Thursday, September 21, 2017


My house is a mess.  I’ve been busy with studying and errands, so the floor has enough cat hair on it to make wall-to-wall carpeting, the sink is full of dishes, the dust is thick enough to sink the house into the ground an inch or two, and all the rest of the stuff.  I wish I had a self-cleaning house.  I also wish we all had a self-cleaning world that would simply reverse all the damage and become the pristine Garden-of-Eden type place God made in the beginning. Or are floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, and plate tectonics all part of God’s cleanup plan?

Looking at all the tragedies of the past week, it seems that we go from bad to worse and then even worse again. The fires that raged so aggressively across the Northwest and other places fill the air with particles that make it hard to breathe, destroys beautiful things, houses, animals. and even when it's out, the rain will come and wash the earth down to block roads and streets, possibly cover houses, and send giant boulders crashing down on whatever is in their path. It seems like the damage never ends.

The Caribbean has been targeted by yet another hurricane, and what wasn't flattened in the last hurricane or two probably is flat by now. They won't have power for perhaps weeks, if not months, because the infrastructure has been destroyed. And there's another storm on the way.

In Mexico, there has been another earthquake and aftershocks, coming just two weeks after another one on Mexico's northern border. There was a severe quake off the coast of Japan, and Lord knows what's going to shake apart next. Maybe these are our signs of the earth trying to clean itself, but it is making an awful mess in the process.

Is this God’s way of cleaning up?  The world was made immaculately clean and in perfect harmony, as the Bible tells us. God planned it that way. Now, we sort of take the world for granted. We can do anything we want to it, and we expect it to continue to nurture and nourish us, just as it always has, no matter what we inflict on it. If there is something, some sort of disaster that wreaks havoc on us, invariably someone will say, “Well, it’s God’s will.”  Really?  Did God really make this world just to watch it tear itself apart and have us assist in that destruction? 

We need to look around and see what there is to see. I know that in the Phoenix area, we live in a valley with mountains around, and on some days, you can't see the mountains for the dust particles and the smog in the air. Some of that is natural, but some of it we caused. We caused it with our cars, fireplaces, barbecue grills, and industry. And God supposed to clean it up? It seems so, since attempts to clean the air have been rolled back to the ineffectuality stage. We've denuded the land to build more houses and upset the balance of nature to the point it’s becoming unrepairable.

There are places in this country were clean water is nonexistent. There hasn't been clean, uncontaminated water for the kids to drink and for the mothers to cook with in years. Not just one or two major cities, but in places where the watershed has been despoiled by industrial waste, toxic materials, and clogged with dirt and animal matter because nobody seems to live downstream, it appears. If all the crud flows downstream, somebody's gotta live there and somebody's got to pay for it because the folks upstream are busy making money with heavy metals and other contaminants that make a toxic soup. And God supposed to clean that up with a flood or fire?  Don’t we have any responsibility there?

 God created people with brains. I sometimes wonder about that. It didn't take much of a brain to throw a smoke bomb into a dry canyon and start a fire engulfing parts of two states and which will have consequences for years to come. And God supposed to clean that up, since fire is one way the earth gives itself a clean start? There are so many other things that we seem to expect God to take care of, because after all, it must be "God's will" if something happens because of something else that has been done, usually by us. Granted, we are not responsible necessarily for each individual thing, although if you stop and think about it, natural disasters have going on since time immemorial. It's just now that they appear to be happening with a lot more regularity and a lot more intensity than perhaps in the past. We’ve done things that seem to have helped them along, and yet we don’t acknowledge it or try to make repairs that would be permanent.

I was looking at a map of the Caribbean and actually seeing four hurricanes in one picture, one image. it was almost unbelievable. I don't remember them coming together this close, so is it possible it's partly our fault and not "God's will?”  We build unsuitable buildings in unsuitable places, and then when earthquakes happen, it makes us think it's God's will that the earth shakes, all sorts of things fall down, people and animals are killed, and the destruction will take years to rebuild? Do we blame God for that?

God gave us this world, the volcanoes around the world, the earthquake fault zones that rumble and shake and shift, the tsunamis that are some of the results and that destroy lives and livelihoods along the coastlines, the hurricane and typhoon winds and rains that dismantle homes, businesses, schools, churches and the like. Do we have any responsibility for that? Perhaps, although some will never be convinced. It's God's will, and we must accept it. Really?

This week I'm be doing a lot of praying for the survivors of all the disasters that are happening around the globe, especially in our own hemisphere. I'm going to be wondering is this actually what God had in mind? Is this really what God planned and set in motion that is going to happen next week, or next year, or even 1000 years from now or more? Is God to be expected to clean up all that? Or does God kind of expect us to help clean things up, rebuild responsibly, help our neighbors in need, and act like we all occupy one world instead of individual nations?

I read once that it was said that God made disasters to teach people to work together. I'm not sure God makes the disasters, but I have no doubt that it's an opportunity for us as God's children and God's people to help clean it up and restore the world if not to Garden-of-Eden standards, but to a standard that is sustainable, livable, and united in purpose. Going to be a busy prayer week, I can just tell.

God bless.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter. She is also owned by three cats. She has been Episcopalian for over 50 years, and is grateful God led her to the Episcopal Church in various places.

Friday, September 15, 2017


From the time we were children, we all sought approval, from our family, friends, teachers, priests, and almost anyone else we came in contact with. The approval of some people outside our immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances were less important to us because the people are further away from us, but that didn't mean we didn't want their approval.  

It's normal, I think, to seek approval, but it's so much nicer when I don't have to. Oh, it's nice to be approved, that's really great. But over the years it's become more and more apparent to me that the two that I really need the approval from are myself and God. Hopefully God approves, but I'm not egotistical enough to think everything I do pleases God and that I'm his favorite rosebush in the garden.. In fact, I'm darned sure I'm not. But still, I know I also have to approve of myself, and that's when I run into problems.

