Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ecclesial dross

Yes this is a bit of churchy-speak but it sounded better than what it really is - Church junk. Congregations are made up of people and people have a way of collecting things and stashing them for future use. The problem arises when the future use doesn't quite materialize the way we think it will and the stuff is left in a closet somewhere to ... well ... sit ... and take up space. It all starts with a someone saying, "Hey, we could use that" and so whatever "that" happens to be gets stuffed into a closet, or an attic, or a cupboard with full intention that someday "that" will be used. But it doesn't always work out that way.

Dross also accumulates when something has outlived its useful life BUT nobody either 1) knows how to dispose of it or 2) is fearful that if they DO dispose of it, the benefactor of the item will return to ask where it is. Option #1 is usually easier to remedy than Option #2. Option #2 can haunt you forever - especially when the benefactor has been dead 10 years but we're worried that one day their great-great-great-great-grandchild will show up and ask where the stuff we've thrown out is.

I'm in a new call and am digging through lots of dross. This past week, I uncovered what I believe to be the Queen Mother of Dross ...

Yes, it is a Tandy 1000 SL personal computer, circa 1986. For the geeks who were not yet born, check this:
The Tandy 1000 SL featured an Intel 8086 processor running at 8 MHz. The SL came with 384k of RAM pre-installed, expandable to 640k, although only 576k could be used by the operating system. Tandy 1000's shipped with MS-DOS 3.3 and DeskMate 3 in ROM, and featured an EEPROM memory chip to store BIOS settings, an improvement over the DIP switches of earlier models. It had a 5 1/4" floppy disk drive.
What's a floppy disk drive? It predates the hard disk drive. Good luck finding 5 1/4" floppy disks today ... chalk this one up to option #1.

What kind of dross is in your church closets, cupboards, and attics? I'm sure we can start a fascinating list - bring it on!!

Monday, November 21, 2011


Yes, clergy are subject to temptations - just like everyone else. Prayer doesn't eliminate them nor does any other religious praxis. They are just there ... but not all of them are terrible and destructive. Sometimes they are funny - the kind of temptations that point out something absurd or humorous.

I was tempted yesterday to process into the church to the tune of Auld Lang Syne ... it was, after all, the Church's "New Year's Eve" celebration of the Feast of Christ the King ... the very last Sunday of the Church year. But we didn't have an organist yesterday ... so I let it go.

Then there was the temptation a fellow pastor friend had to use Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days as a recessional after preaching about how he didn't want to hear any more about how things "used to be so much better at our church."

These are the kinds of temptations you know you probably won't act on but we think about them nonetheless.

Occasionally though, the absurdity of something just gets the best of me. Like two weeks ago when I had left a message on the National Cathedral's voice mail system regarding getting my pass to attend the consecration of Bishop Mariann Budde. A couple of days after leaving the message, my phone rang and a woman's voice on the other end said:
"Hello. This is the National Cathedral calling."
And my absurd gene kicked in and responded:
"WOW! A talking cathedral! That's a nifty new feature! Was this part of the improvements put in as part of the earthquake repair?"
So temptation got the best of me on that one ... and for the record, we both laughed until our sides hurt.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Judgment and heartburn

Here we go - sheep and goats for Sunday. It's the Feast of Christ the King and we always end up at the end ... or at least close to the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. What isn't always obvious is that we end up in Holy Week again in the fall. It's an "extended dance version" of Holy Week in the spring where the focus is not on what happened to Jesus but instead what he was teaching during that last week.And this Sunday's lesson is the separating of the sheep and the goats with Jesus' teaching that what we do to "the least of these" we do to Jesus - and it gives me no small measure of heartburn to preach this.

