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Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 33:7-11, Psalm 119:33-40, Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

If another member of the church sins against you . . . followed by a detailed protocol of what to do, how to respond. When Jesus tells us to do something, we pay attention—we love our neighbors, we feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, and so on. “Behold, I long for your commandments”, from the psalm. Well, we try to do all those things.
The instruction here seems pretty straightforward. If a brother or a sister sins against you, here’s plan A, and plan B, and plan C. And the plans are sensible, much like what we’d do about a problem in our workplace, or in our own family. First, you talk to the brother or sister privately. Then you take someone else with you to have the discussion—both to keep the stories straight and, you hope, to keep the words polite. Finally you go to the whole group and try again. And then….
But let’s go back for a minute. If a brother or sister—and the term is specific in the Greek, ADELPHOS, brother (I add “or sister” for us English speakers in this century). The important part is the relationship: if a close member of your family sins against you, here is how to respond. Commentaries talk about our modern, Western assumption of voluntary association as individuals—but that’s not the relationship we have as Christians. This is family; we all are family by baptism, we are children of God—therefore brothers and sisters. We’re family, and you don’t get to choose family.
So now we are talking about a close relative who sins against you. But what is a sin? Physical injury? Theft? False witness (or slander)? Hurting your feelings? Not noticing what you’ve done lately for them? Not inviting you along for lunch after church? Choosing someone else for a job or an honor? Not being respectful? Being really annoying, or being really annoyed?
The Greek here is HAMARTIA, a frequent word for sin, though it’s original meaning is “a mistake”—from archery, missing the target. Maybe you thought it was a joke, but it was not funny to the person who heard it.
We don’t want to make sin a trivial thing, but neither, I think, does Jesus want us to limit Sin to breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Are seemingly small, but hurtful actions or words somehow in the category of “sin”? something you shouldn’t do to your brother or sister?
Think for a moment about the concept of “microaggressions”; the concept didn’t exist when I was young; I think, as young women trying to make life choices different from our mothers’, we were into “consciousness raising”. And maybe that’s another way of saying, recognize when you’re being put down. What’s a microaggression? I asked my daughter: “Oh, I guess women of your age don’t know what microagression is”—answering me with an example. The dictionary says:
a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized    group

or, I might add, to anyone you feel superior to or somehow different from in the moment. There are many examples on line; most are collections of common hurtful statements made to members of racial or ethnic minorities, but to other groups, too.
But back to the Gospel. What do you do when a brother or sister says something that hurts you? Or, God forbid, does you some injury (the invitation or the job you didn’t get, for example).
Jesus tells us—go talk to that person. You have a relationship; build on it, and talk. Pay attention to that person and ask what he meant, or what’s on her mind. You can always fall back on the “I feel, when you, because”. Go pay attention to that person. Then, if you need to, go with two or three others to pay attention to that person.
It’s really not about you, here: it’s about the love you show to someone else, one perceived as having done wrong. There is nothing in this passage about you getting apology, or recompense, or anything—except the possibility of a renewed relationship with a brother or sister.  “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” Paul says.  It’s about the other person, and treating them as you’d like to be treated. Not shunned, but listened to, engaged in conversation.
The Gospel goes on to Plan C, which sounds as if the church excludes the person who won’t enter the conversation, who won’t talk and listen. Let that person be to you as a tax collector or a Gentile. It sounds harsh—one commentator says, “this isn’t Jesus speaking.” Let that brother or sister be to you as a tax collector or a Gentile, huh? Who did Jesus sit down to eat with? Who did he talk to, listen to bring into the family? Sinners. Tax collectors. Gentiles. Plan C: keep talking, keep breaking bread together, keep loving each other, even if you disagree, or maybe especially if you disagree.
It’s another command from Jesus we would like to follow, and it’s hard. We know, and God knows, that we want to be Christians, we want to be more loving, we want to be like Jesus, in our hearts. We come here to reaffirm our hearts; we go out into the world to try to show in our lives the love of God that is in our hearts.

Crabby MD

Nothing for months, and then two posts in a row. I can’t say this is because life has slowed enough to be able to reflect on it, but neither is there anything so pressing that I can’t indulge in some work-avoidance.

