Sunday, August 12, 2012

David and Absalom

By the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, Rector

The lesson from Samuel this week continues the David stories that we've had for several weeks. This one, however, takes place many years after the segments from the past few weeks. By the time this story takes place the furor over the relationship between David and Bathsheba is long over, and they have, in fact, had a second child named Solomon. It needs to be remembered that as the King of Israel, David had many wives and many children. Bathsheba comes through the stories as one he truly loves, but it was the role of the King to be fruitful, and he was.

The name of David's third son was Absalom. Absalom's mother, Maachah, was the daughter of a neighboring King, the marriage between her and David no doubt political, and the son was a safe third and most likely not very noticed. As he grew he apparently became exceedingly handsome and charismatic. He became ambitious too. Maachah and David had another child as well, a daughter named Tamar. She too was beautiful. Trouble began when David's oldest son and heir, Amnon, became obsessed with his half sister Tamar and raped her. Biding his time, the calculating Absalom waited two years before taking his revenge for his sister and killed Amnon. He fled north believing that he could not be forgiven for killing David's favorite son and heir. Then a curious thing happened. Absalom became aware of his charisma among the hill people of the northern kingdom and it created an ambition to be king in his father's place. He continued to be calculating and after much posturing and intrigue gathered an army that posed a serious threat to David. His army moved south toward Jerusalem and it was large enough to force David to leave his capital city. He was able to gather his own army and the civil war began between father and son. During this war, as we read to day, Absalom was fleeing from the battle he started to lose and was caught in the low hanging branch of tree by the long hair of his head of which he was so proud. His enemies, David's men, came upon him and killed him, thus ending the war. Rather than be elated, David mourned in agony. "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son."

In that moment, David, who had killed an innocent man for the sake of his lust and foolishness - David who had felt the love of God and the forgiveness for his wrongs, reflected the love of God for his own son who had killed and been guilty of vanity, ambition and ruthless foolishness. The focus of this story is still David who came to know both sides of love and forgiveness.

That which was given to him by God, was given by him to his own son. God overcame David's betrayal and David learned to overcome Absalom's. The prophet Nathan had predicted the pain David would endure those years ago when David schemed to get Bathsheba. The prediction came true with agonizing accuracy.

In the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he is the "Bread of Life." Anyone who eats of this bread will never hunger. It's a spiritual hunger that we have that is satisfied by this bread. We reenact it weekly in the Eucharist and look to this consecrated bread to radiate from us the nourishment we need to live our lives. It's a focal point of all that Jesus did and taught, and all that God continually offers us through prayer and grace. The Word of God incarnate in Jesus becomes the love of God incarnate in bread which we eat.

Young Absalom looked for nourishment in the rush of power and his own glory. Something in him was missing that he fatally believed could only be satisfied by taking a crown that was not his. Perhaps it was another form of vengeance for his sister's rape when David didn't even punish Amnon for his cruelty. Perhaps Absalom's disillusionment in his father corrupted into a rage large enough for war, or perhaps it was simply his vanity run amuck. In any event, there is no indication that his actions were fueled by a conviction that his leadership would benefit the people of God more than his Father's. His coup was motivated for selfish reasons, and had nothing to do with a desire to fulfill the responsibilities of a leader of his people.

Again there is a comparison to be made between David whose selfishness was repented and Absalom's whose was not. David became nourished by God's love especially when he learned that his own vanity and self importance was empty. Who knows what would have happened to Absalom if he had lived to feel David's forgiveness. Perhaps it would have melted his anger and ambition, and nourished him deeper.

If these difficult times we live in are to have any redeeming quality, it has to be in the soul searching it inspires. Books are popping off the stands as Monday morning quarterbacks analyzing the greed, deceit and mismanagement at all levels of government and society for the financial collapses and recession.

People lie and cheat to gain something. Power, money and love seem to be the commodities that people seek and will do anything for. There is a hunger and thirst for these things that everyone has, but what is the cost for integrity? In the final act, how nourishing is that which is gained through deceit? The hunger for ambition, power or conquest of any stripe is insatiable because in the end it promises satisfaction, but is not nourishing. It's ultimately spoiled by the knowledge that it's not real. Like Absalom, tyrants the world over reach their political goals, but what an empty achievement it is when their paltry reward is their own distorted sense of glory, rather than the good they can do the people over whom they have taken responsibility. And they always have to watch over their shoulder for the next ambitious person who wants their place.

The nourishment Jesus offers is a full satisfaction in the spirit born and sustained in love and respect. Achievements are certainly still pursued but for God's glory in the good that can be done in service to others rather than in the fleeting illusion of personal glory. If Absalom had fully succeeded in taking David's throne, what then? Would he have been satisfied and content with the taking care of the administrative responsibilities of authority? I wonder if he thought past the past the empty cheers of the crowd as he stood before them?

The question of nourishment is an important one. Where do we look for it and where do we find it? In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul gives clear advice of how to behave toward others that includes speaking the truth in love, even expressing anger with out letting it turn to sin. There are appropriate ways to be angry with another person that still respects their humanity. So often we want to justify our anger and salve our pain through the humiliation of the other person. It's another form of looking for nourishment through the empty satisfaction of appeasing our pain through the pain of the one that hurt us. Time and again the answer comes back that real nourishment comes through love. Even when we're angry, love and respect provide the bridge between two sources of pain to a satisfying resolution.

Absalom looked for his nourishment in revenge and validation. The ancient Midrash of the Rabbis - their collection of teaching on this subject - likens Absalom's long hair with his vanity. In the end that's what caught him up and on which he hung and because of which he died.

The extreme lesson of Absalom's life has a lot to teach us in our own behaviors. The patience and love we show, when we're joyful and even when we're angry is a fruit of the Spirit of God. It is, in the Gospel language, the bread of life on which we can feed. With it we live and do not die. Because of his anger and vengeance, Absalom seems to have died long before he hung from the tree. An emptiness grew in him and he didn't know how to satisfy it. He ran toward illusions and suffered needlessly because of it.