Why? Because I often see so much of "organized Christian religion" focusing on our faith being a form of transactional economy. If I just do these things the right way, or behave just right, then God will love me and bless me ... which of course means I'll be blessed with eternal life in the big picture. So this lesson becomes a checklist of sorts:
  • Feed the hungry? "Well I worked at the soup kitchen once ... check!"
  • Clothe the naked? "I give away gently used clothing to Goodwill ... check!"
  • Visit prisoners? "Ummm ... not my thing ... guess I can't check that..."
We get all hung up in achieving in our lives and we think this is what God wants ... checklists and brownie points. But that's not the point of the teaching.

Yes, there will be a judgment. And this is good news because we can all look around and see all kinds of messed up stuff in our world. That's a page from the "Book of DUH!" We long for a God who is going to set things right. But, it's important to remember God's sense of justice and righteousness is grounded in reconciliation and mercy more than a boot in your backside. We fear God's judgment primarily because we make God in our own image and we know how harsh we would be if judgment was left up to us! If we're totally honest, we all carry around a "sheep and goats list" and we know exactly what those goats deserve ... at least we think we do. I try to remember that no matter what I think of the goats in my life, I know my name is on several goat lists out there and I thank God those folks don't get the last word on me! So we need not fear the judgment of a God who prefers mercy and reconciliation over destruction - we can all be thankful this God is nothing like us.

Jesus' admonition about what criteria makes a sheep a sheep and a goat a goat is often read as a checklist of what we should do. Now I'm not against going out and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the infirmed and visiting prisoners - that's all good stuff. But I think the point lies in not what we do but how we are around the "least of these." I think the quality of our presence when we are with those who suffer is far more important that what we do for them. Jesus' teaching then reflects a quality of how we journey with and empty ourselves of our egos to be fully present with people who are so vulnerable. It's about being humble and journeying with those who are nobodies in the world.

There is no "brownie points for Jesus" program - it's not about what we do as much as it is about who we are in Christ.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creed or Chaos?

A poem by Dorothy Sayers - lifted from Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It

Dorothy Sayers (Creed or Chaos?)

Let us,
In Heaven's name,
drag out the Divine Drama
from under the dreadful accumulation
of slipshod thinking
and trashy sentiment heaped upon it,
and set it on an open stage
to startle the world
into some sort of vigorous reaction.

If the pious are the first to be shocked,
so much the worse for the pious
--others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them.
If all men are offended because of Christ,
let them be offended;
but where is the sense
of their being offended at something
that is not Christ
and is nothing like Him?

We do Him
singularly little honor by watering down
'til it could not offend a fly.

Surely it is not the
business of the Church
to adapt Christ to man,
but to adapt man to Christ.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A case for the Daily Office - on Sundays

In the midst of the Diocese of Connecticut considering a resolution to allow Communion without Baptism, Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Church offers another reflection on using the Daily Office of Morning Prayer as a service to reach out to the unchurched. His reflection is entitled Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00.

In the United States, there is a history of using Morning Prayer as the main service on Sundays. This dates back to a little scuffle we had with England called the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Revolution, the Church of England had a prominent place in the faith life of the colonies and was the established church in Virginia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

The clergy of the Church of England at this time were required to take two oaths at their ordination: the Oath of Conformity and the Oath of Supremacy. The Oath of Conformity was the oath swearing that you will conform to the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of the Church of England. The same oath is required of clergy today - in my case, just substitute "the Episcopal Church" for the "Church of England" and you have it. The Oath of Supremacy is one which was required - key is "was required" as it no longer is. The Oath of Supremacy was the oath taken by a cleric which declared the sovreign (king or queen) as the head of the Church (rather than the Pope). At the time of the Revolution, both oaths were required.