And this one is about work: the work I do supervising residents–young doctors in training in the specialty of psychiatry. Psychiatry is a discipline which depends very much on words: the words the patient uses, the words we use to describe how the patient uses words, uses gesture, uses voice, to communicate. Sometimes, that’s describing a refusal to do any of the above. “Patient refused to talk to us” doesn’t tell me much; “patient rolled over to face the wall and would not speak” says rather more.

Daily notes describe how patients are doing, what they are doing, what they say and what we can discern of what they feel;  we list what we think is the diagnosis, and what we’re going to do about it.

Mostly, I co-sign the notes the residents write. I am rather particular about what my name goes on. I do not wish to put my name at the bottom of something incoherent or ill-informed (or not formed at all). I can tolerate non-native idiom; some of our residents are not native speakers. But I do like them to make sense; I don’t like to have to stop to re-read and figure out what was meant. Good prose is like a window-pane (Robert Graves, I think). Right up there with “Omit unnecessary words.” (Strunk & White). So here is the instruction I give them. It is not complete, but it soothes my soul and perhaps makes them pay a little more attention to what they are putting on paper–I mean, into pixels. You might note that spelling is a particular concern; that’s a topic for another time.
1. It’s “akathisia”. Also, if you ever use it, it’s “guaiac”

2. “loose” vs. “lose”, “affect” vs. “effect”, “to” vs. “too”.

3. Include heading “staff comments” but not the teaching statement itself or the heading for it. (ATTENDING STAFF [not you] IS REQUIRED TO PUT THAT IN)

4. You could write out “side effects”, then I wouldn’t have to. You could write out “Medical Psychiatry unit” (or even “MedPsych”) and then I wouldn’t have to. And some reader years hence will understand what you said.

5. Inpatients, GAF not over 35 at admit and it should be higher (usually) at discharge. List both on discharge, e.g., “GAF at admit 30, at discharge 50” If going to Partial, there are rules for what score is appropriate.

6. It’s “Colace” (not “Colase”). “docusate” is ok.

7. Pomrehn, Chatham Oaks, Abbe, Penn
I repeat: Chatham (“th” not “t” and not “tt”), Oaks (not “Oakes”)

8. Consults: faculty/staff physician requesting is the FACULTY ATTENDING. You still sign the consult order.

9. Get over the quotation marks if you’re not quoting someone (although the use throughout this memo is correct).

10. There is nothing wrong with the verb “said.” In an appropriate context, you might substitute “asked”, or rarely, “said loudly”. Most other verbs describing speech are unnecessary most of the time. “Per” is not a synonym for “said”, you might try “reported”.

11. Bad grammar is nauseous. Unwashed patients and their effluvia are sometimes nauseous. Otherwise, persons are nauseated.

12. Contractions are not generally used in formal prose. Medical records are a form of formal prose.

13. Paragraphs are a useful device for conveying information. I recommend them in all but the shortest discharge summaries for the hospital course. I like them in admission histories also.

Evidence of mellowing or softening of brain:
I do not insist on correct punctuation for “eg” and “ie”, though I am tempted.
(it’s “i.e.,” “e.g.,”). I try not to wince at “different than”, or use of “like” for “as”.

Meeting Jesus: Easter 2 (John 20:19-31)

I was in a gathering yesterday that had a lot of preachers—not what you might expect at a bridal shower, but there we were. And of course, all of us—Episcopalian and Lutheran—are preaching on this gospel this morning. We compared notes: one finds herself drawn to the part about “retaining sins”; one is talking about the surety of God’s presence; and some of us are going to talk about Thomas, and about meeting Jesus, about where and how we meet Jesus.

Thomas is an apostle who wanted proof—perhaps another in the line of those who wanted signs and wonders.  Jesus gives him proof, and then tells him “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.  That’s reassuring for us, who don’t get to see the historical figure that shows up, unannounced, crashes the dinner twice, in this story.  And we can be sure that is true—that we are blessed in these days just as the contemporaries of Jesus were. That’s comforting.   

Faith and belief are good things, but Thomas wants proof, he wants to know that this is Jesus and not a dream or a vision or wishful thinking. Thomas wants to “see for himself”. That would have been a problem for the apostles early on; there’s no YouTube to post videos of “Jesus comes to dinner,” “Jesus walks around,” “Jesus takes his turn cooking.” There must have been a good many that said, yeah, right, and put this story of a risen, living Jesus down with the first century equivalent of sightings of Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster, or, for that matter, Elvis. That charismatic guy who was such a trouble-maker, pretty good preacher, but they got him and he’s gone. Alive and walking around and talking to you? Yeah, right.

