy on alcohol and drug abuse (Resolution A083) as well as propose and receive resolutions on this and related topics. I believe firmly that people who experience addiction can be called by God to lead our church. I have been blessed by the leadership and pastoral gifts of my own bishop, Mark Hollingsworth, who, since before being named a nominee for bishop, has spoken and written openly and powerfully to us about his many years as a recovering alcoholic. I also know that the church can sometimes confuse secrecy and confidentiality, and that our desire for reconciliation can sometimes make us reluctant to confront one another in love. I hope that we can examine our church’s relationship to alcohol and other drugs in a clear-eyed and forthright way, mindful of the systemic issues that can constrain transparency.
These are the measures I can take to help our church repent for our role in Thomas Palermo’s death. I ask each of you to remember that all of us bear responsibility for ensuring that we elect our leaders honestly and transparently. Even until the very last moment, we all bear responsibility for coming forward when we believe that the process has failed us; in fact, in the liturgy of ordination for a bishop, the Presiding Bishop says, “You have been assured of her suitability and that the Church has approved her for this sacred responsibility. Nevertheless, if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 514).
Please join me in praying for our church, for Heather Cook, for the Dioceses of Maryland and Easton, and most especially for the family and friends of Thomas Palermo.
Faithfully,

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies

I remember protesting the election of Jack Iker in 1991, but because no one in the House of Bishops wanted to take seriously the charge of  his clearly stating that he could not 'support the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church', nothing could stop Jack's consecration.  Neither
the attending bishops, the clergy nor the laity were willing to look forward enough to see what kind of lasting and destructive effect his election would have on the Church.  As Church it was easier to smile and 'be nice' rather than be willing to ask the hard questions that the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin, et, al. were posing with their 'gentleman's agreement' on women's ordination.  

We have a similar 'gentleman's agreement' is now being touted in the House of Bishop's re., the ministry of LGBTQ persons and the bishops are not willing to see what kind of duplicity they are again farming.  Bishops in some areas believe that they have the right to control the priests  of their dioceses as to how they live, what they may wear, who they may see and where they may attend church.  The Diocese of Texas has been especially grievous in this matter since the days of +Benitez.  At least some of this is being rectified by that diocese today, but it does not go far enough to note the damage that the Church has done to LGBTQ persons. 

 The shame with which many of us had to grow up because of not only flawed theology, but outrageous Biblical scholarship, has been held in place by those who are frightened and unable to reflect on a human dignity other than their own. First of all, it is paternalistic, at best.  It is judgmental and discriminatory and worse.  It can leave clergy constantly in fear of losing their jobs, their careers, unable to support themselves or their families simply on the whim of a single person in bishop's orders. According to the canons, a bishop may not do this, but once again, there is no way to bring such charges against a bishop without really ruining one's career.  The Women's Caucus produced a long list of instances where clergy are being bullied by their bishops and it is a growing problem throughout mainline churches. It is an ugly little secret throughout the Church that our juridical officers are unable to be held accountable.

And while I am grateful to +Andy Doyle's leadership in his support of the repeal of discriminatory canons in the Diocese of Texas, this should not be a matter for just a bishop to
decide.  How the clergy may serve and how they may live is a matter for the laity and the clergy to decide also.  If we are to root out discrimination, it cannot be a matter single bishop's opinion.  It must be the will of the diocese; it needs to be canonical.  There must be a willingness of the diocese to fight the discrimination within themselves.  

As for the election of bishops: all too often we go the easiest route to avoid conflict when we go shopping for a new cleric, bishop or priest. In that kind of climate, it is easy to hide.  It is easy to appear 'nice' rather than able to face the conflict in life.  For someone who finds it difficult to address  conflict in their lives, the episcopacy is no place for them in the present-day Church, and for that matter, the ordained ministry of any order.  We need to develop clear system of vetting of candidates who can lead the Church through conflict rather than hide from it.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, role playing, social climbing, are all forms of hiding.  And the Church is full of clergy who play such games  because the structure of the church is no longer one in which transparency and integrity is held as a sacred value.  