We take a lot of care to prepare the altar and consecrate the bread and wine for communion. We do this because of its importance. It is and signifies a lot more than wheat and water or fermented grape juice. It is a tangible reminder and hope of the bread of heaven dwelling in it and in us as we share it. We may still want to go to brunch after church to nourish our bodies, but we do so in the knowledge that our spirits are nourished in the love of God, the bread of Heaven. Amen.

© 2012 St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood, NJ

Sunday, June 17, 2012


By Brother Josias Morobi, OHC, Mariya uMama WeThemba Monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa

I understand today we celebrate the Juneteenth. In the next two days most people in this country will be celebrating and honoring the African American heritage by commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the US. I know that most if not all of you know the story behind this celebration so I will not re-tell it to you. Instead I will tell you another story.

In South Africa June is marked as the youth month. In particular June 16, is the national youth day. This is the day we remember the SOWETO (South Western Township) uprising, which was the series of protest led by high school students in 1976.

The black high school students protested against the Afrikaans medium decree of 1974 which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English as languages of instructions. (Afrikaans is a West Germanic language descended from Dutch, it is mainly spoken in South Africa and Namibia). The association of Afrikaans with apartheid prompted the black South Africans to prefer English. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu "Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor." Our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters had to learn mathematics and social studies in the language they did not like.

June 16 is therefore the day we remember the courage of young people who protested against the language they did not like. It is also a day that the South Africans recognise the value of the young people in the country. The remembrance of June 16 has become a motivational story for us as young people in South Africa. It encourages us to stand up for our rights. It is the story that give us strength to make our voices heard. It is the story that tells me that I need to be free.

I need freedom to be me - so that I am not just a figment of somebody's imagination, but an actual person who cares and is cared for. I need to get involved in life, not just to be an onlooker. I need to get close to life, feel it, smell it an sweat over it.I need to be free. Free to laugh or cry; free to live or die; free to be responsible and care. I want to dig into freedom. I do not want the things that the other person wants. I do not believe in someone else's values. I can not live on other persons terms. Some people say they want to help, but what they really mean is that they want to stay on top, and hand out their welfare and clothing, while we smile and act nicely saying things like " Thank you sir or thank you Ma`am'. Well, I do not want anybody on top giving me anything. I want to be on top myself, helping myself, giving myself what I need.

Remember we are all made in the image of God. Which means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.

You don't ask for freedom, you take it. I do not ask for something that is already in my possession.

Paul in his letter to Galatians writes: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.(Galatians 5:1, 13). This is our freedom. This is our calling. Freedom to serve one another humbly in love.

Allow me to read the ' General Order No3' that was read by the General Gordon Granger on the 19th June 1865, on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves ....

This statement for me is in line with what Paul is saying in his letter this morning: From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17.

I understand the Juneteenth has become the story of the nation. It is the story that the black people of this country will never forget. It is the story that shall not be forgotten by the people who work for justice. The black people in South Africa have forgiven the apartheid system, but we will never forget what it did to us and our loved ones.

These kinds of stories are good for us because they help us to find our way in life.They act as landmarks to guide us. The beginning and the whole purpose of our continuing relationship with God lies in our story. What ever the story may be. The meaning and the destination of our lives lie in the way our story connects to Jesus and the Gospel of redemption.

I will like to invite you therefore to reflect on your story, because I believe that is where you will most easily find the traces of God's action in your life.

During the next few days or weeks, try to take a little time in prayer just to remember your life and the making of your faith story so far. Imagine your life as a mountain pathway you've climbed. What crags does the path run through? What special views along the way have left you with a sense of joy and wonder? What major milestones have you passed, and how do you feel about them? What important discoveries have been along the path? Where did the path begin, and where is it leading you? What baggage are you carrying, do you ever wish it were not so heavy? What landmarks have guided you on your journey? Was it an easy journey? Is it an easy journey? Can you honestly say that you are free?

© 2012 Br. Josias Morobi, OHC

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Guest Preacher for Gay Pride Month: Dr. Louie Crew

Early Christians had no difficulty understanding that God could be god; the wondrous surprise for them was that God could be human too.

Mary experienced many complications in raising a child who was God. On one occasion he disappeared for three days while they were visiting Jerusalem, and when Mary and Joseph came to him in distress, Jesus had little sympathy for their anxiety. “Get over it!” he seemed to say. “You should have known that I would be about my father's business.”

In today's Gospel the family hears that Jesus, now grown, is preaching like a crazy man, casting out demons and hanging out with riff-raff. The religious authorities tell them that Jesus is “teched” (as we would say in Alabama), or as polite Episcopalians in New Jersey might put it, 'he has had a momentary lapse of reality.” Mary and his brothers come to restrain him; and once outside the place where he is preaching they send someone to tell him to come home to bring some peace to their family. Jesus replies to their messenger, “My mother!? My brothers!? Who are my mother and my brothers?” My mother and my brothers – my family – are not family by blood, but by intention. (Take that, Mama!)

Many LGBTQ folks have experienced very bad treatment from our biological parents. We can readily understand Jesus' sternness. LGBTQ folks own all trademarks and copyrights on the concept “Families of Intention.” For many years one of the most popular songs in gay social venues was “We are family!” We know full well that we did not choose our biological families, but we can and must choose as family those who whom we respect and those who treat us with respect.

That's why St. George's has been a special place for several decades. People have come here not to be battered but to be blessed. And we can never bless others without also blessing ourselves. I rejoice in your pioneering spirit of the Gospel. This place is holy.

What you have been doing for decades is now central to the policy of The Episcopal Church. I hope you experience joy in that, pride in that. If we can make the Episcopal Church safe for sinners, we'll pack all our congregations.

Who would have imagined 30 years ago that the staid, traditional Episcopal Church would take to the cutting edge in bringing news genuinely good for absolutely everybody, even with most of the rest of the Anglican Communion furious and hatching all sorts of plots to punish us and mock us. Their rebuke is often ludicrous.

The Archbishop of Canterbury would not allow our primate, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, to wear her miter when she preached at Southwark Cathedral during the last Lambeth Conference. She honored his request -- by walking behind her miter toted on a lovely Episcopal cushion by one of the servers in the procession.