So Jesus had to do something, and the apostles had to record those things, so that people would know: yup, that Jesus, same one, he’s back, the same one.   “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

Thomas wants to have more than seeing Jesus; he asks for and is allowed tangible proof. What a lovely, antiseptic, high-falutin’ word, tangible. He gets the blood and guts proof. If this scene were done in a movie, the camera zooming in, we’d be appalled. The apostles would be saying “Thomas, use the hand sanitizer, and by the way, keep your fingers off the rim of the cup when it comes around.” I might add, if Dr. Hawtrey [or, a retired surgeon I know] were there, he’d be saying, as Thomas’ hand was poised, “All right, apostle, tell me exactly  what layers you’re going through.”  Those of you who have ever done a dissection in biology, or cleaned a fish—or seen a surgery—know that it’s, well, it’s gross. It is very physical. If I were to describe Thomas’ hand going in to the side of Jesus, where blood and water flowed out, any further—well,  any small boy listening would be saying,  Ew, Gross, Cool.   

We can think about the flesh torn open and the blood, we can imagine—bring the image to our minds, without Thomas ever actually putting his hand there—note that the Gospel doesn’t say he did reach out his hand; we only know he said “My Lord and my God!” Mel referred to the mystics as sensual last week; I suggest that those who meditate, who expand their imaginations to look unflinchingly and deeply into the story, who put it in our mind’s eye, are pretty sensual too, though perhaps we’d rather “touch thy garment’s hem” than bend our minds around the physical reality of this scene.

The resurrection of the Lord was truly the resurrection of a real body, because no other person was raised than he who had been crucified and died.” (Leo the Great). Our Jesus is real, flesh-and-blood real; shockingly real if we follow what Thomas’ hand is asked to do, where he is told to go. Jesus was fully man as well as fully God; the apostles met him as such. We don’t have that advantage; we say Christ lives in each of us, we say that we encounter Christ in each other and in those we meet and serve. In some ways, that’s a lot more abstract than being able meet Jesus himself, or more abstract than being able to click on YouTube and see those video clips. But we are as real as Jesus was, and we can manage this balance between the “abstract” but real presence of Jesus in everyone we meet and the individual, physical reality of each person. Thomas got to have it all in front of him; we are reminded to see Christ in all the saints of God, whether you meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea; in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at coffee hour.

Thomas, though, wanted to touch. Touch is a very basic sense for making sense out of the world; I see patients with severe dementia who seem to operate by touch, because what they see and what they hear no longer gives them any information they can use. Touch you can trust. But there is a more basic perception still—think of very small children, who perceive the world by tasting it; everything encountered goes to the mouth to be explored, made sense of, assimilated into an understanding of the world—tasted.

But of course we have that taste, too. We have Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine every week; we have Christ in a way we can taste him, satisfy the most basic sense. Now, this is not about transubstantiation, or any other –stantiation. It is our belief, our minds which accept the bread and wine as Christ when they have been taken, blessed, broken, and given. We have what is both the simplest, most fundamental perception of Christ all put together with this very strange theological concept. Bread, body, wine, blood.

So there are other people, children of God, and there is God in them; there is the body and blood of God in the Eucharist, and there is bread and wine. It is never two, separate things; we live in a created, sacramental world.  Doing ministry on the street, asking people to tell their stories, we ask also “where is God in your story?” and He is there, and Christ is in that person, too; we don’t bring Christ to the street, he’s there.  If you were asked your story, if someone asked, where is God in your story?  So I ask you:  Where and how do you meet Jesus?

Graduation: Clinical Pastoral Education

I was asked to give the reflection for the graduation ceremony of the Clinical Pastoral Education program in the hospital where I work and teach. CPE provides theological and professional education for ministry in the hospital setting. Many seminaries require a unit of CPE; some denominations require it. Here is the talk as I gave it, followed by the original ending which I chose not to use but still think relevant.

I am honored to be asked to speak today to our graduates of the Clinical Pastoral Education two-year residency, and, like the rest of you, I will miss having them with us. But of course the feeling is a dual one for all of us: we are happy in the achievements, we are sad at the parting. We rejoice in the new beginnings each will have, and we regret that we are at an ending of shared work and discovery, shared success and shared frustrations. At a graduation, we are all at a border—one we know how to cross and will put behind us, though not forget.