When women's ministry in the early 80's began to erode the 'good ole boy' network, where a new clergy person had to 'know someone' in order to get a cure, we replaced it with a computer driven system that ostensibly put everyone on an equal footing.  But these days, it is often the diocese who becomes the lynch pin, for who is called.  It is a different twist on the 'good ole boy's club'.  And bishops still have inordinate control over the clergy's lives in ways that are not healthy and would be considered criminal in the public or private sector.  

General Convention '15 may just be able to begin to address some of these issues because they are fresh.  But my guess is that the House of Bishops, the lower house, will stall any work by the House of Deputies to bring order to the Church that might affect the slow decline of a Church that has lost faith in its leadership. Is this part of checks and balances?  Perhaps, or it may be leading to the kind of log jam we have in Congress that will end up killing us.


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Sunday, February 1, 2015

'Where God and Man have sat down'



What is appealing about sermons?  Today I have listened to 3 or 4 of them.  Now that I am retired I don’t have the weekly responsibility of preparing sermons.  I generally enjoyed the process of preaching. It is why I took my doctorate in it. But I like to listen to good sermons too.  I even go back and read some of the sermons of the great preachers not only of my tradition but others as well.



 Preaching isn’t what some lay folks think, a matter of talking off one’s head or out of one’s back pocket.  Preaching is a holy discipline of being willing to pay attention.  But it isn’t just a hyper-awareness; it is a programmed vigilance. It is programmed by the lectionary that keeps one connected to the readings of the Christian world but it is constantly changing by the events of the world and our lives.
 
I have never been one who could just pull out an old sermon and preach it.  Only when I was incapable of thinking when I was too sick for the synapses to fire did I ever repeat a sermon—themes, of course, theological points, sure. But I could never just pull up an old sermon and preach it.  It didn’t seem honest.

But now, when I listen to sermons, I long to hear the faith of the person preaching.  I don’t care about hearing a testimony. I don't want to just hear an interpretation of the passage.  I want to know if the person who is preaching really believes what s/he says.  I want to know if the passage that is being preached is something that made the preacher think.  Today, I have listened to Baptist, Methodist, Christian Science, Episcopal and a non-denominational mega feel good church and each one had a piece of the puzzle that God has for me today.  Some of it pulled me back into that comfortable rhythm of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and some of it was meditations on other texts.  

I remember Alec Baldwin saying that he went to a church (not the same one) every Sunday to listen to people who think.  I had never really thought about why people
listened to sermons.  It was a part of church going.  But now that I am listening, I too want to know what people think.  I want preachers who have bothered to prepare, have bothered to embrace either the Scripture or the topic.  I want to know that they have struggled with the things that are raised by an event, or better, how they have wrestled with the passage to glean some meaning for their lives as well as mine.

Rarely was I ever able to tell for whom a sermon was written.  Most of them were directed to me as much as anyone or any parish.  But occasionally, someone would say, “You were talking to me today”.  And I have even said the same to a preacher.  I always appreciated hearing that it had made an impact on someone, rather than “good sermon, Pastor.” 

But what does it mean for us when we do think about an issue.  Does it cause a change of behavior?  Not generally. But it starts the wheels rolling.  Sometimes, it does.  I still remember the sermon Dean Harvey Gutherie of EDS, a Scripture scholar, taking apart the prohibition of women speaking in Church in Timothy back in the ‘70’s.  And while I don’t remember exactly what he said, I knew what it meant when Scripture was 'opened' to me.  It felt like the top of my head had been opened to a new light and interpretation.  It opened me to the call I had been hearing but could not give myself permission to pursue.

Preaching is a holy discipline that requires not only struggle with Scripture but also a struggle with what is going on in the world and the particular world of the congregation.  The Bishop that ordained me, +Ned Cole, said one should preach with a
Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. No wonder I was always fatigued following preaching…struggling with so many things and pulling them together to make a coherent point.  

Today I come away from the lectionary readings with the sense that Jesus did not allow evil to speak in his hearing.  He silenced evil when he could.  He didn’t listen to the whine or the excuse.  He looked past it and called forth the goodness of the possessed.  That is a hard task, but it is one I want to hold on to today. 
 
