Saturday, April 30, 2016

Now We Are One

The Homily for Kathryn Fehrman and Mark Campbell

We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around - Pierre Wolff

We are here to take the time to be mindful of how it is we can live in this reality. 
Our Busy lives give us little time to contemplate such things. So as much as I am giving you a last bit of time before you join one another in marriage. Let's Contemplate just what is going on here.

We have said the two of you are signs: Signs of The mystery of the union between God-HaShem and his people and all of his creation. Therefore, you represent the intersection of life's two fundamental relationships. The horizontal, a man and a woman reaching out to join one another, to unite as one.

And you also represent the relationship between God and the world and creatures and environment God created and loves. The vertical as it intersects the horizontal.

So we are all really renewing, or perhaps first becoming mindful, that we all live at the intersection of these horizontal and vertical relationships of love and our unity with the source of all things, seen and unseen.

Now we might not call the source of all this God, Adonai, HaShem, Christ - or, we might join with Paul Tillich and call it "the ground of Being".  Or, The Big Bang, or we might call it nothing at all. But once in a while we all wonder what this is all about, where it is we come from, and what if anything we ought to be doing. Anyone who asks such questions is religious, whether or not they cop to it, for this is what religion is meant to be mindful about. Like everyone else, religion gets distracted with other things, but eventually it always comes back to these basic questions.

The Vietnamese Buddhist Tich Nhat Hanh says God is so beyond our understanding that we really ought to say nothing about this source of all things. Yet, here we are so let's take our chances.

You have chosen three texts to be read that attempt to point us in some direction about all this. They are three quite mystical texts and perhaps it is best not to say too much about them but simply let them speak to us.

In order, the Song of Songs. Repetition like this in Hebrew indicates emphasis beyond good , better, best. This is THE SONG OF ALL SONGS!!!! Underline, Bold print, etc. This is some song! Much like the two of you for all of us, the man and woman in this most wonderful Love Song are thought to represent this vertical relationship I mentioned, in this case, between God and God's people Israel. Many waters cannot quench the vehement fire of this love from which we come and to which one day we will all return. We now know that we are made of stardust from burnt out stars, we give new life to this cosmic dust, and unto dust we shall return to be re-created as we know not what. It is a divine ecology sustained by the source of love and the love that is all around - all these people, and creatures and plants and rivers and lakes and oceans we touch in our horizontal life. Love is about reaching out to others - all others and all of creation.

Then comes Paul the former Pharisee doing his level best, in Koine Greek no less, writing to the Corinthians (chapter 13) trying to give some shape and meaning to this love of HaShem and the important role it plays in all things. Without this kind of love I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Since I am at heart a drummer, this gets real close to my reality since that is what I do best: beating drums and clanging cymbals.

Believe it or not, we had to memorize this in High School. In the King James Version. Which speaks of Faith, Hope and Charity. A newer translation had just come out that replaced charity with "love," and of course there were The Beatles and the Summer of Love and Woodstock Nation and all we petitioned Clara King our English teacher to memorize the new Revised Standard Version so we could say love. I went to school for an extra three years in seminary only to learn that the Love of the Bible, the Love of God, is a giving kind of love. It is about doing something useful or helpful for someone else, especially widows, orphans and yes, resident aliens - who represent people without resources, dependent as we once were in the wilderness when God provided daily bread. It turns out you do not even have to like someone to love them as God loves them.

Then there is Jesus (in John chapter 17) praying for his disciples and us (auto correct knows what I should have said and kept typing USA!). It's a part of several chapters describing the Last Supper. Oddly, there is no mention at all of bread or wine. Instead, Jesus strips down and washes everyone's feet as an example of reaching out in love to others. And he issues a commandment to love one another "as I have loved you." And if that is not enough, in you spare time love your enemies. That's Jesus for you. Always raising the bar. It's like the movie Spinal Tap when the guitarist says, "All other amps only go to 10. Mine goes to 11! That's one more!" Then he talks about unity, and how I am you and he is me and you are we and we are all together. Koo koo kachoo! Bottom line, we are all one with God HaShem, one another and all of creation whether or not we think much about that.