What I want to think about with you today are the borders of our work. “Our”, because I believe that all of us have some share in the work you, Jan and Diana, have been called to learn and do these past two years. You may notice that I am wearing both a collar and a white coat for this occasion; I am a physician and I am a deacon. I am a deacon and I am a physician. One of my priest mentors points out that there is no “I” in “preach”, but this is not a sermon. What I can try to say comes out of my experience and reflection on the two roles I fill. My roles may be distinct, if not always separate: the employee of the government who teaches and heals and the servant of God who listens and is present. In a hospital, whatever our primary role, I think this is a border we all face—you who are hospital chaplains, part of the hospital team; we who are physicians, unless we have shut our selves down to “healing you pain, not feeling it”.

Let me make a quick side point: I will probably say “physicians” when I mean not just physicians, but nurses and aides and social workers and therapists and techs and all the people who provide care in the hospital–even the physicians. We all are providers of medical care, and all important—I just haven’t found a short way to say all that, so I will say “physicians”; “health care providers” might do, but it’s so impersonal that it is not a term I find endearing.

I start with a story: when I was in the process of becoming a deacon, the committee who worked with me wanted me to go away from Iowa City for a while, leave my professional credentials behind, and work with people who are homeless. I was amused: did they think I’d succeeded as a psychiatrist all these years if I could only talk to people who had also read Shakespeare? But I went—to Boston, to work with an established street ministry for a month. Before I left Iowa, a friend—also a physician–said,

Judith, I want you to think about one thing: you’re going to see all those unfortunate people living on the streets, and you’re going to say to yourself, “yes, but what this guy really needs is Haldol”. What are you going to do?

So I did. I listened to men and women, some who talked about which shelter they were in, or where their friends were, or which park the police were sweeping people out of, or how the Red Sox were doing, or being with a friend just released from detox and treatment who drank herself to death the same night, or the loneliness of being housed after living on the street, or where they had come from, or any of a great many things. And yes, once I listened to a man who rambled on about the government and being followed and a good deal more that made less sense. With him, I thought, “most of my colleagues back home would give you Haldol. But I don’t think it would make your life better, I think my listening to you and accepting the poem you’re giving me is what you need.”

And since then, increasingly, I walk through psychiatric wards and think, “the medicines we’re offering are probably a good thing—but what this man or woman in front of me really needs is pastoral presence.” The real question comes when I am wearing the white coat—without the collar—and realize, “What this guy really needs is pastoral presence.”

If I were giving a very short talk, I’d stop here, and say, “see? Chaplains are really needed; please let us have more of them for the patients.” But I am not going to speak quite that briefly, because that realization is not the end of the story.

The first thing my class was told in psychiatry residency was, “Every encounter is therapeutic”. Over the twenty or so very odd years I’ve been a psychiatrist, I have had patients whom I saw regularly for many years. None had illnesses I could really cure; “heal rarely, alleviate often, comfort always”. I could help, some. I realized that what I gave these patients was presence and relationship that was, by the grace of a greater Power, was sustaining and comforting to them. In that relationship they were more real, more alive, because they had my whole attention (or nearly so), and were valued in their whole being. “All actual life is encounter”, says Martin Buber—I think this relationship with patients where we take the long walk of Alzheimer’s disease together is something like what he was talking about. It is encounter, and it feels trivial only if I look at the surface of our conversations.

So here, I could argue, I hover between the border of physician and deacon (or chaplain, or whatever term you wish). So what? It is not, alas, a thing I can do with everyone. As a physician, I must as Buber says

. . . abstract from [the human being to whom I say You] the color of his hair or the color of his speech or the color of his graciousness; I have to do this again and again; but immediately he is no longer You.

As physicians, we must abstract from the human being the signs and symptoms, the suicidal ideation, the stabbing or crushing pain, the rales and rhonchi in the lungs, the tracing of an EKG or the specimen jar of body fluid or excised organ. We must do this, and as chaplains, you have learned some of our jargon, something about the process of these diseases and what the patients will be going through. For you, I hope, it is that you are drawn reluctantly from a natural focus on the whole of the patient to the particulars which make objects of us all. For physicians—we can forget that there is a human being and a potential relationship in which the alleviation and comfort can happen.