But this presented a problem when the Revolutionary War happened as supporting the War was not only treason in the eyes of the British, but for a cleric it was a violation of an ordination vow. As such, at the end of the War, many Anglican priests left the newly formed United States and returned to England. This left the American Anglicans with a multidemensional crisis on their hands:
  • How can the Church be the "Church of England" now that we've broken away from England?
  • What do we call this thing since it can't be the "Church of England" anymore?
  • The Church lost its established position and thus its income from church taxes
  • Most of the clergy left which meant empty pulpits, no one available to consecrate the bread and wine for Communion on Sundays, and no bishops (who were all in England anyway) to confirm or ordain
  • No way to ordain priests or deacons since they all had to take the Oath of Supremacy and could no longer do so
Part of the solution to the weekly worship crisis was to implement Morning Prayer as the principle worship of Sundays. Morning Prayer could be led by lay persons - you didn't need a priest for this!

While the issue of consecrating bishops resolved itself by 1785, there continued to be a priest shortage in the colonies for some time, hence Morning Prayer became established as a normative practice in the United States.

With the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) was reestablished as the principle worship for Sunday mornings. This brought the Episcopal Church closer to the practices of other Anglican churches throughout the world who never did use Morning Prayer as the principle service for Sundays.

A serious concern as we enter an age of greater secularization is how to welcome unchurched people to worship with us. Some have argued that Holy Communion should be given to everyone, regardless of whether or not they are baptized. While I don't want to see us return to Morning Prayer as the principle service, using one of the Daily Offices as a Sunday worship offering might just be a way to use our traditions in a new way and welcome all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

No, Jesus doesn't really care about your feelings

Now that I have your attention, you may be thinking, "What do you mean Jesus doesn't care about my feelings? Jesus was all about love and acceptance. Of course he cares about our feelings."

Well ... I hate to burst your bubble ... but no, he doesn't. They are not his primary concern.

I started a bit of a firestorm on Facebook last week when I linked to a blog post entitled "On Being Made and Ever Re-Made: Of Baptism and Communion" by Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Episcopal Church in New Haven, CT. In it Fr. Hendrickson argues against giving Communion to unbaptized persons - a conversation currently happening within the Episcopal Church. Those who argue for communing the unbaptized base their position that Jesus welcomed everybody and that we need to emulate his "radical hospitality." Fr. Hendrickson argues (and I concur) that offering the sacrament to the unbaptized is, in essence, putting the cart before the horse as baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ and Communion is the sacrament of ongoing transformation as we live into our baptismal covenant and grow into the full stature of Christ. I highly recommend you read his posting as he articulates this position most eloquently.

So why the firestorm on Facebook? Well, some of my dear friends from church believe strongly in communing the unbaptized. One friend posted that communing the unbaptized went beyond "radical hospitality." She posted:
Jesus wants us to reflect his Love to one another and anything that is exclusionary, an "us and you" type of mind set does not do that. If I go into a church and am not "allowed" to take communion because I have not been baptized, I am automatically going to feel inferior, unaccepted, and different. I don't think that is what Christ is about and I think Jesus would NOT be happy.
She clearly articulated a position which is being discussed in the church and several others shared similar feelings in their posts too. While I do not agree with communing the unbaptized, I deeply respect their concern about welcoming those outside the Church and share their concern about how we best do it. We are living in time of greater secularization and we need to be welcoming unchurched people into our communities and inviting them to know Jesus Christ. We are wrestling with being inclusive without losing our identity as Christians. We agree that Jesus wants us to show love for one another without exception. But is having a boundary the same as being unloving?

In our culture, we seem to think of being "loving" is being "nice." Any parent who is doing their job of parenting knows that there are times when the most loving thing you can do is let your kid take their lumps in life - it's called "tough love" and it's the hardest thing a parent ever has to do.  Love is "strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6).

Love clearly is more than a feeling - it is a willful commitment to another and a commitment to an intimate relationship which ideally seeks the best for the other person. Not that feelings aren't involved in a love relationship, but feelings are only a part of what it means to love.