Now I have said too much about God about whom I should say nothing, and God's name. In the tradition God's name ought not to be spoken. It is a Tetragrammaton!  Four letters in Hebrew: Yodh He Vav He!  You've seen it all on gold necklaces. It is thought to be pronounced Yaweh. When it is read in worship, however, it is replaced with Adonai, indicated in the scroll with the vowels for Adonai. This name that must not be spoken was mistakenly was turned into Jehovah using those vowels with the YHVH by some not so clever 19th century theologians who should have known better than to talk about God and God's name.

More recent scholarship suggests that the name is meant to mimic the sound of breathing....ya weh, ya weh. Which in turn suggests that the first word we say when we are born and the last thing we say when we return to love is God's name. The beauty of this is that there is no Christian, Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist way of breathing. There is no rich, poor or middle class way of breathing. No American, German, Iranian, Israeli, Afghan or Saudi way of breathing. And we all breath the same air made of that same cosmic dust from the origin of the universe. The same air that all persons since the earliest humans all the way to the astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station breathe. It turns out we are all in this together. Horizontal and Vertical are represented here by these two people. Being united as one is no longer a hypothetical idea, it is a scientific fact.

By the way, be sure to have a guest book and get all our names and email addresses and phone numbers because everyone here made a promise to do all in our power to support the two of you in this new adventure. Not some of what's in our power, or even a lot, or what we feel like doing, but all that is in our power. So let's turn around and see what the love of God really looks like! There it is: the love that is all around you in this community of Love gathered here this day that will be with you for ever and ever.

We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. The two of you are a sign for all of us to remember this. So let's go!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Whose Table Is It Anyway?

Whose Table Is It Anyway?
John 13:31-35/Acts 11:1-18
I must confess that as the years roll by I am increasingly mystified as to how it is that the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, has come to be restricted in various traditions. Some, like the Roman Catholic Church, insist that for one to participate in the Eucharist one must first be baptized and also be a Roman Catholic. The Episcopal and Anglican traditions require baptism, but not membership in particular branch of Christianity. Some protestant churches offer “open communion,” which can mean anyone present may receive (many UCC churches), or, like the Anglicans, anyone who has been baptized. Finally, there are Christian denominations, like the Quakers and the Salvation Army for instance, who do not offer baptism or communion at all.

Enter once again Maggie Ross whom I mentioned last week about this time. Ross observes, correctly, that Eucharistic prayers often state that “Christ died for the sins of the whole world…”
Not some of the world, or a lot of the world, and surely not just a particular group of people, but the whole world – like the whole world God holds in God’s hands as we teach even our youngest Christians to sing.

From such an understanding of the Christ event one might conclude, as Ross does, that the table and the elements of Holy Communion ought to be available to the whole world for which Jesus lived, died and rose again. She goes on to suggest that we might then use baptism more like we use Holy Orders, ordination, today – those called to a special or specific ministry within the community of the faithful would be baptized. Further she suggests that those in Holy Orders be those people who are raised up out of the baptized by the community of the faithful – that is called to Holy Orders by the community. To make her point she says that those volunteering or seeking Holy Orders ought to be considered with some suspicion!

Indeed, no one less than John Wesley, however, believed that communion was a "means of grace". Therefore, it shouldn't be withheld from anyone--believers or non-believers. The idea here is that if someone wants to come to communion, we should not prevent them. It may very well be the means that leads to their salvation! Clearly that's not something we would want to withhold. And there can be found among early writings of the church that suggest there were times and places where participation in the Eucharist is what would lead people to become baptized members of the community of faith.

The texts in Acts and John this week, though not at all addressing this particular line of thinking, can point us in the direction of truly open communion. The 13th chapter of John, and several successive chapters, describe the Last Supper with no mention of bread and wine whatsoever. Jesus washes feet, and issues a new commandment to love one another “as I have loved you.” Jesus is portrayed as always meeting people where they are and as who they are with no requirements to sit at table with him, listen to him, be healed by him. Whenever his disciples try to keep certain people away from him – children, blind men, gentile women, etc – he rebukes the impulse to restrict access to him every single time. That is, to love one another as he loved us – all of us – seems to require full access without restriction of any kind. Or, as the controlling metaphor of John’s description of the Last Supper suggests, we are to wash all kinds of feet, not just some feet, not just our feet and our friend’s feet, but all kinds and conditions of feet!