I appreciate good preaching.  I appreciate the time and effort that others have given to the readings to make them come alive for me.  But like Alec Baldwin, I love to hear how people think.  It is the holy discipline—it is Incarnational theology at its best.  And like the Eucharist, it is ‘where God and Man [sic] have sat down.’

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Outer Darkness--Beyond the Pale





I am an avid genealogist and have been since high school.  And while I don’t at present have a membership with Ancestry.com I have been able to trace our family back to the mid-17th century in England and Scotland.  In addition to that, I love listening to others and how they have traced their families.  It is no wonder that I have become a Find Your Roots maven. 
 
Recently there was a remarkable program on Jewish celebrities: Carol King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz.  I have always been a history geek of Western Europe but I have never paid much attention to Eastern Europe.  But the lives of all of these three celebrities were rooted in that middle European Jewish experience that was so influenced by Russia, Poland and Lithuania, the area known as the Pale—and consequently a community of millions of Jews who were so affected by Nazi and Russian oppression.  

 The images of the extermination camps were indelibly marked on my mind from childhood as the trials of war criminals were still fresh in my growing up years.  That
kind of inhumanity was experienced in other places and is still being played out in various locations in the world; however, it was in Middle Europe that I became aware of the kind of evil in my lifetime.  It was part of these stars intimate family lives and I was fascinated by how their lives had been shaped by such brutality and yet had become so famous and relatively selfless.
 
I was totally unaware of The Pale, the prescribed area where Czarist Russian Jews were forced to live in the late 18th and early 19th century.  Middle European cities were almost closed to Jews, so small all-Jewish farm communities grew up for survival, similar to small all African-American communities which grew up in the South following the Civil War.  

 But the shtetel that is so wonderfully described in Fiddler on
the Roof was a remarkable system of self-care which the Jewish communities formed to survive.  They were centered on the synagogue and were permeated with deeply-held spiritual and mystical beliefs that were a response to the dogmatic, legalistic Judaism that had developed in other parts of Diaspora.  There was a deeply held concept of tzedakah (from the word, righteousness but meaning charity) that meant that they were to take care of one another even if you did not know them.  They saw to it that the bright got educations, the poor were fed, the homeless sheltered, etc.  It was rooted in the commandments of Hebrew Scripture and a sense of community that we might call, in the light of early 21st century American politics, as liberal.  But they were not understood as liberal then.  It was seen as something quite conservative—it was a way to survive.

I was also struck by the comments on last Sunday’s readings by a colleague who lives in China.  She had heard a preacher who hadn’t ‘gotten it’ and responded with this interpretation of the parable of the talents:



 So what is this story about?

Well, the first thing you need to know is that it was not written for 21st century Americans.  It was written in probably 70 or so, maybe earlier.  It was written for Jews who had converted to Christianity, though I think the two were not as far apart even then as they are today.  Anyway, and it was probably sourced from Mark.  But I wasn't there and I don't know.  I got that from some notes I made in the margin on my Bible.  Always get a Bible with wide margins.  That's my advice. 

So, if we are not the intended audience then it is important to think about what the story sounded like in those first century Jewish convert ears.  You can't skip that step.  I have heard a lot of sermons lately where people skip that step.  No, people.  You have to do that step.  So, here's what you need to know about that.

The economic system in first century Palestine was as corrupt as Wall Street is today.  No foolin',. it was bad.   And the way this wicked householder made his money was by robbing the serf/slave laborers who worked on his land.  It is likely that at one time the land had belonged to them. or at least to their fathers and grandfathers.   But, times change.  Things get hard.  And over the years the land had been sold off.  Now the former small land holders were renters, and they were perennially in debt to the new land holder... the man who reaps where he does not sow. 

If you reap where you have not sown that means you are stealing.  I don't know how to be any clearer about it.  The householder was a thief.  That is how he got rich.

So, anyway, he decides to go on a trip:  a vacation, business trip, off to see his mistress... we don't know.  He's going away.  And he wants someone to look after his loot while he's gone. So the storyteller here presents us with three trustees:  One who receives FIVE talents, one who receives only two, and one who gets just one. 