My friend's post had many feeling words in it: "inferior," "unaccepted," "different," and "Jesus would NOT be happy." (I confess I am an NT on the Myers-Briggs which doesn't make me the most "feely" kind of person - so she is one of my treasured friends who helps me with this.) Her passion for welcoming the stranger and her Christian faith are strong. Her post made me think more deeply about whether or not Jesus really cares much about our feelings.  If Jesus were primarily concerned about feelings, would he have ...

  • Called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers"? (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, 23:33; Luke 3:7)
  • Told Peter "Get behind me Satan"? (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33)
  • Repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees "hypocrites"? (citations too numerous to mention)
  • Said to the crowd "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41)
  • Taken a bull whip to the money changers in the Temple?
  • Let the rich young man just walk away without an offer to renegotiate the terms of "sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me"? (Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)
If Jesus' ultimate concern was about other people's feelings, then he had a strange way of showing it!

I don't believe Jesus cares much about our feelings, or our thoughts for that matter, as an ultimate concern. He does, however, care about our right relationship with God and others - and certainly feelings can be a part of that, but they aren't the end goal. To stop with feelings or thoughts would be to sell us short and I don't think Christ wants to sell us short. His ultimate concern is with our conversion, repentance and renewal. And conversion, repentance and renewal don't always feel good.

The scriptures tell us that for the oppressed and abused, Jesus gave them back their dignity and restored them to the fullness of their humanity. Whether that was healing the lepers, restoring sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, or raising the dead, Jesus lifted up those who were marginalized and abused by society. He restored them to their rightful status as God's children. This probably felt very good to those who had been downtrodden. However, the scriptures also tell us that Jesus used harsh words (and sometimes actions) on those who were resistant to his message - he even laid into his disciples on occasion! I'm sure this didn't feel very good. Sometimes the truth hurts. But Jesus was more interested in the truth than he was about whether he had hurt the feelings of those he confronted.

So I'm sorry to be the one to burst your bubble. Jesus really doesn't care about your feelings as something of ultimate worth. He cares about something far more lasting and important - your very life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I finished reading Stephen Prothero's book God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World - And Why Their Differences Matter last month. The title is a mouthful but I highly recommend it as an excellent read. Prothero is the chair of the religion department at Boston University and wrote Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know - And Doesn't (perhaps as a professor, he's given to long titles). What Prothero accomplishes in God Is Not One is the analysis of the eight major world religious systems and how they see the basic problem. That problem is what we know at our core: something is just not right with the world (and by extension, humanity). Prothero posits that if we define the problem differently, we will come up with different religious systems to address the problem - some of which involve a God and others which do not (Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism are non-theistic systems). While Prothero admits his analysis is limited and is not always nuanced, I think his contribution to the conversation helps us understand others in a growing pluralistic world.

I was struck at his analysis of Islam and his proposition that the definition of the human problem from the Muslim perspective is that humanity is prideful and unwilling to submit to God/Allah. There are many quotations in the Qur'an which refer to submission to Allah and a devout Muslim knows the phrase Insha'Allah - "If God wills it." Submission to the will of God is the antidote to human ego and pride.

While Christians see the central problem as Sin, we do share a belief that human pride is part of the power of Sin (pride has traditionally been one of the "seven deadly sins"). Perhaps we can listen to our Muslim sisters and brothers and ask the question of how well we submit to God's will in our own lives. Are we listening for what God wants from us or are we more invested in what we want for ourselves? Where might we be called to set aside our ego needs to be right in favor of another plan?

I confess I don't always listen well and submission is hard. I have entered a new phase in my ministry which was precipitated by an abrupt departure from my position with Hospice of Washington County - a departure not of my choosing. Where is God in this? I'm not completely sure but I have been asked to be with a local congregation for a long-term supply assignment. I'm delighted to be with Grace Episcopal in Brunswick MD and hope our time together will be fruitful for everyone involved. An exercise in submission - Insha'Allah indeed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I just returned from an amazing week at Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg California. I participated in a CREDO Conference for Episcopal clergy seeking to review their life and ministry in terms of spiritual life, vocation, financial situation and health. I was blessed to meet new friends and get to know people from all over the country. While we all are in ministry, the shape of our calls were all very different. But, out of this week, the opportunity to reflect and reorient our ministries was afforded us in a supportive environment.

