Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A note from a friend

My dear friend and fellow priest Elizabeth Kaeton in Chatham, NJ wrote this on her blog. She was a nurse in the years before we met at seminary. This is a program that I believe should be a part of what it means to be Church. Perhaps it is time for us to step up to the plate and get some training if we are going to address the aging of our congregations.

The church at its best
This past Sunday, at the 8 o'clock Eucharist, I was setting the table for Holy Eucharist when I noted a commotion. I suddenly realized that something was very wrong with Jerry, our 91 year old faithful parishioner, and left the altar to see what was going on.

Jerry was cold and clammy and unresponsive. There was no facial muscle response to stimuli. His pulse was weak and thready and his breath was shallow.

I immediately called 911. Without my saying a word, members of my staff who were present and the liturgical leadership and ushers snapped right into the informal protocol we had established two weeks ago when we had held a church-sponsored CPR training for staff, Church School faculty and ushers:

Someone went outside to guide the first responders to the sanctuary, someone moved the people in the congregation to the front of the church to make sure there was room for the first responders to work, others provided pastoral care to those who were distressed, two of us continued to closely monitor Jerry's condition, ready to administer CPR if necessary, one person stood ready with the cell phone, another went to the Vestry room to get a pillow for Jerry's head and someone got a coat to fold and place under his legs.

I loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, undid his belt and continued to monitor him closely. Still, he remained unresponsive. His color was getting ashen and he felt cold to the touch. In anticipation of performing CPR, I checked his chest for apacemaker and discovered that he was not breathing.

I checked his pulse again and could no longer detect one. At that point, it was clear he had nine toes out the door, getting ready for the real presence of Jesus on the other side of Eden.

Four of us lifted Jerry from the pew and placed him in the aisle. The jarring had the effect of a 'precordial thump' (those of you who have taken CPR training in the past will know exactly what that is), and soon after he was on the floor, while I had my hand to his sternum, ready to begin CPR, his eyes opened wide and he was back with us. Within seconds the EMTs were there, administering oxygen and rendering him treatment.

The good news is that Jerry is doing well today. The doctors believe he had a mild cardiac episode which may be related to some medication he was taking which led him to an electrolyte imbalance, which, in turn, caused his cardiac episode.

I remain deeply committed to providing yearly CPR training for my staff and congregation. This is the first time this has happened during a church service, but it's not the first time we've saved a life on church property.

We debriefed at staff meeting this morning, and a few questions emerged:

1. Do you have a protocol or guideline or "emergency plan" for your staff/ushers that you might share? Can anyone help me by sharing examples with me? I want to make sure I have covered all the bases.

2. Does your church have a portable defibrillator? Where do you keep it? How much did it cost? What did the training entail? Would you recommend that a church have one in a sanctuary or parish hall?

3. Do you or your staff/ushers/etc. have yearly CPR training? If not, why not? (That's not a statement of judgement. I'm really just curious.)

Say what you want about TEC going to hell in a hand basket or about me being 'unsuitable matter' for ordination. And think what you will about the "evil, slimy, slippery thing that is our mortal flesh" (That's evangelical theologian John Stott talking), but you know what? Not that I want this to happen again anytime soon, but church just doesn't get much better than that.

UPDATE: I just spoke with Jean, Jerry's wife. He was also diagnosed with a 'bleeding ulcer' - considered a side effect of Plavix (those of you with coronary or cholesterol problems will know this drug). Unfortunately, drugs like these are life-saving in and of themselves, but they are not well monitored in the elderly - an entirely different conversation but one just as serious for pastors with a congregation whose members are "of a certain age."

He received two units of blood yesterday, one this morning, and when I left him tonight, they were setting him up for another. The hope is that he will be home sometime late tomorrow afternoon. The doctors told me that he could have died from the complications to his heart. "Nine toes out the door," they said, "was an apt description." Fortunately, there are no long-term affects to his heart, but at age 91, no one can be too sure. Of your kindness and mercy, please keep Jerry and Jean in your prayers.