The trustee who got five talents had obviously proven himself to the householder, because five talents is a lot of dough.  In other words, he is well acquainted with the machinations of evil.  He can turn five into another five easily, and probably still had some to tuck away for himself.  That's just how things worked back then.

The trustee who got two talents was probably pretty good too.  But, he was more like a junior partner.  He might have still had a few things to learn, but the householder trusted him.  Even two talents is a lot of dough.

But the last one... he is different.  This trustee was only given one talent.  I think that in the honor/shame culture of that time and place that might have looked like one of two things:  It might have seemed like a slap in the face.  Only one talent, after all.  Or, it might have been an opportunity to prove himself worthy/evil by going along with the householders financial shenanigans. 

Trustee one and two get to work right away extorting money from their poor neighbors, and they are

ready for the master's return.

The other trustee, he refuses to participate.  And he knows his master.  In fact,. when the master comes home trustee three calls him out,  "You are a bad guy.  You take what is not yours.  I am scared of you," he says, "But I will not extort and rob either.  I am not going to play these games with people's lives.  Here's what's rightfully yours." 

Trustee three is the hero of the story.  It is possible that he was given the money as a joke, because the master of the house knew that the trustee was honest.  It's possible that the trustee had been on the fence and the master wanted to see which way he would go.  We can only speculate about these things.  But something happened that forced a decision on the part of the third trustee.

The first two were taken into the master’s house to live with him.  Why?  Because they would have been killed if the master had left them out there with the peasants.

The other trustee... he could walk freely among the peasants without fear because he had not defrauded them.

The questions we should ask ourselves today are:

  • What am I doing to overthrow the oppressive economic systems in the world today?

  • ·        How is my participation in capitalism perpetuating the poverty of others?

  • ·        How can I begin a personal revolution to live in a way that does not aid and abet the terrorists of industry and government in their relentless enslavement of the poor? 

  • ·        How can I begin an economic revolution to overthrow capitalism and bring economic stability to all?

  • ·        Am I ready to live with the consequences of dissent? 


You come up with your own questions.  I have to go to work.  Oh, perfect.  I work so much I don't even have time to blog.

Addition:  When I lived in Myanmar I saw lots of houses surrounded with razor wire and I would often put up a little prayer that I am never so rich that I need razor wire.  I'd rather be poor and have
the friendship of the peasants than rich, isolated, and fearful. 

We really do have to have some compassion for the first two trustees.  They had to live in the master's house.  And I'll bet it had razor wire.—Linda McMillan

I was, as the Baptists say, ‘convicted’ by this interpretation of this reading, one that has given me trouble when it has come up in the lectionary.  This is a woman who grew up in Texas but presently lives in Asia. But she knows what it means.

Having been ‘cast into outer darkness’ in my life more than once, I know the
separation and anxiety that the dark produces. Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark has been an important assistant in that journey.  Trying to walk in the light of Christ is easy when everyone else is doing it.  But often time the Christian journey calls for the willingness to embrace the darkness, the loneliness of God’s intimacy in order to live the integrity of God.  The isolation can be unbearable; it can be dangerous as it was for the first century Christians or the people 'living beyond the Pale.'   However, if one is aware that such a place in ‘outer darkness’ is where God is, then it is not only possible, it is where one gets fed, nurtured, strengthened.  We need but look to such spiritual greats as Theresa of Avila or John of the Cross to know of this walk.

The Jews of 17th and 18th century Russia learned that life was not only possible ‘beyond the Pale’ but it could be lived with respect and love, rich in faith and culture.  From that grounding many found deeply rooted community that defied the dominant culture to retain strong family and cultural ties that have nurtured their creativity.  God is not only the God of Light, but is the constant companion in darkness.  Prevailing culture is not where God is.  God is in the integrity of beauty, honesty, truth, and love.  When we cannot find those things in our lives, it is important to embrace them even if they find us ‘cast into outer darkness’. It is the place where the emerging Church is going to have to grow. It has always been the place where those who wish to live by God's love have had to inhabit.  It isn’t a bad place if we are willing to allow God to embrace us there.