And those relationships are not guaranteed us by having friends. There was a NY Times Op Ed on Tuesday this week stating that when you have devastating illness in your family, your friends drop off the planet. Or they give you meaningless help, such as “Let me know if I can do anything” or “I’ll pray for you,” and then they leave relationship. Well, most of them do. As chaplains, you stand in for the friends who don’t show up, who don’t know how to say, “let me pray with you”. And you must do it short term; you have not had the luxury during your two years here of following patients and their families through repeated visits over many years. You are the ones who make the encounters therapeutic.

And I wish, finally, to lay another charge on you (not a new one): it is not just the patients who need you. You stand to challenge us to remember that neither the patient nor the physician, nurse, phlebotomist, tech—whomever—is an It.

All of us, the providers of health care, need to be reminded that full healing takes place where there is relationship. That relationship demands that we give of ourselves and encounter others wholly, with our hearts as well as our heads.

You walk the border for us, for both patients and healers, as you are allowed to see the divinity, or the spirit, or whatever term holds meaning for you and for those you encounter—you help find it, and nurture it, and help it be in relationship not only with whomever the Higher Power of the world is, but also, I hope, to be in relationship with those of us who are too distracted by the particulars of illness to be very good at it.

I wish you all joy, labor, ongoing and new friendship; I wish you all success in helping us all encounter each other as sons and daughters of our Creator so that healing of each other and the world can go on.


And here is the ending I decided not to use–though I printed it out and gave it to the new graduates:

For many years I have carried and given to patients, families, and CPE classes this prayer from Teilhard de Chardin. I will close with it now, suggesting that it is in practicing this wholeness of relationship with each other that we are prepared to enter relationship with our Creator so powerfully described here:

When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind; when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me; when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old, and above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself.

[from my well-worn copy of the Oxford Book of Prayer; I’ll add a citation when I have the book in hand]

Sermon on July 4, 2010

This sermon was given for the annual Jazz Eucharist at Trinity.

We have here three curious lessons:

A powerful leader (not a king-a general) who happens to be a “leper”
A nameless servant girl, who knows what to do
A trip not to the prophet, but to a king-who is clueless
Elisha takes over-but never sees the leper-general, who doesn’t get too close
The general doesn’t get it
More nameless servants who do get it
Healing, when trust in God’s word is stronger than trust in mortals; or, healing despite all
the wrong-headedness of the powerful. (2 Kings 5:1-14)

An epistle passage to define what burdens we help others with, what we carry for ourselves;
reminding us to be gentle and not to get caught up in differences that aren’t of the spirit;
finally reminding us that our glory is in Christ, not the world,
(Galatians 6:1-16)

And finally a Gospel, where 70 are sent out with power; to go ahead of Jesus; they tell those
who hear that the kingdom of God is come near; those that do not, that the kingdom of God has come near-the same message, no matter what. On return, they are amazed they have been able to command demons, but are told that their glory is in heaven, not earth.

(Luke 10:1-11, 16-20)

Thy kingdom come; the Kingdom of Heaven to come down to earth; a new heaven and a
new earth.

There is a country-the 14th most peaceful, the 4th most developed, which has the 3rd highest
life expectancy in the world, the most diverse country in the world with reportedly the
highest tolerance for ethnic minorities and immigrants. More than half go to university; their
high school students are second best in the world on some measures. We don’t live there.
The Canadians do.

If, in this country, justice is rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty
stream-I haven’t seen it. I don’t see it in the homeless, the hungry, the disabled, the
different. I don’t see it in the patients for whom I have to think about whether there’s a
cheap medicine that might work-if they can collect enough cans to pay even for that. This
country was founded to be different, and many hoped it was God’s country. It isn’t
working. I’ve been listening to the songs of Woody Guthrie from the dustbowl and the
depression, about hunger and poverty and desperate striving for a better life-while whiskey
is being drunk, comforts had, too much food consumed by a few. There’s a rarely heard

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple
By the relief office, I’d seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Our system is simply not working-and, in my profession (and maybe in yours), there’s a principle that when
what you’re doing isn’t working, you should stop doing it. Throw the bums out; I don’t
think it matters what political views you hold to have thought, over the last years, that things
aren’t working and they ought to do better.