Sometimes, like now, I read books, especially those written by women, that picks me up, shakes me up, and sets me down again with a feeling of "Wow! I feel/understand/know/have said that." The endorphins flood my system, and I feel vindicated, because someone else has been/done/experienced the same or something similar to my own experience. It's a woman speaking to a woman, in a way that I can respond to in a way that I can't always when a man, no matter how erudite or empathetic he seems, can do for me. It's giving voice to me and perhaps thousands or even millions of other women, in a place and time when I (or we) feel we aren't heard, valued, or even accepted. That's not feminism talking, that's just someone saying "Wow!" because someone has put words to things I have felt but couldn't enunciate for myself. It's a validation, and it feels good!
Jesus was a great validator. Look at the women who surrounded him and whose stories are recorded in the Bible for us to read today. The woman with the hemorrhage, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and all the others who came to Jesus or on whose behalf someone appealed to Jesus for assistance beyond what they themselves could provide. These were women who were looked down on, often ignored, and relegated to the corners of the house when visitors showed up. These women were more or less outcasts of society because of health, economic status, lifestyle choices, and cultural custom and opinion. But Jesus talked to them, healed them, treated them as if they were worth his time and attention. Even the woman who corrected Jesus about being the crumbs under the table. He listened to her and accepted the criticism.  In all the women, he validated their existence, and in so doing, gave a model for his disciples and those who came after him. 

Unfortunately, the lesson was set aside, whether it was because it was threatening, or because it was truly felt that women were too weak, stupid, or unsuited for things outside of housekeeping, breeding, and being used as a showcase of a man's wealth. It was a long time before we heard a lot of Bible stories about women and with women as central characters, not just as an additional prop for Jesus to use to get a point across. The daily readings used to skip over many of the female stories, and very seldom did we hear about any woman other than the Virgin Mary on Sundays. When Ruth, Rahab, Jephtha's daughter, Tamar, and others began to appear, it was liberating, just as it was when, in the Eucharistic prayers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah began being included along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Suddenly, some of us got chills and realized how much we had missed hearing those names for all those years.

There are still lots of times when we as women aren't heard, aren't acknowledged or even seen because we are felt to be less than capable of doing jobs traditionally reserved to men. It's not saying that all men are bad, misogynistic, or simply uncaring. What I'm saying is that many times, what we as women do is devalued and discounted because of the traditional mindset of even the disciples at times. "Men know best." "It's a man's world." "Women belong in the kitchen, church, and having children." I wonder -- is this something of which Jesus would approve?  What if he had totally ignored women like Mary and Martha, Jarius' daughter, even his mother Mary?  The Gospel stories would look and sound very different.  There would be great chunks of stories missing and a whole gender not represented at all.

This reflection is an opportunity for me to let my voice be heard, whether or not anyone listens. It is how I work out how faith, God, the world and I work together to try to make things better. I know, I'm a small voice, much as Rahab standing on the walls of Jericho, speaking to the wind and hoping that the words would be carried to God. I'm grateful that the Gospels record women's stories, and that Jesus gave such a good example of what it meant to be not just a great teacher and healer but a man who modeled what he and God wanted the world to be like.

So this week I'm going to look inside for validation of my worth, not waiting for someone else to do it for me (even if they could). As I said before, I just need God and Jesus. The rest is up to me.

God bless.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 16, 2017.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Back, Around, UP


Fear  looks back, worry looks around, faith looks up. – Unknown

Looking at a map of the US right now, it looks like it should be the United States of Disaster rather than the USA.  Floods, fires, threats of either, both or even something else makes it seem like there's hardly a square mile anywhere that is exempt from some kind of disaster or other. Sometimes it isn't a local issue, but a personal one and it can feel pretty overwhelming. Then there are the memories -- whether the memory of a flood, fire, or, as we will be remembering on Monday, the anniversary of planes hitting two very tall buildings in New York City. A lot of times, memories bring fear of a repeat of the event, and worry that something else will happen that will rip the scabs off the still-healing wounds caused by losses.

Have you found or noticed people who seem to be fearful, whether or not there is the reason for fear? Granted, if I were in Florida right now, I'd be rather fearful as to what was going to happen to me and my cats, much less my house. If I were in Oregon (where I have lived), I would be concerned about my world exploding in flames (or ending up a modern-day Pompeii from volcanic ash). Mid-America has tornadoes at the drop of a hat, The Northeast is not exempt from hurricanes, although Nor'easters are more common. In parts of the country, like Arizona, for instance, 2 inches of rain can feel like a flood, and 80 degrees is balmy. We bake -- and we dread the heat of summer and the possibility of being stranded in the desert with no extra water and a broken-down car. Maybe not much of a fear, not like those faced by Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, and the East Coast. Still, fear and worry seem to be a national pastime.

There's a state of being that says, Maybe I can't do anything about this all by myself, but I have confidence that God will help me get through whatever it is I have to face." A cancer diagnosis, a flood or fire appearing over the tops of the nearby mountains, rising water, a possible merger in the company for which I work, there are a lot of things to worry about that are really quite serious. Can I do anything about the fire by myself? No, but I can help support the first responders and I can also get out of the way so that they have the room to do what they need to do. Can I stop the floods? No, unless I want to build a wall of sand bags all around my house while other people have few or none and whose houses become mold-ridden, soggy masses that will either be horrendously costly to repair or be torn down and rebuilt at an even greater cost. Other things I may have some control over, but that doesn't mean I don't worry or fret about them.