P.S. Over at HOB/D they are having a wee contest to define what it means to be Christian. Imagine!

So, here's what someone wrote me, after reading the above post about Jerry: "You want your definition of 'Christian'? I got your definition right here:

"A Christian is a person who loves Jesus so much and is so grateful for the gift of a life redeemed that s/he is ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to save a life that God has created."

Isn't that just the BEST? I can't wait to tell Jerry that he inspired such a definition. That ancient, cranky, loyal Republican, cradle Episcopalian will be so very pleased I'll bet he'll smile - even though that would be against his better judgment.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The sermon I shoulda have preached!

Come and See
January 20, 2008

We are still in Epiphany—the time when the readings deal with beginnings and light. And today we hear in our readings both very clearly.

In the reading from Isaiah we hear about Isaiah’s calling to be a prophet. Isaiah understands that God has called him before he was born, has hidden him away, protecting him until the time when he was to speak. It isn’t Isaiah’s calling that is important in this statement; it is God’s timing that is important. And Isaiah is to speak to the people of Judah so that the people may stream to the light of God.
The book of Isaiah is difficult to read. First of all he is speaking poetry—not the rhyming poetry of English, but the careful lines of comparison that is found in Hebrew.

Secondly, the book is a compilation of prophecy and commentary that is almost 2800 years old and spans an entire life-time. And thirdly, it was heavily redacted or edited in some 2500 years ago following the Babylonian Captivity. All of this does not take away the beauty of the book or the passage we have today:
“Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
It was through the people of Judah that God would be known in the world. It wasn’t because Israel was the greatest of nations; it wasn’t because it was the holiest of nations. It was because God had chosen them to proclaim the oneness of God and make God known to the entire world. It is this mission that was most misunderstood by Israel, and I would suggest that is still our problem today. We still do not understand what it is we are doing in the area of mission in the Church today.
In the Gospel reading we hear of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John Baptist sees him and knows that his own ministry is to give way to that of Jesus. And some of the disciples of John begin to follow Jesus. They want to know where the Rabbi Jesus lived so that they could go and be a part of his community. That was the way that rabbis developed a following. They would speak and then those who liked the ideas would gather around him to learn from him. But Jesus doesn’t have a home. The Rabbi Jesus is an itinerant. And so he says “Come and see.”
There is not going to be a comfortable place for the followers of Jesus. He will not have a shul for those who hang on his every word. Jesus invites those who would follow him to live a life like his own—one of itinerancy, one of being continually aware that nothing is his own. He calls his followers to sell all that they have and follow. He calls his followers to let the dead bury the dead. He calls his followers to know that their only home will be in the Gospel promise. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God—not the sweet white baby sheep—but the sacrifice for the whole world. The invitation to “Come and see” is not a mere sales pitch. It is calling his disciples to enter into his life and die to self.

Every so often I get calls on the phone from those who want to get married, or have a baby baptized in the parish I am serving. Invariably I invite them to “come and see”. I want them to come and experience the community of faith to see if this is a place where they can live out their life in God. I want them to find out what it costs to be a follower of Jesus because it does no good for them to just believe certain tenants of the faith—they must be willing to live out what it means to be a follower of Christ in the existential reality of the community faith. That is what I believe Church is—the existential reality of people trying to live out their faith while being sinners as well as saints.

“Come and see” is the invitation we need to be offering to people who have no church home not because we want them to attend our church or help pay the way for our congregation to exist. “Come and see” is an invitation to follow the way of Jesus. It is our way of reminding ourselves that it is God’s work that we are doing. It isn’t a marketing ploy to pad our membership.
But when we do say “come and see” what will people find? Will they find people excited about following Jesus? Will they find people who can speak of their faith? Will they find people who know the Bible well enough to support the relationship they have with God? Will they have a community who can live together well enough to manifest Christ’s peace enough for them live in harmony? Or will they find what I see on Lutheran chat lists—a fractious bunch who are more worried about how we believe than in WHOM we believe?