One of the visual metaphors for us was two bonsai grapevines. No big surprise as Healdsburg is in the heart of the Sonoma Valley viticultural area! I spent my childhood in the East Bay of San Francisco - back when Walnut Creek actually had walnut orchards growing there. When family or friends visited, we often took a day trip to Napa Valley or Sonoma to tour the wineries. I found myself recalling how grapevines are grown and tended. They require pruning every year - and very deep pruning at that. The only way good fruit grows is for the canes to be ruthlessly pruned from the vine at the end of every annual harvest.

It is the same way with our lives. The author of Ecclesiastes says there is "a time for every matter under heaven." I have come to realize that there are places in my life that need pruning. Some things will be easy - the dead branches of activities which are "not urgent and not important" are easy to spot (yeah, the TV will be off much more and there will be much less Facebook time). The hard work will be pruning some areas which have born fruit in the past and have nutured me but which are now becoming fallow and may even be holding me back from where God is calling me. Those will be harder to prune and may involve some discomfort as I do so.

I now set out to work on my CREDO plan and pray that as I prune, God will reveal the new growth underneath.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A time to reflect

I confess I have conflicting feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden. On the one hand, bin Laden was responsible for far more than just the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He was also responsible for terrorist attacks around the world as far back as 1992. Bin Laden funded the Luxor Massacre in 1997. In 1998, the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed by Al Qaeda operatives. In 2000, Al Qaeda was behind the bombing of the USS Cole - an attack which killed Seaman Apprentice Craig B. Wibberley, a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church where I serve.

I confess I am relieved that Osama bin Laden's money and charisma will no longer be directly funneled into Al Qaeda. But I am reminded of one of my ethics professors in seminary who was involved in international affairs who shared with us a letter written by Osama bin Laden - a letter never published in the United States. In that "open letter to the American people," bin Laden leveled the accusation that the United States really only cares about using other countries to satisfy their selfish needs for oil and money. He pointed out how the U.S. has propped up the Saudi royal family (of which bin Laden was a member) and ignored how the vast majority of Saudis live in poverty with little education. You could hear in his letter the anger over how the United States fails to live up to the ideals we espouse of "liberty and justice for all" when it comes to dealing with other countries.

When I heard this letter read, I was struck by the fact that bin Laden was not completely wrong in his accusations. I disagree with his premise that the best way to confront injustice was to carry out terrorist actions, but I did not completely disagree with his accusations of our country's selfish ambitions.

The shadow of Osama bin Laden has loomed large over the lives of our young people - including my two daughters who were just 3 and 6 at the time of the attacks. I understand the exuberance of youth wanting to express their relief; but rather than celebrate, I find myself a bit more introspective about judging what is "good" and what is "evil." As Jesus said, the wheat and the tares will grow up together and it is only at the end when God will rightly judge which is which.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Keeping a Holy Lent

File this under "easier said than done." Submitted for your approval:
Having a teen and a tween daughter, both of whom are involved in sports (lacrosse and soccer respectively), and getting the teen to her driver's education classes, and Beloved Husband who works regular on-call shifts at his job, challenges the notion of "keeping a Holy Lent" in ways unimaginable to single clergy or empty-nest clergy!
I admit, my Lenten observances have been a little chaotic through all of this. However, last Friday night, Beloved Husband and I went over to the Church of the Transfiguration in Braddock Heights to pray the Stations of the Cross. I was very glad to have 30 minutes at the end of a hectic week to be still and and "contemplate those mighty acts" by which we are saved. I plan to be there again this Friday as I prepare for Holy Week.