That’s really tempting; let’s have a revolution, or a movement and sweep our government
clean, let’s reform the systems. Not a new idea, and I am not suggesting revolution (or even
the abolition of private property)-revolutions and riots, after all, end up creating a mess
(broken windows, at the least) that create more work for the working class revolutions are
trying to help. And no, that’s not work as in “solve unemployment”. And a revolution is
not a person to which we should assign motive. Barbara Tuchman, in the foreword to The
Proud Tower
, points out that [the chronology of political events] is misleading because it
allows us to “rest on the easy illusion that it is ‘they,’ the naughty statesmen, who are
always responsible for war, while ‘we,’ the innocent people, are merely led.”

And I don’t want to leave any impression that I think this country is all bad, and why don’t
I go to Canada? (the winters are even colder and the mosquitoes larger). We get some
things pretty well-in principle, and they work sometimes in fact. For example, there was an
op-ed piece in the New York Times last week that pointed out that the decline of the
Protestant elite is its greatest triumph-if Ms. Kagan is confirmed to the Supreme Court,
white Protestant men will be a minority on the court. Our strengths are our belief in
meritocracy, rather than aristocracy, our belief in education, and above all, our belief in

But these lessons are not about our political system, or any political system. They are about
the kingdom of God, and specifically our relationship to it, our citizenship. The kingdom of
God is in our relationship with God and our relationship-our actions-toward our
neighbor. Not in our actions as part of a civic body, state, or nation, but our individual
actions. We don’t earn the kingdom; it is given to us. It’s not about our merit, or lack of it;
simply our trusting acceptance of it-acceptance of something so radical, so overwhelming:
God’s kingdom on earth! God shares humanity and defeats death!-that we turn our
whole attention to that. Think of a small child carried by a parent; that child is serenely,
wholly settled in the parent’s arms, and all interactions with others come from that position
of secure trust. So our actions to the world we see should be: works of the spirit, not works
of flesh; works that treat all with gentleness.

Paul doesn’t give us a list of the spirit-filled works, and Jesus doesn’t give out a script for
proselytizing. Tell the good news, gather those who are already there-the harvest is there,
grown by God; gather it. These are not the passages which reiterate the Golden Rule, nor
the command to care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger in your midst. These are
about how we approach all those good works. It’s not about how many demons you can
command, nor about what gifts you have, nor about establishing a right way to
do-whatever. Do it with gentleness, do it from the Spirit, and the new creation will be
realized. The kingdom of God is near whether we see it, or know it, or participate or not-if
we can live in that kingdom, working with the forbearance, trust, and tolerance of others that
Paul teaches, then others, too, will see that the kingdom of God is near. May we all live
there, forever and ever, amen.

The Right Reverend Alan kindly told me I don’t need to write Ember Day letters now that I’ve moved from discernment through ordination. I am supposed to write him annually, on the anniversary of my ordination. None of my Ember Day letters were quite this late, but here’s what I’d be telling him:

Being ordained feels right. I can’t describe how, but I know it is right. I don’t think I could say I’m doing much that is different, and it’s certainly not a feeling of power, but it feels settled and right.

So, what do I do? You may recall that you asked me to discern whether I could take over the Summer Ministries Retreat (Cathy having finished three good years, as she’d promised). I am sure you know that by now I did so. It probably went better than I deserved. The tracks, the array of mini-courses that meet throughout, all got very good reviews. The location as usual was well-liked, though lots of complaints about the air-conditioning. Next year I’ll rewrite our perennial reminder that we can’t control the temperature and to bring sweaters. Maybe we should get hoodies with a spiffy diocesan logo and sell them.

Over the twelve years I ran the Shelter House Book Sale, I learned a lot about giving up control and not doing it all myself. I didn’t learn quite enough, and will try for a shorter learning curve at this task. Next year, more different leaders of worship, more people with more roles. And the music was mostly liked, but a real minority who found it too difficult. We won’t dumb it down, but we will do a little less and simplify.

I am most pleased, and I hope you are, with our first attempt at a diocesan Youth Choir for Ministries Retreat. The young people who spent the weekend together singing and playing had a wonderful time. The adults are ready to do it again. I hope we’ll attract more young people to this opportunity. St. Paul’s was most gracious; we could handle up to 20 before we’d really outgrow their space. Twenty would be a good number. Our younger members are full members; a choir has a real place in leading congregational singing and bringing us to worship; an anthem expresses our prayers just as a collect does. As a church we have a rich musical heritage which we should use–and the most important part of that heritage is that we do sing, the congregation as the primary choir, the choir as gift of us all to God. What we sing, as long as it is good music to God’s glory, is less important than that we do sing.