Many of the young call churchgoers hypocritical. And we are. (My usual response to someone who calls the church hypocritical is “There is always room for one more!”) But it is true. We set our hearts on the imitation of Christ—of trying to live our lives by the light of Christ. We set very high standards for ourselves when we say we follow Christ. . And we are always going to fall short. But the invitation to ‘come and see’ is the invitation to come and live too. And by our living can others see the light of Christ?

Judy and I were discussing the other day what it meant to witness to Christ. The old adage “If it were illegal to be a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?” came up. What does it take for people to know or understand what the light of Christ is? What is the hope we live out here at St. Luke’s so that people understand the Gospel?

When I say that I am from St. Luke’s to people in the area, they say, “Oh, St. Luke’s, that’s the Zucchini church!” We are known by what we do for the community. They don’t know us for our faith. They don’t know us for our relationship with Christ. And I would suggest that even among ourselves we are not that comfortable about making that faith visible.

When Jesus said “come and see” he invited his followers to a relationship with God that went beyond the Law of Moses. He called them to a way of living out their faith peacefully and with respect. He challenged them to look at the things of their lives that held them back from entering into a life with God that could change them, focus their lives into living selflessly in joy. Can we here at St. Luke’s do the same? Is this a place where we can live into our vocation as followers of God by living in ways that confront the sins of consumerism, that challenge the egoism of a me-generation that has gone nutz? Can we here at St. Luke’s when we bid others to “come and see” be able to welcome those that Jesus would have welcomed?---Those who are cast out, those who don’t quite fit?

And if we really want to get down to it-- are we willing to look at our Sunday service with the eye of someone wanting to follow Jesus. Can they see his light in the way we worship? Are we willing enough to listen to the young to the younger voices among us to know what speaks Christ to them and provide that in our services? Does “come and see” mean “what we have always done before?”—or can it also mean—we are going to try some new things to find out if God can speak that way too?

As we prepare for our annual meeting, I would like to challenge you all to think about what it means to be a congregation that can make its faith visible to the community here along the I-88 corridor. I believe we are a lively,
Spirit-led Christian community that does proclaim the Gospel by the way we live. I think that there are ways that we as a community can provide for those who do come to see if that Spirit is alive and well among us. Yes, it might mean we would have to CHANGE. But thus it is ever so. For “Come and See” is not static—it means the same as when Jesus said it—it means we have a living faith that is constantly calling us, constantly inviting us, constantly changing and cleansing us to know the hope that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

Friday, January 18, 2008


My friend Grandmere Mimi posted this on her blog. I need the levity!

How to Maintain a Healthy Level of Insanity

1. At Lunch Time, Sit In Your Parked Car With Sunglasses on and point a Hair Dryer At Passing Cars. See If They Slow Down.

2. Page Yourself Over The Intercom. Don't Disguise Your Voice.

3. Every Time Someone Asks You To Do Something, Ask If They Want Fries with that.

4. Put Your Garbage Can On Your Desk And Label It 'In.'

5. Put Decaf In The Coffee Maker For 3 Weeks. Once Everyone has Gotten Over Their Caffeine Addictions, Switch to Espresso.

6. In The Memo Field Of All Your Checks, Write 'For Smuggling Diamonds'.

7. Finish All Your sentences with 'In Accordance With The Prophecy.'

8. Don t use any punctuation.

9. As Often As Possible, Skip Rather Than Walk.

10 . Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat...use a serious face.

