Returning to Freedom

It’s Easter morning. Out the window, I see a woman walking her dog, just beyond the place where all three of our pets are buried. A tiny forsythia is hinting at blooming. The sky is bright blue. I could fill this entire post with the minutiae of things I can see out this one glass square in the back of our house.

Perhaps you know that only about five percent of the universe is stuff that can be directly observed. Ninety-five percent of our universe is essentially unknown to the scientists whose lives are devoted to studying it. So, for the rest of us, it’s probably closer to 99.99999 percent.

I love this kind of elbow room. Going to church, for me, has evolved into the practice of swimming and singing in this 95 percent. Oh, I love the five percent of observable things, too: the taste of the molasses communion bread, the sherry, the smell of beeswax, a beautiful oboe line soaring above a Bach chorale.

It occurred to me recently, after losing a long-time family friend to the plague that is cancer, Joan is free now. She’s free of that five percent of observable matter that was her body. She’s now returned to the freedom of being part of the mystery that is the bulk of the universe around us.

Do I know this for a fact? Hell no. Is truth bound by the knowable five percent of matter that we observe? Never has been. Never will be.

As my bride will say in her sermon later this morning, if you stumble over the word “believe,” substitute the word “belove.” If you stumble over the idea of celebrating the blood sacrifice of a man some 2000 years ago, here’s my trick: substitute the words “life and love” for “body and blood.” In my experience, it’s so much deeper to substitute the word “love” for “blood” any time you encounter it in church. If you stumble over the word “Father” for God, substitute “Author.” Participate in something that stretches you, that makes you think, that inspires you to ask new questions.

In the grand scheme of things, our stay on this earth is a snapshot. My Easter wish is that while you’re here, you participate in all of it, the five percent of what’s known and the 95% of what’s not known.

Happy Easter everyone!

Be Love


One year ago today, I wrote this. I feel even more resolved about it today.

Originally posted on The Crooked Line:

Candles in the Abbey at Iona

Candles in the Abbey at Iona

Last September, after more than a year of working with a committee to plan and write a grant application, PW received a big fat grant for her sabbatical. This is enabling her to do a lot of travelling this spring. A little more than a week ago, she and I returned from a spending Holy Week on the Isle of Iona in Scotland, with a side trip to London to see Helen Mirren and Judi Dench in their starring roles in two different plays.

This morning, I dropped PW off at the airport for several weeks of travelling to Israel (the village of Migdal in the Galilee, Jerusalem, and the West Bank if she can figure out how to get in), Turkey (Ephesus and Istanbul), and Provence.

We were both teary this morning as we looked at such a long time of being apart…

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I used to think that I hated Palm Sunday. It turns out, what I hated was what the larger Christian church has done with it.

I got home this afternoon at 5 pm after a Palm Sunday service that cracked me open, followed by a baby shower for a couple of friends waiting the arrival of their firstborn. I opened my computer to begin sharing the extraordinary day with you, and saw the news of three people being gunned down at Jewish centers in a town where I have quite a few family and friends, some of whom are Jewish.

The word that keeps flashing in my mind is “Enough.” Okay, if I’m completely honest, there are a few expletives thrown in there, too. But, really, ENOUGH.

Today my brave bride stood in the pulpit like the protester known as “Tank Man” in that iconic image from Tianenmen Square. Instead of tanks, PW led the congregation in facing down centuries of  Christian tradition of reading the Palm Sunday scriptures like a play, in which the congregation takes on the part of an angry mob and shouts “Crucify him!” repeatedly.

But that didn’t happen today at Emmanuel. ENOUGH.

“Tank Man” in front of a long line of government tanks that later mowed down protesters in Tianenmen Square

Instead, PW stood in the pulpit and our deacon, Susanne, stood at the lectern, on the opposite side of the steps leading up to the chancel. Susanne read the Palm Sunday scripture passages in five sections. After each section, PW offered a brief meditation on that section.

Here’s the opening section, with the scripture first:

11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. 15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”25Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”

Meditation I

This year, in conversation with the members of Emmanuel’s Worship Commission, I decided that I want us to abstain from engaging in the custom of reading the Passion Narrative as a play script with members of the congregation taking various dialogue parts, and the congregation as a whole representing the crowd. I cannot imagine how it is edifying – that is, how it might provide moral or theological instruction that would build up the body or how this practice might glorify God in any way. If any of you in the congregation are longing for a greater voice, more participation in liturgy, a deeper involvement in the narrative of salvation history, this turns out to be a most terrible place to start. No good can come from imagining ourselves as members of an angry mob. No good can come from re-enacting the highly implausible scenario that Pontius Pilate or any other Roman authority would have even permitted a crowd to gather in the occupied capital of an occupied country during the time of a great feast celebrating the notion of freedom from oppression, freedom from economic and political enslavement. Nor would a Roman governor give people a vote about whom to crucify.

