Saintly Shenanigans

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Two Mighty Women: Martha of Bethany and Harriet Tubman March 15, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 2:47 pm

Yesterday’s match-up was not even close.  Florence Li-Tim Oi took an early, substantial lead over Gregory the Great and held on to it throughout the day.  There was a lively discussion in the comments to yesterday’s Lent Madness post — apparently Li is Florence’s last name, Florence is her Christian name  and Tim-Oi is her given name (last names come first in Chinese), so now the record has been set straight.  There was quite a bit of other conversation — I even checked  in with a post mentioning that one of our fifth graders told Fr. Mike and me before the day school mass yesterday morning that a white bird had perched on the chimney above the Sistine Chapel and remained there until the white smoke billowed out.  And then, the boy went on, the new Pope takes the name Francis and St. Francis loved animals!  Did I mention that I love my job?

File:Harriet Tubman Step On Board, Cunningham .jpg

“Step on Board”
Statue of Harriet Tubman by Fern Cunningham
In the Harriet Tubman Park, Boston

“That Good Part”
Painting of Martha of Bethany
by Elspeth Young

On to today’s Madness:  Mary of Bethany, sister of Mary and Lazarus, friend of Jesus and proclaimer “you are the Messiah” in John’s Gospel (the role Peter played in the other three Gospels) — against Harriet Tubman.  With apologies to all my friends named Martha, this one is a no-brainer for me.  Before I make my case for Harriet Tubman let me repeat what I said in another conversation yesterday:  “I did not vote against MLK on Wednesday; I voted for Frances Perkins.”  And that is really what this is all about (along with just good fun and a huge learning opportunity) — I don’t see Lent Madness as voting against any one but rather weighing the overall impact each saint had — or sometimes just the saint I personally connect with, (or sometimes just eeny-meeny-miny-moe).  Some people have dismissed the whole LM enterprise — why even have a competition between saints they ask — but do let us remember that the saints themselves most assuredly don’t care, or are perhaps mildly amused.  They have, after all,  moved on to a far greater glory than even the Golden Halo.

In choosing Harriet Tubman (again) today (I did also vote for Martha in the Round of 32), I am casting a vote for someone whose courage is way larger than life.  Of course I had known that she had escaped slavery herself and then returned time and again to lead others to freedom.  But I didn’t realize (before Lent Madness that is) how the rest of her life evolved:  joining the Union forces during the Civil War as a cook and nurse and then ultimately not only becoming a spy but also leading an attack.  Recruiting men to fight with John Brown before the Civil War. After the war joining forces with Susan B. Anthony in the fight for women’s suffrage.  Being buried with full military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, NY.  And the stories of her courage go on and on.  March 10, five days ago, marked the 100th anniversary  of her death.

Larger than life, indeed.  But we cannot just look at saints whose contributions have been so enormous and say “Oh that’s way out of my range, I couldn’t possibly do anything like she did.”  Probably not.  But the whole point of venerating saints the way we do in the Episcopal Church (and indeed the whole Anglican communion) is because they continue to speak to us saying, “Perhaps not.  But what can you do — right here, right now in the little piece of history in which God has placed you?”  The saints are not lifeless stained glass icons beatifically gazing down on us as we spend our hour in church each week.  They continue to live on and continue to urge us — go, make a difference in the world which you inhabit.  Take the love of Christ that you have experienced and make it real in your words and, especially, your actions.  Today!

To vote, go here.


Centuries/Continents separate them; Christ unites them: Gregorgy the Great and Florence Li-Tim Oi March 14, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 1:33 pm

Yesterday was probably the biggest upset yet — Frances Perkins edged out Martin Luther King, Jr. by the barest of margins.  I commented on a friend’s fb page yesterday that I wished there had been a “both/and” category for voting.  I have a hunch that Frances’ coming out slightly ahead reflects a desire on the part of many of us to see her story more broadly and boldly told.  How could I, as a history major back in college, not have known about her before Lent Madness?  The New Deal is always associated with FDR; Perkins was the architect of it (and so much more) and yet remains largely unsung.  I hope that changes and I thank the Supreme Executive Committee for bringing her to the wider attention.

Any connection with this meme and yesterday’s election is purely coincidental!

What a wonderful icon!