I don't believe God brings floods, fires, cancer, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or any other kind of disaster. I think God plays those kinds of games with us. It's not the kind of God that I would have faith in, because I would feel like a puppet, like God was pulling my strings and that's not a picture of a person with free will. I can't see God using me as a chess piece much like Job was used. I just don't think God works that way. I realize there are people who do believe God causes those things, and they are welcome to their beliefs. It's just that I can't accept that for myself, and I have faith in a God who weeps with me but isn't necessarily handing me the Kleenex box in the process.

In order for me to have faith I have to have a God I can trust, a God who isn't going to solve all my problems for me because then I won't grow. Much as I'd like to have God plant a money tree in my yard or cause one to grow suddenly, it's not gonna happen, so I might as well figure out what I can do for myself while having faith that God will be with me in the struggle even if God isn't shouldering the burden.

The saying is that fear looks back. Was Lot's wife looking back because of fear?  Perhaps, or perhaps it was to take a last look at a place she'd never see again, a family left behind? 
Worry looks around, as if to try to spot incoming trouble or storm clouds ahead. Faith  looks up, for the source of providential help. Another threesome that could represent these three aspects are the pessimist, realist, and optimist.

Pessimists look back, seeing the past as the right and true way. They usually fear change, and even the thought of change makes them itch.  Realists pride themselves on seeing things as they "really" are, but sometimes it is hard to tell whether the perceived "real" is really the true real.  Optimists often looks around and chooses to see the better parts of life while still being aware that there are other parts far less attractive, far less happy, and far less enjoyable. The optimist chooses to see things in a good light; they tend to look up. 

Some people are congenital pessimists, while others are congenital optimists. Realists sometimes start out as one or another and gradually move to the middle. Personally, I think that, in a way,  the optimist has a natural faith that things are going to work out. Meanwhile the pessimist, the fearful one, has to work to find faith that will help them get through whatever trials they are having to face. Which is better?  That question would fox a Platonist -- or maybe an Aristotelian, if not both.

People of faith should be looking around, not looking up all the time as if God were going to appear in the cloud at any moment, although it isn't that God won't do that at some point in time. The person of faith isn't going to be a pessimist, looking at all the bad parts and feeling hopeless about doing anything that would make any slight difference at all. People of faith look around, not with worry, but with a sense of there is something there that can be done and it's their job to do it, and it's a challenge they accept.

God expects us to be people of faith. God expects us to help the poor, widows, orphans, the imprisoned, and the whole list of people who will require help, including the aliens in our land (who are mentioned in the Bible as people that we should be taking care of), but we also have to accept that faith is going to compel us to do something, not just think about it. It's going to require us to look back, around and up.

This week I've got to stop my worrying, although with friends and family both in the possible path of hurricane or major fire, it's a little hard not to worry. But this week I'm not going to spend a lot of time looking or looking up. I need to spend my time looking around and seeing where faith is telling me I need to go and telling me what I need to do.  I need to be part optimist, part realist with maybe a sprinkle of pessimist just to make things lively. Most of all, I have to have faith.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 9, 2017.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Wind, Rain and Fire

You know, I don't think I've ever really thought so much about weather in very long time. The weather seems to be all the news this week, with floods and fires and extreme heat and flooding covering many miles in various places in the world, uprooting millions of people. It's been that kind of week, I can't say it's been an unadulterated pleasure, even as I sit high and dry (and hot) here near Phoenix.

I grew up in an area where hurricanes happened somewhat regularly. We would get usually one or two each year that resulted in damage either by trees being blown over, roofs being denuded of shingles, or sheds being blown over. I remember lots and lots of rain, and coupled with the wind, it got scary. Granted, they weren't storms of the magnitude of Harvey or Katrina, but to a kid, they were still pretty frightening. I was always glad at the end of the storm, when the rain seemed to lighten up a bit, I could hear frogs in the punch bowl-shaped field across the road. After really bad storms or hurricanes was the only time the frogs sang. For me that was kind of the rainbow at the end and I looked forward to it.

People in Texas, Louisiana, and those who are yet to be affected, would celebrate seeing the sun, with or without the frogs, I think. The damage has been astronomical, the disruption of a major city and a number of other cities, towns and communities that represent home to a number of very major industries upon which part of our national economy depends has made it something is going to impact all of us. It's so encouraging to see people coming together from all over to help, like the Cajun Navy, the busloads of people coming from all over the country and various agencies, both for- profit and nonprofit alike, pulling together aid in the form of food, blankets, rescue vehicles, and even shelter. Even learning our neighbor to the south, Mexico, has offered aid is one of the best things yet. 

On the other hand, the northwest is a place where they would welcome even a quarter of the water from Houston and the Texas coast. According to the USDA Forest Service, there are currently 71 wildfires burning in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and California are burning, many totally  out of control. Most are in rugged, difficult terrain, far from water sources and firefighters.

What both hurricanes and fires have in common is that they produce wind, strong winds, and like a second punch coming right on top of the first one. The wind is not always predictable, and it spreads the fire and blows the rain where it will. This week the country has taken quite a beating not just by fire and rain but also by wind.