I pray you find places and people with whom to end your Lent and make the Holy Week journey from Passion Sunday to Easter. I've found several! This Wednesday, I will go back to St. Thomas' Episcopal in Hancock, MD (where I spent my seminary internship) to preach the last of their Wednesday Lenten Evening Prayer services.  I will spend Passion Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday with the people at Grace Episcopal in New Market, MD. I'll be at St. Mark's Lappans for Maundy Thursday and with St. John's in Hagerstown for Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Next week is the high point of our Christian year. Take the time to be present for worship next week ... you won't regret it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Leaping off a ledge

The idea of leaping off a ledge is not very attractive to me. I don't have suicidal thoughts and I really don't like heights very much. But there are times we leap off the ledge - mostly we do this figuratively through taking risks in our lives. Occasionally, it's done literally.

It's taken me a little while to write about such a leap I witnessed back in February. It was with a former patient of mine. Due to HIPAA laws, I cannot name him - I'll call him "MB." MB had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS - commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease after the famous baseball player who contracted it. It is a "a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed." (from the ALS Association)

MB was 34 years old when I became his chaplain. He had been in hospice care for about eight months. MB was not an "easy" patient - he could be very demanding and impatient with others who cared for him. He could also charm the snakes out of the trees when he wanted to. He was cared for by a girlfriend for most of his illness. He had a daughter who was just 2 years old - she was the light of his life and the one thing for which he wanted to live.

My work in hospice sometimes requires me to initiate conversations about things people would rather not talk about - funeral arrangements, burial plots, advanced directives, organ donation, whether the Bible "allows" cremation, etc. Many of my patients are elderly and have faced these questions. But the younger the patient, the harder these topics are to discuss. This was the case with MB and he generally didn't want to discuss these topics. He would often wait until he had a crisis with his disease process before making a decision.

Often when we needed to discuss a difficult topic, I would tell MB that we needed to talk about it and he would close his eyes. I would tell him I knew he didn't want to talk and it really wasn't fair that he was paralyzed and could not leave the room - but that I would say what my concern was and then leave it to him to do whatever he wanted to do with the "concern du jour." I always promised I wouldn't "nag" him as I was not his mother. In his time, MB would deal with the concern.

After every one of these difficult conversations, I'd give MB the opportunity to fire me as his chaplain. I always wanted to give him the dignity of sending me packing if I'd overstepped my role. After several of these conversations and offers to let him fire me, he typed into his DataVox (the machine which talked for him), "Why do you always ask me if I want to fire you?" I told him that I wanted to give him a chance to send me packing if he was sick of my bringing up hard topics. His reply: "I'm not going to fire you. You are the cutest chaplain that hospice has sent me. If I fire you, they'll send some ugly guy!" Never let it be said that MB didn't have a sense of humor.

Last fall, MB contracted pneumonia. By this point, ALS had robbed him of all movement in his arms, legs, and even his neck was having difficulty holding his head up. He could not swallow at all - tube feedings were the only way he was able to eat or drink. His breathing was labored and he was sleeping most of the time as the CO2 built up in his system. To buy just a bit more time, he chose to have a tracheotomy and be put onto a ventilator in a long-term care hospital. At that point, he left hospice care and I did not see him ... until February.

MB's girlfriend called me at work to let me know that MB's 35th birthday was coming up on a Saturday. She invited me to an open house at the hospital where he was receiving care. She then told me he had made the decision to disconnect the ventilator the following Monday and donate his organs upon his death. He had reached the point of being sick and tired of laying in a bed hooked up to a machine. The idea for donating his organs was one of those hard conversations we had six months earlier.

I went to the birthday party for MB. It was very surreal. Some people knew of his decision to disconnect the ventilator and others didn't. It felt like a birthday party for a condemned man. I gave him a blessing and he thanked me for coming. I thanked him for not firing me.

MB's girlfriend called me in the early hours of Monday morning to let me know that he was scheduled to have his ventilator disconnected at 4:00PM. She asked me to come and be with her for support. I went.