Today I’m once again faced with a vote-off between two saints for whom I voted in the Round of 32.   However I don’t feel nearly as torn by the choice today as I did yesterday.  Today Greg the Great goes up against Florence Li-Tim Oi whom I dubbed in the first go-around the “Rosie the Riveter of Anglican priests.”  She was, as you may recall, the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion — many years before the ordination of the “Philadelphia 11” in 1974.  She was ordained during World War II when there was a shortage of priests on the island of Macau.  After the War, just as Rosie relinquished her place in the assembly line to the returning GI Joes, Florence relinquished her license to officiate  to stem the burgeoning tide of harrumphing within the Anglican Communion about a woman priest.  She never denounced her orders though and lived to see a future day when she could once again reclaim her full priestly calling.

It’s probably pretty obvious by now who gets my vote today.  Don’t get me wrong, Gregory the Great did great things for the church during a particularly dark period of history as the Roman world was falling apart.  (I do hold one grudge against him, though — apparently he was responsible for the claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and for the assumption that millions have made through the centuries about her even though there is not even the merest suggestion of this in the actual Bible).  But today I am once again voting for Florence Li-Tim Oi.

We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us — those who sacrificed to blaze a trail — and as a priest who happens to be a woman I am keenly aware of what we owe to the brave ones like Florence, like the 11.  Yes, this one is personal, but it’s not just about me and my priesthood, it’s about my daughter and all daughters everywhere.  It’s about the struggle that still continues for equality, for justice, for the freedom to be able to be who God has uniquely created us each to be.

Soon after I arrived in the Diocese of Pennsylvania some 22 years ago I attended an informal gathering of women priests.  Among the people gathered were two women in particular:  the Rev’d Nancy Stroh, the priest who had been the interim rector at the parish I had just started serving, and the Rev’d Nancy Wittig, also a priest in that diocese — and one of the original Philadelphia 11.  That day I had a major “aha” moment as I realized with immense gratitude I could thank the one for my being a priest and the other for having set the precedent which enabled that parish to imagine a woman rector.

We stand on the shoulders of the brave ones, the giants, who come before us.

To vote, go here.


IMHO, the toughest one yet… Martin Luther King VS Frances Perkins March 13, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 1:51 pm

Okay, here’s the easy part:  Luke (you know, the guy who contributed one of the Gospels plus the entire book of Acts?) trounced John Donne yesterday.  Yeah, I voted for John Donne in the first round and might have done so again if he hadn’t come up against such a heavyweight.  But really, was there any doubt?  I’m glad he made it thus far, but Johnny boy, the bell hath tolled and it hath indeed tolled for thee.

MLK is one of the 20th century martyrs on the Great West Entrance of Westminster Abbey (others in this year’s Lent Madness: Janani Luwum and Oscar Romero)

There is no icon (yet) for Frances Perkins, but this book cover comes close

But today.  OMG.  Today… The first Lent Madness match-up in which I truly want to run screaming from the room.  Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Frances Perkins.  Would that I had not, through the wretched yet blessed instrument of Lent Madness, have even become aware of who Frances Perkins was.  But alas, my consciousness has been raised, my knowledge has been awakened (along the lines of the convoluted thoughts expressed by St. Paul’s letter to the Romans in the Daily Lectionary readings this week…) and I am fully aware of who Frances Perkins was and what her impact on our lives today continues to be.  So what once might have been (IMHO) a slam dunk for MLK has now become the toughest choice yet.  For me any way.

Hear me out:  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the Harriet Tubman of his time — leading his people on to yet another form of freedom.  But he did not just raise the horizon for African-American people, he raised it for all Americans.  He lifted up a vision of a time when none of us would any longer be judged by the color of our skin but rather by the content of our character.  He had a dream, not just for black people, but for all people.  He was martyred on the eve of participating in a march in solidarity with sanitation workers in Memphis, TN.  He was expanding his vision beyond civil rights for African-Americans to civil rights for all:  the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized of every color and ethnicity.  And he was also beginning to take a stand against the injustice of the US involvement in the affairs of Viet Nam — the incredible waste of human life in that conflict, both American and Vietnamese.  And here we are, some 40+ years later:  I look at the label on a tee-shirt I bought at The Gap and it says “Made in Viet Nam.”  Those of you who didn’t live through all that meshugenah don’t perhaps fully grasp the enormity inherent in that simple label.  I look at it and marvel that those who were once our enemies are now “trading partners.”  And also weep at the countless lives lost so needlessly.  I also feel a personal connection with MLK — my father attended the 1963 March on Washington (we lived in the DC suburbs at the times).  He was actually there to hear the “I have a dream” speech.  Wow.  I was just a kid then — what did I know?  I had no concept of the enormity of it all then.