There are times when we read Bible stories where we actually have our attention called to the weather or to weather-related phenomena.  Probably the most familiar one is that of Jesus sleeping in the boat while the tempest rages and the disciples are fearful that they may lose their lives because of the winds and the waves and probably some rain too. There's also a the story of Job where natural and weather related events come together to tear his life, his home, and even his family apart. There's even Jonah, the storm at sea, and Jonah's attempt to flee what God wanted him to which resulted in him getting thrown overboard and ending up in the belly of the great fish.
There are folks who want to blame events like the Northwestern fires or the hurricane battered shores of the Gulf coast (and also South Asia) on purely human offenses against God. No matter how much scientific information bolstered by actual data, photographs, and charts, there has to be a reason why things like the fires, hurricanes and great winds happen. It must be a punishment from God for something, maybe for accepting things that others consider totally unacceptable, or maybe the opposite not accepting things that others accept. It's funny, both sides claim God has a hand in it, and it's a punishment against sins others commit.
Undoubtedly God has a eye on this somehow. For me, I can't believe that God directs such suffering on people just on a whim or even as a punishment. I don't think God punishes people, especially innocent people, and so I can't accept the it's the will of God that people should be forced out of their homes, risking their lives, sometimes losing them, because somebody sinned (in their neighbor's estimation) or someone espouses the wrong theology or whatever. I don't think Jesus had on his Day-Timer that there was going to be a big storm on the sea of Galilee on such and such a date at such and such a time and Jesus needed to be asleep to make a point. Definitely Job didn't have any advance warning of the catastrophic events of his life, and I'm sure Jonah had no plans for anything except a swift journey as far away from where he was supposed to be as humanly possible. Still, the weather caught up with all of them. Jesus did get to make a point, that being that he  could even command the winds and the waves to be still. Job had a lot of enduring to do, but in the end his faithfulness earned him not just a restoration but a restoration several times over of what he lost. As for Jonah, after being in the belly of the fish, he got to land and realized okay, he had better go where he was supposed to go.
Sometimes we need a storm or fire or headline even of the storm, or fire, to get our attention. It's not for us to sit back in our homes and say, "Thank God, it wasn't here." Indeed we are fortunate, but that is all the more reason why we need to be conscious of those who aren't. It is part of God's plan -- of that I'm sure.  We can look at disaster on television and be moved to make a contribution to a special charity or an appeal or even a group like the Episcopal Relief and Development. It may encourage us to go where that problem is and try to help fix it. It may be buying cases of water or a bunch of blankets to add to a collection that's being made locally that will be transported to areas of need.

That's what impresses us when we look at examples of disasters and the people helping each other. Most of these people are strangers, nobody knows exactly who they're being rescued by or who they are rescuing. The important thing is to rescue, to help, to feed, to shelter. That is faith in action, not sitting around talking about religion. it's putting religion to work. Not just Christians, because Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Universalists, and just about every other known faith group or non-faith group has been involved in helping. I think that's a God thing, and perhaps the useful part of a disaster is that it forces us to work together with people that we don't agree with or maybe who speak another language. It's important to help one another because helping one another is a sign of love, and God's greatest commandment was love.
I hope this next week is a little less fraught with disasters and the like. I know it will be a long time before the fires go out and before the water totally recedes. Both areas are going to need a lot of attention, and in different ways, they are all going to need healing both of the earth and of those who have been affected. Maybe this week is a week for prayer, but it's also a week for work. The disasters are over, there still needs, and they will continue to be probably for months and maybe years to come. God did not say, "Do this and that's all you have to do ever." We are expected to continue to show love and help and compassion.
Prayers going up from all over for all those who have been affected not just in our country but in around the world where disaster strikes and things seem hopeless. God grant healing to the land,  to the victims, and to the lost.

Now where can I be useful?
God bless.

Image: McTaggart, William, Through Wind and Rain (1875). BBC.CO.UK via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café (temporary) Saturday, September 2, 2017.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


It's coming toward the end of summer. Farmer's markets are still full of produce of all kinds, but it's time to start thinking about stocking up on things for winter: freezing berries or making jam or jelly or preserves, canning beans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and more. Most of all, there is the making of pickles.

What brought pickles to mind was a photo on Facebook of my sister-in-law and a niece in the kitchen making pickles. I remember Mama making pickles when I was a kid, especially green tomato, watermelon rind, and the fabulous cucumber pickles we called "Baptist" pickles because Mama had gotten the recipe from our Baptist preacher's mother.  Oh, were they good!  Soaked for several days in lime, boiled in vinegar with some raisins and a few spices  added, then decanted into jars and sterilized, those pickles stayed crisp and flavorful all winter. In fact, we opened the last jar of Mama's pickles a few years after her death and they were as crisp and tasty as they were a week after she made them years before.  I'd almost kill for a jar of them now. 

Cucumbers are a lot more historic than I thought. They're mentioned twice in the Bible, once as referred to in Numbers 11:5, "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic" (NIV).  It doesn't say they pickled any of them, but every single item in that list could have been marinated in vinegar or brine and turned into pickles.  The other reference is from Isaiah 1:8 which talks about "Like a hut in a cucumber field," meaning that they lived without walls, vulnerable to being in a pickle of a situation if things turned bad.

Situations turned up over and over again in the Bible that told of people in a pickle of a situation: the spies that Rahab had to rescue, Naomi and her daughters-in-law when their husbands all died, David being pursued by Saul, the disciples hiding in the upper room, Peter in a place where he was frightened into denying his master, Stephen being stoned at the feet of Saul, Paul being blinded on the road and in jail, and even Jesus in front of Pilate. There were lots more, but you get the idea.

Today we find ourselves in situations from time to time that could be described as "real pickles." Sometimes they are simple things that are easily fixed or managed, sometimes they are like drowning in a vat of apple cider vinegar. While vinegar is great on salads and in pickles, even for cleaning or on sunburn or jellyfish stings, it's not something one would want to bathe in or even drink straight, much less be immersed in it for any length of time (diluted is much kinder and tastier). Still, tricky situations do not always last a long time, and they can be both learning experiences and character builders.

Prayer works well when one is in a pickle. For one thing, it encourages our mind to focus on something other than the situation, or at least, to offer the opportunity to view the situation with a bit more clarity or distance. For another, it reminds us that when we are puzzled about which way to go or what to do next, checking a map or a guidebook or asking for help can make things clearer. Also, it reminds us that God is with us and is listening to us, so therefore we are not as alone as we probably thought we were.