Biblical scholars have known for a long long time that “the evidence explicitly and definitely points against any representative Jerusalem crowd shouting for Jesus’ death.”1And yet, churches all over the place blithely carry on this libel in the name of tradition or custom or piety. I think that it does not honor God’s Holy Name or God’s Holy People.

A few weeks ago I came across an article published by Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan that he wrote when I was a little girl. He was writing at Loyola University in Chicago, just a few miles from where my family lived when my dad was in seminary. My guess is that my seminarian father knew about Crossan’s work because I grew up understanding it. The article is about Christian anti-Semitism. Crossan wrote, “the often-repeated statement that the Jews rejected Jesus and had him crucified is historically untenable and must therefore be removed completely from our thinking and our writing, our teaching, preaching, and liturgy.” Yet, here we are, 50 years later – the Passion narrative being proclaimed throughout Christian churches, today and this coming Friday, during our Holy Week, with scant attention to the libelous and deadly consequences to Jews. Indeed, it’s their blood which is on our forebears and on us. Let’s not get it on our children. Let’s agree to stop using guilt as a motivation to love.

The entire sermon is here, and I urge you to read it. Enough of the old Palm Sunday traditions. If clergy won’t face down the tanks of centuries of “historically untenable” readings going by without challenge or comment, then at the very least those of us in the pews should demand it. Palm Sunday is March 29 next year. There’s a lot of work to do. Get busy.


“Spread over us a shelter of peace. Repair us with good wisdom. Save us.”

If you don’t know about The Epichorus yet, you should. I insist. The lyrics for this first video are the title of this post.

And this one, Na Gibor. One thing I have learned about the Hebrew word “Na” is that it means “Please.” In the Hebrew Bible, the Holy One frequently says “Na” when interacting with humans. As far as I can tell, this aspect of the Divine does not make it into any of the English translations of the Hebrew Bible, which is beyond regrettable to me. The plaintive repetitions of “Na” in this song give me chills. Every time.

“we beg you
with the greatness and power of your hand
untie our knot
receive the song of your people
lift us make us pure

please mighty one
those who expound your oneness
keep them as the pupil of the eye”

“Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering”


The best prayer I know of for today.

Originally posted on The Crooked Line:

There will surely be a surge in praying today, even among those like me who aren’t quite sure whether what we’re doing could be considered as prayer. Here’s a prayer you might not have come across before that seems worth highlighting on this day in particular. PW is reading a slightly altered version of it in the interfaith “Back Bay 9/11 Commemoration: From Remembrance to Hope” service later this morning. This was found in the clothing of a child who was killed at the Ravensbrük concentration camp:

O Lord,
Remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which have become part of…

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Change Management


Still as true as the day I wrote it and the day it happened.

Originally posted on The Crooked Line:

That bright, clear, perfect late-summer morning, I was one of 15 people sitting around a conference room table. Several of our colleagues from other offices were dialed into the meeting, too.

Change Management. Every Tuesday morning. 9-10 am.

warning change ahead

Look out!

Months earlier, a corporate auditor was attempting to impress upon our departmental manager the vital importance of Change Management. The manager sneered, “Change Management?!? I don’t give a FAT. RAT’S. ASS. about Change Management.” That statement, and the attitude, hung over our weekly Change Management meetings like both a millstone and a team flag.

One of the guys who attended these meetings by phone was named Tom. He called in from Poughkeepsie. He was always a no bullshit kind of guy, calling things as he saw them, regardless of the political fallout. He was one of those truth-tellers who could be searingly funny one moment and witheringly dismissive the…

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Update from Heretic School

If you’ve been walking The Crooked Line with me for awhile, then you know that what I call “Heretic School” is more widely known in our popular culture as “Bible Study.” Maybe one of these days I’ll settle into calling it by its popular name. I did, after all, settle into calling myself a Christian after many years of running from and then wrestling with myself.

J.S. Bach

But I really love “Heretic School,” both the name and the practice of it. During the odd numbered months, at 7:30 in the morning on Tuesdays, we gather for Heretic School in the Emmanuel Room. That’s right: the God-With-Us Room. A large portrait of Bach watches over us from one wall. He looks a little like he’s sucking on a cough drop. Or a lemon. Mostly, I think his expression is a warning that the soundtrack for the path we’re on is less like the predictable, sing-songy “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” and more like the difficult, cell-rearranging Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor.