You ordained me with a primary ministry to those who are homeless. I haven’t forgotten. I also haven’t yet figured out how to do that–or better, not yet when to do that. And that’s a poor excuse which I will remedy before the next letter (which will be on time). And thank you for the gifts that come with ordination; the new and wonderful, supportive relationships with other clergy–without the loss of my non-clergy friends; the opportunities to listen and help; the sense of rightness and peace.

I will try to post on this blog more often. To start with, I’m going to post some of the sermons I’ve given, starting in the next entry with jthe July 4th sermon, in lieu of it’s going on Trinity’s website.

Faithfully, Judith

Epiphany 5: Ordination


It happened, it was glorious, it fed eyes and ears and touch and smell (yes, incense) and taste. And I can’t believe I’m fretting that I got so many things wrong. Maybe not all my fault, and fortunately things that happened after hands were laid, but still, I wish I’d done better.

We did rehearse; Mel was very generous with that. But we rehearsed me standing at the Bishop’s right. He put me at the left. And reading a section of Prayer D. I should have realized, he’d said something about that in an email. Think I got through that ok.

I usually (I think, don’t count on me for much brain power these days) see us taking offering plates across the altar–no, go around. Then I absolutely blanked on what to say. (My friends in the choir later made some “deer in headlights” remarks that don’t do justice to what that felt like). Someone cued me in, and I got it. Various other stuff like that. I am glad after all that my Liturgics professor was not there.

Then, recessing, or Going Forth, the final hymn finished, the bishop prodded me: do the Dismissal! while we’re walking! I had been planning to sing it, with a pitch from the organ. I don’t do pitches out of the air well. Nor sing while walking (unless it’s a hymn). Gulp, breath, did what I could with a pitch out of the air.

But you know, it really was wonderful. So many friends from so many places–my family, my parish, my friends from Nashotah, friends from ShelterHouse overflow, friends from work, friends from just being friends for ever, friends from the community, knitting friends. The church looked nearly full to me, when I could see it. The music was perfect, every piece what I had envisioned (enauraled?).

The collar feels right (though you won’t see me wear it often). The ordination was wonderful, but it’s just a beginning. And should end as we began the service, with an introit the Rector didn’t quite expect:

non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tuo da gloriam.

500 lucid words on sacrament

This evening I am supposed to be writing 500 lucid words on Richard Hooker’s concept of the real presence in the Eucharist. I am not willing to do so just now.

This evening I went to the laundromat (a necessity, since mice ate something important in my washing machine) (or, since I find cleanliness preferable, whether next to godliness or not). I read the chapter on sacramental theology in my text, and tried to keep straight the doctrines of Luther and Augustine, the Donatists, of Cyprian and Zwingli and Barth.

There was a quiet man in the laundromat tonight. Sometimes he sat outside and smoked, sometimes he came in for a while; he never stayed very long. He wore reflective glasses, smelled of cigarette smoke, seemed to be by himself, didn’t quite respond when I smiled and nodded. Seated inside (not smoking), his legs moved in a constant bounce, one I associate with medication use. He was quiet, approached no one, unremarkable really.

I need to add that this is my favorite laundromat. The owner provided a day of free laundry to everyone affected by the floods we suffered in Iowa City back in June: volunteers, workers, displaced people. He did it graciously, asking no proof of eligibility, just a count of how many came.

Then, as I was sorting out fides qua creditur and fides quae creditur, the maintenance worker came, emptied wastebaskets, mopped the floor, and spoke loudly to the quiet man: Did he have business here? No, he was waiting for someone. Emphatically: Then get out. Quietly, you could have just said to leave. As the quiet man left, the worker yelled after him: “And don’t smoke in the bathroom!”. “I didn’t,” as he left.

I was distressed, angry: there is no sign forbidding loitering; the place was not crowded. He was not panhandling. I suspect he had honored the no smoking signs in the restroom as he did in the building, but when you smoke that heavily, you leave some lingering scent in an enclosed space. That was a wholly unnecessary assault. And I neither confronted the worker nor went out to speak with the quiet man. He was gone when I left, when I had worked up the courage to do so.

The sacrament of baptism, says Hooker is an “affirmation of belonging to community”. Hooker’s view of the sacrament is that the action of the mind of the recipient is the locus of the sacrament; the mere doing is not enough: “not by doing, but by doing well” (those are Hooker’s emphases). Hooker tells us to bring to the sacrament our minds and “religious affection,” our trust and belief.