Then in the 11th chapter of Acts is this incredible story about Peter having a vision, and having the vision confirmed in real life experience, about breaking down the barriers that would separate insiders from outsiders, clean from unclean, gentile and Jew – keeping in mind that the earliest believers were circumcised Jews. His vision, repeated three times, includes a voice that says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not profane.” Is it that much of a stretch to suggest that restricting access to the Lord’s table in any way is a sort of designating “others” as profane?

It is not “our” table. It is not “the Church’s table.” It is not the property of an exclusive cult. It is the Lord’s table – the same Lord who lived, died and rose again for the sins of the whole world. Or, as our Baptismal Covenant and I like to say, for “…all people.” All means all after all.

I admit, I grew up in Chicago influenced by people like Mike Royko who titled a collection of his opinion pieces for the Chicago Daily News, I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It. I admit to be wrong more often than Royko did, but I still find myself drawn to John Wesley’s and Maggie Ross’s views on access to the Lord’s Table. I recall sitting in the front pew of Trinity Church, Wall Street. Upon returning to my seat after receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, a man off the street sat down next to me, and with a huge grin on his face turned to me and said, “I just had the Body and Blood of Christ, and I’m Jewish!” It was a moment of grace and great joy for someone Jesus surely would have – and just had - welcomed to his table. I just looked at him and said, “Me too,” and now two of us were smiling for we had both been included in a moment of grace, and if just for one brief shining moment we were united within the household of Christ’s infinite love for all people. And that’s all I have to say about that! 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Way of Tears

The Way of Tears
I have been pondering the paradoxes of faith: in weakness is strength; in seeming folly, wisdom; in giving up self, self is found; in death is life; the way of tears unlocks the sources of joy.

So as we ponder still waters (Psalm 23), we also ponder a room full of widows weeping (Acts 9), and a Lamb who is shepherd (Revelation 7), guiding us to springs of the water of life only after the Lamb, the shepherd, God, wipes away every tear from our eyes.

So the way to eternal life, life lived with God, dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever, is through the way of tears.

As a woman not unlike Tabitha, Maggie Ross, puts it, we live in a culture that “murders tears.” Keep it together. Keep a stiff upper lip. Keep up appearances. Hold it back. Maintain an illusion of invulnerability in a world that reminds us daily, if not more regularly, just how vulnerable we really are.

Ponder what we know: The Earth is a mere speck in a vast universe (or one of many universes!), and we are then just an even smaller speck on the face of this rock we call home. We are made up of dust, organized specks of cosmic dust, stardust really. Talk about vulnerability!

Yet, we try to hold tears back. I spoke the other afternoon at a Vigil for Victims and Witnesses and Survivors of Violent Crime. For the first time, really, I publicly told my story of the great tragedy at St. Peter’s, Ellicott City, where my two closest colleagues in ministry were shot and killed in the church office. Up to the time of my slot on the program I did deep breathing and kept telling myself to “hold it together.”

My story, however, was really about how years of tears have renewed my spirit, renewed my “vocation,” and re-focused my life in the Lord, my life with the Good Shepherd, in ways that not traveling the way of tears could have made possible.

Tears – salt in water. We are fully 60% water, salt water at that. And yet we try so hard to hide that. We resist revealing the very essence of our selves. Salt in water – we cannot see it, but we know it is there. We cannot see God in ourselves – and simply knowing we are imago Dei, made in the image of God is no real help – but the essence of God is within us, both individually and even more so among us in community. This God among us and within us is busy healing us.

The widows of Joppa, Joppa’s most vulnerable women, are weeping at the thought of losing Tabitha, a disciple of Christ (take note, there were women disciples!) who had embodied the love of the Good Shepherd: just look at these clothes she made for us with her own hands! Peter kneels, prays, invites her to rise, and like her Lord, she rises and tears are transformed into great joy – joy so great that we are told, “…many believed in the Lord.”

The vision of St. John the Divine suggests that to be led to still waters, to know eternal life, to live life within the household of the Lord for ever, first we must allow God to wipe away every tear. That is, our tears reveal who we really are so that the Good Shepherd can call us by name, wipe away every tear, and welcome us into the household of God.