I love pickles, except when they are situations in life that are painful, puzzling predicaments. Even so, the trials of life are spicy additions, just as a good pickle is to a good potato salad, a grilled burger, or even as an accent to whatever's going. Prayer, like a good pickle, adds texture and flavor to life, and offers us a chance to balance a life of busy-ness with a bit of tang or even sweetness. It connects us to God, and that in itself is a thing of blessing, whether in good times or pickleish ones.

This week, I'll think about Mama's pickles, but I will also think about the tang prayer offers me in my life, no matter what is going on. Most of all, I'll remember that when I have a good bread and butter pickle, even if I can't have one like Mama used to make, God bless 'er. 

God bless you too.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 26, 2017.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Divided Houses

It's been quite a week. It seems like every week I think things have gotten about as bad as they can get, but then something happens that makes me think I was being naïve.

This week it was Charlottesville, Virginia. I know Charlottesville; it's a beautiful place. In downtown Charlottesville, like a number of Southern towns and cities, is a statue of Robert E Lee, Virginian, Episcopalian, a slaveholder, and general of the Confederate armies during the Civil War. He had been a general in the Army of the United States until the South had declared it would secede from the union. Lee was given the choice to stay with the U.S. Army or to lead the state militia for the South. He loved his state, and so he chose to fight for Virginia, something for which he is now called a traitor. It was probably a hard decision for him to make, I'm sure, and at the end of the war, after he had surrendered his sword, he had to go and build a new life. He became the president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, and when he died, at his funeral no flags were flown, no uniforms were worn, and even the respected Mr. Lee wore a plain suit at his burial.

During the years after the Civil War there were people who came to Robert E Lee and asked to put up statues to memorialize the defeated generals and soldiers, but Lee turned them down, believing that it would only increase the pain and retard healing of the wounds that the Civil War had caused in the South. What would he think of all the statues of himself? He would probably just sadly shake his head turn his, turn his back, and walk away, thinking that his words had not been heeded.

Lee was a symbol of what we have come to realize was a house divided against itself, a comparison that was made by Abraham Lincoln in 1858, but originally appeared in the three synoptic Gospels which quoted Jesus is saying that  a house divided against itself cannot stand. It was nothing new under the sun, because for millennia houses and countries have been ripped apart by politics, by conquest, by ideology, by hatred, and a number of other causes. In some cases, the divided have been able to build  strong foundations for themselves, but in many cases, like our Civil War, there remained a rift never totally repaired, even to this very day.

Jesus used the figure of Beelzebub, or as we call it, the devil, to illustrate the principle he was trying to get across. He said that Beelzebub could not stand if he were divided. In other words, his strength would be diminished by having to control two opposing sides rather than one unified whole. It is like walking a tightrope without a balance pole.

I grew up in the segregated South. I knew about segregated water fountains, bathrooms, waiting rooms, churches, schools, and the whole bit. But I also lived in a small town where there were African-Americans living next door to Caucasians without friction and in a very friendly manner. There are a lot of people today who would find that laughable and who would argue that it was not possible, given that we were a racially divided area in so many ways. Yes, the house was divided, and very probably we didn't handle it well at all, although I don't remember a lot of difficulty when our schools were integrated. The two groups were segregated themselves by choice for a while in that same building, but gradually the invisible barriers went down and we began to be a school rather than two opposing camps.

I look at the church, now that the Cromwellian era is long gone, where one would think that the church might come together as a unified whole with its focus on the worship of God and the following of the teachings of Jesus. Instead, it seems to have set up its own divided house, again based on a number of criteria. In the Anglican/Episcopal church, we are trying to work through our problems of racism, gender and racial equality, orientation, and interfaith and intercultural relations. It seems like in some places they have put up statues (or inviolable rules) of heroes to those on one side who, to those on the opposing side, are seen as traitors or heretics. I look, for instance, at the division of the Anglican/Episcopal church over the question of homosexuality and orientation. I can't literally visualize statues representing each side, but I see both sides fighting to make their side victorious, each with arguments bolstering their side which they feel is substantive and authoritative. There are so many other issues that divide us, but race, gender, and orientation right now seem to be the biggest cracks in the foundation of the unified church.

Lee believed that such things as statues could be reasons for keeping wounds open that should be healing. Even as a slaveholder, he felt that whether Yankee or Confederate, they had all undergone trauma and both needed healing, a unified healing, not a separated one. Anything that became almost an idol would be another instrument of keeping that division alive. Very possibly he would be grateful to have all of the statues removed and either placed in  museums or in a Confederate cemeteries or whatever. I think he was a very wise man in that respect, and I think he had it right about taking down the idols and looking only to God.

What idols have I got that I need to take down? What preconceptions do I need to eliminate? Where do I need healing? And most of all, what is keeping me divided in my search for wholeness, unity, and peace within my relationship to God and the world? I've really got work ahead of me this week, And please don't mind if I'm grateful to Robert E Lee who, despite his flaws, left words that have begun healing in me have a part that I didn't even know was still wounded.

God bless.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Lady with the Lamp

The year I was in third grade was a rough year. I seemed to catch just about every disease that came down the pike, and I missed a lot of school. I also found out what boredom was. Mama didn't have time to read to me all the time, especially since I already knew how to read at least fairly well for my grade level, so I began rummaging through the house for every book I could lay my hands on. I read all my brother's Hardy boys and started in on my own sets of Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and some books about famous people. One of the books that I remember reading was a biography of Florence Nightingale, the founder of what we might consider modern nursing. The book dealt mostly with her own history and her achievements as she brought a new level of care to injured and ill soldiers in the Crimean war. It was fascinating to me.