And yet, despite all that — my vote today goes to Frances Perkins.  A woman who, again I am ashamed to say, I didn’t know about until Lent Madness.  Frances was the Secretary of Labor during FDR’s administration — (the first woman cabinet member) — she held that post through all four of his terms.  She is responsible for Social Security and for Welfare.  She drafted several of the initiatives which helped pull us out of the Great Depression like the Civilian Conservation Corps (in which my husband’s dad had his first job).  She helped eliminate child labor and gave us so many other benefits that we now take for granted.  Take for granted, except that now so many of these are under attack and are at risk of being lost.

And it is for that reason — the fact that so much of what Frances Perkins worked so hard to insure would be available to all Americans are now at risk, are now dismissed as “entitlements” — that I cast my vote for Frances Perkins over the giant of civil rights Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  That and the fact that Frances Perkins’ story needs to be told and re-told, boldly, now, in a time when what she worked so hard to gain then could so easily be swept away.

To vote, go here.  Scroll to the bottom of the page and do please pause to read the Lent Madness reflections on today’s giants.


Sorry, John Donne, but this time I think the bell tolls for thee: John Donne VS Luke the Evangelist March 12, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 1:34 pm

Yesterday’s competition was fierce, but in the end Hilda of Whitby edged out Ignatius of Antioch, which means she’ll advance to take on either Martha of Bethany or Harriet of Tubman (sorry, couldn’t resist with all these “of’s”).

Well, I knew it would happen sooner rather than later — two saints I had both previously voted for are now up against each other in the Saintly Sixteen:  Luke the Evangelist and John Donne the poet.  Oh, and did I mention that University of Miami will be participating in that “other” Madness thing — the one that involves very tall people heaving round objects through suspended nets?  They put to rest the foe from Clemson on Saturday and now it’s on to March Madness, go Canes!

I picked this image because Luke is also the patron saint of artists. Legend has it that he painted the Black Madonna of Czestochowa

How cool is that! A statue of JD with St.Paul’s in the background (where he served as dean, but not of the Wren edifice, rather the pre-Great-fire cathedral)

But back to the Madness at hand, Luke and John D.  This time, for me, the bell tolls for John as I’m sticking with Luke.  As a reminder, during the Saintly Sixteen round I’m not focusing on biographical info, go to Lent Madness if you’d like a refresher, or scroll down to my earlier posts.  I’m sticking with Luke because, as I said before, he is my favorite of the four evangelists.  And speaking of Lent Madness, please keep one of their writers — the Rev’d Laurie Brock — in your prayers.  She took a nasty spill off a horse a few days ago, but still went on to do the write-up on John Donne for today’s Madness.  That doesn’t sway my vote, but I am praying for her. Also, the Supreme Executive Committee has asked everyone to “like” Lent Madness on Facebook — they hope to get 5,000 “likes” by week’s end and are in spitting distance of it now.  Come on, you know you spend way too much time on fb any way — what’s one more “like” for the people who have brought us this wonderful Lenten alternative!

As you know we are in Year C, the year we focus on Luke’s Gospel.  This past Sunday was the “Gospel in miniature” — the story of the Prodigal Son.  I call it the “Gospel in miniature” because it encapsulates the Good News:  God’s loving kindness is lavishly given to us all; no matter how far we’ve strayed God is always waiting to take us back, embrace us, and welcome us yet again to the feast.  I had planned to write a bona fide sermon for Sunday– one of these years I’d like to wonder out loud how the parable might have affected the Pharisees to whom Jesus told it.  We are never told, leaving it up to our imaginations or, as my Jewish friends call it, “midrash.”

But after I saw what Fr. Bill Walker did with this parable at the Diocesan Festival Eucharist on Friday (a day when the middle school  kids of all the Episcopal schools in our diocese get together) I thought, hmm, let’s see our congregation can do what a fifth grader could (the kids were great, answering all his questions and fully participating).  So, following Bill’s lead I engaged the St. Stephen’s congregation in a “conversation sermon” — usually a tricky thing to do, but TBTG, people did participate.  First I asked “who are you in this story?”  Some responded “the jealous, cranky older brother” (oh yes, aren’t we all so much of the time!), some the profligate younger brother who was then embraced upon his return, some said the father (anyone with kids can certainly relate!).  One man said “the fatted calf,” because he sometimes finds himself in situations over which he has no control.  That is the beauty of Jesus’ parables — especially this one — I believe we are meant to see ourselves in them and then be changed by the Good News.