Once the Archbishop of Uganda lost his cool and threw down his manuscript when he excoriated me from the porch of his palace in front of all the bishops of the Sudan and Uganda. I fantasized walking in the dark the several miles back to the hotel alone knowing how desperate they would be to find me. “That's too much fun to be of God,” I reasoned, and thus stood calmly through his fulminations.

The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, reacted with similar disdain after his enthronement at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. I had been a reader. Ernest and I entered the luncheon at the same time as the Archbishop and his wife, so I introduced Ernest as my husband to them. He visibly jumped back and fled. He later bragged about his rejection of us to a reporter from the New York Times.

Jesus advises us on such occasions to “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for so that rejected those who were before you.”

Many close observers of Episcopal politics predict, whatever their own point of view, that one month from now the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will pass trial rites of blessings (and where secular jurisdiction permits, marriages) of same-gendered persons. Hundreds of persons, recruited from friends and foes alike, in all 113 Episcopal dioceses have contributed to the materials being brought to Convention for action. People all over the world are watching. Many in other denominations, indeed in other religions, hope that this near the finish line, The Episcopal Church will boldly step across into God's welcoming embrace.

As you may have noticed, I am a church politician. I am not a priest. The first 20 of my 40 years of lay ministry would have been impossible had I sworn to obey a bishop. I do not see “church politician” as dirty term, though to tell the truth, sometimes it's a bit like being a “flasher for Jesus.”

Yet our political goals in the church do not and should not define everything we are as people of faith. In today's lesson from Hebrew scriptures, the Israelites are anxious to have a king and go Establishment. They are tired of being tribal. (Some of us can understand that quite well.) They are tired of being looked down upon by the high and mighty. Samuel warns the Israelites that even though God will grant their requests to have a king, they will be in for some great disappointment. He describes in detail how their sons and their daughters will forfeit much individual freedom to become the king's minions.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “Answered prayers cause more tears than those that remain unanswered.” Be careful what you ask for....

Let me give a personal example. Ernest and I married on February 2, 1974. Only three were present, the two of us and the Holy Spirit. We used the old Prayer Book, 1928 because that was the only Prayer Book available 38 years ago. As are many of you here, we are still nourished and disciplined by the fierce pledges that we made, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health....

So I am all for Marriage Equality, but I have discovered that marriage is not, and should not be, the be-all and end-all of my relationship with Ernest. I'm a slow learner and it took me a long time to understand that:

More than 25 years into our marriage someone asked Ernest and me who Kim Byham is, and I explained, "Kim Byham is my best friend." Later when we were alone, Ernest said, "I know you are close to Kim and I rejoice in that. But I am surprised that I have never heard you name me as your best friend. You are my best friend."

There was no meanness, no 'gotcha' in his countenance, just gentle, loving vulnerability.

I could say nothing for a long time, and when I did, I acknowledged that I had never thought of him as my best friend, that it was not just a mistake in my choice of words.

Over the next few months I concluded that I was valuing marriage too much if I let being a husband so absorb me that I could not even recognized Ernest as my best friend. He had indeed always treated me as his best friend without stopping for a moment in being my husband.

I'm still working on the challenge, and have been much blessed by it. One minor example. Ernest loves Japanese food. It's never been at the top of my list, yet for several years now, it has been a great pleasure to me to be the one to choose a fine Japanese restaurant when it is my turn to choose where we will eat out. Again and again with joy I watch him attack trays of raw fish with a twinkle in his eyes, especially the double portion of eels, his favorite. And he beams when I insist that he eat a huge chunk of my crab cake. And lo and behold, I rarely order tempura anymore, because I have actually grown to like some sushi – well some of it. Most important, I have the great joy of taking my best friend to a place that he will enjoy the most.

Likewise, I don't always find myself siding with Jesus in his sharp dismissal of biological families. (Nor does Jesus always make the point that he does in today's Gospel.) As important as families of intent are, so are families of birth.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a good friend of mine, and as a good Anglo-Catholic I hang out with her a lot, especially when I have the blues. In preparing for this sermon, I have asked her several times what it felt like to experience her son's dismissal of her in today's gospel story. He completely ignored all she had been for him. She became pregnant out of wedlock for him, and fat chance of persuading any of the religious zealots of her day by saying, “The Holy Spirit did it!” Mary was the first person ever to share the blood of Christ! She loved him dearly.

“Mary,” I have asked her, “what did it feel like to have him go into a snit and seemingly deny that your motherhood counted for anything. “Who are my mothers and my brothers!?”

Mary hasn't answered me yet. The closest I get is her gentle, enigmatic smile and a Beatles' song coming from an apartment down the hall, “Let it be, let it be.”

When I met Ernest, we courted for five months, and after we married, I wrote my parents. They replied with the hardest letter that I have ever received. They knew I was gay. That was not their problem. Ernest's being black was the hard part for them. In their letter they wished us all happiness but asked me not to bring Ernest home with me. They hoped that I would continue to visit, but they did not want to put their friends to the test. They knew that most would continue to love them, but “We're retired and we don't want to find out who won't.”

I showed Ernest the letter. He responded with his own enigmatic smile.

“Well, come on. Let's pack. We can be there in five hours,” I said.

Didn't you read the letter?” he asked.

“Yes, but they won't say that once they meet you. Once Dad sees that you are very gentle and kind like Mother....”

“No, Louie. I am not going, but you are. They have every right to be who they are. You could not love me had they not taught you how, and something in you that is very important to both of us will die if you cut yourself off from them. Besides, I have the best of both worlds: I have nice in-laws and I don't have to spend any time with them.”

I visited them regularly as before. Each time I would tell them the loving things he had said about them. Each time they would send me back with the car loaded with mother's best cakes and various baubles, such as pieces from her silver collection.... At one point she sent her engagement ring for him to make into a pendant.

Even to this day, both of us answer the phone in the same manner. Most friends can't tell which one has answered. Nor could either set of our parents while they were still alive. It often led to light humor.

Six years into our marriage, I picked up the phone. “I'd like to speak to my son, please.”

“But Dad, this is your son.”

“No, Louie. I want to speak to my other son.”