If there were one person who could be said to have changed things dramatically not just by herself but by example and persuasion, Florence Nightingale would have fit that category.  She felt she was called by God to do something in the world, and so dedicated herself to a life of chastity in order to better discern and do what she felt God was calling her to do. Her parents and her family were aghast, since she gave up a young man whom she loved very much in order to follow what was considered an unseemly profession for a woman of her time and class. Nurses were usually women of ill repute, or broken down old man who found their comfort in a bottle of gin. This was a world into which Florence came, and what she saw perturbed or greatly.

Hospitals and first aid stations for those injured in battle or ill from environmental causes had an extremely rough time in those days. Sheets were never changed, and so, as soon as one person in the Bed died, he was replaced by another sick person without any change of linens or pillows. Blankets were filthy and vermin-infested, while meanwhile in storehouses not far away stacks new blankets were rotting because there was no system by which to get them into the hands of people who needed them. Conditions were filthy, food was sketchy and not very nutritious, and more soldiers died from illness and neglect in hospitals that actually died on the battlefields. This was the place that Florence came and the appalling state of things in which she found herself. But not for long.

She was strong-willed. She had been given a job to do by God, she felt,  and so it fell to her to make a difference. She brought organization to the chaos that was the hospital, the treatment centers, and the supply system by which first-aid supplies were passed from the warehouse to the hospital. She introduced the idea of cleanliness, with lots of fresh, clean water, soap and elbow grease. She didn't do this alone, because with her on her journey to the Crimea from England had also come 10 Roman Catholic nuns, 14 Anglican nuns, and 14 women who professed beliefs in anything from paganism to universalism. Florence and her band of nurses turned things around in those Crimean hospital wards, and set examples that could be followed in other battlefields, and even at home.

One thing Florence was most famous for was her gliding through the words in the night with the dim lantern in her hand, watching to see if any person had a need that she could fill. Whether it was a drink of water, a bedpan, a comforting word, or just a smile, the men looked to her and  their eyes followed that light pacing through the almost endless rows of cots and were comforted. They began calling her "The Lady with the Lamp," and that became a name by which she was known, not only in the Crimea but increasingly in her home country of England.

One thing that the book I read as a child never really touched on was Florence's spiritual life, which to her was the basis of her calling and her duty. In her later life, when she wrote a manual for nursing, one requirement she felt was necessary was that each nurse spend five minutes out of every hour in prayer. I think that when seeing the horror of the injuries and the filth that surrounded her, her prayer life became even more important to her than it had been previously. It seems possible that five minutes an hour every hour was like an oasis where she could offer up what she was doing, pray for those for whom she toiled, and simply rested in God, coming forth from that prayer session renewed and rededicated. She was a mystic, although she would hesitate to be called that. She had her moments of trouble and doubt, just as most Christians do, but always came back to the service of God who had called her,  and who sustained her as she continued to follow that call.

She didn't seek praise and acclaim for what she did, even though, when she sailed home to England, a large parade and pageant were scheduled to welcome her and to show appreciation for all that she had done. She managed to sneak away for an entire day to a convent before she came into the public eye and the celebration. She did not look for the glory, and instead chose to quietly begin to reorient herself before rejoining society and beginning a new stage of work to help the sick and injured that crowded England cities and towns.

She worked to get legislation introduced  that would benefit the veterans and the poor: safe, clean, water, and health-giving care when it was most needed. Again, she did not work alone, and sometimes drove those with whom she worked to exasperation and even exhaustion. Even in her later years when her own health had broken down, she still worked to accomplish what she felt God wanted her to accomplish. She died on this date in 1910. She was ninety years old, and her gravestone was simply marked with her initials and the dates of her birth and death. Even with her fame and acclaim, she remained humble and attuned to the will of God.

Florence Nightingale was heroine to me as a child, and even more now that I have a greater understanding of what she faced and how she overcame what were seemingly almost insurmountable barriers. It is something to think about, to look at her life and see how she worked to change things that were wrong and make them things that were beneficial. She saved a lot of lives simply by doing what she felt God called her to do. Wouldn't it be nice or great or even super if each of us could be that much in tune to the will of God and the benefit of all human beings? It's something to think about this week.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Heads on a Platter

Matthew 14:1-12 (Eucharistic reading)

It's been a while since I read the story of Herod and his adventure with John the Baptist. I looked at it today and I though that it was kind of a contemporary tale as much is a biblical one. John the Baptist had ticked Herod off by condemning his marriage to his brother's wife, and finally Herod had enough guts (or perhaps gall) to throw John into prison. Herod was afraid to kill John because of John's popularity among the people who considered him a prophet.

Herod had a birthday feast at which his wife's daughter, the one we think of as Salome, danced in Herod's honor. He was so delighted with the performance that he offered the girl anything she wanted. After consulting her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. Before long, the gospel tells us that John's head was brought in, maybe on a silver platter, maybe on one of pottery. At any rate, John was dead. The rest of his body was given a burial by his disciples.  

The thing that reminds me of the contemporary is there always seems to be someone looking for somebody's head on a platter, figuratively if not literally. We are always looking for someone to blame, and wanting a very public and very stark acknowledgment that somebody has messed things up royally and has paid the price. We do it for criminals, we do it for politicians, sometimes we use it for church people, like those involved in sex abuse of young people and children. There are times we expect CEOs of giant corporations who have been caught fiddling with the books or taking too much of a pay raise while laying off employees at the bottom of the ladder or failing to acknowledge their contribution by periodic raises. We especially look for people in the public eye. We love putting people on pedestals, but then we take even more joy it seems in knocking them off. Ask just about anybody in Hollywood and they'll tell you that it happens. Today's hero may quite likely be tomorrow's villain.