And what a household it is! There dwell co-eternal the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! God the creator, God the pain-bearer, God the life sustainer.

Maggie Ross (her pen-name) in her book, The Fountain and the Furnace: The Way of Tears and Fire, writes, “…the gift and way of tears is a vital, healing and ambient grace. Tears are healing of themselves, and a sign also of healing already at work in our depths, leading to union with God and God in other people, offering real hope for real solutions to the horrors that beset us.” p.38

Jesus the Good Shepherd wept at the grave of Lazarus his friend. Jesus the Good Shepherd wept as he looked over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Jesus wept in the garden the night before he was crucified on a Roman cross. After all that weeping, however, he did not waver in front of Pilate. He did not waver on the cross, where he prayed for all of us, his friends and his enemies. He handed over his spirit without one tear, so cleansed and strengthened and empowered was he after all the weeping he had done up to that moment.

And as he appears to a distraught Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, he repeats the question of the two angels in the tomb, “Woman, why are you weeping?” He wipes away her tears!

He is here, ready to wipe away every tear from our eyes. He spreads a table before us in the presence of our enemies, in the valley of the shadow of death, and feeds us with his own body and blood, his manna, to sustain us yet one more day in the wilderness – a wilderness of hope for those who have faith despite living in a world that rarely shows much evidence that such hope is justified.

As I looked out at a gathering of mother’s who had lost a child to violence, to those members of our police and sheriff departments who face violent crimes every day, to those who have dedicated their lives to shepherd the victims, the witnesses, the survivors through the legal process and the grieving process, how could there not be a tear welling up in my eyes as I commenced to tell my story. It would be an affront for it not to be so. In the telling was healing for me and hopefully for them. By an act of mercy and grace I was spared that day in May four years ago that I might, through my own tears, know a joy and a truth that says those we lose to such senseless violence are not gone forever, but have been changed, transformed in ways that bring us a little closer to the light while dispelling a little more of our darkness every day if only we believe that they do dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around. Tears are a sign of profound love. Any and all attempts to hold them back only deny God the opportunity to wipe them from our eyes.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one." (John 10)

The way to the still waters is marked with tears. The way of tears unlocks sources of joy. We might never “understand” this any more than we understand that 95% of the known universe is unseen. Tears are healing of themselves, and a sign also of healing already at work in our depths, leading to union with God and God in other people. If only we let them flow. If we only let them, the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd will lead us to green pastures and still waters and spread a table before us and our cups shall runneth over, for ever and ever. Amen.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Prayers For Victims and Witnesses of Violent Crime

Prayers For Victims and Witnesses of Violent Crime

Prayer for Peace 4

Hidden, eternal, unfathomable, all-merciful God,
who has told us, “Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.

We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the people who
have suffered and survived
violent crimes – victims, survivors and witnesses.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not violence–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

In your time we seek your healing
That we might become a community of
Those who heal, and comfort
One another, and all those who come to us
Seeking respite from the storms of violence
That continue to shake our faith,
Our patience, our trust and our capacity
To be a source of mercy for others – all others.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen

~ written by Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister of Erie
Posted on World Prayers; amended by The Reverend Kirk A Kubicek for
The Howard County Vigil for Victims and Witnesses of Violent Crime,
April 13, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Few Remarks on Surviving A Violent Crime, May 3, 2012

A Few Remarks on Surviving A Violent Crime, May 3, 2012
Holocaust Survivor, Elie Wiesel, writes and speaks about the importance of telling our stories. This is mine. On Thursday, May 3, 2012, life as I knew it changed forever. While I was in an impromptu meeting at St. Timothy’s School for Girls a man with a gun entered St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ellicott City, where I had been Rector since 1994, and shot and killed my two closest colleagues in ministry: Brenda Brewington our parish administrator, and The Reverend Mary Marguerite Kohn, priest and co-Rector for approximately ten years.

Any other Thursday I would have been back in the office by One or Two in the afternoon. As I left my meeting at St. Tim’s I received a phone call from 911 saying my presence was needed back at St Peter’s and that “there had been an event.” The operator could not tell me what had happened, and I assured her I was on my way.