“This one's for you,” I whispered as I handed Ernest the phone.

“We're Christians,” Dad told Ernest, “but we have not behaved like Christians towards you, and we desperately need your forgiveness.”

“That's easy,” Ernest said. “You have it.”

“We want you and Louie to spend the weekend with us.” They arranged for 50 or more of their closest friends to drop by at intervals long enough for each to have a good conversation with us. Later we learned that other friends were disappointed to find they were not part of the inner circle. They wanted to meet Ernest too.

I not only believe in the Holy Spirit: I have seen the Holy Spirit happen.

Three years later mother and dad died, he seven months after she did. Knowing that I might not be with him when the end came, I said to him – forgive me, LGBTQ friends, this is not politically correct, it sounds like apologizing for who I am – I am trying to be honest with you the way I try to be honest with God, “Dad, I know that I have not been the son that you wanted, but I love you very much.”

He was down to 90 pounds He struggled to sit up and would not let me help him. He got eyeball to eyeball and said, “Louie, you have never been more wrong. You are the son that I wanted, and I love you very much.”

I realize that some of you may not have had a father that loved you like that. But let me tell you about my other father, because he's your father too. The God who made heaven and earth made you. You are the daughter God wants. You are the son God wants. Let your pride be in God's absolute love of you. Amen.

© 2012 Dr. Louie Crew

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pride Month Forum by Joan Garry

It's been a while since I have been to church. I do make exceptions for weddings and funerals, but I find myself antsy and, more importantly, unwelcomed. And this from the mouth of a woman who never sat in a classroom without a crucifix on the wall. Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school and then a Jesuit college. I don't know why it took a singular moment for me to stop attending mass with my mom when she comes to visit, but it did. A year or two ago, I read about a church in Maine that, for several weeks, passed two baskets. We used to call them 'special collections.' This one in particular was not at all special. The church was raising money so that it could fight a gay rights initiative in that state. I believe they did it for several weeks running. I bet they raised a few bucks.

And so here I am at church. And I'm actually feeling pretty good about it because (a) St. George's is an extraordinary congregation and (b) because I control the message. And (c), I have a few things to say and this setting seems quite right for them.

This morning I'd like to talk about what I think of as the "get out of jail free card" in the world of intolerance and bigotry. I'd like to talk about bullying in its broadest sense – not simply the obvious personal kind but the institutional variety as well. I want to offer some of my own observations about the success of the LGBT movement and what I think lies ahead. And be forewarned. I never speak to a group without calling them to action. It's great that you are here, listening to me but it is what you do with what you hear that matters the most.

So first a bit about me.

I live in Montclair with my partner of 30 years. We were among the earliest migrators to Montclair from Park Slope. We personally take credit for Montclair being the gayest suburb on the planet (well, maybe tied for gayest with Maplewood) on the planet.

We came here to have a family. And we did. We have three kids. Our eldest is 22 and in 1993 she became the first kid in the state of NJ to legally have two mothers as we secured NJ's first second parent adoption. Boy / girl twins followed. They are now 17 and juniors at Montclair High. Our 17 year old daughter is an out lesbian, so as our oldest daughter Scout notes, there is only one person in our household who likes boys.

Religion has been an important backdrop for the story that is our family story. I met Eileen in 1981. There were bullies everywhere we turned. Starting in the Oval Office - his name was Ronald Reagan. Our families were bullies too. Unsupportive is the kind word to use I guess. My mother goes to Mass nearly every day so perhaps I need say no more. Except to say there were a few years with no contact. Eileen's parents were Holocaust survivors. They survived thanks to an extraordinary inner strength and a profound belief that things could change. They attempted to apply this to Eileen's sexual orientation.

Eileen and I planned a family together. We spent the necessary time required to get our ducks in a row. Our first duckling, Scout was born in October 1989. Of course I remember the day well. But not just because I met Scout for the first time. It was also the first time I'd met Eileen's parents. For eight years they had managed around it. More accurately, we'd allowed them to manage around it. Picture the scene. I'm in the elevator at Mt. Sinai and being the nice girl I hold the door for an older man racing to the elevator. I recognized him from pictures. But Eileen's dad had never seen a picture of me. I introduced myself and congratulated him on the birth of his granddaughter. We rode the rest of the way in silence.
In the twenty five years I knew Eileen's mom, she never said my name out loud. The first time I set foot in Eileen's family home was the day her mom died. When Eileen's dad passed away, the rabbi neglected to mention three of Ben Opatut's grandchildren. Because the rabbi didn't know they even existed.

And while I joke that Eileen's parents learned persecution from the master, I am clear that there is more to it than that.

Our parents, like so many who consider themselves deeply religious, believe they have permission to discriminate, persecute – there are a lot of synonyms. You can choose your own.

Permission is granted and your ability to cast judgment, discriminate, and yes, bully comes when a religious institution hands you your special card. It's your "get out of jail free card," your "you are off the hook" card. It is what I call the "deeply held religious belief card or for short, the DHRB card."

My 85 year-old mom plays bridge twice a week. She is a walking poster child for the power of bridge to ensure that you stay sharp as a tack (long after people are kind of beginning to hope you might miss a few things from time to time). Anyway, she taught me about the trump card. That card you play that causes everyone else to fold.

In the eight years I ran a national gay rights organization, I cannot tell you how many times someone dropped the DHRB card down on the table and expected me to fold. Bill O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell, talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I can't tell you how many LGBT people and their straight allies become absolutely paralyzed when they see that card hit the table.

Now look, I don't want folks messing with my deeply held religious beliefs. I don't believe for one minute that I was born with a black mark on my soul. I am a member in good standing at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield NJ. I really like to think that if I am especially good that I might get a chance to get another ride through life --- I am so enjoying this one. So don't you go messing with me on these things I hold dear (or hope for dearly).

But when the DHRB card is played as "cover," the only fool is the one who folds. It is time for us to shout from the rooftops that a DHRB card gives no one an ounce of permission, an ounce of power to wield against minorities. And it is never a free pass to bully.