11. Specify That Your Drive-through Order Is 'To Go.'

12. Sing Along At The Opera.

13. Go To A Poetry Recital And Ask Why The Poems Don't Rhyme.

14. Put Mosquito Netting Around Your Work Area And Play tropical Sounds All Day.

15. Five Days In Advance, Tell Your Friends You Can't Attend Their Party Because You're Not In The Mood.

16. Have Your Coworkers Address You By Your Wrestling Name, Rock Bottom.

17. When The Money Comes Out of The ATM, Scream 'I Won!, I Won!'

18. When Leaving The Zoo, Start Running Towards The Parking lot, Yelling, 'Run For Your Lives, They're Loose!!'

19. Tell Your Children Over Dinner. 'Due To The Economy, We Are Going To Have To Let One Of You Go.'

20. And The Final Way To Keep A Healthy Level Of Insanity......Send This E-mail To Someone To Make Them Smile.

It's Called Therapy

Friday Five: BOOKS--so little time

I am so thankful for Revgals Friday Fives. It keeps me writing when I don’t seem to come up with ideas of my own.
1. What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why?

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara is one of the gurus of preaching in my denomination. I have always appreciated her sermons, her specific embracing of life where it is and calling that life to newness. I found this memoir of her leaving her parish and going into college teaching filled with many of the issues that I face in my last years of ministry.
Her being sick of the fighting that seems to characterize the Church these days is a malaise that I recognize. I would like to explore other faiths or religious practice rather than stay in the same box. But if I do, or worse—TALK about it, it is viewed as being disloyal, or by some, heretical. I am tired of others’ fear limiting my faith or education.
I did find that many of her reasons for being a parish priest were not mine and in my mind fairly shallow. But I have to confess that many of mine were there too. The book was speaking truths that sometimes I am afraid to explore.

2. What is one of your favorite childhood books?
Misty of Chincoteague. And all the rest of Marguerite Henry’s books.

3. Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell!

I love the wisdom literature. Ecclesiasticus/Ben Sirach. A book from the Apocrypha. Chapter 2 I read shortly after I came to know God. And it has stayed with me all these years. I return to it over and over. I love the Psalms. I don’t read Proverbs much but Ecclesiastes also has some good bits.

4. What is one book you could read again and again?

I don’t usually read books again and again. I read so slowly that most everything is imprinted in my brain that I don’t have to read them a second time. I would read The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong again and Folly by Laurie King again because when I read those 2 books I devoured them. I do read Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers occasionally.

5 Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why?

I would recommend Taylor’s Leaving Church for all who are pastors. She raises questions for we who are clergy on how to take care of our own faith lives, about how we convey the message of God to those who pay our salaries and the delicate balance that we have to maintain.

And because we all love bonus questions, if you were going to publish a book what would it be? Who would you want to write the jacket cover blurb expounding on your talent?

There are several books I would like to write: I would like to write a book about the misuse of the power of bishops. I don’t think it will sell, but Hey, what is the imagination for? I would like to write a book on how to help people who are stuck in their faith and faced with questions they are afraid to ask. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet, though. I will eventually write a book about J., her friendship with Jonathan Daniels and how it lead to her being one of the first licitly ordained women in the Episcopal Church. It is a story that should be told even down to the total rejection of her by the bishop here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Writer's Cramp

I have been suffering with an annoying case of Writer’s Cramp. This is a prelude to the much more serious ailment of Writer’s Block. I have been trying to compose in my head rather than writing it down. I have tried letting the thinking aspect of writing go fallow for a few weeks thinking that perhaps something might relax and allow the Cramp to loosen. But now comes the time when I have to do the hard work of just banging out words, often a bloody task filled with bad spelling, ungrammatical green squiggles and tortured concepts until the blockage finally gets unclogged. This is hard and unrewarding work. And it is calls forth some tortured reading and critique too.

I have just joined a chat on Ecunet call Wither ELCA? It just started today and it sounds like many of the Episcopal Church (TEC) chats that I have been a part of over the past 7 years. There are those who are “against” everything that I have thought was Christian, there are those who are ready to uphold everything that I think is Christian and there are those who are ready to get up and leave and those who think that everyone who doesn’t think the way they do should leave. (Sigh!) “It sounds like déjà vu all over again!”

Part of me wants to say: “Damnit, look at what TEC has done and don’t do it that way.” Part of me wants to say, “Each denomination has to address what it is on its own.” And part of me wants to say, “Do I have to go through this AGAIN?”