There were three of us in the laundromat, and no community. To myself I protested; I brought my belief, but failed in action. There seems to be a great gulf between what I was reading and what I was witnessing, and a greater gulf in my failure to witness. I will think about it when I write my paper on liberation theology. Am I so much an academic that I cannot act? Is theology more than intellect at godly play? I will reflect on that when I write my 500 lucid words, and more when I go to church Sunday and share in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.

Last message from Boston

Or Cambridge. Tomorrow I’ll get the sheets washed early, finish packing, go out for breakfast (no food left in the house), and meet Tina at noon to do more street ministry. Though after only four weeks, when I’m out by myself I recognize people–John, bumming for change; someone with tooth pain whose name I can’t remember; the group of kids who came to common cathedral last week. And I stop and talk with them.

Then we have a staff meeting, Group Reflection, which will be good and hard and sad and wonderful. Then back to Cambridge, finish packing, and head to the train station to spend 36 hours on trains (and 4 hours layover in Washington).

So this is quick, and without pictures.

Someone asked, will I miss the sights of Boston? No, I’ll miss the people I’ve met, but I need to go home and get to know some of the people I only vaguely recognize who live in the Shelter or on the street.

“But you know us now. And you’ll carry us with you”, one of them said.

Yes, I will.

hanging out in Cambridge: lots of pictures

two notes: first, I apologize for all the white space. Haven’t quite mastered all the tricks of this. And second, clicking on any photo will take you to flickr and a larger version of the photo.

Here is the monastery I walk past every day-the shortcut pedestrian way towards Harvard Square and the Tstop (subway) is just beyond it.SSJE

Next, a very small restaurant, Lee’s, which does a good, fast, generous, inexpensive breakfast. Their window says “free wi-fi”, but I haven’t been able to pick it up. And no, I don’t get breakfast here every day.Lee's

But I do go to Peet’s Coffee and Tea daily, and after some experiment, have become very fond of café-au-lait here. There’s seldom a seat, but there is a park in front with benches and pigeons. The American Express office (source of cash since my ATM card died) is across the street. Peet's

Here is the T stop on Harvard Square; I buy a Boston Globe at the news stand about once a week. There is a closer entrance to the same station, but this one has an escalator. I do a lot more stairs here than I do at home, and appreciate every subway escalator I can find.

Harvard Square

Also the Harvard Coop, which has a café with good soup and such, but unfortunately you have to walk past a lot of books to get there:

Harvard Square

This is the subway stop one beyond Harvard Square, Porter Square. There is a grocery store here, a big Shaw’s, and luckily an escalator, with this permanent glove collection. There are several strewn the length of one escalator, but I only show you one:Red Line, Davis

Closer to home base, down the pedestrian walkway that goes alongside the monastery between Memorial Drive and the two short blocks to Mt. Auburn Street, there is a the Cambridge 02138 post office and the FedEx/Kinko’s, the latter open 24 hours. That’s where I get reasonably good and not too expensive wifi through T-mobile. This area has many fine things, but free wifi is not on the list. And the wireless access is up those stairs. wi-fi hot spot

Charlie’s, where I eat dinner (and have a beer) once a week. Fish and chips so far is my favorite. And a Sam Adams.Charlies

Wagamama, apparently a chain, but pretty good. Good food, generous, a little more than Charlie’s, but fast and well-arranged for single diners. restaurant

And, um, right by Wagamama there is a yarn store. And yes, I’ve been in a few times. LYS

I will spare you the Staples where they came up with a photo downloading solution, or the Starbucks where I first got some internet access (T Mobile, but neither the seating nor the lighting is good, especially if you want an outlet). But looking out at the Charles, with scullers, sailboats, joggers, walkers, ducks, and geese every day is nice: Charles RiverThere you have it. How I spent my month’s vacation when I wasn’t with ecclesia. Today I did about half the Freedom Trail after lunch at St. Paul’s and talking–so near the last time–with people there, and outside. So maybe a picture of Sam Adams tomorrow, or the big banner cheering the Celtics on that hangs on the Boston State House (where the state legislature meets). Or the statue of a donkey honoring the many Democratic mayors, and the plaque with two footprints that lets you “stand in opposition”.