I have no doubt that many of you followed the trial of Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers student who had secretly filmed his roommate, Tyler Clementi, in his words "making out with a dude." This appeared to be the straw for Mr. Clementi who took his own life. Mr. Ravi was convicted of charges of bias and intimidation and sentenced to 30 days in prison. At first blush, you find yourself thinking "30 days?" The judge ruled that the incident was not hate based and could not fathom incarcerating Mr. Ravi with murderers and rapists. My point of view? Dharun Ravi is not a murderer; he is a bully. Like one of many bullies that Tyler Clementi faced during his young life.

Tyler Clementi's family can take some degree of solace in knowing that their son's tragic death spawned the "It Gets Better" movement launched by author Dan Savage. I'm sure you have all seen one or more of these videos. My 17 year old just finished the book – a compilation of the most moving narratives.

Dan was one of the first folks the media turned to for reaction to Ravi's sentencing. Dan captured the sentiment of many of us when he said:
What was he told about being gay growing up, by his faith leaders, by the media, by the culture?" Mr. Savage said. "Ravi may have been the last person who made him feel unsafe and abused and worthless, but he couldn't have been the first.
Ravi was one in a long line of bullies in Tyler Clementi's life. And as Dan said, those bullies were not just standing by his high school locker. Many of them were standing in pulpits.

My friend Cindy Sherman (the guidance counselor, not the artist) is in charge of the anti-bullying initiative at Bloomfield High School. She pointed me to websites that she uses in working with teachers and students. A particularly good one is easy to remember:

What is it exactly? Bullying? "An imbalance of power to control or harm others. The use of this power REPEATEDLY."

Goodness. We can probably all look inward and see ourselves in that definition at one time or another.

I learned on this site that there are three kinds of bullying --- verbal, physical and what they call social or relational bullying --- damaging someone's reputation or relationship, spreading rumors, embarrassing in public, telling others to shun this person. I guess this was largely Ravi's crime. And it's the easiest and most cowardly because you don't have to have the nerve to say it directly to someone's face.

This social bullying is not just an individual crime as Dan Savage points out. It's an institutional crime. The government, schools in states that are hardly as progressive as New Jersey. And yes, houses of worship. As I see it, playing the DHRB card is a prime example of social bullying. And along with a deep seated fear of difference, is at the core of homophobia.

So as a result, this is what we hear:
"The Bible tells me that homosexuality is wrong and so I am sorry but I don't think you should be teaching my kids."
Sure, I know there are kids throughout the state of Florida languishing in foster care but the (PLAY THE DHRB CARD) homosexuality is wrong and kids should not grow up in gay households.

You get the idea.

Here's the other important thing I learned about bullying. Standing behind every harassed child is a whole lot of clueless adults.

I'd like you to consider that statement as it relates to the road to LGBT equality. Standing behind every LGBT person? A whole lot of clueless people. Our job? Well there are certain folks we'll never get. But converting the clueless is the path to victory. How? By sticking out.

I think gay and lesbian people walk this fine line. We want to tell these stories. We want folks to know the realities. But we want to fit in, to be treated like everyone else. We want to be just another couple at the neighborhood barbeque or the cantor at the synagogue. But in order to get the rights we deserve we have to talk. A lot. We need to tell our stories. We have to stick out.

And the challenge in that is so many of us never thought we'd ever even get the chance to fit in that we worry about risking it by sticking out.

I get that there is a risk in sticking out. And some people think that you can't live behind a white picket fence and stick out at the same time.

I'm here to tell you that you can.

And I'm here to tell you that we must. Or we will not win. Unless we tell our stories, we will not win. Until we know our facts, we will not win. Until we make ourselves a little uncomfortable, we will not win. Until we are willing to make others a little uncomfortable, we will not win.

An example. My nephew got married last year. Timothy Garry (did I mention that my family is Irish?) and his fiancée asked me to officiate their wedding. I was flattered and disconcerted all at the same time. But of course I said 'yes.' It went well. I did a really good job. And I wonder how many people there took note of the irony. I could marry my nephew but not Eileen.

Later, at the reception, there was this lovely moment. They asked all the married couples to come on to the dance floor. In increments of 5, they asked couples to remain on the dance floor if they'd been married 5 years, then 10 years, then 20, then 25, then 30.

Did we fit in or did we stick out? Eileen didn't want to hit the dance floor. "Married" they said, she whispered. I saw my brother, the father of the groom, looking at us, hopeful that we would join. And then Eileen did what she does so well. She paused. A good long time. At least it felt like that. Long enough for many eyes to turn in our direction. Progressive eyes. Pot smoking college buddies of my brother. The eyes of my Republican siblings. The eyes of my very Catholic mother. I watched as they connected the dots. Some of them perhaps mindful that I had just officiated the wedding. Eileen waited long enough to make everyone just a little bit uncomfortable. And then she stood up. And as the only same sex couple on the floor and one of the last remaining standing couples, we stuck out and fit in all at the same time.

So I guess what I am saying is this. It is time for those of us who are out to REALLY come out. To stick out. To make people a bit uncomfortable. To go out on a limb. To refuse to fold when the DHRB card gets played. To tell our stories.

To use a metaphor that should resonate here, the choir needs to study the sheet music, know it cold and sing at the top of our lungs.

And then we need to ask our straight allies to come out and sing, too. To come out as allies, to stand with us. Without our straight neighbors, family and friends, we will not win.

But we have a lot of work to do. Because far too often, straight progressive allies are either too complacent or are far too often are ill informed. Maybe we have misled people into thinking we have things we don't really have. Maybe it's not easy to tell a progressive they don't know everything. I'm not sure.

Well-meaning, progressive people have said to me: the struggle for gay equality is THE civil rights issue of our time. And when I then mention that the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the independent commission responsible for pushing LBJ toward the Voting Rights Act of 1964 does not include gay rights issues in its docket, those same people are stunned. As far as I'm concerned, if you fancy yourself progressive, you don't get the title without doing the work.

My current favorite straight progressive person who walks the walk? Vice President Joe Biden. First off, I ran a gay rights organization for nearly a decade (GLAAD) that was all about the power of media to change hearts and minds. So I'm kvelling when Biden says that Will and Grace had more influence than many other things in changing attitudes about LGBT people. But he doesn't stop there. Then he speaks from the heart, indicates his support for marriage equality and wins the prize for making people uncomfortable. In this case, every senior official at the White House. I love Joe Biden.