It was crazy in MB's pre-op prep room. There were at least 25 people coming in and out, snapping pictures, talking, crying, laughing. Everyone saying their good-byes and being together one last time. The transplant team came in and I asked MB if his pastor and I could offer prayers for him. "Yes" came the voice from the DataVox. I told MB I would step back so his family could gather close. "Wait a minute" came the voice again. "Don't move ... I want you to pray right here right now." So I did.

"Jesus said, 'Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain of wheat. But if it falls into the ground and dies it bears much fruit.' May our Lord Jesus Christ bless your journey to the very heart of God. May God bless those who will receive life because of your gift. May God send the Holy Angels to surround you and give you peace. And may you join the saints this day in paradise. Amen."
MB was taken to the operating room and disconnected from the ventilator. He died quickly enough that the transplant team was able to take his liver and kidneys. Three people received the gift of these organs from a man who made a conscious decision to leap off the ledge ... and into the arms of God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It has been very heartbreaking for me to see the pictures and videos of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. For me, it is personal. I grew up in California and have experienced my share of strong earthquakes; albeit nothing as strong as the one in Japan, but strong enough to throw me around the room as I tried to make it to a doorway to brace myself for the shocks. Earthquakes come with no warning and can strike at any time.

But more than my own experience of earthquakes is my personal connection with people in Japan. I had the honor and privilege to be part of a delegation to the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Diocese of Tokyo in 1996. Nippon Sei Ko Kai (or NSKK) is the Anglican Church in Japan and it has a longstanding relationship with the Episcopal Church as many of our clergy were missionaries to Japan.

I was part of a five woman delegation to the NSKK in 1996 consisting of two priests, one deacon and two laywomen (I was one of the laywomen back then). We were invited by the Bishop of Tokyo to come and engage in conversations about the ordination of women to the priesthood. At that time, the NSKK would ordain women as deacons but would not ordain them as priests or bishops. The NSKK's synod convention voted on a resolution that year to ordain women as priests - a vote which resulted in a split between the houses. Like the United States Congress, many national churches in the Anglican Communion have bicameral systems of governance consisting of the House of Bishops (made up of ... bishops) and the House of Deputies (consisting of priests, deacons and laypersons). Both houses have to vote in favor of a resolution to pass it. In the vote that year on ordaining women as priests, the House of Deputies approved the resolution and the House of Bishops voted against it. The Bishop of Tokyo was in favor of ordaining women as priests largely because of his experience of women priests in the United States - hence our invitation.

I was blessed to spend twelve days in Japan with our sisters and brothers in the NSKK. We spent time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Gifu City, Nagoya (1/2 our delegation went to Osaka), and even spent time in the mountains on retreat. It was an amazing experience and the radical hospitality of our friends in Japan was overwhelming. Their generosity of spirit and willingness to support the mission and ministry of a Church which comprises approximately .02% of the population was remarkable. Our trip there was just one year after the devastating earthquake in Kobe and the stories we heard of how the congregations responded to this disaster with generous gifts of money and time to help Kobe rebuild were amazing. One church had held a capital campaign to build a new church but, when the earthquake hit, the congregation voted unanimously to send their entire building fund to Kobe. Their rationale? "They need the money more than we do." That's stewardship!

Bishop Kato of the Tohoku Diocese (near the epicenter of the quake and where the tsunami hit hardest) is asking for our prayers. I ask you for prayers and one thing more. Please make a donation to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund and direct that donation to the Japan Earthquake Response Fund. Go to: to donate online. Episcopal Relief and Development Fund sends 100% of your donation directly to the relief efforts. Bishop Kato and his staff are setting up a relief center in Sendai City and they need your help.

And for those of you who are wondering ...
18 months after our trip to Japan, the NSKK had another synod convention and voted again on the resolution regarding ordaining women as priests. It passed both houses overwhelmingly.