Do we have to fight out the liberal/conservative ideology in the ELCA as we did in TEC? How long will it take before we self-destruct in ELCA as TEC has done it? TEC is much longer established than ELCA has been. Is there any way to address the issues without throwing the baby out with the bath water as TEC has done? I am not sure. But I do know that no matter what we do, Christ must be proclaimed and kept before the people of God in the parishes.

Does that mean that I ignore the war waging around me? Do I not take up for the LGBT community when derogatory remarks are made? No, but it does call me to demand from myself a kind of behavior that is hard to maintain—calm, centered on Christ and a refusal to respond to the anger and spite of those who would say that I am wrong, evil or perverted. This is what I learned from TEC—this is what I couldn’t do in TEC. I guess because it came from "family" in TEC that it had so much more power.

Will others learn from me? Perhaps some, but most will have to do their own experiential falling flat on their faces. I hope some will understand what they are doing is sinful, but I doubt that too. Will some go away mad? Yes, because they have put their faith in ideology rather than in Christ himself. Will the Church change? Yes, despite all the efforts to keep it from doing so and despite all the efforts to make it what it once wasn’t.

The Church will change no matter what we do. Just like we change no matter how much we would like to stay the same. We get old and crotchety, and vital mechanics in our bodies fail. So too, it is with the Church, and the new never feels the same. Deo Voluntatis!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Five: Las Mañanitas

Éstas son las mañanitas These are the morning verses
Que cantaba el Rey David, That King David used to sing,
A las muchachas bonitas To the beautiful young ladies,
Se las cantaba así. He would sing them like this.

Mother Laura is dealing with a whole load of birthdays in her family so she has posed birthday questions for the Revgalblogpals. I had forgotten the song Las Mananitas. It is the custom throughout Latin America to have a group of young men serenade young women under their bedroom windows on the morning of their birthday. And it would be quite early in the morning. When I lived in Mexico, it would happen on a quiet little dusty street with young girls hanging out their windows to catch a glimpse of a possible boy friend on the street below. How romantic! We here in the States don’t have anything like it.

The birthday questions :

1. When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous and/or in your own life) share it?

I am a thorough-going Scorpio—October 26th. I don’t know of others who have the same birthday as mine except a former parishioner who is now with God. I am 63 and fast coming up to retirement, but don't want to retire. I just foudn out that Hilary Rodham Clinton and I share a birthday! Another reason to vote for her!

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few?

It depends. Most of the time, I forget my birthday these days. I am at the stage where I don’t really want to remember I am stacking up years. However in about 10 more years I am going to be proud of those years. Who knows?

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both.

I am trying to remember. I know that the choir at the parish I was serving threw me a surprise party on my 50th and proceeded to sing me songs about growing old! I spent my 60th working at a Hurricane Relief camp in Mississippi following Katrina and that was fun.

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream?

I love carrot cake or cake with nuts. I love “Nuts over carmel” from Friendly’s or coffee from Stone Cold Creamery. Now I am hungry…..

5. Surprise parties: Eh!

Bonus: Ideal birthday ---dinner at a nice restaurant with good friends and a good bottle of wine

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New's Year's Resolutions

A Belated Friday Five

1. Do you make New Year resolutions? Not generally. I find I have to deal with too much guilt when I don’t accomplish them. I am a P for God’s sake! But I have made a resolution for 2008 to pray for all those in this business that find it a time of sparse faith, or distancing from God. It happens to us all but it is a fearful time for those of us who take our faith seriously and have to preach it.
2. Is this something you take seriously, or is it a bit of fun? This one I am taking very seriously.3. Share one goal for 2008. I want to get the house REALLY clean!

4. Money is no barrier, share one wild/ impossible dream for 2008 I would like to go on a real vacation for a couple of week and see some amazing things—perhaps the train across Canada to Seattle.

5. Someone wants to publish a story of your year in 2008, what will the title of that book be? Not a book—it would have to be a soap opera called “As the Episcopal Church turns!”