This is what it will take. And by the way, even when we lose, we win. An opportunity to argue about what is just and right and fair, even if we lose in the short term on certain issues, is an opportunity to be visible, to open up a few eyes and equally as many hearts.

One last story - The success of The Avengers at the box office has led me to consider the notion of superpowers. And my thoughts about superpowers strayed to my sexual orientation. I imagined that many people would see it as my kryptonite. As a liability. Something to overcome. And I could understand why. We are an unprotected minority – second class citizens.

But I do not believe that my sexual orientation is my kryptonite.

I see it as my super power.

I would guess that a lot of folks, gay and straight, would think that if gay people were given one wish, it would be to become straight. Not me. Not now. Not ever.

You see, I have a perspective and a view of the world that is clearer and enriched by my difference.  I take less for granted.  Eileen and I created our family with intention.  We had to be bold. We chose to stick out. We made choices that were not easy.  I came out to my parents and traveled a journey with them that enriched every member of my family.  And I am a stronger person having dealt with Eileen's parents who, in 25 years, never spoke my name.

It is because of my difference that I have found my voice. That I have chosen work that matters. And that my commitment to social justice feels so urgent.

These are the kind of gifts that come with diversity.

And by the way, the movement for gay and lesbian equality IS the civil rights movement of our time. It presents us all with an opportunity to speak out, stand up and to do something. I think that may be why they call it a movement.

Thanks so much for having me here.

© 2012 Joan M. Garry

Trinity Sunday

By the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, Rector

It’s been said that God is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be explored. There are no accurate answers to the questions, "Who is God?" or "What is God?" So many books have been written and all fall short. Far many more create God in their own image returning the favor from the book of Genesis.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." That’s very nice to hear, since much of the rhetoric we hear on the airwaves is the reverse. The picture of God that many draw and many others see is one of a god that condemns. That is not the God I preach about. The God I know is love, and creativity and joy. A God who makes whales for the sport of it and who heals people for the love of them. The only ones he chastises are the ones who condemn others. Those who have somehow fallen short or missed their mark are not condemned by him but invited deeper into the mystery of His love.

How do we describe such a God? The early Christian theologians inherited the Greek models of philosophy and applied these to Christian doctrine. The methods of Plato and Aristotle found their ways into the Christian centers of Antioch and Alexandria in present day Turkey and Egypt. They wrestled long and hard with the questions of God’s divinity and humanity for decades forging a formula that took a couple centuries and coming up with a doctrine we know as the Trinity, in honor of which we name this Sunday. God the Creator, Jesus the human redeemer, and the Holy Spirit of wisdom - feminine in the Greek words of scripture, but curiously masculine in the English translations.

All separate and all the same. All confusing, all the same. And yet, in the midst of the confusion a reality surfaces that cannot be described, but only felt through a resonance of the spirit.

I feel God’s presence and love in glimpses of grace and have throughout my life. I suspect you have too or else you wouldn’t be sitting here. But try to describe it and we fall short. Isaiah described a wonderful vision of heaven. The Hebrew scriptures aren’t full of theology but they are full of stories, pictures and visions. They speak their truth and wisdom through the language of myth and tradition. In Isaiah’s vision he sees God sitting on a throne not in heaven, but in the temple. For the Israelites God lived in the Temple created by Solomon and destroyed by the Babylonians. But in his vision, Isaiah could still see it and God on the throne in it with angels flying about. One of the angels took a burning coal and putting it on his lips created that burning need to proclaim. And when the question came about whom they would send to the people - Isaiah uttered, "Here am I, send me."

It was a moment of conviction and transformation. A moment of clarity and determination. The discovery of something so profound and burning within to let others know: God is here and God does care. The mysterious distance of lofty thrones in Isaiah can be contrasted to Paul’s use of the word "Abba" in his Epistle to the Romans. He said, when we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. But the translators missed it again. "Abba" doesn’t mean "father," it means "daddy." Imagine, they could not bring themselves to translate a word so intimate, so loving and tender. I got a new appreciation for the word "Abba" when I saw a little Hasidic boy in Brooklyn jump into his father’s arms and call out "Abba." Then it made sense to me. The simplicity of the word and the closeness we are invited to share in God’s love. But how do you describe it in theological terms? We can’t. We can only tell it in story. Imprecise. Sometimes messy, and usually slanted, but oddly clear.

Nicodemus scratched his head trying to figure out just what Jesus meant by saying we had to be born again. I scratch my head on that one too. "Born again" is a loaded phrase. It’s right up there with "God". What does it mean? And is someone only born again once?

I’ve had two experiences that I could describe as being "born again." The first was at the age of 23 when I told another person for the first time that I was gay. In that one simple statement the years of pent up fear, self hate, and confusion exploded in powerful sobs that washed away the worst of it and replaced in my spirit the deepest and profound knowing that God loved me. Made me and loved me. Like a burning coal on my lips as though the angel of God asked whom can we send to tell others trapped in self hate that God loves them, I said "Here am I, send me. Try to stop me." The power of that conviction was amazing and I can describe it as passionately as any person who tells their story of being born again. That was 32 years ago and the strength has ebbed and flowed, but the deep knowing has remained.

I believe that being born again is that moment in each of our lives when the secrets we carry in our hearts; those that tell us we are not lovable are shown to be the lies. And once the lie has been exposed, the truth of God’s love rushes in like a mighty wind.

I felt another experience I describe as being born again that occurred 12 years ago. It was again the moment I told my secret truth out loud to another person. This time the truth I told was that I’m an alcoholic. Another and different reservoir of shame and guilt flooded out. Much quieter and less dramatic than my first experience, but equally as powerfully and deeply felt. Despite the pain and guilt I felt, the unworthiness and shame that I owned was laid bare and again the healing warmth of knowing that even in this God loved me, and a voice in my spirit that said," You’re going to be alright." Again, there was that deep knowing as mysterious as the One who sits on the mighty throne and yet also the quiet gentleness of the "Abba" holding the weeping child. How do you describe that except by story?