Next I asked “how does this story end?” and blessedly right off the bat someone said “it doesn’t!” and someone else said “in the end there will be reconciliation for all.  Amen to that!

To vote for Luke, uh, I mean to vote for either of them, go here and may the best writer win!


The Celt takes on the Antiochean: Hilda of Whitby VS Ignatius of Antioch March 11, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 1:11 pm

The altar at St. Ignatius of Antioch in NYC where our own Father Stowe was rector

Hilda presiding at the Synod of Whitby

Last Friday’s match-up is in the bag:  Archbishop Oscar Romero did indeed trounce Lucy (as, you’ll recall, I did predict).  John the Baptist you are now vindicated!  Hopefully no more people are succumbing to the temptation to vote more than once.  Today’s round has the remaining Celtic saint (Hilda of Whitby) up against the survivor of the battle of the Ignatii:  Ignatius of Antioch.  You might recall I lobbied for the other guy (Ignatius of Loyola).  So you’re correct in assuming that my vote goes to Hilda this time.  Gotta keep at least one Celt in for at least one more round!

Maybe I should explain my draw towards Celtic spirituality:  14 years ago (wow, has it been that long…!) I was privileged to take a seven week sabbatical while serving my first rectorship at Trinity, Gulph Mills in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  My husband could only join us for the final two weeks, so he missed the five weeks of driving through England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales — 11 year old and 6 year old in tow.  One very generous friend lent us a car for the duration and parishioners made their house available to us as a base camp.  My intent was to study Celtic spirituality by visiting lots of holy places  — which we indeed did.  But the study and its end result were a bit different than I had anticipated (remember, I said “11 year old and 6 year old in tow”!).  We took the ghost tour in Edinburgh and went to Legoland in Windsor.   We waited in line for the release of the second (or was it the third?) Harry Potter book  (which my son read avidly even as we drove through the stunning Yorkshire countryside.   We dipped our toes in the cold North Sea and learned that paying a pound to play a video game is not the best use of an allowance.  My favorite memory is pulling one of them off the altar in the ancient abbey of Iona with the stern words “get down off of there!  this is not our church!”  Fortunately a large orange cat caught her attention and I was able to absorb some of that holy place.

But what came to me during the course of that  trip was that I was actually not studying Celtic Spirituality but rather experiencing it.  Because what the Celts have handed down to us is an appreciation of daily life — the moments of beauty, the goodness of creation, the beauty of love.  The Celts had a prayer for everything in life, many of which have been handed down to us in a collection called the Carmina Gadelica.  During that summer I was given the  gift of being with my children in an amazing journey — appreciating many of life’s joyous moments.

Oh, and in that bookend way life sometimes has, during my next sabbatical five years ago I had the privilege of participating in a retreat on Celtic Spirituality in New Mexico, led by John Philip Newell who is the former warden of the Iona abbey.

To vote, go here and scroll to the bottom

Here is an example of a Celtic prayer, from the Scottish highlands:

God to enfold me,
God to surround me
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my hands,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber
God in mine ever living soul,
God in mine eternity.


Oh, John the Baptist, your vindication is nigh (IMHO): Oscar Romero VS Lucy March 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 1:31 pm

And Jonathan Daniels advances!  What’s the next round after the “Saintly Sixteen” you ask?  Well clearly you haven’t made use of Lent Madness’ Bracket 2013 which lets you know who has advanced and the dates for upcoming match-ups.  But if you don’t feel inclined to leave this particularly captivating blog for now:  the next round to which Daniels is advancing is called the “Elate Eight.”  I personally don’t have time to look up the word “Elate” at this moment, but I’m fairly confident it has something to do with “elation” and it has to be harmonically assonant with “eight.” “Assonant,” however, I did take the time to look up just to make sure I was using the correct word (it seems like it could have so many other meanings…) and according to the Free Online Dictionary it does indeed mean “1.Resemblance of sound, especially of the vowel sounds in words.”  So “Elate Eight” is perfectly assonant.

The juxtaposition of helicopters on this classically written icon underscores, for me, the terror of the times in which Archbishop Romero lived

Some of the images of Lucy available on google are downright creepy! I like this one because it balances the icon of Romero and reminds us of the Swedish tradition

On to today’s match-up:  Oscar Romero vs Lucy.  Ah, the sweet smell of vindication is in the air…!  Perhaps you’ll recall just a few short weeks ago I expressed my  a: indignation that Lucy defeated John the Baptist and b:  my dismay that people — and not all of them from Miami I’m sure! — had voted more than once in that round thus discounting their votes and most likely tilting the scales in favor of Lucy and against one of the giants of the Christian faith (no offense, Lucy, but come on, really?).  Today I am laying odds on Bishop Romero.  I voted for him the first round and I will do so again.