It used to be a custom at great feast, especially times like Christmas, to have the head of the roasted pig brought in on a platter and placed in the center of the table, the place of honor. . People then were a little more nonchalant about eating parts of the head, but it was the centerpiece of the of the dinner and a reminder of where the roast pork on the plate came from. I don't know that anybody remembered John the Baptist while looking at that pig head, but I also doubt that John the Baptist head had an apple in its mouth and was surrounded by greenery and food of festive color. Different times, different cultures, different presentations.

John the Baptist was imprisoned because he had called out Herod for marrying a person that was not appropriate for him to marry. Marriage laws were pretty strict, and there were certain relationships that were considered out of bounds. Herod committed one of those. In order to keep happiness in the family, he had to do something about John who had been openly speaking about the impropriety. Herod's wife, with the help of her daughter, finally gave him a way of doing it while saving face. He couldn't be held responsible because he had promised a girl anything she wanted as a reward for her dance, usually referred to as the dance of the seven veils. The girl asked her mother, the mother told her what to say, the girl went to Herod and repeated it. Lo and behold, it was done. A prophet was dead, the problem was solved, and the one who gave the order could not be blamed.

I am sure lots of people have had a time when he felt like somebody was looking for their head on a platter for some reason. Maybe most people have never experienced that kind of anxiety or feeling of fear, but I, among others,  do get caught having made a mistake. We don't like feeling like our head is going to roll because of something we may or may not had any have any control over. Certainly John the Baptist didn't think it would end that way, although being imprisoned might have been a broad hint.

We all look for ways to get out of what consequences there may be of actions that we take. We try our best to do things right and properly, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, the boat gets loose from the mooring before the crew is all on board. Somebody has to pay for that boat getting loose, and usually it's the captain and the crew members who were supposed to be minding the mooring lines. An official of a corporation with access to company financial dealings gets away with multimillion dollar fraud and embezzlement. In France, basically all it for one to lose their head was to be a member of the aristocracy during the French Revolution. A wrong medical decision, a lost lawsuit, a scandal of some sort -- all are reasons for heads to roll.

We all need to look to see how our actions match up to what we say we are doing and believing. It's difficult to claim to be a Christian if one is not looking out for others, or acting in ways that hurt others simply for one's own benefit. We don't have to have a dance of the seven veils in order to get tangled up in the situation that could have catastrophic results not just for us but for others. John had been spreading the message of the one to come and of living the right life. Pointing the finger at a notorious union got him into trouble. I wonder if he had moments in prison when he regretted those words?

Reading the story makes me want to be a turtle even more than I already am. In order to keep my head firmly on my torso, I feel like I need to pull myself back into my shell and just observe the world without getting into conflicts or causing any ripples in the pond. It's not a good way to be. It is certainly not the way to stay out of trouble, because trouble find me no matter where I hide. If I make a mistake, I have to bear the consequences. Thank God for those who help me face my consequences and help me learn not to repeat that kind of thing. They keep my head off the platter.

I wonder -- whose head do I think deserves a platter, or does anyone deserve it? I can certainly think of people I would consider as being prime candidates, but I'm just one person, one small person without much of a voice or say in what goes on in the greater world. Still, I can only wish that more people might pay attention to the beheading of John the Baptist and why. It's all to easy to pick out representatives of the Herods, the Herod's daughters, and the Herod's wives, but much harder to spot the  people like John the Baptist in our world today. Maybe I  should look harder, or perhaps I should try to see myself speaking the truth as John did.

Am I too eager to get out the silver salver, or am I witnessing to the power of God rather than humankind? Guess I'm going to have to really think about that one for a while.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, August 5, 2017.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Breaking Barriers

Why climb a mountain? Because it's there! - George Mallory

We live in a world of challenges. Whether it's getting to work on time when the freeway is backed up 20 miles, there's too much month at the end of the money, or physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual challenges that keep us from feeling safe, secure, and on track. The world is full of barriers that we must deal with in some way or form, either by ignoring them and moving in another direction or figuring out a way to get over the barrier and continue the journey in a relatively straight line. Sometimes circumstances dictate the course of action when challenged by a barrier, but sometimes it is pure choice as to how to handle the challenge.

On July 29, 1974, a crowd gathered in a church in Philadelphia to watch a barrier being broken, a challenge being taken, and a calling being answered. On that day, 11 women faced the barrier of church tradition and ruling and accepted the challenge of God's call to them to be ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. It had been a long struggle, fighting the tradition of a male-only clergy by seeking ordination to the priesthood.

It's incredible that in the Episcopal Church, it wasn't until 1970 that women were allowed to be delegates to the General Convention. One of the goals of the women at that convention was to change the canon in order to do away with the order of Deaconess, an order that allowed women to function in the practical aspects of the diaconate (caring for the poor and needy) but not allowing them to perform the liturgical duties of a male deacon. Needless to say, the attempt failed but did have support from the House of Deputies. Three years later, it again failed to pass in General Convention, but it failed narrowly.

We come to 1974. Eleven women who had been trying desperately to fulfill the commitment they felt God had called them processed down the nave of the Church of the Advocate and stood before the altar of God, facing three brave, retired bishops who consecrated them to God's service as priests. There was an immediate reaction from many Episcopalians who felt that tradition had been thrown out in favor of a radical new thing they really hadn't expected or even wanted, truth be told. The House of Bishops immediately labeled them as "irregular" and inhibited their practice of priestly functions. It didn't stop the momentum, however; about two months later, 4 more women were ordained in Washington, D.C. The issued stood until General Convention in 1976 when women were accepted into the priesthood as of January 1, 1977.