There is a power in saying our truths out loud. It’s incarnational, which means it takes on flesh and becomes real like the Word of God did in Bethlehem. The mysterious creator, the tender savior and the powerful spirit burning in us are real, and it’s God.

There is nothing that any of us have done or anything that we are that can separate us from the love of God and yet the fear of that separation keeps us silent too often. Silence can be very soothing, but it can also be the place where lies breed and twist inside us. It can be where bitterness is born and fear grows. That cannot be what God wants. Love is here and each of us is made by God and loved by God. Who we are and what we have done - good and bad - can be put to good use in helping others. What we have learned and accomplished can help others. Our speaker here today was invited because she dared to speak the truth burning in her spirit. She has helped others by her truth and her deep knowledge that she is lovable and loved. And no one can take that from her. Each of us is lovable and loved, and no one can take that from us. Even when we don’t believe it ourselves, God does and will send an angel with a burning coal to touch our lips. When that powerful realization hits, you won’t want to give your theology, you’ll want to give your truth. God did not come to condemn the world, but to save it through his love. It’s a message that needs to be heard. But who will go for us? Whom shall we send? Amen.

© 2012 St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood, NJ

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black History and the Episcopal Church

By the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, Rector

February overlaps the church season of Epiphany with the National observance of Black History Month. The word Epiphany means Manifestation and is used in this season to show the various ways Jesus manifested God in his life and ministry. One of the ways we're reading about often in the Gospel chosen for these weeks is in healing.

Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926, having been started by historian Carter G. Woodson. In 1976 February was designated Black History Month for the US and Canada. England observes Black History Month in October. In many ways this observance is healing too. The history books in America have long been written from the perspective of the accomplishments of European Americans, to the extent that contributions made by African Americans to science, medicine, culture, literature, exploration, business, indeed any aspect of our national history were systematically ignored or glossed over. History is the story of a people who live together and it needs to be told in a balanced and proud way. To exclude anyone for any reason is a disservice to the one ignored and even more so to the one who never learns about them. Pieces of our historical puzzle are missing when we leave out any group of people.

Black History Month addresses in small part the injustice of omission not only to African Americans who have a right to cherish the contributions of other African Americans in history, but to European Americans and Americans of any ethnic background, who have a right to better understand the richness of our interwoven lives.

There is seemingly a fear that the greatness of one people diminishes the greatness of another. That fear is a sickness that needs healing. The risen Lord who heals the sick and drives out the unclean spirits is a good place to look for such a healing.

Last week we read about Jesus healing the man in the synagogue of an unclean spirit. Today we read about Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law first and then many people from the town who came after they heard what happened. Sometimes people want to see proof of healing before they open themselves up to it. As the words of Jesus' healing spread, so did the hope of the people who needed it and they came looking for it themselves. Jesus proclaimed the message of healing through God's love and kept going from town to town to proclaim it even further. Hopefully that's a message we continue to preach here.

I've always liked history and enjoyed brushing up on aspects of history within the Episcopal church that involved specific reference to African Americans. There are particular people who usually get highlighted. Absalom Jones, the first African American priest, was ordained in 1804 in Philadelphia, Barbara Harris, an African American woman who was the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in 1989. People are generally know if they are the trail blazers or "firsts" of anything.

But there are also historical trends that are important to point out also. For example, prior to the Civil War the Episcopal church was very strong in this country. That period was also before the influx of Roman Catholic immigrants so the Protestant Church in general was very strong, and the Episcopal church in particular was strong in the North and South, and the denomination of choice for those high in social circles, business and politics.

The Evangelical fervor that hit the United States was identified often with the Methodist Church, itself an offshoot of the Church of England, and whose co-founder John Wesley coined a phrase when he described his acceptance of God's grace as his heart being strangely warmed.

Episcopalians of high theology were considered people of the intellect, rational in their decisions and not swayed by sentimental emotionalism. The evangelical's warm hearts however, worked into the Episcopal church creating a similar tensions to those that always exist between head and heart.

Evangelical Episcopalians of the 1800's did a lot of work among the slave population and a large number of slaves became Christian through the Episcopal Church. But it was still very segregated. I've told this story before but I think it bears repeating, that as the Abolition movement got stronger the strains were felt in the Episcopal Church reflecting the growing conflicts in the general population. Conservative Episcopalians wanted to stay out of the debate while Evangelical Episcopalians insisted that the church needed to proclaim it's prophetic voice. The symbol of the Evangelical church's desire to speak on secular issues was the America flag hung in the churches. When Trinity Church on Wall Street allowed the American flag inside the congregation was aghast.

Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest know among other things for writing O Little Town of Bethlehem, was a fiery Evangelical preacher who railed against the fear of speaking out against slavery and wrote about one particular convention where no statement was made: Its shilly-shallying was disgraceful. It was ludicrous, if not sad, to see those old gentlemen sitting there for fourteen days trying to make out whether there was a war going on or not, and whether if there was it would be safe for them to say so."

More and more churches hung the flag in the church and the conservative voices relented to this trend but similarly insisted that the Episcopal flag also be hung so we don't forget the place of God in the conversation. And there they hang to this very day. But most Episcopalians have no idea why. History is a way of telling stories that need to be told. Our lives are richer because of them.

The Episcopal Church split during the Civil War but reunited after the war. The toll taken was high in so many ways, not the least of which was among church membership which had become disillusioned by war and suffering and bitter hatred between fellow citizens. The work among African Americans in the evangelical wave was lost as the country spent its time rebuilding itself. Segregation in the church continued and many opportunities for God's healing were lost. The Episcopal Church treated African Americans as a problem: culturally and socially separated and inferior, but by baptism, full and equal members of the community. The Church tried to mend this breach by ministering to black Americans separately, consecrating bishops for "colored work", funding black colleges, establishing black congregations, and operating a special office for "Negro work." In short, the Episcopal Church fully embraced the American "separate but equal" construct of race relations.