Yesterday I reflected on the call for all of us to be martyrs — “witnesses” to the transforming power of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Today we once again have two actual martyrs who laid down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.  The very modern day helicopters hovering behind Archbishop Romero in this icon are a real reminder that the world today, as advanced as it may be, is still a violent place filled with brokenness, suffering and — yes — evil.

During the conference I attended last week one of the keynoters, futurist Bob Johansen, described the VUCA world we’re living in today (I think, perhaps, the acronym might have come first because “VUCA” sure has a star-trekky-futuristic ring to it!  But actually it stands for “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous”).  Johansen went on to say that the next decade will be the most tumultuous yet in our lifetimes (and by that I assume he means the lifetimes of those of us who have been around “a few” decades or more, not newborns…).  “If you thought the ‘Arab Spring’ was an upheaval, just wait,” he said.  He did go on to say that the upcoming decade will also be the most hopeful (I guess that’s part of the ambiguity…).

What does it mean to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in “VUCA” times?  How do we respond to volatility and upheaval and create hope in the midst of it?  Lucy and Archbishop Romero knew something about this.  They knew that no matter what, nothing could separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.  As a professor at my seminary, who once faced unspeakable tragedy in his own life, said “I fell through to the bottom, but the bottom held.”  Hope in the face of upheaval, joy in the midst of confusion, resurrection in the midst of evil.  That is what the journey of this season holds for us.

To vote, go here


Dorothy Had Her Day — and now it’s on to the Saintly 16! March 7, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 4:29 pm

Just as I suspected, Dorothy Day edged out Bishop Demby — she advances to the Sweet Sixteen, oops!  make that the “Saintly Sixteen” where later on she’ll be taking on Benedict of Nursia.  This next part gets tough — we may have to vote against someone we voted for before, oh fickle finger of Lent Maddening fate!  The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat!  Ah, yes…

So today we start the, as noted malapropist Yogi Berra once said, “deja vu all over again” phase of Lent Madness.  The original 32 are now down to 16 as we march forward to the ultimate prize of the Golden Halo.  Since I’ve already shared biographies (scroll down to my previous postings), as has of course the Supreme Executive Committee (“SEC”) of Lent Madness, I won’t be giving any more biographical info (or maybe I will, who knows!) but will try to focus more on my “Musings” in a desperate effort to convince you to vote the way I do.  And if you don’t like the way I’m voting, start your own blog!  It’s actually a lot easier than I first thought — especially with the capable teaching of our senior warden and communications director, Robin Lawrie.   There, I’ve just sent you back to her blog.  Isn’t that easy!

But I digress…

Don’t you love how even modern day saints have icons!

One good icon deserves another!

Today’s first bracket in the Saintly 16 round pits two modern day martyrs against each other.  Not Mawrters.  That’s what people who went to my college call ourselves.  Martyrs.  Jonathan Myrick Daniels and Janani Luwum (there, I’ve finally learned how to spell it!) — the Episcopal Divinity School seminarian who laid down his life during the civil rights struggle in Alabama and the Ugandan bishop who laid down his life during the tyrannical regime of Idi Amin.

I sometimes wonder what I would do if called to pay the ultimate price for my faith.  It’s a question that sort of hangs there — I know the answer I hope I would give and the all-to-human part of me also knows that another answer might come forth.  I pray not to be put to the test.  But I imagine both Jonathan and Janani prayed the same thing during their lifetimes, yet when the moment arose there was no turning back.

Fortunately the vast majority of us probably won’t ever have to make a choice like this, and because that possibility, the possibility of being asked to lay down our life for our faith in Jesus Christ, seems so remote we maybe consign martyrs to an equally remote part of our spiritual consciousness.  And that’s too bad.  Because the original Greek word, “martyrion,” actually means “witness.”  And that is something we can do every day of our lives — be witnesses of our faith.  Show to the world in thought, word, and deed that we believe in and follow the Risen Christ and that has made a difference in our lives.  That old adage comes to mind — if I were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?

Today I am sticking with my original vote; I’m casting my ballot for Jonathan Daniels.  He is part of a very real recent history, one that touched my life.  In his understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ he took action  and was part of changing for the better the whole direction of this country.

To vote, go here.  Remember to scroll to the end of the page, but do pause and read the great commentary on the Lent Madness page.