Generally, the passage we discuss at Heretic School is the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday as outlined by the Episcopal Lectionary, which is a riff on the Revised Common Lectionary. For the past three weeks, we’ve been working our way through the 10th chapter of Luke, the very heart of this particular evangelist’s telling of the Jesus story.

Two Tuesdays ago, we worked on the story of the Samaritan who helps the beaten and robbed man by the side of the road. Last Tuesday, we took on the story in which Jesus appears to praise Mary at Martha’s expense.

Being the contrary Bull-girl that I am, reading these uber-familiar stories makes my brain paw the ground and snort in the face of what centuries of preaching and teaching tell us they’re about. I have no patience for how these stories, or any Bible stories for that matter, get used. What I want to know is how can the stories use me? That’s much rockier territory, and I love a good scrabble over uneven and uncertain terrain.

The reason I’ve said, “Okay, I’m in.” to Christianity is because I want my assumptions to be challenged. It occurs to me just now that the appeal of “Heretic School” for me, the reason it turbo-charges my Tuesdays in odd-numbered months, is because what I come to this particular well for is to strip away the importance of Believing so I can focus on Beloving.

What I noticed in the story about the Samaritan this year was Jesus’ reminder (from Leviticus 19) that the way to be one with Love (which is how I make sense of the notion of “eternal life”) is to show mercy by loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s not selective mercy, parceled out to people we already know or whom we already love. It’s mercy to anyone and everyone.

Far too often I’ve heard preachers talk about the story of the Samaritan and chide the priest and the Levite who pass by the beaten man. In the story of the Samaritan, yes, of course, we are being reminded to be merciful to the beaten man by the side of the road. Duh! But it’s clear to me that we are not to stop there. When Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” he means we are also to be merciful the priest and the Levite who passed the man by and, for whatever reason, did not help. We are also being reminded to be merciful to the lawyer whose testing of Jesus gives us this beautiful story.

The words “neighbor” and “mercy” rolled around in my head all week after Heretic School on Tuesday, July 9. So when I woke up on Sunday, July 14, to the news of the Zimmerman verdict—which did not surprise or shock me but rather made me feel sick and sad—I thought, “Shit. The story of the Samaritan is challenging me to show mercy even to George Zimmerman.” Shit indeed. What in the world would it look like to show mercy to maybe the most notorious and least neighborly Neighborhood Watchman of all time? How do I show mercy to someone who believes it was God’s plan that he kill Trayvon Martin?

I turned all this over in my head and thought, “Ugh. I hope I never meet George Zimmerman.” In fact, I don’t even want to know anyone like him, much less show them mercy! But of course I already DO know people like him—people who are very afraid of others who are different from them and think that guns will protect them. Or people who are very afraid and think that mass incarceration will keep them safe (see The New Jim Crow). Or that keeping poor people out of their neighborhoods (or their churches) will keep them safe.

With all this rattling around inside me, I took the plunge today and showed mercy to a guy who told me at least 20 times that he spent 25 years in prison for things he will only hint at. He’s probably a lot like George Zimmerman—suspicious, fearful, with a violent streak (though he insists he’s “not like that any more.”) We went for coffee and I gave him some money. The whole hour we spent together felt incredibly uncomfortable and slightly crazy. When I handed him $60 fresh from the ATM to help him get through the next nine days until his Social Security check arrives, his eyes popped and his mouth fell open. He sputtered, “I promise I’ll pay you back.” I told him I didn’t want him to pay me back; I want him to help someone else out someday. He said, “But I don’t know anybody good besides you and [PW].” I said, “Well, the person doesn’t have to be good. They just have to be someone who needs help you can give.” “Yeah. Okay. Well, God bless you,” he said as he hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek (which I accepted, despite feeling queasy).

Now, I know I can’t be giving 60 bucks to everyone who begs from me (though I usually give something). But while the details of this particular mercy are not sustainable, the posture and the intent can be if I stay connected to communities that support me in it. Which is one of the reasons I go to church. I don’t know if there’s a god, but I know what it feels like to love and be loved back, and I know I feel like a better version of myself when I lean into that. And I also know that I need mercy every bit as much as the guy I had coffee with today.

Like Mary Gauthier sings:

Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
And every single one of us could use some mercy now.

Like the rabbi says, “Go and do likewise.”