The history of race relations in the Episcopal church has a lot of pain in it. It also has a lot of hope and reconciling grace in it as well. We need to build a strong future on the solid ground of truth. A lot of work has been done and much more remains to be done. Healing has happened in the body of Christ among its varied members and like those in the Gospel lesson people keep getting drawn to it even more. Amen.

© 2012 St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood, NJ

Sunday, September 11, 2011


By the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, Rector

The first lesson is a difficult one today -- the story of how God helps the Israelites escape their bondage by crossing the Red Sea and rolls back the sea killing the Egyptians. There are scholarly explanations for this that give reasonable interpretations, but on a gut level it seems like mass killing -- regardless of how it's attempted to be justified. And on a day that we remember the horror or mass killings in New York, Washington DC and in a Pennsylvania field, it strikes a raw chord.

Those perpetrating the attacks felt justified and their actions changed the world and unleashed a backlash of war and suffering that has led to more and more killing. Each side calling out betrayal, each side calling out vengeance and each side calling out revenge and righteous anger. It doesn't stop. How can it stop?

Peter asked Jesus, Lord, how often should I forgive, seven times? The answer is seventy time seven -- meaning always. Because forgiveness is the only way to break a cycle of violence. It's so hard to forgive in these extreme circumstances. Perhaps Peter could also ask, Lord, What's the biggest sin I have to forgive? Are some sins so big that I don't have to or can't?

Jesus answered that question a short time later as he hung from the cross and said, Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing. Sometimes there seem to be easy answers to everyday problems and issues, and maybe sometimes there are easy answers. But 911 was not an everyday problem and there are no easy answers. This 10th year observance has us all on edge. They tell us there are credible threats for attacks on the bridges or tunnels. Even without the threats, all the coverage has brought back the original attacks with such lurid details through images and recordings. It's as if the 10 years evaporated and we're there all over again. I value remembrance and honoring, but I also want to experience the hope of September 12.

I was the rector of a church in Queens when the planes hit the towers. I was in my apartment having a quiet cup of coffee when the phone rang and a parishioner asked if I'd seen the news. I turned it on and was dumbstruck. Her husband worked in the towers and she couldn't reach him. It turned out that he got out of the building, but the excruciating waiting that was to be repeated over and over again brings up a pain that I know you identify with. I went to church and opened the doors. All day people came in, sat, prayed, cried, waited. Waited for news and waited for another possible attack.

I've heard stories of the response that happened here at St. George's on that day. Again the church doors were opened and people streamed in. People from the neighborhood coming together to be with each other in their shock and grief. What a powerful witness that in such times our doors are opened and people are welcomed in and find ministry. At some point, I'm told there were songs and one that had a special place was America the Beautiful. That's why we sang it today with the Gospel.

In the days, weeks and months ahead life was different for everyone. The atmosphere in the city took a turn and people behaved differently. People were nice, caring, asking after each other, even strangers reached out to each other. People came from all over the country to help untangle the twisted remains of the buildings and lives that were shattered. It was remarkable to see the outpouring of love and unity not only from Americans, but people from all over the world. September 12th began the road to recovery on a wave of human spirit that was awe inspiring. The heroics of people on the morning of the 11th will be remembered today appropriately, but we can also remember the heroics of the people who reached out in love and fellowship in even the simplest of acts.

Part of recovery is also healing. Deep wounds heal, but they also leave scars. We have spiritual and psychic wounds as well as physical wounds. Part of the scars are the tensions and anxieties that accompany today. And part of the healing is evident in the hope that moved us forward one day at a time and continues to do so.

Further healing comes through forgiveness. The names and faces associated with terror from Osama bin Laden to his lieutenants don't inspire forgiveness even in their deaths. Peter's question nags at me. How many times must I forgive?

In the spiritual work I do, I'll describe issues I'm facing or conflicts and rather than hearing how I've been wronged, my director brushes my complaints aside and asks, What's your part in it? I hate that question. Because there always is a part in it. It's painful to walk through that and painful to make the amends that may be needed, but it's a medicine that brings healing. On our national scale, I ask the same question, What's our part in it? Is it unpatriotic to suggest we have a part to play? If we can't ask the question, much less try to answer it, our healing can never be complete.

In another place Jesus told his disciples to pray: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. I don't have any answers to these, but the questions nag me.

I'd like to consider the first lesson again. I'm convinced that more than historical accuracy, the scriptures illustrate spiritual truths. There are gruesome aspects that have no reliable historical verification. They are stories that were handed down and no doubt embellished. Enemies are more fearsome, crimes more heinous, and revenge sweeter. But what gives life to stories are the spiritual truths they hold.

Like the people of Israel we can become enslaved to fears and limitations. We have to work hard to escape them and it doesn't always happen on the first try. We have to be tenacious to become our better selves. And we can really only do that with God's help. In the language of story and myth, each one of those Egyptians is a defect, a flaw, an entity, circumstance or memory that threatens to overtake us and recapture us, chaining us to the same old fears, and issues we need to escape. The victory for the Israelites came through God's help and the victory that each of us wins in the conflict with our own problems, hurts and issues will also come with God's help. A big tool in God's tool box is forgiveness. It's not easy and that's also reflected in the adventures of the Israelites who more than once during their forty year sojourn wondered if they would have been better off to stay in Egypt.

Healing takes work and determination. It takes faith and patience. It takes time. The Easter after 9/11 was 7 months later. I tried to put on a happy face for the crowds expected, because I thought that was my job. But I realized and told them that I wasn't happy. I wasn't feeling the Easter joy and I couldn't fake it. But I did have hope that day that healing would come in time. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that in the end three things remain, faith hope and love. I think that's true and that the story of the Israelites, while packaged in a questionable wrapper of gruesomeness, is a story of the survival of faith, hope and love.

I think the story of 9/11 and more importantly 9/12 also captures the essence of faith hope and love. Not in the attacks, but in the rebuilding that transcends it.

I baptized a baby at the family service and this afternoon I'll preside at the blessing of Civil Marriage. Our victory over adversity comes from the healing we pursue and the dedication to achieve it. Healing comes through forgiveness, faith hope and love. From the joy we find in our lives and the horizons and challenges God calls to follow. Amen.

© 2011 St. George's Episcopal Church, Maplewood, NJ