I remember talking to one of the 100 or so first "regularly" ordained priests (those ordained in 1977) who remembered walking the halls of GC, wondering if they would be allowed to be ordained and able to practice priestly duties and praying that God would make it happen. She remembered being overwhelmed with joy when the vote came through.

We all face challenges in all kinds of ways every day. Some of them are small but still annoying or slowing us down, but others are huge and can halt us in our tracks or even cripple us in major ways. Usually we fight, sometimes exhausting ourselves, in order to scramble over the barrier that holds us back, but then sometimes we, like George Mallory, accept the challenge and climb the mountain simply because it is there in front of us. The Philadelphia Eleven, like Moses, climbed the mountain, not just because it was there, but because it was what they felt they had to do to answer God's call to the very utmost of their ability.

Perhaps when I face challenges and barriers that feel like mountains (even if they really are molehills), I need to remember the pilgrim's progress of the Philadelphia Eleven and all those who came after them. They did not get an immediate victory, but each skirmish made them stronger and gained them support that eventually helped them gain the mountaintop. Not being one who sees mountains as things to be climbed simply because they're there, I need to start looking at them that way. There may be a way around the mountain, but it would be miles and miles off track. I might as well just start the hike up -- one foot in front of the other, stopping now and again to look out at not just the top of the mountain but also at the view around me.

Who knows? Maybe I'll find that with patience, fortitude, and a driving sense of purpose, I can answer the call to the top. When I do, I need to remember Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Witting. Perhaps too I should remember the three retired bishops who followed their hearts and prayerful consciences and performed the ordinations: Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. Dewitt, and Edward R. Welles.

For these women and men and all who follow them, may God's richest blessings be upon them and for those who have gone to greater glory, may God's light perpetually shine upon them. They followed the call and overcame the barriers.

Originally published on Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, July 29, 2017.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What's In a Name?

What's the name? A name is something by which a person, place, thing, animal, rock, planet, tree, or anything else is known to the world, or at least in whatever language is spoken in the area. The name is an important thing. In some cultures knowing the real name of a person or a demon gives power over that entity. Children are given a second name that is their public name while their original birth name is held close and not disclosed. A name can describe a person place or thing like the York River, the Shenandoah Valley, willow tree,  clock, kitten, or the Jefferson Memorial. A name is an important thing as it identifies and that identification allows the object to be known among the people.

Today we celebrate the commemoration of Mary Magdalene, called the "apostle to the apostles." Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, the town from which she alleged came, was a follower of Jesus, one of the supporters of his ministry and his followers,. She was also known as a notorious sinner, but where that actually came from no one really knows. We know for certain that she was the first one at the tomb, the weeping woman, to whom Jesus appeared on the morning of the resurrection. She is mentioned in the book of Luke is having had seven demons cast out, but these demons were not identified specifically as sins. She was present at the resurrection, but she was also present at the crucifixion, at the base of the cross with Jesus's mother and others, while the male disciples huddled in fear. To me, that indicates great love, great dedication, and great courage.

It is Gregory the Great who is credited, if that is the proper word for it,  with having first referred to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Down through the centuries, the title stuck, and Mary Magdalene has been presented as a woman of very dubious virtue and sins of promiscuity. Somehow it's not even surprising that such a charge would be made. After all, sin came into the world through Eve, as some theologies will tell it, and has been passed down from woman to woman throughout the ages. But Mary, even with no real finger of accusation pointing at her in the Bible, lost her good name and spent centuries being known as a very sinful woman whom Jesus forgave and who loved Jesus in gratitude for his forgiveness.

It is a terrible thing to lose one's good name. For millennia, a person's name was their bond, their word, and on that name one's reputation and even one's family's reputation was based. To have someone in the family labeled a prostitute immediately cast aspersions on the whole family. If a man were known as a thief or a murderer, it reflected badly on the family, but if a young woman were found to be pregnant or caught even gazing at a male to whom she was not related, there would be the first stone to be cast at her for her lack of virtue. In a way, it's a wonder that another Mary escaped such talk and such judgment when she mysteriously became pregnant under rather mysterious circumstances. At any rate, Mary Magdalene, on even less proof, lost her good name about possibly in the 5th century, it wasn't until 1969 that the Western church ceased describing her as a prostitute and restored her name to one who had been forgiven and one who loved much.

These days, it doesn't seem to take much for someone to lose their good name, or at least to be charged as such. Often rumors are believed far more readily than facts, and gender of the accused is unequal in its exploitation. It very hard to read and watch those who have done many good things being plastered with unfavorable or even insulting terms while those who skulk in the shadows and dark corners of the industry and government and other business are presented as model citizens, their names held in esteem while behind their backs their hands are busy doing evil acts. They complain that people throw stones at them for things like adultery, theft, manipulation and other sins of "me first-ism," yet many will still follow those people because they simply do not believe that any such charges could be true. For them, the appearance of a good name is more important as actually earning one.

Jesus told us that we should be kind, we should work for the common good and not just our own devices and desires. We are to be part of the kingdom, not the king. We are to have a good name as it were because we follow God and try to do God's will and not our own. Another way of putting it is we are to be righteous in the halls of heaven based on our lives here on earth. Not just in the eyes of friends, supporters, and constituents, but in the eyes of God.

I think this week I'm going to be looking at times in my life when my good name has been besmirched by someone with an agenda and not because of something I have done. My big job is to forgive the people who did the injury, whether they were aware of it or not. I shouldn't do it just so I can feel virtuous, it's what I'm expected to do to be a part of God's kingdom. I also have to look times when I have perhaps led to others losing their good names and what I should do to make amends for that, if amends are at all possible. It's going to be a very intense week because these are not easy things to do. But in order to reclaim my own good name, I must allow others the restoration of theirs. God expects it, Jesus commands it, and Mary Magdalene encourages it.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, July 21, 2017.