What unfolded on my way there and when I arrived was devastating: I had received calls from others telling me about the shootings, and on the way I suspected I knew who was responsible; on arrival I found SWAT teams, dogs, the tank, a helicopter, police and detectives everywhere.

I was told one woman was lying in the office dead and the other was flown to Shock Trauma. No one knew for sure the identities of which was which. I was not allowed to assist in IDing the deceased in the church office. It would be some time later that we determined that Brenda Brewington was deceased and Mary Marguerite Kohn was on life-support at Shock Trauma.

From that point on I was fortunate in two regards not afforded to most victims of violent crime: 1) I was cared for and protected by a friend in the Sheriff’s Office, Sam Hammond, who kept me safe and away from the scene as it unfolded at St. Peter’s. Sam also got me past the press later that night when I had to go to the Police Station for questioning. And 2) One of the Wardens at St. Peter’s, Craig Stuart-Paul handled all parish communication with the press and the Diocese of Maryland. This means I was isolated from having to answer questions repeatedly for which there were no immediate answers. I never spoke on the record until today.

At first I had to suspend my own processing of events, feelings and fears while doing my best to lead the parish through the grief and healing process, plan, attend and participate in both funerals, and attend to the fact that I had already planned to leave St Peter’s by the end of May.

It was only after I left St. Peter’s that I began to reach out for support, therapy in the processing of my own feelings. The number one thing that helped me was to begin a daily journal. For me, it was in writing, reading (mostly poetry) and reflecting on events and my feelings that I began to realize the depth of damage that had been done; my therapist helped me to recognize that I was skating on the edges of, if not outright exhibiting, PTSD symptoms. It also helped to read my journal entries out loud in a safe place to one other person.

For me the journaling could have become an academic and intellectual exercise. In reading the entries out loud to at least one other person I found myself finally connecting to what was really happening inside of me – and it is those inner feelings, acknowledged or not, that direct our outward actions, much the way the rudder of a large ship way below the surface of the water controls the direction of the ship on the surface.

That is, until I would acknowledge what was happening to me internally, I would find myself doing and saying things for reasons I could not understand. I am sure many of you know what I am talking about: seemingly unprovoked panic attacks, crying at the oddest times, snapping at others, fear of things like darkness, constantly asking why, why, why, etc. Then there was the sense that when I felt I should have been the strongest for everyone else in our family and the parish that what I really needed was their support and help – and it was there in so many ways, for which I am eternally grateful.

That summer and fall and winter, a steady stream of events unfolded: the Aurora Colorado shootings, a random shooter in NYC, the shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and of course Newtown. How could they shoot at a school? In a church or temple? In a movie theater? I was asked these questions repeatedly by others nearly every day, or so it seemed.

On top of all of that was a deep sense of survivor’s guilt: I should have been in the office; perhaps I could have protected Brenda and Mary Marguerite. Followed, of course by the realization that but for a random, unscheduled meeting at school I may not even be here today. When colleagues and students at St. Tim’s would say, “We’re glad you’re still here,” I would respond, “I’m only here because I was here.”

Finally, poetry and music became my salvation. That and a piece of paper a student, Cori Spartana had given me. It was an origami prayer bubble: written inside of it were the words – The Lord loves those who put their trust in Him. It’s from the Quran. I kept it in my pocket wherever I went. It kept me safe. When I felt panicked I would hold it, look into it, recite the words and hold on. When I accidently lost it, I lost it. For a time I truly believed only it would keep me safe. I asked the student for another one, and she made one more for me. Playing music, reading and writing poetry helped me to keep moving forward. This poem, written a couple of years later, recalls how I used to sit next to Brenda Brewington’s desk (friends call her B Squared) each day when I came into the office to catch up on what had been happening in the parish:
o my
was not there
sitting in the chair
B Squared
why not? Wil never know wil never no wil never never ever ever know
‘twill always be a mystery
as I said to those
at St Tim’s
i am only here because I was here
wil never know wil never no will never ever ever know
and now they are gone
for ever ever yet never ever gone
for they will remain forever alive in the heart of the mystery itself

This is my story. Thank you for being here today. Keep telling your stories. It makes a difference – for you, for others, and for the greater community. Become a source of mercy and healing.